This isn’t a list of the nicest, kindest characters to appear on television. What follows is my list of fictional people I got a gleefully giddy feeling every time they appeared on screen.
I’m going to make the completely arbitrary rule that I can only have one character from a show in the top ten. The list can (and will) change, possibly even by the time of publication. I’m a fickle being.
It’s a murderers row, no fewer than four of my final ten are thoroughbred psychopaths. Five of the ten characters are incurable alcoholics, six are from comedies, four are from an HBO show, two are mobsters and there’s a policeman and a cartoon character too. Crucially, none of them are real (although one is the screen persona of a human).
Shockingly, and I don’t know why, there are no women in the top ten. Six women made the shortlist, though one of those is played by a man. Is this unconscious bias, some latent sexism of mine or an indicator of the paucity of unique, stand-out TV roles for women? It’s definitely the latter, I’m not touching the first option until I see my therapist.
I’ll have forgotten many because I watch a lot of TV. But these are ones most prominent in my ever diminishing grey matter, in no particular order.
Father Jack Hackett – Father Ted
“Don’t tell me I’m still on that fecking island!”
No, he doesn’t get the lines of Father Ted and Dougal, yes there are catchphrases, but Father Jack is by far the runaway character in Father Ted. Sitting drunk, covered in sick and dreaming of his past glories judging wet t-shirt competitions, when Jack got his moments, they were some of the show’s biggest laughs.
Charlie Kelly – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
“Cat in the wall, eh? Okay, now you’re talkin’ my language! I know that game.”
Whether it’s killing rats, finding cats, huffing glue or eating trash, Charlie Kelly is your man! The sewer searching man who’s never left Philadelphia is not only the runaway character (and performance) in Always Sunny, he’s one of the weirdest, grossest, most loveable characters on TV.
The Paddy’s Pub janitor is illiterate, eats cheese from the rat traps and obsessively stalks a waitress. Charlie is on the bottom rung of the gang’s social standings, but he’s so endearingly sweet and unintentionally funny (“No, Charlie, please don’t bathe the students.”) he’s undoubtedly a fan favourite. He’s certainly mine.
James McNulty – The Wire
“Jameson? But that’s Protestant whisky.”
The boozy Baltimore PD detective with a delightful dislike of authority and willingness to subvert the rules sounds like a cliché, but James ‘Jimmy’ McNulty is a more nuanced character than he sounds. Just. McNulty’s gleeful delight in getting his own way is infectious and despite a plethora of stand-out characters in The Wire, they all orbit Jimmy.
Chandler Bing – Friends
“I’m not so good with the advice… Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?”
You know who Chandler is – the deeply insecure Friend who uses humour as a crutch. Most definitely my favourite of the six, though Phoebe is a close second.
Tyrion Lannister – Game of Thrones
“That’s what I do, I drink and I know things.”
Imp-ossibly sharp and clever, Tyrion Lannister has been up against it all his life as the dwarf son of a Tywant (I’ll stop now). From the very first season of Game of Thrones, Tyrion is engaging, but he journeys from comic relief to a far more central position in the show, without ever being anything other than captivating and hilariously dry.
Malcolm Tucker – The Thick of It
“Feet off the furniture, you Oxbridge twat! You’re not in a punt now.”
The foul-mouthed government hound of hell, Malcolm Tucker terrifies civil servants with his acid tongue throughout The Thick of It, but he runs away with the audience. His carrot and stick technique involves “taking a carrot, and sticking it up their arse”. The Thick of It is a fantastic satire, Tucker is scarily real and chews up not only the scenery but the other characters.
Tony Soprano – The Sopranos
“If you can quote the rules, then you can obey them.”
The brutish family man with emotional problems who’ll murder your brother and sleep with your sister, Tony Soprano is a one-off TV character. Often repeated, never bettered, his attempts to balance being a ‘normal’ suburban father while bossing a New Jersey Mafia syndicate are the yin and yang of The Sopranos’ narrative.
Tony’s attempts at being the pivot to that balancing act are the unique part of the show and what makes him such a conflicting person to like. We want him to do well, knowing that it’ll cost lives. Fake lives, sure, but fake lives matter!
Eric Cartman – South Park
“Oh, the tears of unfathomable sadness! Yummy!”
Probably the most repulsive, unapologetically racist, hateful, kitten-loving killer on this list, Eric Cartman is also the funniest. He’s a born sadist, a bullying anti-semite happy to profit off of others’ misery and personal loss. I love Eric Cartman and if you like South Park and claim not to love him, you’re lying.
Hancock – Hancock’s Half Hour
“What about Magna Carta? Did she die in vain?”
The alter ego of the real-life Tony Hancock, Hancock, AKA ‘the Lad himself’ is a pretentious, failing actor who lives in East Cheam with two layabout friends and spends his life ensconced in petty feuds. He’s a pseud, hilariously intellectually inept and an act of self-deprecation that the real Tony Hancock was not always comfortable with. The fact remains, though, that ‘Ancock was ‘ilarious.
Al Swearengen – Deadwood
“If I bleat when I speak it’s because I just got fuckin’ fleeced.”
Al Swearengen may well be my favourite character ever, but frankly, I didn’t have the energy to properly formulate that. Or the alchemy set. He runs a brothel, delivers exposition while receiving blowjobs, has a head in a box, slits throats, cheats people, makes threats and has probably the most brilliant criminal brain since Moriarty hit the whisky and hookers.
I love him.
Characters who just missed out
Dee Reynolds (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)
Deluded, drunk and every bit as narcissistic as the male characters, what’s great about Dee is she has her own life away from the boys, who exist only around one another. Her stand-up is brilliant, too, if you like dry heaving.
Omar (The Wire)
The gay stickup artist with a moral code, Omar is Baltimore’s Robin Hood. If Robin Hood redistributed crack cocaine.
Calamity Jane (Deadwood)
Swaggering, bragging, crude and grating, Jane also has a heart of gold and is a deeply wounded, complex character beneath the bluster. And she’s hilarious.
Glenn Quagmire (Family Guy)
Arya Stark (Game of Thrones)
The Stark assassin is badass. That is all.
Ciro Di Marzio (Gomorrah)
Never without a cigarette, Ciro is an aspiring boss with an air of mystery.
Amy Dyer (In the Flesh)
The happiest zombie ever, Amy Dyer is determined to enjoy her second life and doesn’t care who it up upsets. Possibly the weirdest crush ever, too.
Richard Harrow (Boardwalk Empire)
A traumatised WW1 sniper missing half a face, Richard Harrow’s shy demeanour and disability doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of killing like a machine. He emphatically is.
Pig-headed, brilliant, disturbed, Luther is a detective you’d love to have solving your case, but not working for you.
Tubbs Tattsyrup (The League of Gentlemen)
‘Twelvety!’ inbred (local) shop owner Tubs is both sweet and terrifyingly mad.
Vern Schillinger (Oz)
A neo-Nazi rapist, Emerald City inmate Schillinger is an odd choice for a favourite character, but then the brilliance of Oz is the humanity even in its monsters.
Brian Potter (Phoenix Nights)
An embittered disabled club owner, Potter’s constant attempts to drive business at his crappy establishment are British comedy gold.
Roger (American Dad)
The Smith family’s attic alien, Roger amuses himself in various disguises – all while smashed. There’s definitely a theme on this list.
Richard Sharpe (Sharpe)
Sean Bean kicks arse – and lives!
June Osborne (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Despite her horrifying situation, June (Offred) battles back smartly and never has a lead character been so wholly rooted for.
Edmund Blackadder would feature somewhere if series one wasn’t so pony and trap. Perhaps due to overexposure to them, no Simpsons characters even got shortlisted.
Do you agree? Who would be on your list? Let us know on Twitter @flick_whatUK.