Five Most Dynamic Male Television Characters of the Year

Here are the five characters from the Fall 2012-Spring 2013 television season that stood out the strongest not only in their respective series but in all of television. They made their shows worth watching and kept the quality level of the past year of television very high. Everyone says this is a golden age for the medium, and they are just a few reasons why. Here are five of the most dynamically written, realized, and acted characters I’ve seen this year.

Pete Mad Men

Mad Men’s Pete Campbell

In general one of the best-written and acted characters on television, Vincent Kartheizer’s Pete on Mad Men is a unique, equally detestable and magnetic presence. He evokes a perfect mixture of tragedy and farce, from sharing tense or sweet moments with Peggy to tumbling down the stairs in anger at Don’s indifference. He has always been a good character, but season six has really focused on his personal development in a way that is refreshing, particularly juxtaposed to Don’s predictable behavior and continual, drastic fall. Pete is also a failure, however not for lack of trying. It has been one of the more interesting of character portraits, built around the often-pathetic effort he makes and his presumption that because of it he is entitled to everything. I would not want to know Pete, but I could watch him all day.

In this season, we saw his development partly through the character of Bob Benson who, it turns out, is living under a false identity. Instead of ratting him out, as he had once tried to do with Don, Pete decides to keep his secret and continue working with him, thus surprising us all with his maturity. Rather than get jealous, Pete shares a sincere moment with Peggy after he warmly makes known his awareness of the secret love between her and Ted. He was even making nice with Joan for a while, sharing drinks with her in the office. Closing out season six, we saw him have an honest exchange with his wife Trudy and touchingly watch his daughter sleep. He is off to join Ted in California, and it should be interesting to see what the change of scenery does for an already very complex, incredibly rich character.


Homeland’s Nicholas Brody

Perhaps season one of Homeland was Carrie Mathison’s masterwork but season two belongs to Nicholas Brody. In a show that seemed to quickly run out of places to go, Damian Lewis’s portrayal of the Islamic-turned American war veteran and former POW continues to reach new levels of complexity and dynamism. Even though the storylines were not as believable this time around, Lewis’s performance was as sharp and engaging as ever. Imagine. He has to play a man who is loyal to so many different groups and people while also having no anchor to keep him leveled within any single belief system or social stratosphere. He is always functioning on so many varying social and political spheres, from being the man of the house to the key double agent in a CIA mission.

Many found his love for Carrie hard to believe, but I thought the contradictions in the character created the logic that made sense out of their twisted relationship. Unlike his wife, friends, and fellow veterans, Carrie had an understanding of where he had been for those hard years of his life and accepted his darkness, which eventually also came to include his faith in a “terrorist”‘s political cause. Brody’s vulnerability made you also believe that Carrie would love him despite the danger to both her life and career. His relationship to his daughter also sheds light on his sensitivity while retaining a hard, protective exterior. The moments they shared were among the most profound on the series. This is one of the most unpredictable yet sympathetic and well-developed characters ever on television.


Top of the Lake’s Matt Mitcham

Peter Mullan is my favorite supporting television actor of the year with his portrayal of the father from hell and small town drug lord in Jane Campion’s masterful Top of the Lake. He is unrelentingly funny, delivering some of the wittiest lines in an otherwise mostly dark-toned series. Meanwhile, he is one of the biggest jerks you’ll ever see. He makes fun of battered women, with one of whom he has a brief sweet-turned-violent affair; he kills men without a second thought; and he insults his sons left and right, otherwise showing them no affection.

He is a violent misogynist who seems to hate the  world but to hate himself above all else. We see this in his conflictive relationship to his daughter, whose pregnancy and subsequent disappearance form the mystery at the heart of the plot. His complexity and inner demons are further exposed by his self-beating at his mother’s grave. Mullan makes this wild beast of a character a believable, watchable human. It is a devastating character that Mullan plays to perfection, being equal parts charming and despicable.


Game of Thrones’s Jaime Lannister

Spending season three of Game of Thrones as a prisoner of war has served to develop Jaime Lannister a great deal. Beforehand (no pun intended) keeping to being a self-centered, arrogant charmer who sleeps with his sister and ridicules his dwarf brother, he has slowly become a conscientious, likable human being. This is in part because of his newfound friendship with Brienne as well as his suffering the loss of his sword-fighting hand. Humiliation and war have schooled him in recognizing what is valuable, and in Brienne he sees a fellow soldier but one who, unlike him, lives by a code of honor. At the end of season three, he is once again reunited with his sister Cersei, in a touching though brief moment, and we will have to wait and see how his journey will transform his behavior towards his cruel family.

