It’s that magical, pumpkin-addled time of year when we celebrate the holidays by using them as the basis for seasonal, TV-themed stories. Halloween and Thanksgiving soak up most of the attention, but November 5 marks one of the year’s less treasured celebrations: Guy Fawkes Day.
In case your seventeenth-century history is rusty, on November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes took part in the abortive Gunpowder Plot, an attempt by English Catholics to blow up Parliament. The scheme’s failure is commemorated annually on this date, with burning effigies and cries of “Remember, remember the fifth of November!”
For four centuries, Guy Fawkes has been synonymous with a notorious failed plot. That’s why today we honor him with a look at five TV characters who seem to always end up involved in failed plots—stories that grate, bore, implode, or otherwise arouse the ire of the commonfolk.
Nelson Van Alden, Boardwalk Empire
Michael Shannon’s creepily hair-shirted performance singlehandedly keeps Van Alden a compelling presence; it’s a shame the writing of the last season-plus hasn’t matched his level (last night's face-ironing notwithstanding). More so than anyone else on this list, Van Alden is a case of wasted potential. The character started out as a rich, disturbing portrait of asceticism, a microcosm of how the stringent denial of human urges attempted through acts like Prohibition ultimately atrophies people from within.
Then he burst like the furnace at the Overlook Hotel. Since late in Season 2, Van Alden’s misfortunes have vacillated between tedious and over-the-top implausibility: committing manslaughter in a fit of pious fervor, shacking up with Lucy, fleeing to Chicago to sell irons door-to-door. Right now he’s on an island, no longer connected to either of Boardwalk’s larger stories or its themes.
Lily Aldrin, How I Met Your Mother
Kids, back in 2005, HIMYM established itself as one of the most honest, affectionate sitcoms around. In its later seasons, though, it’s fallen prey to a common comedy affliction: distorting its characters into caricatures of their former selves in a reach for more and broader jokes. None of the core five have been as badly served by HIMYM’s general decline as Alyson Hannigan’s Lily, once a sharp and self-possessed woman now treated as little more than a grab bag of sitcommy wife/mother stereotypes. Even in these weaker seasons, Marshall, Barney, and Robin have all enjoyed story arcs that've deepened them, while Lily has gradually shed both agency and identity.
Declan Porter, Revenge
Declan's relationship with Charlotte in Revenge's first season often worked better than it received credit for, as the two star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks strained to resist the poisonous influence of their elders. But severed from that, Declan is way off in left field, getting roped into conspiracy-related juvenile delinquency because... well, because Connor Paolo is still on the payroll, I guess?
As the connection to Emily’s less vengeance-laden childhood, the Brothers Porter started out as a salt-of-the-earth oasis amid the luxurious villainy of the Hamptons. But when Revenge’s soapiest instincts rev up, the show struggles to keep both of them incorporated. Jack at least retains a bond to the show’s center, albeit a second-level bond these days. Declan probably should’ve spent at least part of this season off at whatever summer camp they sent Chuck Cunningham and Judy Winslow to.
Maw Maw, Raising Hope
Like Greg Garcia’s previous series, My Name is Earl, Raising Hope works best when it goes for a warm-hearted approach with black humor around the edges; the show stumbles when it attempts the reverse. The sitcom figured itself out in the second season when it embraced the Chance family rather than scoffing at them, but the near-psychotic Maw Maw remains a vestige of its more misanthropic impulses. Cloris Leachman is as game a comic performer as you’ll find, and when she drops in for a few zingers to tart up an episode the character can be funny. Put her at the center of the story—like with this season’s two-parter “Throw Maw Maw from the House”—and the “crazy/horny/violent old lady” gags run roughshod over everything else.
Any non-Morgan, Dexter
Remember Angel and LaGuerta’s courtship? How about Quinn’s dalliance with internal affairs? What about the time Masuka went on Antiques Roadshow? That last one might not have happened, but I can’t say for sure, because I’ve forgotten virtually every storyline Dexter has ever done that didn’t involve its title character or his sister Deb (and even for her you have to look past a handful of ill-considered romantic subplots).
Which characters do you dread seeing pop up at the center of a storyline these days? Which characters have been mishandled or have outlived their usefulness on their given show? Nominate your own honorary TV Guy Fawkeses in the comments.