It’s an unfortunate truth: bad circumstances make for good television, and this fact is especially true when it comes to backstories. This year, the best shows have been popping out damaged characters left and right, and I'm all the more invested in them because of it.
Jon Snow from Game of Thrones
Everyone loved him then, and they all love him now, but Jon Snow’s done a fair bit of transforming since season one. He went from Ned Stark’s pretty-boy bastard son to Commander of the Night’s Watch, and even though he’s doing pretty well for himself, the questions still arise. Who is his mom? What’s with these underhanded comments that he might not even be Ned’s? The internet is rife with theories. R+L=J, am I right?
In this season, Jon’s more honorable and compassionate than ever, and it makes you wonder; maybe he’s the best Stark son because his childhood sucked. Also, I'm choosing not to acknowledge that final scene.
2. Chang from Orange is the New Black
With her bizarre habits and few words (most of them pertaining to male genitalia) Chang’s pretty much just been a source of comedic relief since season 1. She quietly ran the commissary and brushed her teeth with salt, and no one, including me, paid much attention. Until now.
This year, Chang was given her very own flashback episode, and man, was it intense. After she and her brother first move to the US from China, she goes from submissive little sister to hardcore substance-smuggling criminal real quick. Turns out no one messes with you after you demand the removal of someone’s gall bladder.
3. Kimmy from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
When you live in an underground apocalypse bunker for fifteen years with three other women and an unhinged reverend, it’s probable that you’ll be a little weird. This girl exceeds expectations on the weird-scale.
She’s got a seriously outdated vocabulary and sense of style, what with her “as-ifs” and Sketchers, so when she’s released into modern-day New York City life, the result is pure hilarity. Add in boy problems, a fabulously flamboyant roommate, and a boss who thinks Botox is a daily ritual, and I'm psyched for next season.
4. Saul Goodman from Better Call Saul
Breaking Bad had a full cast of incredible characters, but few were as slimy, conniving, and pitiful as Saul. That’s exactly why he got his own spin-off series, and the entire thing is backstory.
In this series, we find out that Saul’s real name is James McGill (aka Slippin’ Jimmy) and he used to be a small-time conman with a big-time lawyer brother. After a few run-ins with the law, he becomes a lawyer himself, and at first, he genuinely tries to keep it moral. However, it’s not long before he realizes that money and shady stuff go hand in hand. A new suit, a cocky attitude, a few rough clients, and soon he’s well on his way to a brand new identity: Saul Goodman—so named because his catchphrase is, “s’all good, man!”
5. Paul Woodrugh from True Detective
With this new season comes four new protagonists, but as far as childhoods go, Paul’s is among the worst.
Born to a showgirl, he doesn’t know his dad and his mom is constantly guilting him for ending her “career.” Combine that with a previous tour in the Middle East, alleged war crimes, a shame-filled homosexual relationship, a case of PTSD, and a whole bunch of mysterious scars, and this guy’s caught my interest. Also, he’s admittedly easy on the eyes, and that never hurts.
6. Elliot from Mr. Robot
This show is only one season in, but so far, they’ve given us a lot to work with. Elliot’s an underground hacker who’s trying to take down one of America’s most evil corporations. Sounds pretty standard, right?
Then we find out that he was abused by his mother, his father died of leukemia, and he’s got a sister who he regularly forgets about, not to mention the schizophrenia, delusions, and a particularly significant imaginary friend. I'll stop here for the sake of spoilers, but trust us; he’s an interesting dude.
7. Riley from Sense 8
Focused around eight (very different) strangers who are somehow psychically connected, this show is a goldmine of great backstories. I chose Riley because, really, what’s more fascinating than an Icelandic DJ who’s knee-deep in the London drug trade?
This girl believes she’s hexed, and she has a good reason to. Her mother passed away when she was a kid, her husband died in a car crash while driving her to the hospital during labor, and her baby didn’t make it after she gave birth in a snow-buried car. In fact, the only good thing about her childhood is her awesome pianist dad.
8. Pennsatucky from Orange is the New Black
In a show that’s constructed entirely around backstories, you had to know there'd be more than one in this post. In fact, Pennsatucky already got her flashback episode, but the newest season decided one just wasn’t enough.
Pennsatucky started off the series as one of the antagonists. Conceited, conniving, and ignorant, I didn’t much relate to her until we got a window into her past as an accidental idol for the Catholic Church. This time, we get even more about her upbringing in a rural American town. Her mother funnels mountain Dew down her throat to get government money for her daughter’s “ADHD,” as well as teaches her daughter to have obscenely low standards when it comes to men. Good thing we have Mother Boo to sweep in and show Pennsatucky what’s what.