So, without further ado, the answers to the puzzle, followed by the winner of this year's contest:
And the characters:
- Alice Morgan, Luther. First, I find my attraction to this character kind of odd, since I had an ex-wife by the same name. That said, I was fascinated by Ruth Wilson’s portrayal. I first noticed her on AMC’s ambitious, but ultimately unfulfilling, remake of The Prisoner. When she popped up here, I was interested, but then became suddenly entranced in the first episode, when her character slowly peeled back the layers (I won’t spoil things, but if you haven’t seen Luther yet, go watch it now). Let’s just say that you need an actress with serious chops, and a compelling character, to hold the screen with Idris Elba, and Alice certainly fit the bill.
- Abed Nadir, Community. It’s difficult to single out a favorite character from Community, a show that from the jump was my favorite sitcom since Arrested Development. Forced to pick one, I would go with Abed, since it is his Asperger's-tinged worldview that drives much of the tone of the show. And it’s not just his beautifully performed deadpan delivery and entertaining observations on pop culture; it’s also his heart (on a show that reveals surprising levels of pathos wrapped up in the parodies and homages). It’s his underlying emotion that centers the show, particularly in episodes like the Mean Girls riff or the instant-classic claymation xmas episode.
- Brittany S. Pierce, Glee. Like all Ryan Murphy shows, Glee is a manic-depressive trainwreck. If you’re looking for emotional, narrative and logical consistency, Glee is not the show for you. If you’re looking for a few sizzling musical performances, and some laugh out loud comedic diversions, then stick around, they’re sure to be coming after the next commercial break. Kurt (martyrdom notwithstanding) and Burt Hummel may be the closet to fully realized characters, but Brittany is a one-woman humor machine who never fails to delight. Her moronic one-liners are leavened with an innate naïveté, and DAMN, can she dance.
- Claudia Donovan, Warehouse 13. I actually like most of the primary cast of Warehouse 13, a show (along with Eureka) that keeps me from going all jihad on SyFy, as they cancel all their “hard sci-fi” programming (RIP, Caprica and Stargate: Universe). The central relationship between Pete and Myka is wonderfully played, and surprising in that they didn’t go the typical route of unresolved romantic tension, instead opting for an engaging brother-sister vibe. However, I picked Claudia because Alison Scagliotti takes what could have been a Wesley Crusher role, that of the annoying, angsty teen genius, and infuses it with wit, charm and just enough edge to elevate the character out of the clichés.
- Amy Pond, Doctor Who. On every level, the fifth season (or series, as they say across the lower-case pond) of Who was a smashing success. Stephen Moffat expertly balanced end of the world scope with intimate stakes, without resorting to some of the worst operatic histrionics and deus ex machina implausibilities of the Russell T. Davies era. Matt Smith was a charming and off-center Doctor, another bullseye of casting since the show’s revival, and even poor Rory had a nice role to play, eventually fitting into the season long arc quite well. Amy’s mystery was central to the plot mechanics of season five, and Karen Gillian’s companion was full of sass, exasperation and wonder, while still finding time to actively participate in beating back the bad guys. Plus, when she was asked to do some of the emotional heavy lifting, as when she started to lose her memories of her fiancé, erased from time, she delivered in spades. Welcome aboard the Tardis, Amy Pond.
- Sterling Archer, Archer. We’re in the Danger Zone! Unless you’ve actually watched the profanely hilarious Archer on FX, there’s not much I can say to convince you why he’s one of the best characters on TV. Unless you have a soft spot for jealous, lunk-headed, self-absorbed momma’s boys with a license to kill.
- Batiatus, Spartacus: Blood & Sand. Tune in for the 300-esque styling and blood splatter, and stay for the rich character development and political scheming. The first few episodes of Spartacus were derivative and obvious, and I wouldn’t blame you if you tuned out. But somewhere along the way, former Buffy scribe Steven S. DeKnight and crew found the right tone for the show, and it became one of the 2010’s guiltiest pleasures. There’s language that approaches Deadwood in its overwrought and vulgar poetry, best embodied by John Hannah’s turn as the manipulative Ludus owner Batiatus. Aided by his delightfully cunning wife (played by Lucy Lawless), Batiatus made mustache-twirling villainy fun.
- Tami Taylor a.k.a “Mrs. Coach”: Friday Night Lights. Finally, Emmy voters gave some recognition to both Coach and Mrs. Coach, who have been anchoring FNL for years with one of the most realistically and engagingly played adult relationships in TV history. They may fight about the little stuff around the edges, but at the core, there’s never a doubt about their affection for and commitment to each other. Connie Britton gives Tami heart, wit, smarts and sensitivity, all rolled up in a package that makes you understand where the term MILF comes from.
- Olivia Dunham(s), Fringe. Early on in Fringe, Agent Dunham was the stoic outsider, keeping a poker face at all the assorted sci-fi freak shows unfolding before her. She wasn’t given much to do, and some folks questioned whether Anna Torv had the chops to lead a series. No more. After last year’s finale, when the alt-world Olivia swapped places with “our” Olivia, we had two characters in worlds where they didn’t belong. When you think about it, Torv actually played FOUR characters this year: both of the individual Olivias, plus the façade each had to play to fit in their new world. And it’s a credit to Torv that you could see the subtle differences in each of those four. Really, a tour de force that will probably go ignored at Emmy time, just like John Noble last year.
