It’s that time of year again for my list of favorite TV characters on shows that are currently airing or recently wrapped their season.
10. Det. Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), “iZombie” – Rose McIver gets to have all the fun playing Liv under the influence of various brains, but it’s also fun to watch Goodwin’s exasperated reactions. I’ve put Liv, Ravi and Peyton on this list the past three years, so now it’s time to round out the quartet of heroes with the unsung gumshoe. It unfortunately looks like “iZombie” will be canceled after this season, and wherever Goodwin pops up next, I’ll say “Hey! He was on ‘iZombie!’ ”
9. Heather (Vella Lovell), “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” – Heather has been my favorite character since the beginning, but for some reason, I hadn’t put her on this list before. She starts as someone the audience can relate to – so engrossed by the train wrecks that are Rebecca and her friends that she starts hanging out with them, claiming research purposes. Gradually, Heather becomes equally absurd, supplementing her desire to be a lifetime college student (see my No. 1 song from the show, “The Moment Is Me”) with impromptu surrogate motherhood.
8. Tyler (Dustin Ybarra), “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World” – “Kevin” has the best cast of any mediocre show on the air. Weirdly, while I tune in for Jason Ritter and Joanna Garcia, Ybarra is actually the brightest light in a series that aims to be aggressively sunny amid the world’s setbacks. I know of no other character on TV who sees the positive side of everything, and frankly, it’s refreshing.
7. Mr. Goodsir (Paul Ready), “The Terror” – One of the unique pleasures of “The Terror” is the way people naturally slide between hero and villain roles; first Capt. Crozier seems like a villain, with Mr. Hickey as a sympathetic deckhand, and now that has flipped. Mr. Goodsir is the show’s rock, the one man we can trust to be morally upstanding and empathetic. He’s the only sailor who befriends the Eskimo woman, and he’s at the forefront of figuring out the disease ravaging the crew.
6. Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), “The Alienist” – All three leads do a great job of capturing the way people behaved in 1890s society, but Sara is of particular interest. As a woman in a man’s world (she is the first female employee of the New York Police Department), her self-determination isn’t a novelty, it’s a necessity to get anywhere in her career. No advancement is to be found at the NYPD, so she works on the side with private detectives to solve a string of grisly murders – and rarely rumples her petticoats while she’s at it.
5. Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams), “Black Lightning” – Veteran actor Williams wears a perpetual smirk that makes him magnetic in any role, but is ideal for playing the title character of this endearing comic-book adaptation that desperately tries to overcome its ridiculous elements (for example, why “Black” Lightning? Why not just Lightning?). He’s not one of those superheroes who merely gives lip service to the important things – he lives it by being a hands-on principal of a charter school and an ever-present father to his daughters. In his 40s, Black Lightning joins the DCEU’s Batman as one of very few SOTAs (Superheroes Older Than Average) to be found in pop culture.
4. Sofia Falcone (Crystal Reed), “Gotham” – This Batman backstory juggles so many colorful characters that it’s hard for one to stand out, but there’s no question “Gotham” has become less engaging since it wrapped up Sofia’s arc as the underworld boss. The smoldering Reed steals scenes even across from the scenery-chewing Penguin or gravel-chewing Captain Gordon. The writers are at least somewhat aware of what they have, as they put Sofia in a coma (comic-book code for “She’ll come back perfectly healthy at some point”).
3. Toby (Chris Sullivan), “This Is Us” – NBC’s ratings hit (and to some degree critical hit, although I can sense the backlash around the corner) stars some of my favorite established actors, like Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore. Yet I have to admit to a man crush on Toby. The way he always has the right thing to say to Kate arguably makes him unrealistic, but “This Is Us” gets away with it because Kate and Toby look like a real (non-Hollywood) American couple and Toby takes joy in life’s simple pleasures, such as the new puppy he is drawn to like a little kid.
2. Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), “Atlanta” – This brilliant dark comedy has characters who fit stereotypes (the “bodyguard” Tracy) and those who wryly observe the stereotypical behavior around them (Earn and Al). Darius is intriguingly in the middle as Al’s roommate who always has some out-of-the-blue new hobby, such as making pasta after dreaming that he knows how to make pasta. Darius is ridiculous, yet the character is flexible enough to fit the Everyman role. A prime example is his leading turn in the bizarre horror episode where he attempts to take possession of an old piano from a recluse’s mansion.
1. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), “Westworld” – Maeve is the more sympathetic host, sure. But Dolores is played by Wood, in her meatiest turn since teenage Jesse on “Once and Again.” Dolores ain’t Jesse, to say the least. In fact, it’s hard to say who Dolores is, which is the point. She is sometimes a delicate flower of a childlike being who thinks the lights of the city are the most beautiful things ever. Or she can kill park guests in her bid for freedom, tapping into the anger from the many times she has been “killed” through the decades. I have no idea where Dolores’ arc is going, and that’s the best of many reasons to watch “Westworld.”
Who are your favorite characters on TV at the moment? Share your thoughts in the comment thread below.
John’s favorite characters from previous years: