This site will work and look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"Spank your inner moppet!"
11973 members | you are not logged in | 28 September 2020


September 09 2008

Best TV characters of all time. Zoe Washburne and Willow Rosenberg are the two Jossverse characters that feature in's rundown. Though Whedon alum in other guises do appear on the list as well.

No question in my mind, Willow is the best TV character ever created. Buffy is also up there, but Willow floats my boat like no other. Indelible!
Wesley would top my list. I can't think of another character who realistically went through as big a change as he without ever (at least not that comes to mind) contradicting what we knew about him. Also, he's cool!
Nice to see the love for Veronica Mars and Bill Adama. But Sylar? Seriously? He was one-dimensional to begin with, and in the second season he was just annoying.

As far as the Whedonverse people: Willow's a good choice, but I'm with Jobo--Wesley should own this list. Best character arc in any TV show, ever.*

*I haven't actually watched every TV show ever, so I 'm speaking hyperbolically.

But it's still true. ;-)

That tag belongs on the Best Tags Of All Time list.


(I have a tendency to become incoherent on this subject.)
Zoe rocks. I'm going to join the Wesley chorus. There's no character more dynamic.
I fifth the Wesley motion!
Got to go with Willow myself. In anyone else's hands, she'd have been Unaired Pilot Willow until the end of the series. Instead, we got a conflicted, complex character with more layers than my grandma's prize-winning stack cakes; a real sweetheart with some killer character flaws.
I'm on the Willow team. You've just gotta love her!
Wesley from Buffy-but-mainly-Angel (but it's a close run thing between him and Spike) maybe Zoe from 'Firefly' (but probably - just - Wash instead) and Fred would be my just from 'Angel' pick. And yes, that is blatant cheating ;).

Very, very weird list - in amongst a swathe of characters that most assuredly deserve to be on there we've got CJ Parker from 'Baywatch'. Can I get a plate of Huh with a side order of WTF ?
Hmmmm, interesting. I don't think Zoe and Willow are particularly brilliant characters compared to the other great character Joss has created. Mal, Kaylee, River, Angel, Wesley, Illyria, Buffy, Spike, Giles, and Fray are examples of character that I think are better than these.

But who takes the crown? Wesley, of course. Saying that Willow or Zoe... or anyone really... have more depth than him is like comparing a kiddy pool with Splish Splash.

[ edited by patxshand on 2008-09-09 21:18 ]
I think Spike still gets my vote for best Whedon character. I think the way that Spike was used by all of the writers to complement all the other characters in Buffy is beyond compare. Although I could be biased since I just watched "Lovers Walk" from season three and his role in that episode is fresh in my mind.

There's very little that's old here. No Andy Griffith, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, MASH. Black sitcoms seem to never be on these lists, either. I know I wasn't the only one watching Good Times reruns in the 90s.
Always nice to see all the Wes love here. I would have picked him and good old Spikey as best Whedon characters, though I really love them all, Fred, Mal, Giles, Buffy, Willow, Xander, etc.

Also nice to see Gob from AD on the list, excellent character. Would have liked to see anyone from WW or Sports Night on there and some more Simpsons, especially Bart & Lisa also are great.
I'm shocked, and I honestly do not understand the Wesley love with regard to the question of "best TV characters of all time." It is not that I do not find him a compelling character; I do. I just think that compared to Willow, he does not hold a candle to her. I think were you to go outside the Whedon world, you would find a hell of a lot more people who know who Willow is compared to those who know of Wesley- and this is not about who undergoes the most change, but who is the best TV character. From that perspective, Willow rules. As does Buffy- everyone knows who Buffy is, hardly everyone knows who Wesley is.

For me, Gil Grissom is up there. Willow is up there. I'd put Sophie up there, though she's new. Homer Simpson. Archie Bunker.
I've always love these discussions because I tend to learn a point to a character I've never realized before. Wonderful!

For the record, my favorite is Willow with Jayne a close second.
Interesting. I love Zoe and have always held that she's the most under-appreciated Firefly character. I don't know about the best T.V. character of all time, though! If she'd been given a couple more seasons, I could see that happening.
What's in that bottle,a "peetal fig?"
I don't want to get into the realm of my-favourite-character's-better... I just know that Wesley wins for me because his is the arc I rewatch. A lot. And I know that in that Willow and Wes scene in Orpheus, I felt that Willow's been-there-done-that attitude to evil somehow cheapened what Wes had been through... I can't really judge them like that though, I just identify with Wesley and not Willow. *shrugs*

Dana5140... my favourite shows are almost all things that nobody in real life has ever heard of or watched, so if the list were none of my favourite characters would qualify (Wesley, Kaylee, Lee Adama, Logan Echolls, Jaye Tyler...)

