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Mindy Lahiri, Cyrus Beene among television's best characters of 2013

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I debuted my yearly 10 Best TV Characters of the Year list last year with Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy on HBO’s drama “The Newsroom” taking the top spot. Despite there being multiple characters from my 2012 list that could’ve easily made a repeat appearance this year I’ve opted to go with a completely new list of 10 interesting and well-acted characters.

10. Scarlett O’Connor (Nashville)

There are probably better characters on ABC’s soapy drama “Nashville” – the bratty diva Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) or my personal favorite Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) – but lately Clare Bowen’s performance as the shy little flower of a girl Scarlett O’Connor has been one of the highlights of the show, especially in its second season. O’Connor, seems like a character that might annoy a good many people, but something about her shyness, mixed with her lovable, occasional feistyness and that angelic voice of her character make her one of television’s best characters of 2013. Though, that pouty, childish reaction recently to her finding out about the Gunnar (Sam Palladio) and Zoey (Chaley Rose) relationship was almost enough to kick her off of this list.

9. Piper Chapman (Orange is the New Black)

I’ve seen many critics lauding Netflix’s original series “Orange is the New Black” with the caveat that its main character Piper Chapman, played by Taylor Schilling, may actually be the show’s weakest character. I couldn’t disagree more. Any character that goes from scaredy cat hipster to a one-of-the-girls badass who beats the hell out of that ignorant, racist Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) in just a 13 episode span is a character that I find supremely interesting. Sure, I could have easily replaced Chapman with Kate Mulgrew’s fantastic Russian cook and mother figure Red Reznikof, or Pablo Schreiber’s creepily sadistic prison guard Pornstache or even the every screw loose Crazy Eyes, played by Uzo Aduba, but Chapman’s transference from better than thou odd duck to “I am no different from anybody else in here” is the heart of the show to me.

8. Huck (Scandal)

I said recently after an episode in which Huck tortures his friend and co-worker Quinn (Katie Lowes) that the character played terrifically by Guillermo Diaz on the ABC drama “Scandal” is the scariest character on television, and this is a guy who’s basically a good guy. Huck may indeed be one of the “white hats” of “Scandal,” but his love of torturing and killing people and his desire to do whatever it takes to please Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope and keep her safe makes him one of the most interesting characters on all of television. Huck’s struggle between good and evil is one of the true highlights of a show in which almost all of its characters struggle with similar issues.

7. Ichabod Crane (Sleepy Hollow)

I thought the idea of Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” series was laughable coming into the 2013 fall TV season, but boy was I wrong. The series has turned into quite possibly the best new drama of the fall season (it’s only real competition is NBC’s “The Blacklist”) with its fun, often good campy storylines, perfect chemistry between its leads and science fiction-styled revisionist history. A big part of the success of “Sleepy Hollow” is that of Tom Mison’s breakthrough role as Ichabod Crane, a Revolutionary War soldier for the patriots who is brought back to life in modern times, along with the Headless Horseman, who’s head Ichabod lopped off during the war, via a spell put upon him by his wife, secretly a witch, Katrina (Katia Winter). Mison’s chemistry with Nicole Beharie, who plays his partner, police lieutenant Abbie Mills, is impeccable and Crane’s constant struggles with the changes of a world 230-plus years after his time are, almost a full season in, still entertaining and hilarious to watch.

6. Hank Rizzoli (Parenthood)

Ray Romano’s acting growth from “Everybody Loves Raymond” (not a knock on that hilarious show) to “Parenthood” via TNT’s underrated and sadly short-lived “Men of a Certain Age” is one of the most marvelous things I’ve ever seen. Romano has proven to be one of the most naturalistic actors on television with his performance of the grumpy, but extremely lovable, single, middle aged photographer Hank Rizzoli on the NBC family drama “Parenthood.” Rizzoli started out as a love interest to Lauren Graham’s Sarah Braverman (my favorite of her love interests), which I was sad to see come to an end, and has transferred to a mentor and friend of sorts to Max (Max Burkholder), the Asperger’s diagnosed son of Adam (Peter Krause) and Kristina (Monica Potter) Braverman. Romano’s brief scenes as Hank on the series are truly Emmy-worthy.

