Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jenn's Pick: Top 10 TV Characters I'm Thankful for in 2014

Gobble gobble, lovely readers! 

Grab your pregnancy pants because it's getting close to that time of year. You know the one -- where you gather around the table with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and piles of pies in order to celebrate being blessed and fortunate. As it's approaching Thanksgiving, I thought I would dedicate another blog post to some television characters I'm thankful for in 2014! Last year I made a post about some television characters I was thankful for, so you should check it out if you're inclined. I'm resurrecting the tradition (and will hopefully continue it for years to come).

I've been really blessed this year with my health, my friends, my family, my job (even if it's not what I want to be doing, it's still a job that pays me money), my accomplishments, my church, my living situation, etc. etc. Sometimes I think we take our blessings for granted -- I know that I have the tendency to do this and complain about things that are privileges, rather than rights -- and I'm so glad that we get to spend this time of year together thinking about all of the things we can be thankful for.

It may seem trivial and silly, but I'm thankful for this blog. I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to express myself in words -- something I've always loved doing -- and that so many amazing, thoughtful, and smart people have been dropped into my life because of it. You guys are, quite simply, the best. And I'm thankful for you! I'm also thankful for television because without it, I wouldn't have this job. ;)

So let's talk about some of the television characters I'm most thankful exist this year! Drop your own suggestions and comments below and keep adding to the list.

10. Peter Prentice (The Mindy Project)

It's weird, because I used to despise Peter on The Mindy Project. He entered as this really abrasive, jerk of a character. But in seasons two and three, Peter suddenly went from annoying frat boy douchebag to... really sweet, caring, still occasionally shallow, lovable doctor. We saw exactly how caring and compassionate he could be toward Mindy at the end of last season ("Indian BBW," "Think Like a Peter") and throughout season three as well. And perhaps it's just the natural charm and charisma of Adam Pally that allowed Peter Prentice to become more than a stock character, more than a joke, and more than a one-dimensional doctor, but I honestly think that the writing for Peter has been a great example of how The Mindy Project can utilize its non-Mindy and non-Danny characters to create sources of conflict but also growth on the show. Peter became a character that I actually cared about -- he became someone I didn't just tolerate on the show but actually MISSED when he was absent. He gave me a reason to care about a character that wasn't one half of the main romantic pairing and that is something that I think The Mindy Project needs to improve on, especially since Pally will be departing the show before the season's end. 

But for now, just know that Peter Prentice was one of my favorite characters on television this year and I will miss him dearly when he leaves.

9. Spencer Hastings (Pretty Little Liars)


Let's talk about the incomparable Spencer Hastings, shall we? This is a woman who has dealt with her fair share of traumatic moments and experiences and has still managed to be one of the most engaging and complex characters on television, and certainly one of the most complex on an ABC Family drama series. If Spencer Hastings is not your favorite Liar, it better be because your favorite is Hanna Marin, otherwise, we need to talk. Pretty Little Liars can be really great sometimes, but it can also be really shark-jumpingly convoluted. Spencer is the constant that drives this show, I think. She ha numerous flaws and makes mistakes, but she knows who she is: she is a leader and a winner and a fighter and a young woman who is just trying to keep her head above water and keep her friends from falling apart.

In 2014, we got some utterly amazing work from Troian as she portrayed Spencer's pill addiction with such gripping and moving reality. If she hadn't already been my favorite character by the point that "Free Fall" aired, that episode would have solidified it for me. Spencer is the type of character who occasionally makes poor decisions, but the reasoning behind them is so complex and powerful that you cannot help but be transfixed as you watch her journey. And honestly, Spencer Hastings has remained one of the best characters on television this year because I've been able to watch her grow and learn from those mistakes; the darkness within her hasn't broken her but has instead made her a stronger, more dynamic, more engaging character than ever before.

8. Jane Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)


I just recently began watching Jane the Virgin after Ann highly recommended it to be (and Ann has some pretty great taste to begin with), and absolutely fell in love with this charming little show. More than that, though, I fell in love with the beautiful characterization of Jane Villanueva. When I talk about strong characters, people automatically attach a certain stigma to the phrase (she must wield a weapon or be in a position of power traditionally occupied by a man, etc.). But being a strong female character in 2014 really just means being a layered character who makes mistakes and is more than just a prop for a male character's growth and development. Jane knows what she wants out of life: she has plans and goals and is an idealist in many ways, but more of a realist than anything else. Her mother had her young and Jane is determined to be a success... until she accidentally gets inseminated. As a 23-year old virgin with a fiance.

