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25 favourite characters

I have two things to thank vonnie_k for: her posting of "Postcards from Italy" by the unfortunately-named-at-the-moment Beirut prompted me to download their album, Gulag Orkestar, which is wondrously strange.

The second thing is that her advocacy of "The Office" prompted me to download the whole of season 2.

I always found the original version of "The Office" buttock-clenchingly embarrassing to watch for all its brilliance, mostly because David Brent is such a gurning, giggling fool and its humour was cruel -- not deliberately so, but clear-sightedly so.

People are often arseholes and will make the wrong choices, time after time: this seemed to be the message it was giving. Even the lovely Tim lacked the courage to leave.

That was why the Christmas special, the final episode, was one of the best hours of television I have ever seen. It took all of those characters and gave them moments of grace and courage and epiphany. Even David Brent.

Translations of British comedies to the US market seldom work. Sanford and Son" and "All In The Family", which were indigenous versions of "Steptoe and Son" and "Til Death Us Do Part" had success but more recent efforts to bring "Coupling", "Men Behaving Badly" and "The Kumars at No 42" foundered.

But the translation of The Office is fabulous, because they've opened up the cast so that the Brent figure gets less airtime and the show isn't as quite as unbalanced as the star-vehicle that Ricky Gervais built himself, which only had room for five fully fleshed characters: Tim, Dawn, Gareth and David Brent.

In The Office (US). I couldn't care less about Michael but I am there for Jim and Pam, just as the audience was for Tim and Dawn. Then there's also the magnificently deluded Dwight and the tantalising possibility of a new Hotlips/Frank combo in his barely glimpsed relationship with Angela. You want to see the slow torture of Ryan, the evolving reveal of Oscar's home life, Stanley's dyspeptic comments, the guys in the warehouse, the next Homer-like koan from Kevin... and Creed! *Creed!*

I am sure it's very fashionable in some circles to turn one's nose up at the new version but I think I actually like it better. It's less misanthropic and unkind, though it retains the mordant wit and the artfully placed silence-as-commentary-on-stupidity.

If the series reaches the heights of the BBC Christmas Special, which is one of my favourite (double) episodes of TV ever -- and I see no reason why it won't -- it's going to be even more magnificent than it already is.

My 25 favourite TV characters (two of which are from the radio, but what the hell)
angstville asked that we copy Joss Whedon and give our 25 favourite TV characters. Her wish is my command. I have tried not to make this Imaginary Boyfriends and Girlfriends 1981-present. Well, not entirely anyway.

So, in exceedingly rough chronological order, two characters maximum per show...

1) Tucker Jenkins (Grange Hill)
"Flippin' 'eck, Benny!"
Oh Tucker, Tucker, your real name was Peter, you teased Trisha 'Pongo' Yeats because you fancied her, and you were beaten up after bravely grassing up Booga Benson for trashing the school toilets. You weren't there for my favourite era of Grange Hill (which was the Stewpot/Claire/Precious Matthews/Gripper Stebson era -- oh, and Suzanne Ross was the bad girl I wanted to be) but I loved you first.

2) Hawkeye Pierce (M*A*S*H)
No wonder they execute people at dawn. Who wants to live at six A.M.?
Ah, my first proper TV boyfriend. He was funny and smart and world-weary and I loved his relationships with BJ and, eventually, in a bittersweet, oops, kind of a way, with Margaret (I liked the show better after Trapper left and the dynamic better after Frank left. Feel free to ostracise me). I used to be allowed to stay up late to watch MASH re-runs with my mum when my dad was at sea and it was a treat.

3) Bet Lynch (Coronation Street)
How're you doin', cock?
I had to have someone from Corrie in. I've been watching it on and off since I was seven years old. I toyed with Raquel Watts and Vera Duckworth, but in the end it had to be Bet Lynch, the brassy barmaid with the one-liners, the short skirts and the terrible taste in fellas, who hid her heartbreak behind a broad smile. The actress who played her went off the rails in an "I'm bigger than the show" way, but the memory of Bet shines on.

4) Edmund Blackadder (Blackadder, mostly Blackadder II)
Make a sentence from these words: Face. Sodding. Your. Shut.
It's the only time Rowan Atkinson was ever remotely fanciable and he was screamingly funny, as was the whole show. Blackadder is clever, funny and as cunning as weasel pie. Me and my friend Sam used to quote it to each other in GCSE physics classes.

Also there were codpieces.

5) The Doctor (Doctor Who)
Lots of planets have a north
My first doctor was Tom Baker and I've not stopped watching yet. He's almost anything you want him to be. My particular favourites are the last series of seven -- when they started going somewhere really interesting with the character only for the show to be cancelled -- and nine. I am waiting to see ten's second season but I think he's going to be great.

