Monday, December 26, 2011

BEST OF 2011 TV: Scene-Stealers

These are the best characters of the year, who kept us coming back every week—even if the show sucked:

Kat Denning's Max from "2 Broke Girls"
Think Roseanne...but hot. She's a saucy, vulgar waitress, who isn't afraid to call people on their bullshit and works overtime to hide her vulnerable side. She makes up one-half of a series duo that's like Laverne & Shirley meets The Odd Couple. It's rare that actresses get to play anything more than pretty, friendly, desperate, or neurotic, so it's refreshing to see the anti-social and anti-establishment youth of today represented during a time of recession and rebellion.
Best Scene: Any time Johnny makes her weak in the knees.
Maya Rudolph's Ava from "Up All Night"
What happens to an 80s one-hit wonder when you extend their five minutes of fame through an Oprah-like daytime talk show? They become a narcissistic, neurotic, fame-whoring ball of insecurity with no understanding of how to live modestly or interact with the middle class. Also referred to in the dictionary as "comedy gold." While the series is mainly about these late-bloomer new parents who are stumbling through parenthood, every episode Ava manages to amp the ridiculous meter up from a 2 to a 10. Whether it's getting into a ghetto argument with her ex-rapper boyfriend, trying to bribe her new boyfriend's daughter for approval, or lifting a baby sideways after she's done "talking" it into liking her. She's what we wish Oprah secretly was, but know Wendy Williams truly is when the cameras are off.
Best Scene: When she tried to babysit Amy, had to call a cute guy from the emergency list because Amy got trapped in the baby seat, then verbally threatens an unseen intruder when she hears a suspicious sound.

Zoe Lister Jones's Lily on "Whitney"
I'll be honest, if I hadn't seen Jones in the Tribeca film Stuck Between Stations this Spring, I would probably find her character incredibly annoying. But knowing that she's capable of heavy drama and snarky comic timing makes me impressed with her ability to slip into this bubbly, cheesy, girly, super enthusiastic character, who behaves rather amused by her own joke before she even says it.
Best Scene: When she tried to describe how she wanted her engagement party by...miming? Signing? Hippie dancing? I don't know.
Naya Rivera's Santana from "Glee"
Santana got the Kirk-treatment this year, a full-fledged subplot and more screen time than even some of the lead actors. And instead of wasting it with weak songs and tempered emotion, she sang and emoted just as passionately as she insulted. Unlike Sue Sylvester, she's not a one-dimensional villain who's only interesting to watch when she's exploiting the insecurities of her fellow glee clubbers. Santana has an off-switch, a soft spot, and a secret desire to be loved unconditionally.
Best Scene: When she sang the Adele mashup and slapped Finn for outting her.

Zooey Deschanel's Jess from "New Girl"
It's like she's from one of those body switching comedies where a child wakes up in an adult body--not-yet-trained in how to flirt and incapable of saying the word "sex" without giggling--except she has amnesia and she doesn't know the switch happened. However, Jess's main allure isn't that she's adorkable or naive. It's that she's unapologetically embarrassing. Nearly every episode she does something (in front of cute boys, no less) that any other insecurity-plagued, conformed-by-society's-standards girl would (probably literally) die of humiliation from. She might have a momentary realization that what she just did was spastic, but she doesn't back down. She may entertain the idea of flirting like a normal human being (versus using the phrase "Hey sailor!" on someone who isn't a sailor), but she never truly changes who she is. You can't ever squash her spirit. If there were a dork parade, she'd proudly be the Grand Marshall.
Best Scene: When she went off on Nick on Thanksgiving and explained all of the sexual things she wanted to do to her date, not realizing that EVERYONE was listening, including the date in question. 
Max Greenfield's Schmidt from "New Girl"
At first, this character seemed too douchey. So douchey his roommates made him contribute to a douchebag jar whenever he overdid it. Eventually, with Jess's influence, he became more lovable and less...mace-worthy. We started to see that while he attempted to be a womanizer, he was more abused by women than they were by him. His female coworkers mock him, his weddings-only fuckbuddy treats him like the girl in their relationship, and his dream girl, Cece, likes him best when he's angry at her, so she spent Thanksgiving doing everything humanly possible to piss him off. It's probably because he's not really all that manly, his backbone is like jello, and he's so sensitive I wouldn't be surprised if he had a menstrual cycle. He's like a battered puppy caged by lionesses. All of that unexpected vulnerability, coupled with his occasional whimpering voice, unsuccessful attempts at being cool, and often hilarious one-liners makes him a habitual scene-stealer.
Best Scene: When he stopped finding Cece attractive long enough to scold her for her unsanitary cooking methods and had NO clue she was flirting with him the whole time.

Allie Grant's Lisa from "Suburgatory"
This series makes all suburbanites seem like Rx-addicted, plastic drones with Stepford tendencies and superficial personalities. Anyone who's from the city automatically thinks they're a bunch of loons. Much like Tessa, we find comfort in the one normal human being in town, Lisa. Except Lisa isn't any more normal than her captors. It would seem that being held hostage by them has made her slightly insane. Her heightened reactions to the most basic forms of human affection, whether it's sympathy or generosity, are amplified by her big eyes and paranoid resistance. She kind of always looks like she just escaped from an insane asylum and can't find a way out of the never-ending maze of white picket fences.
Best Scene: When she refused to put on an "authentic" Thanksgiving pilgrim outfit, chose to run out into the street naked and hide in the backseat of Tessa and her dad George's car, only to freak them out later during their ride to the city. It would seem the mental patient finally escaped.
Emily Van Camp as Emily/Amanda from "Revenge"
Women are rarely devious masterminds on television. They're catty, vindictive, and/or obsessive, but they're rarely, if ever, maniacal geniuses who devise masterful plans to systematically destroy an opponent. They're also rarely if ever driven by anything other than a man or popularity. The last time a scorned woman brought hell upon her enemies in such a deliciously dramatic fashion was in the first season of "Gossip Girl." Blair Waldorf was a force to be reckoned with. She could take down a fellow classmate in the span of 24 hours with debilitating blows that no one saw coming. She has since retired to an ever-demeaning station of marrying for money. She's left the Queen B throne unmanned and it seems Emily Thorpe (aka Amanda Clarke) has taken a seat. Watching Emily in action is almost as suspenseful as watching a bullfight. Every blow is figuratively (and sometimes literally) bloodier than the last. She thinks so quick on her feet, and doles out punishments so swiftly that you almost hope someone crosses her again so that you can watch their downfall. All hail the Queen!
Best Scene: When she poisoned Conrad to give him a heart attack and catch Lydia outside of the motel where they were having their affair, and then pretended to accidentally reveal her betrayal to Victoria.
Casey Wilson as Penny from "Happy Endings"
She's a neurotic, delusional, desperate mess, but you've gotta love her. You love that she's desperate enough to become a hipster just to date one. You love that she's so desperate to date her high school crush that she befriends his teenage sister and joins her cult, I mean clique. You love that she only knows Italian when she's drunk and has to stay drunk just to be in a relationship with a hot Italian guy. But most of all, you love that she says ridiculously girly things like a-MAH-zing, despite her mature age and obvious grasp on the English language. She's like every desperate rom-com character that has ever been written and will be written, eager to find love and willing to do anything to get it.
Best Scene: When she tried to keep up the charade about being a certain age and being Jewish.
Adam Pally and Damon Wayans Jr. as Max+Brad on "Happy Endings"
Dynamic duos are a little hard to come by. Most shows focus on harnessing ensemble chemistry, and if any characters break off into pairs, it's usually with a romantic agenda, which is probably why the deep connection between two dudes is referred to as a bromance. Last year's bromantic couple were Abed and Troy from "Community." They're like siamese twins (and at one point they were actually siamese twins). This year, that honor goes to Max and Brad. Unlike Abed and Troy, it isn't about what they do together, but their comedic rhythm. The way they play off each other and score multiple laughs in one scene is electric, especially when the topic of race comes up. They push the envelope to a potentially racist degree and still get away with it. But what's most impressive is how open and honest they are about it. They don't ignore the elephant in the room. They put it on display in their three-ring circus, not afraid to address the jungle fever running through Brad+Jane's relationship or the obvious fact that most straight men (especially black men) are rarely if ever depicted on television as loving and accepting of a gay man. There was this quote going around Twitter a few weeks ago about homophobia and how it's basically the fear that a gay men will treat straight men the same way straight men treat women: like sex objects meant to be ogled and catcalled towards. Well Max is their worst fear come true. He does that and a whole lot more. Meanwhile, Brad is immune to those fears, accepts Max for the fun-loving slob that he is and sometimes acts even gayer than he does. I admire such evolution and boldfaced honesty. It's almost like it's the 22nd century.
Best Scene: When Max discovered that Brad secretly hung out with a black version of him.
Jeremy Allen White as Phillip "Lip" Gallagher on "Shameless"
Bad boys are like my bread and butter. And the smarter they are the better. Therefore Lip was a no-brainer. He's super smart, sarcastic, and utterly shameless. He'll rob you blind, con the education system, outsmart his elders, bullshit his teachers, and discredit your religious and political beliefs without breaking a sweat. But he's not one-dimensional. He doesn't live to condescend and buck the system. It's just his way of life. He has a soft side too. He's very sweet to his younger siblings, sensitive to his gay brother's steady coming out process, fearless when it comes to protecting him, and damaged beyond repair by his parents' abandonment. And sure, he's a manwhore who's in love with a slut, but he's also secretly a charmer and a romantic. He has too many layers to write-off.
Best Scene: When he accidentally tells his girlfriend Karen that he loves her mid-sex and then tries to take it back when she dumps him. He's so frantic and desperate, you can't help but feel for him.

