Out of all the articles that release for our end of the year celebration, discussing my favorite characters is somehow the one that always brings on the tears. A well written character whose arc guides the story is the reason I love television so much. The opportunity to see these people live and love and bend and break all while being incredibly human and learning through their journey never fails to be inspiring. It’s a celebration of humanity that allows us to see ourselves, as viewers in a whole new light.
1. Charlotte Heywood
Charlotte Heywood, in this version of Jane Austen’s Sanditon, might just be my favorite regency heroine, for there’s so much to say about her innate goodness and strong resourcefulness. Charlotte Heywood is the leading example of “having a soft heart in a cruel world is courage, not weakness”, but perhaps the most captivating part of Charlotte’s tenderness is that it’s woven intricately with the will to stand up for what she believes in. She’s anything but quiet and observant – she’s hardheaded, too, but her choices come from pure intent and unbelievable altruism. Charlotte’s the type of person who’d choose someone else’s happiness above her own time and time again out of the sheer belief that it’s what’s right, it’s how it should be. It’s why she can never marry for fortune because the belief that she’d be prisoning herself and thus, her partner is something she can’t live with. And it’s that very heart that makes it so easy to fall in love with her — just ask Sidney Parker. Charlotte could turn even the most jaded of souls who’ve been tainted by life’s heartbreaks into a softened man who’d do anything to ensure he remains on her good graces. Charlotte’s openness towards Georgiana, and the genuine desire to make sure she knows she’s loved speaks so highly on behalf of the person she’s aiming to be. A woman who will do everything she can to make the small world she is a part of a little brighter. She isn’t afraid to speak up and she isn’t afraid to apologize. She is willing to learn and grow. Some people are born with a lot of goodness in their bones, some learn to choose it, Charlotte is both, for learning who she is and who she wants to be is something that I hope we’ll get to see more of when Sanditon is renewed for a second series.
2. Sidney Parker
It isn’t even remotely tough to adore a brooding, well-meaning Jane Austen hero who’d do anything for the woman he falls in love with, but I appreciate the fact that it wasn’t instantaneous with Sidney Parker as it was for someone like Mr. Knightley (Emma) or Henry Tinley (Northanger Abbey). It took time, it took some serious look into the character’s intent despite his cold, presumptuous demeanor to appreciate him far beyond Theo James’ undeniably good looks. And when we’re finally given the chance to see Sidney Parker as he truly is and not the façade he puts on to mask the rigid pain he’s in, caring for him becomes effortless. While I’m entirely fascinated with how layered Sidney is and how much of it we’re able to see due to the number of episodes we get, perhaps the most riveting detail is his profound capacity to love. His seemingly indifferent remarks are just things to say to protect his heart against attachment, for the truth is, he cannot walk away from something or someone he values knowing he could be of us. He may do so while grumbling and complaining and drinking his days away, but he’ll do it because he sincerely cares. He’s an empath with a jaded soul that intricately brings balance and realism to his character. A great majority of the men in Austen’s world have been tainted by some sort of pain that’s hardened their hearts, but upon meeting the woman they’re meant to be with, their best and truest selves anchor them back home. Sanditon deserves the second season in order for viewers to see just how much more Sidney will choose to grow in spite of the further damage that’ll be done to his heart knowing he’s caused unavoidable pain to the one he loves most. The challenges that will arise and the willingness to push further to ensure that his best self isn’t lost at sea again will result in exceptional character development.
3. Elizabeth McCord
It breaks my heart greatly that this is the last time I’ll be writing about the legendary Elizabeth McCord for our Year-End reviews, and as the final time, I want to do right by her. She’s the one female character who’s been a constant in these since I began them. As if there’d be enough words to describe just how beautiful and inspiring her arc has been this year. Madam Secretary finally became Madam President, and she did so with the colossal amount of heart we’d all imagined she would. Elizabeth took on Presidency with as much grace as she’s always carried, if not a little more because the stakes were higher and her position was tougher. And it’s that very heart that’s been an incredible gift to the world of television for the last six years. Political shows may not always be accurate, but the grace and poise Téa Leoni has carried Elizabeth with through the series’ run is as accurate as it should be. This is how I hope and imagine that the first female President of our country would be. Her grace and understanding as a mother, a wife, and a friend is unmatched. Her loyalty to those who work for her, unparalleled. Elizabeth McCord is perhaps the easiest character to adore because grounded in reality is a woman whose utmost sincere desire is to do the next right thing. And it’s that very sincerity that’s been the beating heart of Madam Secretary throughout the series’ run. People stood by Elizabeth because she deserved it, she welcomed them in with open arms and unceasing belief in their beings — she opened her door to anyone needing assistance, but most importantly, she loved puppies and desserts with unapologetic fervency. #ShesMyPresident indeed.