Benton Fraser! *happy place*
My utterly random list of best characters:

Number 6 (The Prisoner)
Homer Simpson
Ralph Kramden
Barney Phyfe
Sgt. Bilko
I know some Lost fans aren't thrilled with the way Ben became a major character and dominated Seasons 3 and 4, but he's one of the best villains on TV right now and I kinda love him. Glad he made the list as opposed to another less compelling but fan-favorite pick from the series.

Heh, for the nerdier/nostalgia picks...I know why they put them there, it's more a fun fanboyism list than a serious assessment of the best characters...but if I can put on my Transformers hat for a second, Optimus Primal from the CG-animated `90s Transformers series Beast Wars (and Beast Machines) was more fleshed out and they did a lot more with him than what was done with the original Prime in the `80s cartoon, the excellent `80s animated movie/bridge, and even the recent live-action big screen film. I love the original too, but Beast Wars was the consistently genuinely well-written bit of animated sci-fi with the compelling arc and characters who weren't just walking toy commercials.

Nice to see some Freaks & Geeks love in there, dunno if Bill was my favorite though. I loved all the characters, but I'm more likely to pick a Freak than a Geek.

Al Swearingen from Deadwood, natural choice.

Dexter. Man am I ready for Season 3. Although, they recognize the brilliance of Michael C. Hall and the show's writing staff, mention at least four other HBO leading men from other shows, but not one character from Six Feet Under ?

Yay Futurama, but there're characters I like better than Bender from that (though I like/love 'em all).

Zoe, uhh...Gina Torres awesome, Zoe too, but there were more than a couple better/more interesting/gifted-with-more-screentime-and-development-and-fan-making-scenes characters in Firefly/Serenity.

Willow's a tough one...I enjoyed watching her specifically as one of many standouts among the main and recurring cast more from Seasons 1 through 4, maybe 5 (had big TV-crush in Seasons 2 and 3), then aside from some phenominal acting scenes, she just sorta became Buffy's support staff and wasn't so much the character to tune in for (though arguably all the characters became more and more equally important in the ensemble and draw of the show and they were all like that).

Wesley was awesome, but he wasn't all that special until end-of-Season-1 (Faith, the season finale), maybe mid-way-through-Season-2. I love that he started off light (Buffy Season 3), but in retrospect he wasn't as compelling almost all the way through as Willow was. Even so, the strongest parts of his character arc were more interesting to me than most of Willow's. Wesley's "dark" phase (having the burden of worrying about and then stealing Connor, being with Lila, on the outs with Angel) was put together better than Willow's magic addiction issues and the end of Season 6 (sans flaying-'n-burning Warren and the very ending of the finale with Xander and the crying).

I dunno, they should both be on the list ? That way you get a Buffy pick and an Angel pick.

I want Sheriff Lucas Buck from American Gothic on there. One of my favorite TV-villains, lightyears better than Sylar (who I enjoy as a seething stock villain on Heroes, hopefully they improve upon the already sorta-compelling base).

[ edited by Kris on 2008-09-09 22:32 ]
Spike's still my favorite, but Wesley's pretty impressive too.
You can guess from my log in name who my vote is for.
Some of the biggest laughs (What's a rogue demon? Guise will be guise)and some of the most gut-wrenching scenes (mid-season 3 and Not Fade Away)all from the same character.

Who could have thought that a character that started off with the emotional maturity of a blueberry scone on Buffy, would become so much. Good on the writers and Alexis.

Shows how character development should be done on TV.
I was just thinking that it would be awesome to know what Joss' list would look like....