Sam Huntington and Russell Tovey as Josh on "Being Human" (US/UK)
Whether he's British or American, I love Josh. He's the friendliest most apologetic werewolf I've ever seen. He's so selfless that he would quarantine himself from society—and essentially family and love—just to protect them. Damned to an eternity of living within the limbo of humanity and the supernatural, he still manages to be the show's comic relief. His panicked reaction to impending doom is like watching the spastic panic of Scooby and Shaggy. He's cartoonish, but relatable. After all, who wouldn't react frantically to the realization that there are supernatural beings inhabiting the Earth and now you're one of them? His naivete and attempts at rationalizing his way through irrational scenarios is endearing. You can't help but root for him.
Best Scene: Any time he tried to interact with the girl he's interested in, especially when he struggled not to murder her during sex.
Ashley Rickards as Jenna from "Awkward"
I remember how nerve-wracking high school was, whether I was taking a test, trying to make friends, or just trying to make eye contact with my secret crush. Every humiliation was epically scarring and molded me into the deformed human I am today. Needless to say, I get Jenna's pain. I know what it's like to have an insecure bitch bully me, a hot guy flirt with me only when no one's looking, and a decent guy step over his best friend to pursue me while I remain tragically oblivious to the fact. I am Jenna. And I know there are plenty of girls in a wide age range who feel the same way. She's the voice of a generation—an extremely dorky, humiliated generation.
Best Scene: When she drunkenly told Jake off and called him on his shit.
Jackson Rathbone as Nick from "Aim High"
A teenage spy has to juggle assassination assignments and the delicate courtship of an awesome girl he loves to verbally spar with. By day he charms her, impresses her via IM and text, and clarifies any unintentional slights, and by night he kills criminals for the government. It doesn't seem to phase him. He's like a young Jason Statham, chocked full of a healthy dose of insecurities.
Best Scene: Anytime he finds a clever way to escape death and still keep his cover.

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