TV  |  Lists

The 20 Best TV Characters of 2011

December 5, 2011  |  7:30am

Unlike the 120 minutes of a feature film, we get to watch our most beloved TV characters develop over the course of several seasons. The best of them become dear to us, even if they—like many on this list—would make terrible friends. Limiting ourselves to two per show (sorry Jesse Pinkman), here are the 20 best TV characters of 2011.

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20. Cathy Jamison – The Big C
Actor: Laura Linney
Network: Showtime
Plenty of movie actors have made the jump to TV, but Laura Linney, as producer and star of Showtime’s The Big C, has made the small screen seem big, playing a high-school teacher and mom with terminal cancer. Staring down death, Cathy has realized what it is to live, a first step in bringing the fight.—Josh Jackson

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19. Cameron Tucker – Modern Family
Actor: Eric Stonestreet
Network: ABC
It’s safe to say that Cam is the first TV character to be both a starting collegiate football player and a classically trained Auguste clown. But Fizbo is only one of the many lovable quirks of the larger-than-life stay-at-home dad, whose talents also include drumming and Japanese flower arrangement. His love for the dramatic was apparent in the pilot episode when he introduced his and Mitchell’s adopted daughter Lilly to the rest of the family to the theme from The Lion King, and it hasn’t waned since.—Josh Jackson

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18. Bender – Futurama
Actor: John DiMaggio
Network: Fox
Made in Mexico, Bender is a sociopath of steel (er, well, iron, titanium, lead, zinc, dolomite and nickel), who has kidnapped Jay Leno’s head and sent his own son to robot hell. But he really just wants to be a folk-singer.—Josh Jackson

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17. Sue Sylvester – Glee
Actor: Jane Lynch
Network: Fox
She’s crass, rude, the biggest bully on campus and the worst educator of all time. So why do we all love her? Because she’s larger than life. Even though sometimes she makes cringe-worthy decisions, it’s the soft side of Sue that makes this character one of the most developed on the musical show. Her heartwarming scenes with her mentally-challenged sister showed the character’s range and makes her more human than we realized. Most people will claim her insults make her such a great character, but next time you’re watching Glee look for those rare warm fuzzies, and you’ll see her true greatness.—Adam Vitcavage

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16. Sheldon Cooper – Big Bang Thoery
Actor: Jim Parsons
Network: CBS
Jim Parsons deserved his pair of Emmy Awards for best comedic actor the past two years. The early seasons of this nerd-friendly sitcom focused on Leonard and Penny’s relationship, but the recent shift in focus to Sheldon’s neurotic and obsessive-compulsive story lines brought a renewed life to Big Bang Theory. It’s still about nerds, but the new dynamic of watching Sheldon interact with Amy Farrah Fowler (Blossom’s Mayim Bialik) is now the biggest laugh provider. Maybe he’s pranking us all and really is a ladies man after all, just waiting to proclaim, “Bazinga!”—Adam Vitcavage

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15. Tyrion Lannister – Game of Thrones
Actor: Peter Dinklage
Network: HBO
The most self-aware of the many characters in Game of Thrones, the Imp loves wine and women, but has a sense of compassion missing from many of the players in the ongoing chess match at King’s Landing. Tyrion is always the smartest man in the room, but is wise enough to know when to reveal it. He understands the injustice of the world but does his best to enjoy his blessings.—Josh Jackson

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14. George Christopher – Bored to Death
Actor: Ted Danson
Network: HBO
In a show that includes another pair of brilliant characters in Ray Hueston (Zach Galifianakis) and the fictional Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman), it’s Ted Danson’s eccentric magazine editor George Christopher who stands out. The self-absorbed, drug-fueled George makes for a very dubious mentor for Jonathan but makes Bored To Death addictive. —Josh Jackson

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13. Gloria Pritchett – Modern Family
Actor: Sofia Vergara
Network: ABC
Hailing from the murder capital of Colombia, the beautiful Sofia is not someone to be crossed. Lovingly overprotective of her son, her gregarious ways are the perfect foil for the more conservative Jay. Along with Cam and Phil, she brings a zest for life into the more uptight Pritchett clan.—Josh Jackson

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12. Sterling Archer – Archer
Actor: H. Jon Benjamin
Network: FX
Even as the James Bond reboot toned down the chauvinistic swagger, another fictional spy was dialing it up to ridiculous levels. Codename “Duchess,” Sterling Archer constantly proves his value as an international spy is more than nepotism and looking good—Burt Reynolds good—in a turtleneck. He’s as effective as 007, without the pesky morals and compassion. And way funnier.—Josh Jackson

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11. Jack Donaghy – 30 Rock
Actor: Alec Baldwin
Network: NBC
30 Rock wouldn’t be the witty, quotable show it is without the by-now-classic banter between Lemon and her exacting boss Jack Donaghy. In the sitcom’s fifth season, Jack is as vital an element of the show as ever as he finds himself further uncomfortably entrenched in his new position as the Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming for Kabletown, butting heads with the company’s CEO, as well as tying the knot with girlfriend Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks) and finally settling down happily—until a reporting assignment she takes on goes awry and causes him to become unhinged.—John Barrett

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