Best New Characters Of The Year
5. Dermott Fictel - The Venture Brothers
Seemingly the long-lost son of Brock Samson (and a mother whose face is being kept from us for now), Dermott Fictel is belligerent, ignorant, overly confident, and generally the brattiest person on TV all year. So why like him so much? For pushing Brock's buttons, and for being one of the most perfectly realised teenagers ever created. I have known so many arrogant dicks like Dermott, who profess to know all about martial arts and army training, and not just during childhood. Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer kinda tortured me by creating this character, who so resembles some of my least favourite people, but they got him so right I couldn't help but delight in seeing that personality type shown up so totally. And then, just to really make me happy, had him get beaten up by weedy Dean Venture, of all people. Just beautiful.
4. Miles Straum - Lost
He's a jerk who is rude to everyone, and he talks to ghosts. What's not to love? Ken Leung is already known to all Sopranos fans, but as we've yet to see it, the only thing I knew him from was X-Men: The Last Stand, where he played Porcupine Man or something. No matter. Straum turned up and was immediately rude to everyone, and then, not long after, talked to a ghost. It was love at first sight. That his character is so enjoyable on a surface level is one thing, but the hints that he knows more about the island show promise much revelation and bitchery to come. Of course, the writers' strike robbed us of a season four Miles flashback, but even though I'm desperate to know more about him, it has added to his mystique.
3. Livia Beale- Journeyman
When we first see the supposedly dead Livia, she is surprisingly confident, intelligent, attractive but not overly sexualised, and emotionally compex. I say surprisingly, because all too often female characters on TV are underwritten compared to their male counterparts. Things have obviously improved (I can think of numerous examples now, whereas a few years ago I would have had trouble), but Journeyman was still in the minority. Moon Bloodgood, who before this had had an uninspiring IMDb resume that includes the character designations Maid, Stripper, and Gorgeous Woman, hinting that she was only being cast for her looks and not her talent, excelled herself as the mysterious Livia, who, it turns out, is not just a strong female character, but is a strong female character who actually exists in the 20s, which adds even more heft to her unshowy feminism. Her inspirational, no-nonsense wisdom and strength will be sorely missed now that the show is over.
2. Emerson Cod - Pushing Daisies
Though I would argue that the conceit of Pushing Daisies is dark enough that the tone of the show needs to be brighter than bright to offset it, it also needs a counter-corrective to make those sunshiney visuals and optimistically romantic plot tolerable. Luckily, Bryan Fuller struck gold by casting Chi McBride as ascerbic PI Emerson Cod, whose cynicism stands in stark contrast to the cutesy antics of Chuck and Ned. Though Cod's character is over-designed (knitting? Really?), McBride makes it all work beautifully. Taking into account his work on House and the adorable Roll Bounce, he's rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors.
1. Dr. Amber Volakis - House M.D.
The writers' strike made a mess of a lot of shows plans, saving some from imminent irrelevance (Heroes), and wrecking the momentum of others (Ugly Betty). Amber "Cutthroat Bitch" Volakis looked to have the most interesting arc of any of the characters on House, but losing a few episodes meant her transformation from calculating semi-mechanoid horrorshow to tragic saint almost didn't work the way it should, but the amazing Anne Dudek (and Robert Sean Leonard and Hugh Laurie as the men in her life) sold it with utter conviction. To start the season as a potential Gupta and end as our favourite character on the show is a notable achievement. We're still secretly depressed at how it all turned out. We miss you, Amber!
Guptas Of The Year
5. PC Andy - Torchwood
Bit of a fudge, this one. He was first seen in the Torchwood pilot and then vanished for a while before returning to crop up once or twice, hanging around Gwen like a bad Welsh smell. The fact that he has little to do other than bug Gwen about Torchwood, as well as the irksome unfinished name, are enough to get on this list. A character as glib and underwritten as this probably has legions of squeeing fans ("OMG PC Andy was so great when he said very little tonight I HEART HIM!"), as that is what fandom does (such as the mystifying cult that sprung up around Deputy Sacks from Veronica Mars). That kind of thinking is not alien to me, I guess. I remember thinking Miles O'Brien was the nuts on Star Trek: The Next Generation when he had very little to do other than energize. That PC Andy's role is being expanded does not bode well. Even now, he sure isn't a Miles O'Brien (who became the best non-Sisko thing about DS9). Still, maybe he'll get a surname now.
