Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: Who’s your favorite animated TV character currently on TV? (Must be on a show currently airing new episodes or will be returning.)
Listen, for one season of television — even a very, very, very good season — to overtake plenty of excellent, time-tested animated series would be absurd. My deep-seated affection and admiration for the likes of Tina Belcher, BoJack Horseman, Sterling Archer, Eric Cartman, and even two seasons’ worth of the Hormone Monstress have not been set aside for Roberta “Bertie” Songthrush… and yet, right now, in this exact moment, she is my favorite. “Tuca & Bertie” is a delightful blend of puns and pathos, levity and list-o-mania, fun and friendship; Lisa Hanawalt’s Netflix series needs both its leads to strike that balance, but much like the show itself, I’m drawn repeatedly further into Bertie’s rapidly evolving world. Her dreamy neutral mindset paired with real-world practicalities make her identifiable, while her specific exuberances (like baking) and personal backstory (like her relationship with Speckle) help her stand out. But the way Hanawalt manages to craft a character oft-paralyzed by life itself without making her a stagnant, helpless bird in need of saving is what really elevates Bertie to the top of the heap. She’s the authority in her own story, and that story is bursting at the seams. Check it out, won’t you?
I am guessing (hoping) that this question is prompted by the release of “Tuca & Bertie,” Lisa Hanawalt’s trippy new series about horny birdwomen getting their shit together. If so, I will submit the pair of them (I know that’s cheating) for being extremely funny and relatable, with the close runner-up (even more cheating) of their hot neighbor Draca, a dermatologist plantwoman who likes vaping topless amongst her turtles.
OTHERWISE (the cheating never stops! I blame Fienberg!) [Ed. note: Yep, see below.] I will go with Steven Universe, the most delightful, earnest, accepting, determined little boy slash ancient gem the animated galaxy has ever seen. The show is set to wind down this year, and I trust them to stick the landing, but whew, will I miss it.
There are really way, way, way, way too many perfectly good and viable choices here. Every line Gene Belcher says on “Bob’s Burgers” makes me laugh. Every. Single. Word. Every line-reading Maya Rudolph gives as the Hormone Monstress on “Big Mouth” makes me laugh. Every. Single. One. I’m still a guy who refuses to skip an episode of “The Simpsons” and obviously that show has like 50 potential winners and I could try to really complicate this question by lobbying to include a non-active, legacy character from a current show and sneak in a tribute to the late, great Phil Hartman and try arguing for Troy McLure or somebody. There are a half-dozen great characters in Netflix’s “F is For Family” who probably won’t get any love in a poll like this, but I might want to single out Maureen, the Murphy’s youngest child, who has evolved into one of the show’s more interesting characters. I’m not going to pick somebody from “Tuca & Bertie,” because it’s only been on for 10 episodes, but 10 episodes was plenty of time to build deep affection for many of the show’s characters. I think my answer would probably come from Netflix’s “BoJack Horseman” and it could be any of, again, 50 characters starting with the title character and Will Arnett’s vocal performance which somehow has yet to be nominated for an Emmy. I love Mr. Peanutbutter and Todd and Vincent Adultman and Hollyhock Manheim-Mannheim-Guerrero-Robinson-Zilberschlag-Hsung-Fonzerelli-McQuack. I love Character Actress Margo Martindale. But you know who I truly love? Jessica Biel! She burnt Zach Braff alive! Yeah, my answer to this poll is Jessica Biel, because many animated characters are great and lovable and hilarious, but only one is Un-Biel-ievable.
Hands down for me, it is Patton Oswalt’s Happy, the flying blue horse for Syfy’s series “Happy!” Happy speaks words of wisdom and tries his gosh-darn darndest to serve as a moral compass for the damaged goods ex-cop turned hitman, Nick Sax (Chris Meloni). Their demented on-screen chemistry shines as Sax tries to save humanity and his daughter Hailey with this little horse who just won’t quit him. Meloni’s comedic take on this violent antihero role is off-the-wall good and Oswalt’s CGI blue Pegasus makes this dark, twisted New York City comic book-styled yarn a fun watch underscored with a hidden heart of gold.
I feel like I’ve been waiting years for someone to ask me this question so I could finally talk about how I see a lot of myself in Louise Belcher on “Bob’s Burgers.” Maybe it’s wrong to love and identify with a 9-year-old girl who’s manipulative and seems to thrive on conflict and chaos, but although Louise has a hard exterior, it’s protecting a gooey center. She loves her family even though she’s constantly making fun of them and tormenting them. She has a special bond with her dad. And she loves a popular boy band member so much she slapped him in his face when she met him. Louise contains multitudes, is what I am saying. And I am obsessed with her.
