Without interesting characters there can be no compelling storytelling, and for me the most interesting characters are those with serious flaws. Some are repellent yet intriguing, some are absolutely villainous but possess such charisma that you can’t help but be enthralled and others live in a world where difficult decisions must be made and you can’t fault them for sometimes choosing the morally ambiguous action.
There were a lot of amazing characters on television this past year, but the ones below resonated the most and elevated their respective shows to a higher echelon of scripted fare.
Kenny Powers – Eastbound & Down– Played with delightful mullet-ed bravado by Danny McBride, Kenny “Fuckin'” Powers possesses the rare qualities of being boorishly self-deluded while also endearing with the ability to garner sympathy for his continued back-slide into life’s lowest points, even though his own actions are always the catalyst. Constantly inappropriate, whether in the halls of the middle school in season 1 or this past year when his tactless behavior found its way south of the border, he’s his biggest fan and is never afraid to show it with a flair all his own.
Russell Edgington – True Blood – The third season of HBO’s Southern Gothic vampire series brought in the most nuanced and entertaining villain currently on television. Kudos to Denis O’Hare for imbuing depth into such a character who could’ve been written off as more flamboyant than fierce, his vampire King of Mississippi Russell Edgington was at turns a gentleman – most notably his entrance atop a beautifully groomed horse dressed impeccably as if on his way to a dressage – who could morph into a monster in a split second as seen near the end of the season when interrupting a news broadcast to announce his evil machinations to the world.
Gemma Teller Morrow – Sons of Anarchy – As matriarch of outlaw motorcycle club the Sons of Anarchy, Gemma holds court with the kind of strength and ferocity found in a Shakespearean leading lady thanks in large part to the stellar work of Katey Sagal. As the family drama of the show is loosely based on the plot found in Hamlet, she is at heart Queen Gertrude, but time and again she demonstrates the cunning, cutthroat personality of Lady MacBeth especially when it comes to matters involving her family. In season three’s antepenultimate episode “Bainne,” Gemma digs deep into her badass repertoire and goes so far as to hold a gun to an orphan baby’s head to extract information out of the nun who knows the whereabouts of her grandson. A shocking display that further cements her as someone not to be trifled with and never underestimate.
Honorable Mention: Ensemble – Party Down (RIP) – The cancellation of this brilliant Starz comedy from Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas was heartbreaking as the exploits of this ragtag group of Los Angeles cater waiters looking for their big break in Tinseltown quickly became my favorite part of Friday night television. It was always hard to decide which character was the strongest in the bunch until I realized it was the combination of all the players that gave the show such verve. Even with the small cast change between its first and second year (losing Jane Lynch but gaining Megan Mullally!) everyone congealed in a way that made this series shoot to the top of my Brilliant But Cancelled list.
Not that I’d go so far as to call its first season a total disappointment, NBC’s Parks and Recreation did come out of the gate rather weak earlier this year with only a pedigree of being led by the minds behind fellow Comedy Night Done Right hit The Office and lead Amy Poehler to keep me hopeful that the excellent creative potential would eventually shine. And it was the second season premiere episode, “Pawnee Zoo” that was so glorious I revisited no less than half a dozen times.
I should have expected that as it was modeled so closely to its predecessor (right down to the hand-held mockumentary feel) P&R would also follow in the footsteps of The Office and finally hit a side-splitting stride in their second year. The show is truly firing on all cylinders – the writing, dialogue, pace and team of actors have all found a great comedy groove that continues to impress every week. So impressive that it was one of only a handful of shows given a coveted full season pick-up earlier this month.
What do we have to look forward to in their sophomore season? On the near horizon a November sweeps installment will feature a guest turn by former Will & Grace star Megan Mullally in what show runner Michael Schur claims as “the best episode we’ve ever done.” Mullally will play ex-wife opposite real-life husband Nick Offerman’s Parks & Rec department boss Ron. “She works for the library system, and they’re trying to take over the lot that Leslie is jealously guarding for her future park,” Schur explains. “So Ron has to get back involved with his ex-wife and fireworks ensue.”