4. West - Heroes
What can I say about West? Seriously, what can I say? I totally tuned out while he was onscreen. How about this. West! Your power is boring and you are no kind of romantic hero. Plus, that flying-your-girlfriend-around trick has been done before. Consider how classy Claire Bennett is that she didn't come up with a crappy poem about reading minds while you did it. She's too good for you. Beside, you have the same power her dad Nathan Petrelli does, so you trying to get into Claire's pants is, on some level, almost incestuous. That she would fall for someone who is like her dad is one thing, in an Elektra complex kinda way, but you're no Adrian Pasdar. Plus, you are named after a direction. Fly away, sad little meta-emo!
3. Juliet Darling - Dirty Sexy Money
Creating a character who is just like Paris Hilton, except openly bitchy and shouty, has to be the dumbest move the Dirty Sexy Money showrunners made. Who, other than that unpleasant fame-ho Perez Hilton, actually likes Paris Hilton enough to see a fictionalised version of her, and, even worse, on a show featuring venerable actors Donald Sutherland and Jill Clayburgh? I guess Samaire Armstrong managed to capture Paris' persona well enough, but accuracy does not change the fact that having to endure this shallow jerk week after week was an unendurable trial. Real life events meant she's not on the show anymore, but it's not like it's in tip top health without her. Natalie Zea, Seth Gabel, and Glenn Fitzgerald are still on it, after all.
2. Lila Tournay/West - Dexter
Ah Lila, the deep and mysterious artist who is impulsive! And is deep! And unafraid of exhibiting her boobs because she is such a free spirit! And is a bit mysterious! And will teach life lessons to our anti-hero using her deep deepness, boobs, and impulsive nature! How life-affirming. And supremely annoying. Manic Pixie Dream Girls are intrinsically awful anyway, but Jaime Murray brings a bag of distracting acting tics and bizarre facial expressions to the plate just to make the character even more unlikeable. That she fits right in on this most frustrating of shows is not a compliment. Just like everyone else, she makes us shout "Oh shut up!" at the screen, except with more vehemence.
1. Morgan Grimes - Chuck
A lot of generic network shows tend to lead with a static and semi-boring main character, in order to maintain a format; too much change or unpredictability in that character would make the show and whatever gimmick/hook the show has unworkable from week to week. As a result it's the supporting cast that has the most colour and potential for drastic change. That's not a criticism, of course. That's just the way it works. I doubt many people would say Buffy was their favourite character on Buffy. For example, though I liked Buffy, I was always more invested in Willow and Giles.
However, if the supporting cast sucks, you're in trouble. While Buffy had a great sidekick in Willow, and Angel had Wesley (and Kirk had Spock, and Ryan had Seth, Gil Grissom has Catherine Willows, etc.), Chuck has Morgan, a comedy relief character whose shtick is, "I'm so pathetic yet so inordinately confident." That he is a stock character plunked into the sidekick slot without any effort expended to flesh him out at all is bad enough, and a perfect display of the formulaic and unimaginative nature of the show. What makes him the worst new character on TV is that Joshua Gomez' performance is a grab-bag of nerd tics borrowed from many other actors, none of which make him at all charming or likeable. His reflexively sarcastic line readings are like animal shrieking forced into my ears, and the beard, THE BEARD! OH GOD! It is making my TV screen cry and my eyes vomit!!! How bad is Morgan? Even his best friend, Chuck, seems utterly bored by him. Whether that's a deliberate choice or Zach Levy thinking "Shut up, loser!" all the time is unknown. There was a lot to hate about Chuck, but it was Gomez that made me stop watching. He was definitely the Gupta of the entire TV season. And now that I've ranted about it, I feel terrible. Sorry, Gomez!
Most Lovable Ensemble Cast of the Year:
The list of best new characters is sadly incomplete, as it is lacking some Sock. In my defence, though he is easily my favourite character on that show, and I'm fully on the He-Is-A-Genius side of the Tyler Labine debate, choosing Sock would mean snubbing Bret Harrison as lovable lead character Sam (a perfect example of the less interesting lead and crazy "second-in-command" format I mentioned earlier), Rick Gonzalez as hapless but lovable Ben, Ken Marino and Michael Ian Black as lovable demons Tony and Steve, Christine Willes as duplicitous but lovable Gladys, Donavon Stinson as the horrible but lovable Ted, and Ray Wise as the best (and most lovable) Devil ever. The only weak characters in the cast are, sadly, the ladies, but I'll include Valarie Rae Miller due to my former crush on her in Dark Angel (even though she had the even more thankless role as Underwritten Token African-American Lesbian in that pile of cyber-doodie), and Missy Peregrym was finally given stuff to do by the end of the season, so she gets in too. It's possibly the most good-natured show on TV, even though it revolves around Satan, and it's all down to the astute casting decisions. I love all of them, and even when the writing is off, the actors make it all work.
Least Lovable Ensemble Cast of the Year:
I've already dissed the entire bunch of grating chumps in another post, so I feel bad for repeating myself, but I could not care less about any of these jerkoffs, and they're not helped by performances that range from bland to bafflingly terrible. Only by the end of the season does Erik King as Doakes live up to his billing as nemesis of Dexter, and by then it's too late. I liked Julie Benz prior to Dexter, but here she is given so little to work with (this week: weak. Next week: strong. Rinse, repeat) that it's hard to watch her at times, especially when remembering how great she was during her final episodes on Angel. Jennifer Morrison and her Potty-Mouth of Grittiness (which has almost convinced us to turn the show off for good) is as one-note as Masuka's sexism, or Batista's feebleness, and LaGuerta is either a Macchiavellian genius or an idiot, depending on what direction the plot is heading that week. The whole lot could be dispatched by Dexter at any moment and I would rejoice. Shurely shome mishtake on the part of the showrunners.
Best Worst Character of the Year:
Peter Campbell - Mad Men
So weaselly he makes Vincent Kartheiser's previous role (Angel's weaselly son Connor) look like Conan of Cimmeria, Pete Campbell is a sheer delight. In every scene he makes some tetchy comment, cringe-inducing faux-pas, or unfunny quip, triggering embarrassment in all around. Since the end of the first season he has been dropped as Office Nemesis of Don Draper (and replaced by Duck Phillips), but that has meant he has become far more interesting and pitiful. Just like Ayn Rand's Peter Keating, the man has no idea who he is or what he wants to be, though he's perfectly willing to lie to himself and pretend to be what he thinks is a successful man. He's not yet figured out what Don has; that success on the terms of The Man do not automatically lead to happiness. He has also yet to grow up, retreating back to his childish ways as soon as his father dies. He's also far too eager to impress, unthinkingly callous, unfunny, and creepy. Watching him continually get things wrong and alienate those around him amuses us greatly. He's like Michael Scott, but a Michael Scott you couldn't care about even if you tried.
Most Wasted Character of the Year:
Monica Dawson - Heroes
Of all the new characters on Heroes, the one I felt most shortchanged by was Monica, played by Dana Davis. Her power (adoptive muscle memory) is unflashy but cool, and a staple of superhero comics (Taskmaster and Echo both have it too), and Monica herself was brave and likeable. After a long build-up and origin story, tapping into memories of the New Orleans Katrina disaster (which, if you were feeling uncharitable, might say did little to illuminate that tragedy and just seemed to add it to the show as a bit of topical flavour), we got to see Monica finally use her powers to help another and to further the plot in the penultimate episode. What happens? She gets caught like a punk, beaten up, trapped in a burning building, and then saved by Niki or Jessica or whoever she was at the time. Monica is being written out in the next season, so all of that was for nothing. Super-utter-lame. If I were Dana Davis, I'd be so pissed.
