We have a dog on this list. He’s next to a guy who goes to clubs in the middle of the West Side Highway. And neither of them are very far away from a guy who is literally obsessed with breakfast foods.
It’s our Top 10 Breakout TV Characters of 2011. These are ten characters that took the next step from good to great—or appeared for the first time—over the last calendar year. So, don’t worry, those three characters will probably never see each other in real life—thank God—but they did make for a great year of TV.—Ed.
10 – Jess, New Girl
There’s this tacit understanding with everyone I’ve met that when we talk about “New Girl,” the conversation will start with this sentence: “She’s cute, but is she too cute?”
And the answer, of course, is yes. If your roommate sang bad ’80s songs around you all day, you’d probably find a really meaningful monument to jump off as soon as possible. But is the cuteness part of her character? See, that’s debatable. Her inherent cutesiness—adorkability, if you want to use the catchphrase—might actually serve as a reasonable deflection. The other characters on the show are some of the best on a TV comedy right now and that’s because she supplies a great set-up. And, man, sometimes she’s just straight up, sincerely cute, and that breaks the whole argument.
But the fact that we had to type a paragraph the size of most Twilight novels up there proves this: Jess is one of the most fascinating characters on TV right now. And, above all, she’s one of the best parts about one of the funniest new shows on TV.
Throw around as many SAT words as you want. She belongs on this list.—Ben Collins
9 – Ruxin, The League
In The League’s hilarious ensemble cast, it should be hard to pick a true breakout star, but 2011 was easily the Year of Ruxin. The sleazy attorney (Nick Kroll) has been comedy gold this year. What other character on The League has not just one tagline, but two? (“Everyone calls me Ruxin” and “Forever Unclean!”)
It’s always great when you can get to know a character’s quirks and hangups. Since Season 1, the combination of Ruxin’s fastidious cleanliness and brazen lack of morals have been a delight to watch, but this year he took it up a few notches. Ruxin stole the show early in Season 3 – cringing in horror as he watched his newly-bought championship ring getting deeply involved in a homemade porno. Later, he pretends to be religious to get his baby into a Jewish preschool. Since his wife forbids him to look at any kind of pornography, Ruxin carries a semi-nude photo of her everywhere. And shows it to people. To cheat in a League fitness contest, he wears a pedometer on his wrist. You can guess how he wins. He gets high on painkillers and abandons his own strict hygienic purity standards during a game of beer pong, drinking a beer with a ping pong ball that has been on the men’s room floor. In the magnificent Thanksgiving episode, Jeff Goldblum guest starred as Ruxin’s effete father, perfectly mimicking all of Ruxin’s trademark sneers and eye-rolls. Ruxin joins a religious cult to get fantasy football tips, and his filth-laden trash-talking e-mails get him in hot water at work. You love to see him win, you love to see him lose.—Nathan Alexander
8 – Louise, Bob’s Burgers
I’m not sure what it says about our culture that most of the breakout characters on animated shows exhibit psychopathic tendencies, but I’ve come to accept that these little tykes get all the best jokes. Just think about it—do you watch Family Guy for Meg’s weekly humiliation, or to see matricidal Stewie plot to take over the world? South Park favorite Cartman already has quite the body count (I’d suggest passing on his chili con carne) and Bart Simpson has certainly had his moments with weaponry. So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Fox newcomer Bob’s Burgers isn’t immune to this trend. But, at least this time around, we’re not stuck with another bad boy.
We finally got a bad girl.
Louise, a 9 year old with a Machiavellian sense of humor, is Bob’s youngest and most cunning child. She’s also the reason I tune in every week. With her pink bunny ears, Louise certainly looks innocent enough, but behind her wide smile lurks a girl who fantasizes about eating lobster as her last meal on death row, tells people her dad’s burgers are made of human flesh, and can’t wait to play in a morgue. Kristen Schaal’s outstanding voice work brings Louise to life in such a vividly funny way that I half expect Kristen to don pink bunny ears on her Daily Show appearances.—Andrea Marker
7 – Erin Hannon, The Office
When Pam and Jim got hitched on “The Office” in 2009, it was high time for the show to bring in some fresh blood. Enter Erin (Ellie Kemper), the bubbly, naïve redhead who filled in for Pam behind the Dunder-Mifflin reception desk. Not only did she take calls (to hilarious effect), but she immediately fit in with the staff, bonding with Kelly , following Dwight’s inane orders, and awkwardly flirting with Andy. Thanks to “Bridesmaids,” Ellie Kemper hit it big this year, of course, but we think 2011 has also been Erin’s year on the “The Office.” Case in point: the Christmas episode, where the usually sober receptionist gets more than a little unhinged upon meeting Andy’s new girlfriend. —Rebecca Harper
6 – Wilfred, Wilfred
Look, there’s nothing funnier on this planet than a dog acting mostly like a human. It’s a certifiable truth, backed up mostly by that viral video where that talking dog gets genuinely upset when his owner screws him over on a bag of treats.
