Deadwood, The Wire & The Sopranos - Who Is The Best of the Best?

Let’s hold up the best characters in the best television shows and see who comes out…best!

Since HBO taught us how TV should be made, the medium has divided into two. On one side there€™s the total shit that€™s still being trotted out by the networks; filled with hackneyed characters, formulaic plotlines, endless chase scenes and flashbacks that patronise the audience by spoon-feeding them reminders of why something is relevant to the plot. Then there€™s the good stuff; original ideas, realistic scripts and dialogues, compelling storylines, great acting and best of all, a faith on the part of the program makers that the audience has a modicum of intelligence. Well actually there€™s a third category: The stuff that shows a bit of both €“ Lost, True Blood, even Dexter with its you-need-me-to-explain-everything-you-are-seeing voiceover €“ all manage to tick the right boxes some of the time, only to let us down the rest of the time. But we€™re focusing on the good stuff. The shows which, if we didn€™t have a zillion channels, Sky+ and torrent sites, would be the makings of water cooler moments in workplaces across the world. The shows which renew our faith in television and make us think, just until the end-credits roll, that the world isn€™t quite the horrendous place we thought it was. Despite all the different high quality ingredients of these shows; the writing, the acting, the sets; all the top drawer production values, despite everything that goes in €“ it€™s the characters that stick in our minds long after we€™ve put the box set away. It€™s these iconic characters that secure the show€™s place in entertainment history. It€™s the characters that get us talking. So let€™s talk about them, let€™s hold up the best characters in the best shows and see who comes out€best! I€™m going to put some nominations forward and you guys can do two things (if you want). Firstly you can (if you want) vote on your favourite from the nominations in each category. Then you can (if you want) tell me why you think I€™m wrong and why I should have included someone different. Please make your argument clear and concise, i.e. something more than €œura nob Daniels is best in the Wire€. Warning €“ I imagine this is going to contain plot spoilers.The pool: There is only so much space available so I€™ve got to make a tough call to start with and pick a Big Three. Yes, "Heart of Darkness" broke the mould, "Homicide €“ Life on the Streets" changed the way TV is made, "Six Feet Under" took us into a whole new terrain, "Breaking Bad" is proving to be a stylish, action-packed and thought provoking show of the highest order, and there is a shedload of other great shows in the canon of quality entertainment. But this isn€™t an encyclopaedia, it€™s a blog. So I€™ve kept it down to three modern classics. The Wire - The Sopranos - Deadwood Space doesn€™t allow me to break these shows down and explain what makes them so good. I€™ll just have to assume you€™ve seen them. And if you haven€™t seen them then I€™m really jealous of you. I€™d love not to have seen Deadwood; it would mean I had hours and hours of untapped magic ahead of me. The categories: Like any good awards show, and this is nothing at all like an awards show, especially not a good one, you need categories. So here€™s my list of categories: Best Goodie €“ Best Baddie €“ Best Comic Relief €“ Simply the Best The first two categories are best goodie and best baddie. One of the defining factors of the €˜quality€™ of all these shows is that characters aren€™t just good or bad. Tony Soprano can show genuine compassion as well as being mercilessly cruel. Al Swearengen hates everybody and everything but performs the ultimate kindness for the tumour-ridden preacher. There is bad in the good guys and good in the bad guys €“ and that€™s how life is. It was tempting to have the same candidates in goodie and baddie to prove that point but that would be self-indulgent on my part so I€™ve kept them separate. Here we go:

