When I see the great lists from Wings or Michael or Siskoid I have to contribute my two cents to the mix. As usual these are my first five since I tend to work on my descriptions too long and I can't wait to post. All these characters are on TV now so you still can enjoy their work any day or weekly.
Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donavan) - Burn Notice - The spy forced into the light. Michael was once happily content to work for the CIA and do what he does best all over the world. However, after receiving his ‘burn notice’ he had to turn his considerable skill set into any kind of money making venture and found himself helping people with nowhere else to turn while dealing with the often exasperating people closest to him. Noble to a fault, he is his own man as he showed in the season finale. When faced with a choice that would have compromised his principles (but also would have made his life better) he took the hard way out and those of us who love great TV are the better for it.
Sam Puckett (Jennette McCurdy) -iCarly - On a very funny show with three very appealing lead child actors, Sam is the standout. She is sarcastic and abrasive but charming and entertaining. Sometimes she goes too far but she is loyal to her friends and merciless to her enemies. Her love/hate relationship with Freddy adds another layer of comedy to an already wacky show. She brings the best out in every other performers around her and keeps the writers on their toes to keep her from overshadowing the other actors and that is what keeps this show fresh. She is like every kid from a dysfunctional home I have ever taught who hides her pain behind sarcasm and aggression and in that way is among the most real of teens on TV.
Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) - Law and Order SVU - A noble man trying to do what is right despite his own demons, Elliot is the heart of the SVU. He often seems to be fighting the uphill battle against perversion (especially crimes directed at children) and can be his own worst enemy. His anger is always bubbling just below the surface and you know that if he let himself go he could easily kill. However, nothing he has seen or did keeps him from having compassion for the powerless and his own family struggles only makes him a more heroic figure. Everyday is a struggle for him when he doesn’t necessarily know the proper path to take.
Dwight Shrute (Rainn Wilson) - The Office - Dwight has the greatest undeserved self confidence of any character on TV and brings CLUELESS to a new level. You know that if anyone cared to look they would find the bodies of both pets and homeless on the beet farm since murder seemed to be his first solution to any problem. I love the way Dwight is willing to totally buy into any conspiracy theory with only the minimal of evidence like when Jim convinced him that the computer was out to destroy him. Comedy is hard but doing comedy while totally buying into every premise is a gift from a great actor.
Jonas Blane/Snake Doctor (Dennis Haysbert) - The Unit - On a team of alpha males he is the top dog. Loyal and fiercely intelligent with the will to do what is necessary for both is country and his family. He is able to think on his feet and you know he would take a bullet for anyone in his life which was evident when he went against orders to rescue his daughter who had been captured by insurgents in Iraq. He just commands respect and makes everyone around him better soldiers and better men by the sheer force of his example. Created by David Mamet, a man who knows how to write solid characters.