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Jennifer Garner is Sydney Bristow on "Alias"
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10 Best Current TV Characters
From "Alias" to "The West Wing," a look at the ten best characters in prime-time

By Amy Amatangelo
Zap2it


Right now there are some colossally bad characters on television.

A click across the dial and you can run into the ever-annoying Lucy Camden Kinkirk (I'm convinced that "7th Heaven" has some sort of subliminal hypnosis going on and that's why I continue to tune in each week), the perpetually randy gang on "One Tree Hill" and, as mentioned last week, practically every single female character they've added to "The West Wing" since season one.

But 'tis is the season of giving and presents and candy. "Summerland" is back in February and there will soon be a second season of the Ashlee Simpson show, how can we not be joyful? So let's not fret about the worst characters. Won't you join me in my reindeer game of celebrating the ten best characters currently on television. 
 
Sometimes great writing fuses with a brilliant performance to form a perfect television character. The character pops off the screen and commands our attention. They can make a mediocre show good (witness Topher Grace on "That '70s Show"), a good show great (where would "The Shield" be without Vic Mackey?), and a great show exceptional ("24" would be nothing without Jack Bauer).

All characters on my list are from network television shows that are at least in their second season and I stuck to the rule of only one character per show (if I didn't, the residents of Stars Hollow would make up half the list). This season has offered up some terrific characters (a very special shout-out to Bree on "Desperate Housewives" and Sawyer on "Lost." We'll probably see you guys next year) but great characters evolve over time. To make room for some NKOTT (new kids on the TV), I've entered Dennis Franz's fabulous Andy Sipowicz on "NYPD Blue" into the TV Gal Hall of Fame. He has set the standard.

Here are my picks for ten best characters currently on prime-time network television:

1. GOB on "Arrested Development": With his deadpan voice and ever-solemn expression, Michael's older brother GOB is the funniest member of the Bluth family (and that's some tough competition). Whether he's magically spilling pennies or ripping off his "stripper" pants, Will Arnett's brilliant portrayal is hilarious because GOB takes everything so very seriously. I honestly don't know how he plays the character without completely cracking up.

2. Dr. Cox on "Scrubs": He's the proverbial character with a heart of gold taken to a whole new level. John C. McGinley easily whips out his rapid-fire, positively hilarious dialogue with a sneaky charm and a sly smile. But every snarky diatribe belies a man who cares about his patients and his students. An intense character like this could have easily gone the wrong way (think Phil on "Ed"), but McGinley's innate appeal and obvious understanding of his character has made Dr. Cox one of the more complex characters in a TV comedy.

3. Emily Gilmore on "Gilmore Girls": You already know one of my favorite things about "Gilmore Girls" is ability to have multiple story lines that cross generational lines. And yes it is hard to pick just one character out of this great show. But Kelly Bishop has the unique ability to be both humorous (witness her scheming to set Rory up) and heartbreaking(witness her sobbing after her date). As the impeccably controlled and society oriented Emily Gilmore, Bishop is a woman who knows she's made mistakes and is still desperately trying to connect with a daughter she'll never fully understand. Of all the relationships on "Gilmore Girls," it's Lorelai and her mother's that I consistently find the most gripping.

4. Sydney Bristow on "Alias": It's been a tough fall without television's butt-kicking heroine. Seriously, could this woman do anything that we wouldn't believe? Skip ahead two years in time. No problem. Speak every language we've ever heard of and some we haven't -- sure, we believe it. Fly all over the world and never look jet-lagged. Why not? Create a costume out of duck-tape and felt-tip marker? Of course she can. In this fantasy world of spy mommies and daddies, spies who love Sydney and spies who don't, Jennifer Garner has succeeded in making Sydney as ordinary as the proverbial girl next door (you know if the girl next door had to consistently go undercover in a rubber dress) Even last season when the show lost its mojo (you know how I felt about the face masks), our Syd was still riveting.

5. Donna on "The West Wing": Donna is the grounding force in the fictional Oval Office. In between hilarious banter with her boss and consistent concern for him, Donna has blossomed into great modern female character -- a his girl Friday for the new millennium. But if they don't put Josh and Donna together soon, I'm going to be in a fight with "The West Wing."

6. Ephram on "Everwood": As the series' protagonist, Ephram is still dealing with his mother's death, forging a relationship with his previously distant father, and navigating the thrill of first love. And I simply adore this kid. Confident in his awkwardness, unsure of his life-long goals, devoted to his sister, self-deprecatingly funny, Gregory Smith has shaped one of the best teenagers ever to hit prime time.

7. Maxine on "Judging Amy": Often exasperated, always overworked, and never knowing when to quit, Tyne Daly's Maxine Gray is the consistent thread to the series. And Daly is an obvious pro. Like I feel about Dennis Franz, Maxine could go an entire episode without saying a word and we would still know exactly what she was thinking.

8. Jack on "Without a Trace": It's not easy to stand out on a show that is a procedural drama. And an actor not as experienced as Anthony LaPaglia may not have been able to balance the missing person of the week with Jack's personal trials (his divorce, his now shaky friendship with Vivian). LaPaglia gives a world-weary depth to Agent Jack Malone.

9. Joan on "Joan of Arcadia": Joan Girardi is moody, irrational, self-centered and unpredictable. She's prone to whining, stomping of the feet, and slamming doors. Sound like any teen you might know? Even though she talks to God and has a divine mission of the week, Joan may be the most realistic teen on TV. This season Amber Tamblyn has deftly handle the death of a friend and the trials of first love. She's perfect in her imperfection.

10. Seth on "The O.C.": The gangly Adam Brody effortlessly delivers his hilarious and sweetly sarcastic lines. He's positively delightful and brings a level of humor not often seen on prime time soaps. Heck, even his wardrobe is a hoot. Although I'm getting a little concerned this season because clearly Brody and the rest of "The O.C." gang are aware of how everyone just loves Seth. And Seth is much cuter when he isn't cognizant of how cute he is.

Where Have I Seen Them Before?

Michael Durrell, Donna Martin's dad on "90210," was the councilman Maxine was trying to track down on "Judging Amy."

Quotes of the Week

"You know if this were 'Survivor' we would have voted Lucy off the island days ago." Ruthie about her sister on "7th Heaven." True that, Ruthie, true that.

"I could be your friend. We don't have to do each other's hair on anything like that." Charlie to Claire on "Lost."

"I tried to Google myself and ended up crashing the entire computer network." Julie to Jimmy on "The O.C."

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but Kelso nailed your sister." Eric to Hyde on "That '70s Show."

Seth Cohen Quotes of the Week

"He enjoys sunset walks on the beach, punching people and not smiling." Seth pitching Ryan to Alex on "The O.C."

"She used to be my shorty, but she got served." Seth about Summer on "The O.C."