Best of 2017: Characters

This was an abnormally difficult category for me this year. While I watched about the same amount of television as I did last year and my overall enjoyment of them was higher (thanks to dropping some shows I wasn’t connecting with), there were fewer characters who really grabbed my heart. Part of this was almost certainly due to the fact that I watched Leverage for the first time this year and my love for those characters took up a lot of emotional space. I also seemed to be more drawn to found families even more than usual this year and connecting more with larger group dynamics than specific characters. But I truly don’t know how to watch TV without getting attached to characters and the emotional journeys they go through, so even in this harder year, there were still plenty of characters who inspired me and who I loved enough to want to recognize.

1. Sana Bakkoush (Skam) It’s been well-established by this point in time that I love characters who learn to let down their walls and find love and acceptance waiting for them on the other side. It is a story that will resonate with me every single time and this year, I got a particularly great one in Sana. She had already been my favorite going into the final season because of her loyalty, her fierce protectiveness of her friends, and her lack of interest in putting up with sexist or racist idiots. She seemed so confident in who she was and what she believed. This season, with her as the main character, we got to see how much of a front that confidence was and it only made me love her more. What we found underneath was a teenage girl who was torn between two worlds and two culture who couldn’t shake the idea that she was always coming up short and disappointing someone. She never felt like she could be enough of what people expected or needed her to be and so she stopped letting people see enough of her to truly know her. She gave so much and loved her friends fiercely but never gave them the chance to love her just as much. She was too ready to believe they would let her down and not accept the Muslim or Moroccan of her. It was hard to watch her continue to isolate herself as they seemed to validate every one of the fears she’d been holding on to, but a little communication goes a long way, and they showed her how important she was to their friend group. She came to realize that she was wrong and that her defenses were only holding her back and she decided to drop them. She showed them exactly who she was and revealed her vulnerabilities to them and they responded by loving her all the more. It’s often the characters we want to protect the most who reveal the most about ourselves and our own insecurities and who teach us the most and that was definitely true of Sana this year.

2. Nova Bordelon (Queen Sugar) I will never get enough of characters with soft, kind hearts who are also full of anger and drive to change their world and that perfectly describes Nova. She is so full of compassion and love for her family and friends and community and that shows in everything she does. It is the reason she gets up and fights every day and the reason she is the one they go to when they are looking for understanding and empathy. She is quick to celebrate the achievements of others and comfort them in times of sadness. She is a passionate activist who sees the wrongs that have been done to her city and her people and uses her voice as a journalist to speak out against those wrongs. She knows who she is and she knows why she fights and through it all, despite the things she has experienced, she has never let it make life hard or cruel. She doesn’t try to shut off her emotions when it all gets to be too much, she lets them push her forward and work harder. She can be stubborn and hard-headed which can be a problem when others disagree with her but it also makes her relatable to me. She is everything I want to be and a character I needed a lot this year.

3. Jacqueline Carlyle (The Bold Type) We’re all familiar with the horrible female boss stereotype. They’re successful but they are also cold and impossibly demanding, with little regard for anything resembling a work-life balance. They create an unpleasant environment for their (typically female) employees. The Bold Type chose to do something different. While Jacqueline is every bit as successful as the Miranda Priestlys of the fictional world, she doesn’t run Scarlet through fear. She’s a true mentor to Kat, Jane, and Sutton, pushing them and encouraging them to be the best they can be, both personally and professionally. She shows them how to find and own their voices. She has a supportive and loving husband, which is truly rare, and she’s unafraid to be vulnerable with her employees as the situation calls for. There is really no one else like her on television and I am so grateful that she exists.

4. Sansa Stark (Game of Thrones) There is a reason she has survived the worst of Westeros despite most dismissing her as a silly little girl. Everything she has been through has made her smarter and strengthened her resolve. She has done what she has needed to in order to survive and now that she is back home, in a position of power, all the lessons she learned can finally be put into use. From her parents, she learned to lead well. From Littlefinger, she learned the art of manipulation and deception. From Cersei, she learned how to unleash hell on her enemies. It’s come at the expense of the sweet girl who once believed so strongly in the world of courtly stories and honor and that has been heartbreaking to see that innocence be taken away piece by piece, but what remains is a queen who will survive winter and make sure her people do as well.

5. Gretchen Cutler (You’re the Worst) No matter how messy she is or how many bad choices she makes, I can’t not love Gretchen and feel deeply for her. Aya Cash plays vulnerable Gretchen so well and we got to see how Jimmy’s abandonment last season dredged up long-held insecurities for her and the way she dealt with it. Which in typical Gretchen fashion, isn’t great. Growing up, love had strings. She could never truly be herself around her parents and opted to put on an act instead, which we saw again this season. That idea has festered and given her the impression that she is unlovable as she is, that if someone gets to see the real her, they’ll walk away because she isn’t worth it. When Jimmy left her on that hill, he confirmed that. It’s an insecurity of hers that I recognize well in my own life and every time she said she wanted someone to fight for her and make her believe she was worth something broke my heart. I don’t lash out as fiercely as Gretchen or have as many of her self-destructive tendencies, but I know what it’s like to feel like there is something wrong with you that means you don’t deserve the love and support you perceive as being available to those around you. I love where we left her in the finale and hope that the final season next year finds her in a place where she is able to work past those fears.

