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Sunday, August 30, 2020

TV Characters Who Brought Me Joy in This Dumpster Year [Contributor: Jenn]

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2020 has been a nightmare. 

It’s hard to say it any other way than that because it’s true. Between a global pandemic and continued rampant racism (as well as presidential narcissism and incompetence), it might be difficult for you to see anything positive in the last few months. And I totally get that. But while quarantine has afforded me some new normals I never really wanted, it’s also given me a new appreciation for well-written television. What else were we going to do inside for all this time, after all? 

So hopefully to cheer you up, here are a few television characters, pairings, and families who have made this dumpster year a bit more bearable. I ended up choosing shows that were new or currently airing between 2019 and 2020, but just know that essentially anyone from New Girl, Community, Parks and Recreation, and The Office also are included in this list.

Ted Lasso (Ted Lasso)

I first heard about Ted Lasso while listening to “Fake Doctors, Real Friends.” When I decided to start watching it, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Would Ted be presented as a Michael Scott-esque character: often offensive and incompetent at his job, but with a heart of gold? As it turns out, Ted Lasso — the character — is not that at all. The plot of the show is this: Ted, an American football coach, is recruited to coach an English football (American soccer) team that’s been struggling for years. Ted has no experience with soccer and he’s seen as a joke when he arrives in England.

But Ted is not deterred. He’s an optimistic, kind, generous person who sees the team’s overlooked “kit boy” from the team as just as important as the team’s star player. Jason Sudeikis plays Ted with such a sweet earnestness that it’s so easy to root for him. Honestly as a show overall, Ted Lasso is the kind of comedy we need this year. It was developed in part by Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougartown) so you know that it’ll contain the right balance of silliness and heart. Watch this show on Apple TV when you can. You truly won’t regret it. You’ll be rooting for Ted Lasso in no time.

Poppy Li (Mythic Quest)

Speaking of Apple TV, if you haven’t yet watched Mythic Quest, I’ve already explained in detail why you need to (but most of the reasoning is that Megan Ganz is a co-showrunner). And one of the primary reasons is how absolutely delightful Poppy Li is as one of the show’s main characters. She’s smart, passionate, and cares deeply for the people she works with. She’s not afraid to stand up to Ian and make her value known, and it pays off in spades throughout the series. 

I love how Poppy learns to be vulnerable throughout the course of her character arc as well. She’s in a field that’s dominated by men but she doesn’t let that stop her from pushing her ideas and voice through. And she’s a genuinely compassionate and empathetic person. I love Poppy. Please watch Mythic Quest so you can love her too.

Jake Peralta and Amy Santiago (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)

In the first, but not last, of the pairings on this list, I chose Jake and Amy from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. These two gave me so much joy this year separately, but they gave me the most joy when they were together this season. Over the years, Jake and Amy have grown as individual characters. But few things are more satisfying to me on television than seeing writers allow couples to grow and change as well. This season introduced us to Jake and Amy as a couple trying to have a baby. The way the show dealt with their storyline of struggling to conceive and then finally having their baby was so heartwarming and sweet. It’s incredible to see how Jake has evolved from a lax, careless cop into a mature (but still silly), loving husband and father. Amy’s progress has been impressive too, not just because of her development into a mother but also because of her career advance.

These two brought so much joy into a rather bleak year, and when the show returns again (hopefully sometime in 2021 as we’ve heard recently) I can’t wait to see these two grow even more.

Darby Carter (Love Life)

Darby was such an interesting character in Love Life. While I struggled to connect with the HBO Max show in the beginning, once it found its footing it truly picked up steam thanks to Anna Kendrick’s impressive comedic and dramatic performances. The reason that Darby added some light to my life is because she was believable, and I genuinely rooted for her to find love — not just romantic love, but a deep self-love too. We watch her journey unfold over time and as she makes mistakes, struggles in her career highs and lows, and tries to find “the one,” we get to see more and more of who she was as a child and how that informed who she became as an adult.

Love Life is a good show for you to binge during quarantine if you haven’t already, and Anna Kendrick is so magnetic as an actress that it’s hard not to get invested in Darby Carter’s quest to find love.

Klaus and Allison Hargreeves (The Umbrella Academy)

It had been so long since the first season of The Umbrella Academy that I actually needed the plot recap when I watched season two. And honestly, I think I enjoyed the second season more than the first. Even though the Hargreeves siblings are split up in the beginning of the second season, their individual arcs are compelling enough to make you invested — especially Allison’s. I loved Allison in the first season (Emmy Raver-Lampman is just so good at playing a woman whose success and superiority are ways to mask some deep trauma) and this season gave her some deep and dramatic work as Allison finds herself in a very segregated 1960s Dallas, Texas. There’s a ferocity to Allison that gets muted — literally, since Vanya injured her in the first season — for a time in season two, but when she finds her voice, the audience gets the chance to watch her soar. And I love that Allison gets a non-Luther love interest too.

Additionally, Klaus was probably the highlight of season one for me (his comedy definitely balances out the occasionally campy and/or bleak moments in the show), and he doesn’t disappoint in this season either. Not only is he totally, unrelentingly Klaus in season two (he starts a cult, because of course he does) but he also has some great, heartbreaking moments when he tries to save the guy he loves from enlisting in the Army. And he and Allison have an incredibly heartwarming reunion and bond throughout season two, making them my two favorite Hargreeves.

The Pogues (Outer Banks)

When my roommate told me that I should watch Outer Banks because it got bonkers and nearly every episode ended on a cliffhanger, I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. And then I watched the show and found out that she was 100% correct in her assessment. The show IS a wild ride from start to finish, and I found myself on the edge of my seat. What truly is compelling though and makes the show work are its characters. This “found family” of outcast kids calls themselves “The Pogues”: John B. is the leader, JJ is the young man with a really traumatic and abusive relationship with his dad, Kiara’s family comes from wealth but she rejects it, and Pope is incredibly smart and torn between doing right by his friends and doing well in the world. The chemistry between them as friends and the way that they support each other and love one another so deeply is absolutely beautiful.

I love these kids. And I’m so excited to see them thrive in season two.

Courntey Whitmore (Stargirl)

I gave up on superhero shows a long time ago, but when I discovered that Joel McHale was going to be in a new show on The CW, I decided that I needed to check it out. And I found myself absolutely delighted by the new superhero, Stargirl. One of the hardest things to deal with when watching superhero shows is the whole “brooding vigilante” stereotype. These are typically grown, adult men who keep pushing away the people they love in order to protect them and ultimately end up sulking when things go wrong. 

The good thing about Stargirl as a show and Courtney as a character is that she’s a teenager. Her actions become a little bit easier to justify — after all, we wouldn’t expect her to act the same way an adult would. Still, what makes Courtney such a joy is that she’s genuinely compassionate, kind, and empathetic. She isn’t a jaded adult yet and believes that the world is able to be saved. She’s been through a lot in her life already but she hasn’t let that make her cold.

She’s such a fun, lively character and I can’t wait to see her grow.

The Child (The Mandalorian)

Baby Yoda is life. Honestly I can’t even say more than that, but I will. The Mandalorian is an incredible, engaging show but The Child is one of its highlights. His cuteness alone brought us all so much joy this year, but his special powers and abilities as well as the way that he brings other characters together continues to put a smile on my face.

There’s not much more I can say apart from the fact that Baby Yoda united us all this past year, and I love it.

Blair and Sterling (Teenage Bounty Hunters)

I wasn’t sure what to think about Teenage Bounty Hunters when I watched the trailer. And then I watched the show itself and was immediately charmed by the relationship between twin sisters, Blair and Sterling. They’re each so different: Blair has a darker and sarcastic sense of humor (she’s the rebel) while Sterling is the titular rule-following Christian sister, sweet and unsuspecting. But these two are so much more than their stereotypes.

The show itself is laugh-out-loud funny and often paired with some darker storylines as well as twists and turns. But Blair and Sterling’s relationship is by far the highlight of the series. They can read each other's minds — in a storytelling device that works so well on many levels — and are each other’s confidante. Of course, because this is a show about teenagers and their secrets, you know that Blair and Sterling’s relationship will be put to the test. And it is.

Teenage Bounty Hunters is a really fun binge and I highly recommend that you check it out. Come for Blair and Sterling’s relationship and stay for the wild twists and turns!

