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The Top 10 Characters Currently on TV

August 27, 2012

With the new Fall TV season fast approaching, I thought it would be a good time to rank my top 10 favorite characters featured in shows currently airing on television. And by “currently airing,” I’m not including shows in syndication only airing reruns. In order to be eligible for consideration on my list, the show has to still be actively in production.

Not every character on this list is the lead character of their respective show – in fact, some are merely recurring characters who might not even appear in ever episode. However, there are also some who are their show’s protagonist (or possibly even antagonist). These 10 characters cover a pretty wide spectrum of roles and types. Some are comedic, some are tragic, and one is even animated.

I’m sure many of you will have strong opinions about this list, one way or the other, so please feel free to post them in the comments. You might even be able to convince me of a glaring omission or two. Just like TV, this is intended to be fun and entertaining, so enjoy! Here’s the top 10…

#10: Tig Trager (FX's "Sons of Anarchy")

With its focus on biker gang culture, Sons of Anarchy is overflowing with colorful characters, but the one who fascinates me the most is the extremely volatile Tig Trager (expertly played by Kim Coates). He’s the classic loose cannon, whose hair-trigger temper is often augmented with acerbic wit. No other member of SAMCRO cracks as many jokes or skulls as Tig, which is why I tune in every episode to see his shenanigans.

#9: Chris Monsanto (Adult Swim's "Eagleheart")

It could be argued (and it will, by me) that the hilariously bizarre contributions of Chris Elliott were a major reason that Late Night with David Letterman was the most revered talk show of the ’80s (and still among the funniest ever). Elliott brought that same offbeat sensibility to the overgrown paperboy he played in FOX’s cult hit from the ’90s, Get a Life, and he brings it once again to Adult Swim’s Eagleheart as Marshal Chris Monsanto. Each 15-minute installment has an amazing amount of the insane antics Elliott fans have come to love and expect over the years. It’s great to see him back in the saddle, after more than a decade relegated to thankless supporting roles (like Robert Barone’s brother-in-law on Everybody Loves Raymond). He deserved better, and so did we.

#8: Antoine Batiste (HBO's "Treme")

While not the focal point of HBO’s classic series The Wire (considered one of the best ever by many, including me), Wendell Pierce’s Bunk Moreland was in many ways that show’s heart and soul. He brings that same irresistable charm to HBO’s latest David Simon creation, the post-Katrina tale of New Orleans known as Treme. As hustling trombonist Antoine Batiste, Pierce again draws you in with his powerful charisma. Like Bunk, Antoine manages to be a lovable reprobate you can’t help but root for, in spite of his many flaws. In a series featuring so many outstanding performances, his just might be the best.

#7: Phil Dunphy (ABC's "Modern Family")

The TV sitcom dad is one of the oldest character types on television. Over the years, we’ve seen TV dads played with gravitas (My Three Sons‘ Steve Douglas and Leave It To Beaver‘s Ward Cleaver), resignation (Married With Children‘s Al Bundy and All in the Family‘s Archie Bunker) and even an unhinged sense of whimsy (Homer Simpson and Home Improvement‘s Tim Taylor). Modern Family‘s Phil Dunphy (brilliantly inhabited by Ty Burrell) cleary belongs in the latter category. And while he doesn’t reinvent the archetype, few have ever really nailed the “dad who wants to be his kids’ best friend” (and who’s really an overgrown kid himself) like Burrell. Even fewer have made me laugh harder than Phil.

#6: Krieger (FX's "Archer")

Every secret agent needs someone to invent and design his gadgets. James Bond had the mysterious “Q,” and FX’s Sterling Archer has the equally-mysterious (and briefly-named) “Krieger.” Nobody really knows many details about exactly who he is or where he came from, but this resident mad scientist of ISIS creates as many laughs as he does spy tools. He’s obsessed with Canadian power trio Rush (demonstrating his devotion by driving a van bearing a mural that re-creates the cover of their Caress of Steel album) and has a holographic Anime bride. Lucky Yates does a fantastic job of bringing to life this incredible amalgam of every Comic Con stereotype ever.

#5: Louis C.K. (FX's "Louie")

Like Jerry Seinfeld before him, Louis C.K. plays an exaggerated version of his real-life persona in his pseudo-autobiographic show Louie. However, unlike Seinfeld (the person), C.K. can really act. His character is filled with equal parts angst, inquisitiveness, weariness, compassion and selfishness. Somehow, C.K. manages to simultaneous care about everyone and only himself. Also unlike Seinfeld (this time, the show), Louie is painted on a much broader canvas than comedy. Many vignettes are poignant, with some even reaching the level of full-on heartbreaking. There’s never really been anything on TV quite like it, and for that, C.K. is to be saluted.

#4: Roger Sterling (AMC's "Mad Men")

While Don Draper is clearly the alpha male of AMC’s period drama Mad Men, nobody more thoroughly embodies the workplace hedonism of 1960s Madison Avenue than John Slattery’s wisecracking entitled lout Roger Sterling. Though the show is unquestionably a drama, which skews intense and even maudlin at times, Sterling masterfully provides a steady dose of much-needed comic relief throughout. It would still be a good show without him, but he makes it great.

#3: Mike Ehrmantraut (AMC's "Breaking Bad")

In my opinion, Breaking Bad is the best show on television right now, and could eventually end up being considered among the greatest shows ever. Both Brian Cranston and Aaron Paul have won Emmys for their outstanding performances during this show’s run, and while I greatly appreciate their respective characters (Walter White and Jesse Pinkman), my personal favorite is the “cleaner” named Mike Ehrmantraut (flawlessly delivered by Jonathan Banks). Banks has paid his dues for decades in a seemingly endless litany of tough guy roles, but this truly is the role of his career. His calculated intensity is expertly punctuated with a sprinkling of wit drier than the desert in which his show takes place. Every scene he’s in is an absolute thrill to watch.

#2: Richard Harrow (HBO's "Boardwalk Empire")

Few, if any, characters in the history of television have more eloquently displayed pathos like the tragic World War I veteran Richard Harrow of HBO’s Prohibition-era drama Boardwalk Empire. Left with only half a face, due to a catastrophic war injury, the partially-masked Harrow (played to perfection by Jack Huston) manages to evoke nearly every possible human emotion without being able to speak more than a few semi-intelligible grunted sentences per episode. It’s truly an amazing display of acting.

#1: Ron Swanson (NBC's "Parks & Recreation")

Every so often, a truly iconic TV character comes along – a character so beloved that he becomes part of the pop culture zeitgeist. Ron Swanson of NBC’s Parks & Recreation is just such a character. Sporting the most recognizable and revered moustache on TV since Magnum hung up his Tigers cap, Nick Offerman’s Swanson is the hilarious embodiment of a man’s man who’s sworn to a life of rugged individualism. He is, in my opinion, the greatest character on TV today.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. mexicanjunior permalink
    September 1, 2012 12:58 pm

    Worst list ever…Mike the Cleaner isn’t even alive anymore. This blog is TERRIBLE…

    AND you spelled “relegated” wrong in Chris Monsato’s write up…

    • September 1, 2012 1:10 pm

      I hadn’t yet seen Mike’s death episode when I wrote this, but the “relegated” typo was definitely my fault.

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