This is not a list for the greatest protagonists in television of all time. Let’s be honest, you already know who they are. So no, you won’t find any Tony Sopranos or Walter Whites below. This is a list for those characters that won our hearts whether they were centre screen or background cameos. They’re the reason we keep coming back and re-watching old episodes instead of trying to find something new. They’re why our friends are getting sick of us quoting lines they don’t understand. They may not be the greatest characters of all time, but they certainly are our favourites.
- GOB or George Oscar Bluth Jnr. (Arrested Development)
“But where did the lighter fluid come from?”
Arrested Development was packed with many a memorable and loveable character, but none more so than Gob. It’s not fair to call him a ‘failed’ magician, but any other description just doesn’t feel quite right. He’s certainly a failed bee (bead?) businessman. But what makes Gob truly endearing is just how despicable a person he can be, and yet still cease to feel anything for anybody else. The eternally oblivious asshole, Gob is responsible for some of the best moments in the show, including (but not limited to) his many failed illusions, the infamous chicken dance, Franklin the puppet, his huge mistakes, and his very expensive suits (“Come on!”). No list of favourite television characters would be complete without the original Banana Grabber himself, Gob Bluth.
- Jack Donaghy (30 Rock)
“That is the danger of being super handsome. When you’re in The Bubble no one ever tells you the truth. For years I thought I spoke excellent French.”
It’s hard to become the most loved misogynist on television at a time when Mad Men was still on the air, but somehow Jack Donaghy pulled it off. The man is essentially the ultimate parody for white male privilege. Not only is he openly and intentionally misogynistic, he’s rich, racist without understanding how, a heavy drinker, politically conservative, and, above all, entirely unaware of his own flaws, but always willing to helpfully point out the flaws of others. And somehow he pulls it off with such charm and suavity that you want to forgive it all. Alec Baldwin was the perfect choice for this charismatic businessman, who either doesn’t have a verbal filter, or chooses not to use it. His unsolicited advice to others, primarily Liz Lemon, is a highlight of the show, and is often far funnier than whatever Tracey Jordan is doing. Jack Donaghy is just one of the many reasons that 30 Rock remains a sitcom classic, and will do so for a long time to come.
- Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones)
“Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour and it can never be used to hurt you.”
The Imp of Casterly Rock is in stiff competition in Game of Thrones territory. With the likes of fan favourites Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen to contend with, why should Tyrion be here and not them? It’s not just his charm, his humour or his intellect that are constantly keeping him ahead of any dwarf jokes that get tossed his way. It’s not just because he slaps Joffrey (several times) despite the crown on his head. It’s not even how good he looks with a beard. It’s because there are moments where we feel more for him than for anyone else in the show. Game of Thrones was never a black and white story. It was never about good versus evil. If anything, it seems to be about righteousness versus cleverness, where the devious and conniving succeed over the moral and foolhardy. In this world, Tyrion represents the true grey. He’s principled, and yet egotistic, both cunning and brave. He’s on both sides of the Ice and Fire coin, and is, perhaps, the most compelling character in the entire show; although, at the rate characters are being killed off, it might be best not to get too attached…
- Omar Little (The Wire)
“Man, money ain’t got no owners, only spenders.”
The Wire was full of names that held a lot of weight—Stringer Bell, Avon Barksdale, Marlo Stanfield—but none more so than Omar Little. The man might have been more at home in a Western than the streets of Baltimore city, his chosen occupation being to “rip n’ run,” or, as he puts it when he’s on the witness stand, “I rob drug dealers.” He was brazen and retributive; violence was always met with violence, and often with a smile on his face. He was the wild card of the series, neither good nor bad, but living by his own moral code, working with those he considered righteous, and against those he deemed selfish. In a world that was far from accepting of homosexuality, he was one of the few openly gay characters on the show, further branding him as the outsider. And it’s always going to be hard to forget that death-march whistle—the one that let everyone know, “Omar’s comin’!”
- George Costanza (Seinfeld)
“Instead of doing a wash, I just keep buying underwear. My goal is to have over 360 pair. That way I only have to wash once a year.”
I’d like to think that there’s a little bit of George Costanza in all of us. He’s a man who knows his own inadequacies in life, never quite embracing them, but always accepting them. Based on Larry David himself, co-creator of Seinfeld, one has to wonder if the semi-autobiographical Curb Your Enthusiasm would exist at all is it weren’t for the popularity of George. What would the 90’s have been without that balding head and glasses on our screens each week? Sure, Kramer was the crazy one, but George was the angry one, the lazy one, the self-loathing one, the relatable one. For all his selfish tendencies, he was the one character that we all knew existed somewhere deep down inside our own psyches. He’s the man who takes a nap under his desk at work, pushes children down to escape a fire, and makes up names and jobs to impress the most casual of acquaintances. If anyone has earned the right to be our favourite television character of all time, George certainly has.
Roger “”When God closes a door, he opens a dress” Stirling (Mad Men)
Silvio “I fuckin’ love cheese at my feet!” Dante (The Sopranos)
Milhouse “Why did I have the bowl, Bart?” Van Houten (The Simpsons)
Randy “This is ectoplasm!” Marsh (South Park)
Hoban “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!” Washburne (Firefly)
Kara “Nothin’ but the rain” Thrace (Battlestar Galactica)
Doctor “I call him Fister Roboto” Kreiger (Archer)
Dana “All lies lead to the truth” Scully (X-Files)
Mr. “Fascinating!” Spock (Star Trek)
I’m painfully aware that there are no women in the list. Please let me know in the comments who I should have included!