The new year is a perfect time to reflect: What memories did I make? How have I changed in the past 12 months? What do I want to let go of as I go into the next 365 days? This year TikTok users captured the many “eras” of their year, inspiring me to create a media version of my “eras.” In 2022 I read 54 books, watched maybe five movies, obsessed over two new album releases and watched more TV shows than most normal people would. Of the shows I watched this year, some were good, some were fun for the moment, some were horrible and some introduced me to iconic characters that I will never forget. In the spirit of reflection, here are four characters from shows released in 2022 that made a mark on me.
Wednesday Addams, “Wednesday”
It’s no secret that “Wednesday” was a massive hit and, arguably, the biggest show of 2022. It quickly became Netflix’s third most streamed show ever, behind “Squid Game” season one and “Stranger Things” season four, accumulating 1.2 billion hours watched within just its first 28 days. Although I was late to the “Wednesday” party (and may have had it spoiled online before watching), after the first episode, I was hooked, and I instantly connected with the main protagonist, Wednesday (Jenna Ortega, “Stuck in the Middle”). In books and TV shows alike, the main characters are rarely the most-liked or strongest characters. Wednesday is a notable exception. Ortega portrayed Wednesday’s dark humor, witty sarcasm, unapologetic individuality and dead-pan delivery phenomenally without creating a rigid caricature. In addition to verbal patterns, Ortega created a holistic character through her physical actions, upholding an unyielding stare, making sharp movements and maintaining an alert, stoic demeanor. While Ortega’s incredible acting makes the character so tremendous (and I appreciate the similarity between Wednesday’s sense of humor and my own), Wednesday was such a successful protagonist because of her uncanny ability to maintain her identity and take her space in every single situation. Wednesday learns how to express compassion, accept love and form meaningful connections with others — shoutout to Enid (Emma Myers, debut) — without abandoning any part of her identity. Overall, Wednesday’s steady and unique sense of self, impeccable sense of humor and ability to grow makes her one of my favorite fictional characters, not just of 2022, but of all time.
Max Mayfield, “Stranger Things”
“Stranger Things” first took the world by storm in 2016. And again in 2017. And 2019. And, finally, for a fourth time in 2022 with the release of its highly anticipated fourth season. Beloved by many, “Stranger Things” had a lot to live up to, and while season three remains my favorite in the franchise, a couple of characters crept up in my rankings, becoming some of my most-loved characters in television. Without a doubt, season four was Max Mayfield’s (Sadie Sink, “The Whale”) season. From her sarcasm towards Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo, “Honor Society”) in episode one to the emotional turmoil that was episode four to her tear-jerking sacrifice in the season finale, Max was pulled apart and stretched thin in season four. She continues dealing with the trauma caused by the death of her step-brother Billy (Dacre Montgomery, “Elvis”) as she grapples with feelings of guilt while trying to reconcile the love she has for him, even with the broken relationship they had. She learns the value of leaning on others and the importance of processing her emotions while not isolating herself in her own grief. The deep emotional places Max discovers in season four reveal a depth to her character that not only hadn’t been seen in her but that weren’t present in the franchise before. Max made me sob uncontrollably (I’m still not over any of the Max/Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin, “Concrete Cowboy”) scenes) and root for her tremendously, and frankly, she carried season four on her back. All I have to say is, she better wake up in season five.
Charlie Spring, “Heartstopper”
Few shows have stuck with me as intensely as “Heartstopper.” Not only have I watched the show roughly six times and counting, but I have also re-read the books they’re based on at least four times and have committed nearly the entire soundtrack to memory. Charlie Spring (Joe Locke, debut) is a wonderful mess of a human. He epitomizes a young person trying to find themselves and their place in the world while dealing with deep insecurities about themself. Charlie frequently worries about how his presence affects the people around him, at one point thinking, “Maybe I do just ruin people’s lives and it would be better if I didn’t exist.” To some extent, most people have felt a similar way at some point in their life, and Charlie becomes such a strong character because he expresses these insecurities so clearly. Especially for young people who are still learning about themselves, seeing a character like Charlie who feels similar emotions provides reassurance that they are not alone in their thoughts. As human beings, it can be harder to accept love than to give it away, so, though Charlie has difficulty seeing them, we, as viewers, see his positive attributes (like his love, support and commitment to his friends and kindness towards others) and give Charlie love through the screen. In turn, this provides us the perspective to reflect upon ourselves with the same compassion we would give someone else. Simply put, Charlie wants to be loved and accepted, both by himself and by others. Having a character on television that gives voice to those ideas so explicitly is something I had never seen done with so much care until “Heartstopper,” which firmly places Charlie high on my list of characters I love.
Will Byers, “Stranger Things”
I have a few complaints about how season four of “Stranger Things” was set up as a whole; one is that Will Byers (Noah Schnapp, “Hubie Halloween”) did not get nearly enough screen time, despite being the backbone of the entire show. His disappearance was the catalyst for the whole group coming together and battling the Upside Down, and his further connections to the Upside Down have served as major points of contention throughout the show. Further, I have to predict that Will will have one of the largest, if not the largest, roles in finally defeating the Upside Down in season five. Because Will has been such a critical component in moving the plot along, he runs the risk of being a less developed character; we know less about Will because we’ve had less time with him as a person than as a plot device. However, Will also has had less time with himself, so, just as the audience doesn’t truly know who he is, he does not know himself, which makes for a very effective and well-established character. Will’s feelings of abandonment by his friends are completely justified and easy to sympathize with. Nearly everyone has likely sought to travel back to a time when we felt safer and more comfortable with who we are. Will embodies this idea and is much more complex than he gets credit for. I appreciate the subtleties of his character and hope he is given a much bigger role as a person in season five. Really, Will deserves better, and I just want to give him a hug.
2022 introduced some incredible new characters and strengthened some already great ones. Well-developed characters can make or break any work of media and these ones brought their respective shows to a higher level — and hopefully, will continue to do so as they evolve in upcoming seasons. I can’t wait to see which new characters make an impact in 2023, but these four undoubtedly give them a lot to live up to.
Daily Arts Writer Jenna Jaehnig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.