As a child, I loved to watch Nick at Nite. I’m not sure why…maybe it was because when I’d sleep over at my grandma’s, she’d let me stay up till 2:00 in the morning watching it with her, or maybe it’s because I’ve always had an affection for the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s (those were the shows that were airing at the time of my childhood…now shows from my childhood are airing….it all comes back around), or…maybe…it’s because Nick at Nite revealed some of the greatest characters of the era before me: Mary Tyler Moore – So progressive, and beautiful, and such an amazing wardrobe. I can only imagine that women back then strived to dress just like her. Lisa Douglas from Green Acres – ”Darling I love you just give me Park Ave…”-lllloooovvvveed her and her awesomely hard to understand accent. And Lucy…who didn’t, doesn’t, couldn’t…love Lucy. Lucy and Ricardo had one of the greatest couple dynamic ever. This is making me want to watch old school Nick at Nite.
While those characters of my parent’s era were great, I have to say, in the new millennium, television characters have gotten even better. There are a number of shows that I am a loyal viewer of that I find myself saying, “This is the greatest character of my generation.” I of course say it about more than one, so it’s really just a phrase, but you get the point. Below is a list of a few of what I believe are the greatest characters of my generation.
Nancy Botwin: Weeds
In 2005, Showtime debuted their new show Weeds. The short premise was that a suburban housewife loses her husband to a sudden heart attack while still in his 30’s, leaving her with a large home, 2 kids and no skills. Somehow, this was all many seasons ago, she got into the business of dealing weed to the local suburban parents who bought at school PTA meetings, soccer games, and other, wildly inappropriate places to purchase drugs. From this, Nancy Botwin, the world’s greatest drug dealing mother, came to life.
Sometimes there are characters that you watch that you find yourself thinking, “there is no one else on earth who could play this part like her.” After a few episodes of the first season of Weeds, that was exactly what I was thinking of Mary Louise Parker. Her large, doe eyed glares, her long fingers that always griped iced coffee awkwardly, and her wavy hair, porcelain skin, and long legs that get her out of one drug related incident after another, could only be achieved by Ms. Parker. Nancy’s character is the perfect combination of femininity, motherly instinct and love, and bad-assness. I always appreciated that she utilizes her sexiness, but is smart, and knows when she needs help, or a gun, or a plan. Even though her children are constantly doubting her, as a viewer, I never have. She always prevails, and sometimes it’s completely crazy, and always awesome, but beyond that, it is always so “Nancy.” If I ever have to be a drug dealer, I aspire to be just like her.
Ari Gold: Entourage
I’ve always loved Jeremy Piven. I remember watching him in one of my favorite movies, Serendipity, and thinking, “Why isn’t he a leading man?” I was impressed by his ability to give a very good ( and long) and moving speech. This ability must have contributed largely to him taking on Entourage’s Ari Gold, agent to the main character Vinny.
The truth is, I didn’t love this show at first. I rented the first season, and one evening, popped it in hoping for a funny new show I could catch up on and become a fan of. Instead, I made it through the first few episodes and realized it was crass, and lewd, and sometimes down right disgusting…I didn’t like it…at the time. A few years later, I started dating a guy I like to call Dan. Dan didn’t have cable, and you can only watch so many Seinfeld reruns before you become desperate for a change of scenery. So, due to boredom, lack of options, and three whole seasons to watch consecutively, I gave it another shot.
Needless to say, this shot went over far better than the first one did, and I found myself hooked on this very boy oriented, still crass, and still pretty disgusting, show. But once I got beyond the lewd humor, it was the characters that kept me interested. I loved “E”, and Vince, and loved to hate Johnny, and Turtle, well, he’s Turtle. But, after a couple of seasons, I realized that it wasn’t the main characters that I loved the most. Jeremy Piven’s character, Ari, was starting to dominate the show (and award shows), and I found myself caring more about his story line than the others. Ari has some of the best one-liners on television, and no one can deliver them the way Piven does. Season after season, he outdoes himself in becoming a bigger and bigger character, and now, I’d say, his story line is much more important than Vince’s. I care more about Ari’s (self-destructing) career, than I do Vinny’s, or E’s, or Johnny’s, and especially Turtle’s. I think Ari Gold’s character is the perfect example of a supporting role taking over the show, and for that, he has to be one of the best characters of my generation.
Michael Scott: The Office
While I am sure that Ricky Gervais is the greatest television character of all times in England, in America, he is only the guy that always bitches about being first when Steve Correll is up for awards for The Office. Michael Scott, the American office manager, has to be one of the greatest male character on Primetime. I can’t think of another character that makes you laugh, cringe, gag a little, and cry every once in a while, than Michael. He’s a character that you look forward to watching every episode because you can’t predict what he’ll do next. He’s absolutely despicable, but you still pity him. He can be such a jerk, but still the nicest guy in the world, and he can be what seems like the worse employee ever, but still be the best at his job. There is no other character on TV today that I can say evokes so many emotions out of me as a viewer.
