In My Top 10 Television Characters, various members of Autostraddle’s 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, Christina Tucker, who loves a hangout comedy and white women going off, shares her feelings.
When I started to put this list together, I thought that I would have to deliver a disclaimer up top, believing that my favorite TV shows change all the time. Surely, I thought, if someone asked me next week, I would pick entirely different shows. I am a growing person, I contain multitudes. When I finished, I was forced to reckon with the fact that is is not true at all. The order might move around a bit, but for the most part, these are the shows I find myself returning to, again and again. On second thought? Of course they haven’t changed, I’m a Taurus.
10. The Morning Show
If you were tempted to close this tab after seeing this — I get that, I really do. I might even deserve it. I started a very dedicated and possibly bonkers Twitter campaign for this show because I love to watch white women behaving badly. In that way, it is like the writers of The Morning Show reached directly into my brain. Did I start my campaign as a bit, possibly because I was bored and possibly because Jennifer Aniston is now 50 and thus my type? Did the bit get out of hand? Who can say! Yet the more I revisit the show (a regular amount, I promise) the more I have come to genuinely appreciate it. Somehow, it managed to create a surprisingly honest depiction of a woman who has to grapple with losing the power she has managed to hold onto for decades, and in doing so, forces her to face the ways she is complicit in holding up the status quo. The show does not hide the lengths rich, white, cis women will go in order to retain a tenuous hold on power, and manages to demonstrate how much easier it is to remain in line with the dominant culture, even if it has a cost.
I must add that The Morning Show uses Jennifer Aniston brilliantly. Not only as an actress, but as Jennifer Aniston — her personal life, her star power, the fact that she has been a fixture of American media for decades. She brings a delicious meta-textual context to the role simply by being in it, and that is the kind of TV I do like. Like when she furiously dresses down a man in the street who thinks he knows her just because she is on his TV all the time. Or the look on her face as she listens to her PR team run down the list of disaster scenarios that could come from announcing a divorce. Also, she sings a four minute long Sondheim duet with Billy Crudup that feels like an out of body experience. Thank you for your time!
Watching Living Single is like taking the perfect bath, one of the ones where you actually fit in the tub and there are candles everywhere and the good bubbles and maybe even a glass of wine. I can put any episode on at any time and I can guarantee that I will feel loved and seen and held and that at least three of Erika Alexander’s line readings will leave me breathless with laughter. I will swoon at Synclaire and Overton and try to not to be too jealous about the fact that Khadijah straight up owns a magazine. (?????? mods????) I don’t even want to bring up the other show that it is forever compared to, because they are not even the same stratosphere when it comes to quality sitcoms. Max and Kyle have one of the best friends to lovers relationships in TV history, that is just fact! Carmen has already written beautifully about Living Single for this series, so I will leave it here: It is a perfect sitcom; I have zero notes.
8. The Good Fight
While many of my fine colleagues have written about The Good Wife — a show I deeply love — I am here to say that The Good Fight is incredible, and the perfect show for the times we are living in. It takes a while for it to find the right tone, but when it gets there, it is an absolute joy to watch. I mean, the premise is basically “Christine Baranski loses a bunch of money and ends up as a diversity hire at a Black law firm.” Who can look me in the eye and tell me they don’t want to see that!?
There are wonderful jokes (“America Goes Poddy” is a perfectly tongue in cheek reference to Pod Save America), surprisingly nuanced thinking about complicated issues, and simply the greatest TV show credits. The cast includes Delroy Lindo, Cush Jumbo, Audra McDonald, and features recurring guests like Bernadette Peters, Andrea Martin, Judith Light and Michael Sheen! There is a song about Roy Cohn that I still get stuck in my head! I have always loved procedurals, and this take on the comforting structure that I am used to is such a delight to watch. Also, this is a real moment from the show, not something I dreamt in a fugue state. God, this show slaps.