Nikolaj Coster is a beautiful man, for sure, but he has also lent Jaime a great deal of complexity, swiftly moving from deplorable to caring and pathetic to sexy. His good looks and family lineage have made life easy for him, but it was losing the advantages of these that allowed him to develop and become a more aware and passionate person. Coster sells this charmingly, both confident and intense enough to make palpable the character’s trajectory. He makes it easy to believe that Cersei has invested all of her romantic and sexual feelings in him and he has won over Brienne’s trust and love. Jaime has, in turn, also won us over, earning audience sympathies despite terrible past choices.


Arrested Development’s GOB

This is an unusual choice considering that this is a comedic role and one that was reprised after years of being cancelled. Yet, of all the characters on the new season of cult classic Arrested Development, GOB is by far the most moving and hilarious. From being the selfish and demanding older brother to the insecure and needy ignored son, he works with a great range of archetype, never settling comfortably into any rigid role. As brilliantly embodied by Will Arnett, GOB is the inept magician, the womanizer, the absent father, and the financial failure – yet also endlessly watchable as he stumbles through life, stepping on as many members of his family along the way.

GOB could easily just be the absurd, villainous older brother; but part of the grandeur of the series is its ability to create well-rounded characters, despite their each having specific roles to fill in the family. Perhaps it was because of the structure of this last, fourth season – in which individual characters were followed for an episode – but this year audiences grew to know GOB more profoundly and consequently experienced a full array of emotional reactions , from disgust to sympathetic. Will Arnett was the most capable of carrying a full episode on his lone shoulders, and he made GOB enter the spotlight as the new star of the show.

There were many great characters on television this year but few were as fascinating to watch as these five. It is no wonder that series like Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and Homeland garner so many awards and recognition when they feature such easily watchable and dynamic characters as these. I should hope that Top of the Lake – technically a miniseries – and oft-ignored (by awards) Arrested Development receive some deserved attention this year. I would also expect that Kartheizer, Lewis, Mitcham, Coster, and Arnett continue to be individually praised for their tremendous work. I look forward to seeing more of Pete, Brody, Jaime, and GOB. Unfortunately, Mitcham did not survive the events of his series, but Mullan – as well as the talented company he keeps on this list – have yet many more great characters to bring wonderfully to life.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Melina Gills is an avid film and television watcher who is studying to get her PhD in Comparative Literature. She is from Brooklyn and also known as Shoot the Critic.

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  1. Sanarchy

    Very good list of great leading actors but you excluded the best one. It is clear that you have not watched Rectify as otherwise, Aden Young would dominate this list in EVERY way.

    • Hey, you’re right; I have yet to see “Rectify.” Does it get better after the pilot? Because I did watch the first episode, thought it was fine, but didn’t get hooked. When I have more time, I’d love to follow through on it.

  2. Morn Dark

    Pete Campbell has been growing on me each and every time I see this character on the screen. Hated him at first, love him now. The writers know how to develop very rich and intriguing characters.

  3. Sophie Wise

    Great list – definitely agree with Jaime Lannister. The development of his character in the third season of Game of Thrones was brilliant!

  4. Katherine Kingsle

    Jaime Lannister was so well developed this season, absolutely agree. Bit disappointed that no men of colour made the list, but there are hardly any playing lead in shows of their own or written dynamically even as side characters, so I guess that makes sense.

    • That is unfortunately true. If I had made this list for 2011 or 2010, Idris Elba’s brilliant Luther from the BBC series would have easily made it. Too bad that show took a break in 2012, but I can’t wait until its premiere in July.

  5. Diary Proj

    Dont think I have ever hated a character like Jaime Lannister that much and loved with that quickly. Strange!

  6. Nick Santoro

    no mention of hodor from game of thrones???

    • he’s a good character but not nearly as developed as the others on this list. i will definitely consider him for future lists!

  7. Kelsey Clark

    I like the variety in this list. Great read!

  8. danielle577

    I just began writing on this platform as of recent and I did a “Homeland” search because I’m thinking of a topic and I didn’t want to be repetitive. I came across your article, and honestly, I’m not sure if you’ll ever read this, but this is some of the best writing I’ve had the pleasure of reading, on this site. Your examples are extremely disparate–in a positive manner, while your writing is concise. Just a pleasurable article!!

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