Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Jenn's Pick: Top 10 TV Characters I'm Thankful For in 2015

This Thanksgiving marks the third year in a row that I have done this fun little series about television characters that I am thankful for. (Read my 2013 and 2014 lists, if you would like!) And it may seem silly and a bit absurd to most people (especially to those who don't write about television for a living... or, in my case, a side-project), that anyone would take the time to write a post about fictional characters. But in my opinion, television has become a vast and wonderful landscape over the past few years, promoting diversity and increasingly giving women more complex, nuanced roles. As multiple film actors stated at Comic-Con this year, television is the place to be for amazing roles.

So it stands to reason, then, that we SHOULD celebrate the fantastic characters that writers and producers and the actors who portray them have worked so tirelessly to bring to life. Each year, I try to shake up my list of actors and actresses. So if you don't, say, see Emily Bett Rickards' alter ego Felicity Smoak on here, it's because I spent last year discusisng her at length. I've tried to pick from an array of television series and genres, because I watch a lot of television, and hope that you find my picks to be interesting and potentially reflective of your own, as well!

So throw your turkey in the dryer, put it on permanent press, and let's kick this thing off!

10. Toby Curtis (Scorpion)

I did not expect to love Scorpion as much as I do, and I will be the first person to openly admit that. The thing is that on the surface, this CBS hit series is a lot like all of the other CBS shows that revolve around a group of people trying to solve crimes. But what Scorpion has in spades that most people don't realize is this: heart. This is a show that has made me cry on multiple occasions, and I can't say that many shows billed as "procedurals" these days have been able to evoke that kind of emotional response from me.

Toby Curtis is an absolute gem. Hysterical and with the kind of wit and dry sarcasm that draws my attention, Toby is broken but he's also really loving. And smart, which goes without saying. In spite of the fact that he and Happy are on the rocks in their relationship, he's proven time and time again that he will do anything for the people he loves and cares about, including putting his own life on the line. Apart from his impeccable comedic timing, Toby is the kind of person who you would always want on your team. He tells it like it is, and is a bit jaded and sometimes cynical. But goodness, does he care deeply for those around him.

9. Barry Allen (The Flash)

Oh, Barry Allen. You all probably know that I enjoy referring to Barry as "puppy dog" whenever I get the opportunity to do so. And that's because the energy and charisma and charm that Grant Gustin brings to the superhero is just so utterly endearing that I can't help but be reminded of a puppy. And though season two of The Flash is giving us glimpses into a more somber, more jaded type of hero, the thing that I always admired about Barry Allen and the reason that he's included in this list is that he constantly sees the world through still-hopeful eyes. I love Arrow. And I love Oliver Queen. And The Flash and Arrow are two totally different shows. But that means that I also appreciate them for different reasons.

I really like The Flash. A lot. Because even though Central City isn't all sunshine and rainbows all of the time, there is still just a sort of levity there that Barry (and Cisco and the others) bring to the work that they do. Barry is the kind of young man who deeply cares about others and also cares about silly things like making jokes and drinking coffee and being Cisco's sort-of wingman. I absolutely adore the fact that there is a character on television like Barry Allen — someone who cares about people so deeply that he allows himself to feel those feelings fully.

That's why I am really thankful for Barry Allen, though. He's proven that it's okay for superheroes to cry and to sit with their legs curled up to their chest. It's okay for young men to feel emotions and to still be heroes. In fact, that is what makes them the most heroic — the fact that they allow themselves to be vulnerable. Thank goodness for you, Barry Allen.

8. John Murphy (The 100)

You know, when The 100 debuted, I hated John Murphy. He was a bully and a horrible human being who reveled in watching others suffer. He was spared only because of the grace of other people. And since then, he’s been slowly rebuilding himself into a really complex, really interesting character. In spite of all of the misdeeds he’s done (chief among them to me, shooting Raven), The 100 has managed to rebuild Murphy as a character and turn him into the levity that this show so desperately needed.

I can’t even explain what it is that I am thankful for most about Murphy, but it’s probably his deadpanned humor. His arc with Jaha this past season was really intriguing and it worked so well for the show to have him on a side-adventure, apart from the others. We got the chance to see Murphy’s humanity –– he pretends that he’s immune to death and that he’s calloused. But he’s not. People getting blown up in front of him or dragged out of a boat by creepy sea creatures? That still haunts him and rattles him. I love that Murphy has developed from this evil, scheming, tormenting villain to this really complex, hilarious only-sort-of-villain-sometimes. You can actually root for Murphy now, and honestly that is so impressive to me.