7. Pushing Daisies
Speaking of zany procedurals! The first time I watched Pushing Daisies, I had just had an infected wisdom tooth removed. I was recovering in my parent’s basement, absolutely out of my mind on painkillers, reclining on a nest I built out of a blow up mattress and couch cushions. The two seasons of this private investigator slash romantic comedy gem sped past in a delightful haze. After I healed, I wasn’t sure if I had hallucinated this witty, sexy and brightly colored show — so I went back and re-watched. I was delighted to find that it was not a dream, but a fully realized, entirely winning show. Lee Pace is perfectly pitched as a sad, handsome pie maker with a gift to bring things back to life — a gift that comes with a number of complications. Anna Friel is an underrated member of the manic pixie dream girl cannon, and a spunky side-kick slash love interest. Chi McBride is the ideal curmudgeonly private investigator, and any show that knows it should dedicate full on musical numbers to Kristin Chenoweth is a show that I am fated to love forever. It’s tragic that the show only lasted for two seasons, but sometimes the best things in life just aren’t meant to last.
6. New Girl
After a brief detour to the land of the procedural, I happily return to the hangout comedy genre with New Girl. This is the best friendship sitcom of the mid-aughts, featuring two of my favorite TV couples of all time: Nick and Jess and Schmidt and Cece. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched this show, and almost every minute of it holds up — yes even the early episodes where Schmidt’s douchebaggery was dialed up a touch too high. It makes his growth over the seasons even more satisfying! I should note here that I am a Schmidt Sun with a Rising Cece and a Winston moon, so it is possible I am biased when it comes to Schmidt. The jokes in this show always make me laugh, the romance always makes me giddy, and watching a group of five dummies push each other to be better and want more for themselves is the kind of television I return to again and again. New Girl also wins the “Best Use of Beloved Character Actors as Parents” award, an award that I just made up but should be included in the Emmys as soon as possible. Anyone up for True American?
5. Grey’s Anatomy
I am a sucker for a perfect pilot episode. I love an episode that immediately sets the tone and point of view of the show, one that allows you to find new things every time you watch. It’s probably hard to remember the first season of Grey’s given that the show is currently barreling into its seventeenth season, but trust me, it is perfect. There are so many reasons I love Grey’s: Callie Torres, Addison Adrianne Forbes Montgomery-Shepherd, the music, Bailey, The Chief, “it’s a beautiful day to save lives,” the sparkle pager, Mark Sloan — I could go on. But the reason I come back to Grey’s again and again is because of Meredith and Cristina. I have watched what some might call “a lot” of TV and this is one of my favorite portrayals of friendship. Meredith and Cristina click right away, but they are wary — of each other, of their own feelings, of trusting another person. But at the end of the day, they understand each other. It’s not until the second season that Cristina begrudgingly tells Meredith: “You’re my person,” a line that is so simply written, so flawlessly delivered that it instantly became iconic. It takes time for them to build their friendship, but it is the strongest relationship either of them have.
Everything about their ten years of on screen friendship is wonderful — dancing out their feelings to Tegan and Sara, pushing each other to be better in surgery, Derek walking into his bedroom to find Cristina there and knowing them well enough to walk away or lie down and go to sleep without comment. They have realistic fights about their marriages and their careers and what they want out of life, but they always come back to each other. When Cristina leaves, she tells Meredith: “He is very dreamy, but he is not the sun. You are.” May we all have a friendship like that.
When the first season of Fleabag ended, I said to myself “Well, that was perfect, no need for anymore of that.” I mean, how often do people create a perfect, self contained first season of television and then a second one that is just as good? Funnily enough, Phoebe Waller Bridge didn’t either, because she managed to create a perfect first season and an even better second season. When I say Fleabag is one of my favorite TV shows, I do technically mean both seasons, but it is the second season that stays with me.
I watched it all in one night, vacillating from helpless laughter (Olivia Coleman’s line readings!!!) to shocked surprise (“Where did you just go?”) and when it was over I sent profanity littered texts about it to one of my best friends, then watched the entire season again. This one almost feels self explanatory, I mean, look at that jumpsuit — how could it not be on my list? I don’t know that any show I have ever watched has more efficiently punched a hole in my heart and then had the absolute nerve to play “This Feeling” afterwards. Thinking about it right now makes me feel weepy! I love it!
