15 Best TV Characters of the 21st Century

Heroes and Villains, Comedy Sidekicks vs Tortured Souls…but who will come out on top?

15) Morris Moss (played by Richard Ayoade)

from The IT Crowd

A socially awkward nerd who still lives with his mother, The IT Crowd’s Morris Moss also happens to be one of British Comedy’s most loveable characters.

While the show primarily follows the workplace and love-life mishaps of Roy and Jen, it’s colleague Moss that provides many of the laughs. Whether he was befriending cannibals, holding a ruddy gun, or reliving being sued by his mother, Moss kept the humour coming for four seasons of the comedy.

14) Wilhelmina Slater (played by Vanessa Williams)

from Ugly Betty

Ugly Betty is now an almost forgotten gem, a show that boasted a couple of impressive seasons before, as many series do, losing it’s way and being axed by the network.

Wilhelmina Slater, Mode magazine’s equally beautiful and vicious Creative Director, made the Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly seem like an old frump, and proved to be the perfect contrast to young, naive, homely lead character Betty. If Betty was the heart of the show, then Wilhelmina was the show’s guts, whose steely determination and (with a little help from assistant Marc) evil plans, stopped the show from floating too much into the schmaltz category.

13) Dan Scott (played by Paul Johansson)

from One Tree Hill

Few shows do evil dads quite like One Tree Hill, whose vengeful car salesman and one time Mayor Dan Scott ramped up both the drama and the humour in the noughties teen series.

Considering he abandoned his girlfriend and son, and abused his other son and wife (not to mention murdering his own brother in cold blood) it’s a wonder Dan survived nearly nine seasons. Almost every season ended with him at death’s door, but as the man himself put it “You can’t kill Dan Scott!”

(Until Season 9, when he surprisingly dies a hero).

12) Janet (played by D’arcy Carden)

from The Good Place

One of two non-human characters to appear on the list, Janet is one of The Good Place‘s most important characters, namely because she is the primary information point for inhabitants of the Good Place.

Although she’s kind of like a real-life Alexa, Janet brings a lot more to the series than a weather forecast or Google search result. Her constantly cheery demeanour causes mixed feelings from other characters (and a lot of hilarity for the audience). And, as her technology is continuously improving, she develops a genuine bond for resident Jason Mendoza, which is as sweet as it is odd.

Just don’t try to kill her (YouTube it).

11) Dennis Reynolds (played by Glenn Howerton)

from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

Everyone’s favourite sociopath Dennis may be the most evil of all It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia‘s repulsive characters, but is also the most entertaining.

Also known as a Golden God, Dayman, and the leader of the Paddy’s gang, Dennis’ immoral business plans and multiple attempts to manipulate women are made more hilarious by the fact that his need for control is a blatant symptom of his overwhelming insecurity.

And he calls Dee pathetic.

10) Darius (played by Lakeith Stanfield)

from Atlanta

Proof that the best character doesn’t have to be the lead, Atlanta‘s quirky, fashion forward supporting character, Darius, adds comic relief and a bit of style to the downbeat comedy drama.

But there’s more to Darius than just humour. His seemingly out-of-the-blue comments sometimes turn out to be more than they appear, and he looks out for lead character Earn when no one else seems bothered.

We all need a Darius in our lives.

9) Spike (played by James Marsters)

from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The Twilight saga aside, Buffy‘s Spike is TV’s most loveable vampire, who added more than a little bite to proceedings back in the late 90s/early noughties.

A hilarious addition to Buffy’s gang, Spike was also one of the show’s best developed characters, transforming from a blood-lusty slayer slayer (no, that isn’t a typo) to something actually resembling a hero. Spike was so well received that he accompanied Buffy’s love interest Angel on his self titled spin-off series.

8) Leslie Knope (played by Amy Poehler)

from Parks and Recreation

No ‘Best Character’ list would be complete without the perkiest, most energetic Assistant Parks Department Director of all time. The aspirational counterpart to grumpy boss Ron, Leslie defied all attempts to dampen her spirit, and tirelessly strived to make the slightly backward town of Pawnee a better place.

Whether she was marrying penguins or chaining herself to a gate, you couldn’t help but feel a little envious of Miss Knope’s unending enthusiasm, especially as it always extended to supporting her friends and colleagues, even when everything else was going awry.

A perfect performance by Amy Poehler, NBC wanted her so badly that they bent over backwards to make P&R’s filming fit her schedule.

7) Sully (played by Kano)

from Top Boy

Never has a character been so visibly haunted by their past experiences as with Kano’s Sully.

In the earlier series, Sully appears hardened to the reality of his existence; the aggressive partner to Ashley Walters’ more business-minded Dushane. However, six years later, after a long stint in prison, Sully cuts a much more vulnerable picture, particularly after the tragic death of his old friend Jason. It will be interesting to see how the character further develops in the next season of Top Boy.

6) Malcolm Tucker (played by Peter Capaldi)

from The Thick of It

Definitely the most sweary of our shortlist, Peter Capaldi’ s terrifying political enforcer simultaneously scared and amused audiences back in 2005 when the instant classic comedy first aired.

Despite the character’s furious temper and unforgettable putdowns, it’s the unexpected parts of Tucker’s personality that make him so great, such as turning on the charm to stop a harassed cleaner from selling her story from the papers, and when he actually apologises to the incessantly irritating Terri.

The BBC liked Malcolm Tucker enough to make him the lead character in an American-set spin off film, In The Loop.

5) Villanelle (played by Jodie Comer)

from Killing Eve 

Who knew a scouser could pull off such a good Russian accent? Jodie Comer is the gift that keeps on giving in her role as sadistic assassin Villanelle, who fixates on the spy that is assigned to track her down.

Watching the villain attempt to charm handler Konstantin and nemesis/wannabe lover Eve is as fun as she appears to find it; however, we also feel a strange sympathy for Villanelle when the master manipulator is manipulated herself. That said, watching her get her comeuppance while trapped at creepy Julian’s house was admittedly pretty funny.

‘Til she stabbed him in the neck with knitting needles. Ouch.

4) Veronica Mars (played by Kristen Bell)

from Veronica Mars

Kristen Bell’s badass teen detective remains the ultimate teen heroine, her self-named series having gained something of a cult fanbase over the years since it first aired.

A cross between a gripping murder mystery and a quirky teen drama, Veronica Mars boasted an impressive cast, led by the consistently engaging Bell, who brought everything about Veronica –  the trauma caused by her rape and grief of losing a best friend, her witty personality and clever quips, her investigative brain and eye for detail, her reality as a social outcast – completely to life.

And yet no aspect the headstrong heroine ever felt forced, or overdone. Truly one of the best teenage characters ever to appear on TV.

3) Tony Soprano (played by James Gandolfini)

from The Sopranos

If we’re talking complex characters, The Sopranos patriarch Tony has to get a mention. Which other series could have the evil of a gangster pale in comparison to his elderly mother?

In one of the best TV pilots of all time, we were introduced to troubled Tony exactly as he was: a mobster – or should that be ‘waste management consultant’ – who reluctantly turned to a psychiatrist to help with his struggles with the family business, as well as his more immediate family’s issues.

It’s hard not to like Gandolfini’s Tony, to the extent that it’s uncomfortable to watch him off his first on-screen victim a few episodes later. While it may be hard to identify with a gangster’s problems on paper, we couldn’t help but sympathise with the man, as his insecurities, at heart, are universal.

2) Cristina Yang (played by Sandra Oh)

from Grey’s Anatomy

An original member of Grey’s Anatomy’s five MAGIC intern gang, we watched the heavily quotable Dr Yang grow from gifted intern, to tyrannical resident, to a fully fledged Cardio God.

Cristina’s steely, sarcastic personality made her one of the show’s most popular characters, and contrasted brilliantly with fellow female intern Izzie’s emotional outbursts, and title character Meredith’s gloomy demeanour. That said, Sandra Oh perfectly captured the moments when Cristina lets her emotionless persona drop, such as when she is left at the altar, and following Season 8’s fatal plane crash.

Grey’s has never really survived Cristina’s exit, although the character was gifted with one of the tragedy-happy show’s better exits. While bestie Meredith finds herself a new ‘person’, twisted sisters Grey and Yang will always remain the strongest and most interesting relationship in Seattle Grace/Grey Sloan Memorial’s history.

1) Cersei Lannister (played by Lena Headey)

from Game of Thrones

Plot twist: a baddie being number one.

The ruthless leader her father always wished his sons to be, the angel of death to her three children, the bad habit her brother/lover Jaime just can’t quit, the ultimate enemy to any contender for The Iron Throne: of course it has to be Cersei Lannister.

A love/hate character from the very start, Cersei’s ice-cold persona never slips, even when faced with adversity. While we do develop sympathy for the character as she is publicly humiliated and thrown into jail, these setbacks only strengthen her determination for power and revenge. Which you kind of have to respect.

However, in her final days, when Cersei comes face to face with the Mother of Dragons (and her dragons), the lonely queen actually does surrender in order to save King’s Landing. Before it is promptly burnt to the ground. Oh well, at least she dies in her one true love’s arms.

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