I'm guessing Buffy would be close to the top...
Got to add to the Wesley love. A truly great character, consistently written and very well acted.
Good points all. I've always considered "BtVS" like an onion. Depending how you slice, dice, or peel back the layers, that's how you'll see it.
I like the oniony view.
Although im hoping there's no crying with the peeling here?
But again, this is not about favorite character; it is about "best character." My favorite character is Tara, of course, but I would not put her on this list. Wesley had an interesting arc, but it is not akin to Willow's in terms of growth or evil- and had not the cultural impact Willow did in terms of her lesbianism. Again, certainly more people outside our world know of Willow than of Wesley.
Yay to Willow and Zoe for making the list. Two of the best tv characters ever!
I have to question Zoe. I mean, out of all of the great characters that were fully developed in only fourteen episodes they have to go with who, in my opinion, is the worst. I'm sorry, I just don't like Zoe much. She has very little personality to me and I'm good with reading characters. It's kind of a skill of mine. Of course, I'd never put my favorite, Simon, on a list like this. It'd have to Mal for a best list.

Also, I can understand having only one character for each show on this list and how it'd be a problem. They touched on it in the Omar "Wire" writeup. Buffy suffers from this because there are so many great characters. Again, I'd put Giles as the best and not my favorite, Xander. Willow is a fine substitute. She really is great. And I don't know why there isn't an Angel character. But if there were it'd have to Wesley. He's the only character that I would say is both my favorite and the best. Maybe not the best ever, close though, but my favorite character. I love Wes.

I know some Lost fans aren't thrilled with the way Ben became a major character and dominated Seasons 3 and 4, but he's one of the best villains on TV right now and I kinda love him. Glad he made the list as opposed to another less compelling but fan-favorite pick from the series.

This is strange. Normally Ben is considered one of the best characters with Locke and Des. At least around where I hang. I guess if you were one of those crazed shippers who care less about actual character and more about whose necking who then you may not like him. But then again, you probably sympathize with Kate and believe she's a good character so your opinion is null and void. Sorry, I don't mean to offend anyone, I'm merely exaggerating, but Kate on the whole offends me.

Oh, and I don't believe by any means that Ben is a villain. He's played more as a foil to create tension for the other characters. It's easy to see him as a villain but he doesn't have evil motives. He's only sometimes a bit selfish. I also have to comment on his place on the list, he deserves it but so does Locke. Both could and should be on this thing but it's that whole one character per show thing.

But really, I could go on about problems with this list but you have to look at it's target audience,your average male video gamer. That's why you get stereotypical "cool" characters like Optimus and the hot chicks like Pam Anderson in Baywatch. 'Tis the problem with pandering. Of course, we'd get every Whedon character ever on our list since they're all so great.
Rogue Demon Hunter, Joss has posted a list on Whedonesque before. I'll leave finding it as an exercise....

Anyway: Willow and Zoe are great choices (and terrific pictures!), though so would Wesley, Spike, Giles, Mal, River, Xander, Lilah, Buffy, Angel.... I think differentiating "best" from "favourite" is a difficult task when it comes to characters, but suffice it to say that there are a lot of Jossverse characters to love. (I'd vote for River and Willow as my top two, with maybe Mal as third.)

As far as the new Wesley vs. Willow debate that seems to have begun: I wonder if Aly and Alexis have this argument over dinner nightly? ("Ohh, I stole a baby because of a vague prophesy, look at me, I'M dark." "At least I never had a plotline where I was addicted to magic crack." "Hey, it got better! I killed the crack dealer and it was dark and I was veiny it was good! And it was the real crack dealer, not a ROBOT, like your father!")

Glad to see some love for Gob Bluth, House, Dwight Schrute, Spock, Adama, Veronica Mars; a bit uncertain about Sylar and Ben Linus, although they are at the very least some of the most charismatic performers on both shows. (And Michael Emerson really is amazing as the sometimes haphazardly written Ben.)

And I haven't seen the new "Terminator" show or, regrettably, "HIMYM," so I can't comment on those picks except to say Go Summer and Go NPH!
For me, it will always hold strong that the best characters with the best and most development throughout the run of the show are Spike, Willow and Wesley - in that exact order (no way undermining the amazingness of the rest of the chars). These three are well-written (a given) but so excellently developed without force and such insight, you could write essays about them and never get bored.
Have to echo everyone here!

WilliamTheB; Ooo, I love that. I can even imagine them (if in a very goofy mood) actually doing that. I'm tempted to try to link this over at AHAS, altho I really should link the article itself more.

