The recent return of “24” further solidifies that this is an age of shock-value TV, where the body count of main characters is more valued than good character building. But TV’s reputation as a character medium isn’t dead yet. Here are 10 reasons why:
10. Larry/Gary/Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir), “Parks and Recreation” – For six seasons, “Parks and Rec” has managed to keep this punchline funny: No matter what’s going on plot-wise, or how emotionally real the writers want to get, Larry is always there to be made fun of or outright dismissed by his co-workers (Chris won’t even give him water when he’s choking). It doesn’t come off as mean because the writers have given Larry a ridiculously beautiful wife, and because sometimes he truly is disgusting, what with the constant farting.
9. Marika (Lauren Ash), “Super Fun Night” – A bevy of sitcoms today feature emotionally stunted adults to various degrees, and “Super Fun Night” has three of them front and center. Marika is the most appealing because she’s always smiling and positive, yet Ash manages to convey a bit of inner sadness to the performance.
8. John Garrett (Bill Paxton), “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” – The slow-starting “Avengers”-verse series has turned things around by pumping up its roster of villains. At the center of Hydra is Garrett, deliciously played by a gruff-voiced Paxton. He’s the main reason why it’s not game over, man, game over, for this series on my DVR queue.
7. Dorian (Michael Ealy), “Almost Human” – To represent the brotherhood at the heart of this unfortunately canceled sci-fi series, I could’ve picked Dorian or John, but I’ll go with Dorian because Ealy has the seemingly less-fun role of the analytical straight shooter (or robot, as it were) who endlessly flusters his partner.
6. Carol (Melissa McBride), “The Walking Dead” – When Rick banished Carol, it seemed like the show was missing something. When she returned, it felt like air was breathed back into the show. Carol makes the tough – almost impossible – decisions (most notably, killing Lizzie) in a time where there are no institutions such as mental asylums for people to shunt their problems off to.
5. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), “Hannibal” – Ask anyone who has followed the two seasons of this show who they think of as Hannibal Lecter, and they’ll now say Mikkelsen instead of Anthony Hopkins or Brian Cox. It’s quite an achievement to make this guy so soulless yet so put-together, and to make us fully understand how he could successfully turn Will Graham into a cannibal. And say what you will about the fact that he’s a serial killer who prepares and eats humans, but Hannibal sure knows how to present a beautiful meal.
4. Hank Rizzoli (Ray Romano), “Parenthood” – Hank is a character close to my heart, as he attempts to overcome his social anxieties and win over Lauren Graham’s Sarah. When Sarah asks Adam for advice about dating Hank, Adam says it’ll be tough but he’s rooting for Hank. Seeing Hank find success in life gives him hope for his son, Max, who also has Asperger’s. I’m rooting for Hank, too.
3. Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga), “Bates Motel” – It’s a rather thankless task to give depth to a character we first knew as the corpse in “Psycho” and the psychotic half of Norman’s split personality. But scene by carefully crafted scene, Farmiga has made Norma both sympathetic (she does, after all, just want to protect her son) and imbalanced. And her scenes as Norma-inside-Norman’s-head are deliciously creepy.
2. Morgan Tookers (Ike Barinholtz), “The Mindy Project” – The show is about Mindy and Danny, and everyone else circles around them. The producers have already made numerous changes to the supporting cast (including subtracting Betsy – “Mindy’s” equivalent to Erin from “The Office” — who was woefully underused). But it would lose a lot more if we didn’t have male nurse Morgan and his bizarrely weird behavior (drying his Speedos on the heating pipe at work) mixed with his big-teddy-bear quality.
1. Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), “Fargo” – In the pilot episode, Lorne becomes crystalized in two scenes: One where he gives Martin Freeman a speech about “the s*** they make you eat” and one where he tells Colin Hanks “there be dragons” if he doesn’t let him go after a traffic stop. In a subsequent episode, Lorne shows what he thinks of his employer’s messenger by using the toilet – to go number two — in the middle of their conversation. Lorne is utterly without a moral compass and he totally makes his own rules. He’s fascinating.