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Cohle, Rust (True Detective)
Matthew McConaughey plays the role.
If time is a flat circle, then this list must be as well. Rust Cohle, the biker-gang-infiltrating, beer-can-sculpting, Nietzsche-quoting protagonist of HBO’s star-studded noir anthology series, is actually number 100 and number 1, the alpha and omega, according to that ironclad stoner logic. Cohle was the unexpected wildcard to Woody Harrelson’s more conventionally buttoned-up Marty Hart, played with manly seriousness and subtle comedy by Matthew McConaughey, then in the midst of the McConaissance.
Leighton Meester as Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl)
Teen TV isn’t as well-respected as it should be, but we’re worshiping Queen B. Yes, Blair Waldorf was a character in Cecily von Ziegesar’s series of scandalous YA novels before being brought to life in Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s CW series, but she blossomed on-screen thanks to some of the best insults and a ridiculously savvy performance from the underrated Leighton Meester. Also, you must try to play this What TV Character Am I Most Like quiz.
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Goodman, Saul (Better Call Saul)
Bob Odenkirk plays the role.
Better Call Saul, the spinoff origin story of how con man-turned-public defender Jimmy McGill became the go-to lawyer for the disaffected and deep-pocketed criminals alike with a corny-ass office and known for putting up tacky billboards and donning even tackier suits, transformed Saul Goodman from the scuzzy lawyer of Breaking Bad to one of the most fascinatingly complex characters on TV.
Michael Chiklis plays Vic Mackey (The Shield).
As people recount spending hours in quarantine watching now-canonical TV episodes like The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, the reputation of FX’s continuously underappreciated The Shield appears to be dubious. It’s on Hulu and ready to watch at any time, but is it being discovered and discussed? Given its raunchy image and predictable subject matter (yes, another cop show), The Shield can be difficult to sell if you’re not interested in watching an often excruciatingly stressful, aesthetically dirty series with this song as its opening theme music.
Jake Johnson plays Nick Miller (New Girl).
New Girl was marketed as a show about an “adorable” girl, played by Zooey Deschanel, but it was really about the men she lives with and their incapacity to deal with emotions. That may sound like a terrible thing, but New Girl’s concentration on the masculine mind is what made it so successful. Nick Miller, played by Jake Johnson, is the most prominent of these man-children. Johnson delivers one of the most astute comedic performances in recent memory, seamlessly transitioning from smoldering love interest to pitiful drunkard in each half-hour.
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Grey’s Anatomy’s Meredith Grey
Ellen Pompeo plays the role.
Meredith Grey is on this list due in part to her longevity. For the past 15 years, Ellen Pompeo has been a steady force behind Shonda Rhimes’ series. She’s progressed from ambitious but sloppy resident having an affair with her employer to Seattle Grace Hospital’s elder stateswoman. Grey’s Anatomy has weathered multiple incarnations and a slew of absolutely wacky plotlines, but when all else fails, you know you can count on Meredith for consistency. And, hey, when Taylor Swift names a cat after you, you know you’re on the right track.
Steve Carell portrays Michael Scott (The Office).
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when liking The Office went from completely normal to being a defining feature of people’s entire personalities, but there’s no doubt that meteoric rise can be attributed to the one and only Michael Scott, the US’s bubbly answer to The Office UK’s insufferably dickish David Brent. Nobody could have delivered the same doltish childlike buffoonery of being an undeniably bad manager, prone to calling unnecessary conference room meetings and being casually racist, while ultimately being a decent enough boss who genuinely cares about his employees as Steve Carrell did, cementing not only his comedic legacy as one of the most memed and beloved small-screen characters around, but the entire show’s fairytale white-collar office dynamic of a dystopian future.