There are few characters more iconic than Leslie Knope, who first graced screens when the 2009 pilot for Parks & Recreation aired. While it’s tempting to gush about how audiences instantly took to her, it’s important to acknowledge Parks & Rec’s dark origin story. That’s right: the first season, which is markedly different from the rest of the show in terms of tone. Here, the audience is invited to laugh at Knope – the Deputy Director of the Department of, get this, Parks & Recreation – and her failings as a dedicated, but ultimately naïve, public servant. While not unfunny – helped in no small part by the strength of the cast – this approach still casts a tired, even mean-spirited cloud over the first season.
From season two onwards, though, everything changes. After a reworking of the show’s tone, Leslie Knope is finally able to triumph. She manages to be hard-working and capable of commanding respect while also being an over-zealous, often stubborn overachiever. She is likeable enough that we are invested in the show, but also flawed enough that our investment is rewarded with laughter. There’s a reason people are still singing her praises, half a decade after the show’s final series aired.
As an audience, our introduction to Beth Pearson is as Randall’s wife and Tess and Annie’s mother. Slowly, in typical This Is Us fashion, we come to know her as a fearless and dedicated manager, realtor, teacher and dancer who refuses to sit on the fringes of someone else’s story, and we watch her grow and innovate onscreen.
Until its fourth season, the show rarely ruminates on Beth’s work ethic but it’s made clear that she’s driven, implying that her skills and success form the foundations of her family’s happiness and opulent lifestyle (not to discount Randall’s contribution). Despite her ambitious, almost superhuman efficiency, Beth’s instincts to remedy any situation always hit on target – in need of a pep talk? She’ll convince you that your potential’s limitless. Too confident? She’ll watch your plan play itself out and help you to sort out the mess, with only an eyebrow-raise. Always looking to improve the world, but at the same time completely connected with her own needs, Beth’s communication skills make my jaw drop with envy every single episode.
The best thing about Beth is that no single one of these sentences applies to her all of the time. She’s an inarguably good character – but just when it starts to seem unattainable, we’re shown that she’s human.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has undoubtedly revolutionised television, introducing the long-season format of a “Big Bad” storyline that’s interwoven with monster-of-the-week episodes. However, it’s the characters that made Buffy so beloved, and while it’s hard to just choose one, I’m going to have to dish out my praise for Willow.
Buffy is quintessentially a coming-of-age television series, and Willow’s journey to self-realisation is both beautiful and timeless. Beginning as the shy, reserved and intelligent member of the Scooby Gang, Willow’s growth to being confident and self-reliant is joyfully entertaining to watch. From her first romance with Oz (Seth Green) to her move to college with a new goth-inspired look (topped off with shortened shoulder-length hair), Willow embodies all the triumphs and pitfalls of trying to discover who you are when you have been someone else for so long.
This is never more evident than her sexual realisation as a lesbian, beginning a romance with college friend Tara. Hinted throughout the series’ first few seasons, the revelation is inspiring to watch, particularly through the subsequent handling of her character.
Coming out doesn’t change Willow as a person. She does not suddenly become hyper-sexualised – like many other LGBTQ+ characters in film and television – nor are her darker moments attributed to lesbianism. Every development of her character is natural and her normalisation of sexuality is something I will never stop applauding.
I’ve watched my fair share of TV shows during my 21 years on this earth and there are many many characters that deserve appreciation, but the first that comes to mind is Bellamy Blake from The 100.
Starting the show as a villain, Bellamy wasn’t a character I thought I would like, never mind fall in love with and become one of my favourites. But as the show progresses, Bellamy’s character development is another level of amazing. Besides his dashing looks (he looks damn good with a gun), Bellamy is a character who cares about his friends, who is loyal, brave, courageous and strong, emotionally and physically.
And while this isn’t an appreciation for the actor, Bob Morley also deserves love. He cares deeply about the show, his character and his development. I’ve never seen anyone so dedicated to the role they play and the dedication and commitment he puts in is next to none.
Bellamy Blake deserves all the love, all the happiness and the perfect happy ending with his love Clarke Griffin.
Parks & Recreation has some wonderful characters, and I feel that during these times, we all need a bit of a laugh. Therefore, when I think of character appreciation, Andy Dwyer is at the top of my list.
Firstly, Andy Dwyer was never meant to be a reoccurring character on the show, and in the first season Chris Pratt is a 'guest star'. However, Andy Dwyer was so likeable and a fan favourite, they decided to allocate him as a main cast member. If that isn't appreciation at its finest, I'm not sure what is.
What I love about Andy Dwyer is the utter nonsense of him. When Chris Pratt comes on the screen, I know I’m going to end up laughing like a madman. Fair to say his behaviour is quite problematic, but the show itself is aware of it. I love his various alias, with fan favourites including Burt Macklin, FBI (which I have a figure of) and Johnny Karate. Andy Dwyer is the kind of person who on a whim decides to change his life plans, and his childish energy really is wonderful to watch. The one passion that never leaves Andy is his dream of being a successful musician, in his band called MouseRat (or whichever name from the series you would like to use for the band, as there are so many).
