I thought it was about time I made a list filled with positivity to balance out my Worst Characters On TV post – especially since, given a few of the reactions it prompted, some people appeared to think that every entry on the list said “YOUR MOTHER”.
5. DCI Gill Murray (Scott & Bailey)
She may not have her name in the title (although I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks Scott, Bailey & Murray has a nice ring to it) but that doesn’t stop DCI Gill Murray regularly stealing scenes right out from underneath her eponymous colleagues, both of whom were seriously considered for inclusion on this list – that’s how high the stakes are, folks. What I like about Gill is that she’s the perfect combination of someone who’s slightly wacky in a TV-friendly way, but also someone feels like a real person. There’s a slight air of scattiness about her, but the way Amelia Bullmore plays her, it’s like her occasionally distracted demeanour is simply the result of being so clever and so sharp that she just has too many thoughts jostling for space inside her head, and she needs a second or two just to get them all in order. She’s an excellent example of a series having the confidence to show us, rather than tell us, that a character is damned good at what she does: she’s professional and composed, but also warm and empathetic, and you can clearly tell that all her employees respect her hugely, even when they disagree with her. Best of all, while she has the requisite complicated personal life for a TV detective, it’s just one facet of an extremely well-rounded character: sure, she angsts about her son, and her ex-husband’s a dickhead, but those are very much background details. In a show that thrives on its strong female characters, she’s head and shoulders above the rest.
4. Donna Paulsen (Suits)
I’ll be honest – as much as I grew to love Suits, its female characters are really not its strongest…er, suit. I always found Rachel to be frustratingly one-dimensional, perhaps since the series only ever bothered to define her in relation to Mike, and while I enjoyed Jessica, I always wondered how much of that was the character as written and how much of it was Gina Torres’s natural class. Donna, however, was the one instance of Suits really getting a female character right. On paper she might seem like a fairly archetypal character – the sassy secretary who knows everybody’s secrets – but there is just a sense of joy in the writing of all of her scenes, and in the way that Sarah Rafferty plays her, that really makes Donna feel like a tangible person. It helped that she was the rare example of a peripheral character on this show who felt like they had a life outside of their scenes with Mike or Harvey – Donna is both known and feared by everyone at the company because she has dirt on everyone and isn’t afraid to use it to her advantage. Perhaps the show’s finest use of Donna was in the episode centred around the firm’s annual mock trial tournament amongst the first-year associates, where it quickly became clear that absolutely everyone in the firm wanted Donna to play their witness, because her acting skills are second to none and pretty much guarantee you the win. We’ve seen Donna use skills such as her uncannily-convincing fake-crying against all of these people in the past – and yet they still want her on their side, because she’s just that good.
3. Carol Rance (Episodes)
As you might expect in a sitcom based around the idea that executive meddling kills creativity, the network exec characters in Episodes are painted with fairly broad and unsympathetic strokes. That’s not a problem in itself – boorish network head Merc Lapidus is good value, and they got plenty of comic mileage in season one out of Daisy Haggard’s Head of Comedy standing there with a permanent stinkface. However, one of them is allowed a little bit of room to breathe, and as a result becomes perhaps the most likeable figure on the entire show: Carol Rance, Merc’s second-in-command, has this wonderfully breezy quality, where every single sentence that comes out of her mouth, no matter how grim, is delivered in peppy tones. The brilliance in the writing of Carol is that you can see how she’s made it so far in life: she’s enthusiastic about everything and yet commits entirely to nothing – she’s witnessed the wind change direction without warning so many times that she knows it’s more than her job’s worth to ever give 100% approval to anything, lest she end up on the hook when it inevitably goes wrong. While this should make her more monstrous than any of her cohorts, you can’t shake the feeling that Carol genuinely cares – she wants the shows on the network to be good, she wants the people who work on the shows to be happy, and if there’s some way she can actually make that happen, then she totally wants to do it. It’s just a shame for her that it’s rarely in her power to create good shows or happy workplaces, but that’s network television for you. The idea of a potentially iffy role being saved by excellent acting is becoming a bit of a recurring theme in this post, but Kathleen Rose Perkins (no relation, sadly) deserves a lot of the credit for her beautifully-nuanced performance that ensures this character isn’t just another anonymous suit.
2. Cheryl Tunt (Archer)
Often the traits assigned to a character in the pilot episode of a series are little more than placeholders, because the writers are still trying to figure out what they want to do with the character (look at Max in the pilot of Happy Endings, or Penny in the pilot of The Big Bang Theory, just to pick a couple of examples off the top of my head). Frequently, the actor’s strengths will play a significant role in deciding the character’s more longterm characteristics, and I can only assume that a large part of the genesis of Cheryl was based on the fact that no one can deliver a deranged line of dialogue like Judy Greer. From her early days as the stock dizzy, lovelorn secretary, Cheryl has evolved into a debutante and heir to a billion dollar fortune who also happens to be dangerously, perhaps even criminally, insane – which has given the writers the licence to create the most ridiculous, surreal bits of dialogue to give her, all of which Greer delivers with absolute relish. The scene in season three in which Cheryl tries to cover up her boss’s involvement in a murder when the police show up by adopting the most ridiculous upper-class accent made me laugh harder than anything I can think of in recent memory, and in a recent episode, even the word “hostages!” was enough to leave me in helpless fits of giggles. Also, she has a private train and her apartment reeks of ocelot piss. What’s not to love?
1. Cary Agos (The Good Wife):
Like with Scott & Bailey, I changed my mind about which character from The Good Wife would end up in this list several times before I compiled the final list. It’s such a dense, character-led show that really any of the main cast members could’ve been on here and I’d have had a batch of (hopefully) convincing reasons to give you. The reason I settled on Cary, however, is because he’s had so many different roles to play in the series since it began, from the smooth young gun who was rivalling Alicia for a permanent position at the firm, to an embittered employee of the State’s Attorney’s office considering revenge, to a more settled and grounded man who serves as a foil for the folks at Lockhart-Gardner, but who also remembers how much he enjoyed working there and respected the attorneys at the firm. What’s particularly interesting is that his role has been somewhat sidelined in season three, and he was forced to share a considerable percentage of his screentime with the absolute charisma vortex that was Dana Lodge, and yet despite all these things, he was always a welcome presence on screen because he’s a thoughtful and unpredictable character whose loyalties are not always easy to predict – exemplified when he was called to testify as part of investigations into shady dealings at Lockhart-Gardner and no one, either on the show or in the audience, quite knew what he was going to do. Ultimately, in a show filled with great characters, anyone who can still serve as a highlight of the episode just from appearing in a scene or two deserves special mention. (And anyone who says I’m also including him here because Matt Czuchry can wear the hell out of a bespoke suit…may not be entirely incorrect.)