It’s even better when a dog that knows how to talk (and is able to dole out relationship advice to people in the suburbs) still latches onto what dogs generally tend to like. It’s why Brian on “Family Guy” has worked all these years.
But Wilfred? Wilfred just takes it to a whole new level.
The whole show is about Wilfred (Jason Gann), a dog who can only be seen as a human by Elijah Wood’s chronically depressed character Ryan. It’s one of the best shows of the year, and some of the funniest moments on TV in 2011 came from Wilfred just acting like a dog and not even telling jokes.
I mean, here’s a man in a dog costume wearing a cone of shame and acting genuinely upset. This is the America I want to live in.—Ben Collins
5 – Stefon, Saturday Night Live
I’d love to party with Stefon. SNL’s city correspondent/club kid keeps us ordinary, salt of the earth folk informed with New York City’s hottest clubs, like Slice, Slash, or Uuuunce, that feature everything: Schizos, pugs, kite enthusiasts, puppets doing karate, a Teddy Ruxpin wearing mascara, and even a Russian man with a prepaid cellphone.
But, seriously, Bill Hader’s Stefon is ridiculous in the best possible way. His nervous energy, predilection for Ed Hardy and flirtatious banter with Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers is hilarious and super endearing. However, Hader’s constant breaking is the reason why Stefon is so priceless. When he bashfully covers his mouth in shock of the zany club descriptions that blurt out of his mouth, we all know it’s Hader, who’s usually a pro at keeping in character, practically on the verge of losing it.
So even when Meyers begs Stefon for “family-friendly,” or at the very least, “non-psychotic” suggestions, NYC’s premiere city guide will continue to excitedly go on about a “hot new spot called Heeeeeeeeeey.” But, like Meyers, we always welcome him back on the show. His passion for bizarre clubs is infectious.—Sheila Dichoso
4 – Max Black, 2 Broke Girls
TV’s had its share of bad girls —Elisa Dushku’s Faith on Buffy, Blair on Gossip Girl, and Amanda Woodward on “Melrose” — but it’s rare that they get to headline a show. Enter Kat Dennings on “2 Broke Girls.” As Brooklyn waitress Max Black, she’s edgy, impatient, and sarcastic, and the perfect foil for her poor-little-rich-girl roommate, Caroline (Beth Behrs). —Rebecca Harper
3 – Dean Craig Pelton – Community
The Dean’s extravagant outfits and the inter-deanal sexual tension between him and Dean Spreck from City College have always given us a laugh. But ever since The Dean watched his beloved Greendale Community College get ravaged by a paintball war for the second time, he seems to have been suffering a descent into madness, out-Chang-ing even Student Chang. Oh, would that this hoodie were a time hoodie to take us to simpler times, but we are liking this darker Dean who is clearly overwhelmed by the rigors of community academia. Between making Jeff Winger engage in blackmail karaoke and falling into a “Heart of Darkness”-style K-hole shooting a recruitment video for the school, we’re eager to see the depths to which the self-described “Craig-ular Joe” will plunge. E pluribus anus, indeed.–Martin Moakler
2 – Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation has become arguably the flagship of the NBC Thursday night lineup ever since its additions of funny men Adam Scott and Rob Lowe in Season 3. But one character became new and improved when he had to take a mild airtime backseat: Ron Swanson.
In 2011, Ron Swanson has become a household name. Of course, this bacon loving, knife wielding, mustache wearing, man’s man has always been a staple of Parks & Rec, but with a couple more guys on the crew, Ron has been able to rise above the rest and become known to the outside world as the face of the show. His Pyramid of Greatness has become an internet staple, and his obsession with brunettes and breakfast foods has become another reason to watch. Or in his own words: “You had me at meat tornado.”—Gabe Pasillas
1 – Max Blum – Happy Endings
Max Blum is a lot of things. He’s a slob. He’s an aspiring limo driver. He’s a fan of day drinking while watching football. He’s a little out of shape. He’s always up for a prank. He’s hilarious.
Max is also not a lot of things. He is not a dandy. He is not a pining eunuch. He is not an accessory for some straight girl. He is not obsessed with show tunes or Top Model or Madonna.
He is just “one of the guys”—who happens to be one of the gays. That’s slightly revolutionary for TV. And, yes, while it’s a little stupid that this is slightly revolutionary for TV, it’s still important that he’s also one of the funniest guys in the middle of the best new ensemble cast since Friends or M*A*S*H* or Destiny’s Child.
Look, the cultural significance is abundant here. But he’s at the top because the show has reached can’t-miss status in its second season. It’s a laugh-a-second, 30 minute joke free-for-all for the ADD generation. And Max is their anchor. So he’s our top breakout character of 2011.– Martin Moakler