She’s been on the air for nearly a decade, but I just don’t think I’ll ever relate to another physical human being the way I relate to Tina Belcher. It’s easy to make a case for any of “Bob’s Burgers”‘ exceedingly charming cast of characters, to be sure, but Dan Mintz’s reedy, pubescent drawl, combined with Tina’s gawky stature and adolescent struggle to understand her own wants and needs probably resonates with a fair number of middle-school wallflowers out there. The show paints her as an outsider, but not a loser – those who continually bully her clearly have their own problems, and the show grants Tina the occasional realistic victory over her naysayers. (Or in the case of the Equestranauts, neigh-sayers.) As for the family, she maintains a delicate authority as big sister, even over bunny-eared tyrant Louise. Plus, I mean, who doesn’t love butts? There’s a little Tina in a lot of us, and the way “Bob’s Burgers” bears that out with great sensitivity and humor week after week is a minor miracle.
I mean, technically the answer to this is Homer Simpson, but that’s such a Dan Fienberg answer (and to complete the Dan Fienberg answer, I should now list 32 other animated characters I like to varying degrees.) [Ed. note: Yep, see above.] But even though I’m still more or less a Simpsons fan, I should absolutely name something more of the moment. And for as much as I like all those wacky kids on “Big Mouth,” I love the Hormone Monstress even more. Listen to the way Maya Rudolph says “bubble bath” and try not to forever say “bubble bath” in that exact cadence for the rest of your life. You can’t! It’s impossible!
There are so many talented voice actors working right now on shows like “Tuca & Bertie” featuring Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong, and the entire cast of “BoJack Horseman.” That said, I choose Netflix’s “Big Mouth” when it comes to current animated series because my favorite animated TV character is The Hormone Monstress. Voiced by Maya Rudolph, she manages to combine the vibe of a classic R&B singer with a boozier version of her classic Donatella Versace imitation, in order to create the voice and personality of the Monstress. Whenever I hear the Monstress counseling “Big Mouth’s” Jessie character, I wish I had heard her voice when I was struggling through my adolescence as it would have made my teenage angst so much more bearable and I wouldn’t have cared so much about the other kids’ opinions. And I might’ve grown up to be a boozy, slutty jazz singer. Who knows? I can’t wait for the third season of “Big Mouth” this fall.
OK, so I have just recently become aware of “Rilakkuma and Kaoru,” this Netflix CGI series about a young woman, Kaoru, and her stuffed-bear friend Rilakkuma. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what this twee Japanese import is. Is it a kids’ show? A Wes Anderson experiment? A post-post-modern Winnie the Pooh? No clue. But it is hella cute and so relaxing. Rilakkuma is some sort Hello Kitty-ish teddy bear toy, I know that, having seen the blank-faced plush at numerous Comic-Cons and the branded shop on Times Square, and I even stopped in the store to find out what was up. All I recall was the salesperson saying Rilakkuma was embraced by fans as a stress-relieving character and that he’s actually not a brown bear, but something or someone in a mascot costume (hence the zipper on his back.) I was lost and if I think too much about that, I get freaked out. The show, however, sucked me in with its dreamy animation and score, as well as the sweet nature of its stories. Rilakkuma has these friends, a chicken and a white bear cub, and they pass the time cooking pancakes or having mini-misadventures. They’re also there to make Kaoru, a Japanese office worker, find joy in a relatively mundane world, so there’s a melancholy tinge underneath the unpretentious, sweetly simply production.Oh and Rilakkuma doesn’t speak; he just makes these low grumble sounds and it’s super endearing because we’re never told that the guy is lovable. He just is and a lot of his behavior seems geared toward letting the other people around them know they are, too. And good God, how can you not love that?!
I’m going to pick from recent releases, so put me down for Kaoru from the cuddly Netflix anime “Rilakkuma and Kaoru.” The series follows a woman whose social life is in tatters, love life is non-existent, and support system comes from her roommates, who are a couple of stuffed bears and a duckling. She gets drunk in the park by herself, pounds takoyaki, and talks to ghosts. Sure she’s going insane, but the series treats her adventures like simple life lessons. It’s comforting to see an animated character’s life that is in such disarray, yet she continues to push on as if it’s going to get better. In other words, she’s relatable.
Maggie Simpson (from “The Simpsons”) is going to take over the world —and nothing can convince me otherwise. She’s the quietest Simpson, but the bravest. Heck, she’s saved her family’s life more than once. If the apocalypse was coming, she’s the one I’d want on my side. #TeamMaggie
Hey, the character I most identified with as a child is still around! Goddamn it, Lisa Simpson just gets me. No other preteen girl has been given the chance to have an existential crisis on screen the way that the Yeardley Smith-voiced character was in early episodes of “The Simpsons” — without a doubt, she’s grown up into the equivalent of characters like Diane Nguyen from “BoJack Horseman,” but they all hold a core of Lisa in their hearts, blowing that sweet sax to express their pain.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
Other contenders: “I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson,” (two votes); “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” “Killing Eve,” “Ramy,” “Superstore,” “Tuca & Bertie,” “Veep” (one vote each.)
*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.