Our lives have been empty without you.
The best TV characters are the ones who make you miss them when they’re gone. The characters who jump out of the screen and burrow deep into our minds and hearts are why we count the days until our favorite shows come back. Last year we couldn’t get enough of a billionaire family squabbling over first-world problems (Succession), mentally unstable women who used to be teenage girls stranded in the woods (Yellowjackets), and a gangster helping the community he got hooked on heroin (Godfather of Harlem). Now that 2022 has begun, we’re getting reacquainted with old friends and enemies. Mic decided to dig into our favorite characters we’re excited to see back on our TV screens.
Barry: NoHo Hank
There is inherent comedy just in the simple and absurd premise of Barry: hitman wants to abandon his murderous life to become an actor. And yet, it might be hard for a comedy show to actually be funny when it treats its central problem with deadly seriousness — our understanding of Bill Hader’s conflicted Barry is one that is informed by deep trauma and pathos. Enter Noho Hank (breakout star Anthony Carrigan), Barry’s self-proclaimed best friend and the lovable clown dancing within the violent life Barry hopes to leave behind. An irrepressibly sunny right-hand man to a Chechen mob boss, he is the show’s most reliable scene-stealer, someone whose earnestness is the perfect foil for the torment at the heart of the show.
It’s immediately evident why, when Carrigan auditioned, co-creators Alec Berg and Hader decided to keep Hank as a character after initially planning to kill him off in the pilot episode. There is also something particularly tragic and poetic about the dichotomy between Barry and Hank: one, a discharged U.S. Marine whose PTSD from killing innocent civilians in combat has driven him to an utterly bleak path in life, and the other, an immigrant whose dark mob life can never hinder an unbridled optimism that is specifically buoyed by his enchantment with the idea of America and its simple pleasures. — Brandon Yu
The Crown: Queen Elizabeth II
The unique trick of an ambitious project like The Crown — which tracks the reign of Queen Elizabeth II across the decades and with an entirely different cast every two seasons — is that the character arc for the queen is not simply a reflection of story development, but a reaction to the span of history itself, embellished or not. The show, in this way, is not only a polished character study of the queen’s inner life and struggles in the royal family, but also of a changing world and how she fails to adapt to it — an inability that in turn severely scars the people in Elizabeth’s life.
The early Claire Foy seasons presented the queen and her sacrifices as a reluctant monarch in an agreeable light, but Olivia Colman’s seasoned Elizabeth becomes a more honest representation of what the queen has come to represent in the modern age: someone whose passivity, in the name of upholding an empty and archaic symbol of hegemony and tradition, increasingly becomes an active choice in cruelty. Fascinatingly, her lack of humanity in the last season in regards to Princess Diana and her own children resonates in new ways following the recent Meghan Markle revelations. The upcoming season, with Imelda Staunton stepping into the role, will likely only flesh out an ever harsher, but ever-intriguing version of what Elizabeth has slowly become. — B.Y.
Killing Eve: Villanelle
It’s somewhat sadistic to miss a murderer, but Killing Eve’s Villanelle (Jodie Comer) elevates assassinations to an artform that’s mesmerizing to behold. She once lured a man to his death by dropping a milkshake on his car’s windshield, dressed up as a worker at the car wash she knew he’d go to to clean his car, snuck into his car while the car wash wipers obstructed any views inside and bashed his head into his car steering wheel before his the last bits of soap were washed off. When we last left our picturesque anti-hero, she was rekindling her on-again off-again toxic romance with Eve (Sandra Oh) over a shared appreciation of their inner homicidal monsters. Over the last 20 months since the season three finale, I’ve missed watching Villanelle find humor in the grotesque, strut around in the most fashionable outfits, and be so emotionally detached she describes a murder with emojis. Killing Eve’s final season promises all of that and more to return to our homes on February 27. — Keith Nelson Jr.
Snowfall: Franklin Saint
The corruptive nature of drug dealing is a tale as old as America’s futile 50-plus-year war on drugs, but the devolution of young Franklin Saint on Snowfall from desperate kid to maniacal kingpin has been one of the most compelling character developments on television the last four and a half years. When we last saw Franklin, his empire was crushing the family he killed to try to preserve. I missed watching how deftly Damson Idris played Franklin in season four as a kingpin who will fake a limp all season to lull competition into a false sense of superiority and treat his own family, friends, and even the CIA as chess pieces. When Franklin and Snowfall come back on February 23, it’ll be interesting seeing if there’s a deeper level of moral decay Franklin will venture into in order to protect a kingdom that’ll likely kill him. — K.N.
