Over the years, I've gradually become more and more avid for television consumption. Nowadays, the amount of top-quality shows has surpassed any other period in TV history, which used to be a dry wasteland of corny dialogue and noticeably maladroit musical scores. The now-continuous narrative style becoming ever more popular in television storytelling has the medium confidently competing with the best of Hollywood's motion pictures; those intricate stories have brought us some of the most memorable characters with the advantage of sufficient (lengthy) development and characterization that feature films don't often receive. Keep in mind I haven’t seen a lot of these shows to their final season so I’m basing my descriptions and ranking solely on what I’ve viewed so far. Some of these characters are my personal favorites because they’re rich with personality and others just unequivocally likable. Since many older readers have disapproved of some my choices (just because I don't have enough 70's and 80's shows n here)--I'll make this very clear: this is own personal list and not a totally objective, research-based piece. With that being said, enjoy!
20. President Bartlet (The West Wing)
Played by Martin Sheen, Bartlet is undoubtedly one of the most endearing, hilarious, and charming presidents ever depicted. Although he often lets sentimentality get the better of him, he’s never incompetent, offensive, or annoying. This fictional president is simply a joy to see every time he appears on-screen whether it’s going on yet another long-winded talk about national parks and literature (that none of his staff frankly want to be involved in) or entering a seemingly loony mood every once in a while.
19. Boyd Crowder (Justified)
Now, admittedly, I’ve only seen one season of Justified, and it only took that one season to prove to me how great of a character Boyd really is, as villainous and malicious as he can be at times. He’s just so damn charismatic with his soft-spoken voice and genuine (extreme) belief/trust in Jesus Christ and the Bible while he performs heinous acts.
18. Rust Cohle ([True Detective](series:755331))
Rust is definitely one of the most fascinating characters on TV so far (portrayed magnificently by Matthew McConaughey) since he carries a downright nihilistic perspective on life and constantly goes on unerring, heavily philosophical rants that otherwise stun everyone around him. If it wasn't for the complete flip-flop of his character in the disappointing finale, Cohle would've been a much more convincing character because as much as Hollywood loves to boast hopeful (if not happy) undertones, there most likely are people like Cohle out there. Witnessing such a pessimistic individual on-screen certainly kept the show entertaining throughout even when its pace relaxed. On a related note, everyone who sees this guy will immediately get the impression of a complete wacko.
17. Lorne Malvo ([Fargo](series:1076400))
If you thought one whole season to latch onto a character was incredibly quick, wait until you see Lorne Malvo (played excellently by Billy Bob Thornton). FX’s newest series, Fargo, is only four episodes in so far, but it’s only taken that long for me to absolutely fall in love with this bizarre human being. Not only is he one of the funniest and quotable characters on TV right now but he’s surely one of the most intelligent as well, perfectly prepared to safely escape from the worst of situations. Moreover, every line that comes out of his mouth is golden, and every single thing he does throughout the show is equally as amusing. The man grabs a book to read on the toilet while a guy’s standing there, trying to intimidate and threaten him—enough said.
16. Francis Underwood ([House of Cards](series:726551))
Possibly one of the vilest characters on television, Kevin Spacey’s Underwood is also one of the most memorable. Everything from his iconic southern accent to the disheartening direct-to-camera addresses turns Underwood into a quite notable character; he also happens to (probably) be the most meticulous politician who ever lived.
15. Tyrion Lannister ([Game of Thrones](movie:817617))
In a morally depraved world such as Westeros, it’s a true rarity to see someone as honorable and sweet as Tyrion (a dwarf born into the most powerful family of all the lands: the Lannisters). Peter Dinklage manages to perfectly convey a (realistic) balance between generosity and pragmatism.
14. Jesse Pinkman ([Breaking Bad](series:200567))
You know it, b*tch! To call him a sidekick would be totally unfair because we see him take his own path several times throughout the show, knowing exactly when to say “no” to his menacing partner. He’s also not just there for comic relief (though he is the reason behind a lot of the funniest bits of Breaking Bad) since he’s transparently vulnerable right from the get-go—being placed in incredibly perilous situations with no way out. While Walter White has already lost his original soul at that point to even feel regret, Jesse clearly understands the trouble and ridiculousness that the two have driven themselves to, ultimately serving as the most heartrendingly tragic character on the show.
13. Eric Cartman (South Park)
Okay, so Eric Cartman does stand out a little in this list, being the only animated character (or, at least, so far), but very few can deny that this potty-mouthed, impudent prepubescent has indisputably defined television comedy. He’s the funniest character on one of the funniest shows in history, South Park. Yes, the kid can be a tad bit racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic, but only the most politically correct would even try to hold in the epic laughter that Cartman’s insults, acts, and rants induce.
12. Jimmy McNulty (The Wire)
He’s got the fire and the fury at his command. Yes, McNulty—the badass, yet immature, go-getter—is one of the finest officers on the crime-ridden streets of Baltimore. At times, he can be immensely silly and at others, he can be drinking himself dry at a bar because of a bad day. However, most of the time, he’s eagerly cracking down on crime while exasperating his bosses to no end.
11. Ari Gold (Entourage)
Even if you’re not the biggest fan of Entourage, it’s fairly difficult to just ignore the immediate charm and hysterics this ambitious, animatedly smug, and delightfully obnoxious movie agent brings to the screen. This is indubitably Jeremy Piven’s defining role, and like any capable funnyman, he’s got plenty of amazingly memorable lines. “Silence is f***ing GOLDEN.”
10. Pete Campbell ([Mad Men](series:200778))
Now, Pete Campbell has had quite the journey throughout the events of Mad Men; the conceited successful adman can be utterly despicable from time to time, but he still somehow remains remarkably empathetic regardless. Despite his occasional shocking actions of envy and animosity, Campbell nonetheless retains an inexplicable likability that might not reach every single viewer. Nevertheless, his uproarious scenes of sheer vanity or those of his admirable attempts to protect the Sterling Cooper (Draper Pryce) agency he so takes pride in working for have firmly kept me on board.
9. Vic Mackey (The Shield)
Vic Mackey is honestly the exemplar of crooked cops on TV, but—see— he’s definitely not the black-and-white corrupt cop you often see on poorly-written procedural dramas. No, he’s morally ambiguous but fully knows his boundaries; it’s really his unpredictable nature that drives the intensity of the show. Without a doubt, he's a brawny, relentlessly truculent detective with a dangerously selfish goal, and nobody’s stopping him!
8. Walter White (Breaking Bad)
The millions of die-hard Breaking Bad fans are going to kill me for not placing this character at a definitive #1—the-best-no-question ranking. Sorry to disappoint you, but this scheming, threatening chemist/drug dealer will “unfortunately” find his place here, among amazing characters like Mackey and Campbell, mind you. Anyway, the groundbreaking character development, alone, reveals a tremendously complex, troubled individual who has decided that he has both little and lots to lose. Therefore, he chooses to undertake some of the biggest risks that a regular citizen has probably ever dared to in order to see the livelihood of his family survive after he's gone.
7. Roger Sterling (Mad Men)
What’s to like about a childish womanizer, right? Well, in the world of Mad Men, he turns out to be the most lovable. He’s unbelievably funny. He’s loyal to his friends even when he’s at his rudest. He’s oftentimes the most relaxed in the room, which always lightens the show's mood when it’s dreary. There’s a reason he’s ranked this high on my list, and it’s because you can never get enough of Roger Sterling.
6. Christopher Moltisanti (The Sopranos)
Christopher is very much the up-and-comer in the crime world, learning the ways and ascending his path in the family thanks to his lucky position being the nephew of one of the most powerful mobsters, Tony Soprano. In this case, it’s not his achievements or persona that makes him a legitimate great amongst these TV characters but his personality itself. He always thinks he knows what he’s doing and isn’t afraid to defy the highly intimidating gangsters that surround him. Occasionally, he gets into trouble and deals with addiction issues but the sense of carelessness he conveys in the midst of such a hazardous environment is seriously amusing, to say the least.
5. Stringer Bell (The Wire)
Among a plethora of traditional drug dealers in the ghettos of Baltimore, Stringer Bell leads on as a sharply intelligent and corporate-minded drug lord. It’s quite enthralling how distinct he is from the rest of the crew, including his soothing, yet resonant, voice. Stringer’s a damn frightening boss when he’s frustrated; just look at the image above—a resounding villain that manages to cleverly steer away from law enforcement’s traps every time and continues finding new outlets to innovate his empire.
4. Don Draper (Mad Men)
Ah yes, Don Draper—the epitome of elegant, successful businessmen that all men aspire to be. Assuming another man’s identity after returning from the war, he has tried to start a new, fresh life for himself where the regrets and miseries of the past are eternally forgotten. Even a classy, seemingly flawless man like Don Draper has own secrets, and the truth of the matter is that most of his infatuated admirers have not yet detected his severe faults. In all truthfulness—once his work is done and the mistresses upset and gone—he’s a genuine loner who’s lost amid apparent friends, business partners, family, and a heavily populated city. Believe me, if he was another perfect, handsome man, he would be nowhere near the top 5 of characters, but what’s already been mentioned above undeniably makes him one of the best—another example showcasing the defects of the "American Dream".
3. Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones)
It seems like female roles are still in a detrimental situation—exceedingly lacking. Either women are used as simple props for the hero’s romantic interest (strangely enough, an abundance of women seem to be fine with this) or as a forced exhibition of true female strength and independence. No, Daenerys is a realistic, subtle, and perfect representation of a strong female character in a narrative. Not only is she angelically beautiful but, more importantly, also effectively demonstrates independence, arrant power, and determination. There’s no need for condescending acknowledgement of diversity and gender equality because the fact of the matter is that the mother of dragons can very well believably take the throne for herself, and I surely hope she does!
2. Dexter Morgan (Dexter)
Despite his serial killer tendencies, Dexter Morgan’s inner thoughts are as conflicted as reflection gets. Everything from the oozing of awkwardness to his introverted propensities strengthens the unmitigated complexity of Dexter’s disposition. Even his own sister seems like a total stranger to him at times. If anything, he’s near the top of pure allure on television, which is why—in my opinion—the show has stayed largely absorbing throughout its span.
1. Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)
Oh, what a surprise! We have the ultimately astute, intimidating Italian mobster…who also has to deal with a dysfunctional family and his recurrent therapy sessions. For the first time, a gangster’s vicious environment and ruthless dealings take the backseat to their personal life of human predicaments. Naturally possessing the high temper of a brutish force, his aggressive tendencies often pit him against his wife, children, long-time friends, and of course, the fiercest of rivals. Often uncontrollably hysterical and sincerely caring towards those he holds dear (when that temper doesn’t get the better of him, obviously), Tony Soprano is not only the most sympathetic criminal in television history but more likable than the quintessential heroes that flood regular network content.
And thus, we have concluded. There are a great share of honorable mentions I considered adding, but I figured those forms of implementations always ruin the purpose of these countdown lists. Anyway, you've seen my favorite television characters. Now, I want you fellow readers to sound off on who's your most beloved character below.