And we indeed have narrowed it down to one winning entry. There were no "perfect" scorecards, but Amanda from SoCal (blogging here, and twittering here) was the first entry to correctly identify 24 of 25, beating one other person who also scored 96% by a little over an hour and a half on the email timestamp (oddly enough, both missed on the exact same character, #6).
So for the rest of you who submitted entries or played along at home, here are the correct answers (along with a few comments about each one). For reference, the original post with the collage can be found here.
- Ron Swanson, from Parks and Recreation. P&R improved dramatically in its second year, and all the characters found a nice groove. However, nobody was more fun than Nick Offerman's Ron Swanson, who as we know is a "simple man who likes pretty dark haired women and breakfast foods."
- Adelle DeWitt, Dollhouse. Limiting myself to just one character from each show was difficult, particularly with Dollhouse, as this season (and especially lately) the show put the pedal to the metal on its corporate mind-fuckery and end of days storyline. I could have easily chosen Victor, Sierra or Topher, but Olivia Williams consistently brought intellectual scrappiness, intimidating professional survival skills and uncharted nuance to the icy Brit.
- Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory. Scene-stealer supreme, and a gut-busting, loquacious Niles Crane for the nerd set.
- Sue Sylvester, Glee. Jane Lynch was terrific on the underwatched Party Down, but it's easy to see why she gave up that gig for her role as the most quotable villain on TV.
- Saul Motherfucking Tigh, Battlestar Galactica. Another show where it was difficult to choose just one character, as I loved just about everyone in our rag tag fleet. Saul's journey took some twists and turns down the stretch, and Michael Hogan never failed to deliver.
- Castiel, Supernatural. This is the one people seemed to have the most trouble identifying. (Several entrants thought it was Patrick Jane from the Mentalist). I don't know if that's because I chose/cropped the picture poorly, or just enough folks aren't watching this dark and entertaining show. But Misha Collins as "Cas" joined the primary cast this year, and has done a lot with what he's been given, whether he's having trouble understanding how to use a cell phone, visiting a whorehouse for the first time (he's an "angel!") or playing the whacked out hippy in an alternate, post-Armageddon future.
- Sawyer, Lost. (I would have also accepted "James Ford" or "Jim LaFleur"). The picture obviously shows a bit of the Dharma jumpsuit, but if you look closely, you can see a wisp of the hair and the "star" on the logo signifying the security detail. I was in love with Lost's season 5 time-travel shenanigans, and could have selected any number of characters who captivated this year (Faraday, Juliet, Hurley, Miles, Ben, Locke, etc.). But S5 really belonged heart and soul to the con man who discovered his humanity back in the 70s.
- Roger Sterling, Mad Men. Another show crammed fully of fascinating characters, but I'll offer this for my choice:
- Walter Bishop, Fringe. In the world of this generation's X-Files, nobody can make the preposterous sound plausible more than John Noble's Walter. It doesn't matter if he's talking about bodily fluids, looking for snack foods or getting lost in Chinatown, Walter can make you laugh out loud or mist up with tears, often in the same scene. It would be a crime if Noble isn't recognized come awards season.
- "Lou"/Kenny Shea, Rescue Me. The smartest and quippiest of the consistently funny Ladder 62 gang, Kenny finally found a small measure of satisfaction this year after "welcoming" former hooker Candy back into his life.
- Deb Morgan, Dexter. Dexter had a fantastic season, filled with creepy menace supplied in spades by John Lithgow's Trinity Killer, but my heart will always belong to Jennifer Carpenter's endearingly and profusely profane Deb. No one's made me appreciate vulgarity this much since Al Swearingen, and Deb also got a lot of meaty character notes to play as she broke up with Anton, rekindled her romance with Lundy and dug deeper into her father's background, all while serving as the emotional anchor for her more homicidally inclined sibling.
- Nicolette Grant/Henrickson, Big Love. All three of the Henrickson wives turned in Emmy Worthy performances, as I noted here, but Chloe Sevigny had a harrowing and heartbreaking year, particularly for a character as prickly and potentially unlikeable as Nicki.
- Ned the Piemaker, Pushing Daisies. Yet another show where I waffled on which character to choose (it could have easily been Chuck, Emerson or Olive). Lee Pace's work as Ned wasn't quite as showy as the stuff Cheno and Chi McBride got to play, but his understated longing was a bittersweet treat to watch. Sniff, I'll miss you, Pushing Daisies.
- Veronica, Better Off Ted. It's a shame that it appears ABC is burning off eps of this overlooked sitcom gem, which is jam packed with absurdly endearing characters. But Portia DeRossi has created a second enduring comic masterpiece (in addition to Lindsay Bluth) of the Aughts. It's like if Adelle DeWitt was slightly less competent and worked for GE.