Billions: Taylor Mason
Not many people can match wits with a genius like Bobby Axlerod and earn his respect like Billions’ Taylor Mason. They’re a stock market algorithm wrapped in skin, bones and organs, and after the best person to fill the Wall Street power vacuum left by Lewis’s shocking exit from the show at the end of season 5. Taylor talks with the emotionless speed of an Internet modem, yet Asia Kate Dillon finds a spellbinding way of making the human engineering they pass off as compassion thrilling. They’ve outsmarted Wall Street using equations, bonded with their distant father over math, and can make anything sound logical. When Billions returns on January 30, it’ll be a joy for all of us nerds to continue vicariously living our rich fantasies through Taylor. —— K.N.
There’s nothing I’m looking forward to on TV as much as the long-awaited third season of Atlanta, the surreal masterpiece created by brothers Donald and Stephen Glover. And while Earn and Alfred are the two stars of the show as far as the storyline goes, Darius (played by Lakeith Stanfield) has largely been its heart. He navigates life with an adventurous, almost childlike sense of curiosity that has led to some of the most compelling moments of the show. Sometimes, it leads to him being three steps ahead, like when he takes Earn on a journey around the city to inexplicably flip a cell phone into a lump sum of thousands of dollars that would arrive the following season (before obliviously missing the fact that Earn needed the money immediately, and offering his own phone as penance). But at other times it leads to tragedy, when he narrowly escapes being murdered by the creepy, Michael Jackson-inspired musical savant Teddy Perkins in pursuit of a piano with multicolored keys. Truth was already stranger than fiction when Atlanta debuted in 2016, with the impending election of a reality star-turned-dictator for president, but that’s even more the case in 2022 with a global pandemic and “metaverses” that strive to push us out of reality. More than perhaps any other character on televisoin, Darius captures just how weird all of us really feel — yet moves through it with the grace and wonder that we wish we could. —— William E. Ketchum III
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Midge
Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) is like Don Draper wrapped in Lucille Ball: a whirlwind of energy who’s as entrancing as she is slightly exhausting to watch. As a divorced Jewish housewife who goes from slaving away for an unappreciative husband to nailing a tight ten as an aspiring standup comedian, she remains unfazed by 1950s America, a country that made life very hard for many of her identifiers: Jewish, female, divorced, single mother, and certainly as an aspiring comic. Watching Midge’s mid-century romp through the the white boys’ club of NYC comedy is any othered comic’s fantasy. She stumbles into the right places at the right time; meets the right people on accident; and haphazardly flails through life while also always being the steadiest person in the room. Her unconventional grace doesn’t hurt either, and watching the way she lures in unsuspecting naysayers with her charms adds an uncanny layer of excitement to the show. She has her fuck-ups, but you know that she’ll metaphorically tap dance her way out of it. It all makes her impossible keep your eyes off of, on stage and off. – Chloe Stillwell
There’s something undeniably magnetic and intoxicating about Jules (Hunter Schafer), a character who is so self-possessed and committed to being authentically themselves. It’s such a rare quality, and Euphoria manages to convey Jules’ self assured nature without fetishizing her as a trans teenager. We learn her harrowing backstory in flashbacks with an unaccepting mother, but what would cripple most people — being locked away and told your most sacred self was wrong — instilled Jules with an unbreakable spirit. She still throws on glitter, lingerie and short skirts, not just out of rebellion (which is where many other shows would have stopped), but because she is going to be herself before she is anyone else. And while Jules has dangerous and erratic escapist tendencies like the other characters on the show, she has a sense of self-control that the other teens don’t really seem to possess. While the rest of the characters are desperately searching for any kind of meaning, it feels like Jules has hers within. That doesn’t mean she’s not wanting of love, acceptance, and safety; but her journey feels a step ahead of the other characters in terms of maturity. Being wise and self-assured is an unfortunate, but helpful side effect many people experience who endure society’s disenfranchisement, and Euphoria was smart enough to make that part of Jules’ charisma and allure. She understands the world just a bit better than the rest of her teen contemporaries, because she’s had to fight harder to thrive in it. – Chloe Stillwell