6) Bea Smith (Prisoner)
Top dog
Prisoner was an Australian imported soap shown at 11pm-1am on a Monday when I was about 13 years old. It featured various hard-nosed murderers, con artists and thieves fighting, rioting, hurling insults at each other and occasionally being taken hostage. Some of them were gay. Some of them were prostitutes. Of course I was going to watch it sneakily. Oh, the campy, violent goodness. God, that show was worth being braindead in Tuesday morning French class. "Queen" Bea Smith was a murderer in Wentworth detention centre where she controlled the laundry press and occasionally used it to get her own way by frying people's hands. She had red hair, a secret soft centre and a great facility for bolshy one-liners

7) Emma Peel (The Avengers)
Watch out for diabolical masterminds.
She was clever, funny, in control and very beautiful. The show (which I watched on reruns on Ch4) was the first time I saw and understood UST. I loved The Avengers.

8) Will Scathlock (Robin of Sherwood)
Nothing's ever forgotten
This is a bit of a cheat because when I watched as a kid I loved the ensemble with particular attention to Robin of Loxley. However rewatching as an adult it's Will Scarlet I can't take my eyes off. Ray Winstone is absolutely magnetic as the rough, almost psychotic but loyal Will. And I love him very much. The End.

9) Norman Stanley Fletcher (Porridge)
One - bide your time. Two - keep your nose clean. And three - don't let the bastards grind you down.
This is probably the best sitcom I've ever watched. The wily recidivist burglar Fletch is in a situation where he is absolutely powerless, being banged up in Slade nick for five years, but he still manages to defy authority beautifully, while guiding young Lennie Godber.

10&11) Dana Scully and Fox Mulder (The X-Files)
Should we be picking out china patterns or what?
I started loving the show because of Mulder. He was this very bright, slightly broken, principled man who didn't care much what the world thought of him as long as he thought he was doing the right thing. He never gave up.
Scully turned from plucky scientific sidekick into someone as troubled and nuanced and principled as Mulder. My ideal show was four seasons long, and ended before the writers disappeared up their own mytharc and Mulder's assholic tendencies and Scully's unrelenting unwillingness to believe turned from engaging and interesting character flaws to twattitude. But I loved this show and these characters very much, even after that.

11) Anna Forbes (This Life)
I've got a long bath and a short dress to get into.
This Life was a fantastic ensemble show that only ran for two years about a group of lawyers sharing a house in London. Anna was loud, funny, wild, sexy and completely fucked up. She perpetually had her finger on the self-destruct button and she was mesmerising to watch.

12) Joy Merryweather (Drop The Dead Donkey)
Your planet called, said your mission on Earth was over and could you go home.
The sadly misnamed Joy was the secretary for the Globelink newsroom. She was perpetually angry, bolshy and sarcastic, refused to do stupid tasks as ordered by her bosses and no slight would be met with anything short of nuclear-level invective and/or a cruel revenge. People were afraid to sack her because of the havoc she would wreak. She was a goddess.

13) Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald (Cracker)
I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I *am* too much.
And he was. Endlessly fascinating nonetheless

14) Chandler Bing (Friends)
I get my ya-yas from Ikea
When the show started everyone talked about liking Ross, with his cute unrequited passion for Rachel and minky hair, but the one you ended up liking best was Chandler, with his one-liners and his massive list of insecurities from his third nipple to his drag-queen dad. He was witty and charming and kind and could he BE more dorky?

15) Rupert Giles (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Do you want me to answer that, or shall I just glare?
I love Giles' backstory, of how he went off the rails. I love that he is so kind. And irascible. And funny - funny is a big thing for me. It does not include practical jokes. I love that he is willing to do the unconscionable thing to protect Buffy. (I did not love seasons 6-7 because of what they did to Giles. Screw Spike)

16 & 17) Josh Lyman and CJ Cregg (The West Wing)
You really are very sweet, you know
I could do my 25 favourite West Wing characters with reasons and quotes and spoonfuls of love in a heartbeat but since I am only allowed two, today I will pick CJ and Josh for the way they fought for what they believed was right, partook of the snark and grew and changed. They deserved, respectively, happiness with Donna and Danny, and considering how much I love Donna and Danny, that's saying a lot.

Another day it would be Leo and Jed or Toby and CJ or Donna and Will.

18 & 19) Ruth Evershed and Harry Pearce (Spooks)
MI5 don't do evil; just treachery, treason and armageddon.
My OTP-iest of OTPs. I love the spies who go out and do the actual espionagey stuff like Tom and Adam, but I love Ruth's intelligence, cool head and steady support for her friends, and Harry's twisty-turny brain and cutting remarks. I love that the actors are playing it as though Ruth and Harry are a tiny bit in love whenever the director isn't noticing. It makes me happy.

20 & 21) Kaylee Frye and Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly)
Oh God, I can't know that
Again, you could pick almost anyone from the Serenity crew, even Inara, and I'd find it easy to find things to like about them, but Mal and Kaylee are my favourites. Both of them have a basic decency, though Mal hides his, and a determination about them. Mal is a wonderful character: stubborn, annoying, charming and complex. Kaylee isn't complex but she *is* kind and an innocent, both things which are hard to portray as consistently interesting and I think Firefly manages it. It helps that she had a burgeoning gift as a criminal mastermind, if we're to believe Trash.