Most Wasted Actor Of The Year:
Keith Carradine - Dexter
Other than Michael C. Hall (and the odd appearance by the great James Remar), there is no performer on Dexter that doesn't set our teeth on edge, which is one of the reasons we've had so much trouble getting through it. Early in the second season, the introduction of Keith Carradine as serial killer hunter Frank Lundy gave me great hope of a transformation in the direction of the show, but for the most part he has been used as a device to fix Debra, still suffering from the psychic trauma inflicted by the Ice Truck Killer. Whenever he is onscreen, his calm and authoritative presence has been a great relief from the usual amateurish flappity-rargh performances, but he's not around long enough to make a real difference. As a result, Michael C. Hall is left to carry the show. Still, there are two good side-effects of Carradine's appearance. It inspired me to buy the recently re-released DVD of Alan Rudolph's glorious genre-hopping curio Trouble In Mind (featuring Carradine with a superb 'do), and his role as Dexter-antagonist is far more effective than the one-note bluster of Doakes, whose mode of expression can be described in two words: Blue Steel.
Best Couple of the Year:
Bill Adama and Laura Roslin - Battlestar Galactica
I was torn as to whether to choose Coach and Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights (which is the obvious choice), or Marc and Cliff from Ugly Betty (though they have been sorely underused after their memorable first meeting), but instead I'm settling on the
Best Guest Appearance of the Year:
Edie Falco - 30 Rock
Playing a wet liberal stereotype / Capulet to Alec Baldwin's aggressive conservative / Montague, Falco made a convincing case for a career in comedy, creating one of the most memorable and endearing additions to the supporting cast on 30 Rock, already the most impressive gallery of grotesques since Arrested Development. Don't believe me? The runner-up is David Schwimmer as Greenzo.
Worst Guest Appearance of the Year:
Eliza Dushku - Ugly Betty
Misunderstanding the tone of the show, as well as ignoring the dictum "Less is more", Dushku barreled through the dire episode Giving Up The Ghost as if possessed by Zero Mostel on amphetamines. Mercifully stopping short of winking at the camera, Dushku totally killed every feeble joke and situation deader than they already were, to the extent that I'm fairly certain her role in the show, as spoof celebrity Cameron Ashlock, was cut short when it was apparent Dushku has absolutely zero capacity for comedy (see also: Katey Sagal, who was dire on CSI this season). Let's hope Whedon gives the funny lines to the other Dolls in his forthcoming Dollhouse.
Lucy Davis - Reaper
I feel terrible picking on Davis for this guest appearance (as semi-regular character Sara), but it was deeply depressing to see the formerly terrific actress get it so wrong in this. I don't blame her; it must have been toxic to have spent so long in the presence of Aaron Sorkin on Studio 60, and I'm sure his arrogance curdled the talent of everyone around him (we'll see what Sarah Paulson is like in the remake of Cupid soon enough). Another factor is the desperately awful character (English Green Card fraud leeching of the adorable Ben), but even so, her incoherent line readings and reflexively clenched jaw made her nigh-unwatchable. Can normal service be restored ASAP, please?
Best Bruce Lee Impression of the Year:
Mark Dacascos - The Middleman
Mark Dacascos' appearance as Sensei Ping (pron: Piiiiiiiiing) has amused me greatly this past week. It's the kind of silly joke that sticks in the head and brightens your day whenever you recall it. However, it's also a great impression of Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon, whose onscreen persona has already been satirised relentlessly since his first appearance. Usually something like that would seem lazy but in The Middleman Dacascos is silly enough to make it work. The best touches are his abuse of Wendy whenever she does something wrong (his slaps are straight out of the opening scene of Dragon), and the kick attacks at the 0:56 mark of this fight scene...
...deliberately echo Lee's moves at the 7:30 mark of this clip.
Attention to detail like that is very welcome, as were the Man With Two Brains references littered throughout. (((((The Middleman)))))
Best Fight Scene of the Year:
Sayid vs. Keamy - Lost
Here's the whole scene including the unfortunate death of Omar, but the highlight comes at 3:49. Last year it was The Ankles Of Death, this year it's The Uppercut Of Awesome.
