10. Randall Pearson
Pearson’s experience being adopted by a family outside his own race—and how that continues to shape him as an adult—made for the most meaningful and compelling component of broadcast TV’s breakout hit This Is Us. Emmy voters agreed, dubbing Sterling K. Brown’s performance the best by an actor in a drama series.
9. Hannah Baker
As played by Katherine Langford, Baker is the kind of protagonist any kid could relate to: warm yet acerbic, beautiful but insecure, popular in some ways, outcast in others. But 13 Reasons Why isn’t just a teen soap; it’s the story of Baker’s suicide, narrated by Baker herself. To critics, that was cause for alarm, prompting schools to warn parents, and parents to accuse Netflix of glamorizing suicide. But in spite—or because—of the Baker-centric controversy, 13 Reasons Why was a huge hit among teens and the year’s most tweeted-about show.
8. Sean Spicer
Melissa McCarthy’s relentlessly imaginative and athletic take on the former White House Press Secretary was arguably this year’s sharpest political satire: Her Spicer was all indignation, consumed by an outright hatred of journalists that expressed itself with sputtering fierceness. That caricature kept Spicer in the news long after he might have preferred, and reportedly led President Trump to sour on his most visible mouthpiece, leading to Spicer’s departure.
7. Julia the Muppet
At a time when there are a growing number of characters with autism on TV (see: The Good Doctor, The A Word, Atypical), Julia is especially well-positioned to educate kids. When she first meets the Sesame Street gang, the Muppet is more focused on her painting than Elmo is, and she doesn’t want to give Big Bird a high-five. But they quickly learn how to include her in playtime—a new friend who’s different but special all the same.
6. Kono Kalakaua and Chin Ho Kelly
For seven seasons, this police officer (played by Grace Park) and lieutenant (played by Daniel Dae Kim) were two of the most visible Asian-American characters on TV. So when news broke they were going to be written off Hawaii Five-O—Park and Kim quit the CBS drama after reportedly being offered less pay than their white counterparts—it kickstarted a national debate and further exposed the gap between Hollywood’s stated commitment to diversity and its actual hiring practices. (For its part, CBS claimed it offered Park and Kim “large and significant salary increases.”)
Tiffany Haddish’s go-for-broke performance as the most unapologetically raunchy member of a quartet of friends didn’t just help Girls Trip more than $100 million. It also established Haddish as one of the Hollywood’s biggest rising stars, a status she cemented with a recent guest stint on SNL.
Dragons have long been a part of the Game of Thrones mythology, but never before has one managed to outshine the most beloved ensemble cast on TV: When Viserion was killed and resurrected by the Night King as a force for evil, it upended the show’s gameboard in a way that no human character ever has, portending a thrilling final season.
In 1985, when Margaret Atwood’s first published The Handmaid’s Tale, her protagonist’s reality—watching her free society turn into a repressive and sexist theocracy—may have seemed farfetched. But in Trump’s America, the character, brought to life on Hulu by Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss, has become a symbol of the real-life resistance. Earlier this year, dozens of women donned her iconic Handmaid costume (red robe, white hood) and marched on Capitol Hill to protest a GOP-backed healthcare bill that would have cut funding to Planned Parenthood, among other things.
The shape-shifting clown who torments a group of Maine children made his on-screen debut more than 25 years ago in a TV miniseries. But Bill Skarsgard added even more menace to Stephen King’s creation, revealing both new layers of fangs and a more-monstrous-than-ever appetite. That combination helped make It the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time, with excitement building for the planned 2019 sequel. Which is bad news for clowns, who reported losing work thanks to the revived and scarier Pennywise.
1. Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot’s superhero—at once a savage warrior and an idealistic naif—packed riveting contradictions and plenty of charisma into her first full-length screen outing (and Justice League, too). She also powered Wonder Woman to more than $800 million globally, proving just how many people had been waiting for a superhero like her. That was proven, too, by the thousands of young girls who swung their own lassos of truth this past Halloween, finally able to celebrate a screen idol of their own.
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