- Crowley, Supernatural. A dose of Mark Sheppard always makes things better (see Firefly, The Middleman, Warehouse 13, BSG, Leverage and many, many more). The past two seasons, he’s popped up on Supernatural as the demon Crowley, who alternately helps and hinders the Winchesters as he pursues his own agenda. With a snarling condescension, he livened up the proceedings, capped off in an episode when he wound up arguing with “himself.” Great stuff.
- Marshall Mann, In Plain Sight. USA’s In Plain Sight stays under the radar. It doesn’t get the ratings of Royal Pains or Covert Affairs; nor does it get as much attention from critics as Burn Notice or White Collar. But it chugs along, delivering solid procedural entertainment anchored by two terrific central performances: Mary McCormack as prickly and borderline unlikeable (but highly competent) US Marshal Mary Shannon, and Frederick Weller as her deadpan, know it all (really!) partner Marshall Mann. Mary does most of the emotional heavy lifting, and the less said about her family the better, but it’s Weller/Mann that keeps this show on my season pass list. He’s like a tall, lanky version of Mr. Spock, only without the pointy ears and with a heightened sense of sarcasm. There’s heart to the character, too, and it’s a delight to see how much Weller can bring to each and every line reading with such a narrow band of “volume” to play with. Highly underrated.
- Daniel Greystone, Caprica. I can intellectually understand why Caprica didn’t catch on. Folks were still pissed about the ending of BSG. Prequels have a built in demerit, since the ending is already written. Some of the characters just didn’t work. It was too “talky.” But damned if I didn’t love it. I liked what it said about human consciousness and grief. And even as the plot meandered, the show had excellent performances and production values. I could have listed any one of several characters, but I chose Daniel Greystone. Eric Stolz was fantastic in the role, whether he puts on his scientific hat to play god, or wallows in his misery over all that he has lost. In a season and a half of fantastic acting choices, he was never better than in the episode where he starts to suspect that his daughter’s consciousness is somehow inside the U-87 cylon prototype, and forces “it” to do some horrifying things just to test that theory.
- Dan Stark, The Good Guys. See the ‘stache. Respect the ‘stache. No character brought me greater delight this year than Bradley Whitford’s, playing against type, throwback cop Dan Stark. He walked out of a parody of 70s cop shows, right into a breezy, modern day show from Matt Nix, the creator of Burn Notice. Whitford committed 100% (and played well off the capable and affable Colin Hanks), and even though The Good Guys won’t be back next year, we’ll always have the memories of one of the most unique comic creations of the past few TV season. Bonus points for casting Gary Cole as Dan Stark’s equally amusing former partner.
- Hank Dolworth, Terriers. Holy shit, it seems like I keep listing great characters from engaging shows…that wound up canceled. My heart breaks a little with this one, because if I put together a list of the best shows of 2010 (keeping in mind I’m not caught up on Breaking Bad), Terriers would be my Number One. As with many on this list, I could have easily picked any of the Terriers’ regulars and been happy with the choice. Narrowing it down to one, though, I’ll have to go with Donal Logue’s Hank. Even though the show’s name, in hindsight, didn’t do it any marketing favors, it really, truly fits. Hank is a terrier – a scrappy, metaphorically undersized little pisser; full of will and fight and unable to realize when he’s gotten in over his head, yet not capable of letting go of that bone. Terriers may not see another season, but you can rest assured that I’ll be viewing it quite a bit once the show is released on DVD. A little 13 episode slice of perfection, anchored by two Emmy-worthy performances and some of the best writing you’ll ever find on TV.
- Guererro, Human Target. This one was kind of a late addtion. For whatever reason, I missed the show during its first season. And it came back just recently, with a new showrunner and slightly retooled, for a new season. I tuned in this time, and while I can see why there are some complaints about the changes, the work being done by the three regulars from last year (Mark Valley, the always good Chi McBride, and Jackie Earle Haley as Guererro) is superb. I singled out Haley, because his stone cold killer is so much damned fun. Don’t touch the ElDo.
- Kale Ingram, Rubicon. Yet another character from a show smothered in the crib. Rubicon was not without its faults – the show never really figured out what to do with Miranda Richardson’s character, the pacing was deliberate (which I liked, once invested in the cast) and the finale was a letdown. Still, there was nothing else on TV like it, an adult drama that paid homage to the conspiracy flicks I watched with my parents growing up. James Badge Dale was wonderful as the centerpiece of the show (he also turned in stellar work on HBO’s The Pacific), but my favorite character was Arliss Howard’s Kale Ingram. Calm, cool and collected, but always menacing, Ingram walked a tightrope with his every appearance. Nothing you found out about him as the layers of the onion peeled back was particularly surprising, but it was always entertaining.
- Mozzie, White Collar. White Collar is an enjoyable trifle, elevated by the charm and chemistry of the cast, particularly leads Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay. But for me, it always livened up once Willie Garson’s Mozzie was on screen. Though Bomer’s Caffrey has “gone straight,” it’s his best friend Mozzie who keeps one foot firmly planted in Neal’s previous world, and approaches all this do-goodery with a healthy dose of skepticism. (Just listen to the way he always says “suit”). Garson’s off-kilter line readings were a delight, and he was never better than when playing off the agents or DeKay’s wife, played by Tiffani Amber Thiessen.
- Zoey Barkow, Nurse Jackie. For a show that’s ostensibly a comedy, Nurse Jackie is short on laughs. Yes, it follows the Showtime model of casting an acting powerhouse as the central character, and having them plumb the darkness of the given situation. Yet Weeds, Tara and even Big C produced more chuckles than Jackie, so it’s no surprise that Merrit Weaver’s daffy, likeable Zoey was an oasis of warmth and fun in a desert of narcissistic despair.
- Peggy Olsen, Mad Men. Roger gets all the one-liners, and Don gets most of the dramatic red meat, but this season, Mad Men’s fourth (and perhaps best) really belonged to Peggy. She grew professionally, and personally (see her kept at arms length boy toy, or flirtations with the bohemian lifestyle), and her dramatic confrontation with Don in the single best episode of television this year, “The Suitcase,” was the natural apex of her evolution.
- Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock. How do you breathe life into a character so well known, and who has been portrayed indelibly so many times in so many mediums? Stephen Moffat seems to have found the trick, casting the wonderfully named Benedict Cumberbatch as the world’s most famous and competent detective in his modern day reboot of Sherlock Holmes. He didn’t wear a deerstalker cap and was addicted to his mobile phone, yet this incarnation was unmistakably Holmes – all manic energy and five steps ahead intellectual acumen.
- Richard Harrow, Boardwalk Empire. Fortunately for us, Jack Huston’s Richard has been added to the primary cast for BE’s second season. Richard did so much with so little this year (see his vet hospital scenes with Jimmy, or his encounters with Margaret’s kids), but he was never less than captivating.
- Raylan Givens, Justified. Timothy Olyphant’s US Marshal was a charismatic addition to the stable of FX leading men. Givens didn’t always want to draw his piece, but when he did, you had fair warning that he knows how to use it. Though only the pilot episode was drawn directly from the works of Elmore Leonard, the show remained true to Leonard’s mood and style of dialogue, and Olyphant was terrific at capturing the charming, laconic yet deadly vibe of this complex character.
- Sunil, In Treatment. Either you’re on board for In Treatment’s 30 minute series of “one act plays,” or you’re not. If you are, you get to witness some of the best pure acting on television today. There’s not a lot you can do with 2 people, in a room, talking, so the degree to which In Treatment propels you along as a viewer depends to a superhuman degree on the caliber of the actors. In Treatment has been blessed with some great performances, and season three was no exception. In fact, it’s hard to single out just one. Dane DeHaan, Debra Winger and particularly Amy Ryan, were all spectacular, but to me, Irrfan Khan as Sunil is the one most worthy of singling out. As Paul’s first patient of the week, a prickly father in law displaced from his home in Calcutta, Sunil was pitiable, uncomfortable, threatening and always mesmerizing. To say more would diminish the surprise of his arc, but it’s definitely one of the best performances of year.
- Russell Edgington, True Blood. Let’s face it, True Blood’s third season was a hot mess. The plot never really came together, and too many new (and fairly uninteresting) characters were jammed uncomfortably into a sprawling regular ensemble that wasn’t given enough to do. But the one bright spot of the season was Denis O’Hare’s imperious vampire king, Russell Edgington. O’Hare didn’t just chew scenery, he devoured it voraciously, spit it out, and came back for seconds. And we loved every minute of it. On a show that’s borderline camp anyway, Edgington walked up to that line and did a pirouette over it, yet never failed to keep you entertained. Even as he gave soliloquies to a glass jar full of the gooey remains of his lover, O’Hare made you feel for Russell all while you’re wondering how the hell can any actor pull this off. His “interruption” of a local newscast was a high point of the TV season, equal parts chilling and laugh your ass off funny.
- Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock. Even when the show heads into one of its “down periods” (like most of last year), the core relationship between Liz Lemon and Jack is reason enough to tune in. Fortunately, 30 Rock seems to have found another gear this year, and is making the most of its parts (hell, even Jenna is funny, and Kenneth is tolerable in small doses). Alec Baldwin’s Jack, always a highlight, even in the fallow periods, has never been better. Well, his multi-voiced “therapy” with Tracy was an all-time highlight, but this year, his video messages to his unborn son are right up there in a collection of Jack’s greatest hits.
So there you have it. Agree or disagree? Who were your favorite characters of the calendar year?
Finally, congratulations to Jim Zvonec, who won this year's contest by correctly identifying 20 of the 25 characters (breaking a tie, having the earliest timestamp by 8 minutes!). Jim wins an HD television episode of his choice, featuring one of the 25 characters shown above.
Thanks to everyone for playing, and we'll see you around these parts next year for the third edition of the contest. Happy Holidays and great TV for all.