Kids. Nothing can bring a decent plotline to a screeching halt like an underdeveloped child character.
Compelling child characters are a rare breed in films, but perhaps a little less so in TV. In television, we are constantly checking back in with characters, allowing them to grow and endear us in a way that we cannot with film. Nonetheless, there has proven to be a paucity of children’s characters on TV, even with the torrent of family-friendly shows that have always existed.
Writing for kids is (I’m guessing) hard because no one knows how the hell they think. Rather than figure it out, many programs are content simply parade the adorable little moppets around for oohs and aahs, then get back to the adult talk. Essentially, this wastes at least 10% of the screen time the show is afforded.
But some shows got the extra mile and leverage child characters to add depth, perspective, absurdity, and comedy to shows that have strong casts to begin with. Here are some examples of such characters that are every bit as integral to their shows as their older counterparts.
While George Michael is the oldest entrant on this list (assuming you don’t count Lisa Simpson’s ageless presence), he is played with a gentleness that one would never expect from a teenager. While just as warped as the other characters on this show, he is at his best when he’s wearing that vacant look on his face, as if to say, “Why do I feel like I’m the only kid in America that has to deal with this type of thing?”
In the hands of a lesser actress, the character of Sally Draper would be a catastrophic disappointment, but Kiernan Shipka adds dimensions to Sally that endear us to her as perhaps the show’s only completely likable character. We’re four seasons in and still digging away at what the hell is going on in that mind of hers. She seems to have a good heart, despite stealing and masturbating in class, but honestly, who of us can say that we didn’t steal stuff and masturbate in class when we were that age?
While the depth and production values of Mad Men are unparalleled, at the end of the day, it’s nice to have someone to root for. And Sally is just that character on the program, even if what we’re rooting for is to see how dark her character can get.