4. Jake Peralta
Jake Peralta continues to be Hollywood’s leading example of how a man should be and it’s nothing short of amazing to watch. I don’t have the right words for him because it’s so refreshing to see a character like him on screen in a comedy. Can anyone else believe that Jake Peralta invented a “woke” person? All jokes aside, I’m consistently floored with Jake’s sincere desire to grow and be a better version of himself. His choice to understand that men need to listen more intently and stop “mansplaining” when the explanation belongs to a woman is fascinating and brilliantly honest. Whoever said you can’t do comedy without being offensive hasn’t watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine. There’s a lot of nuances in Jake’s growth throughout the series thus far, and this year, watching him be a husband has been an incredible treat. To see how much Jake’s trying to the right thing has allowed Andy Samberg to do some of his best work. (Because there’s also that evident desire in Samberg to get things as right as humanly possible, it’s translated on screen remarkably.) Jake’s sincerity and steadfast faith in Amy, his loyalty to Charles, and deep admiration for Holt are just a few of his great traits, on top of that list is the immense love and humanity that punches harder than any of his ridiculous jokes.
5. Eleanor Shellstrop
The Good Place
The more I watch Kristen Bell bring Eleanor to life the more I’m left completely in awe of her as an actress. We don’t talk about Bell enough and it’s about time we change this. Bell’s greatest asset in The Good Place is perhaps how effortless it all seems for Eleanor to just be … Eleanor. And that’s why she’s been the most impressive this year because she’s no longer just the “hot snack” from Arizona, she’s the answer. Kristen Bell didn’t miss a beat this year when it came to showing us just how much Eleanor’s going through. With the multifaceted embodiment of a woman completely and utterly changed by love and friendship, Eleanor’s become someone to be admired all while keeping her imperfections at the forefront. And that might be reason why I’m so proud of her journey this year. There’s so much more I’ll be talking about in my ode to “Pandemonium”, but simply put, Eleanor’s bravery amidst the chaos she’s facing is what’s been the most admirable. She could give it all up right away because nothing good is coming from her fight to be better, but instead, even while mourning and struggling, she’s trying. And it’s that very choice to continue trying that makes her so special. She doesn’t need to take on everything with grace and poise because that isn’t who she is, she just needs to give all that she has. She’s letting people help her, she’s choosing to fight even when she wants to give up, and she’s remaining unshakably steadfast to her friends through it all.
6. Quentin Coldwater
It’s not easy or fun writing about The Magicians’ Quentin right now because remembering how awfully shocking and uncalled for his death was is immensely heartbreaking when we remember the kind of person he represents. I almost opted out of writing this because I genuinely don’t feel qualified to do his character and his legacy justice. I can only imagine how much harder his death must’ve resonated with people who are more like him than I am, but the point being, Quentin Coldwater was an exceptional character with the most admirable steadfast loyalty The Magicians will ever see. In the midst of his battles with mental illness and the darkness in his life, Quentin’s inability to give up on his friends secures his legacy beautifully. It’s his inability to watch any of his loved ones suffer or hurt that were often so difficult to watch because his selflessness came from knowing deep pain within him. And on a season where he lost his father and didn’t even live to see his best friend/soul mate return, it makes it that much more difficult to grasp how unfairly the character’s arc was handled. Quentin’s unceasing fight to save Eliot, his faith in all those around him, and his determination to continue doing something right is what made The Magicians so incredibly special. He is, in every way, a pinnacle of hope, and though taken away unfairly, I hope that people still remember that he represents goodness and love. I hope people remember that in the same way he deserved endless love, so does every single person watching, especially those who’ve seen themselves in him.
7. Alexis Rose
It’s not easy to resonate with Alexis when we first meet her. It’s not even easy to like her if we’re being honest, but the stunning growth she’s gone through actually brings me to tears every time I think about it. And much like Eleanor Shellstrop from The Good Place, Alexis’ growth isn’t a change in her character. She doesn’t suddenly become a martyr, a paradigm of nobility — she just grows, and she does so all while remaining her blissfully dramatic, pretentious little self with a whole lot of heart weaved in between. The woman who was once in Ted’s words, “so deeply selfish” is now anything but that. When she lost the truest love she knew last year, Alexis’ journey needed to be learning to take care of herself in order to properly love someone else. She might’ve been resourceful in her partying days, but she’d never chosen to better herself before. She’d never chosen to really spend some time getting to know herself. When she finally learned this, she grew to love those around her in a way I imagine she didn’t think was possible. Alexis loves her family deeply, though they’d never really been close, the past few years gave her the opportunity to really get to know them, and when she did, she missed them even while they were right in front of her. And it’s that very attachment that allows us to see just how much she’s now willing to do for them. At her core, she’s kind — she’d do anything to see her brother happy, she’d do anything to see her mom and dad succeed, she’d do anything to see Stevie reach her goals, and she’d do anything to be the best partner Ted could need. And it’s the sincere desire to be helpful that makes her so ridiculously wonderful because even though she’s eccentric and deeply flawed, she cares more than a lot of people ever would.
