During my end-of-year list-making frenzy (when it is best not to approach a TV critic, unless you have a cocktail and/or cheese tray in hand), I actually began compiling a roster of all the new and returning shows I hadn’t had time to watch and that I felt guilty about. I quickly realized this was a form of self-harm that could only lead to a bad place. So instead I ate the holiday chocolate assortment Showtime sent and felt moderately better, and only a tiny bit guilty about slamming Ray Donovan.
I’d particularly love to shine a little spotlight on some actors in shows that don’t get a ton of critical attention or media coverage:
Best dame in a comic-book chronicle: The wonderfully versatile Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak in Arrow. She’s not just the token girl in the superhero story, and though she’s funny and endearingly awkward, she’s not just the comic relief either. Felicity is a multidimensional woman who’s equally good at tech-genius stuff and accessorizing (her clothes and earrings are to die for, seriously). And though she has crackling chemistry with the show’s lead, Felicity’s own well-developed sense of morality keeps her at arm’s length from the guy with the bow and arrow, even though she’s got his back in every important way. Rickards’ character both humanizes the show and keeps alive the idea that the Arrow’s definition of justice is by no means a settled thing.
Best Roman 1 percenter: Simon Merrells was subtle and slippery as Marcus Crassus, the smartest and richest Roman that Spartacus’ ragtag army went up against. Merrells had all the canny skills of a veteran British character actor, but he could go feral as well: When Crassus went all crazy-eyes on an opponent during Spartacus’ final season, I hid behind my couch.
Best alien: The off-worlder or robot who can’t make sense of our strange hu-man ways is such a familiar TV type that they’re often wearyingly predictable, but newcomer Stephanie Leonidas, who played Irisa on Defiance, was a real find. Irisa could have come off as a bratty teen annoyed to be stuck on Earth with her mistake-prone stepfather (which sounds like the worst sitcom premise ever). But thanks to Leonidas’ quiet charisma, her character’s pain, silence, and spiritual growth were actually haunting.
Best lawyer: Yes, yes, The Good Wife is chockablock with swell, Emmy-bait actors, but my favorite TV lawyer is Suits’ perpetually insecure, conniving, secretly sweet Louis Litt, a ball of conflicted ambition and haywire energy played with perfect pitch by Rick Hoffman. Louis is truly one of the most complicated characters on TV and also one of the most enjoyable, which is not a juxtaposition you often see.
Best gone-too-soon character: Go On actually turned into a pretty good comedy and more than just a Matthew Perry vehicle before NBC axed it earlier this year (sob). Even in an ensemble of gifted comic actors, Julie White’s character, Anne, stood out. She was no-nonsense, brusque, and not particularly warm and fuzzy, yet White made all those qualities funny, and I loved Anne’s disarming directness and the way White depicted the grief and confusion Anne felt after losing her wife. Let’s continue 2013’s awesome-and-complicated-ladies trend and give Julie White her own show next year.
I can’t believe our chat is coming to an end. I don’t know if I was “good at it,” but I do know, during this conversation, “I was really —I was alive.”