by Julian Spivey
Every year around this time you see lists of the 10 best television shows of the year. Those lists are interesting, but they always seem to feature the same dozen to 15 shows (apparently most critics have the same tastes). What you don’t often see is an end of the year list of the best characters on television, probably because most people’s lists would be filled with lead characters from the very shows you see on ‘end of year’ lists. This list is a little different. While there are likely terrific characters on those critically over-loved shows, this list sets out to shine a light on some of the best characters on television that you don’t often get a chance to hear about.
10. Frank Winter (Manhattan)
“Manhattan,” only WGN’s second ever original series, is the best new drama of 2014 and a lot of that has to do with John Benjamin Hickey’s Dr. Frank Winter, the lead scientist on the Manhattan Project tasked with trying to create the bomb to end all wars. Winter is a man on a mission from the show’s pilot on and will stop at anything to put an end to the war claiming hundreds of American lives every week. He’s as serious as a television character can get and Hickey plays the role to perfection.
9. Andre Johnson (black-ish)
It has been quite a while since network television had a sitcom featuring a great black lead and ABC has finally given us one in the form of Anthony Anderson’s Andre Johnson from “black-ish.” Dre is a successful advertising executive who fears his wealth and success have spoiled his four kids into a life of luxury, something he certainly didn’t have as a child. The antics he goes through to make his kids appreciate life and their culture makes the character one of the funniest new characters of 2014 and in the hands of the amiable Anderson is also one of the most likable characters currently on television.
8. Cristela (Cristela)
ABC has really been onto something this fall with sitcoms featuring minority families, something that network television has ignored for far too long. “black-ish” and “Cristela” have also been the best new sitcoms on network television this year, in my opinion. “Cristela” is a vehicle for stand-up comedian Cristela Alonso who’s character is an aspiring attorney interning at a major law firm in Dallas. The character is incredibly likable and laugh out loud funny, especially when giving her brother-in-law hell and rebuking the advances of his best friend who likes her. With the way things are going by the end of the season Cristela might surpass Mindy Kaling’s Mindy Lahiri from “The Mindy Project” as network TV’s funniest female. Viewers need to flock to this show fast, however, because ratings have it in danger of being canceled after only one season.
7. Capt. Raymond Holt (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
After only a season and a half Andre Braugher’s performance as NYPD 99th Precinct Capt. Raymond Holt on Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” might be the best character on any network sitcom and he appears to be getting even better and funnier. I worried a bit in the first season that Capt. Holt might be a little too wooden or stuffy, which was part of the character’s humor but could get old quickly. However, in the second season the character has opened up a little bit to show a more human, less robot side to himself – especially with his feud with Kyra Sedgwick’s guest character Deputy Chief Madeline Wuntch. Andy Samberg’s Golden Globe winning performance as Det. Jake Peralta was the funniest character on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” in season one, but Braugher’s Capt. Holt has surpassed him this season.
6. Rowan Pope (Scandal)
Joe Morton’s Emmy-winning portrayal of Rowan Pope on ABC’s “Scandal” has become the most intriguing thing about one of network television’s most intriguing shows and has also become the scariest dude on network television (and that includes Mads Mikkelsen’s terrific portrayal of Hannibal Lecter on NBC’s “Hannibal”). Papa Pope is, of course, the father of “Scandal” protagonist Olivia Pope and the two have had a strained relationship throughout the series’ run. Olivia (Kerry Washington) knows her father, the leader of the elite black ops program B613, is a monster capable of doing nearly anything, but he’s still her father (that thinking is honestly irritating at times). Rowan finally goes too far in the current season when he frames Olivia’s boyfriend Jake Ballard (Scott Foley) for the murder of the President’s son last season. Now Rowan, who gives the absolute best monologues on television, is at war with Olivia, Jake and President Grant (Tony Goldwyn) which should have the series off the chain when it returns from its winter break in late January.
5. Jimmy Shive-Overly & Gretchen Cutler (You’re the Worst)
I couldn’t just choose Jimmy or Gretchen from the new FX comedy “You’re the Worst” because these two incredibly horrible, should be unlikable characters were meant for each other and have formed the best relationship currently on television in TV’s best new show of 2014. Critics everywhere have been raving about this show since its debut over the summer, but I don’t get the feeling too many people have actually tuned in to the show and believe me they’re missing out. Chris Geere’s Jimmy and Aya Cash’s Gretchen are self-involved, loathsome, all-around toxic individuals – this is why I said they “should be” unlikable – but together they form quite the unique and dare I say cute couple (they would both vomit at that compliment). “You’re the Worst” is probably not a show for viewers who can’t stand detestable people, which might say something bad about myself and the other fans of this series, but if you can identify with these horrid people it might make you feel like there’s someone for you in this world.
