Top Ten Television Characters, and What Makes Them So Good

Photo Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films
October 5th, 2012

Top Ten Television Characters, and What Makes Them So Good

-- With millions of characters populating television screens, it can be overwhelming to keep track. Most people focus on a handful of favorites, able to easily to list a few top picks. Although most people’s preferences are as unique as snowflakes, with no two lists looking exactly alike, some faces show up again and again. The following ten characters are strong enough to stand out from the crowd, winning the hearts of a diverse range of audience members and forever enhancing the world of television.

1. Lucy Ricardo from “I Love Lucy”

Portrayed by redheaded comedian Lucille Ball, Lucy Ricardo practically defines “zaniness.” The grandmother of the situation comedy, Lucy’s witty goofball routines continue to win audiences’ hearts. Lucille Ball has cemented her place in the world of TV, inspiring and influencing countless other sitcoms. Lucy was also a pioneer for female characters, proving that women can be just as approachable and funny as men.

2. Omar Little from “The Wire”

“The Wire” has such a huge cast that standing out is a challenge, but Omar Little manages it effortlessly. Played by Michael K. Williams, Omar is a modern-day version of Robin Hood. Amid the brutal political dealings of Baltimore’s drug-dealing underworld, Omar keeps his cool in one dangerous situation after another. His moral code makes Omar a hero to many, even as his ruthlessness makes him an enemy to others. Audiences everywhere admire Omar’s inimitable swagger.

3. Buffy Summers from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a diminutive blonde who looks as if she spends all her time thinking about boys and fashion. And she does – when she’s not also thinking about the fate of the entire human race. Over the course of seven seasons, Buffy matures from a perky, earnest teenager to a strong, compassionate and insightful young woman, accepting her fate as the Chosen One even when it means difficult sacrifices.

4. Will Truman from “Will & Grace”

One of the eponymous characters of the popular sitcom, Will is an intelligent, sarcastic New York lawyer. Eric McCormack plays Will, who is best friends with free-spirited Grace. Will was one of the first openly gay characters on U.S. television to enjoy a starring role. As a mature, likeable everyman who is content and confident with himself, Will Truman helped to revolutionize the way TV producers approached gay characters.

5. Dana Scully from “The X-Files”

No-nonsense and keenly intelligent, Scully brings some much-needed skepticism to “The X-Files.” Thanks in part to her presence, the show usually avoids sci-fi campiness and has a smarter, more grounded ambiance. Scully’s icy façade slowly thaws throughout the course of the show’s run, showing her vulnerable side. Played by Gillian Anderson, Scully is a favorite among many of the show’s fans.

6. Mary Richards from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”

Mary Tyler Moore changed the face of television in the 1970s. Her iconic character, Mary Richards, was unmarried, in her 30s and more interested in furthering her career than landing a husband or having kids. Sweet and genuine, yet smart and ambitious, Mary Richards proved that women on TV could be more than housewives or romantic interests.

7. Tony Soprano from “The Sopranos”

James Gandolfini brings Tony Soprano to life, giving him some of the gruffness and cold-heartedness audiences expect from a modern-day mob boss. What makes Tony unique and not just another hot-tempered mafia pawn is his complexity. He attends therapy and struggles to keep the peace in his family, making Tony a multidimensional and intriguingly relatable character, despite his violent side.

8. Gob Bluth from “Arrested Development”

Nearly every character from “Arrest Development” is popular, but Will Arnett’s Gob manages to really shine. Delusional and arrogant, the eldest son of the dysfunctional Bluth family can also be unexpectedly vulnerable. Thanks to the comedic talents of Arnett, the aspiring magician manages to be oddly lovable, even in the middle of his goofy and egocentric misadventures.

9. Nancy Botwin from “Weeds”

Portrayed by Mary Louise Parker, Nancy begins the series as a struggling single mom, living in the bland heart of suburbia. She could use her business savvy and ruthless entrepreneurial spirit for bake sales, but instead she focuses on the drug-dealing business. Enigmatic and tough as nails, Nancy is the grounding force in the chaos of the show.

10. Walter White from “Breaking Bad”

Placing normal people in bizarre situations is a recipe for TV success. Walter White, portrayed by Bryan Cranston, first appears as a bumbling, unassuming high school teacher. When he receives terrible news, Walt rises to the occasion in unexpected ways. Walt’s evolution as a character is nothing short of astonishing, tracing a complete transformation that somehow manages to be controlled, subtle and believable.