7. Kimmy Schmidt (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

In a television world filled with cynical characters, sarcastic one-liners, and gritty drama, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is more than just a breath of fresh air. It’s a rainbow-infused world of joy and delight and wonderment. I absolutely am thankful this year that Kimmy Schmidt is a character who exists on television. Though it’s played for laughs, mostly, Kimmy spent the better part of her life trapped in an underground cult. When she is released, she has the chance to explore the world she thought had been destroyed. And what she ends up doing with her freedom is pretty awesome.

In spite of the fact that there are so many negative, mean-spirited people around her and in spite of the fact that she’s trying hard to acclimate to a world she really doesn’t understand, Kimmy is always bright. Yes, she feels emotions and she feels them deeply. She gets heartbroken and she falls in love and she gets angry. But she’s determined. Her speech to Titus in the pilot episode is amazing and completely exemplifies who Kimmy Schmidt is, as a person. “We’re the strong ones,” she says. “And you can’t break us.”

Kimmy Schmidt is such a delightful character, such a vibrant spot on Netflix, and one I am thankful exists this year.

6. Schmidt (New Girl)

If you need the perfect example of how a show can turn a problematic character into one of the most sympathetic, well-rounded characters in recent history, look no further than New Girl. In season three, Schmidt was a wreck. More than that, though, he was a problem. He cheated on both Cece and Elizabeth and it seemed doubtful the show would ever get us to believe in a Schmidt/Cece romance again.

Except that I sorely underestimated the New Girl team. Not only did the show allow me to believe, wholeheartedly, in those two again, but it also re-established Schmidt as an amazing character. Schmidt’s arc this season was all about change –– he was trying to move on, become a better and more successful individual. He and Jess had more stories together, as a result of everyone in the loft being single(ish) again, which allowed us to explore how compassionate Schmidt could actually be. Gone were the days of a mean-spirited and bitter Schmidt. This year was all about Schmidt learning how to become a better friend to the people around him, while also setting real goals and learning his worth.

Schmidt and Cece actually became friends –– established friends –– and their friendship grew organically. Nothing about it was forced, and Schmidt continued to grow and learn that love means sacrifice and putting others above yourself. Honestly, I am so thankful for Schmidt’s arc and growth this year, and I’m extremely thankful for the character himself.

5. Donna Paulsen (Suits)

Guys, Donna Paulsen is a queen. Suits would not be the same without her and Harvey isn’t the same without her, as we saw this year. Why I’m absolutely grateful for Donna as a character is because I think it’s really important that shows portray the fact that love doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you and push your feelings aside. Sometimes love means walking away. And that’s exactly what Donna did to Harvey this year, choosing to work for Louis instead.

For Donna, she had spent so many years playing this endless game of back-and-forth with Harvey, where she would put everything on the line for him and he would only halfway reciprocate. This year, she decided that enough was enough and when Harvey couldn’t tell her how he truly felt, she walked. It wasn’t, as I have said before, because she needed Harvey to tell her that he loved her. It was never about that. Instead, it was always about honesty. Donna Paulsen values honesty to the same degree that Harvey Specter values loyalty. And it was so refreshing to see such a strong character –– arguably the most beloved on the show –– walk away because she knew that she deserved better.

For that, and so many other reasons, I’m truly thankful Donna Paulsen exists.

4. The Narrator (Jane the Virgin)

Okay, last year I chose to highlight Jane Villanueva. I stand by that decision because I think that Jane is one of the most important characters on television right now –– she’s driven, imperfect, lovable, and also extremely relatable. But the character from Jane the Virgin this year who I am most thankful for is the always-heard-but-never-seen figure of The Narrator. Let’s be honest, here: a large part of the charm of this show stems from the narration. While other series attempt voiceovers (to varying degrees of success and/or frustration), Jane the Virgin’s Narrator lacks a sense of charm, humor, and reliability that no other show on television today has.

And I think that – apart from the running commentary and hilarious jokes –– what I love most about The Narrator is the fact that he’s not omniscient. Though he knows a lot more than we do (and is able to tell us important tidbits of information that would otherwise require an extra twenty minutes of scenes), he also doesn’t know EVERYTHING. He gets confused. He’s surprised. He’s shocked. He’s our guide through the world of Jane the Virgin, but he’s also right alongside us every step of the way, reacting along with us. I think that this decision is such an important one because it allows us to have a sense of intimacy with The Narrator, so much so that he has become the main character of the show in a lot of ways.

Honestly, I love The Narrator and I’m so thankful that he exists (and that the impeccable Anthony Mendez voices him).

3. Rebecca Bunch (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

Guys, I've fallen head-over-heels in love with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and that is thanks, in large part, to the character of Rebecca Bunch. I fully admit when I'm wrong and so I must admit that (much like Jane the Virgin) I judged this series by its title. And when I read that critics were praising the series and hailing it one of the funniest comedies of the season, I began to grow a bit suspicious. Surely it couldn't be AS good as everyone claimed it to be. I, of course, was wrong. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend isn't just good — it's helping to re-shape the way that we see comedy and also the way that we see mental health.

Rebecca Bunch is the kind of character who I watched during the pilot, constantly on edge. I feared that she would become a stereotype or a cliche and that her mental illness and her issues would be played for laughs only. I should have known better, of course, and what I will constantly praise Crazy Ex-Girlfriend for is reminding us that no one has their crap all together. Even the people in the show who are not Rebecca have a TON of issues. She is not the "crazy" one among a group of put-together people. Her antics stem from real issues, just like everyone else's.

But what I truly love about Rebecca is her desire to pursue healthiness, even if she fails. She has her own baggage and her own insecurities, but the moment someone else needs her help, she is ready to set aside all of that and be there for them. She's unapologetically truthful and it's super refreshing to see a character on television who basically says what she's thinking without apology. And in one of the recent episodes, Rebecca declared that she would not apologize for feeling things. She gave herself permission to feel everything and to not censor herself or her emotions. I absolutely love that about her and thought it was super poignant.

Rebecca may not have her life together, but she also doesn't apologize for the way that she is. She wants to become better and healthier, but in her journey there, she will encounter missteps. The important thing is that Rebecca never stops trying.

2. Ben Wyatt and Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation)

There's no way that I could separate these two. Apart from being an iconic couple (honestly probably my favorite and arguably the best television couple in history), these two had such amazing individual story arcs in the final season of Parks and Recreation, propelling them both into greater character development and relationship with each other. Ben and Leslie's marriage and foray into parenthood was one that colored the entire season of Parks and Rec. These two were successful, happy, and trying their best to maintain that success and happiness while raising kids. They also never wanted to lose sight of who they were as a couple or as individuals in the process.

I could write a novel about it, but "Pie-Mary" is such a stunning example not just of Parks and Rec's impeccable commentary on real-world situations, but on displaying how a good, healthy marriage actually looks. Ben sacrifices for Leslie and Leslie sacrifices for Ben. When everyone else turns against her, he is constantly standing at her side (and sometimes even behind her, letting her take the lead and spotlight). Ben is never portrayed as envious of Leslie's successes, and Leslie is never portrayed as resentful of Ben.

These two are the consummate example of how a healthy relationship should look, and I'm immensely grateful that people who watched Parks and Rec will be able to see their love and their relationship for years to come.

1. Brian Finch (Limitless)

I absolutely, positively love Brian Finch. And I don't just love him because he's goofy and silly and has wit and humor and sarcasm. I don't just love him because he has an insanely active imagination. I love him because he’s the kind of character who is already a hero, in spite of the fact that when we meet him, he doesn’t appear to be one. What Limitless does exceptionally well from the very beginning is remind us that Brian –– at his core –– is a person who cares and who cares deeply. They don’t set him up to be the “smarmy jerk” who needs to be changed by having a purpose in life and then ultimately can become a hero. Brian doesn’t need to transition from cynical loner to purposeful, lovable hero. He’s already a hero when the story begins and continues to be, even if he doesn’t believe himself to be one.

And honestly, that’s one of the reasons I’m thankful for Brian Finch –– he doesn’t believe he’s good enough as he is. But he is good enough and he’s a hero on and off NZT. The truth is that Brian is a hero because he cares about his friends, because he wants to make the world better, and because he loves with his whole self. He isn’t afraid to break down and cry. He will fight against everything – and even risk his own life – rather than betray the people he cares about. No, literally, he endures life-threatening side effects of NZT rather than give up Rebecca Harris to Eddie Morra. Brian works to save his father, too, and that’s not just extremely admirable. It’s indicative of him as a character.

Brian Finch is such a layered, wonderful character. He’s the kind of person who you root for, over and over again. Because he’s WORTH rooting for. And I’m so thankful Limitless exists to bring him into our lives.

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this list! Such great picks, I'm sad I haven't watched a few of these shows, but you definitely made me want to. I'm curious to see how they handle John Murphy (personally, I was so bored with the Jaha/Murphy storyline). Did you see the season 3 trailer?!
    I love that you put Ben and Leslie on the list, I would agree with the notion that they're the best television couple in history ;)
    And of course, Donna is queen. I loved your point about honesty - the queen deserves the best.