The Real Girl: Rachel Chapman, How to Make It in America
OK, yes this HBO trifle is mostly just an East Coast Entourage, the kind of we-own-this-town boys fantasy that has no room for women characters unless they're disrobing while saying cool, sexy things. But somehow one real, fleshed-out female character has sneaked past the man censors on HTMIIA, and thus we have Rachel, a young woman navigating various aspects of the Manhattan media scene who is a bit lost and unsure of herself yet also still coolly savvy and humbly competent. Though she once functioned primarily as the love interest for the show's male lead, the writers have done well this season in turning Rachel into her own, believable human being -- she's the kind of young woman you may know these days if you live in any major city full of strivers and dreamers. Sure she's portrayed by the gorgeous and willowy Lake Bell, so she is certainly still eye candy, but Bell is also such an assured, naturalistic actress that she manages to fill even Rachel's smallest scenes with a gently whirring pathos and intellect. We know that using that kind of language about a show like this seems silly, but compared to, say, the manic froofing of Zooey Deschanel's character on New Girl, a desexualized childwoman fit for any indie boy's curio collection, Rachel is that rarest of TV creations: A character you might actually know, and like, out here in the real world.
The Comedy All-Star: Frank Reynolds, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Bouncing back to form after last year's lackluster season, FX's gutter-garbage band of Philly friends are in top form in this year's crop of episodes. And none more so than Danny DeVito's near-feral father figure Frank. Between the wild thicket of flyaway black hair, the bought-at-a-Walgreens glasses, and DeVito's naturally strange and delightful physicality, the mere sight of Frank is funnier than all the past and future episodes of Whitney combined. Frank's doomed romance with a hooker was a highlight of this season, as was simply watching him interact with the group while they played a bizarre and menacing board game on last week's episode. Frank might not get the attention that Charlie Day's addled manchild Charlie does, but he's so consistently weird and filthy and lovably unconcerned about the polite trappings of society that he deserves singling out.
The Loose Cannon: Carrie Mathison, Homeland
Everyone thought that Cassandra was crazy, though of course they were wrong. She wasn't a raving lunatic, but a true foreteller of doom. The interesting thing that Showtime's paranoid spy drama Homeland has done with its own fortune telling young woman, CIA analyst Carrie, is that she may actually be crazy for real. Carrie, who is trying to reveal what she suspects is the secret terrorist sleeper agent status of a returning American war hero, lamely tries to seduce her boss when things don't go her away, she doesn't eat, she stays up til all hours staring wild-eyed at surveillance footage, and, oh yes, she pops anti-psychotics like Altoids. That Carrie, played with vibrating smarts and anxiety by Claire Danes, may be both right and crazy is one of the show's fun and clever conundrums. (That "fun" and "clever" are being used to describe a Showtime show is a small revolution in its own right.) We both root for Carrie's assuredness and are turned off by her brash, erratic, and occasionally reckless behavior. She's actually sorta what you'd imagine a real CIA analyst to be like in these shadowy times, when it's difficult to tell whether we're tilting at giants or windmills -- she's a paranoid, but still smart, mess. Wracked with 9/11-related guilt enough to make her a bit too close to the case, but possessed of enough intelligence and authority to make us believe her, Carrie is "the thinking person's" Jack Bauer.