A truly great character can save an otherwise mediocre television show — or simply be proof in the pudding of that particular series’ greatness. If there’s one thing we love about television, it’s characters: truly fleshed out, interesting, dynamic, complicated, human, real characters that may be relatable or wholly insane. No matter, as long as they feel real to how they’re written, we’re super on-board. And in a year with some pretty interesting characters, a few stood out above the rest. From BoJack Horseman to Oberyn Martell, both comedy and drama had their fair share of winners.
So what better way to celebrate them than to name them, eh? We’ve got a lot of love to give and want to spread it all over these funny bits of made-up people. So three cheers to you, good people of 2014 TV: you did it! Well! And with panache!
Ilana Wexler, Broad City
A little unhinged but incredibly practical (“It’s nature’s pocket”), Ilana Wexler (Ilana Glazer) was all bravado and obsessively intimate human emotion. Broad City is a fantastic show that works well because of the seemingly diametrically opposed best friendship of Abbi and Ilana. And Ilana is the perfect instigator to make straight man Abbi crumble under the pressure and end up getting involved in some disastrously hilarious hijinks.
Oberyn Martell, Game of Thrones
Oberyn may have (spoilers?) only been around for a season, but his presence on Game of Thrones will echo out into the forever of A Song of Ice and Fire. And though some folks were wary at the casting of Pedro Pascal in the role, he proved a wildly effective and truly brilliant addition to an already impressively stacked cast. We’ll never forget you, Red Viper. May your bastard daughters avenge your unjust death!
Maura Pfefferman, Transparent
No one made a bigger transformation as an actor on television than Jeffrey Tambor did embodying the transgender matriarch of the Pfefferman family on Amazon’s Transparent. Maura, in the hands of Tambor, was a real human being with all sorts of faults and foibles — but never without the beautiful and brave show of love she had for herself, her journey, her family, and friends. Maura is not perfect, but she’s trying to be perfectly herself — and that is no small feat, particularly when you lived your whole life as a man. We would all do better to have a little more Maura in us all.
Miss Rosa Cisneros, Orange is the New Black
Was there a more exciting end to a character than Miss Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) from OITNB? Throughout the whole of the first season we knew there was more underneath the surface of the cancer-stricken convict — and hoo boy did we get it in season two. Not only was Rosa (spoilers!) a real ballsy sorta bank robber, she lived a life plagued by superstition that she was a sort of Black Widow, destined to cause pain to anyone who loved her. Yeesh. But she managed, in the end, to take charge of her own life and rode off hilariously (and righteously) into a sunset all her own, despite the tragedies she’d faced. Yeah — that’s a strong character for ya.
BoJack Horseman, BoJack Horseman
We’re generally a fan of anthropomorphic anything — but BoJack Horseman was in a league all his own. The self-loathing, frustrated, bitter ol’ former TV star (voiced perfectly by Will Arnett) shows great range in his ability to be a barely functioning alcoholic and at-times intelligent and rational being. It’s like any great character study of a fallen star…only it’s a horse. I mean, c’mon! How could we not love BoJack in all his messy absurdity, right?
Edgar Quintero, You’re the Worst
Edgar. Oh Edgar! Perhaps our favorite part of You’re The Worst (tied with Kether Donahue’s Lindsay), Desmin Borges is heart-achingly good in the one-man dramedy that is Edgar Quintero. An Iraqi war vet with some serious post-war issues, Edgar is gracious, happy, and far more optimistic than any man who’s been through war has any right to be — which makes him the perfect roommate for ho-hum, everything-is-awful, so-out-of-touch-with-the-real-world, Jimmy. To see them volley back and forth, to see Edgar try so hard and love so much and be so rational in spite of all his struggles, is both inspirational and hilarious. It’s a hard line to walk — to be both the comedy and the tragedy of a story — but he does it. And brilliantly, we might add!
Claire Randall, Outlander
Claire Randall is many things: a strong-willed nurse and keenly dressed woman of the 1940s with a healthy sexual appetite — and also a time-traveling healer in 1790s Scotland. To handle both scenarios is no small task, and Caitriona Balfe manages it with aplomb. There’s not been quite so feminist a character on television in a while, and it’s a true delight to see: Claire is smart, resourceful, determined, and unafraid. She’s everything you’d ever want a female character to be, and we’re so, so glad she’s the star of Outlander.
Algernon Edwards, The Knick
In our humble opinion, Andre Holland is tackling the lionshare of interesting work as Dr. Algernon Edwards in Cinemax’s The Knick. An outcast with pedigree that far outshines his social (and racial) standing of the era, he is caught between two wildly different worlds and yet still carries on his attempts to be the best surgeon he (or anyone, for that matter) can be. Dr. Edwards has to be four times as good to get 1/8th of the respect of his white colleagues and still he’s rarely allowed in the surgical room, despite being able to dance circles around his white surgical counterparts. And even when he’s pushed aside — or other black people are as well at the hospital — he figures out a way to both help them and his further surgical education and discovery. We’re telling you: this man is IT.
Rust Cohle, True Detective
Time is a flat circle, man. And no one played up that existential crazy quite like Matthew McConaughey in True Detective. I mean we don’t even need to explain this one, right? Rust Cohle will go down in TV history as one of the most interesting and enigmatic characters we’ve ever seen on the small screen. No one else could get away with saying “stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction – one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal” and get away with it so cooly than ol’ Rusty over here. Goddamnit!
Mellie Grant, Scandal
While many readers of The Nerdist may not be fans of ABC’s Scandal, we are. And far and away the most interesting, dynamic, complicated, and perma-evolving character has been First Lady Mellie Grant. In the past year we have seen her go through actual hell, with the revelation (spoilers!) that she was raped by her husband’s father, forced to keep it a secret, only to then lose that son in a very complicated and deliberate plot. It gave a far fuller look at what made Mad Mellie — that über-ambitious political animal with anger and venom coursing just below the surface — into something far more complicated, interesting, and dynamic. No one is doing better work than Bellamy Young on that show. Kerry Washington may be the star of that show, but for us Mellie Grant has the far more interesting story.
Jared, Silicon Valley
Pivot, pivot, pivot, pivot. Zach Woods is a stone-cold weirdo and total genius because of it. At least that’s all we can assume after his year-long journey of playing lovable nutballs with an endearing-yet-unsettling screw loose. Nowhere was that seen more than in his depiction of Jared on Silicon Valley. Constantly forgotten, always on edge, anxious to the point of giving the viewer a heart attack, Woods managed to shine just as bright if not brighter on a cast chockablock with seriously funny comedic talent. And I mean, c’mon: that scene of him on the island was just the best, right?
Tina Belcher, Bob’s Burgers
Tina Belcher, you are a queen: and to you we must all bow down. The eldest daughter on Bob’s Burgers is a refreshing sort of weirdo teen enigma, barely surviving the hormonal cesspool that is one’s adolescence. Be it her erotic friend fiction, her sweet dance moves, or her awkward-yet-ambitious attempts to get Jimmy Jr. to love her, Tina is a punny and tenacious babe — even if she doesn’t realize it yet. One day, when Tina Belcher grows up and becomes a famous author with ravenous fans, they’ll look back at her teenage years and think, “man, I wish I’d had a friend like Tina!” Because we all do, Internet. We all do.
Who were your favorite characters this year? Did we miss any you love? Let us know in the comments.