Dana5140: I sent an email to Art Caplan, your colleague at U of Penn, an email responding to his column on the Vice-Presidency and, for nor eason other than your lines of work, mentioned you ina P.S.
I really love all the Wesley love on whedonesque! He gets my vote too. I think his character arc was handled perfectly; I was captivated by him, every step of the way (ok, so not right at the start, but once I did start to love him, it stuck). Willow's story arc occasionally felt clumsy; for instance during the whole magic drug phase she lost my empathy for a while. Yes, she is much better known to the general public, however if we use that logic Buffy should be the best character as she is the most well known of the 'verse. Granted Willow scores major props for her cultural impact as a lesbian icon, but overall I just never felt that her character arc was handled as well as Wesley’s. And while Spike's arc came close, I felt his final scene in Buffy was cheapened by his resurrection in Angel (while he had some great moments there, the whole time I couldn't help but feel he was wasting the little remaining screen time for the real main characters of Angel) and I never had as strong as an emotional attachment to his character as I did with Wes.
Willow is the best character ever created. No doubt about it. Both amazing writing, and Aly's talent created someone who feels more real than people I talk to every day.
Hmmm. If someone were to point something really sharp at me and *make* me choose I would have to say Wesley. Yes, Willow went dark but it was after a sudden shock to her world where as Wesley evolved into the kind of person that would take on such a responsibility like thwarting a prophecy where as before he'd stutter and do nothing. It was just... different. He was ultimately changed where as with Willow, she just had her moments but then recovered to more or less who she's always been.
But honestly I love almost all of the characters in the whole Whedonverse. (Although I gotta say I still kind of wish Jonathan hadn't been the one to bite it and Andrew had. Sorry! I like him well enough, but... well, I just liked Jonathan better.)
No offense to Zoe, but I'd put other Firefly peeps above her. Mal, at least.
Limiting the choice to within the Whedonverse (hardly seen enough TV to go for all-time bests), I'd say Wes for the Best Arc, Buffy for the character I felt most attached to, but Mal for the Best Character - moral, yet devious; strong, but flawed; funny, but tragic. Knocked my socks off, he did.
Of course Willow's my favorite character because as a lesbian computer nerd I'm totally biased. I think she's one of the best because she's all that plus complex, passionate and has depth.

Before Willow, TV and film was full of nerds that I found painful to watch. They always went overboard with the insecurity or either desperately wanting to be popular or hating the popular to the point of being pretentious...IOW emotionally stunted. (Brian in the Breakfast Club is a notable exception.)

Of course now complex nerds are in. ;)
For someone to put Zoe as one of the best TV characters of all time is problematic, because Serenity changed her, and that change probably contributed to this placement.
skittledog said:
I don't want to get into the realm of my-favourite-character's-better... I just know that Wesley wins for me because his is the arc I rewatch. A lot. And I know that in that Willow and Wes scene in Orpheus, I felt that Willow's been-there-done-that attitude to evil somehow cheapened what Wes had been through... I can't really judge them like that though, I just identify with Wesley and not Willow. *shrugs*

I myself really loved that bit of the Orpheus. It really showed the differences in the characters: Wesley went through hell and came out totally different, Willow on the other hand came out the same in the core. Changed alot of course, but somehow still the Willow from season 1.

For me Willow wins on all counts, the character development, the story archs and the actor. But I do see why some people feel the opposite.
I would pick Wes or Buffy over Willow. When I first watched the show, I really related to Willow. Then slightly before she got evil, I couldn't relate to her anymore. Even when I watch earlier Buffy I just don't feel the Willow love. She went from being one of my favorites to being one of my least favorites.

I don't know, maybe I still haven't forgiven her for messing with Tara's mind...
I'll go with Willow, but only because Spike isn't on the list. If you go through the entire list and put asider the genetically encoded penchant for going for a Jossverse character, it would be a really tough pick.
Tony Soprano, Dexter, Muldar, Adama.
I'd be really tempted to vote for Adama, except it pissed me off that the just as deserving women of BSG are ignored, Laura Roslin and Starbuck.

I loved that they picked someone from The Wire (Omar) because no show has ever had a richer roster of amazingly developed characters. Although I would have gone with either Stringer or Avon, as readily as Omar.
The most glaring omission in my book, is Nate from Six Feet Under. The arc of Peter Kruase's amazing and ultimately tragic character was consistently compelling, and ended up in such a different place than I think most anyone would have predicted, without ever hitting a false note.