Best Goodie

The Wire: Lester Freamon After serving a 13 year sentence in the basement for upsetting the applecart, Lester quickly and quietly shows the hastily assembled team that he€™s Natural police. Always the smartest guy in the room, Lester oozes dignity and charm. Doll house modeling looks like the coolest thing in the world in Lester€™s nimble fingers, and he can win an argument by merely lifting an eyebrow. He€™s driven to do the right thing but he can get real street when he needs to. The Sopranos: Silvio Dante There are no real good-guys in The Sopranos what with them all being gangsters, but it€™s all relative, so let€™s go with Silvio, the rock of the Sopranos crew. Seemingly always munching on a mozzarella based snack, Sil is sounding board for his boss€™s rants. He listens carefully and gives his counsel only when it€™s due, never for the sake of it. His loyalty to Tony wavers a little when Tony seems to be favouring Chris Moltisanti over him but he€™s only human. To include him in this good-guy category we€™ll have to ignore his various assassinations, including Chris€™s fiancée, but ho hum. Deadwood: Doc Cochran Being a GP in a lawless, festering pit of a town is a thankless task but the Doc doesn€™t complain. Well actually he does, nearly all the time - but he keeps fighting the good fight. A troubled soul after witnessing the suffering of so many enlisted soldiers in the Civil War and eking a living seeing to Swearengen€™s whores, servicing the Widow Garret€™s drug habit, putting his life on the line to protect a child who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and treating smallpox victims in the Plague Tents, the Doc spends his downtime romancing a whiskey bottle. Often steaming with rage, Doc Cochran also provides some of the most tender moments in the show, the most notable (and also one of the most brutal) being when Al Swearengen finally passes the kidney stones that threaten his life, negating the need for the Doc to cut him open. After the piss and blood finally flow the Doc pours out his gratitude to Swearengen for saving him from most likely killing him in surgery.

Best Baddie

The Wire: Marlo Stanfield This was a tough choice, it could have been Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell, even Clay Davis or Maury Levy but Marlo€™s own brand of ruthlessness sets him apart from the rest. Perfectly summed up by Bodie: €œHe€™s a cold mutherfucker€, Marlo takes the game to a whole new level. With Chris and Snoop - two of the best hired guns in the business €“ carrying out his orders clinically and methodically, Stanfield has a bodycount to rival Stalin. His quiet, understated manner lends a layer of menace and his cold-dead eyes speak of some unspoken secret that only Marlo knows. The Sopranos: Livia Soprano In a show full of killers, extortionists and thieves, there€™s one baddie who doesn€™t immediately stand out above the rest but after some thought becomes abundantly clear. Livia Soprano dies in season 3 (a storyline forced by the tragic death of the actress Nancy Marchand), but her character€™s impact lasts until the final scene. A bitter, manipulative woman, Livia plays the befuddled old lady card to a tee whilst pursuing her own nefarious ends. The driving force behind a great deal of Tony€™s character traits and the subject of so many of his sessions with Dr. Melphi, her most outstanding dark deed was to effectively put a hit out on her own son, an act that drew one of James Galdonfini€™s most memorable scene performances. Clutching a pillow and being held back by medical orderlies from his mother€™s weak body after a stroke he shouts, €œLook at the look on her face, look at the look on her face! She's smiling. Look at her face. She's got a fucking smile on her face.€ And he€™s probably right. Deadwood: George Hearst In terms of watchability, the best baddie in Deadwood is, of course, Al Swearengen, but he€™s more than just a bad guy so we€™ll celebrate him later. For a cast-iron villain we need look no further than George Hearst €“ the real life gold prospector whose Deadwood incarnation will stop at nothing to satisfy his lust for €˜the colour€™. At first he€™s a ruthless businessman, using intimidation and murder to advance his agenda, but the town of Deadwoodseems to push him over the edge and he takes on a personal vendetta against the whole settlement. It€™s Hearst€™s presence that helps push Swearengen€™s character from complete villain to something else entirely as Al becomes a much more heroic figure, standing up to the menace that threatens to engulf the town. One of the most disappointing aspects of the unplanned end of the show€™s run is that we were robbed of seeing a real conclusion to the war between Hearst and Deadwood.

