The 10 Television Characters I Still Miss

March 28th, 2012 8:00am EDT

Line of Fire There are lots of TV shows I miss. But then there are the characters: individual performances so good they came alive, and I still wonder about them. It's one thing to mourn a show for awhile, another to ask yourself years later, "Whatever happened to...?" as if that person was real.

Here are ten TV characters that I still think about, in (almost) chronological order of their departures.

1. Jennifer Sampson in Line of Fire, as played by Julie Ann Emery (2003)

I'm putting this one first because this is the character that gave me the idea for this piece. Sometimes I feel like I was the only person who watched Rod Lurie's mobs-versus-feds drama on ABC, but for my money, it was one of the best dramatic series I've seen. I never missed an episode and I was often yelling at the TV.

It had a fantastic cast, including David Paymer, 24's Leslie Hope, GCB's Leslie Bibb, and The Unit's Michael Irby. But the standout for me was Julie Ann Emery as Special Agent Jennifer Sampson. There was so much going on in her life (in one episode, her young daughter got caught up in a hostage situation!) but that never stopped her from being a strong agent, spouse and mother. Even when things seemed to get truly out of control, Jennifer was stable and admirable.

She was also the character that turned me into a Julie Ann Emery fan. Her performance in that role was just so real; I felt what Jennifer felt, and understood what she was going through. Sometimes in crime dramas, there's so much action that you don't connect with the characters, but Julie Ann made Jennifer someone I could identify with even though I wasn't fighting the mob. That combination of strength and humanity was one that inspired at least one character I went on to write. I haven't figured out how someone hasn't snapped her up as a lead on another series since.

Thankfully, I can now catch her in another fantastic series: she has a role in USA's Suits, as a private investigator called upon by Harvey (Gabriel Macht). But every time I see her pop up there, I still think about what might have happened to Jennifer Sampson.

2. Robert McCall in The Equalizer, as played by Edward Woodward (1989)

This one's an old choice, but a good one: I grew up watching A&E reruns of The Equalizer. Ex-CIA agent turned private investigator Robert McCall was the first hero I saw on TV. For that, he'll always have a special place in my heart. Just the theme song to the show gets my heart going a little bit.

Yet Robert McCall was a "badass" before the term entered our lexicon. Unlike many protagonists on modern TV, he didn't have to have a snappy comebacker or do something fantastic to prove himself. He was just naturally the guy you knew you didn't want to cross. (The accent helped.) And here's a unique quality I love about him even more today: though he was capable of taking a life, McCall was a pacifist. He preferred to find other ways to end things than just shooting someone or beating them up.

Edward Woodward was one of the great actors of my youth. Whether it was The Equalizer or his earlier work on Callan, I just couldn't stop watching the man. When I saw him appear in La Femme Nikita, I may have actually squealed. He was always a pleasure to watch. Sadly, he's no longer with us, but I will always be indebted to him for all those afternoons in front of my TV, watching McCall make the streets of New York safer, one problem at a time.

And though it's been more than twenty years, Robert McCall still remains an almost mythic figure at the back of my mind. I know it's far too long, but I still can't help but pretend he'd be out there, solving people's problems and doing it with class and style. At least I have the first season DVD set to cherish.

3. Trevor Hale/Cupid in Cupid, as played by Jeremy Piven (1998)

Before he was a loud-mouthed agent on Entourage, Jeremy Piven played the most romantic guy on Earth (and otherwise)...and did it perfectly. In the utterly unique and charming Cupid, a mental patient (Piven) insists that he's the God of Love, and the relationship therapist assigned to keep an eye on him (Paula Marshall) has to suss out whether he really is or not. (Long-overdue spoiler alert: according to series creator Rob Thomas, the show never would have told you.)

But that's almost a moot point. Cupid was so much fun, so full of life and hope and positive things to say about the world, that I really didn't care if the show told me if Trevor was Cupid. I certainly wanted to believe that he was. He appealed to my inner romantic, my not-so-inner optimist. Watching the show, I always came away from it with a warm, fuzzy feeling, excited about life. That's in no small part because Piven put so much energy into the role of Trevor/Cupid. He was passionate, sometimes manic, and yet serious when he had to be: everything the part needed to truly come alive.

