Favorite Characters, Part I: The Smaller Screen

As you may have noticed, I enjoy making lists. Here, I specifically enjoy making lists of characters. Televised crushes. Prospective best friends. Favorite bromances. Favorite couples. So I want to do that again, but I think I’ll go a bit broader this time. I think it’s time to share my favorite characters. Because there are many of them, this’ll be a three-post series, starting with TV, then moving to books and concluding with film. Now, this could get tedious quickly, so I’ll limit myself to more than five but less than ten. Fair? Fair. Here we go.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

There are countless standout characters in this particular corner of the Whedonverse. From Adam Baldwin’s cruel, calculating, and undeniably cool Marcus to Charisma Carpenter’s surprisingly multifaceted Cordelia, Angel’s characters are a consistently interesting and attention-grabbing bunch. And more so than anyone else, there’s Wesley (Alexis Denisof). Denisof takes a feeble minor character from Buffy and, over the course of five seasons, develops him into one of the richest, most complex parts of an altogether great show. Wesley goes from startled scientifically minded geek to roguishly handsome ass kicker to some balance thereof and does so seamlessly. It’s always a joy to watch Wesley’s story unfold.

Spike, Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Spike (James Marsters), a rebellious bleached blond vampire with a wicked sense of humor and a nicotine addiction, wasn’t meant to stay around for very long on Buffy. But he ended up as one of the series’ most enduring characters, staying strong even through the uneven final seasons. Not quite a villain, but never a hero, Spike’s complicated, tenuous relationship with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and the entire Scooby Gang led to endless gags, surprises, and even the occasional tender moment. By the time both Buffy and Angel come to a close, Spike is much more than a womanizing vamp with a sarcastic streak and a killer pout.

Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, Battlestar Galactica

This was hard.

I can’t think of a single member of the BSG cast I don’t absolutely adore in their role. But I keep coming back to Kara (Katee Sackhoff). At first blush, Starbuck’s just a wiseass pilot with some unresolved issues. Look again, though, and you see a deeply flawed, beautifully complex character. She doesn’t always make the right decisions, and she knows that. But she embraces her flaws and does what she can to pursue whatever destiny she might have, even if it might kill her.

Abed Nadir, Community

If Abed (Danny Pudi) were a real person, I think we’d be friends. We’re both socially uncomfortable, so we could be uncomfortable together. He actually knows more about pop culture than I do, which is alternately attractive and intimidating. And his ability to read people is nothing short of stunning. Though his personality and quirks are solidly set in place at this point, it’s true that there is hidden depth to his character. He’s layered, and he’s peeled back slowly, such that, even if a pop culture reference is inevitable, Abed’s sure to do something surprising every now and then.

Ben Linus, Lost

(Caution: any conversation of Lost inevitably includes a spoiler or two. You have been warned.)

Introduced as an unassuming balloonist who stumbled on the island by chance, no viewer could expect what Henry Gale–soon to be revealed to be Ben Linus (Michael Emerson)–would become, and what bearing he would have on the show. Perhaps the most morally complex and confusing character of the whole Lost gang, Ben’s motives are often unclear; on occasion, the man seems downright evil. But someone so wise surely can’t be completely corrupt, as we are reminded in his rare moments of mercy and kindness. Those moments become more common as the series progresses, and over time, Ben Linus is shown to be so much more than a turncloak or an antihero or whatever word comes to mind.

Leslie Knope, Parks & Recreation

It’s a tired complaint and I’ll turn it into a compliment here: you don’t see a ton of funny women in the limelight on TV, but on NBC every Thursday night, they’re unavoidable. Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, Tina Fey, and the lovely and amazing Amy Poehler do their damnedest on every episode of their respective shows, and the result is consistently hilarious. While her comedy may be a touch more restrained than what is seen on Community or 30 Rock, Poehler shows the most chops of anyone in the bunch. Her Leslie Knope is a genuinely inspiring character, a champion for an otherwise unremarkable small Midwestern town. She plays well off any other comedic force, whether it’s a familiar foil like the incomparable Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) or any number of guest stars (Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Parker Posey, and beyond). She’s simply brilliant and yet another reason to love P&R.

Henry Pollard, Party Down

Not since Jason Bateman’s Michael Bluth (Arrested Development) have we seen such a great straight man as Henry (Adam Scott), a former commercial actor who goes into the L.A. catering business as a last resort. No matter where he’s serving, from orgies to high school reunions and everything in between, craziness abounds, but Harry stays centered through it all. Throughout the show, though, Henry’s fighting back the urge to get into the acting game. Watching him struggle through mixing drinks and serving appetizers while knowing what he could be if he only tried never gets old till the very last frame.

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