5. Mitchell Pritchett (Modern Family)

I always feel that Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s performance as Mitchell Pritchett on ABC’s highly popular sitcom “Modern Family” is underrated or too forgotten by the show’s fans, critics and award shows alike. Ferguson’s portrayal of the sarcastically witty Mitchell has turned into my favorite performance on the series, and unlike some of the other performances (Phil’s constant loopyness, Cam’s melodramatics, Claire’s bitchiness) it never seems to get old for me. But, while Ty Burrell, Eric Stonestreet and Julie Bowen have all received Emmys for their respective performances, Ferguson has always been shut out. It’s high time we give some praise to Ferguson’s supremely snarky performance at Mitchell Pritchett.

4. Cyrus Beene (Scandal)

How has Jeff Perry not received an Emmy nomination for the maniacal, do-gooder by any evil means necessary chief of staff Cyrus Beene on ABC’s “Scandal”? Beene is one of the best characters on television thanks to Perry’s indelible performance and show creator Shonda Rimes’ and the show’s great writing staff’s words, often giving Beene these wonderfully epic monologues and rants to recite. I don’t think anybody is doing a better job on television of portraying anger and conniving viciousness as Perry is doing as Cyrus. I said earlier that fellow “Scandal” character Huck is the scariest character on television, but Cyrus Beene might just be a close second.

3. Don Keefer (The Newsroom)

For the second year in a row the television character that I would most like to be in real life comes from Aaron Sorkin’s terrific HBO drama “The Newsroom,” but instead of it being Jeff Daniels’ Will McAvoy (my number one best TV character from 2012 and a recent Emmy-winning performance) it’s Thomas Sadoski’s Don Keefer this year. Don has had the most growth of any character on “The Newsroom” in the show’s first two seasons and has gone from an absolute jerk early on in the series to being one of the most endearing and best written characters of the series. Sadoski’s realistic, almost effortless turn as Keefer and the character’s sardonic sense of humor really hit home for me. I think Don Keefer was the best thing about the second season of “The Newsroom,” even if other characters/actors seemed to get more time to shine. Also, any scene between Keefer and Olivia Munn’s Sloan Sabbith is priceless.

2. Joss Carter (Person of Interest)

Taraji P. Henson’s performance as Joss Carter on the first half of the third season of CBS’ “Person of Interest” is as badass as it gets, at that’s almost unbelievable because the show feature’s the epitome of badass in Jim Caviezel’s John Reese. The show shocked the world by killing off Carter in what might be my favorite television episode of the year, “The Crossing,” but the performance by Henson in the episodes leading up to her character’s demise were definitely a swan song of major proportions. Carter was the toughest female character on television and also got to show off a nice sensitive side every now and then, especially in her final episode when feelings between her and Reese are revealed. Her character is sincerely going to be missed on “Person of Interest,” but damn that was a terrific way to go out.

1. Dr. Mindy Lahiri (The Mindy Project)

There’s no doubt in my mind that Mindy Kaling is the next Tina Fey, somebody who can do it all: create a fantastic show, write a fantastic show and portray a fantastic character. Her Dr. Mindy Lahiri on the near perfect, but sorely struggling in the ratings Fox sitcom “The Mindy Project” is the best and funniest female character on television since Fey’s iconic Liz Lemon on “30 Rock.” It truly is a crime that Kaling hasn’t received a nomination in any major award show thus far. Her Dr. Lahiri’s egocentricities are among the most fully realized of any comedic character on television and the way the show pokes fun at stuff like body issues, romantic clichés and personal oddities through the Mindy character is straight out of the “30 Rock” playbook, but still seemingly original in its own unique way. I can’t think of another character on television in 2013 that was as funny or supplied as many laughs as Kaling’s Dr. Lahiri.

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