5. Dr. Sharon Fieldstone
Show: Ted Lasso
Performer: Sarah Niles
Since Ted Lasso debuted on AppleTV+ in 2020, its title character has comforted us all with his folksy aphorisms and relentlessly positive attitude. But who comforts him? In the show’s second season, Lasso’s football club, AFC Richmond, hires a sports psychologist (Sarah Niles) to counsel the players and staff who need it. While most everyone is on board for the mental health care Dr. Sharon Fieldstone provides, Ted is uncharacteristically standoffish with her.
Over the course of this season, Dr. Fieldstone helps different players with their problems, like helping Dani Rojas remember “futbol is life!” after a traumatic incident gives him the yips. She’s patient and efficient, and because she’s multilingual, she’s able to speak to many players in their native tongues. But despite ringing endorsements from everyone who encounters her, Ted is reluctant.
Dr. Fieldstone, ever the professional, senses something is up but doesn’t push. Her relationship with Ted becomes a weird dance of avoidance until he finally agrees to a session. This is the real meat of the season: Dr. Fieldstone asks Ted to confront himself instead of running away from himself. Through their sessions, Dr. Fieldstone helps him see his aw-shucks persona for what it is: toxic positivity.
Learning Ted’s personality was a defense mechanism related to unhealed childhood trauma is a major plot point and one that helps flesh him out as a character. It’s the biggest hurdle of the season, so when he finally has his breakthrough moment, even viewers are able to feel second-hand catharsis. Dr. Fieldstone is the kind of character you don’t realize a show needs until they arrive and their presence begins to elevate the story.
4. Logan Roy
Performer: Brian Cox
Few things were as anticipated this year as the trailer drop for the third season of HBO’s Succession. While Logan Roy (Brian Cox) is still the sun around whom all children and plot points orbit on the show, this season sees him on the ropes after a stunt from his son threatens his position within the company and puts him in the crosshairs of the FBI.
Amidst the dramatic civil war that has broken out in the Roy clan, the show still manages to keep its usual scathing humor. Basically, things are tense but in a fun way. And no one is tenser than Logan. Cox returns in force to, in Logan’s own words, “go full fucking beast.”
He casually eviscerates everyone else on the show as they prostrate themselves to win his favor. At times it’s unclear whether Logan is yelling insults or orders. Cox’s commanding screen presence adds a menace to the character that few actors could duplicate. His every eyebrow lift is worthy of the heft Nicholas Britell’s score lends the series. This season, Logan is a father betrayed. His already icy heart has gone sub-zero; he’s out for blood and it is a feast for the eyes and ears.
3. Agatha Harkness
Performer: Kathryn Hahn
Marvel’s WandaVision was billed as a vehicle for Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany to reprise their roles as fan-favorite superhero couple Wanda Maximoff and Vision post-Endgame, but it’s “Agnes” (Kathyrn Hahn) who literally steals the show from two of the most powerful Avengers.
When Wanda immerses them in a fake sitcom reality as a coping mechanism for her grief over Vision’s death, the characters are forced to adapt quickly to shifting landscapes and tones. As the show jumps from a black and white homage to classic ’50s and ‘60s shows like I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show to a ’70s Brady Bunch riff and an ‘80s Family Ties and Full House mashup, Hahn’s perfect comedic timing nails each era’s sitcom tropes.
Agnes is a delight as a nosy but helpful neighbor who can have pat but winning repartee with the postman or deadpan straight to camera for a talking head in a Malcolm in the Middle-inspired installment. When her dedicated episode arrives — and with it the reveal that she’s not actually Agnes but Agatha, a powerful witch — she’s able to deliver the most delightful nutshelling ever via a now Grammy-nominated theme song, “Agatha All Along.”
Agatha Harkness gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the episodes that have already aired, recasting the entire series as an intricate spell she’d brewed up. She’s insidious, perfidious, devilishly funny, and just plain wicked. The series’ title is a portmanteau of two different characters, neither of them Agatha, but it’s her name you can’t help but sing aloud.
Performer: J.K. Simmons
If you hadn’t already seen the first episode of Invincible — Robert Kirkman’s animated adaptation of his comic book series of the same name — you spent the middle half of 2021 being asked to by friends who had. And that’s because of the spectacular way the show introduces the character Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons), a.k.a Nolan Grayson. He is an alien, a father, and a superhero who, for the better part of the first episode, we are led to believe, is a mensch.
But, in a brutal, nearly four-minute end-of-episode sequence, he ends up mercilessly assassinating every other hero we just met. There, in a room full of the blood of his allies, we find out that Omni-Man is the series’ villain. Afterward, he tries to cover it up and continue to pretend he’s a good guy, which sets up a bigger twist — the shock of the season — when others, including his son, finally learn who he really is.
Viewers are clued in early after that initial bloodbath and in other scenes, like when Omni-Man decides to demolish an entire planet like it’s nothing. But when the mask finally falls off in front of other characters, he gets to fully be his murderous self. To say, without remorse, that he views his wife of 20 years as a pet, and all human life on Earth is meaningless. In a season full of jaw-dropping moments, this slow rollout of an all-powerful merciless villain that culminates in a savage fight between father and son takes the cake.
1. Oh Il-nam
Show: Squid Game
Performer: Oh Yeong-su
The 77-year-old Korean actor Oh Yeong-su played the most divisive character of the year on the biggest show of the year. Squid Game, the global pop culture phenomenon created by Hwang Dong-hyuk, is a brutal nine-episode critique of capitalism. It has us watching grossly indebted men and women play children’s games, which double as deathmatches, for a chance at a jackpot prize that would grant them financial freedom.
The events are masterminded by a bored, dying billionaire named Oh Il-nam, whom we first meet as “Player 1.” In the beginning, he appears as a befuddled elderly man who seems out of place among the other, hungrier competitors. As the games go on, the 456 original players dwindle and alliances are forged and walked back, and the game’s oldest player manages to form an inspiring bond with the other fan-favorite players, and advance.
All of this is, of course, to ensure that the pivotal sixth episode, “Gganbu,” is as devastating as possible. In it, Il-nam is tricked by a friend into a loss that we believe costs him his life (cue the waterworks). Only for him to turn up a few episodes later in the finale and reveal — in a twist no one saw coming and many still can’t believe — that he was the one pulling their strings the whole time.
The games are sites of mass death, personal betrayal, and base human action, and they were engineered by him for a bit of fun before he died of a brain tumor. Realizing that that grin that we thought was so sweet before was actually hiding sinister intent stings, but it’s also riveting television. Loathe as I am to bestow credit to a billionaire, Oh Il-nam was undeniably the best character on TV in 2021.
Related Topics: 2021 Rewind