My Top 10 Television Characters: Riese, Who Admires Your Confidence

In My Top 10 Television Characters, various members of Autostraddle’s TV Team will be telling you about the TV characters nearest and dearest to our hearts, EVEN the ones that aren’t lesbian / bisexual / or queer. Today, Autostraddle Intern Riese shares her favorite characters.


10. Silly / Idiotic Men, I Guess??? Also Muppets? These Things Seem Similar To Me Somehow

Six images in a collage. Michael Scott from The Office, Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation, Jason Stackhouse from True Blood, Kevin from Shameless, Jason from The Good Place and also Elmo, a red puppet

Image description: Six images in a collage. Michael Scott from The Office, Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation, Jason Stackhouse from True Blood, Kevin from Shameless, Jason from The Good Place and also Elmo, a red puppet with his mouth open.

As I was thinking through my picks for this project, I realized that a lot of the characters that came to mind — the kinds of characters I would enjoy seeing clips of in a YouTube compilation, for example — are… idiotic men? You know: men who’d probably fall into a manhole or die of scurvy without the smart and patient women in their lives. Underneath their confused exterior lies a heart of gold! For example: Andy Dwyer (Parks and Recreation), Kevin Ball (Shameless), Jason Stackhouse (True Blood), Gary (Veep), pretty much all of The Muppets. Also I sometimes… relate to Michael Scott? I want everyone to like me, I’m not very good at getting people to like me, and also… I am down to clown.

9. Shane McCutcheon, The L Word

Image: Shane, a lesbian in a muscle tee with a very 2007 haircut, looks at somebody who is out of frame. The L Word.

Image Description: Shane, a hot lesbian in a muscle tee with a very 2007 haircut, is looking intently at somebody, probably a girl let’s be real. The L Word.

How can I not give a minute to the legendary scrawny smoky-eyed shaggy-haired stylist and lover to the stars who jumpstarted my internal journey towards lesbianism and this very website? Shane gets a bad rap, but while re-watching for To L and Back, I am resolute in my position that she doesn’t deserve it. She can be avoidant or a pushover, but generally speaking she’s upfront about who she is and what she wants. She’s been through a lot of trauma. She’s an incredibly loyal friend. She respects boundaries. I love all these things but most of all, believe it or not, I thought to myself often WOW this woman is hot! I’m impartial to Generation Q Shane, but the original will always have a special place in my heart and low-rise pants.

8. Buffy Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy Summers, a slayer of vampires, holds a stake. She's inside a house that has weird Christmas lights and lamps and signs and stuff.

Image Description: Buffy Summers, a slayer of vampires, holds a stake. She’s inside a house that has weird Christmas lights and lamps and signs and stuff.

Faith: “I’m looking at you, and everything you have, and I don’t know, I’m jealous. Then there I am. Everybody’s looking to me, trusting me to lead them and I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life.”
Buffy: “Yeah?”
Faith: “And that’s you, every day. Isn’t it?”

7. Omar Little, The Wire

Omar LIttle sits on a red bench in front of a red brick building, wearing all black.

Image Description: Omar Little sits on a red bench in front of a red brick building, wearing all black. He looks pensive.

Constructing this list was difficult — do I include characters who meant a lot to me for specific personal reasons, or characters who I feel were objectively some of the best constructed in television history? I ended up going mostly with the former, but Omar stood out amongst my candidates for the latter. (The runner-up for my quality character slot: Ruth Fisher from Six Feet Under.) At the time, the idea of a hyper-masculine character involved in the universe of drug dealers in inner-city Baltimore being unapologetically and openly gay was virtually unheard of, and he emerged quickly as one of the show’s most specific and complicated characters. In a story often defined by impulsive, shocking or uncharacteristic choices, Omar disrupted the game and the narrative with a specific ethical code and a philosophical approach to his work. I mean…. “I got the gun, you got the briefcase” — that whole scene was PERFECT. (Also um, everything Natalie said)

6. Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights

Tami Taylor in a teal v-neck at what looks like a team celebration at a bar

Image Description: Tami Taylor in a teal v-neck at what looks like a team celebration at a bar

I didn’t expect a show about football in small-town Texas to portray maybe the first fully drawn, authentic marriage I’d ever seen on television. Most relationships between men and women are painted with only the broadest of strokes, but Friday Night Lights colored everything in. Is Tammi Taylor a very hot Mommi? Yes. That cannot be denied. But she’s also so ambitious and funny and smart and so diplomatic. She stands her ground while making the right amount of room for yours. She balances a healthy skepticism of football’s centrality to her local culture with support of her husband and the boys he coached. Also, her eldest daughter is insufferable and yet she rises. Feminism!

5. Santana Lopez, Glee

santana in rumour has it

Image Description: Santana on stage in a black dress belting Rumor Has It. The Troubletones (Brittany, Mercedes, random extras) are behind her, wearing black dresses.

I have kept the “5” spot open for hours know as I slowly slip from consciousness into being basically half-asleep. I kept Villanelle here for a while, Emmet Honeycutt spent some time in this area, Poussey, etc. I’m gonna go with our girl. You can read all about it here.

4. Olivia Pope, Scandal

Olivia Pope is wearing a hot white trenchcoat situation and walking past a guarded gate. She's walking quickly with some kind of pass around her neck. She looks very hot and busy.

(Photo by Richard Cartwright/ABC via Getty Images) (Image Description: Olivia Pope is wearing a hot white trenchcoat situation and walking past a guarded gate. Everybody else is going through the metal detector BUT NOT OLIVIA. She’s walking quickly with some kind of pass around her neck. She looks very hot and busy.)

Sometimes before business meetings we were nervous about, Alex and I would have a mid-afternoon cocktail while repeating a mantra to ourselves regarding the importance of channeling Olivia Pope. I’m chronically indecisive but Olivia Pope always knew exactly what to do, or knew at least how to give the impression she knew exactly what to do. Olivia Pope had a kind of confidence and power rarely granted to female protagonists but distributed gratuitously amongst the men of television. As Natalie writes so eloquently in her Top Ten, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely… and Olivia Pope is no exception.”

3. Joe MacMillan, Halt and Catch Fire

Joe MacMillion sits at a desk in front of a large computer, in the 90s. He's wearing a leather jacket and glasses. The walls are exposed brick, it's the big loft office space.

Image: Tech entrepreneur Joe MacMillion sits at a desk in front of a large computer, in the 90s. He’s wearing a leather jacket and glasses. The walls are exposed brick, it’s the big loft office space.

Two weeks ago I had Cameron Howe on this list. One week ago it was Donna. And after I finished a recreational re-watch of the entire series, I surprised myself by landing on Joe. He’s charismatic, he’s nimble, he’s brilliant, he’s overbearing, he’s impulsive. Of all the central characters in this universe, he’s got the furthest to climb into what his peers would call “integrity,” but he sure does get there. But I’m also not sure that it was ever lacking, for me. Ultimately despite the slick exterior, he’s relentlessly loyal to the vision above all else. Certainly above himself. It’s not really about the money, although that’s part of it. He wants to live on the cutting edge, he wants to be in the room where it happens and he is uniquely capable of identifying and fostering talent and pushing it in that direction. I think he and Cameron keep coming back to each other because they both love to think really hard forever and they’re both so bright. Everything he does is in service of “the thing that gets you to the thing.” In some ways I think his bisexuality — which he generally had to obscure to succeed at that time — is often what keeps him a little more humble than the typical handsome white cis male smooth talker. Any queer person can relate to that, how it puts you just far enough outside of things to see what people on the inside can’t touch. His scenes with Haley in the final season make me wish I didn’t hate the word “tender.”

2. Ilana Wexler, Broad City

Ilana is wearing a hoodie that's actually a dog hoodie, and also she has little pigtails. She's at work and is mouthing off to her boss.

Image Description: Ilana is wearing a hoodie that’s actually a dog hoodie, and also she has little pigtails. She’s at work and is mouthing off to her boss.

I think a theme of this list is that I’m drawn to confidence — overconfidence, even, especially when it veers into the absurd. llana is so fucking hungry and horny and hilarious. She has appetites and believes strongly in her right to satiate them. She’s loud and in love with her best friend and starving for adventure above anything resembling pragmatism. She wears crop-tops and flannels and boy’s underpants and dog hoodies, maintains a full bush, smokes copious amounts of weed, falls hard for every executive-class woman in a power suit, yells at strangers about the patriarchy, is pretty sure everyone else is queer too and has the closest thing to a bisexual bob a curly-haired Ashkenazi Jew could ever hope for.

1. Angela Chase, My So-Called Life

Angela Chase, a teenager with red hair in the mid-90s, stares at the camera in a classroom. It's blurry behind her but you can still recognize ricky and brian's backs.

Image Description: Angela Chase, a teenager with red hair in the mid-90s, stares at the camera in a classroom. It’s blurry behind her but you can still recognize ricky and brian’s backs.

I can’t talk about myself about my life about being 13 without talking about when Angela Chase was 15 and it was 1994 and all of our parents had protested actual wars or sometimes even fought in them and we were just kinda-pretty white girls with baby-doll dresses and flannels that swallowed our bones and pretty decent lives and epic endless wells of longing. Just one long longing. I mean I dyed my hair like her. Everything else I needed to be Angela Chase I already had. The crush on a mysterious idiot, the parents fraying at the seams, the relentless over-analysis, the intoxicated/intoxicating best friend. “It’s such a lie that you should do what’s in your heart. If we all did what was in our hearts, the world would grind to a halt.” MY QUEEN


Strongly Considered: Devon (I Love Dick), Villanelle (Killing Eve), Sam Fox (Better Things), Emmett Honeycutt (Queer as Folk), Freckle (The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo), Ruth Fisher (Six Feet Under), Shelli Pfefferman (Transparent), CJ Cregg (The West Wing), Brian Kinney (Queer as Folk), Poussey Washington (Orange is the New Black), Cindy (Orange is the New Black), Tig (One Mississippi), Kermit the Frog (The Muppet Show), Derek Morgan (Criminal Minds), James (The L Word), Leila (The Bisexual), Eric (True Blood)

Riese is the 38-year-old Co-Founder and CEO of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2836 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. Going to quietly sit here and hope for some additional content on James from The L Word in the also rans. Is it just a profound sense of pity?

    Is it because he’s the only person in the history of TLW that appeared to do their job?

    Maybe if his character had been fully explored he may have turned out to be the one character that understood the concept of time.

    • james is a great man who let bette porter yell at him all the time and never complained. honestly he rarely spoke. he was bette’s most loyal bottom. only there to enable her success. patient. again; nearly silent. what a mensch!!

  2. Ilana Wexler is another level. One of my all-time fave episodes is when she & Abbi are in Florida with her(Ilana’s) brother, mother & aunt. That scene around the table smoking the joint is near perfect(wish we saw that whole chemistry even more).

  3. I’d choose Donna if I had to, but Joe, oh my god, I loved Joe and this was one of the most surprising things about Halt and Catch Fire – how the whole show evolved and how this cliche of an antihero became the fully-realized character, so far from the stereotype he was at the beginning. And I have the greatest respect for the writers for making him a bisexual man and miraculously not erasing his bisexuality despite being Cameron’s love interest? And as for the way he looks at Haley in the 4th season – I can still feel it. Like he was looking directly at me.
    What a show it was.
    Thank you for the piece of Halt and Catch Fire propaganda, Riese!

    • yes! that’s so well put about the anti-hero arc!

      and yeah THIS SHOW IS SO GOOD and whenever i tell ppl to watch it often they are like “i tried to but it was boring at first,” which first of all blows my mind because i was captivated from the jump, but also i do feel it picks up for people who aren’t.

      it’s also fascinating to me as a business owner — it gets into team and partner and innovation relationships in a way few, if any, workplace dramas do.

  4. Is it just me or does reading these top ten lists sometimes feel just as personal and revealing as the A+ letter-to-my-ex-type content?

    I, too, have a particular type of doofy straight cisdude character (and, Lorde help me, tv show host) that I can’t help but enjoy.

  5. finally someone as obsessed and finally naming my so called life. i grew up in that show too being the same age as angela at that time. it was so coolm cause many of the good shows out of america whe didnt get to see in germany,also:a gay /trans//non binary character in “ricky” who didnt die(a miracle in 1995). and strong female lead , female friendships., love, mixed messages between love/sex partners etc…..and jared was one of the very very few men i had a crush on back then….he never was more beautiful than there. i re reread the november 1997 issue of SPIN atm which is the “girlpower/feminist” issue, which I hold dear. pretty good articles are in there , it also reviews my so caLLED LIFE and the characters (jordan and angela and capture them perfectly):twice on site 93 and 98+100. recommended: SEE here :https://books.google.de/books?id=Ogux2DAvNU0C&pg=PA78&lpg=PA78&dq=spin+november+1997&source=bl&ots=S3tFByQqmF&sig=Cmlm_ugPj-GbWig-ZcIaitiYYj8&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false a good coverstory on fiona apple as well. this isssue get a mention on dunhams lenny letters as well https://www.lennyletter.com/story/lit-thursday-the-girl-issue.. lena dunham cites the show as an influence too (in on the of the extras on the Girls dvd)and on here https://www.digitalspy.com/tv/ustv/a453953/lena-dunham-my-so-called-life-felicity-inspired-girls/ other articles https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/aug/26/my-so-called-life-claire-danes-show-that-changed-tv 
    https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/8/23/20825876/my-so-called-life-25-claire-danes https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/07/what-i-learned-from-rewatching-my-so-called-life-as-an-adult/492005/

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