This is sort of a vague list. I’m not really sure what the qualifications were. And it seems wrong that 19 of my 25 favorite characters of the decade are from television shows. I obviously need to read more. But, for whatever reason, these are the ones that really stuck with me. Here are my 25 favorite characters of the decade:
25) Borat Sagdiyev (Da Ali G Show)
Frat guys turned Borat into this decade’s Austin Powers, and no one is really clamoring for Borat II at this point. But the character is brilliantly conceived and led Sacha Baron Cohen into comedic territory that he never could have reached as Ali G.
24) Brian Griffin (Family Guy)
Even I am sitting here thinking this is a strange, possibly unworthy, choice for this list. But I can’t stop laughing when they have Brian actually, you know, behave like a dog. Like when he is afraid of the vacuum cleaner, or uncontrollably wags his tail. A rare talking animal character that still, albeit rarely, acts like an animal.
23) Coach Eric Taylor (Friday Night Lights)
This character’s appeal is helped quite a bit by his relationship with his wife, but he’s on the list alone because he does just fine in the football scenes without her. Friday Night Lights seems to have learned from the mistakes of past shows (I’m thinking specifically of The O.C.): when you have a married couple that serves as a solid foundation upon which to build everything else, do not screw with it.
22) Nick Andopolis (Freaks and Geeks)
Jason Segel effortlessly playing a charming goof. Probably my second favorite character name to try to work into everyday conversation this decade after “Christopher Moltisanti.”
21) Don Draper (Mad Men)
Don Draper was instantly iconic. It’s such a strong character that when Jon Hamm hosts Saturday Night Live, they always end up writing a couple of sketches where he’s just being Draper.
20) Omar Little (The Wire)
President Obama’s favorite character. He has some of the best quotes from The Wire, which means he has some of the best quotes of the decade. Michael K. Williams is great here, but you might be more familiar with him as the cop from R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” series.
19) Benjamin Linus (Lost)
I said in another one of my lists that without the introduction of this character, Lost would have gone the way of Heroes, and I really do believe that. Played extra-creepily by Michael Emerson, Ben gave the show direction and a purpose that it had previously lacked. I’m not totally sold on the in-over-his-head direction the character has taken. I’m holding out hope, but this wouldn’t be the first time the Lost writers ruined one of my favorite characters.
18) E.B. Farnum (Deadwood)
The best weaselly worm in television history. Overmatched and outwitted by almost everyone in town other than Richardson, Farnum still ends up mayor. William Sanderson gives weight to a character that could have been too much of a joke.
17) Tim Riggins (Friday Night Lights)
Sometimes the characters on this show change unexpectedly and without explanation. Riggins’ evolution has been (comparatively) organic, and great to watch. Taylor Kitsch is genuinely funny, and I love how the producers absolutely refused to let his character leave the show with the rest of his graduating class.
16) Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)
It would have been weird to leave him off the list, but everything has already been said about this character, so I’ll just move on. A random photo of the actor hanging out and eating ice cream next to Bill Clinton at a zoo or something that I cut out of People led my friends and I to form an imaginary band named Clinton and the Gandolfinis. Become a fan on Facebook!
15) Severus Snape (Harry Potter)
It’s hard to pick one character out of the Harry Potter universe, and I can’t just pick the entire Weasley family, so I’ll go with a slightly less obvious choice. Rowling kept me guessing about Snape until the very end, and Alan Rickman is absolutely great in the movies.
14) Amélie Poulain (Amélie)
Spawned legions of crushes that were nearly entirely squashed with the release of The Da Vinci Code in 2006. Or maybe that was just me.
13) The Joker (The Dark Knight)
An amazing interpretation of a classic character that also led to one of my favorite openings of The Office ever.
12) Gareth Keenan (The Office)
I’ve grown to love Dwight Schrute and embrace his absurdity. When I was first watching the American version of The Office, though, I saw him as a huge step down from Gareth, and possibly the character that would be the undoing of the show. The thing that made Gareth great was that he was right at the extreme edge of believability. He is hilariously off-the-wall, but I’ve worked with people that crazy before.
11) Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds)
The character is interesting and has some great lines, but would not come close to making this list if played by anyone other than Christoph Waltz. His nomination for Best Supporting Actor makes that pretty much the only category I actually care about at the Oscars this year.
10) Billy Mitchell (The King of Kong)
If you had shown me a picture of Billy Mitchell before I saw this movie, with his long brown hair and American flag tie, I never would have guessed that he was the villain.
9) Alex Perchov (Everything is Illuminated)
I’m thinking more of the character from the book here, but Eugene Hütz deserves a ton of credit for his remarkable portrayal of Alex in the movie. Never has a character owed more of his appeal to his diction.
8 ) Titus Pullo (Rome)
Along with Lucious Vorenus, Pullo makes up one of the best buddy pairings of the decade. I have him on the list instead of Vorenus because Vorenus is on Grey’s Anatomy now and I’m not sure what Pullo is up to. Also, Titus Pullo would be a great dog name.
7) President Jed Bartlett (The West Wing)
Bartlett isn’t the most well developed character on this list; he’s basically just the personification of liberal ideals. But he’s the sun that the rest of a great ensemble cast orbits around, and without him, there’s no show. He was originally supposed to only be on the show sporadically, but they obviously realized how important his presence was pretty early on.
6) Charlie Kelly (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia)
I love everyone involved with this show, but Charlie carries more comedic weight than everyone else combined. I really wanted to use the “Dayman” clip here, but I used that in another post. This one is great, too.
5) Lucille Bluth (Arrested Development)
A standout in a cast of characters that all had a chance to make this list.
“I don’t understand the question, and I won’t respond to it.”
4) Bodie Broadus (The Wire)
Like Tim Riggins above, Bodie went through a lot of changes over the course of the show, but none of them seemed forced or inexplicable. By the time his storyline ended (spoilers avoided?), Johanna and I were completely emotionally invested in him. We almost named our dog “Bodie,” as I’ve mentioned before.
3) Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report)
This counts as a character, right? I’ve talked of my love for Colbert pretty extensively before. He executes the character so well that supposedly he fools some conservatives. I’m slightly skeptical of that, though.
2) David Brent (The Office)
David Brent is off-putting, yet I’m always on his side. Maybe the most complete character in any comedic television show, ever. Every single line of his feels like a classic.
1) Al Swearengen (Deadwood)
Probably my favorite character of all time. Swearengen is richly drawn, satisfyingly complex, and fully realized from the first episode. Ian McShane was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series at the 2005 Emmys and lost to James Spader for Boston Legal. That is an absolute travesty.
Honorable Mentions: George Michael (Arrested Development), Bubbles (The Wire), Andy Stitzer (The 40-Year-Old-Virgin), Shaun (Shaun of the Dead), Barney (How I Met Your Mother), Gollum (The Lord of the Rings), Jack Donaghy (30 Rock), Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean), Niko Bellic (GTA IV), G.O.B. (Arrested Development), Christopher Moltasanti (The Sopranos), Christopher Boone (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time), Valentino Achak Deng (What is the What), Meatwad (Aqua Teen Hunger Force), Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood), Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men), Ron Weasley (Harry Potter), Jason Bourne (The Bourne Trilogy), Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada), Buddy Garrity (Friday Night Lights)