Monday, December 29, 2008

The Greatest Television Characters of All Time

Around this time last year I did a series of "Best Of" type posts highlighting the best of my own and my friends' blogs. Unfortunately, I've written too much and my friends have written too little this year to make this worth the time.

Instead, I'm going to do a different type of best-of post today. K was watching Gilmore Girls reruns this afternoon while I was working on getting some of my backpacking gear together and one of the scenes reminded me of something I've been mulling over for a while.
  • Emily Gilmore is one of the best characters to ever be played on television. A simplistic summary of Emily would just have her as the stoic and elitist blue-blood who is unable to bend the rules. A deeper viewing shows a woman who deeply wants to mend the cracks in her relationship with her daughter but never can quite overcome herself. Gestures of gentleness and kindness are contrasted with instances where her inability to bend her standards reopens wounds she had just helped to heal. Her stoicism actually makes her rare moments of open pain (always shown when she's entirely alone) all the more poignant. For example, the episode today was the one where patriarch Richard Gilmore grills Rory's boyfriend Dean. Later in the episode, Emily finds out that Lorelei had gotten engaged and failed to tell her parents. After Emily storms in and commands Richard to call Rory and apologize to prevent creating the distance in their relationship with their granddaughter that they have with their daughter, she leaves his office and promptly sags. Written on her face is the sense of feeling rejected by her daughter and perhaps even a little guilt. Kelly Bishop plays this part perfectly. Her husband is also an interesting and complex character, but can't keep up. The two Lorelei's are really kind of one-dimensional in comparison. Lorelei the elder made up for it with a quick wit and Lorelei the Rory made up for it with cuteness and playing the straight man to her mom. All of the most striking scenes in this series involved Emily.
  • Gregory House, House: House is perhaps the best character ever on television. The show itself is actually a little formulaic. Almost every episode features some one-time character going into a seizure in the first few minutes followed by House being convinced by someone that the case is interesting enough for him to take. He'll insult a few people, follow a few incorrect guesses, and insult some more people before finally figuring out whatever rare condition is causing the unusual symptoms. If it weren't for this incredibly interesting and complex character played exquisitely by Hugh Laurie (my current favorite actor), this show would be worthless. Instead, it's one of the few must-sees on TV for me. Actually, a lot of House's intrigue comes from his similarity to Emily Gilmore in that he also is a character who struggles unsuccessfully to overcome himself. Adding an extra layer is the fact that House, unlike the elder Gilmore girl, isn't even sure he wants to be a better person.
  • Eric Cartman, South Park: Cartman is unlike the previous two characters in that he isn't someone trying to overcome himself portrayed by an incredible actor. The character is quite content with himself, and the voice actor isn't really all that amazing. Instead, it's the weird mix of child-like naivete and cunning evil genius, immature greed and gluttony contrasted by a surprisingly sophisticated bigotry. He's the perfect anti-villain. For prime examples of Cartman at his best, check out the episodes "Scott Tenorman Must Die," "The Simpsons Already Did It," and "Casa Bonita." Those are complete episodes, by the way.
Anyone have any suggestions for great characters I missed?

Oh, and Julie, you managed to post minutes after I accidentally clicked "publish post" instead of "save as draft". I was busy reading over the post when Blogger e-mailed me your comment, so you get a special address as part of today's post. I didn't really bother to mention you in my opening paragraph because, one, I wasn't issuing any awards, and two, I was just writing a brief explanation of why I wasn't bothering with awards this year. Besides, you won the commenter award last year and nothing's really changed. The only person who really gives you a run for your money is Mickey, who was going for Comment 365 but kind of blew it toward the end of the year. But in case you're worried I don't give you enough credit, here are three posts where I've mentioned your worthiness as a commenter, as well as the original award you won last year. I guess I could give you the award for Bitterest Commenter of the year award to sate your need for end-of-the-year recognition.


Julie said...

You are a selfish asshole.

I believe I've read and commented on every single one of your posts this year with the exception of the three weeks I fell behind and on the day I chose to catch up, you had turned off commenting capabilities in order to prevent people from figuring out that your claim to have walked out of the classroom was in fact an April Fool's joke. But I haven't written enough to qualify for a best of review? I commented far less on Mickey's blog (given he writes far less) and he saw fit to include my comment in an anniversary review. If I had a blog roll, I would totally move his to the top and yours to the bottom. And I would title yours "molester styled beer snob writes stuff." And I might morph your face onto that of Babs when Bush kissed her at a dinner recently. That's right. I'm childish and vindictive. This is why I don't have my own blog.

Unfortunately, I agree with your above assessments. And I add Barney from How I Met Your Mother. HIMYM is one of the best shows on tv right now for our generation and doogie is a standout. This is only currently, however. All Time is a lot to ask of an angry reader.

Courtney said...

I agree with you on House and Emily Gilmore, but Cartman I'm not so sure about.

I have three additions: Carmela Soprano from The Sopranos, Barb Henrickson from Big Love, and Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock. Carmela and Barb are quite complex, but I add Jack just because I think he's hilarious.

Julie said...

I am slightly mollified.

Chris said...

Good call on House, and good addition by Courtney with Jack Donaghy. Not sure if have any meaningful contributions -- perhaps Gob Bluth from Arrested Development, but like Courtney's that suggestion is based more on hilarity than depth of character.

Mickey said...

What the hell? Emily Gilmore?

You are not a man.