Years later, ABC tried to resurrect/rework the series, with Bobby Cannavale playing Trevor and Sarah Paulson playing Claire. Unsurprisingly, it met a swift end just like the first version. I tried watching the new show, and while it wasn't bad, it just wasn't the same for me. There wasn't chemistry between the leads, and while it was obvious Cannavale was trying, he was no Piven. He just didn't have that love for being in love that made it impossible not to love him by extension.

Luckily, I was able to get to see this show via a friend who still had the episodes, and it's my TV equivalent of comfort food. Whenever I'm feeling down, or world-weary, I'll just watch an episode or two of Cupid and I really do feel better. I know he's not real, but it's a small comfort to believe in the sweet idea that there could be a guy out to make the world a more loving place.

4. The entire cast of Sports Night (2000)

Oh, Sports Night. I've said numerous times that without this show, I'd be a lawyer. It was then and always will be my favorite TV show. In addition to facilitating my career change, it got me through the death of my childhood best friend, helped me bond with my current BFF, and introduced me to so many other things that if I listed them all, this article would never end. This show was everything I didn't even know I was looking for.

All of the characters felt like they could be real people, and moreso, they could be people that would be my friends and colleagues. Josh Charles may have gone on to The Good Wife, but he'll always be Dan Rydell to me. I had the biggest crush on Peter Krause's Casey, and saw more than a little of myself in Sabrina Lloyd's Natalie. But truth be told, I miss everyone: not just the main cast, but the recurring players like Eliot, Kim, Dave, Chris and Will. If you know those names, you know what I'm talking about. The staffers of CSC were fun and flawed, serious and sometimes crazy, but they were good people who loved what they did and took care of each other.

I grew to care what happened to them. I cried for them, cheered when they did, laughed with them. I can still quote them without really trying. I think of things I learned from this show and how, each time I watch it again, I feel like it's the first time. I think of how I met Peter Krause, almost a decade after Sports Night had left the air, and had a chance to thank him for his part in the show. I remember crying afterward because it was so great to say I'd met Casey McCall. That's how big these characters were for me.

In a sense I'm lucky, because Sports Night ended on a positive, if vague, note: Calvin Traeger (Clark Gregg, who's now best known as Agent Phil Coulson in the Iron Man flicks) bought CSC's parent company, and the show went on. I can pretend that the show-within-a-show is still airing, and that Casey, Dan and company are out there. But I'll admit that every year, as we approach the date of its last episode (May 16), I stop and think about how much I still miss this show.

5. David McNorris in Boomtown, as played by Neal McDonough (2002)

I know I said a lot about David McNorris in my recent feature with Neal McDonough. Truth be told, as much as I love Justified and his current work on it, I was almost more excited to get to talk to the man who brought McNorris to life. I believe that was one of the great individual performances in television history. Whenever I'm reminded that McDonough didn't so much as get nominated for an Emmy, I still get a little angry.

On paper, Deputy District Attorney McNorris could have been completely unwatchable: he was a corrupt civil servant cheating on his wife, estranged from his father and drinking far too much. That's not a recipe for an endearing character. Yet I'll admit that I was pulling for McNorris all the way. That's because McDonough and series creator Graham Yost gave him so many layers and nuances. There was self-loathing, fear, doubt, ego and even a certain morality inside him. He was neither saint nor sinner; he just was.

All that would not have been possible if not for the electric performance from McDonough, who had this character down every step of the way. He could make me believe that McNorris was the biggest, baddest lawyer on the planet in one scene, and then show me a man who was utterly broken in the next. I loved McNorris because thanks to McDonough, I got into his head and his heart. I saw his internal struggle. He was someone I wanted to slap and wanted to save, sometimes at the same time.

To this day, when I'm sitting down to write a lawyer in any of my stories, my standard for that archetype is David McNorris. I want to write a character that rich and that alive. But to this day, I still wonder what became of him, and still catch myself hoping that he's sobered up, reconciled with his wife, and getting the happy ending he so desperately wanted. I still hope for his happiness, a decade later, and that's saying something about how impactful this character was.

