Here are my 10 favorite characters from the last year of television, from networks to cable to streaming, counting down from 10 to 1:
10. Ambrose Spellman (Chance Perdomo), “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” – “Sabrina” is increasingly headed in a bad creative direction, making Perdomo – who plays Sabrina’s British-accented, magically adept cousin — increasingly too good for the show. He doesn’t act like he’s in a stupid show, merely a stylized one. The writers perhaps know what they have here, as they are setting up Ambrose’s principled battle against the full-of-herself Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) in the next batch of episodes. It might be enough to draw me back.
9. Beth Pearson (Susan Kelechi Watson and Rachel Hilson), “This Is Us” – “This Is Us” tugs at the heartstrings because it illustrates touchstone family moments across time; the series now covers nearly a century, from Rebecca’s youth in the mid-20th century to the adult years of her grandkids in the middle of this century. Sometimes we have to suspend disbelief and not look too hard at the actors playing the same character at different ages. But there’s a glowing exception: As teenage Beth, Hilson (pictured) is a dead ringer for Watson, and this adds an extra layer of poignancy as we see Beth’s attempts to tame Randall’s anxiety through the years.
8. Adrian Veidt/Ozymandius (Jeremy Irons), “Watchmen” – Oddly, the most entertaining thread of the slow-starting-but-ultimately-great TV sequel to the comic book is also the least essential – but Irons sells it with a performance as delicious as his villainous turn in “Die Hard with a Vengeance.” The savior of mankind (from a certain point of view), Adrian revels in his godlike status by lording over his servant clones. The smartest man in the world is also among the most arrogant: On trial for mistreatment of his slaves, he delivers a long fart in his defense. “Watchmen” doesn’t address the “hero behaving badly” conundrum until the end, but it’s oh so satisfying when it does.
7. Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – I suspect “Maisel” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino conceived the groundbreaking comedian’s presence in the 1960-set series as a way to provide verisimilitude. But all of Bruce’s little scenes with Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) have sparkled, leading to his increased role in Season 3. “It’s Comedy or Cabbage” is among the most down-to-earth, least talky things Amy has written and directed, as she lets the camera soak up the chemistry between Brosnahan and Kirby (who, as a nice bonus, resembles the real Bruce). Adding poignancy, the viewer has plenty of time to reflect on the fact that Bruce dies six years later in real life.
6. Annie January/Starlight (Erin Moriarty), “The Boys” – Not to be confused with The CW’s “Stargirl,” Starlight is the newest member of The Seven – and the only one who makes a good case for the existence of a superhero organization. While the other six are fine with abusing their power to various degrees, Starlight finds it abhorrent and she stands up to them, believing she can change them from within. (She can’t, but it’s still worth trying.) Adding intrigue, Annie is in a relationship with Hughie (Jack Quaid), a good person who is hiding the fact that he wants to see The Seven taken down.
5. Caleb Nichols (Aaron Paul), “Westworld” – “Westworld” is about how nasty human beings can be (especially when allowed to drop their morals around robots), but the third season sees the show introduce a flat-out decent human being in the form of Caleb. First he saves Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores – thinking she’s a normal woman in distress – but as the season goes on he’s increasingly amazed by her abilities. He learns of her artificial nature after already being won over, just as she learns that humans have the capacity for good. Although the writers don’t overtly play a romantic angle, there’s a spark between Caleb and Dolores that might be fun to explore in future seasons.
4. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), “Evil” — “Evil” is a little bit like “The X-Files” and a little bit like “Medium,” with Herbers asked to play Scully at the office and Allison at home, where she’s the mother of four (!) girls. Amid the likable trio of paranormal investigators rounded out by David (Mike Coulter) and Ben (Aasif Mandvi), Kristen takes the scientific approach, but she’s open-minded. Herbers didn’t make an impression on me amid the ensemble of “Westworld,” but she stands out in “Evil” as someone who bends but doesn’t break. Her chemistry with Coulter’s David makes me ’ship them, even though Kristen is married (but I do feel bad about it).
3. Michael Guerin (Michael Vlamis), “Roswell, New Mexico” — The plot of “Roswell, New Mexico” is increasingly convoluted, but even when the writing isn’t good, Vlamis is top-shelf as Michael, the angry orphan with a heart of gold. He hits that sweet spot of honoring Brendan Fehr’s turn in “Roswell” but not copying it. Although I think Michael-and-Alex (Tyler Blackburn) is the endgame (every scene between the exes feels like a breakup), it’s been nice to get a dose in Season 2 of Michael-and-Maria (Heather Hemmens), the celebrated relationship from the YA books and original TV series. Vlamis has sizzling chemistry with Hemmens, but then again, he might be one of those actors who has chemistry with everyone. I think we’ll see him in lots of roles outside of “RNM.”
2. Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo), “The Outsider” – Any time you see a socially challenged yet professionally competent character on TV, it’s worth celebrating, since social impairments are among the least recognized forms of diversity. Watch one clip of Erivo – an Oscar nominee for “Harriet” – when she’s not acting, and it’s clear that she totally transforms herself to become Holly, a brilliant investigator whose mind works differently. That makes her ideal for probing the supernatural killings in this Stephen King story. Holly’s love story with Andy (Derek Cecil) is cute and surprising, while her bond with skeptic partner Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn) might propel “The Outsider” into future seasons.
1. Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), “Cobra Kai” – Zabka is Exhibit A in the case for giving actors from silly nostalgic stuff a chance to continue their roles. Other than TV guest turns, he hadn’t been in anything you’ve heard of since the 1980s, but he’s excellent as the adult Johnny in this “Karate Kid” continuation. Zabka has mastered a joke that never gets old: Johnny is stuck in the 1980s, largely oblivious to anything more modern than Trapper Keepers, answering machines and cassette tapes. Although his maturity level is such that his ideal romantic type is a “hot babe,” he nonetheless imparts wisdom to student Miguel (Xolo Maridueña). Johnny has learned what not to do from his own sensei, Kreese (Martin Kove). With Daniel (Ralph Macchio) unable to see the change in Johnny, “Cobra Kai” has subtly and successfully flipped the hero-villain dichotomy.
John’s favorite characters from previous years: