The 16 Best Characters On Television

We live in an age of ‘peak TV’: shows renowned for their writing and directing. But often it’s the characters created within universes that make or break TV shows. Here are our favourites on television right now.

(I have included characters from shows broadcast since September, and shows that will return later in 2017. I did not include characters from long-running series: sorry, Squidward and Stewie.)

POPE PIUS XIII (JUDE LAW) and CARDINAL VOIELLO (SILVIO ORLANDO) — THE YOUNG POPE

Jude Law’s rebellious pontif is TV’s most enigmatic lead character, radiating narcissism and ambition and occupying his new job with both an arrogance and an uncertainty that Law performs stunningly. As the constantly scheming but well-meaning Voiello, Silvio Orlando threatens to steal every scene he’s in.

MATT (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON), NORA (CARRIE COON) and KEVIN (JUSTIN THEROUX) — THE LEFTOVERS

HBO’s transcendent drama is full of complicated and thoughtfully-drawn personalities, but it’s the trio of Kevin, wife Nora and brother-in-law Matt who provide the show’s strongest emotional arcs.

BOJACK (WILL ARNETT) — BOJACK HORSEMAN

Possibly the most damaged lead character on any show, this existentially-uneasy former sitcom star goes through cycles of pain and self-hatred that provide a dark but poetic insight into the workings of the male ego.

MIKE (JONATHAN BANKS) — BETTER CALL SAUL

In contrast to the comical farce of Saul (Bob Odenkirk)’s adventures, AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel uses Banks’ gruff parking lot attendant to explore darker matter: motivated by family and loss, Mike starts on the road to becoming the hitman/fixer we meet in Bad. Banks’ performance is full of heartbreaking moments.

TITUS (TITUS BURGESS) — UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT

Burgess’ aspiring actor and best friend of Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) is a sharp retort to years of gay stereotypes on sitcoms; Titus has real problems dammit, and they continue to be explored brilliantly on the show.

EARN (DONALD GLOVER) — ATLANTA

Glover was wonderfully loud and silly on Community, but his portrayal of the downtrodden Earn is quiet, mysterious and unforgettable.

ELLIOT (RAMI MALEK) — MR. ROBOT

Though Season 2 saw Elliot reduced to a less dominant role, Malek’s performance remains the most startling and vivid element of the USA hacker drama.

COUNT OLAF (NEIL PATRICK HARRIS) and MR. POE (K. TODD FREEMAN) — A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS

Harris’ version of Olaf may pale in comparison to the acting masterclass Jim Carrey delivered in 2004, but he’s nonetheless a delight to watch, donning a variety of disguises in his livid quest to steal the Baudelaire orphans’ fortune. As the hapless banker who constantly puts said orphans’ lives at risk, Freeman brings a Wes Andersonian foolishness to this Series of Unfortunate Events.

JARED (ZACH WOODS) — SILICON VALLEY

The cast of Silicon Valley is an assembly of stereotypes — the stoner, the sociopath, the inventor — but Woods’ Jared, lively and loyal, transcends the labels that face his co-stars, inhabiting a warm and brilliantly funny role with ease.

MAMACITA (JACKIE HOFFMAN) — FEUD: BETTE & JOAN

FX’s Hollywood bitch-off is stuffed with grandiose personas, but as is often the case with such a story, it’s the smaller ones that stand out: Mamacita provides our viewpoint into the absurd world of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, suffering under the bullying of her boss (Jessica Lange’s Crawford) and providing occasional words of wisdom.

DEV (AZIZ ANSARI) — MASTER OF NONE

Ansari’s semi-autobiographical Dev is vain, irritating and has a blinkered view of New York life. He’s also one of the most relatable lead characters on TV. Season 2 will take him to Italy — we can’t wait to see what he does there.

CLAIRE (ROBIN WRIGHT) — HOUSE OF CARDS

Her husband Frank (Kevin Spacey) may sit behind the Resolute Desk, but Claire is the most deliciously scheming Underwood in this White House. A charismatic hybrid of Every Powerful Woman More Charismatic Than Hillary Clinton, Claire’s journey to ultimate power isn’t over yet.


Do you agree with our choices? We bet you don’t (yeah, we DID exclusive Game of Thrones — watchagonnadoaboutit?). Let us know your favourite TV characters of the moment in the comments below.