22 & 23) Keith and Veronica Mars (Veronica Mars)
Who's the daddy?
Both of them are smart and savvy but their relationship is the ground on which the whole series is based, a relationship built on mutual respect, a sense of humour and just plain liking each other. It's a rare thing to see on TV these days

And finally, because I am listening to the radio a lot
24 & 25) James McLevy and Jean Brash (McLevy, Radio 4)
McLevy is a series of mysteries about a bad-tempered Scottish detective, set in Victorian Leith. McLevy is the sardonic, dogged detective, weary of the world and cynical about people's motives. Jean Brash is a former prostitute, now the owner-operator of a bawdy hoose -- or brothel -- called The Just Land, ferociously bright and self-educated, good to her employees and a vicious enemy to anyone who hurts them. She and McLevy have a grudging friendship with barely perceptible glowing embers of UST. I love them dearly for their complications


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 27th, 2006 02:47 am (UTC)
Will! Oh, I adored Will. At 22, I wrote a dreadful Mary Sue story in which the girl falls hopelessly for Will. And then goes home. (At least I knew that much.) *g*

And I never knew you were a big MASH fan. I grew up on MASH, and went through a couple years of college watching as many as 4 episodes a day. Man, it was a good show.

Aug. 27th, 2006 03:01 am (UTC)
went through a couple years of college watching as many as 4 episodes a day.

*raises hand* 8 episodes a day here. 'Course, the latter four were repeats of the first four, but still... *g*
Aug. 27th, 2006 11:00 am (UTC)
For a long time it was the memory of loving MASH when I was a kid because we didn't have access to reruns in this country. When I went to the US for the first time as an adult I used to pick hotels with cable so that I could watch MASH reruns at breakfast time before I set off for the day. It was as good as I remembered.

I bet your Mary Sue wasn't that dreadful *g*
Aug. 27th, 2006 03:25 am (UTC)
I've just finished the US version of The Office as well, and I also think I just might like it better. Michael Scott has had more than one moment of humanity, and you see him as more the pathetic loser who just wants to be liked, as opposed to David Brent who was just a raging egomaniac. I like that Pam is far more fleshed out as a character than Dawn was. And I love too the fleshing-out of the secondary characters, even if all of them did get their real first names because they weren't intended to be the focus of the storyline. And Ryan - man, Michael's crush on Ryan just keeps getting funnier and I did not think that was possible.
Aug. 27th, 2006 11:06 am (UTC)
I think it doesn't help with David Brent that I don't much like Ricky Gervais, funny as he is. It's weird to think that The Office (US) has already had about 10 more episodes than the UK version
Aug. 27th, 2006 04:11 am (UTC)
Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald (Cracker)

The American version of this program tried to tame Fitz a bit and it just didn't work. You needed the "I am too much" to make it work.

Fabulous list, even if I didn't recognize all the players, you made them very interesting.

Take Care
Aug. 27th, 2006 04:53 am (UTC)
Yay, Gulag Orkestar! Yay, Ruth and Harry! Yay, The Office!!

This post is very happy-making to me, personally. *g*

I've seen a handful of The Office UK episodes and found them brilliant but EXTREMELY difficult to watch because David Brent is just. so. ARRRRGHHHH and also so front and center. I do want to get my hands on the Christmas Special though.

I think the fleshing-out of the secondary characters is the best thing about the US version of the show, in addition to having Michael's character somewhat toned down. It's still kind of brutal, but its tone is a bit... sweeter, with a few more of those moments of grace (Michael's tears at the end of "The Office Olympics", Jim joining Michael in the karaoke, Dwight's weirdly touching code of honour in "Drug Testing", etc.) I like that. And despite my fangirling of Jim/Pam, sometimes I think Dwight might be my favourite character on the show. ("You can't fire me! I don't work in this van!" Hee!)

OMG CREED. I love Creed.

Since you mentioned M*A*S*H, you should check out annakovsky's O*F*F*I*C*E, which is a re-imagining of M*A*S*H with the Office characters. It's hella weird, but also brilliant and kind of heartbreaking.
Aug. 27th, 2006 11:10 am (UTC)
I've seen a handful of The Office UK episodes and found them brilliant but EXTREMELY difficult to watch because David Brent is just. so. ARRRRGHHHH and also so front and center. I do want to get my hands on the Christmas Special though.

I think that what you have to do is force yourself to watch at least three episodes of Season 2 then hit the Christmas special, because then you've earned it *g* It really is fabulous. It made me cry.

Jeez, what a pathetic admission. But it did.

I've read annakovsky's AU and thought it was fabulous. That image at the end with the floating in the tank? Lovely. And it's weird how it just *works*
Aug. 27th, 2006 12:56 pm (UTC)
I think I'm very lucky that your boosterism finally weakened me and I tried to watch it for more than the 1.5 minutes I'd tried before -- it is truly an ensemble show, down to characters like Creed and Phyllis.

Now I want to write a fanfic crossover, where Jim is a Grim Reaper when he's not working at Dunder Mifflin....
Aug. 27th, 2006 06:02 am (UTC)
Buttock-clenchingly embarassing is right. I do find The Office genuinely hard to watch actually, I have to force myself not to look away.
Aug. 27th, 2006 11:11 am (UTC)
You might like the US version then -- it's just as funny but not as cruel. I think BBC3 bought it in, but lord knows when they will run it again
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )