Welcome to SYFY WIRE's Year in Review, a series of articles that will look to catalog the best, worst, and weirdest cultural and entertainment moments of 2019 as we look toward the future. Today, we celebrate the best genre characters of the year!
Television is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to varied and compelling characters. And then genre television takes it to another level by widening the field outside of just human characters by adding an array of unique creatures, aliens, and superheroes to the writer's toolbox.
Where mainstream television may fall very short of inclusion that reflects the real world, or in telling stories that represent the spectrum of experiences, genre television leans into unconventional characters that allow more of us to see stories about ourselves. Or experience the world, or maybe even the universe, from a completely new perspective.
2019 gave us a lot of indelible new characters, or presented existing characters in stories that progressed their journeys in ways that had us glued to our screens. Here we provide 10 that knocked our nerd socks off.
Baby Yoda (aka The Child) - The Mandalorian
Sure, the Mandalorian is pretty cool in his Beskar steel armor and always-masked visage, but he's no Baby Yoda. In fact, nothing in any galaxy is as beguiling as Baby Yoda (officially the Child). With his heart-melting coo, awkward waddle, and taste for toads, Baby Yoda is the delight of every single episode of The Mandalorian. Period. And if anything dire should happen to him in the Season 1 finale, we're pretty sure the world will riot.
Sister Knight - Watchmen
HBO's Watchmen served up a rogues' gallery of incredible characters, from Jean Smart's whip-sharp Laurie Blake to Tim Blake Nelson's Looking Glass. We would happily watch entire shows just about their characters. But Regina King's fierce Sister Knight/Angela Abar was the heart and soul of the entire series. Her incredible journey from simmering, masked Tulsa cop to empowered God was a stunning arc, and a performance to behold.
Robin - Stranger Things
In an ensemble of top-shelf character actors, actress Maya Hawke did the seemingly impossible. She joined the Stranger Things cast in its third season and managed to carve out her own vital space. As Robin, the salty Scoops Ahoy employee adept at putting Steve in his place, she evolved into a worthy sleuth getting to the bottom of more of Hawkins' weirdness. Whether she was adventuring underground with the kids or confessing her own truth on a dirty bathroom floor, Hawke kept revealing layers to Robin that captivated us all season long.
Deet - The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is chock-full of puppet characters in every shape and form, but sweet Deet, the Gelfling who left her underground world to help save every creature in Thra, is an absolute standout. Her vulnerability and kindness were refreshing to watch as she made new friends (Hup!) and was consistently faced with the terrors that would have sent most back underground. That she eventually sacrificed her own well-being to bring down evil makes her a hero for all worlds.
Mad Sweeney - American Gods
American Gods has had plenty of problems in its two years of existence. But one of them has never been Pablo Schreiber's translation of Mad Sweeney, the unlucky leprechaun. The character was a brash bruiser from the start, but Pablo quickly let us into the quiet, internal misery of his character. In Season 2, "Treasure of the Sun" was an entire episode that revealed his tragic past, and laid the groundwork for his ultimate sacrifice. It left us lamenting what might have been with Mad and Laura Moon, and how the series will suffer for the character's absence.
Five - The Umbrella Academy
There's no slouch in the entire dysfunctional Hargreeves clan of Netflix's adaptation of The Umbrella Academy. Some may adore Klaus or Vanya more, or even wise Pogo. But there was something pretty special about Number 5. It's no small feat for an actual teen (Aidan Gallagher) to convince audiences that the character he's playing is really an adult traversing time in a young man's body. But from the pilot, that's exactly what we believed about the gruff Five. As he tried to get his family to understand the danger awaiting him in the future, we just became more and more immersed in his impossible task.
Cliff Steele - Doom Patrol
Another series with an abundance of entirely engaging broken souls, DC Universe's Doom Patrol presented us with really flawed superheroes who had to get over a mind-boggling array of issues before they could even think about saving the world. While Rita Farr is another favorite, Cliff Steele's arc from an unmitigated asshole to a sympathetic cyborg is often entirely unexpected and heartbreaking. It's even more astounding considering Robotman is only voiced by Brendan Fraser (and performed by Riley Shanahan), who together don't miss a step in making us feel for his desperate need to reconnect to life as a better man/robot.
Pike - Star Trek: Discovery
Who would have thought that the Star Trek: The Original Series character who was first introduced as essentially an inert head in a motorized box ("The Cage") would be reimagined five decades later into such a charmer on Star Trek: Discovery? As embodied by Anson Mount, Captain Pike on Discovery was a true highlight of Season 2, and he left us wanting much more.
Catra - She-Ra and the Princesses of Power
The best villains aren't really villains at all. Such is the case of Catra in the reimagined animated She-Ra and the Princesses of Power series. While she's definitely the foe of hero Adora, she's also the betrayed sister left behind and the abused pawn of Lord Hordak. In the fourth season, Catra's obsession with bringing down Adora became all-consuming, alienating the allies she had left and isolating her all the more. Facing her own flaws, she makes a surprising turn that makes her as compelling as the heroine of the story.
Bet Sykes - Pennyworth
And sometimes a great sociopath is all we need too. Acclaimed Brit singer Paloma Faith proved her acting skills, and then some, playing essentially a psychotic Bond villain in dowdy clothing on EPIX's Pennyworth. Frightening, creepy, and unhinged, Bet Sykes was the terrifying heavy of the Raven Society that was consistently scarier than any thug on any show just throwing their weight around.