4. The Doctor (Doctor Who)
The Doctor from BBC America’s “Doctor Who” has appeared on my ‘greatest TV characters of the year’ list before, but that was the previous Doctor – Matt Smith’s performance as The Eleventh Doctor. This year The Doctor regenerated into his twelfth reincarnation (well, it’s really been more than that, but fans of the show will understand) and is now portrayed by Peter Capaldi as one of the oldest looking Doctors in the show’s 51 year history. Capaldi’s Doctor is vastly different than the previous three Doctors (Smith, David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston) since the show’s re-boot in 2005 and that’s the biggest reason for his return to the list. Smith’s Doctor was lovely and my favorite of all-time, but every Doctor/actor who portrays him brings a new personality to the character. Capaldi’s Doctor is angrier, more arrogant and more unlikable if you will and I think that adds intrigue to the show and the character. It had some longtime fans starting to dislike The Doctor and the show in general, but honestly this new personality has infused some much-needed change into the show.
3. Frank Reagan (Blue Bloods)
Tom Selleck’s New York Police Commissioner Frank Reagan is one of the most underrated characters on television in my opinion. I believe it’s because Selleck does such a great job at acting naturally without bringing too much attention to himself. He’s become quite the naturalistic actor and his character is without a doubt the most moralistic character on television. I love moralistic characters, those that always seem to do the right thing, no matter how hard it may be to do so. Selleck’s character is truly the closest thing on modern television to the old Western heroes of the ‘50s and ‘60s like Paladin from “Have Gun – Will Travel” and Marshall Matt Dillon from “Gunsmoke.” Half the time I watch “Blue Bloods” I spend wishing Frank Reagan was real and would run for President of the United States. The world would be a better place for it.
2. Zeek Braverman (Parenthood)
Craig T. Nelson’s Zeek Braverman the patriarch of the lovable Braverman clan on NBC’s drama “Parenthood,” which is currently in its sixth and final season has been the best character on that series (along with Ray Romano’s curmudgeonly Hank Rizzoli, who made last year’s list) of the last two seasons. At times during the show’s first few seasons I felt like the show ignored Zeek a little too much, especially given the fact that Nelson was such a talented part of the cast. I’m glad to see the show focus much more on the stubborn, often set in his ways, but still incredibly lovable character over its last couple of seasons. Nelson’s portrayal of Zeek Braverman is so good and so realistic that it’ll often leave you wishing he was your father.
1. Craig Ferguson (Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson)
This is a first for my annual best characters on television list as Craig Ferguson is obviously not a fictional character, but a host of a late night television show (or at least he was before his show ended last week). Ferguson was the most unique host on late night network television with the most different show in late night talk show history. He simply did things his way with a playful brand of absurdist humor that gently mocked the late show platform in general. Ferguson’s time on CBS’ “Late, Late Show” was a superb 10-year experiment that proved that late night didn’t have to be so stringent or organized. You could do with it what you wanted. Maybe the country hasn’t caught up, because the show’s ratings where always behind its competitors leading to a cult following of dedicated fans.
by Julian Spivey
Nobody did a late night television show like Craig Ferguson. I don’t expect anybody ever will either. The comedian who had a special brand of “I-don’t-give-a-damn” absurdist humor mixed with an infectious, congenial personality called it quits as host of CBS’ ‘Late, Late Show’ on Friday, Dec. 19.
Ferguson’s style of late night comedy always had a cult following to it, as the ratings always seemed to suggest, with not everybody taking to the comedian’s wacky brand of performance. But, those who did tune in nightly to see his show for 10 years grew to greatly love Ferguson and his farewell certainly must have hit his fan base hard.
It was a mostly fantastic farewell though.
The series finale of Ferguson’s ‘Late, Late Show’ opened about as perfectly as one could have imagined with a performance of Dead Man Fall’s “Bang Your Drum” that started out with a bunch of celebrities and memorable guests of the show like Matthew McConaughey, Michael Sheen, Kristen Bell, Ray Romano and numerous others beating drums and dancing along. Then we entered the studio with dueling drummers and Craig Ferguson standing atop his desk with microphone in hand to perform the vocals for the rest of the song. It was a really touching performance and one that truly fits his personality and show in general. My only disappointment from this opening segment is I wish it had segued from “Bang Your Drum” into Ferguson doing an in-studio performance of his theme. Instead the series finale of the show went off without the best theme song on television in general.
As the show came back from commercial break into Ferguson’s monologue the show aired an impressive time lapse of Ferguson’s intros from his very first show in January of 2005 until the finale. Ferguson then entered the studio to quite possibly the longest standing ovation and loudest thunderous applause I’ve ever heard from an audience for a departing talk show host and I’ve seen ones for legends like Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert just the night before.
