Gustavo Fring, Breaking Bad
Played by Giancarlo Esposito
To me, the fourth season of Breaking Bad will go down in history as The Season of Gus. It's impossible to overstate how amazing Giancarlo Esposito was during his two season run on the show. It's actually kind of sad to consider how unlikely it is that he will ever get to do a part this good ever again.
Ostensibly, Gus was the villain. But he was just so damn awesome that it often didn't feel that way at all. Sure, the fact that the hero of the show, Walter White, is such an unlikable guy plays a role in this, but not a huge role. Gus was just great and we rooted for him, even if that meant he might bring down the show's protagonist.
It was obvious how much respect and love Vince Gilligan and the writers had for that character. They knowingly and intentionally eschewed the level realism audiences are accustomed to with Breaking Bad in order to give Gus a send off worthy of his level of bad-assery. I know one thing; I'll never adjust my tie without thinking of Gus again.
Max, Happy Endings
Played by Adam Pally
On a show full of extremely funny people, Adam Pally's Max somehow manages to stand out in nearly every episode of Happy Endings. One of the best aspects of Max is the way he turns stereotypes about gay men on their ears. Max is gay, but he certainly isn't fashionable, or fastidious, or fabulous. He's just as schlubby as any straight guy out there.
Nathaniel Talyor, Terra Nova
Really, there are only two reasons to watch Fox's Terra Nova. Reason number one: The dinosaurs look cool. Reason number two: Stephen Lange. On a show in which CGI dinosaurs are more lifelike than most of the actors, Lange consistently turns in innately humans performances. Lange's Commander Taylor is a (mostly) benevolent dictator with a dark past and Lange portrays the character's secret pain convincingly and engagingly.
Stephen Holder, The Killing
Played by Joel Kinnaman
Much like Stephen Lange, Kinnaman breathes life into an otherwise lifeless show. The Killing was so dreary that Holder's bursts of levity became one of the few things that viewers were able to look forward to as the season sputtered towards its conclusion. Oh, wait. There was no conclusion.
"Fat Mac" A.K.A. Ronald MacDonald, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia
Played by Rob McElhenney
Before filming of Sunny's seventh season, Rob McElhenny decided it would be funny to pack on an extra 50 pounds of "mass" (also known as fat). Lo and behold, he was right. Fat Mac is funny, funnier even than normal sized Mac. The best thing about Mac's ongoing fatness is the fact that the show didn't really make a big deal about it. Every once and a while the other characters will toss a fat joke out there, but for the most part Fat Mac has been a visual gag -- and a damn good one.
Saul Berenson, Homeland
Played by Mandy Patinkin
On a show created by former 24 producers, you would expect a lot of big, noisy performances along the lines of Jack Bauer. Well, Homeland eschews expectations on a weekly basis. The show is teeming with great performances, but none can top the one turned in by Mandy Patinkin. His performance as Saul is quiet and understated. He often stands in the background, and yet the viewer never forgets he's there. Plus, it doesn't hurt his cause that he has a kick-ass beard.
Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation
Played by Nick Offerman
Ron "Effing" Swanson. Need I say more? I think that picture says it all.
Richard Harrow, Boardwalk Empire
Played by Jack Huston
Has any character made more impact on a show with as few lines of dialogue as Richard Harrow? From the moment Richard entered the fold in Season One's "Home", Boardwalk Empire took on a whole new level of awesomeness. An argument can be made that Richard is the only "iconic" character on Boardwalk Empire.
Given the events in the second season finale, it appears that Richard is at a crossroad. With his friend and employer Jimmy out of the picture, where does that leave Richard? Will he be absorbed into Nucky's organization? Unlikely, I would imagine. I also can't imagine him hanging around with the uber-creepy Gillian. So will Richard try to go it alone and seek revenge for Jimmy's murder? If so, Nucky better watch out. If there is one guy you don't want gunning for you, it's Richard Harrow.
Tyrion Lannister, Game Of Thrones
Played by Peter Dinklage
In a show chock-full of fully formed, three-dimensional characters, Tyrion Lannister stands out despite being the shortest man in the cast. Tyrion is notable not only for his love of strong drink and whores, but for his quick wit and ability to survive the stickiest of situations. Fans of Tyrion and Dinklage should be excited about the second season of Game of Thrones. Tyrion is set to take on a expanded role, acting as "The Hand of The King" in King's Landing.
Opie Winston, Sons of Anarachy
Played by Ryan Hurst
Despite my misgivings about the way things wrapped up, I have to give Sons of Anarchy credit for a very strong effort in its recently-concluded fourth season. Nearly all of the major players on the show (Charlie Hunnam, Ron Pearlman, Katey Sagal) turned in noteworthy performances. However, no performance could top the work that Ryan Hurst put on display this season as Opie. In my reviews, I called Hurst's performances "heartbreakingly excellent." I went on to say, "For an actor, it's not much of a challenge to play mad. Hurst steps up the difficulty level by layering betrayal and heartbreak into his anger. It's really an impressive feat."
Mike, Breaking Bad
Played by Jonathon Banks
For most of Breaking Bad's excellent third season, Mike was a pretty minor character. He did odd jobs for Saul and Gus here and there and projected the image of a bad-ass, but the writers didn't really give him much to do. That is, until the penultimate episode of Season Three. Jonathon Banks is given his chance to shine in "Half Measures", and boy, oh boy does he make the most of it. His monologue to Walter White about his experiences as a police officer remains one of the shows most memorable moments. “The moral of the story is, I chose a half measure, when I should have gone all the way. I’ll never make that mistake again. No more half measures, Walter."
By the end of the forth season, Mike had made the full transition from bit player to undisputed fan favorite. The fact that he spent the last couple of episodes recovering in a Mexican hospital, and not duking it out with Gus and Walt in the States, means that he is poised to return in Season Five.