However, what I love the most about Andy is his eventual relationship with April. For a few seasons it’s the game of ‘Will they, won’t they?’ but when they become official, everything moves fast, which is exactly what you would expect from Andy and April. They are both essentially frantic children who can’t take care of themselves, and it’s wonderful. However, throughout the seasons they both grow together, and bring out the best in one another. I love that both of them develop and mature as characters, but they never lose that innate energetic, chaotic nature that they both share.
Kenny has to be one of the most unique characters within the bizarre, dark and abstract comedy that is South Park. Most voice actors attempt to speak as clearly as possible for audiences to hear. However, all of Kenny’s dialogue is muffled by a large coat, which we almost never see him take off. Despite this, his emotions and meanings are insanely well conveyed, and entire episodes are centred around a character who can’t speak properly. He dies in almost every episode, with deaths spanning from being crushed, shot at, run over, followed by the line “Oh my god, they killed Kenny! You bastards!”
Why I love this character so much is because it’s such an insane and creative concept, which by no means should work, but somehow does and never fails to entertain. Kenny never feels overused or confusing and its unique character design just deserves so much more praise and appreciation! I would definitely recommend giving South Park a watch, especially during isolation boredom!
Mad Men is one of the best shows ever created, yet it can sometimes be painful to watch. In fact, at the forefront of the storylines is the gender dynamics which, inevitably, diminishes women at every step. What makes this show great however is the constant questioning of these values through well-developed characters, with Peggy Olson being at the centre of this critique.
Starting out as a shy secretary, a lesser show would have transformed her into a Joan: a Marylin Monroe type who exploits her sex-appeal to seek recognition. Yet, Peggy’s journey mirrors the rise of second-wave feminism, aimed at recognising equality between men and women, especially in the workplace. Through her work, she becomes a pioneer, carving out a road for herself that not many around her seem to understand. One of the most revealing moments of Peggy’s individuality is whilst the men are discussing a bra commercial. The entire pitch is based on the idea that women are one of two types: “You’re a Jackie or a Marylin. A line or a curve”. Instead of Peggy trying to fit into one of these, she asserts the absurdity of this claim.
While most often Peggy’s observations are met with sarcasm or ever scorn, her storyline ultimately puts her on the right side of history. Unlike others around her, she has it all: she achieves her career goals, while finding love at the same time. She did this by looking up to the men around her, while never trying to be ‘one of the guys’. Her relationship with Don Draper is maybe the most complicated of the show. While his limitation is shown by him seeing her as an extension of him, harkening back to biblical ideas of Eve as a ‘product’ of Adam, she moves past her idolisation of him as an aspirational figure, to recognise his faults and see him as he truly is.
You would be blind to not realize how great the main character of Netflix’s Daredevil really is. I think Charlie Cox's interpretation of the Marvel character is the best adaptation of any comic book character, yes that includes Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man.
The blind lawyer/vigilante is a deeply complex character who doesn’t just sail through all his issues. He struggles in all he tries to accomplish, be it in the courtroom, ridding crime from his city or with his own religion. It’s those struggles that Matt goes through which make the character much more believable and interesting to watch as he never gives in, always striving for more. He isn’t a god, just a man doing all he can for what, and who he believes in. He is a character which is by no means perfect as he has his own vices and problems but it's those imperfections which make him so much better and relatable.
I also live for the simple things so it’s great just watching Matt Murdock beating up dozens of bad guys single-handed in some of the best action scenes put on a screen.
Ah Simon. Often considered the worst out of the gang, his hissy fits and all-round bad luck never fail to make me laugh every time I re-watch The Inbetweeners. Starting off the series assigned as Will’s buddy, Simon often finds himself in more tragic situations than the kid wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase.
I think what people don’t like about Simon is his constant moping after his childhood crush Carli, who often uses Simon to her own advantage. Simon can’t catch a break, whether that’s getting drunk and spray-painting his undying love for her on her drive, or puking on her little brother’s head, and that’s all in one episode.
You also can’t forget Simon’s interactions with his parents, which show off his flare for hysterics. One particularly memorable scene is while he’s practising his catwalk for the school fashion show (a whole separate issue), storming off and climbing onto the roof of the shed after they laugh at him for it.
Whether you prefer Will, Jay or Neil, Simon and tragic life will always be the highlight of The Inbetweeners for me, driving around in his yellow Fiat with the red door.
Jim has legions of fans from his most memorable comedic scenes, Martin's classic catchphrases such as "shit on it!" and "lovely bit of squirrel, Jackie" are regularly quoted, Adam and Jonny have amassed followers from the reputations of their actors in Plebs and the Inbetweeners, and Wilson is...well, a dog. As a result, these characters from Friday Night Dinner receive most of our attention - and not undeservingly. But one main character is unfairly missing from that list.
Jackie, exquisitely played by Tamsin Greig, is all too often overlooked and for no real purpose. Jackie may play the mother in a male-dominated cast, but she doesn't conform to stereotypes. Jackie's character is incredibly well defined and clearly developed, from her somewhat neurotic nature to abundance of affection from her sons, from her evident devotion to her family to her occasional reputation as a giddy "wine mum". What makes Jackie all the more realistic is variations in her interactions between each character - while she is incredibly doting towards Adam and Jonny, she sometimes struggles to stay patient with Jim despite how hard she tries, and is always brutally honest in her attitude towards Martin.
Jackie is witty, compassionate and full of enthusiasm. And, in some ways, maybe she reminds me of my own mother.