Here are my 10 favorite characters from the last 12 months of television, from networks to cable to streaming, counting down from 10 to 1:
10. Detective Connors (J.D. Evermore), “Cloak & Dagger” – “The corrupt cop” in shorthand, Connors has an arc we don’t often see play out: He killed Tyrone’s brother by accident on the job, then allowed it to be covered up. But decades later, the guilt has gotten to him and he has thrown himself at the mercy of Tyrone’s family’s definition of justice, leading to the surprising situation where we root for them to be merciful.
9. Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis), “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” – Hilda never makes me think of Davis’ timid UK “Office” receptionist Dawn, even though the actress is just as engaging in the role of Sabrina’s aunt. Among all the characters on this weirdly toned and weirdly compelling series, Hilda’s heart is most consistently in the right place. She exemplifies the show’s controversial notion that Satan worshipers are people, too, and in fact they can be morally upstanding people.
8. Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal), “The Punisher” – I’m tempted to use the phrase “the role he was born to play,” but comic-book scholars will note that TV’s Frank is different from comicdom’s Frank; additionally, some fans prefer one of the three movie actors who have tackled the role. But for me, Bernthal’s performance as this guy who is great at killing yet doesn’t enjoy it makes even the weaker moments of “The Punisher” engaging. Season 2 does a great job of showing how Frank toughens up Amy – a girl accidentally thrown into his sphere – for the cruel world without specifically trying to be her mentor.
7. Connie the Hormone Monstress (Maya Rudolph), “Big Mouth” – I laugh every time Connie comes on screen just because the animators’ design is so good, but Rudolph’s all-out vocal performance takes her to another level as the Monstress’ often inexplicable behavior mirrors that of teenage girls. I have no idea what the writers have in mind by assigning her to Nick, who would traditionally get a male Hormone Monster, but I’m looking forward to seeing that play out in Season 3.
6. Jay Singletary (Chris Pine), “I Am the Night” – There are three standout performances in this miniseries, including India Eisley as the fragile but tough Fauna and Jefferson Mays as George Hodel, the likely Black Dahlia killer who is among the most chilling human villains on TV in the past year. But Pine gets the nod for this list as he gives a particularly lived-in performance as a washed-up mid-century newspaperman trying to resurrect his career on the Hodel case while also trying to protect Fauna and fend off the increasing number of people he has ticked off.
5. Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore), “This Is Us” – Obviously the makeup artists deserve a ton of credit, but so does Moore for being utterly convincing whether playing a 20-something lovebird falling for Jack or a 70-something matriarch doling out wisdom to the Pearson clan while trying not to overstep. Moore does all this while being in her 30s in real life. Although I liked her work as far back as the 2001 music video for “In My Pocket,” I wouldn’t have guessed she’d someday show this level of diversity within a single role.
4. Abe Weissman (Tony Shalhoub), “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Shalhoub is simply one of the finest actors working today. Adrian Monk is of course iconically neurotic, and I think we can now label Abe as an iconic portrayal of a mid-century Jewish-American patriarch. Love it or hate it, “Maisel” is an uneven show, and Shalhoub could get brilliant or so-so material on a given day. But whether Abe is trying to win back his wife, doing morning exercises in his romper, or glowering at his daughter for her secret comedy career, Shalhoub sells all of it.
3. Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason), “Roswell, New Mexico” – Shiri Appleby’s Liz Parker from the original “Roswell” is one of my favorite TV leads ever, so the fact that I’m even watching “RNM” – let alone putting her on this list – says something about Mason. She’s everything you’d want in an adult Liz: responsible about her science work, googly-eyed over Max in the “Roswell” tradition, and girl-next-door cute in a way that makes her seem accessible to viewers who wish they were in Max’s shoes. Mason also fits the original vision of the “Roswell High” book series better with her Hispanic heritage.
2. Greg Serrano (Skylar Astin), “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” – Astin had a task even more difficult than Mason’s, taking over a role within this very series from the excellent Santino Fontana, who departed in Season 2 to focus on his stage career. The writers helped Astin out with an ingenious Season 4 set-up: It’s been a while since Rebecca has seen Greg, so he looks different; the new actor serves as a metaphor for her seeing him in a new light. Astin captures the hangdog but Rebecca-loving spirit of Greg, especially in the funny and weirdly touching “I Hate Everything But You,” my favorite song of the series.
1. Charlie (Florence Pugh), “The Little Drummer Girl” – “Special star quality” is perhaps a lazy analysis of an actress, but it fits for Pugh, who is equally mesmerizing in the elegant old-school spy drama miniseries “Drummer Girl” as in the rough-and-tumble movie “Fighting with My Family.” “Drummer Girl” particularly loves Pugh, who plays an initially naive girl who accepts the most whirlwind acting gig one could imagine, amid a team of Israeli spies. The production outfits Charlie in pastels and lights her in such a way that the screen should have a gilded frame around it as she artfully – if sometimes reluctantly – plays the roles assigned to her.
John’s favorite characters from previous years: