I see that other folks (here and here) are listing twenty-five favorite TV characters, so I'll prove ever the follower of established trends and do the same! There are some ground rules: No puppets or cartoons (otherwise we'd all be listing Homer Simpson and Statler&Waldorf); No mini-series; No reality-show people; All characters must be regulars on the show.
Here are mine, in no particular order. Keep in mind that if I write this post tomorrow instead of today, I probably name at least fifteen characters who don't appear on this version of this list.
1. Fox Mulder, The X-Files.
2. Dana Scully, The X-Files. These two always had such a great chemistry. Back when the show was on, fandom tended to separate into two camps: "Noromo's" (for "no romance", i.e., folks who wanted Mulder and Scully to remain strictly platonic), and "shippers" (who wanted a "relationship" to exist between the two). I tended to fall into the Shipper camp, but it impressed me greatly how it just gradually became clear that Mulder and Scully were in love without there being a Moonlighting moment when the air just went right out of the show. And both were perfectly portrayed by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.
3. Dr. Elliot Reed, Scrubs. Anyone who has ever known anyone who was freakishly smart and freakishly competent but who was also so neurotic as to be convinced that they were actually stupid and inept will recognize Dr. Reed. Sarah Chalke always plays her wonderfully.
4. Chandler Bing, Friends. I think that Chandler grew more as a character over Friends's ten seasons than any of the other five; when the series launched, he was pretty much the least interesting of each of them, seemingly existing only to inject wisecracks into the dialogue. (Frequently very good wisecracks, admittedly). By series' end, he'd become a committed family man whose heart was nearly broken when he and Monica could not conceive.
5. Rick Sammler, Once and Again.
6. Lily Manning, Once and Again. Well, duh! I wouldn't love this show nearly as much as I do if not for the outstanding work done by Billy Campbell and Sela Ward as the leads, two emotionally wounded divorcee's in their forties who find each other and fall in love.
7. Toby Ziegler, The West Wing. It bothers me that Richard Schiff won't be on Aaron Sorkin's new show. Nothing against Bradley Whitford, but Schiff was by far my favorite actor on The West Wing.
8. Claudia Jean Cregg, The West Wing. Alison Janney's my second favorite actor from The West Wing. C.J. was a brilliantly written character.
9. Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Star Trek.
10. Captain Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. My favorite Trek captains. Nothing against Picard or Janeway, but the original series and DS9 were my favorite Trek incarnations. (I've still never seen an entire episode of Enterprise, so I have no opinion at all about Captain Archer.)
11. Rayann Graff, My So-Called Life.
12. Enrique "Ricky" Vasquez, My So-Called Life. What an amazing show this was. Rayann was a troubled teen; Ricky was struggling with his sexuality. I haven't seen this show in years, but it's burned on my brain.
13. Frank Black, Millennium. Sadly, this show never figured out what it really wanted to be, so it produced two seasons that were often brilliant but disjointed and a third that wasn't very good at all. At the center of it all was Frank Black, however, a man haunted by...something, who was often trying to puzzle out...something. I loved this show and always felt that it was on the cusp of greatness before Chris Carter put the absolute wrong person in charge of season three. Oh well. Lance Henriksen's Frank Black was a standout of understated acting.
14. Nash Bridges, Nash Bridges. You know, I've never met anyone else who liked this show! But for a while, I found it highly entertaining before it got too soap-opera like in its last season. This show was always a lot of goofy fun, with Don Johnson and Cheech Marin playing flamboyant San Francisco cops who sped around San Francisco in a bright yellow Barracuda, solving all manner of violent crimes. Eventually Yasmine Bleeth even joined the cast, providing some nice cheesecake.
15. Dr. John Carter, ER. In the pilot, Carter was a surgical intern who barely knew which end of a scalpel was up; eight or nine years later, he was the steady hand running the ER. I've made no secret in the past that for me ER not only jumped the shark a while ago but, after jumping it once, kept circling back to jump it again and again and again (this past season's cliffhanger ending was just embarrassing); but I loved the show for a long time, and Carter's realistic growth, portrayed on a realistic time scale, is a big reason why.
16. Jonathan Quayle Higgins, Magnum PI. Man, did I ever love Magnum PI! Higgins was such a great character, too: he was mysterious without ever seeming mysterious. Was he really Robin Masters, rich author of potboilers? Did he really have all those exploits as a soldier in various militaries? Thinking back on the show, just who really was Jonathan Higgins? We never really knew, and we never really realized we didn't know, either.
17. John "Hannibal" Smith, The A-Team. Come on, who didn't love it when George Peppard would grin at the end and say, "I love it when a plan comes together!"? I loved it!
18. Detective Andy Sipowicz, NYPDBlue. A bigoted, sexist, alcoholic, and burned-out New York cop in the pilot, Sipowicz would spend the next ten years being put through what might be the toughest emotional territory I've ever seen a regular TV character suffer. He got shot, nearly fired, married, lost a son to violence, had another son, lost a partner to disease, lost his wife to violence, lost another partner to violence, married again, and eventually became the boss of his precinct. All the while played brilliantly by Dennis Franz.
19. Frasier Crane, Cheers and Frasier. What a great character he was.
20. Dr. Addison Shepherd, Grey's Anatomy. My current medical drama of choice. Lots of nifty characters here, actually -- but Dr. Shepherd is a good doctor and an interesting, sympathetic character. Since the show's major subplot continues to be the attraction between Dr. Meredith Grey and Dr. Derek Shepherd (often referred to as "Dr. McDreamy"), the writers could have made Dr. Shepherd's wife an uninteresting shrew, but they didn't do that: Addison is her own character with her own problems. Plus, she's a smokingly hot redhead.
21. Gil Grissom, CSI. A forensic scientist whose hobbies are roller-coaster riding and etymology. What's not to like?
22. Jamie Buchman, Mad About You. Helen Hunt's character on a show that was one of the better sitcoms for a few years, before it started sliding a bit. (And its final season was an unmitigated disaster.) To this day, sometimes if I suspect that The Wife is having a bit of fun at my expense, I'll say, "I heard a tone", to which she'll respond, "There was no tone!"
23. George Costanza, Seinfeld. Yeah, the show's genius was in its ensemble nature, but I was always a George fan. The episode where George decides that every instinct he's ever had has led nowhere, and therefore he must do the exact opposite of whatever his instinct may be, is a favorite of mine (to an attractive woman, George introduces himself: "My name is George. I'm unemployed and I live with my parents").
24. Jarod, The Pretender. Now here was a show that deserved a better fate than to be dumped by NBC just so they could free up Saturday nights for Vince McMahon's dumb-assed "Extreme Football League" crapfest. Jarod was a "pretender": a genius who was so smart as to be able to pass himself off as just about any kind of professional at all. He used this ability to go around the country righting injustices while a group of operatives from a shadowy organization called "The Centre" tried to track him down, for their own nefarious purposes. This wasn't a great TV series, but it was solidly entertaining.
25. Ed Stevens, Ed. Big-city lawyer moves back to his small-town Ohio roots, and runs a law practice out of the bowling alley he runs. The "ten dollar" bets were always hilarious. Another show I miss, although it probably lasted about as long as it really could have.
For good measure, here are an addition ten characters I like, from the "recurring character" category. These are characters who weren't series regulars, but showed up every now and then:
1. Q, from various incarnations of Star Trek. How do you make a character who is virtually omnipotent interesting?
2. Harry the Hat, Cheers. It was sheer genius for the writers to make the final victory of Cheers over Gary's Old Towne Tavern come at the hands of Harry the Hat, who had robbed Sam Malone blind a number of times over the years.
3. Cigarette Smoking Man, The X-Files. He was "recurring" almost to the point of actually being a regular, I suppose. And I'm limiting myself to just one recurring character from TXF, which had a bunch of 'em.
4. Detective Martens, NYPDBlue. He was the Internal Affairs cop who showed up whenever one of the precinct detectives did something wrong (or might have). Everybody in the squad hated him. Still, he was played well.
5. Ryan Chappelle, 24. The manner in which Chappelle went from "recurring" to, well, never recurring again still surprises me.
6. Danny Concannon, The West Wing. He came and went, as a White House reporter and romantic interest for C.J. (later revealed as her post-White House husband).
7. Ben Sullivan, Scrubs. Played by Brendan Fraser, Ben Sullivan appeared in three episodes of Scrubs, the last of which is one of the greatest episodes of a television I've ever seen.
8. Mr. Edwards, Little House on the Prairie. He was always so much more flawed than any of the Ingalls clan.
9. Princess Ardala, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Yeah, Erin Gray was hot as Wilma Deering, but my crush was always on Pamela Hensley's Princess Ardala, who was one of the show's villains.
10. Mac, Magnum, PI. Now here's something odd: two different characters, played by the same guy. Thomas Magnum used "Mac" as a nickname for Lieutenant McReynolds, who was a pudgy naval officer with a sweet tooth. Magnum would often bribe Mac with dessert items in exchange for information he wasn't supposed to have, or access to places he wasn't supposed to get into, and so on. Mac was eventually killed in an explosion that was intended to kill Magnum. But then a few seasons later, Magnum thought he spotted Mac on the streets of Honolulu. This, however, turned out to be a con-man whose real name may or may not have been Jim Bonig. This second "Mac" would occasionally be an annoyance for Magnum, and also occasionally an assistance.
11. Newman, Seinfeld. OK, an eleventh character. Newman was just a classic. It's a constant aggravation of mine that the only time in my life when I've known someone named "Newman", it was before Seinfeld came along, so I could never greet her with a hearty "Hello, Newman!"
That's it. List your own favorite characters today! All the cool kids are doing it!