Uppercut that motherfucker, Sayid!
Badass of the Year:
SAYID!!! - Lost (aka The Sayid Jarrah Powah Howah)
Haven't you been paying attention? What's best is he'll kill with utmost dispassion, unless it's a woman he has fallen in love with, in which case he'll cry. Badassery at its most sentimental and awesome. Runner-Up: Stanley Hudson from The Office. Would you mess with him? Me either.
Most Peculiar Fight Equation Of The Year:
Sayid Jarrah = X
Ben Linus = Y
Keamy The Sailorman = Z
Z > X
Y > Z
∴ Y > X
Ben could beat Sayid in a fight? Well, okay, Keamy had been stabbed and was taken by surprise, but still, we now know that if it came down to a fight between Ben and Sayid, Sayid would be toast. The mind boggles.
Most Missed Show of the Year:
I'm never getting over that cancellation. And neither is Moon Bloodgood.
Least Missed Show of the Year:
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
A happy year has been spent without Aaro
Best Show We Didn't Watch:
We've not yet seen the most recently aired season of The Shield, having only watched the pilot a couple of months ago (I'd seen it years ago and loved it, but Canyon had yet to experience it). In the time since, we've raced through the first four seasons, and yesterday we started the fifth, featuring the arrival of Lt. Jon Kavanaugh with all of his unnerving Forest-Whitakerian tics. We're already expecting to do nothing but focus on this for the rest of the week. The sixth season didn't even really figure in the timeframe for this round of Caruso Awards, but even so, we've fallen so completely under its spell that I have to mention it somehow. Again and again we're told that this show doesn't hold a candle to The Wire (which we plan to watch eventually), but if The Wire really is exponentially greater than The Shield as we have been told over and over again, it will probably fry our synapses, boil our blood, and vaporise our house. The Shield is already absolutely amazing, easily one of the best shows of the new TV Golden Age, up there with Deadwood, Lost, and Buffy. It also shows up Dexter (a show with which it shares the same fascination with morality and justice) for the poorly-written, shallow failure that it really is. Team Mackey (and Team Wyms) all the way.
Worst Prediction By Me:
CSI has been the classic example of how one-off procedural shows can still exist and work brilliantly in a long-form world that has seen many story-of-the-week shows deemed obsolete. Every week a new case is introduced, and at the end the case is solved (most of the time). Last season, however, saw the show bring in the excellent Miniature Killer arc, which popped in and out of the procedural, often to devastating effect (as I've said before, Monster in the Box might be the single best episode of CSI ever). This season, the producers have hinted that there would be something similar introduced, but if this episode is anything to go by, it won't be a single criminal, but an ongoing case against a water-processing plant. I hope other fans are as excited about that as I am. It would be Erin Brockovich with less biker beards!
Yes, CBS are really going to anger Corporate America by daring to suggest there is endemic corruption in the system. I couldn't have been more off the mark if I said the series would end with the improbable craziness of Warrick getting shot by the corrupt and possibly demented Undersheriff McKeen. Ha! Ha! Ohhhhhh...
Favourite Screencap of the Year:
Now that's some empathic pain right there. Captain Jack needs a hug, people. The queue to give him some comfort forms on the left (me first!!!).
Best Line of the Year:
"So?" - Ben Linus, upon hearing that killing the man who killed his daughter has doomed the crew of the Kahana.
Runner-Up: "I gotta go pray." Lila Garrity after drunkenly kissing both of her ex-boyfriends.
Visual of the Year:
It's amazing how much I am cheered up just by the thought of Ray Wise, let alone by seeing that infinitely charming grin. Long may he rule in Hell.
Okay, I'm done, I think. Time to look forward to the new season, which features such wonders as John Noble as the awesome Dr. Walter Bishop in Fringe, Whedon's return to TV with Dollhouse, a guaranteed thirteen episode season of Friday Night Lights, Morpheus solving crimes in CSI, the long-delayed return of Big Love, and more questions posed on Lost. I'm vibrating with excitement already.