Top Characters and Performances of 2017

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With the year at its end, what would be a better time than to highlight the various actors, if not characters, of 2017?

Television

Amy Beth McNulty as Anne – Anne (Anne with an E)

Amy Beth McNulty as Anne of Green Gables

Though I personally am not familiar with the past adaptions of Anne of Green Gables, you can see with the Anne remake, co-produced by CBC and Netflix, there was a serious effort to make a new classic. All of which, rested on the shoulders of 16-year-old Amy Beth McNulty. A young actress without much in the way of screen credits who I can guarantee, in episode one, will make you fall for her. On top of that, as she explores the emotions of the character, you’ll likely find yourself consistently bawling in tears as you hope that, one day, if you want kids, you’d have a daughter like Anne.

I’d even say, not to be disparaging, if any Netflix actress should have been nominated for a Golden Globe, it should have been her over Katherine Langford.


Freddie Highmore as Shaun Murphy – The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor Season 1 Episode 1 Burnt Food [Series Premiere] - Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore)
Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore)
Arguably, and this issue will be repeated for Kei Gilchrist, Freddie Highmore isn’t really pushing himself when it comes to playing characters who seemingly lack social skills. Whether you look at his stint on Bates Motel, his recent film, Almost Friends, and the majority of his work, pretty much the only thing that separates them from Shaun is an actual diagnosis. Yet, as much as people may want to applaud actors with range, you have to also take note of actors who know what they are good at and focus on perfecting that.

I mean, you can either be the jack of all trades or master of one and I think Highmore, similar to Gilchrist, alongside Kristen Stewart, has honed in on this socially inept persona. But, focusing specifically on Highmore, like Gilchrist, he brings heart to a type of character we rarely ever see – especially as the lead character. Now, I’ll admit, a lot of sappy storylines help bolster Highmore, including his interactions with Dylan Kingwell, noted below. However, the hold Highmore has as he nods his head and looks off into the distance; him slowly, but surely, winning over his critics; and this relationship with his brother that, even 15 – 20 years later, he shows how much it meant to him, like with McNulty, leads to the type of performance which repeatedly will bring you to tears.


Melora Hardin as Jaqueline – The Bold Type

The Bold Type Season 1 Episode 10 Carry the Weight [Season Finale] - Jacqueline holding the weights of justice

Unfortunately, we live in a world where complex and messy for female characters usually means unstable personal lives which include infidelity, murder, abuse, and things of that nature. Hardin as Jacqueline sidestepped all that. She was able to play every part of what it can potentially mean to be a woman in the modern age. She played a maternal figure, the powerhouse feminist, the wife, and yet also a few things which showed she isn’t all powerful. She is a survivor of rape and someone who, from what we often have seen, can be the only woman in the room. Yet, while the young ladies of The Bold Type maybe the more often featured stars, the one who is truly #Goals is Jacqueline.


Dylan Kingwell as Steve/ Evan – The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor Season 1 Episode 1 Burnt Food [Series Premiere] - Steve (Dylan Kingwell)
Steve (Dylan Kingwell)
No lead can be at their best without a supporting actor or actress to build them up. To add the details that can’t easily be said by the lead without being awkward. That is what Kingwell did in The Good Doctor. Arguably, every feeling you have for Highmore as Shaun, is built upon the work Kingwell does as Steve. Then, when we see him as a patient named Evan, so begins this deep desire to hope that, similar to Steve Urkel and other characters who were just meant to be guest stars, maybe he could become recurring.

Something that remains but a wish, but to be on a show just for a stint and inspire the fan base to hope you’ll stay longer? That is something to applaud.


Antonia Thomas as Dr. Clare Browne – The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor Season 1 Episode 10 Sacrifice [Mid-Season Finale] - Claire

There is a reason that this list is noted as best performances and/or characters. For some, you have to separate the two, but Thomas is one of the handful who can fit both categories. As Dr. Browne, she is given an excellent character who faces the trauma of killing a patient, gender discrimination, racial discrimination, and Thomas takes her nearly 7 years of experience and arguably competes with Highmore for the top spot.

And, to add on to the feather in her cap, you can tell someone saw something so good in her performance they had to drop her romance angle. If only because pigeonholing her into that nonsense would have been a clear injustice.


Sarah Gadon as Grace – Alias Grace

Alias Grace Season 1 Episode 1 Part 1 [Series Premiere] - Sarah Gadon

Like with Amy Beth McNulty, you have another Netflix feature, co-produced by the CBC, which should get more accolades than it has. Though, if we were to solely focus on adults, Gadon shouldn’t just be nominated but possibly win. A lot of shows try to build up a mystery, this idea of who did it, why, and are we being played, but no one, in my recollection, handled such a task like Gadon.

From the beginning, she’ll have you question if you are in on the mystery or you yourself are being played. She puts you in the position of Dr. Jordan as you question what is a lie or the truth? Are you falling for her charms as many seemed to have, or are you maintaining a clear head? This amount of manipulation usually requires you being trapped in a theater with no distractions to keep a hold of you. However, unlike many an actor, in general, there is something about Gadon which grabs an invisible scarf around your neck and entrances you. Damn near turning you to stone as if she was a gorgon.


