In Defense of 10 Divisive TV Characters We Love

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When people hate on a TV character we love, it’s hard not to take it personally. At the same time, we’ve been swayed from the haters’ side on many occasions. For instance, we wrote off New Girl after the mere sight of the “adorkable” tagline, until a sworn fan urged us to give it a shot. We tuned in and were delighted to learn that the show — and Deschanel’s Jess Day — were nothing like what we expected. With Season 2 premiering tonight, we couldn’t help but think how it was just last year that we were rolling our eyes without even giving the girl a shot. So we’ve gathered a few thoughts in defense of Jess, as well as a few other TV characters who tend to receive a lot of flack, but who we believe to be pretty great.

New Girl: Jess Day

As it turned out, New Girl wasn’t just about Zooey Deschanel doing cute manic pixie things as her male roommates fawned. Don’t get us wrong, Deschanel’s Jess is still very weird, but her humanity (like when she destroys her student’s science project or has real, insane fights with her best friends) prevents her from becoming the cute glasses-wearing-girl archetype. Plus, she’s a general lover of women, even those who hook up with her boyfriend (see: “I haven’t talked to him since he cheated on me with that ho! Actually, that’s not fair. She might be a really nice ho”).

At the same time, the girl’s got backbone, as she demonstrated in her thinly veiled “defense of girliness” speech to Nick’s then-girlfriend Julia. In the speech, as you might remember, Jess admits her own judgments (“I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person”) while arguing that inner strength is what’s important. So, as long as the Kermit voices stay in check, we consider this chick A-OK. (To be honest, in terms of characters going off the rails, we’re more concerned about Schmidt at the moment!)

Breaking Bad: Skyler White

We’ve read some pretty nasty things about Skyler White along the way, and we wish people would leave this poor character alone already. We’re not saying you have to like her personally, and we get how, as a huge wrench in Walt’s joyride to the fantasy meth kingdom, she became an antagonistic figure. But now, as we face the end, to not have an ounce of empathy for Sklyer seems just cruel.

First she was “annoying” and then she was a “back-stabbing cheater,” and while we don’t doubt she was written to rouse anger and impatience in us at times, it’s clear her actions were, at the beginning, those of a woman who desperately wanted her husband to live. Her moral transgressions (namely sleeping with Ted and then getting involved in the drug operation) were her last attempts at doing something before completely shutting down in Season 5 out of total fear and desperation. Vince Gilligan has an incredible ability to make us feel ambivalent towards characters that, frankly, can be confusing at times (for example, what does it say about us if we completely sympathize with a kid who has shot a man in the face?). But to simply chalk Skyler’s character up to “bitchiness” or “coldheartedness” is, baffling, not to mention a slight to the show’s incredible writing. Even worse are the gross commenters weighing in on whether she’s “do-able” enough (and that’s putting it nicely).

How I Met Your Mother: Ted Mosby

While we don’t deny we’ve joined the chorus begging for this show’s conclusion, we also can’t help but feel bad for ole Schmosby. The show’s prolonged end is really not his fault, yet his character seems to take all the blame. In fact, it’s the Barney schticks that have gotten the most wearing in recent years. At the moment we can honestly say we still have genuine affection for Ted, with all his strange facts and overthinking. And despite his earnestness in the romantic department, his faults (like stealing a bride) prevent him from ever getting too annoying as a protagonist. Hey, the character can’t be that bad if we’re still hanging on for his big happy ending.

Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23: Chloe McGruff

When Apartment 23 premiered last season, critics called Chloe McGruff a horrific, shallow human and way too mean to sustain a series. Yes, this lady is a terrible role model, but is it putting too much faith in the human population to assume they’ll not read the show as inspiration to seek out a foster child to use as personal assistant?

Point is, this woman’s terribleness is way too over the top (and hilarious) to be taken seriously. And when you pair her with James Van Der Beek, who plays an equally atrocious version of himself, it’s really difficult to not appreciate this show for its brutal satire of our post-aughts narcissism and vainglory. Also, as we learned at the end of the first season, Chloe may not be quite the emotionally impenetrable person she may seem to be (but she’s still pretty mean, thankfully).

Girls: Hannah Horvath

When Girls first aired, it seemed critics were either overwhelmingly supportive or of the opinion Hannah Horvath is too selfish, too horrible, too white, and/or too naked. But those up in arms seemed to have missed the point: the show makes no aims to glamorize female friendships, sex, or post-grad wanderlust. It is about the good, but also very much the ugly of being a privileged yet broke and unaccomplished 20-something in New York City.

It’s also worth noting that Lena Dunham took the time to thoughtfully address the criticisms and make the promise to fix some of the show’s problems. Whether she actually delivers remains to be seen, but we’d be lying if we didn’t admit that we’re already bracing for the return of Season 2.

30 Rock: Liz Lemon

As far as we’re concerned, the above photo says it all. Nonetheless, complaints against waged against Liz Lemon have ranged from “Can’t she just be happy already?” to “Why is she such a mess?” and “Why does she need a man to dress her?” The problem, it seems, is that people seem to confuse Tina Fey, real-life feminist role model, with Liz Lemon. Her character loves spreading the female empowerment, yet is far from perfect… and that’s the joke. She’s not just a mess in terms of dating. Across the board, she’s just a ridiculous person (for starters, see Liz Lemon get out of jury duty).

We totally get if the show is not your cup of tea or simply too over the top. And we actually believe this upcoming season is a good time for it to wrap gracefully. But to paint Liz Lemon as a betrayer of women seems a bit extreme. If you’ve watched the show you’ve probably noticed that all the characters are pretty flawed and that equal-opportunity stereotyping abounds. Comedy certainly isn’t excluded from critique, but since this show is so clearly a satire on all fronts, it’s hard to fault it for less than attractive portrayals of women. What race, gender, sexual orientation, or subculture hasn’t the show knocked?

The Office: Jim Halpert

We actually came to Jim Halpert’s defense for the first time back in 2009, when a critic took the show to task for being the most depressing on television. And we still stand by our defense of Jim, who (with Pam) has absorbed an unfair amount of the criticism for the show’s decline. The Office deserves credit for going against the grain and not overhauling its characters for drama. That said, realistic change is always welcome, and, frankly, necessary for a character to stay interesting. After the mini-schocker in last week’s premiere, things are looking up for Mr. Halpert.

Mad Men: Joan Holloway

Last season’s “The Other Woman” certainly wasn’t the first time we’d seen such vitriol hurled at Joan. And while many empathized with her decision in the episode, we’re not quite sure she’d want our pity, either. She made a business transaction that would buy her stability for the rest of her life. When you weigh the isolated act against a lifetime of security, well, it’s clear she made what she believed to be the pragmatic decision. One of the most common reactions to the episode was that Joan lost her “dignity,” but that’s also a troubling conclusion given the subjectivity of the term.

Joan certainly isn’t perfect, and has been downright mean at times, but her complexities and relationships with her office mates (namely Peggy, Roger, and Don) have made her a fascinating character to grow to understand over the years. Christina Hendricks’ recent Emmy loss left us truly bummed.

Homeland: Dana Brody

It’s been a widely held belief, since approximately Sunday, that Homeland can do no wrong. But during the show’s first season run, many people expressed their deep loathing of Brody’s pot-smoking teenage daughter with an attitude. Some actually said they wished she would get whacked — which only proves Morgan Saylor did a terrific job portraying her. Teenagers can be unpleasant people, and the reaction of Dana’s character to all the changes upon her father’s return, not to mention her antagonism towards her mom, seemed dead on. To be perfectly frank, it was the son who aggravated us the most. What kid is that good?

Boardwalk Empire: Gillian Darmody

We can’t help but sympathize with Gillian Darmody, one of the most hated TV mothers in recent years. Yes, the psychological damage she imposed on her son was horrific, and we hate the way she treats Harrow (who can do now wrong in our eyes). But no matter how evil she gets, it’s difficult to forget her awful story (getting raped by the most powerful man in town at 13, raising her son by herself, and being fondled by dirty men her whole life) and how emotionally damaged she must be at this point. Gillian’s loneliness, while troubling and depressing when it manifests, is also what makes her one of the most interesting villains on the show. (On a side note, it was funny to see Eli Thompson visibly freaked by her last season.)