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 being one for cops & robbers TV – yes, I’ll admit with it being on the air 2/3 of my life I have been guilty of catching an episode or two of Law & Order and its many iterations, no one can completely resist the strange yet awesome combo of Ice-T, Richard Belzer AND Chris Meloni – the one spin on the crime genre that’s always intriguing is the focus on down and out, possibly shady but ultimately good guy PI stories. This very kind of series has recently surfaced on FX, the network that has truly cornered the market on anti-hero tales (see Sons of Anarchy, The Shield, Nip/Tuck, Justified), and its name is Terriers.
Huh? Isn’t that the TLC show about a kennel for designer dogs? Obscure title aside, after viewing the pilot I immediately wanted more and every episode of this SoCal detective series that’s followed has delivered on its fine first hour.
Coming from the mind who created The Shield, Shawn Ryan, and the wordsmith of the Ocean’s 11 remake, Ted Griffin, Terriers is such a perfect mixture of self-contained cases and over-arching mystery that this fan sees strong resemblances to gone-before-its-time fave Veronica Mars since it includes conspiracies and corrupt, wealthy locals in a seemingly idyllic beachside community (sans the high school setting). While not starring a spunky, pixieish blonde it does have an excellent lead pairing in stars Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James as the two intrepid private investigator heroes who, despite not being officially licensed, take cases that continually put them in harm’s way (or police custody), don’t always pay off big and usually involve beefier men highly trained in the art of pummeling. Basically the kind of situations that create great drama, action and quite a lot of comedy.
With a rather lackluster crop of new shows on the big five networks’ fall schedule, Terriers is a welcome breath of fresh air, another noteworthy notch in FX’s impressive belt of series and has the privilege of receiving a coveted “series recording” space on this TV aficionado’s overtaxed DVR queue. In other words, it’s one to watch – FX, Wednesdays at 10/9c.
Being only half-way through the 13-episode run, it’s easy to play catch-up thanks to the interwebs. Let this excellent promo whet your viewing appetite.
This week brings the beginning of Fall ’09 premieres and it looks like The CW has won the coin toss (second and last sports metaphor – primetime game telecasts, particularly of the series variety, are not by friend as they interfere too often with new episodes) and will officially kick off (seriously, no more) the season. Tonight’s premieres include their visions of ’90s primetime soap classics and on cable, FX offers up the return of some bad boy biker action.
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN
With the wildly successful reboot of 90210 last year, it only seemed fitting that The CW would repurpose the original 90210 spin-off, Melrose Place. Set in the same drama-filled LA apartment complex as its predecessor (complete with courtyard pool so everyone has a good seat for the inevitable water-logged catfight), this Melrose remake promises to be more scintillating; we know this because one of the main characters starts out the series as a call-girl, unlike becoming one a few seasons in to keep up with a nasty drug habit a la original series bad girl Sydney Andrews (Laura Leighton) – Scandalous!
Sydney won’t be the only character returning for more slapfests and sexytime, others from the quintessential ’90s version will be on board either in a Jennie Garth’s Kelly “I work at my old high school, so that’s why I belong here now” Taylor way, or as a guest star like Shannen Doherty’s Brenda “I’m visiting my old friend/rival/nemesis/almost-sister-in-law for awhile” Walsh. In the former category is Thomas Calabro, whose lacivious doctor Michael Mancini will now be playing the role of father to one of the new debaucherous denizens. More seem to be of the special guest variety including Josie Bisset (Michael’s ex-wife Jane), Daphne Zuniga bringing back her “hardened” NYC photographer Jo Reynolds, and the biggest buzz is if the show will be able to lock in a guest return for Heather Locklear’s bed-hopping ad exec, and she who made Melrose such a hit, Amanda.
Being of the generation that made Melrose such a pop culture phenomenon, I’ve set the DVR to record the new pilot out of curiosity but have not yet committed to putting it on my “create series recording” list. The main reservation being an un-enthused reaction to the first episodes of last year’s 90210 still fresh in my mind. Advanced news places more praise on the new MP, consistently citing it better than the 90210 pilot, and as I’m always willing to offer something new a fair chance The CW will be given the opportunity to change its current losing streak it has with me.
EVERYONE LOVES A BAD BOY
On the completely opposite end of the dial is FX’s actioner Sons of Anarchy. For those who may have missed the first season (of which I’m included – not through lack of interest, but out of space on the DVR and time to commit to another 1-hour series) the latest “there is no box” drama from the cabler takes a Hamlet-esque story – a young man who’s recently deceased father may have been taken out by underhanded means has various problems with a scheming “uncle,” devious mother and former lover/conscience back in his life – and mixes it with the dirty, criminal dealings of a gun-running, Northern California biker gang. Impeccably cast with intriguing characters, I question my foolish choice to not commit to this show’s freshman year as it fits so well in the best of FX’s top-notch dramas (Rescue Me, Damages, The Shield).