Peyton Elizabeth Lee as Andi – Andi Mack

It may seem strange to include a Disney Channel character and actress, but arguably they are far too overlooked in post-Girl Meets World Disney. Andi Mack was perhaps the first show to benefit from the boundaries Girl Meets World drew back and Peyton Elizabeth Lee was given a potentially legendary character on a silver platter. I’m talking her generation’s Raven or Lizzie McGuire.

The reason I say this is because Andi is allowed to be complicated, despite her age. One of the big highlights though is her handling of her crush Jonah. Someone who, like many girls are depicted to do, she bends over backwards for to get him to like her. Yet, by the end of the first season, that ends. She does more than stand up for herself but gives the kind of speech I can imagine not just young girls, but women, boys, and even men wish they had the fortitude to say at one time in their lives.

And even separating the Jonah storyline, the way she and the character handles learning her mother is her grandmother and sister is her mom, takes your usual soap opera storyline and ignores being over the top. It addresses the multitude of issues involved with living this lie for 13 years and trying to rearrange things to fit this new normal.


Lauren Tom as CeCe – Andi Mack

Andi Mack Season 2 Episode 4 Mama - Celia

 

Of which, Lauren Tom as CeCe is such a crutch. I mean, though Lee handles the show fine on her own, when it comes to really driving a sense of emotion and culture within the show, that is when Tom comes in. Whether she talks about the immigrant experience and how that affects her life, her relationship with her daughter, or you take note of how Andi is kind of her do-over, she makes it so her absence is felt when not in the scene.


Sofia Wylie as Buffy – Andi Mack

Andi-Mack---s2e1---Buffy

 

The last noteworthy character to mention from Andi Mack is Buffy. Now, at first, admittedly, she just seemed like a token. Granted, our lead is Asian so that may sound odd, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one show not have at least one token Black character. Which, again, is what Buffy seemed until she got developed.

Once we got to know Buffy, you had to appreciate what she represented for Black girls. The show addresses hair policing with her, makes her ridiculously athletic, gives her a very Type-A and yet also we see her softer side too. With her mom not being around much, we see her gravitate to Bex in season one. Also, there is her relationship with Cyrus in which she is the first one he comes out to and her support you can tell means the world to him. Then there is Marty.

Now, Marty and Buffy’s situation can only really be called just that. For, as a sort of opposite to what we see with Andi, we are shown a young woman who knows herself well and can read what is going on. She asks pertinent questions and while she can and does get smitten, she isn’t left dumbfounded. Something I’m sure is a real highlight for girls who may feel like they don’t see characters like Buffy, in her various aspects, being crafted for the silver screen.


Anneliese van der Pol as Chelsea – Raven’s Home

Raven's Home Season 1 Episode 7 Dancing Tween - Overview Recap (with Spoilers) - Chelsea taking control

To be frank, I thought Chelsea was a horrible character when Raven’s Home began. She is a grown woman who supposedly ran a business and is raising a child but seemed like your classic Disney parent depicted as an idiot. The only change being that Raven was made into the responsible mom while Chelsea plays the idiot father. Yet, as the show tipped its hat to its adult audience, so did the flower bloom. Chelsea being an air head could be seen as her still lost and bewildered by losing everything thanks to her husband. Maybe reverting back to who she was, when life was simple, just long enough to mentally and emotionally recover.

That is, until Raven needed her to woman up because she was struggling on her own. Thus leading to, thanks to the kids, us seeing the boss Chelsea became after That’s So Raven ended. Showing us, in a matter of, what? 10 episodes? So much that back in the day, again before Girl Meets World, could take a whole series.


Pamela Adlon as Sam – Better Things

Better Things Season 2 Episode 7 Blackout - Sam

While I love Pamela Adlon, this is a Freddie Highmore situation where you don’t get the vibe she is stretching her acting muscles that much. Yet, there is no denying Sam is one of the top 5 compelling characters on this list. A former child star, who still acts and does voice acting, raising three kids with the most “Shoot me now!” kind of personalities. Yet, despite how gruff she can be, she is like this pit bull with a heart of gold.

Whether you’re talking about her relationship with men, and the trauma in her life which makes it hard for her to deal with a potentially good relationship; her relationship with her mom, which is rife with issues; or the back and forth she experiences with her two older daughters Max and Frankie, Adlon has truly evolved Better Things beyond its original perception. Which, at least for me, was a remixed version of Louie.

 

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Author: Amari Sali

New Jersey native Amari Sali takes the approach of more so being a media advisor than a critic to sort of fill in the gap left between casual fans of media and those who review productions for a living. Thus being open about bias while still giving enough insight, often with spoilers, to present whether something is worth seeing, buying, renting, streaming, or checking out at all.

An avid writer, Amari hopes to eventually switch from talking about other people’s productions to fully working on his own. Such a dream is in progress to becoming reality.

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