6. John Doggett in The X-Files, as played by Robert Patrick (2002)

This one's a little more the fault of the writers: in the X-Files series finale, Special Agent John Doggett got no closure whatsoever. He simply drove off in an SUV and was never seen or mentioned again. This has left me scratching my head (and speculating) ever since.

I'm biased here, because I've been a Robert Patrick fan before I was any other kind of fan, and it was his casting that led me to tune in to The X-Files at all. It's no surprise to anyone when I say Doggett was my favorite character on the show. But I didn't like him just because he was played by my favorite actor; I liked him because he was a stand-up guy. He was an ex-Marine, a straight shooter who, while skeptical, wasn't close-minded when it came to the paranormal. When everything went nuts (and it often did), he was the rock. And I loved him for that.

I'll also say that for me, it was the defining role of Patrick's career. When someone says his name to me, I now think of John Doggett first, and the T-1000 of Terminator 2 second. It was so much fun for me to see him play a hero instead of a villain, and to have that happen with a character where he got to show a lot more of his talents. My appreciation for him as an actor really grew over his time on X-Files (even if that ninth season was a bit of a mess).

Which is what makes his lack of an ending so frustrating. He was a great character and yet I'm left to wonder what became of him. While I know he was only a regular for two years, he was still a regular. I think he deserved more at the end. Now and then I still wonder where that damned SUV went, and miss my favorite FBI agent.

7. Maurice "Bosco" Boscorelli in Third Watch, as played by Jason Wiles (2005)

I miss a lot of characters from Third Watch, particularly the cops of the 55th Precinct. They were all great characters played by four great actors. But the one that still nags at the back of my mind is Bosco (pictured above with his partner, Faith Yokas)...because while we had a sense of where all the others ended up, his conclusion was less definitive. He was still out on the street...and that was it. That left so many stories to be told for him.

There's no doubt that Bosco was the show's most memorable character. He was hotheaded, he got the best lines, and he was a fan favorite. This was the guy you wouldn't necessarily want to be, or even be in the same room with, but by the same token, you'd trust him to have your back and you felt for him in his vulnerable moments, which were more frequent as the show went on. It was apt that Faith sometimes treated Bosco like another of her kids, because that's what he was like: he might drive you crazy but you still loved him.

Part of my hanging on to the character also has something to do with my thoughts on Jason Wiles as an actor. Like Julie Ann Emery, I can't understand how this guy's career hasn't taken off since the end of the show in question. I've seen him make guest appearances on Castle and CSI: NY, and there was that bewildering miniseries Persons Unknown, but Wiles proved he could light up a show with Third Watch and I keep waiting for him to get the chance to do so again.

Until then, I just keep holding on to my memories of Bosco. Every time I break out my Third Watch DVDs, my first question is always what happened to him. Did he eventually make detective? Find a girlfriend who wasn't nuts? Grow up a little bit more? He was a character whose life I wanted to follow, and I still do. Just the idea of him still on the streets of New York, busting bad guys, makes me happy.

8. Jay Burchell in Traveler, as played by Matt Bomer (2007)

Before everyone discovered him in White Collar, I was already on the Matt Bomer train thanks to Traveler. I watched him in the short-lived ABC series and said, "That guy is going to be a star." And as much as I do love him in White Collar and am happy for his success, I still believe Traveler is another of my favorite drama series, cut down too soon.

Bomer's Jay Burchell was one of the two heroes of the conspiracy thriller and he was everything you'd expect from a character in that position: good-hearted, clean-cut, in a happy relationship with his girlfriend and generally the guy next door. His life changed in a hurry when his roommate Will Traveler (future Nikita star Aaron Stanford) framed him and their third roomie Tyler (Logan Marshall-Green) for an act of terrorism. It was up to Jay and Tyler to clear their names...and save the day. And man, it was an incredible rush to be along for the ride. So suspenseful, legitimately surprising, and with a trio of great lead performances (four if you count Steven Culp as the FBI boss on the boys' trail), it was a show that got me just as wound up as 24. I rooted for Jay, and I wanted him to be the hero he was realizing he had to be.