The premise seemed a bit absurd to me (and it is, primarily because it is an American telenovela) and I try to stick to less wacky comedies, but Jane the Virgin got me hooked and I'll tell you why: Jane. Jane is such a wonderful character because you get to see her grow from episode to episode. You understand why she is the way that she is at 23 because of the female role models in her life and the absence of her father. Jane is compassionate. She is smart. She is completely and utterly kind, but do not mistake that for her being a doormat. There was a great article written in the Chicago Daily Herald that pinpointed the reasons why I love Jane Villanueva (and The Flash's Barry Allen) so much: they are good, nice characters. There is something so utterly engaging and inviting about characters who are nice, in spite of their circumstances: in those who CHOOSE to be good and kind and loving and hopeful in spite of all of the complexities and uncertainties and darkness of life.

To me, Jane is such a refreshing character. She is strong not because she is faultless but because she loves deeply, has goals and dreams and visions, and never allows herself to compromise her values and beliefs, even when that is difficult to do.

7. Henry Higgs and Eliza Dooley (Selfie)

Selfie was that show that you didn't watch when it was on the air and now that it is tragically cancelled, you're kicking yourself for it. (Or, maybe you're not kicking yourself but I'm kicking you FOR you.) I copped out last year by including Sleepy Hollow's Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills as one entry for my post because they were partners. This year, I'm doing it again because I consider Henry and Eliza to be partners and equals. I will spare you a lot of dialogue about why Selfie was such a delightful little show, mainly because I think that Ann has already done it better justice than I ever could. Here is why I loved Henry and Eliza so much though and was extremely thankful to have two characters like them on my TV this year: they made each other better because they were both broken.

In television romantic comedies, you'll often find inequality within a pairing. You'll have one character who is the "fixer" and the other who is the "fixee." That's not inherently wrong, really, because I do feel like a lot of people in life find this to be the case in romance. But what I loved about Selfie was that it set us up to believe that Henry was the "better" of the two -- he had his life together and was successful at work and didn't talk in hashtags. A lot of people would try to adapt something like Pygmalion that way. But not Emily Kapnek. Instead of providing us with a right vs. wrong sitcom, Emily identified a truth: everyone has baggage and everyone is broken. And the people who look most put-together are often just as problematic as the ones who think Instagram likes are more important than physical conversations.

That's why Henry and Eliza worked as a duo on this show: they were always managing to teach each other about life. Eliza allowed Henry to connect with people socially -- she managed to get him out of his head and out of his work. Henry, meanwhile, helped teach Eliza about compassion and intention -- he taught her that it wasn't just important to engage with others, but it was important to make meaningful connections with them. Basically, Selfie was an intricate balance of comedy and romance and partnership and I loved it and am thankful it existed this year.

6. Emma Swan (Once Upon A Time)

Do you remember when Emma Swan was first introduced on Once Upon A Time? Do you remember how guarded and calloused and self-deprecating she was? I do. I remember how hard it was for her to open up to anyone emotionally. I remember how easy and natural it was for her to tuck and run -- to abandon her problems and her baggage rather than face them both, head-on. And I remember that her resilience in that first season didn't stem from hope but from anger. In the fourth season, we see Emma Swan as the beautifully complex character that she is learning not just to deal with her baggage and her insecurities, but actually deal with and learn to overcome them. That is, thanks in part, to the love from her family and her love for Hook.

I think that a lot of people believe that if a strong female character falls in love, she will automatically lose something fundamentally "strong" about her. But I actually believe it to be the opposite -- I think it takes an extremely strong person to allow themselves the vulnerability of falling in love with a person, multiple people (in Emma's case, her family), or themselves. We've seen a lot of heartache and pain in Emma's life and we have seen a lot of it come from a place that should be filled with love. Her family abandoned her. She had to abandon her son. Neal hurt her. People who should have loved her LEFT her and because of that, it has always been difficult for Emma to believe that other people are capable of loving her honestly and fully. This hesitancy in Emma has evolved in the fourth season of Once Upon A Time already -- through her relationships, Emma has learned to lay down her walls and allow other people to see and love the darkest parts of her; the parts that even she doesn't love.

Because that, really, is what makes Emma such a beautifully layered character: she doesn't allow people in because she's afraid they'll recoil in horror over the brokenness they see there. And the reason she believes that? Because SHE often recoils in horror over her brokenness and decisions that she has made. What I love now is that Emma has learned to be vulnerable and honest in love and that the key to loving others fully is to first love herself fully. What better message is there in 2014 for women, really?

5. The Twelfth Doctor (Doctor Who)

In a thoroughly disappointing season of Doctor Who, there was one bright spot: Twelve. It took me a few episodes to really accept Peter Capaldi as the Doctor (it felt, for a while, as if the lines were written so generically that Nine, Ten, or Eleven could have read them and it would have been natural), but once the series decided to embrace Capaldi's darker, more biting comedy and seemingly bristly exterior, I fell utterly in love with Twelve. By the season's end, all I really wanted to do was throw my arms around him and give him the world's biggest hug. Why I really loved Twelve can be partially wrapped up in the fact that I abhorred the way Clara was written and needed to emotionally connect with someone, but is really -- more fully -- wrapped up in the fact that Twelve was the first real dark Doctor that we've had in a while.

Don't misunderstand me: Ten and Eleven were dark Doctors in their own rights, but Twelve was so reminiscent of Nine to me that I drew closer to and had more compassion for him. How could you feel anything but compassion for  man who was rejected by his companion -- a woman he really and truly loved -- because he had a different, older face? How could you feel anything but compassion for a man who was unsure of if he was the hero or the villain of his own story? How could you feel anything but compassion for the man whose hearts broke when he was lied to? How could you feel anything but compassion for the raggedy man who masked the pain and anguish of what his old eyes had seen by running away and being alone?

I love Twelve. I am truly thankful that in a season where everything went wrong, he was the one thing that did not.

4. Shawn Spencer (Psych)

The final season of Psych aired in 2014 and if there is only one television regret I am allowed to have, it is that I did not watch this show while it was on the air. I had to settle for Netflix binge-watching of this utterly and totally wonderful meta comedy series, but I guess it's okay because it allowed me to appreciate the joy of a character that was Shawn Spencer, non-psychic detective for the Santa Barbara Police Department. In the first few seasons of the show, Shawn was an extremely witty, intelligent, observant man who was also impulsive and selfish and bitter. He and his father had the kind of relationship where they clashed over anything and everything. And he wasn't that great of a friend to his life-long buddy Gus, really. Furthermore, Shawn used his abilities to serve his own purposes, not to better lives.

But slowly, that all began to change. Shawn became a more compassionate, more dynamic character when he met and became closer to Juliet. His relationship with his father evolved from that of him seeing Henry as a burden and a problem to a role model and a confidante and friend. And Shawn began to treat others like Gus and Lassie differently, too. In the show's final episode ("The Break-Up") we saw how far Shawn had come in his personal and professional journey. Though he will always be the kind of character who uses humor as a defense mechanism and occasionally acts like a child, I am thankful for Shawn Spencer because he grew up and learned a lot about himself and -- most importantly -- how to treat others. He learned about the price of lying and about the cost of taking people (Juliet, Gus, Henry) for granted. For all of those things and more, I am totally and completely thankful for Psych's leading man this year.

3. The Hill brothers (Enlisted)

When you look up the phrase "tragically cancelled" in the pop culture dictionary, you'll find the word Enlisted right beside it and a picture of these lovable goofballs. The FOX comedy was -- and I do not say this lightly -- perfection in a thirteen episode bottle. A small part of me is glad that this show never had more episodes because the ones that it did were so stellar that I fear anything beyond them would have been a let-down. But then the larger part of me is reminded that I will never get to see Randy cry or hear Derrick's biting sarcasm or watch a motivational speech from Pete again and then I get sad. Really sad.

Though Enlisted was an ensemble comedy featuring the entire platoon, the heart of the show was always found with the Hill brothers. I loved that we had the opportunity to see each of the men grow over the course of the season, especially Pete and Derrick. Pete's emotional journey and him learning to let other people -- especially his brothers -- into his life was executed so beautifully and wonderfully. Not only was it beautiful, but it was also realistic. Pete was always the protector and provider and in his absence, Randy and Derrick had to fend for themselves which led to the former becoming more emotional and compassionate for the littlest things in life, and the latter hiding behind a wall of sarcasm and defense mechanisms. I love that the Hill brothers were so unique in personality, but you could also tell that they were brothers by the way that they responded to each other and their circumstances.

Pete, Randy, and Derrick are three characters that I am thankful for this year not -- as I've already said in other places in this post -- because they are perfect but because they are REAL. And because they are real, with flaws and triumphs, I find them endearing and engaging.

2. Felicity Smoak (Arrow)

I could write a novel about why I am thankful for Felicity Smoak. Lucky enough for you, I already did that so let's skip to some of the good parts, shall we? I don't love Felicity because she is faultless. I don't love her or appreciate her because she never makes a bad decision (we talked about that extensively in my review of this week's Arrow, remember?) or because she has all of the right answers all of the time. I love her because in spite of everything that has happened to her, she chooses optimism. She chooses life. She chooses HOPE. For a character like Felicity to exist on this kind of series is rather rare, if you think about it. Shows about superheroes (The Flash aside) are often really dark and really gritty and full of so much pain that even the brightest and most optimistic characters begin to lose all hope in goodness prevailing over darkness.

For Felicity to look at the world -- to look at everything she has seen of it, the good and the bad, the pretty and the ugly -- and still choose to believe in love and happiness and good conquering evil... well, that is pretty remarkable. Felicity has her own sets of doubts and struggles, of course, but in the third season of Arrow, I have seen more reason for her to be despondent than any other. Really. And still, she continues to surprise me with her wisdom and her faith in both herself and others. Remember above when I said that it takes an extremely strong character to be able to be vulnerable in love? Well, it also takes an extremely strong character to wake up in the morning and make the conscious decision to live in hope. Felicity has already been through a lot this season with Oliver and with Sara's death and her mother and Cooper and now Ray. I'm not saying that every decision she makes is automatically the right one. I think it's foolish to believe that even your favorite character has perfect judgement all the time.

So what I am thankful for this year is not that Felicity Meghan Smoak is faultless, but that she is BRAVE.

1. Drew Holt (Parenthood)

If you would have told me at the beginning of my Parenthood marathon that my favorite character in the series' home stretch would be Drew Holt, I would definitely have told you that you were wrong. Drew was never even on my list of top five favorite Braverman clan members. But in the show's final season, I am more thankful for him than any other character on this show and I will tell you why: Drew is the wisest, most self-sacrificing, compassionate of all the Braverman (or Holt or Graham) clan. He has honestly impressed me in his relationships with Amber and Zeek this year and the decisions that he has made because of those relationships.

Drew cares about his family a lot. He and Amber are best friends. I love (I honestly cannot articulate this enough) how much those two have grown as individuals and siblings recently. I love that Drew is not just supportive of his sister, but that he is protective of her as well. When Amber decides to tell Ryan about his baby, Drew accompanies her to support and protect her -- physically and emotionally. After the arc he had with Amy and the abortion, I am so thankful that Parenthood chose to utilize the fallout from that story as a conduit for Drew to grow and mature. If Drew had merely supported Amber this year, offering advice and accompanying her whenever she needed it, that would have been enough to land him on my list. But the fact of the matter is that Drew's grown far beyond that. This season has been focused a lot on Zeek and the impact that his presence has on the other members of the family, whether it is explicit or not. Zeek has always had a special relationship with Drew (as an aside, the fact that he always calls him "grandson" is just too sweet) since Drew was the first grandson.

The final season of Parenthood has devoted a lot of time to the relationship between these two -- to Drew learning more about his grandfather and not just that, but UNDERSTANDING Zeek's motives and his heart (literal and figurative at this point). I have honestly loved their stories because it proves to us that family doesn't mean understanding everything about each other. Drew will never love to shoot, I assume, but the shooting of cans wasn't the important part. The important part was that Zeek was able to pass down a story to Drew and a memory and that Drew, someday, will be able to pass down his own stories and memories about Zeek to his children, too.

But wait, there's more! In this season, Drew has declared a major and it's Finance. I loved this because of his reasoning and it broke my heart at the same time. Drew made the decision to major in something practical in order to help support his family. And while his girlfriend tells him that it is not his job to support Amber or Amber's baby, that doesn't matter to Drew. It doesn't matter that it is not his job: he is GOING to support his mom and Amber because that is what Drew has seen family do -- that is what he knows to be true of love and of family. He is the only Holt who has gone to college and there was so much realism in Drew's struggle to choose practicality over his passion because so many of my friends have had to make the same decisions in their lives recently. Everything that Drew Holt has chosen to do in this season has allowed him to grow more and more in maturity and compassion and wisdom. HE is the one spouting off advice to Amber about her future and her child. HE is the one who is honest with Camille because he worries about Zeek. Even though it breaks his heart to have his grandfather disappointed in him, Drew knows that he made the right decision.

And that's why I am really thankful for Drew this year: he is the rock for his part of the family and he is becoming a pillar of strength for other parts of it as well.

Well, there you have it, folks! I've picked some of my favorite television characters this year to be thankful for; it's your turn now. Hit up the comments below and let me know which shows I missed (a lot, I know) and which you would add to my list. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving week! :)


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