Sunday, December 31, 2017

7 POC TV Characters Who Wowed Me in 2017 [Guest Poster: Ashvini]

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This year brought forth some amazing television shows — both returning and new — that carried with them a nuance for telling the stories of POC in the mainstream like I’ve never seen before. I mostly consume comedies, but the heavy dramas and teen-targeted soaps contained beautiful writing for various wonderfully crafted characters who were so much more than just tropes and scapegoats. Instead, they were characters in their own right who had agency and were vital to the bedrocks of their respective shows.

So, my dear readers, here are seven of these characters that wowed me:

William Jackson Harper as Chidi Anagonye (The Good Place)

I love, love, love The Good Place. I honestly cannot stress this enough. And to me, Chidi Anagonye is one of the bright, shining stars that makes this show as witty and profound as it is. Played by the ever-talented William Jackson Harper, Chidi was a professor of ethics and philosophy and is now bound to the shackles of the bad place due to his extreme indecisiveness that caused the people closest to him a lot of strife. It’s a peculiar position to be in, and Harper plays on that peculiarity very well, working in a self-awareness and quirkiness that’s delightful to watch. I was initially worried that Chidi would become second to Kristen Bell’s Eleanor as the wonderful lead, but they are a duo more than anything else. And on his own, Chidi charms me to no end.

Jameela Jamil as Tahani Al-Jamil (The Good Place)

Tahani is the personification of the stereotypical pompous, pretentious, over-privileged British person. Ultimately she finds herself in the bad place for jealousy of her ultra successful, famous sister. And although Tahani was a successful philanthropist, she did her good deeds in vain. Not quite angelic material, to say the least. However, I think that Tahani is so very interesting and relatable to me — I also have a brilliant older sibling and growing up, at times I felt overshadowed. Thankfully, I’ve grown out of this phase and my older sibling is one of my closest confidants but it’s still a sore subject. Tahani’s desperation to simultaneously be better than people and be good is an entertaining paradox to watch play out, and Jamil’s inherent charisma makes Tahani feel authentic, instead of flat. I hope to see more of her story in season three.

Manny Jacinto as Jason Mendoza (The Good Place)

Jason Mendoza is a stupid, unsuspecting guy sentenced to the bad place along with Chidi, Tahani, and Eleanor. He got his one-way ticket because he tried to rob a pizza place in a portable locker and ended up dying from lack of oxygen. It’s so ridiculous that it’s somehow believable. Now, I love Jason. Despite his idiocy he’s sweet and simple; even though he’s supposed to be an incredibly dim-witted character, Jacinto channels a sincerity that’s infectious and difficult to forget. This makes Jason lovable — despite all of the reasons he shouldn’t be — and it’s fun to watch. Here’s to getting more of Jason and his amateur DJ career fleshed out on screen in 2018.

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Harry Shum Jr. as Magnus Bane (Shadowhunters)

Listen, in all honesty, I only watch Shadowhunters because of Magnus Bane. Or actually, for Magnus Bane. Do I fast-forward through all of the parts of the episodes that don’t have Magnus in them? Maybe. Am I missing essential parts of the plot by doing that? Not necessarily. See to me, Shum Jr.’s Magnus Bane is the most compelling part of that show. His origin story as a warlock and as the High Warlock of Brooklyn is uncommonly engaging; his notable glamour and easy allure are weaved into his mannerisms so carefully and so delicately that it’s almost too easy to fall in love with him and the crux of who he is. Which is, a fundamentally good person who bad things have happened to; this makes him not only extremely relatable, but it gets the audience invested in not just in him but who he will become in potential later seasons. Really, he has “protagonist” written all over him. My wish is that the producers and writers let him be one in 2018. He deserves it.

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Sterling K. Brown as Randall Pearson (This Is Us)

In 2017, This Is Us became an important show to me. It’s about family and history, two things that I treasure the most in this world. Furthermore, when you tie these two things together what you get are memories; and those have the power to move worlds. This beautiful, highly emotional show recognizes that power and gives each of its characters an integral part to play in the catalog of Pearson family memories — both the ones that have already been created and the ones that are in development. It’s lovely and unique to watch, and only made better by the current season’s centralization of the “Big Three” or the Pearson triplets. Kevin, Kate, and Randall all struggle together and apart and the more we see them do so, the more we understand their natures which is vital to the dynamism of the show.

In particular, I want to single out Randall, played by Sterling K. Brown. What I like about Randall is that he is persistent in everything he does: a quality that’s valued by his friends and family (though it is hard for him to take risks). Despite all of the taxing circumstances that have shaped his life, he is afraid of change that isn’t calculated and to me that’s fascinating. Randall is a character that represents sensitivity at its most gentle, so it’s no wonder that it is so difficult for him to face hardships. But time and time again, he confronts his obstacle and he persists. He gets out of his head and acts, and it’s inspiring to watch.

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Hannah Simone as Cece Parekh (New Girl)

I wish that they had fleshed Cece out more in previous seasons but as it is, she remains to be the best friend of the titular “new girl” and the apple of Schmidt’s eye. Yet where another actress may have fallen into trope-dom, Hannah Simone’s unyielding presence proves to bring Cece to the forefront more often than not. And in the last season, the audience got to see that part of the character shine through her plots with Schmidt and their marriage, and her lovely friendships with Winston and Jess. I think Hannah Simone is a force of nature, and I think that that force is hard to contain since it bleeds through so easily on screen and makes Cece a powerhouse when she’s the focus of a story. I’m only praying that Cece is the focus of more than one story in the new and last season, in 2018. *prays really hard*

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Lamorne Morris as Winston Bishop (New Girl)

No doubt, Winston is the most consistently hilarious character on New Girl. Much like a modern day mix of Chandler Bing and Joey Tribbiani, Winston Bishop in the past has operated as a scapegoat and distraction but Morris’s cleverness and highly pleasant nature makes Winston a foundation to the show rather than a puppet. In the last season, he’s more than just a punchline — he’s the one handing them out, and seeing that shift was vital to see in a genre that all too often uses Black men as comic relief. I humbly think that after the show ends, Winston will be one of the most remembered characters, with Ferguson, his pranks, and puzzling to be imprinted on the minds of millennials everywhere. That’s a game-changing reality.

Please remember that these are characters from television shows that I consume, so it’s not at all representative of the wide array of POC characters that graced our screens this year. But they are seven examples of the ever-changing landscape of minority representation in western media, and positive ones at that.

So, I’m raising a glass of pink bubbly with the optimism that 2018 will give us more diverse, reflective television characters and stories that will continue to empower people worldwide and improve our perspectives and understandings of humanity.

Onward and upward.


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