It was a great role for Matt Bomer to take center stage in. Jay was the nice guy put in a bad position. He was all too often the voice and eyes of the audience. Tyler could be a dick and Will was an enigma. Jay, on the other hand, felt like he wasn't that far removed from me and people I knew. The show hinged on me caring about him, and did I ever. I screamed, I cried, I might have thrown something. And when I did finally get to meet Matt Bomer, I probably spent more time geeking out with him over Traveler than anything else.

The good news with Jay's character is that I'm not wondering what happened to him. I know, because after the show's cancellation, series creator David DiGilio made a public post that detailed his plans for the rest of the series. But having read that just made me pine for it. Like the show that aired, what was there was so complex and awesome that I still wish I could have seen it happen. I'll always hold onto those pages as the greatest show that never aired.

9. Scotty Valens in Cold Case, as played by Danny Pino (2010)

I've just finished re-watching the entire seven seasons of Cold Case (thank you, syndication!), and that just reaffirmed its place as one of my favorite shows. It also reminded me of just how much I miss Detective Scotty Valens. The entire Cold Case ensemble was first-rate - Kathryn Morris, Jeremy Ratchford, Thom Barry, Tracie Thoms and John Finn - but I kept catching myself saying, "Man, I love Scotty."

His character was memorable in a lot of different ways for me. Scotty and his sense of humor (and what he thought was his charm) provided a fair amount of laughs and smiles for me, like when he first arrived and was more than a bit cocky, or the banter he had with his colleagues. When things got serious, though, he could also bring me to tears (as with the apparent suicide of his girlfriend) or have me cheering for him (when he got into a brawl with the man who'd raped his mother). Here was a cop that I'd want to have as my partner, or that I could easily see just sitting around having a few drinks with. He was my kind of people.

And he turned me into a Danny Pino fan. I'm of the belief that he's one of TV's best-kept secrets - an actor who has been doing great work for a long time but isn't yet a star. I got far too excited when he showed up on Burn Notice. Yet hilariously (and maybe this is telling), his other roles just made me appreciate Scotty more. I respected and enjoyed the other performances, but I didn't want to see him as a murderous ex-boyfriend or a drug dealer. I always saw him as the good guy. (It helps that in real life, Pino is one of the good guys: sweet, well-spoken and as charming as his alter ego.)

I still think about Scotty, more often now that Danny Pino is back on TV again. I still hope that he'd find a sane, stable girlfriend and get some much-deserved happiness in his life. Or maybe he just changed his name and moved to New York. Who knows? But I still have a soft spot for him, and I think I always will.

10. Conway Stern in Archer, as voiced by Coby Bell (2010)

There's no in-depth explanation here. This one's just on the list because I think the double agent is still out there somewhere, with an awesome robot arm, causing mayhem. His mayhem was awesome, and I would like to see more of it.

Series creator Adam Reed has said he wants to bring Conway back, and Coby Bell has said he wants to come can we just hurry up and get Conway into the fourth season of Archer already? He'd probably be a lot more fun than Barry Dillon...who's stranded in space anyway. And who did not have cool lines like exasperatedly yelling "No, Archer, I did not have sex with your mom!"

Let's make this happen, Adam Reed. The world would be better off.

And on that potentially odd note, there you have it: the ten television characters that were so memorable, I still miss them today. Who are the characters who are gone, but that you haven't forgotten? Add your picks to the list in the comments.

(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.

Related: Archer, Boomtown, Coby Bell, Cold Case, Cupid, Danny Pino, Edward Woodward, Felicity Huffman, Jason Wiles, Jeremy Piven, Josh Charles, Joshua Malina, Julie Ann Emery, Matthew Bomer, Neal McDonough, Peter Krause, Robert Guillaume, Robert Patrick, Sabrina Lloyd, Sports Night, The X-Files, Third Watch, Traveler, White Collar, Starpulse Exclusives, Television, Cancellations, Comedy, Action & Adventure, Drama, ABC, NBC, FOX, FX

© 2012

Photo Credits: ABC, NBC, CBS, FX

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