Ode to TV week: day one

With September starting, I’m readying myself for kicking the blog back into high gear as TV shows premiere and movie studios begin trotting out their Oscar hopefuls. To get things going, I’m going to engage in one of my favorite pastimes: rhapsodizing about television, all week long. The dialogue-driven stories! The long-term character development! The inside jokes and references that reward careful and loyal viewing! Ah, there is so much to love about this medium. When it’s done well there’s nothing more satisfying.

Since the first premiere I’m interested in is the new 90210, beginning tomorrow, and I spent part of last night catching up with the episodes of Brit teen show Skins that have aired so far on BBC America (mostly ludicrous but completely entertaining, if you’re curious), I’ve got teen characters on the brain. Teens are among the most difficult characters to write. Making them both likeable and believable—moodiness, bad decision-making skills, social awkwardness and all—is tricky business. When it’s done right, and you’re lucky enough to find an actor that can pull it off, the results can be plenty impressive. Here’s my list of my ten favorite teen characters from television.

10. George-Michael Bluth, Arrested Development (Michael Cera). No character on this show is really “believable”, but the level of sincerity brought to this role by Michael Cera almost gets there. His comic timing also rates off the charts; George-Michael is probably the funniest teen character of all time.

9. Angela Chase, My So-Called Life (Claire Danes). She could be annoying as hell, but wow did she feel real. I’ve re-watched this series a couple of times, and Angela continues to perfectly embody a certain kind of teenager: the one who can’t stop wishing she was more rebellious than she really is.

8. Raja Musharaff, Aliens in America (Adhir Kalyan). This cute and smart show probably never had a chance, but I watched every episode and have no doubt that Adhir Kalyan has a great career ahead of him. His portrayal of the sweet and straight-laced Raja, a true fish-out-of-water as a Pakistani exchange student in Wisconsin, was the sort that elevated everything that happened on screen around him.

7, 6. Bill Haverchuck and Lindsay Weir, Freaks & Geeks (Martin Starr, Linda Cardellini). Among a brilliant cast of characters, these two stand out to me as the most engaging, consistent, and understandable. Just about every moment featuring Bill is a gem (I might go so far as to say the Seven Minutes in Heaven scene is my favorite of the entire series), and even if you find Lindsay to be insufferable at times, I defy you to watch the episode where she has to babysit after getting high for the first time and not come out loving her.

5. Kevin Arnold, The Wonder Years (Fred Savage). Last year I re-watched this entire series, taping two episodes a day off of some random channel. It will always be one of my true favorites, and that’s because of how much I love all of the characters. Yet, I must admit it: Kevin Arnold is kind of a jerk. He takes it out on his friends when things go wrong, rarely makes an effort to see issues from others’ perspectives, and often remains oblivious to how insensitive he can be, particularly to his mother. All of these things that make him a jerk also make him real. And he does mature a little, eventually.

4. Matt Saracen, Friday Night Lights (Zach Gilford). There are a lot of possible characters to highlight on this show, but when it comes down to it I have to pick Matt, if only for that adorable stutter. Matt’s life is a pressure cooker, with him shouldering more responsibility than any high schooler should have to. When things finally blow up toward the end of the second season, I felt for this character like he was someone I actually knew.

3. Michael Lee, The Wire (Tristan Wilds). The presence of this actor on 90210 is one of the main reasons I’m dying to tune in (along with Jessica Walter…whoever cast this show, THANK YOU). Because I know a few people who read this blog are just starting on The Wire, I’ll avoid saying anything too specific about the trajectory of this character. He starts out one way, he ends up another, and everything in between rips at your insides.

2. Buffy Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar). “If the Apocalypse comes, beep me.” The Valley girl with the huge vocabulary, the cheerleader who’ll kick anyone’s ass, the loner-at-heart who’d still do anything for her friends: Buffy is all this and so much more. Joss Whedon made Buffy a response to every damsel-in-distress teen who’d ever cried over a boy on screen, smashing the idea of teen girl as a victim, as a shallow person, as just an object of desire. Buffy was a pretty girl, but she was also the hero. And then he made her cry over a boy, and it killed us.

1. Daria Morgendorffer, Daria (voice by Tracy Grandstaff). When will this show come out on DVD?! It’s a fantastic portrayal of high school life, really just barely over-the-top. Daria’s utter disdain for just about everything around her and her monotone commentary are hilarious. There is a depth to this character that isn’t usually seen in cartoons. And, let’s face it: I gotta have a soft spot for her, because I can be such a Daria sometimes.


2 Responses to “Ode to TV week: day one”

  1. 1 Franklin September 5, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Hi Brandi, I’m going to have to agree with you on George Michael Bluth and the Freaks and Geeks gang making the list!

    By the way, I noticed you mentioned you’ve been following Skins. That’s great too! I work with BBC America and was wondering if you’d be interested in making a post solely about Skins to help spread the word about the show since it just arrived here in the States. Please send me an e-mail as soon as possible if you’re interested and I’d be happy to send some pictures and video your way for a post. Thanks, and have a great day.

    Shawn Grover
    shawngrover2008 [at!] gmail.com

  2. 2 patty September 6, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    oh my gosh, so much to say about this post so let’s number it.

    10) GMB. i don’t know how michael cera does it. he somehow makes this caricature of a person seem ridiculously awkward and completely empathetic at the same time. i want to laugh at him and hug him, telling him that it’ll be ok in a few years, all in the same breath.

    9) you have to respect her. just think how much deeper shit we’d be in if jordan catalano wanted in our pants.

    8) i only watched this show once, but it was pretty sweet.

    7) BILL HAVERCHUCK! my absolute favorite, i love this guy! that 7 minutes in heaven episode totally had me pumping my fists in victory for him, just like president bush. dressing up as the bionic woman! showing off his sweet dance moves! he makes me squeal. the first time i saw that episode where he gets sent to the hospital, i was a weeping pitiful mess.

    6) lindsay weir was my archetype. i felt just like her when i was junior high. totally awkward and trying to erase my geek status with being kinda rebellious and ending up pretty damn obnoxious. no one’s written a bad song about me in attempt to woo, though, thank buddha.

    5) definitely a whiney asshole, i’m glad they showed him growing out of it.

    4) i haven’t watched enough of this. stupid timeslot.

    3) i’ll need to get the dvds to this, too, it sounds like.

    2) BUFFY! you know how i feel about buffy. :)

    1) YES YES YES! if it was anybody, it was daria who showed me it’s ok to be yourself and not give in to the peppy hype of high school.

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Other projects:

Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

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