8. Henry McCord
Henry McCord has and will always be, husband goals. This isn’t the first time I’ve said it and it certainly won’t be the last, but no male character on television has been more devoted to his wife than Dr. Henry McCord, and the world needs that constant reminder of how it should be. This has been an incredible season for Henry as he embraced the title of First Man with admirable dignity and stood by Elizabeth as the unshakeable rock he’s always been. But what actually stood out to me most this year was a moment that happens in the final episode: as Henry’s giving his father of the bride speech, he mentions that he’s always been “The Stevie Whisperer” then proceeds to whisper something to Stevie we don’t hear. Tim Dally has always carried Henry with great heart – at his core, his gentle and empathetic spirit has often made it easy for him to be the kind of father his kids could always turn to, which has been a marvelous showcase of his patience through everything. A kind of patience so few people have, but Henry’s made it a mission to try as often and as much as possible to be the type of man who understands. The type of man who’ll fight through hell or high water for anyone he loves. The type of man who’ll see an injustice and do everything in his power to ensure it’s resolved in such a way that it impacts more than one person positively. He’s the type of man who’s not intimidated by a woman’s fierceness or power, but rather one who embraces it and allows it to inspire the life he wants to lead.
9. Amy Santiago
This has been the year of fully embracing just how much Amy Santiago and I are alike, which I’m grateful for because it has helped me accept a part of myself I always felt would one day need to be changed. I’m a crier. It’s easy for me to cry. I cry when I’m happy, I cry when I’m sad, I cry when things are just too darn adorable, and no I can’t control it, it just happens. But all that aside, this season allowed us to get to know Amy better than we have before making her that much more of a representative character. And “Four Movements” particularly forced her to stand up for herself among women she’s always admired, it forced her to confront the fact that she doesn’t need to be changed in order to be loved and that she needs to stop apologizing or changing who she is. And standing up for herself meant being more comfortable in her own skin, embracing her truth, and accepting that there’s nothing wrong with her sensitivity or excessively organized, sentimental type. Most importantly, this year, we got Sergeant Amy. (Insert a million exclamation points because she did it!) To see all this hard work come to life for a Latina woman is so refreshing and beautiful to see. And on top of all this, seeing who Amy is around her family, why she’s that way, and how she’s ceaselessly trying to find ways to be the absolute best version of herself possible has been delightful to see.
10. Steve Harrington
Steve Harrington continues to be the most intricate and surprising character on Stranger Things landing himself on this last two years in a row not because of his great traits, but because of how much learning and growing he continues to do. While last season his journey was all about finding something to fight for, this year it was about making decisions that’d make a lasting impact in adulthood — as best an 18-year-old can. The choice to get a job and continue keeping an eye on the kids has showcased so much growth in the kid who’d once only known partying and bullying. His acceptance and understanding in the 80s to appreciate people as they are is also something worth mentioning for back then especially, it was unfortunately rare to see boys take rejection with as much grace as he does. And on that note, continuing to open his heart despite the heartbreak he’s faced tells us a lot about how pure his intentions are. Steve Harrington today isn’t interested in being king of the schools or Star Court Mall, he’s interested in being a decent human being, an incredibly flawed but excellent babysitter, and a person who’s just trying to figure life out in an upside world that no one understands.
Honorable Mentions: Blake Moran (Madam Secretary), Pat Schneider (One Day at a Time), Renata Klein (Big Little Lies), Janet (The Good Place), Esther Denham (Sanditon), Eliot Waugh (The Magicians), Brienne of Tarth (Game of Thrones), Stevie Budd (Schitt’s Creek), Aziraphale (Good Omens)
This time of year is my favorite for a number of reasons, but sharing these categories with remarkable writers like Heather over at TV Examined and Katie over at Nerdy Girl Notes is on top of the list. Be sure to check out their Best of the Year reviews, too!
Who are your favorite characters of the year?