6. John Murphy (The 100) It has been a journey to get Murphy from the character he was then to the character he is now. He has done so much that he regrets. He’s hurt these people on multiple occasions. He has survived as long as he has because he knows how to look out for himself. It’s where he is most comfortable. Then he met Emori, who was much the same way and it became the two of them against the world. But every time his survival coincides with that of others, he’s right back in the middle of things helping out again and finding a new place with them. He’s learned to care about people and learned that people may actually care about and trust him now. He is still a cockroach and will be the one left standing when all’s said and done, but now he’s one with roots and connections that are worth fighting for. It was a season of healing and growth not just for him as an individual but for his relationships with the people around him. He’s able to own up to what he’s done to hurt them and make amends. He’s found his place and while it may continue to surprise him every time, that six years in space is gonna solidify those bonds and I’m even more excited to see the person he is next season.

7. Phyllis Crane (Call the Midwife) I want to be Phyllis when I grow up. Honestly, I’d be happy to be her now too. Despite the fact that she is much older than her fellow nurses, she has become their rock and their friend. She is always there to encourage them to live their lives in ways that make them happy and make the most of every opportunity. She is endlessly supportive, no matter the issue, and has shown each of the girls that a life is possible outside the culturally prescribed norm of marriage and children. She is a happily single older woman who is doing a job she loves and where she gets to spend her days supporting and serving other women. I didn’t care for her when she was first introduced but now I can’t imagine the show or my life without her. 

8. Elena Alvarez (One Day at a Time) Every time I think of Elena, I am excited that she’s an actual character we can love and appreciate. On so many other shows, the feminist teenage daughter would have been laughed off but her ideals and her emotional journey to accept her sexuality are given weight and attention by the other characters. She is opinionated and outspoken and we get to watch her become more sure of who she is as the first season progresses. I love her confidence and her convictions and most of all, her passion. She feels so strongly and wants so many things for herself and the world around her and it means a lot to me to see her be so loved by those around her. She has a voice and she wants to use it and I can’t think of a better role model for teen girls today. I may be well outside that age range but I’m so glad others have her to look up to.

9. Stella Kidd (Chicago Fire) I am appalled that there was ever a time that I didn’t love Stella with my entire heart because she’s now one of my favorite characters on the show. She’s awesome and she knows it, as do all of her friends and every person she’s helped to saved. We got to see a little more vulnerable side of Stella this year as she got kicked out of her apartment and needed a place to stay. She’s so used to only relying on herself and asking for help is hard, but she did and it’s only made her friendship (and eventual relationship) with Severide stronger. She’s such a loyal friend and will do anything to help those she cares about and I love that she’s believing that she has people who are more than willing to do the same for her. She knows her value and wants to experience all that life has to offer. She’s not willing to wait around for someone who may never get himself together, she’s gonna go out and have fun and be open to all the possibilities that come her way. She’s living the life she has always wanted for herself and I couldn’t be happier that I finally saw the light and fell in love with her (and also excited they gave her an actual characterization beyond Severide’s friend with benefits).

10. Oleg Burov (The Americans) Naturally, I would choose to fall more in love with Oleg right at the same time that he’s in an incredibly dangerous situation and makes me nervous for him every time he’s on screen. He is genuinely good and wants his country to be better. It’s not a blind loyalty to the Soviet Union but a deep love for his country and his people. He sees all of the corruption and wants to fix it. He sees the possibility for a better future and is willing to work toward it. He’s always been a good character but this season really highlighted his good heart. You really can’t help but love him. All I want is to protect him and for him to get a happy ending somehow.

Honorable Mentions: Garrett McNeill (Superstore), Wynonna Earp (Wynonna Earp), Ethan Choi (Chicago Med), Rebecca Bunch (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Chidi Anagonye (The Good Place), Veronica Lodge (Riverdale)

2 thoughts on “Best of 2017: Characters

  1. I am really looking forward to sometime watching Skam, Queen Sugar, & finishing up One Day at a Time and loving these characters!

    Yes to Jacqueline being a favorite of the year! I love her so much. She was probably the best surprise at the beginning of The Bold Type for me.

    It’s so interesting how over the course of The 100 so many characters that as a viewer you have almost no interest in at the beginning turn out to be some of the most intriguing characters in the show, and Murphy is definitely one of those. I’m also really excited to see what he’s like after the years in space, especially if the result is Murphy having a sort of small found family now where he has to deal with being strongly attached to more than just Emori.

    1. The 100 does so good at adding depth and mini redemption arcs to the male characters I didn’t like in the beginning. I am really hoping for something similar happening with Echo next season, I am ready to love her and see her in a new context.

      I can’t wait for you to finish One Day at a Time and start Skam and Queen Sugar so we can yell about all the amazing characters.

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