Nice to see the Cameron love too, as new as the show is. Also Don Draper, a pleasant surprise.
I have to agree that Willow was the best pick for Buffy. I think she's the best pick for the whole Whedonverse. She had such amazing growth through the show and was, in the end, the same old Willow we all know and love. I think it's hard to put a character through so much and have them change but still feel familiar. This is something that was achieved with Willow and just done brilliantly.

Good to also see Dr Christian Troy, Charlie Kelly, Dwight Schrute, GOB Bluth, and Barney Stinson on the list. My favorite characters from their respective shows.
Um, I'm sure I'm going to end up feeling like a total moron here, but .... am I the only one who can't find where you actually vote? Do you have to sign in for "comments"?

Or maybe it's something with my pop-up blocker. I also can't get the videos to play, and I could before.
As my screen name show as well, I am all for the Spikey love! But I also have to throw in a bow for good ol' Wes. Angel, Anya and Miss Buffy herself are also favorites of mine!
Before we fall off the front page, I'd just like to say I've really enjoyed this thread for giving me the perspective of Willow-loving people... which sounds a silly sort of thing to say, but it has - I've really never found her that special a character myself but it's nice to see people who really love her and get this much from her arc. I find it interesting that we all seem to judge a character's journey by how intense an arc was, combined with how true to self the character stayed.

Eerikki said:
It really showed the differences in the characters: Wesley went through hell and came out totally different, Willow on the other hand came out the same in the core. Changed alot of course, but somehow still the Willow from season 1.

*grins* see for me, I felt Willow reset too thoroughly - that she was too much the same, like her slate had been wiped clean... where with Wes, whilst I definitely feel he is still the same person, I also see growth and scars from what he's been through. With Willow... they just don't seem to be there all the time, which feels odd to me.

Anyway. I never cease to be amazed at how Wesley in his Buffy episodes is absolutely the guy I came to know and love in Angel - it's all there, right at the start. That's crazy good, for a character who wasn't much more than a joke to begin with.
Setting aside the question of "who are the greatest Whedon show characters", because, hey, there are an awful lot of good candidates (though the "Willow is the only possible correct answer" attitude is a bit off-putting, frankly) - I'll throw Angel (at least on his own series) out there, too, just because he doesn't always get a mention - oh, and Cordelia! No, see, just too many....

But, interesting to see Cobra Commander come up (!) - and that they used an illustration from the Marvel comic, where he was a much better, more developed character and fearsome foe. All props to the late Christopher Latta's voicework, though!

And the first missing character from the list which comes to my mind is Frank Pembleton, as played by the amazing Andre Braugher on Homicide: Life on the Street. (A show which The Wire's David Simon was involved with, by the way.) Although, that's another show with several great characters....
The Xan Man said:
"Normally Ben is considered one of the best characters with Locke and Des. At least around where I hang. I guess if you were one of those crazed shippers who care less about actual character and more about whose necking who then you may not like him."

From what I've seen, while Ben is almost universally appreciated (due to Michael Emerson's acting and some of the stuff they've given him to do on the show), a lot of viewers just wish he hadn't taken up so much screen time during the past couple seasons. I'm not one of them, personally, because I think Ben was introduced seamlessly and adds a lot to the series (the only other new character that was as well integrated was Juliet, IMO...the freighter folks like Daniel, Charlotte, and Miles, still waiting on their expanded storylines). But I can understand the frustration of seeing screen time taken away from the original Season 1 characters. I was just glad to see that Kate, Jack, or Charlie (there's an ungodly amount of Charlie-love out there, but personally I was kinda glad when they offed him, much as I like Dominic Monaghan) didn't take the spot.

Far as Ben not being a's a generalization, sure, but so far I think it still fits, despite him being a very complex one. Unless alternative motives are later shown, I think assisting the "hostiles" (Richard Alpert's group of Others) in killing off the entire island-based Dharma Initiative qualified for being classified as an "evil" act. And he shot Locke in the back. And...I dunno, a lot of his minions did bad things too, but I dunno if they were sanctioned by Ben. I'm sure there were other shady things he did that were completely driven by self-interest and a lack of care for most other human beings (just because he cared about Alex getting offed doesn't make him a decent human being overall).
Zoe is pretty much my favourite female characters of all time, so I'm glad to see her on a list.

This thread has been closed for new comments.

You need to log in to be able to post comments.
About membership.

joss speaks back home back home back home back home back home