It’s an incredibly exciting time for television right now — the small screen has gone through an impressive transformation in recent years, pushing the traditional boundaries of TV restrictions (largely due to the spike in popularity of streaming services — bless you Netflix) and luring some HUGE Hollywood stars from big blockbusters to spectacular series.
TV audiences are being exposed to all kinds of controversial conversations, and it’s about time TBH. We applaud those in the media industry who are willing to take on the difficult task of highlighting the diversity within our “Westernized” societies, and the struggles that everyday people face on a consistent basis — from mental health, to discrimination of all kinds.
Seeing what’s actually happening in the world around us reflected back through our screens is CRUCIAL for real change to occur — and seeing what isn’t accurately represented in both the mainstream media and our society is just as (if not more) important.
That’s why we here at ANDPOP are celebrating the groundbreaking characters that were created with the purpose of facilitating these important conversations. Our use of the word “groundbreaking” describes the fictional individuals who have SHATTERED the typical character archetypes/real-life stereotypes we’re used to seeing on the small screen — changing the way audiences think about and view a particular demographic.
Here are 10 groundbreaking TV characters that have changed the game:
1. Annalise Keating (Viola Davis), How To Get Away With Murder
There are SO many reasons why powerhouse defence attorney Annalise Keating is a badass, groundbreaking TV character. First of all, she is a woman of colour in a high-powered position — both in her teaching and law-practicing professions. She is also older and sexualized woman of colour — something not often seen. Throw in her incredible work ethic, warped sense of morality and passion for “justice,” and you’ve got the complex, flawed, fierce, empowered woman the small screen needs.
2. Mickey Milkovich (Noel Fisher), Shameless
Noel Fisher’s portrayal of Mickey Milkovich in Showtime’s Shameless is nothing short of groundbreaking. Mickey is a COMPLETELY different kind of LGBTQ character. While he identifies as gay, everything about his persona goes against assumed homosexual male stereotypes. His rough lifestyle — stemming from his time on the tough streets of Chicago’s south side — has shaped his personality and (mostly) impenetrable outer shell. But being a hard-nosed criminal doesn’t dictate his sexuality, proving that you can truly never judge a book by its cover. Mickey’s journey to accept himself — and accept love for another human in general — is one of the show’s most poignant, important plot arcs. In short, we miss him and he needs to make a return.
3. Artie Abrams (Kevin McHale), Glee
Bless Ryan Murphy for breaking down ALL kinds of barriers through his hit musical series, Glee. We’re going to take this opportunity to celebrate Artie Abrams, who showed TV audiences all over the world that those with physical disabilities are ready and willing to participate in all kinds of “normal” activities — if they’re just provided with the same opportunities as everybody else. Artie — who still vocalized his struggles to have fulfilling teenage experiences — never let his wheelchair stop him from pursuing his passions. Most importantly, his wheelchair never defined him — it was simply part of who he was. His experiences on the show largely mirror that of an everyday teenager — it was the every day normalcy of Artie that made him so important.
4. Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox), Orange Is The New Black
Finally, a transgender character being played by an actual transgender individual. This really shouldn’t be groundbreaking, but Laverne Cox’s role in Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black certainly is. Her portrayal of Sophia Burset has given a voice to the community and has educated the rest of the world in the process.
5. Rachel “Rae” Earl (Sharon Rooney), My Mad Fat Diary
Sharon Rooney is an absolutely INCREDIBLE actress — we don’t think anyone else could play Rachel “Rae” Earl with the perfect blend of vulnerability, humour and pain. she embodies on E4’s My Mad Fat Diary. Rae’s honest fragility — which is highlighted in her mental health and body image issues — is so refreshing to see. She fights every single day against her demons, and that struggle is something that is rarely explored in such intimate detail. Her relationship with Finn, and subsequent insecurities surrounding it, is a very real depiction of love as well.
6. Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett), Empire
Jamal Lyon probably had the biggest mic drop of any character on Empire — and that’s saying a lot, considering the show’s slew of MCs. His frank discussion regarding sexual fluidity with his mother Cookie is INCREDIBLY groundbreaking. Sexual discrimination has deep roots within the hip-hop community, so to have that culture be the backdrop of this conversation is truly astonishing. Jamal’s sexual experimentation isn’t distasteful on disingenuous — which is how bisexuality is often viewed in society, and portrayed in mainstream media. His relationships encompass an earnest display of emotion, regardless of who his partner is.
7. Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton), Sense8
Hacker extraordinaire Nomi Marks is a trans woman whose story line — wait for it — does NOT centre around her sexuality. Instead, she is defined by her strength, big heart and tech skills. She has found happiness and her plot line is guiding other characters as well as maintaining her happiness in a world where people want to take it away from her.
8. Adam Torres (Jordan Todosey), Degrassi
Jordan Todosey’s portrayal of transitioning teen Adam Torres was so real, raw and powerful that it earned Degrassi the prestigious Peabody Award. Recipients receive recognition for their honest storytelling with incorporate controversial topics. Adam NEVER stopped pushing to become the man he knew he was, regardless of the bullying, heartbreak and resistance he faced at the hands of classmates, crushes and his family.
9. Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson), black-ish
Overall, black-ish is a groundbreaking show — but Anthony Anderson’s character, Dre Johnson, is a brilliant comedic blend of African American stereotypes and 21st century fatherhood. The frank conversations he has with his wife and kids regarding what it means to be black, and navigating the harsh realities their community faces in today’s American society is INCREDIBLY topical and powerful.
10. Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham), Girls
Hannah Horvath is a childish, selfish bitch — and that’s EXACTLY why she’s a groundbreaking TV character. Lena Dunham’s alter-ego is unlike any white, female millennial we’ve seen on the small screen (and there are a LOT of them). She is unapologetically herself, which doesn’t necessarily translate into a loveable, inspiring caricature. But it is real portrayal of a young woman trying to find herself.