Issa (Insecure)

I spent a portion of 2020 binge-watching Insecure, and Issa Rae is a comedic genius. Her character, also named Issa, has grown so much over the years on the show and her growth specifically this season was really great (even if her friendship with Molly hit an incredibly rough patch). I love that Issa talks to herself and that her mirror-self responds. I love that she struggles but picks herself up. I love that she makes mistakes but ultimately owns up to them. She brings me immense joy and I can’t wait to see more of her growth in the next season.

Shawn, Jules, Gus, and Lassie (Psych 2: Lassie Come Home)

I’m so grateful that 2020 brought the Santa Barbara gang back into our lives. Psych 2: Lassie Come Home was such a joy from start to finish, and it was a pleasure to see Timothy Omundson back on my screen specifically. Whenever Psych returns — whether in the movie or its sequel — it feels like no time has passed at all. Not only was this sequel a return to the capers and silliness that colors Psych as a franchise, but it was also a joy to watch the characters grow and step into the next chapters of their lives. Shawn and Gus have grown up so much, especially in this movie, and all of the callback jokes and silly meta references

I feel like whenever I see these characters, they become better versions of themselves, while still enjoying the same jokes and bits they’ve done for 10+ years. Honestly, I’d be happy to watch five more movies about these characters. And I hope they create them!

Graham, Sophie, Emma and Amy, and Rory (Single Parents)

I am still not over the fact that this year cancelled Single Parents. This ABC gem focused on single parents raising their children in a “found family” group of friends. Not only did the show have an array of talented adults, but it had such a great cast of kid actors. And those kids brought me so much joy this past year. They each had their own comedic quirks and tics, and were genuinely as talented as their adult counterparts. It makes me sad to know that Single Parents won’t be around for us to see what happens to the kids, to Will and Angie, to Miggy, and to Douglas and Poppy. But I’m grateful that these charming, fun, sweet kids were part of our lives for the two seasons of Single Parents.

Arabella and Terry (I May Destroy You)

I May Destroy You is one of the most compelling new shows of 2020. It unfortunately wasn’t eligible for awards this season but I have no doubt it’ll be nominated for so many in 2021. Arabella and Terry’s friendship is so pure, even in its complexities. They are truly there for each other through thick and thin, and their mantra (“Your birth is my birth; your death is my death”) is so pure and powerful. I May Destroy You contains so much heaviness and dark material that it can be often difficult to watch, especially when it comes to sexual assault. But Arabella and Terry’s friendship is one of the things that grounds the show and provides levity and emotional heart to the hard stuff. If you haven’t checked it out, you truly need to.

Alexis Rose (Schitt’s Creek)

I could honestly choose any of the Schitt’s Creek characters for this category, but I specifically wanted to highlight Alexis Rose. She had some of the actual best character growth in the series, from a selfish, spoiled rich girl to a self-possessed and sacrificial true entrepreneur. I’m so proud of all she accomplished and the hard choices she made to get there. Her relationship with David grew so much as the show went on, and it was absolutely heartwarming to see them truly learn to love each other as siblings.

Alexis Rose may just be one of the fictional lights of my life. She’s hilarious (I dare you not to laugh at “A Little Bit Alexis”), charming, fun, and there are moments in the final season that legitimately broke my heart. But I’m so proud of her and I hope that Schitt’s Creek also brought you joy in this dumpster fire year.

The Kims (Kim’s Convenience)

I couldn’t choose just one member of the Kim family from Kim’s Convenience to highlight, so I want to mention all of them. If you haven’t yet binge-watched this show on Netflix, I highly recommend you do so immediately. Just like another Canadian show, Schitt’s Creek, Kim’s Convenience focuses its comedy on a family and their lives and dysfunction. Appa and Umma are incredibly sweet, endearing, quirky and the wonderful heads of this family. Janet is the daughter who’s just trying to figure out what she’s doing with her life and I love that she has such a close relationship to her parents (also helped by the fact that she works at the convenience store). Jung is the outcast son of the family, but it’s so wonderful to see his growth and how the family begins to repair itself throughout the seasons.

The comedy and joy in the show comes from so many ordinary, fun, recurring jokes and side characters. It’s legitimately heartwarming and made me a little emotional to see the character growth in each of the Kims. Please watch this charming comedy.

Who were some of the characters who brought you joy in 2020? Sound off in the comments below!