My biggest issue with Ferguson’s finale was his one and only guest for the night: Jay Leno. I was disappointed about a month ago when I found out that Leno would be his final guest. This is a personal preference of mine and one that I wouldn’t be surprised if many other viewers disagree with. I’ve just never found Leno to be that funny and frankly dislike him for the way things have gone down in the past between him and David Letterman and Conan O’Brien when it came to the hosting gig of “The Tonight Show.” Despite me wishing that Ferguson had invited another guest for the finale the interview went off quite fine and even provided a few good laughs, like when the two long-time late night talk show hosts riffed on things about the job that annoyed them.
Most of the late night talk shows that I’ve seen end over the years have done so with great and emotional speeches by the hosts and it’s an ending that I really enjoy, but Ferguson basically did away with this as his monologue for the finale. Instead he chose a very unique way to end the show basically paying homage to some of the great finales of television history. It started with him revealing the man behind the Secretariat horse suit to be comedy legend Bob Newhart to which Newhart responded with the show being a dream. In homage to the terrific “Newhart” finale the ending shifted to a darkened bedroom where Ferguson in character as Mr. Wick from his days on the ABC sitcom “The Drew Carey Show” woke up from his dream to find husband Drew Carey in bed with him. The show then paid homage to “The Sopranos” finale with the playing of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” before culminating in a snow globe of the ‘Late, Late Show’ set that included Ferguson, his robot sidekick Geoff Peterson and Secretariat in a reference to the series finale of “St. Elsewhere.” It was definitely a pretty neat and interesting way to say goodbye to the lovable Scottish comedian.
Ferguson always liked to begin his show with the phrase “It’s a great day for America” in celebration of his American citizenship, which he memorably gained during his stint as the show’s host, and now that perhaps the most unique show to ever grace late night television has ended I have to say “It’s a sad day for America, everybody.” But, it was one helluva ride.
by Julian Spivey
My favorite Christmas television tradition (and one of the great annual television moments) came to an end Friday night (Dec. 19) on David Letterman’s final Christmas episode.
Letterman has two great Christmas traditions that have become a consistent and memorable part of his television show for more than a decade.
Every year in his final episode before Christmas he invites comedian/actor Jay Thomas onto the show to throw footballs at a giant meatball that sits atop the ‘Late Show’ Christmas tree. This tradition began on an episode in 1998 when then New York Jets NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde was a guest on Letterman’s show and he and Letterman attempted to knock the meatball off the tree. The pro football player struggled mightily to knock the meatball down, so Thomas, also a guest on the night’s show, ran out from the green room, grabbed a football and threw a perfect bull’s-eye on his first throw. An impressed Letterman has invited him back every year since, except for last year when Thomas had to cancel due to surgery. The second part of Thomas’ traditional Christmas appearance is the telling of what Letterman has referred to as “the greatest story in late night history.” Thomas tells the story of the time he was a radio DJ in Charlotte, N.C. and did a promotional gig with Clayton Moore, the actor who portrayed the original Lone Ranger on television. Forgetting to order a car for Moore, in full Lone Ranger costume, Thomas offered to give him a ride and what happened next is what makes the story the “greatest in late night history.” If you’ve never seen it you truly must.
The second great tradition from Letterman’s Christmas show dates back almost three decades to Letterman’s previous show ‘Late Night’ on NBC. It’s Darlene Love’s almost annual performance of the modern Christmas standard “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” Love’s first performance of the song on Letterman’s show was in 1986. Love hasn’t been able to return to perform the song every single year since 1986, but her performance of the song on Friday night was her 21st on Letterman’s two late night shows.
Letterman’s final Christmas episode was the first time it really sunk in for me that he’d be retiring from show business next May, as I figured it would be. His Christmas episode and the traditions that come with it are one of the true television highlights of the year for me personally and I hate the fact that I’ll never get to see them anew again. However, the truly great thing about YouTube is I’ll be able to relive this yearly tradition every year around the Holidays. I know there are many more Letterman junkies like me out there who will do the same.
Maybe it was just my excitement for the final time that led me to feel this way, but I don’t think Love’s performance of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” has ever sounded better and I don’t believe Thomas’ Lone Ranger story has ever been quite as funny.
by Julian Spivey
Craig Ferguson’s installment of the “Late, Late Show” comes to an end tonight and will leave a gaping hole in the art form of late night television because nobody does late night TV like Ferguson with his special, one-of-a-kind brand of absurdist, “I-don’t-give-a-damn” comedy. There literally were no templates or boundaries for Ferguson’s show, which ends after 10 great years on CBS, as he took the nonchalant wit of David Letterman and furthered upon it to create something all his own.
While many of us are truly going to miss Ferguson’s style of late night television and many are writing tributes to him in honor of this fantastic bit of television coming to an end, one thing is often being forgotten. When Ferguson’s show ends late tonight, actually early tomorrow morning, with it goes one of the all-time great theme songs.
First of all, the theme for Ferguson’s show is incredibly unique in that it has lyrics, unlike any other late night show on television. In fact, I’m not sure there’s ever been a late night talk show with a theme that sported lyrics.
The theme perfectly encapsulates everything that is great about Ferguson’s show – it’s funny with a smidge of absurdity and showcases Ferguson’s musical talents. Many don’t know this, but Ferguson was in a Scottish punk band in the early ‘80s called The Bastards from Hell, which later became the Dreamboys. Ferguson played drums in the band, as he does during the theme video, and the group featured “Doctor Who” star Peter Capaldi as its vocalist.
Ferguson co-wrote and recorded the theme song when he got the gig as host of the “Late, Late Show” after Craig Kilborn left in 2004. The song is incredibly catchy and just as infectious as Ferguson’s personality. I don’t believe it ever gets the credit it deserves as one of the truly great television theme songs of all-time, probably because it’s featured on a late night show that’s always sort of had a cult following. Many probably don’t realize the song has a longer version than the one you hear on the show. This version, which is well worth a listen, is almost three minutes in length and includes an extended instrumental solo.
One of my favorite things about Ferguson’s theme is that it’s undergone different variations over the years during special episodes or weeks. For instance when Ferguson did a week of shows from his home country Scotland in 2012 a Glasgow-based band called The Imagineers performed the theme for a week. However, I do prefer the song as sung by Ferguson, which is why my favorite performance of his theme was the one he recorded in 2011 when he did an entire week of shows in Paris. This theme has Ferguson doing it in more of a cool lounge singer performance accompanied by piano and upright bass.
There are so many things about Ferguson’s tenure on ‘Late, Late Show’ that I’m going to miss and the theme song goes right to the top of that list. Now that I think of it I believe the greatest thing about the theme song is it’s hopefulness of something strange, new and exhilarating about to take place for an hour of your night after a long, hard day.
by Julian Spivey
NBC began a new tradition last year with the poorly reviewed and received “The Sound of Music” live musical, which managed to net the network massive ratings. Despite the poor quality of the show, I’m going on the many reviews as I didn’t see it, the idea of bringing live theater into homes of people everywhere is terrific.
This year the network decided to put on a live musical version of “Peter Pan” and the version seemed to go off splendidly, despite many on social media making up their minds that they were going to hate it and “hate watch” it before it even aired.
As an adult I honestly didn’t have much interest in “Peter Pan Live.” I honestly don’t have too many memories of the story as a child either, even though my first introduction to it was through recorded versions of the Mary Martin performance, which this is sort of a tribute to. It wasn’t until I found out that unique and veteran actor Christopher Walken would be playing Captain Hook that my interest was really piqued. I didn’t want to miss the chance to see Walken sing and dance; which isn’t that unusual and is something he, in fact, loves to do … I just had yet to see it.
NBC’s version of “Peter Pan” cast Allison Williams of “Girls” fame and the daughter of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, which set many uninformed people into a tizzy over the fact that a woman would be portraying a boy’s role. These people were unaware that the role has been played by women almost as long as it’s been around.
Williams’ portrayal as the boy legend was done with much gusto and she really carried the three-hour performance that certainly would’ve been in trouble without a talented lead. I think that’s probably where NBC went wrong last year with “The Sound of Music” in casting a singer with no acting experience in Carrie Underwood into the lead role. Williams was particularly fascinating to watch during all of Peter Pan’s flying scenes, doing twirls and flips in mid-air.
The people behind the scenes did an excellent job with the special effects making all of the flying scenes look life-like (if you can suspend your disbelief because of the wires), Tinker Bell’s graphics and especially the crocodile that chases Captain Hook throughout the musical. There wasn’t a single issue all performance long, which is certainly not an easy task on live television.
The thing that drew me into this production – Walken’s appearance – was probably the thing I enjoyed the most about “Peter Pan Live.” It was a blast to see him sing and dance and just bring his Walken uniqueness to the role of Captain Hook. Some might think it awkward because you can tell it’s just Walken in pirate makeup – that is it’s arguable that he doesn’t really become Captain Hook as you’re always aware it’s Chris Walken, but that’s not something that bothered me one bit. It might have made it all the more entertaining.
The only complaint I have with “Peter Pan Live” was its three-hour length that at times certainly made the performance drag, especially through the middle section of the play. I think the network could have shrunk the performance down a bit or even shown it with limited commercial interruption (but the network was making a killing off of advertisers for this event).
All in all, NBC’s production of “Peter Pan Live” was far more enjoyable than I ever imagined it could have been with entertaining performances from both leads. The fact that it went off without a hitch and should clean up in Nielsen ratings should make this a big win for NBC.