10 of the most emotionally admirable workers on TV

Okay, time for a little balance: After Monday’s post summarizing TDYLF‘s worst big-screen employers ever, I thought I’d weigh in with my listing of 10 of the most emotionally admirable workers on the small screen.  Here they are:

Tami Taylor, school counselor and principal, Friday Night Lights — It’s highway robbery that Connie Britton didn’t win an Emmy for her portrayal of Tami Taylor in one of the best TV dramas ever. Originally positioned as wife to high school football coach Eric Taylor (played wonderfully by Kyle Chandler), Tami becomes the moral core of the show, exhibiting role model-quality emotional intelligence at work, home, and in the community. Also deserving: Coach Taylor (Chandler).

Jean Luc Picard, starship captain, Star Trek: The Next Generation — Picard, played by Patrick Stewart, is cool under fire, a man of action and intellect, and as kindhearted as a Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise can afford to be. He’s an excellent leader who maximizes and appreciates the talents of the crew serving with him.

Jane Tennison, police detective and superintendent, Prime Suspect — Yup, Tennison is a mess. She drinks too much and her personal life is in shambles. But she’s managed to retain her dignity while fighting her way up the ladder in this mean, male-dominated world of law enforcement. She is, above all, extraordinarily determined and resilient. Helen Mirren is brilliant in this role.

John Bates, valet, Downton Abbey —  Mr. Bates brings some mysterious personal baggage and an injury that affects his ability to walk (for which he is bullied by other staff) to his work as valet to Lord of the Manor. Hat’s off to Brendan Coyle for giving his character an intensely private sense of dignity. Also deserving: Mrs. Hughes, housekeeper (Phyllis Logan).

Colleen McMurphy, nurse, China Beach — In her defining breakout role, Dana Delany portrays a young nurse serving in an American medical unit during the heart of the Vietnam War. McMurphy is the heart and soul of a deservedly Emmy-winning drama, demonstrating courage, sensitivity, and empathy amidst suffering and death. It’s a shame that China Beach is not yet out on DVD.

Cedric Daniels, police commander, The Wire — Chief Daniels, played by Lance Reddick, must juggle a group of frequently rogue officers, the racial politics of Baltimore, a cutthroat and corrupt government bureaucracy, and a secret or two about his own past. He’s the calm in the storm of this remarkable television series.

Andy Taylor, town sheriff, The Andy Griffith Show — While playing straight man to his lovably bumbling deputy Barney Fife (the brilliant Don Knotts), sheriff Andy Taylor continually mixes a homespun brand of human understanding and kindness. Watch a few episodes on cable or Netflix. You’ll yearn for more folks like Sheriff Taylor in today’s society.

C.J. Cregg, presidential press secretary and chief of staff, The West Wing — Allison Janney created one of the strongest characters among this excellent ensemble cast. Tough and kind, steely and vulnerable, idealistic yet politically savvy — and always very, very smart.  Also deserving: Leo McGarry, presidential chief of staff (John Spencer); and Congressman and presidential candidate Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits).

Peggy Olson, advertising copywriter, Mad Men — She started as a secretary and moved up to a copywriter position at a New York ad agency. What’s next for this mousy but ambitious, outer borough striver — played expertly by Elizabeth Moss — who doesn’t yet understand what her mid-1960s struggles will mean to other women? Also deserving: Joan Harris, office administrator (Christina Hendricks).

Frank Furillo, police commander, Hill Street Blues — Daniel J. Travanti gave a deliberative, quietly on the edge persona to Captain Furillo, in this pioneering TV drama of the 1980s that reset the bar very high for cop shows to come. Alas, only the first two seasons are available on DVD.


I confess! I like cop shows, as long-time readers of this blog may have picked up. They typically are set in dysfunctional work environments, beset by politics, corruption, personal rivalries, and overheated emotions. Great stuff.

Most of the female characters are trying to succeed in a male dominated world, and their emotional intelligence often is exhibited in how they navigate that environment.

By contrast, many of the male characters on this list are relatively comfortable in their leadership roles.

It’s a pretty white group, isn’t it? I’ll punt on whether that says more about my viewing habits or the casting practices of television producers.

There’s only one comedy on the list, The Andy Griffith Show. Is it that sitcoms and emotionally intelligent characters don’t necessarily mix?

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