3. 30 Rock
People often tell me that I am funny. I appreciate that, but I always wonder if they realize how many of my jokes are straight up 30 Rock quotes. Would you like to know why I forgot to do a task? “Cooking a French Bread Pizza and Forgot.” If you tell me something that crappy that happened to you? I’m gonna tell you that it is just like “the movie Hard to Watch based on the novel Stone Cold Bummer by Manipulate.” Anytime I have a problem? Look, “I know it’s gay, but it’s my gay problem and I am handling it!”
I could go on, but I think my point has been made. This show hit me at the exact right time in my life and is precisely dialed into my comedic sensibilities. It knows exactly how to use every actor and personality in the cast, and it knows what to do with every guest star. Has there been a better use of Brian Williams then his iconic appearances as himself but the living worst? I submit there has not. Dot Com is my hero, Jenna’s rage stroke induced nosebleeds are incredible, Elaine Strich’s performance was a gift, and most importantly? I will never, ever go with a hippie to a second location.
ER was the first show I got permission to stay up past my bedtime to watch. I discovered it during the lazy summers of the early aughts, when TNT had their (iconic) block of “Primetime in the Daytime” programming. Every weekday, I would race home after a morning of swim practice just in time to spend two glorious hours at Country General Hospital. ER is a little bit of everything I love: hints of procedural, rooted in friendship and good mentorship, and you better believe the white ladies on this show had their fair share of dramatics! Before it graced our Hulu screens, I spent way too much money on [number redacted] of seasons, and I was thrilled that that it held up, even twenty five years later. This is another entry in my personal perfect pilots list! Everything is dialed up to 11 — this is an emergency room! — the hallways are crammed with people and medical equipment and you are whipped along for the ride.
ER has one of the most iconic casts of all time. It is wild to watch George Clooney on the small screen, it can barely handle the force of his charisma. Julianna Margulies has a face like the sun; she is given such a dark arc from the start of the show and she absolutely crushes it. John Cater and Peter Benton have such a sweet friendship, I could not believe how hard I cried when Eriq La Salle left the show. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Kerry Weaver’s coming out was the first I saw on TV, and even though I didn’t have the language for it then, it was one of the first things I wanted to revisit after I came out. Also? Maura Tierney. Double also? Alex Kingston.
1. The West Wing
Here it is, the winner of Christina’s Perfect TV Pilot! Also the winner of the coveted “TV Pilot Christina Has Mostly Memorized!” and the slightly less well known “This Show is Flawed, but so am I, Here is My Heart” award! No matter how many times I watch it, the first episode of The West Wing thrills me, from the classic Sorkin dialogue to the often mocked and replicated walk and talks, to the incredible introduction of Jed Bartlett.
I know every single criticism of TWW and agree with most of them! Still, it is the show I can always put on, it is the ultimate comfort TV. I had an annoying day last week and I put on “Galileo.” If I have a really bad day, I’ll put on “18th and Potomac” and follow it up with “Two Cathedrals.” Sometimes I crave specific moments, like CJ telling Danny she likes Goldfish, “the cheese things you have at a party,” not actual goldfish, or Abby exasperatedly telling Jed the answer to his crossword: “END, you idiot, Bitter END,” or Jed giving Charlie his family’s knife for Thanksgiving. My (seemingly) eternal love of The West Wing is the most I have ever identified with the phrase the heart wants what it wants, which is perhaps a worrying fact to have committed to the page. My feelings about the show’s politics has shifted over the years, I have only gotten more progressive and less tolerant of the both sides discourse, and the concept of good white people nobly doing the right thing is less enticing than ever. The more I stopped expecting The West Wing to provide my personal political roadmap, the more I am able to love it for what it is: a damn good TV show. The longest break I have ever taken from it was after the 2016 election — turns out nothing is infallible. The mix of humor and hope, the ruminations on what complex choices do to your morals, and the absolutely incredible acting — it just works. It’s my favorite TV show, flaws and all. What’s next?
Shows that almost made the list: Sex and The City, Jane the Virgin, Happy Endings, Glee, Judging Amy, Law and Order, Friday Night Lights, The L-Word, Madam Secretary and probably three million others!