At this point, it’s become tradition to declare each new season a banner year for the Golden Age of Television, so by now that designation has become basically meaningless. Still, 2014 brought some truly wonderful TV programs. True Detective became the newest water-cooler show, we all fell in love with Broad City, and old favorites like Scandal and The Americans remained consistently thrilling. Most of all, though, these series gave us some of the greatest fictional characters to ever grace our television. From a fierce law professor to a serial killer to a woman in transition, here are the 25 best TV characters of 2014 (with some spoilers, of course).
Lincoln Rice, Broad City
If I had my way, this list would include every single character that appeared on Season 1 of Broad City. Trying to pick just one is damn near impossible but Lincoln (Hannibal Buress) was definitely the MVP of the season. Between his perfect, seemingly stoned delivery of amazing one-liners — which regularly had me pausing episodes because I couldn’t hear over the sound of my own laughter — and the true love that he has for Ilana, Lincoln won over everyone at Flavorwire. We can’t wait to see him again in Season 2.
Mickey Milkovich, Shameless
Always a secret fan favorite (it’s hard to love someone who regularly breaks Ian’s heart), Mickey’s (Noel Fisher) arc was the highlight of the series’ best season to date. Not only does Mickey finally come out the closet, but he does so extremely publicly, and in a very Shameless way: shocking, violent, and touching all at once. With Mickey’s playing-straight charade officially over, things can only get better in Season 5.
Annalise Keating, How to Get Away With Murder
Oh, Annalise, the fierce and shining light in an otherwise middling drama. How to Get Away With Murder has yet to live up to its Shonda-worthy potential, but Viola Davis’ Annalise has remained wonderful (and wonderfully cold) throughout. And who could forget that iconic moment when the literal wig comes off? Flawless.
C-Czar, Kroll Show
Kroll Show is full of unique and memorable characters who all exist in the same screwed-up world, but in Season 2, it was C-Czar (Nick Kroll) who came out on top. The teen was put through “Dad Academy” in order to better himself in preparation for the birth of his new son (with Liz from PubLIZity), and I found myself actually wanting him to do good, and for Liz to love him.
Jack and Diane, Black-ish
Are Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin) the cutest children on television or what? Black-ish is the season’s best new comedy, and sure, most of this is due to its clever writing and ability to balance issues of race and culture with typical family sitcom tropes, but it’s also largely due to the child actors on the show. As great as the older kids are, Jack and Diane, the impossibly adorable twins with brilliant comedic timing, make the list for being full-on irresistible.
Poussey, Orange Is the New Black
Like Broad City, Orange Is the New Black is a show where every character could make this list. Lorna, Vee, and Rosa were all very strong contenders here, but Poussey (Samira Wiley) is the one inmate I couldn’t stop thinking about, long after the season ended. Her touching storyline — her backstory with her forbidden girlfriend and their military fathers, as well as her present-day struggles with her feelings for Taystee — featured the most memorable scenes of OITNB‘s second season, and Wiley pulled off every one of them.
Henry Higgs, Selfie
Henry (John Cho) and Eliza (Karen Gillan) are one of the best couples that TV gave us this year, and credit for that is due largely to Cho’s awkward but endearing portrayal of uptight workaholic Henry. The shipping on Selfie is intense, so much so that it almost physically hurts to watch Cho admit that he’s grown accustomed to Eliza’s face, or to hesitantly shrink away when she admits her feelings, or to just smile to himself when he thinks about what a good pair they are. Cho is an amazing but underrated actor, and one of the worst things about Selfie‘s cancellation is that he won’t be on our TV on a weekly basis.
Paige Jennings, The Americans
Season 2 of The Americans wasn’t just the best of the series, but one of the best seasons of television in the 2013-2014 TV season. Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor) came to prominence in this season with a larger, more developed storyline that was mostly centered on her newfound interest in activism and religion, two things that caused her to clash with her parents. By the end of the season, The Americans revealed a shocking secret about her — one that’s making the wait for Season 3 excruciating.
Rust Cohle, True Detective
Time is a flat circle, Matthew McConaughey looks weirdly hot with a mustache, and Louisiana is controlled by a horrific cult of child abusers: these are all things we now know to be true because of Rust Cohle, the Reddit-catnip character who made True Detective into an HBO Go-breaking sensation. The linchpin of the McConnaissance, Rust’s Southern-accented nihilism has left the cast of #TrueDetectiveSeason2 with some massive shoes to fill. — Alison Herman
Barry, The Flash
2014 was the year of superhero narratives on television, but no one had more fun with them than Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), aka The Flash. He’s a refreshing hero in that he loves to play around with his powers, embraces how silly it is that he can run ridiculously fast, and accurately reflects the joy of a child reading comic books. In the recent (and great) Flash/Arrow crossover, the two heroes’ personalities clash greatly, but it only serves to show how much lighter and more enjoyable The Flash is.
Rogelio de la Vega, Jane the Virgin
The CW’s freshman comedy Jane the Virgin has a healthy meta streak, and no character embodies that tendency more than Rogelio de la Vega (Jaime Camil). A telenovela star played by a telenovela star on a show that’s adapted from a telenovela, Jane’s biological father is ridiculous and over-the-top, but mostly sweet — just like the show. — Alison Herman
It didn’t take long for Cristela to earn endless comparisons to Roseanne but they definitely make sense. She’s like no one else on television: a strong, hilarious, and smart Latina who isn’t bogged down by tired stereotypes. She’s motivated — dividing her time between an unpaid internship at a law firm and helping to take care of her family — and speaks the truth; an especially good Halloween episode (when she dressed up as half of Hall and Oates) had Cristela get brutally honest about the insecure realities of what it’s like to look a certain way when you’re surrounded by skinny, white, and conventionally attractive women. But she also keeps her sense of humor throughout everything, which has resulted in one of the season’s must-see new comedies.
The Guy, High Maintenance
A nameless weed dealer who’s simultaneously at the center and the margins of Vimeo’s High Maintenance, The Guy helps an ever-expanding cast of Brooklynites self-medicate, with some free therapy to boot. The web series’ first fully financed season saw The Guy provide career advice, couples counseling, and even some matchmaking, all with the warmth and humor that co-creator/writer/director Ben Sinclair brings to the role. — Alison Herman
Patti, The Leftovers
The Leftovers had a mostly solid first season, but even the poor episodes were saved by great characters. And Patti, the leader of the creepy Guilty Remnant cult, was one of the most fascinating people on TV this year. Half the fun was trying to figure out her motivations; the other half was realizing just how goddamn crazy and committed she was to her cause. The end of her story was shocking and bloody — par for the course on The Leftovers — and proved just how good the show could be at its best.
Transparent‘s trans parent is the anchor of Jill Soloway’s family drama, presiding over a family of affluent, screwed-up LA Jews as she begins her transition. A retired, divorced political science professor who once canceled her daughter’s bat mitzvah to attend a cross-dressing retreat in the woods, Maura is as selfish and flawed as the rest of her family — and the fact that Jill Soloway and Jeffrey Tambor let her be that way is a testament to how empathetic and just plain real their approach to the character is. — Alison Herman
Valerie Cherish, The Comeback
Nobody exactly needed more Valerie Cherish in their lives. Neither audiences nor the characters stuck in her fictitious — but crushingly realistic — hell in the margins of Hollywood really benefit from her nasality, her bad jokes, her narcissism, her social ineptitude. No, what Valerie Cherish brings to any situation is utter discomfort, even pain. No one needed her, but my god is her return to television in the second season (and ninth year!) of The Comeback a stroke of peculiar genius. What’s so amazing about this dramedy spoofing dramedies is that, at the core of all of its hilarious and multitudinous meta layers lies one of the darkest concepts on TV now: Valerie’s only way to reclaim acclaim is through legitimately cruel self-mockery. Playing a fictionalized version of herself in Seeing Red, a series that centers around its creator’s own hatred for her, Valerie at one point lends out her actual house so they can film a scene where the screenwriter lurks outside, contemplating whether to shoot her dead. Valerie, though outwardly unbearable, is just another person trying to stay afloat, despite the many monsoons Hollywood and its sexist expectations send to sink her. Kudrow’s immense gift for vulnerability, coupled with her perfectly irksome portrayal of the character make her performance one of the best in TV history. — Moze Halperin
Oberyn Martell, Game of Thrones (Alison)
Sexy characters are hardly out of the ordinary on Game of Thrones, but the Prince of Dorne, played by Pedro Pascal, represented a unique take on the series’ storied tradition of Hot People Sleeping with Other Hot People. Openly bisexual, Oberyn didn’t just represent an identity that’s often underrepresented or erased altogether; he did so in a way that resonated deeply with a culture that’s quickly revising its definition of masculinity. Omnivorous, seductive, and gone far too soon, Oberyn was a high point of the fantasy show’s largely buzzless fourth season. — Alison Herman
Jimmy and Gretchen, You’re The Worst
Selfie‘s Henry and Eliza might be the best characters to ship, but Jimmy and Gretchen easily get my vote for best couple on television right now. These self-proclaimed “worst” people are so much fun to watch as they navigate the very murky (and fucked-up) waters of a new relationship that neither of them is entirely sure they want. But they are still very much in love, whether or not they want to admit it, which is what makes them two of the most honest characters of the year.
Alicia, The Good Wife
Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) has had enough of your bullshit. In the wake of the death of her on-again/off-again love interest, Alicia has taken the world by storm, plunging headfirst into the the Illinois State’s Attorney race while holding fast to her commitment to consciously uncouple (while staying coupled) with her Governor husband and desperately trying to keep her fledgling law firm from flying off the rails. Alicia Florrick proves that not only can you have it all, you can do it all, all while looking fabulous and kicking ass. — Libby Hill
Captain Ray Holt, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has one of the best ensemble casts currently on television, a group of talented and wickedly funny actors who get even better when they play off each other. The unlikely standout is Captain Holt (Andre Braugher), who simply kills every single line he has with his hilariously dry delivery and stony expressions. He’s the #1 reason to watch B99.
Helena — Orphan Black
Picking just one clone from Orphan Black must be like picking just one of your children. Each one, played masterfully by Tatiana Maslany, is amazing in her own little way, revealed through her own unique storylines. Season 2 was all about Helena, though — her growth, her protection, her search for love and acceptance. Her moment came early in the series, in “Governed As It Were By Chance,” which turned Orphan Black into a straight–up horror flick as she crept around in that bloodied white dress.
Amantha Holden, Rectify
Played by the wonderful Abigail Spencer, Amantha is a live wire who can’t even smoke a cigarette without making it an event. A girl forever changed by her brother’s death sentence, she’s spent the bulk of the last decade working for his release and trying to prove his innocence. Now that Daniel’s back out in the world, she’s full of worry, trying to figure out how her brother can live, spending all her energy on him and his life to the point that she hasn’t built up her own life. Intelligent and nervy, passionate and snappy, she spends much of Season 2 trying to figure out who she is, now that she doesn’t have her brother’s sentencing as the defining moment of her life. It’s a fascinating journey to watch. — Elisabeth Donnelly
Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal
Hannibal came into its own during its second season, with the serial killer continuing his sick friendship/romance with Will Graham even as Will works to put him behind bars. Mads Mikkelsen’s performance remains as chilling as ever, but a terrifying romance with Alana Bloom and impending showdown with Jack Crawford pushed it to new heights. — Alison Herman