All that said, I don’t think anyone could achieve all this but Steve Corell. One of the best parts of the show is that you know a majority of it is improvised, and there are not too many actors that can improvise as well as Steve (Maybe Will Ferrel and Vince Vaughn). Michael’s stupidity and ignorance is played out so well by someone who in real life is nothing like this. I think beyond being one of the funniest characters on television right now, the reason I had to put him on this list is because Steve Correll has done what very few successful television actors have done, and that is create a character that is so memorable and loved, but one that is not associated with him as a real person. I can’t think of anyone that believes that Steve Corelll is anything like Michael Scott, yet he is believable and successful as the character. As an actor, this is an invaluable trait in going on to do something beyond the one show (case and point: the entire cast of Friends, besides Courtney Cox would did had a career before the show). Though Correl is leaving the show, and as I predict (and probably most people), before long, this will be the end of it altogether, Michael Scott will remain one of the greatest characters of my generation because of Steve’s acting, improvising, and all around hilarious portrayal of a pretty horrible person, while not being one, or being mistaken for one, himself.
Carrie Bradshaw: Sex and the City
I almost didn’t list Carrie for one reason: they came really close to ruining her character with the second Sex and the City movie. Despite the last taste in my mouth being that of microwaved dog poo, I had to dig deep, and go back to to 2005 when I first discovered the show.
I came in on the show when it was probably in its third or fourth season, and watched the ones I missed while working on my degree in English down in California. There was something so comforting and familiar about watching this series while typing my Critical Theory papers on feminism and women in the media. Like most fans of the show, I felt like I related with the pleasantly neurotic writer as she explored life through lunches with friends, shopping when she couldn’t afford it, and lots of trail and error. What women doesn’t relate with that.
The character of Carrie Bradshaw was genius on so many levels. For one, the great Sarah Jessica Parker was the only person who could play this role. Parker herself is charming and graceful and has a comedic timing not too many women possess. While the other characters were interesting and viewers cared about them and their stories, Carrie always remained the center of the show (much to the distain of Kim Catrell as rumors revealed). Viewers were always most interested in who Carrie was dating, how she was feeling, and what she was wearing. A good main character will maintain the pivotal story line season after season, unlike Vince in Entourage.
Carrie Bradshaw revolutionized the female television character and created a fan base that might be hard to beat. People tried to dress like her, they tried to talk like her, and they tried to drink like her. Cosmo sales all over America skyrocketed as a result of Carrie. I don’t know that there is a television character that has even been as influential as Carrie Bradshaw. Just her scope of influence alone is enough to put her on this list.
I still love this show and this character, but I do severely disagree with their movie portrayals, and wish they could undo what they did in the second movie altogether. But…I still love watching reruns even though I’ve seen them all about 15 times, and there is still a part of me that hopes they’ll make a movie that does the show and the character justice.
Donald Draper: Mad Men
I love Mad Men so much, at the end of every season, I mourn its departure. As soon as they start to advertise the season finale is approaching, I’m filled with sadness. This is due in large part to the leading character, Don Draper. John Hamm, a completely unknown actor in his mid 30’s landed the role of his lifetime, his big break, and one of the greatest characters on basic cable, when he was given the lead of this new show, revealing the life of a 60’s Madison Ave. advertising executive, with a dark past, a beautiful wife, and every man’s dream job. If I were listing the best shows of my generation, Mad Men would definitely be on that list as well (oh wait, I think I did that one).
Don Draper is one of the most complex and well acted characters I’ve seen on television. He plays the many roles of an advertising genius, husband, adulterer, father, and boss, all while being someone he’s not. If that’s not deep, I don’t know what is. Jon Hamm is shockingly good looking, and has inspired a revival of 60’s men’s fashion with his gelled over hair, skinny ties, and perfectly pressed suits. He delivers his pitches with passion and conviction, and makes you forget that smoking cigarettes and drinking scotch all day is not a good idea (the power of advertising…). He somehow makes me want to erase 50 years of women’s rights progression, pin my hair back, and type in a room filled with smoke and sexist assholes: Genius. Draper is a character who came from nothing, gained everything, but is never satisfied, so he slowly self destructs little by little each season. One minute you think this character is invincible, and the next, you pity him. Draper has so many layers, and Hamm reveals them each flawlessly and with such ease. Mad Men hosts a cast of interesting characters, but the show would be nothing without its leading man played by the now very famous and admired Jon Hamm. His big break was good for everyone.
There are a number of others that definitely deserve shout outs: Dexter, Danny Devito’s character on It’s Always Sunny, Betty Draper on Mad Men, Dwight on The Office, Gemma teller on Son’s of Anarchy, Tony Soprano, but I have to say, the characters listed, are truly the most impressive, well developed, and well acted characters in the history of television. Years from now, I’m sure my kids will watch Weeds and The Office on Nic at Night and say they were good characters for the 2000’s, but I believe, like Lucy and Mary Tyler Moore, Nancy, Ari, Michael, and Don will always remain television’s classics and will be appreciated for years to come. I just hope TV execs can keep coming up with more shows like Mad Men and The Office and less like The Gates, Undercovers, and Melrose Place Part II.