Best comic relief

The Wire: William €˜Bunk€™ Moreland That€™s right, I didn€™t know what his first name was either, until I just looked it up. Always suited and booted, Bunk is the voice of Jimmy McNulty€™s conscience, even though he himself is a womanizer and borderline alcoholic. This being the Wire, Bunk is a whole lot more than just laughs. He has a strong sense of right and wrong, being the sole character to hold stick-up artist Omar Little to account, seeing past the Robin Hood label afforded to Little by the rest of the on-screen cops and the watching audience. But his cigar-muffled mumblings are always comedy gold, even if you do have to rewind some and re-watch to understand what the hell he said. His finest comic moment is when he€™s cheating once again on his wife and, riddled with drunken guilt, he sits in his one-night-stand€™s bathtub, wearing her dressing gown, attempting to burn his clothes and muttering about getting rid of the smell of € The Sopranos: Silvio Dante Okay, so he€™s already down as best goodie but it€™s my piece so I€™m allowed to include him again. I could say that the fact that he€™s in two categories is testament to the show working on so many levels, but really I just really like Sil. It€™s all about that famous lower lip, constantly curling above its upper counterpart and kicking off a million impressions amongst Sopranos fans in drinking establishments all over the world. His Al Pacino form Godfather II impression has the other mobsters in fits. The fact that he€™s played by Steven Van Dandt, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen€™s E-Street band just adds to the magic. Deadwood: Martha 'Calamity Jane' Cannary Robin Weigert€™s portrayal of Calamity Jane is simply a joy to watch. She€™s brash and offensive and seems to court confrontation, but when she attempts to stand up to Al over the young child he wants killed, but disintegrates under his glare we see that she€™s just scared, lonely and insecure. Her character is responsible for most of the funniest moments in the show, her relationship with the hapless Charlie Utter reminiscent of Bogart and Hepburn in African Queen €“ but with loads of swearing. She has no particular stand out moments because they all stand out, but her fleeting appearance in the first episode of season 2, where she wakes, saddled on a horse, sits bolt upright, shouts her trademark €˜cocksucker€™ and falls back into her stupor. Class.

Simply the Best

There are absolutely no surprises in this best overall character category, but they need to be put forward so you, dear reader, can submit your votes. The Wire: Jimmy McNulty€œJimmy, I say this seriously. If I was laying there dead on some Baltimore street corner, I'd want you standing over me, catching the case. Because, brother, when you were good, you were the best we had€ €“ Jay Landsman A drunken Irish oaf is how his ex-wife would describe him, but McNulty is top of the roll call of Natural Police. Seemingly on a course to self-destruction, McNulty drinks like George Best and seems to be able to pull women like Best too. He€™s arrogant, boorish and has the knack of rubbing everybody he meets up the wrong way, but he lives to crack cases. McNulty knows all his failings and every so often tries to fix himself, mostly ending in failure. Sadly, his character was at the root of The Wire jumping the shark in season 5 with the ludicrous fake serial killer plotline, but he still remains the talisman of this justifiably acclaimed show. The Sopranos: Tony Soprano €œAll due respect, you got no fucking idea what it's like to be Number One. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other fucking thing. It's too much to deal with almost. And in the end you're completely alone with it all€ €“ Tony Soprano His mother tried to have him killed and his uncle shot him. He€™s a murderer, a bully, a liar and a cheat. But still we love him. Tony Soprano was a new addition to the mob genre €“ a powerful, fearsome man reduced to tears by a family of ducks, a cold-blooded killer haunted in nightmares by the ghosts of his victims. His sessions with Dr. Melphi are the perfect vehicle with which to deconstruct the character of a Mob Boss trying to balance his €˜business€™, the needs of his family and the legacy of his abusive parents. There€™s too much to Tony Soprano to even scratch the surface here but the character€™s strength is that there is so much about him to dislike, and yet we can€™t help but warm to him. Deadwood: Al Swearengen €œWhen he ain't lyin', Al's the most honourable man you'll ever meet€ €“ Silas Adams I€™m not even going to try and be objective here: Al Swearengen is the greatest character in television history and his depiction by Ian McShane is flawless. If I tried to compile a list of the top Swearengen moments then I€™d need to buy a new hard drive because I would run out of gigabytes. If you google €œDeadwood quotes€ you€™ll find line after line of unrelentingly masterful dialogue, most of which attributed to Al. As with many of the characters in the show, Swearengen was a real person who lived in the mid nineteenth century, but the version portrayed in this HBO masterpiece is all down to the creative genius of the show€™s creator, producer and head writer, David Milch. The fact that Deadwood was canned after the third season is the biggest travesty in entertainment history. I don€™t want to talk about it anymore, it still hurts. So, over to you. Send me your pick of those I€™ve nominated in each category, and tell me if you think I€™ve got it wrong and should have picked someone else. You€™ll be wrong of course! Mail me Tweet me @awwilson1
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