It’s that time of year when we all look back over the year that was in television and rattle off the “Best Of” lists. With Peak TV that is a task that, no matter the subject, can be a bit daunting at times. There’s so many shows out there to keep up with and if you’re anything like us, you start to feel as though that queue on your DVR will never stop growing. All those TV shows have an upside though, as there’s now more characters than ever for us to love. However, not all characters are created equal and some of them stand out above the rest.
The ones that truly stand out are the ones that make television fun to watch. These are the characters that have me excited to come back each week and who keep their shows at the very top of my viewing list. When I’ve had a long day at work and need to relax these are the characters I want to spend some quality time with. Sure, they aren’t perfect, but they are the ones that give me the most joy and as a TV viewer that’s really the most I can ask for.
Please note, these characters are listed in no particular order. So without further adieu here are my Most Enjoyable Characters of 2016.
Franz Faber – X Company
I never thought I’d be putting a Nazi WWII officer on any kind of “Most Enjoyable” list and yet, when thinking of characters and performances I enjoyed most in 2016, Torben Liebrecht’s Faber is one of the first to come to mind. He could be downright terrifying as he tortured Alfred (Jack Laskey) and then, cruelly and single handedly shooting defenseless townspeople. However, something both X Company and Liebrecht are especially deft at is showing there’s always two sides to a story. Season 2 showed a hurt, broken and guilt-ridden man that greatly felt the loss of his son. Now faced with working with the Allied team in Season 3, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether Faber can be trusted. All I know is that I for one can’t wait to see it all play out in the CBC drama’s final season!
Emily Gilmore – Gilmore Girls
Like many other TV fans, as soon as I heard Gilmore Girls would be coming back I was overjoyed. It was a formative show for my young adult self, but probably more than anything it meant I’d be getting more Emily Gilmore in my life. Throughout its seven seasons on the WB, Emily was always my favorite character and she was played to perfection by Kelly Bishop. It’s been awhile since Bishop played the Gilmore matriarch, but the revival proved that she is still a force to be reckoned with. From awkwardly painful therapy sessions with Lorelai, to midday drinking in a tshirt in jeans, mourning Richard’s death and then topping it all off by screaming “Bullshit!” at that DAR meeting, Bishop ran the emotional gamut. Through it all she was downright sensational. Here’s hoping the revival brings her that long deserved Emmy nomination!
Wynonna Earp – Wynonna Earp
On a show with characters as well written as the ones on Wynonna Earp, picking just one of them for this list felt a bit like Sophie’s choice. However, at the end of the day, everything rests squarely on the incredibly talented shoulders of Melanie Scrofano and her portrayal of the title character. If we don’t care about Wynonna, then we don’t care about the show and Scrofano ensures that never, ever happens. Wynonna is a hero that feels relatable. She’s far from perfect and actually a bit of a F*ck up. However, she cares and she’s trying and that’s more than enough. Throughout the first season Wynonna went from begrudgingly accepting her role in her family’s legacy to proving that she more than deserves to be the rightful heir. No longer “just some girl,” Wynonna is tough, vulnerable, and always has just the right amount of snark to keep us laughing. She’s a feminist hero that came along at the perfect time in 2016, and I can’t wait to see where the Wynonna writers and Scrofano take this character in Season 2.
Elizabeth Jennings – The Americans
How Keri Russell doesn’t have a stack of awards for her portrayal of Elizabeth Jennings is beyond me. She and costar Matthew Rhys routinely turn in next level performances as the married Russian spies and often have to play more than one person. So I don’t think many would argue putting Russell on a list of great TV actors, but as a character, Elizabeth Jennings is one that many might question their inclusion on a “Most Enjoyable” list. Elizabeth is unlikable in many ways, often fierce, cold, calculating and as straight up ruthless as any character on TV. However, underneath all her anger is a hurt woman who can be vulnerable and earn viewers’ sympathy. Russell may have seemed like an odd casting choice when the show first started, with Elizabeth a far cry from Felicity Porter, but she brings the same warmth to this cold Russian spy as she did to that college freshman. Sure, Elizabeth is scary as hell and one never knows what she’s capable of doing, but she’s never not compelling to watch and somehow Russell always makes sure we’re rooting for her in the end. Oh, and the girl can rock one hell of a wig!
Eddie & his friends – Fresh Off the Boat
When I think of great characters from Fresh Off the Boat my mind immediately jumps to Constance Wu’s Jessica Huang. Admittedly, Wu seems to just get better with each passing week, but there’s some other Fresh Off the Boat characters I’d like to throw some love to: Eddie and his gang of friends. This band of misfits, now “ruling” the school in 8th grade, never fail to leave a smile on my face. The pure sight gag of towering Walter next to the minuscule Brian alone makes me laugh. However, these friends are always there for one another and have each other’s backs, even willing to do some downright ridiculous stuff all in the name of friendship. Simply put, they are the best!
Alex Danvers – Supergirl
Kara may be the one with the superhero status and powers on Supergirl, but Season 2 has certainly proved that her older sister Alex is a hero in her own right. She may not have a cape, but Alex is perfectly capable of saving the day with her own “powers,” and the developments in her personal life in Season 2 have only made me love the character more. Alex has always been there for Kara, looking out for her and protecting her little sister as best she could, but in Season 2 she’s been allowed to focus on herself and it’s been a joy to come along for her journey. Alex’s realization about her sexuality and subsequent coming out story has been inspiring, relatable and empowering to watch, proving it’s never too late to become your true self.
Lexa – The 100
I’m still not over Lexa’s death. I don’t think I ever will be over it. Not only did her death play into tired TV tropes that seemed to kick off a horrible year for queer female characters, but she was also one of my absolutely favorite characters on television. I actually don’t think I realized just how much I enjoyed Lexa until she was gone. Her absence left me with such a void, not only because I missed her relationship and dynamic with Clarke, but I just missed Lexa herself. She was unlike any character I had met on TV before. She was a fearless leader and warrior, yet had a very real and vulnerable side. Lexa was a star-making turn for Alycia Debnam-Carey and I’m still a little mad that Fear the Walking Dead has yet to make use of her talents to their full extent. Lexa may have been cold and calculating at times, but she always had my full attention as I’d wait with bated breath to see her next move. She not only demanded power and respect from those that she ruled, but she demanded it from the viewers as well. Dammit, I just miss the hell out of her.
David Rose – Schitt’s Creek
Watching Schitt’s Creek one expects to laugh at legends Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy, but for me it all boils down to Dan Levy’s David. Schitt’s Creek is Dan’s baby through and through. He not only stars in it, but he has written some of my favorite episodes to date. David’s general disgust at life in Schitt’s Creek, his constant judgement and chemistry with every single cast member always leaves me wanting more. David grew up a bit in Season 2 when he got a real job, at the Blouse Barn no less, and he has a real heart to him that comes out in the most unexpected times. Schitt’s Creek further explored David’s relationship with his sister Alexis in Season 2 and it just made me love him all the more! I can’t wait to see what he’s up to (and what he’ll be wearing!) when Schitt’s returns for Season 3 in January.
Ophelia Mayer – Sweet/Vicious
I wasn’t expecting MTV’s Sweet/Vicious, and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be the smart, sarcastic little gem of a show that is tackling the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses head on. The leading duo of Sweet/Vicious, Eliza Bennett and Taylor Dearden, are extremely talented and I really enjoy watching both Jules and Ophelia. However, when forced to choose, I will always choose snark and Dearden’s trust-fund hacker Ophelia has it in spades. With her green hair and excellent deadpan delivery skills, Dearden unexpectedly has given me one of my favorite characters of the year in Ophelia. She’s super chill and always ready with a one-liner, but where Ophelia and Dearden really get me are in the moments where we see all Ophelia’s insecurities that lie just under the surface. We’re seeing more of Ophelia’s true self reveal itself and with every bit we get I get more and more intrigued. I can’t wait to see where Dearden and Sweet/Vicious take us next.
Dean Sanderson (aka “The Grinder”) – The Grinder
As he already proved on Parks and Rec, Rob Lowe has some serious comedic chops. However, it still took me a few weeks to get hooked on the short-lived, and under appreciated, Fox comedy The Grinder. Lowe’s performance as former television star Dean may have been even better than Chris Traeger. Dean was a character that could have easily come off as annoying or outrageous, but Lowe always kept him grounded and often a revealed a real heart and goodness to the character. In keeping with tradition, unfortunately The Grinder was another Fox sitcom worthy of a second season that we will never see. That won’t stop Dean Sanderson from forever grinding his way in my heart.
Marcia Clark – The People v. O.J. Simpson
Thanks to the media of the early 90s, many of us didn’t know the true Marcia Clark. All that has changed thanks to Sarah Paulson’s moving performance of the prosecutor. It’s a performance that rightfully won Paulson an Emmy for her take on the poorly permed Clark. Paulson’s Clark reminded us time and again that underneath that beleaguered prosecutor lay a real human being–one that is vulnerable, but tenacious–and one that against all odds never stopped trying. The People v. O.J. and Paulson did a lot to humanize Clark, and in the process turned her into a feminist icon, no longer worthy of being the punchline to so many jokes.
Root – Person of Interest
When it comes to fun–albeit a little bit crazy–characters, there’s none better than Amy Acker’s Root. She started out as a homicidal hacker before becoming someone that not only viewers, but Shaw and the team truly cared about. Root was unpredictable and a bit of a loose cannon, but no other character could handle shooting two guns at the same time quite like Root. I’m a sucker for wise-cracking badasses and Root had all of that in spades.
John Jaqobis – Killjoys
On a show like Killjoys that has SO MANY characters I love and adore it was really hard to pick just one. I mean who doesn’t smile when they see Pree? Pawter had a hell of a year kicking ass and of course there’s the always amazing Dutch. However, at the end of the day I love no one more than Aaron Ashmore’s Johnny Jaqobis. John went through so much this year and Ashmore was given the chance to display his range like never before. Watching John and Pawter drugged out of their mind was a long way from the comedic tour de force Ashmore delivered when John met the Simms family. Yet, he was equally brilliant in both situations and no one can give me nerdy snark the way Johnny can. Bless showrunner Michelle Lovretta for staying true and continuing to deliver one of the best friendships on television in Dutch and John. These two faced some real challenges this year, but they are stronger than ever for it. I just hope Clara is out there taking care of my boy while I wait for Season 3!
Krystal Goderitch – Orphan Black
Tatiana Maslany makes it easy for us to forget just how many characters she plays on Orphan Black, but the clone that entertained me the most this season was definitely Krystal. The bubbly blonde beautician returned in Season 4 and was better than ever before! Chaos seems to follow her everywhere she goes, yet most of the time she remains blissfully unaware of what is truly happening. While it’d be easy to just label Krystal as a naive little clone, she proved on more than one occasion to be feisty, fun and determined as hell! Add on top of that her hilarious interactions with Felix and Donnie and well, Krystal was my favorite clone of the season.
Brianna Hanson – Grace and Frankie
While comedy greats Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda may be the stars of the show, June Diane Raphael’s Brianna was the one that always made me laugh every time she was on screen. Grace’s oldest daughter isn’t afraid of giving a little attitude when necessary, and even though her life isn’t as perfect as younger sister Mallory, she doesn’t stop trying. Brianna routinely doles out the snarkiest of comments, proving she can hang with the legends, and thankfully that led to Raphael’s role expanded in Season 2.
Joyce Byers – Stranger Things
Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven may have been the breakout star of Stranger Things, but I for one was one of the many overjoyed to have Winona Ryder back. Right from the start, Ryder was called upon to display a wide range of emotions from fear, anger, terror and confusion at what had happened to her son. Joyce was determined and believed in what she knew to be true in her heart, and I’ll never forget her marching into work and buying all those Christmas lights. Bless Netflix and the Duffer Brothers for not only returning Ryder to us, but for giving her a meaty character like Joyce that she could really sink her teeth into.
Gretchen Cutler – You’re the Worst
If you were expecting Aya Cash’s performance on You’re the Worst to drop off in Season 3, after her exceptional depiction of Gretchen’s struggle with depression in Season 2, then you were probably disappointed. Cash was stronger than ever in Season 3 as Gretchen sought therapy for her depression, and had so many great back and forth scenes with her therapist, played by Samira Wiley. Her relationship with Jimmy even seemed poised to take the next step after she accepted his marriage proposal, but he sadly left her standing alone at the fake murder scene he made for her. Thankfully, the show will be back for Season 4 and I can’t wait to see how Gretchen deals with the latest obstacle.
The Villanueva Women – Jane the Virgin
Whenever times get tough or stressful and I have to go to my happy place, it’s somewhere that looks like that front porch on Jane the Virgin. Sitting right next to Jane, Xiomara and Alba I’m pretty sure is one of the safest, happiest and most loving places I can think of. Anyone who watches Jane knows that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you’re Team Michael or Team Rafael because we’re all Team Jane. Those sentiments extend to her mother and grandmother as well. The Villanueva women are forces of nature, each in their own right, and I can’t think of a more perfect definition of #SquadGoals. They are always there for each other, helping one another through hard decisions, supporting each other and loving one another through it all. I think these feminists could solve a lot of our problems if they sat long enough on that front porch swing, and nothing hurts me more than when they argue. I’m grateful for every episode of Jane that lets me feel like an honorary member of the Villanueva family.
Who is your most enjoyable TV character to watch? Did I leave out your favorite? Add them and your thoughts to the comments below!
Editor in Chief Bridget Liszewski comes from a long line of TV Junkies who fostered her love of television from a very young age. She's channeled that passion into covering both US and Canadian television shows, and is thankful everyday for the invention of the DVR. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she loves college football and is a fan of sports in general. Bridget is always up for talking TV and you can follow her on twitter at @BridgetOnTV.