Whether they’re on new shows or old ones, 2011 saw a lot of great new characters come to television. Here are our 20 favorites.
#20 Dr. Chi Park, House
Charylne Yi isn’t like anyone House has seen before. Her short stature and odd haircut makes her seem silly, but deep down she’s a truly fascinating character, willing to fight back against her superiors and ruthlessly manipulate others. Looks can be deceiving, because Dr. Park is a lot more like Dr. House than you’d first think.
#19 Marnie Stonebrook, True Blood
This witch came into season 4 and completely owned the series. Fiona Shaw did a remarkable job throughout the season, evolving Marnie from a seemingly clueless and pathetic witch into a powerful villainess who came close to destroying all vampires.
#18 Andrew Wiley, The Good Wife
The Good Wife does a great job creating fun recurring characters, and nowhere is that on better display than with this private investigator/working dad who carted his newborn baby along with him while investigating for the state’s attorney. He’s charming, great at his job and devoted to his kid, and with just five episodes in season 2 and a return at the end of the year, Tim Guinee created a character I would love to see get his own spin-off.
#17 Holly Marten, Eureka
Any true geek knows and loves Felicia Day, and when Syfy’s Eureka added her to the cast of season 4 as a funny little doctor who developed a crush on Fargo, it was cause for celebration. The latest season was the show’s best yet, and a lot of that is due to how darn adorable Day’s character is.
#16 Tommy Jefferson, Harry’s Law
David E. Kelley’s legal shows have a long history of creating strange, quirky lawyers. First there was John Cage on Ally McBeal, then came Denny Crane on Boston Legal. Christopher McDonald’s self-aggrandizing, self-promoting and self-loving Tommy Jefferson fits that mold and is a worthy successor in that long line of great characters.
#15 Vice Dean Laybourne, Community
Few actors can come into a show with a small guest part and completely own it, but John Goodman did just that on Community. His over-the-top, imposing, Darth Vader-esque Vice Dean is the kind of instantly classic and brilliant character that makes television great. He doesn’t get a lot of screentime, but he makes the most of every second he gets.
#14 Gavin Q. Baker III, The Closer
Mark Pellegrino has a habit of turning up in some truly remarkable guest spots. He’s been on Lost, Dexter and Supernatural, but his latest role might be his best yet. As Brenda’s fabulously ruthless lawyer, Gavin has a delightfully whimsical sense of humor, but also the kind of cutthroat legal knowledge that can come in handy when you’re being sued. He’s so good that I wish the coming Closer spin-off was about him.
#13 Gary Bell, Alphas
Ryan Cartwright was tragically killed off of Bones, but it may be for the best since his new role as an autistic kid who can see and interact with electronic signals is a great new role. He’s funny, capable and truly brilliant.
#12 AUSA Lincoln Potter, Sons of Anarchy
Ray McKinnon’s quirky and off-putting performance as the new lawman building a federal case against the IRA and Mexican drug cartels was a perfect blend of odd mannerisms. He speaks softly, occasionally stands on his desk to change his point of view and was able to effortlessly turn members of SAMCRO against one another.
#11 Max Blum, Happy Endings
As unconventional as he is rude and sarcastic, Max puts a brand new spin on the token role of the gay best friend. He’s not the typical character we’re used to (see Jack on Will and Grace), but instead he’s just a dude who wants nothing more than to sit around, play video games and make fun of everyone. He just happens to also like other dudes.
#10 Emmett Bledsoe, Switched at Birth
Without saying a word, Sean Berdy became the breakout star of this ABC Family drama. Emmett is a cool, motorcycle-driving, drum-playing deaf kid who refuses to speak, but he proved to be the emotional core of the series that both main characters developed feelings for. He’s sensitive, sweet and, ironically, a great listener.
#9 Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke, Revenge
In order for a new show to succeed, it needs a main character with a clearly defined goal. Revenge’s star, Emily Vancamp, does just that as Emily Thorne, a girl who returns to the Hamptons under a new identity to destroy the people responsible for her father’s imprisonment. She’s the kind of woman who will buy an entire building and install hidden cameras just because a politician’s mistress lives there and she wants to get hard evidence of his philandering to destroy him. That’s dedication on a grand scale.
#8 Wilfred the Dog, Wilfred
Any man in a dog suit would be amusing to watch, but the title character of this offbeat FX comedy is absolute perfection. He’s rude, crude, philosophical, introspective, and wise beyond his doggy years, even if he does relate everything back to fetching balls or sniffing someone’s butt.
#7 Frank Gallagher, Shameless
A drunk deadbeat dad should be hated, but William H. Macy takes Frank to a new level of shamelessness and makes him somehow lovable. He’s always wasted, spouts off his extreme political beliefs and isn’t afraid to use his kids to scam the government, but it’s that singular devotion to his beliefs and his willingness to do or say anything that makes him great.
#6 Jess Day, New Girl
TV needed someone like Zooey Deschanel. She’s a breath of fresh air, a quirky actress with a style all her own, and Jess lives up to that promise. She’s weird, awkward and silly, but she has a heart bigger than the world. This Day makes everything better.
#5 Stiles, Teen Wolf
Adam Brody perfected the role of the quirky sidekick on The O.C., but Dylan O’Brien has given it a new life as Scott’s hyperactive cohort in werewolf mysteries. He’s addicted to Aderol, obsessed with the hot, brainy popular girl and never stops talking, but he’s undeniably loveable and embodies everything we love about sidekicks.
#4 Mags Bennett, Justified
Margo Martindale deservedly won an Emmy for this single-season masterpiece, a cunning criminal mastermind who has the entire county under her seemingly sweet old thumbs. She may have only lasted one season, but she was the primary reason the second season of Justified was so great.
#3 Harvey Specter, Suits
By all accounts, this pompous lawyer should be a bad guy. He’s brash, selfish and dislikes almost everyone. But Gabriel Macht is so good at being suave and charming that he transforms this seemingly simple and obnoxious guy into someone we not only root for, but love.
#2 Klaus, The Vampire Diaries
A perfect villain, Klaus is a deadly machine who will kill anyone who stands between him and what he wants. Joseph Morgan has made him sophisticated, witty, charming and, most importantly, lethal.
#1 Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones
A fan favorite from the book series, the cocky dwarf was given new energy with Peter Dinklage’s Emmy-winning performance. A true scene-stealer, Tyrion gets away with anything he wants and does it with a smile. On a show full of rich characters, he stands head and shoulders above the rest.