April 17, 2012


For my In Appreciation of... column this month (yes, I'm trying to do them monthly-ish now) I thought I'd have a bit of fun. Rather than focussing on one particular (usually) film related thing, I'd instead turn by spray-like focus to the world of TV and some of the great characters that reside therein.

First, and perhaps most importantly, this will not be a complete list. I hesitate to even call this a list - the world of the film blog is already infested with far too many of them - but perhaps think of this more as a spotlight. And feel free to add some of your favourite (but overlooked) TV characters in the comments; there's no reason we can't start a conversation rather than it just be me typing away into the cyber-aether.

Woah. Ok. Back on topic: as we are all aware the realm of television has been experiencing a golden age lately. From The Sopranos (quite rightly seen as the godfather of this age) and The West Wing to The Wire and Mad Men these are the new homes of great characters as writers, actors and directors are given the space to allow the characters to grow and breathe in new and exciting ways.

So to reiterate, this won't be a complete spotlight. There are any number of great shows I just haven't had the chance/time to really dedicate my time to (Treme, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire etc). These are also all characters and shows from a recent years and there are any number of reasons for this: that aforementioned Golden Age, these shows being topmost in my recollection and hopefully these can serve as introductions to new favourite characters you just haven't met yet, but can easily catch up on. There's really only been one rule of thumb for me when I was compiling this: that the character is legitimately great but has been overshadowed by, not necessarily stronger, but more fan-friendly/stand-out characters.

One last quick note: I deliberately haven't included any characters from The Simpsons or The Wire. Over their 20+ seasons The Simpsons have mined every single character, minor character and background character for all they're worth. Whereas The Wire has nothing but great characters. To pick just one from that cast would be an exercise in futility.

Let's kick it off:

How can you not love this?

Britta Perry from Community

Community is a flat-out great TV show and makes for hilarious comedy. And one of the reasons it works? The characters. This study group of community college no-hopers are some of the strongest, believable characters on any TV show. And one of the best is Gillian Jacobs' Britta Perry.

In a TV show filled with great characters (Troy & Abed, Dean Pelton, Magnitude (Pop pop!) and more) Britta is one who is often overlooked. Which is a shame, as she is a truly great character. While I, and I'm sure many geeky others, identify more with the characters of Troy & Abed or laugh at the Dean and his outrageous outfits, it is Britta and, more importantly her evolution, that I really find fascinating and hilarious. Britta started out as the annoying, slightly shrill party-pooper of the group but she has become more... real. She's still the party-pooper, but not because she wants to spoil the fun, but because she's just so uncool. And here's the great thing: she thinks she's actually really cool and together. But she's awkward and not nearly as cool as she thinks she is and kind of knows.

She's a strong female character in a pop culture starved of them. And it's not because she has it all together, is boringly sensible and has all the answers but because she doesn't. Also, she dresses up as a squirrel, a T-rex and can't pronounce "bagel".

Helo from Battlestar Galactica

The rebooted and refitted Battlestar Galactica was another show packed to the gunships with great characters. Within one show you have a gruff but lovable commander, his booze-soaked and cranky XO, the uptight and proper son of the commander, the bolshy civilian president and one of the all-time greatest female characters in the form of Katee Sackhoff's Kara "Starbuck" Thrace. And amidst all that, it's not much of a surprise that Tahmoh Penikett's Karl "Helo" Agathon got lost in the shuffle, despite his impressive height.

But Helo was an equally great and fascinating character and, even more importantly, he was the conscience of the show. He was, in many ways, the most selfless and most heroic character. When the world was, literally, ending he gave up his seat on the last flight out (to Dr. Gauis Baltar, the most quixotic weasel to ever grace TV screens), fell in love with and had a child with a Cylon and, thanks in no small part to that love, stopped Adama and Roslin from committing genocide on the Cylon race.

When no-one else wanted the job, Helo took over administration of the refugee camp on Galactica and strenuously defended their rights. He served as the XO when Tigh had crawled too far into his bottle. He believed in Starbuck's visions/feelings enough to accompany her in the search for Earth. Helo was steadfast, loyal and never compromised his own sense of what was morally right. That in itself should set him apart, as BSG was a show full of characters making painfully compromised decisions in order to simply survive.

Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation

It's taken me awhile to get on board with Parks & Rec. My initial reaction was predicated on the faux-documentary style of the show, which I have become bored of now. But, once I got past that foolish assumption, I found a show about a great bunch of characters, all lead by a wonderful, passionate woman who loved her job.

Most people, quite rightfully so, love Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson. He is, after all, a mustachiod man's man happiest when he's having a breakfast of meat, bacon and meat. But the hero (and main character) of the show, the beating heat of the Parks Department, is Leslie Knope. She is a character at a complete 180 to Ricky Gervais' awkward and often hateful David Brent. Leslie loves her job, she truly believes in the Parks Department and despite her occasional exasperation with some employees, loves everyone working there. She is relentlessly cheerful and dedicated and somehow despite all of the hours long meetings, dawn brainstorming sessions and unpaid concert set-ups she organises, she has the respect and loyalty of her staff and boss.

When others give in or can't be bothered, Leslie happily steps up and fills folder upon folder with ideas and sketches. She looks for the good in people and situations and only wants to do right by the good people of Pawnee and give them the best Parks Department they've ever had. For all of us wage slaves hating our jobs, or people struggling to make a living out of what we love to do, Leslie Knope is nothing short of an inspiration.

Dean Winchester from Supernatural

Supernatural is a show I've only recently got into (having just finished Season 2) but I'm pretty much a fan already. About two brothers who are also Hunters; that is they criss-cross the States in search of monsters, legends and spirits. It's like a cross between Buffy and The X-Files but is still very much its own thing. The anchor of the show is the often contentious but always close relationship between the two brothers: Sam and Dean Winchester.

While Sam is the ever-questioning younger brother, with the vague hacking/IT skills and the (cut short) Ivy League college career, Dean is a simple man at heart. He loves his car, heavy rock, horror movies and girls. He has little knowledge of the modern world (MySpace and such) and likes it that way. He's not afraid to speak his mind or defend his family.

And that's the defining characteristic of Dean right there: he's the ultimate big brother. Where he probably gets noticed more for his dry wit and id-based hilarity, it his desire to protect Sam at all costs that defines him. He has a secretly low opinion of himself, seeing himself as utterly expendable in the efforts to protect his little brother (who he enjoys teasing mercilessly). While the moments of "Dean-ness" capture your attention, it is those unguarded moments that occasionally make themselves known that truly get to you. A character more complex than first glance would guess at, Dean Winchester is a big reason I'm now such a fan of Supernatural

Zoe from Firefly

Now, this is a character from a show I almost excluded from consideration, purely down to the fact that, again, every character is a strong one. But when I thought about it more, there a few characters that stand-out and hog all the conversation: Nathan Fillion's gruff but lovable Captain Mal, Adam Baldwin's man of pure id Jayne Cobb and Jewel Staite's sweet and sexual Kaylee. Which is fair enough; they're all great notable characters. But there's one character on the crew of Serenity that does a lot of heavy lifting in the background, and so deserving to be on this list: Gina Torres' Zoe.

Zoe is the Amazonian warrior-mother figure of the good ship Serenity; fiercely protective of those in the crew, quick to direct violence on those who would do mischief to them. She's the dutiful soldier, taking orders without question from the Captain but who is really the one holding him/it all together. And just because she follows orders and keeps a cool countenance, doesn't mean she's an unfeeling robot who blindly follows.

She's a woman who hides a dry and witty sense of humour; the moments when you see Zoe laughing are when you know it's really funny. She'll give sass to the Captain and enjoys a joke with the crew. And c'mon; of course she's not a humourless warbot: she's married to Wash! The pilot who wears Hawaiian shirts (despite there likely being no Hawaii anymore) and plays with plastic dinosaurs. Zoe is a woman of hidden depths and who is cool and fierce in equal measure. She's the last lady you want to double-cross but the first you'll turn to when your back is against the wall.

So, that's some characters from me. Again, not complete or absolute by any means but merely a smattering of characters worthy of more attention than they generally receive. Who would you have on here? 


  1. Newman (Wayne Knight) in Seinfeld, George Michael (Michael Cera) in Arrested Development, Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nick Courtney) in Classic Who, Marsha (Julia Deakin) in Spaced, Jenna Moroney (Jane Krakowski) in 30 Rock and Marty Funkhauser (Bob Einstein) in Curb Your Enthusiasm. My favourite TV shows are ones which stand up to many repeated viewings and allow you to invest in characters who may not have the highest billing but reveal more with each viewing.

    1. Gah! Marsha from SPACED! Of course! Absolutely.