- The Devil, Reaper. This quirky little show never found an audience, even on the CW, but it was always supercharged whenever Ray Wise's smooth Old Scratch showed up to gobble the scenery. If I had a soul, I'd be inclined to sell.
- Anna, V. Scriptwise, the V reboot was hit and miss in the first four episodes, but one thing was certain: Morena Baccarin's Anna was the undeniable highlight. Playing her otherworldly beauty for a different effect than she did with Firefly's Inara, Baccarin was masterful in the scenes where she was playing games with Scott Wolf's ambitious newsman, and even better when she was figuring out, right before our eyes, how to most effectively simulate empathetic human emotions.
- Rick Castle, Castle. Speaking of Firefly, it appears Captain Tightpants has finally found a role that's going to last more than a season, and hooray for that. Nathan Fillion's easygoing charm makes Castle one of the better procedurals out there.
- Jackson "Jax" Teller, Sons of Anarchy. Sons, like Lost, BSG, Dollhouse and Mad Men, is an embarrassment of riches from a cast and character perspective. Almost all of the principal characters, including Clay, Gemma, Tig, Opie and Tara, got a chance to run wild with all the drama and heartbreak in Charming, CA this year, but I chose Jax because our Hamlet on a Hog kept us actively involved, and rooting for him, in all the show's complicated and tragic storylines.
- Charlie Kelly, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. In a bar full of hilarious, amoral lowlifes, Charlie never fails to make me chuckle heartily, whether he's practicing his "I've watch an episode of Law&Order" version of the legal profession, or marketing "Kitten Mittens." This was Sunny's most consistent season, and Charlie was a screechy, unhinged comic delight.
- Parker, Leverage. Leverage is TV throwback, like a better written and acted version of the A-Team each week, wrapped up in a mini Ocean's 11. Beth Riesgraf's Parker, the socially awkward master thief, is endearingly quirky. It's such a spin-filled, off-kilter performance, complete with scrunchy faces and unexpected line readings, that I can't wait to see what she'll do next.
- Sam Axe, Burn Notice. What nerd isn't happy that "The Chin," Bruce Campbell, has finally found a worthwhile home for his laconic gifts? Last year, I rewatched the DVD set of Brisco County Jr. and was sad that Campbell didn't get a chance to carry on with a character so suited to his leading man looks and sharp comic timing. But Burn Notice has given Bruce an opportunity to show us a more lived-in, but equally competent, character.
- The Doctor, Doctor Who. Technically, this was a bit of a cheat, since Doctor Who wasn't a regular weekly show this year, but rather a series of specials featuring the sublime David Tennant's last go-round as the Tenth Doctor. (DVR Alert! Part 1 of his swan song airs tonight on BBCA!). This year, we got to see him match wits with a "delusional Doctor," crack wise with a sexy jewel thief on a desert planet and start to come to grips with his arrogant omnipotence on Mars, and that was all before he must face the "end of his song" in a final showdown with The Master. Tennant has always been an accomplished actor, but words can't do justice to how energetic and mesmerizing his performance has been as The Doctor. Matt Smith has big shoes to fill.
- Chuck Bartowski, Chuck. If you're like me, you were so fond of Zachary Levi's Chuck Bartowski that you made a point to visit a Subway earlier this year, just to send a message to NBC that we wanted more of the warm-hearted Nerd-Herder turned superspy.
- Cal Lightman, Lie to Me. It takes a strong, strong actor to imbue the central character of a procedural with enough charm, wit and complexity to get you totally invested when the mystery is usually wrapped up in a tidy 43 minutes. But like Nathan Fillion or Hugh Laurie, Tim Roth dives headfirst into his role as human lie-detector Cal Lightman, and makes each week's episode eminently watchable; not so much for the "here's what happened" particulars of the plot, but rather for the journey of watching this serious thespian get there ahead of us.
- Jessica Hamby, True Blood. Season 2 of True Blood seriously upped its game, and was overstuffed with over the top characters. Yet for all the wildly entertaining melodrama around Bon Temps, the character who resonated most with me was Deborah Ann Woll's "baby vampire," Jessica Hamby. Initially just a fanged, spoiled teen destined to throw a wrench into the courtly and stuffy life of Vampire Bill, Jessica's story became more tragic as she experienced love for the first time, and to her horror, realized she was going to be an "undead virgin" for all eternity.
So, those were my Favorite 25 Characters of the year. Thanks to everyone for playing along, and a big congratulations to Amanda for notching a victory in the contest! Happy Holidays, y'all.