Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Best and the Worst: Sitcom Characters

Just the other night, Theresa and I were watching the evening news, catching up on the latest Charlie Sheen self-destructive meltdown, when we got to thinking about all the teen and child stars who couldn't resist the temptation to destroy their own lives.  There's Sheen, of course, then you've got Macaulay Culkin, River Phoenix, anyone named Corey, anyone who starred on Diff'rent Strokes . . . we thought it might be easier to list the former child stars who actually made it to adulthood unscathed.  Here's what we came up with:

Ron Howard

That concludes our list.

It makes sense though, if you think about it.  Ron Howard had the benefit of learning from three wonderful fathers.  First and foremost there was his biological dad Rance Howard, a talented actor in his own right who kept a close watch on young Ronny's career and made sure the kid stayed grounded.  Rance then passed Ronny along to his next father, Mayberry sheriff Andy Taylor, who did a wonderful job teaching Ronny (who Taylor called "Opie") to be respectful, responsible, and honorable.  When Ron entered high school, he was adopted by father number three, a Milwaukee hardware store owner named Howard Cunningham.  Mr. Cunningham and his wife continued to instill in their son (now dubbed "Richie") wholesome family values that Ron embodies to this very day.

I'm not sure how this all relates to the topic at hand, which is TV's best and worst sitcom characters, but I thought it was interesting.

I've always been a fan of television situation comedies.  Taxi is my all-time favorite, but I'm also a fan of Happy Days, Cheers, Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, and  many others.  I thought it would be fun to take a look at the best and the worst characters in sit-com history.  As always, a few disclaimers are in order here.  You won't see anyone from Friends or Frasier, because I never watched those shows.  From the bits and pieces I have seen, the guy on Friends with the weird voice who looks kind of like a horse would probably make the "worst" list, as would Urkel from Family Matters, another show I never saw.

Also, I've limited the lists to main characters or featured supporting roles during a show's most successful years.  Historically, once shows "jump the shark," so many ridiculous characters come into play that my task would've been nearly impossible.  Hence, you won't find Cousin Oliver, Chachi Arcola, or anyone played by Ted McGinley among my selections.

So here we go, make yourself a bowl of popcorn and plop down on your couch as we venture off into TV land . . .

BEST

1. Jim Ignatowski (Taxi)

In every episode of Taxi, you could bank on at least one "Iggy Moment," a scene or a one-liner guaranteed to bring you to tears in hysterics.  The best of the lot was in an early episode when Jim was taking his driver's test: 

Jim: Psst!  What does a yellow light mean?

Bobby: Slow down.

Jim (pauses): What . . . does . . . a . . . yellow light . . . mean?

Bobby: Slow down!

Jim (frustrated): WHAT . . . DOES . . . A . . . YELLOW . . . LIGHT . . . MEAN?!

Bobby: SLOW DOWN!

Jim: WHAAAAT . . . DOESSSSS . . . A . . . YELLLOWWW . . . LIIIIGHT . . . MEEEAN!?

It loses something in print, but it's absolutely brilliant.  Another typical Iggy Moment" 

Bobby: Okay, I'm trying to really tell this jerk what I think of him.  Give me a couple good adjectives.

Elaine: Despicable.

Tony: Repulsive.

Jim: Purple!

Without a doubt, Reverend Jim was the best ever.

2. Hawkeye Pierce (M*A*S*H)

Long before Dr.Gregory House, Hawkeye Pierce was television's cynical, wise-cracking medical professional.  Hawkeye took the concept of "gallows humor" to a whole new level, making off-color jokes in the face of the most grisly wartime tragedy imaginable.

Between surgeries, though, Hawkeye and his sidekick Trapper John (or in later seasons, B.J. Hunnicut) spend most of their time drinking, nailing nurses, and generally making life miserable for their superior officers (Major Frank Burns and Major Charles Winchester in particular).  But Hawkeye wasn't just a one-note smart ass.  On many occasions, the casualties of war got the best of him and he displayed a more serious, thoughtful, and emotional side.  Sure, he was a pain in the ass . . . but he was one of the good guys.

3. Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory)

I have a feeling that there will be varying opinions on Dr. Sheldon Cooper, The Big Bang Theory's "geek among geeks."  Viewers will either find him brilliantly hilarious or gratingly obnoxious, there's no middle ground.  He's as self-centered as a person can possibly be, a genius who is forced to tolerate the foibles of lesser humanoids (in his mind, "everybody").  Case in point . . .

In one episode, Sheldon is considering donating his sperm, in an effort to create a young genius (he's opposed to the idea of sexual intercourse).  Naturally, he realizes that the potential mother of his biological offspring might dilute the intellectual makeup of his "genetic contribution." 

Sheldon: But then some poor woman is going to pin her hopes on my sperm, what if she winds up with a toddler who doesn't know if he should use an integral or a differential to solve for the area under a curve?

Leonard: I'm sure she'll still love him.

Sheldon: I wouldn't.

Over the run of the show, Sheldon has formed an unlikely, though condescending bond with Penny, the hot blond actress/waitress who lives across the hall.  In the most poignant scene of the series, Penny presents Sheldon with a one-of-a kind Christmas present. 

Penny: Here you go, Sheldon, Merry Christmas.


Sheldon: It's a . . . cloth napkin from the Cheesecake Factory.

Penny: Well, look at it, Sheldon.

Sheldon (reading an autograph): "To Sheldon . . . Live Long and Prosper . . . LEONARD NIMOY!?!"

Penny: Sorry about the smudge, that's where he wiped his mouth.


Sheldon (incredulous): I POSSESS THE DNA OF LEONARD NIMOY!?  With this napkin and a viable ovum, I could create my own Leonard Nimoy!

Penny: Hey, I'm just giving you the napkin. 

4. Norm Peterson (Cheers)

"Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name."

Norm is the guy the Cheers theme song is about.  He's the ambiance, he's the decor, he's the very reason bars like Cheers exist in the first place.  He's saluted with a communal "NORM!" every time he walks in the place.  Hell, if he weren't a friggin' Red Sox fan, he'd be the perfect drinking buddy.

To me, the highlight of every episode was Norm's response to innocuous greetings from Woody or Sam.  A sampling: 

Sam: What'll you have, Normie?
Norm: Well, I'm in a gambling mood, Sammy, so give me a glass of whatever comes out of that tap.
Sam: Looks like beer.
Norm: Call me "Mr. Lucky."

Woody: What's going on, Mr. Peterson?
Norm: The question is, what's going IN Mr. Peterson.  Make it a beer, Woody.



Sam: What's the story, Norm?
Norm: Boy meets beer.  Boy drinks beer.  Boy meets another beer.

Now excuse me, while I go pour myself a beer.  I'll be back in a minute. 

5. Ed Norton (The Honeymooners)

You know I had to go "old school" on one of these, and what better example of comedy greatness than Ed Norton.  For the younger readers out there, I'm not talking about the guy from American History X and Fight Club, I'm talking about the sanitation engineer (sewer man) from TV's The Honeymooners.  Norton was Ralph Kramden's best friend and frequent source of irritation, joining "ol' Ralphie boy" in a variety of get-rich-quick schemes and other hilarious misadventures.

Norton was also the prototype for future gawky, bumbling television characters, most notably Jim Ignatowski from Taxi and Kramer from Seinfeld.  Without question, the best Norton scene ever is from an episode entitled "The Golfer".  There's absolutely no way to do it justice in writing, so here's the clip.  Enjoy!




WORST

1. Gilligan (Gilligan's Island)

How this guy made it through a tour of duty in the United States Navy is anybody's guess because there has never been as clueless a moron in the entire history of television.  The Gilligan's Island storyline never explicitly states HOW they ended up wrecking the S.S. Minnow on the shore of a desert island (oh, sure, "the weather started getting rough" but these are trained sailors), but it's not much of a stretch to assume that Gilligan's incompetence was the main culprit.

Once stranded, Gilligan repeatedly screws up the castaways' chances to get rescued.  I mean, sure, the question will always be out there -- if the Professor was brilliant enough to make a two-way radio out of a couple coconuts and some bamboo, why couldn't he patch a two-foot hole in a boat? -- but when push came to stumble, Gilligan was the group's worst enemy.  They should've just shot him.  With, you know, a rifle made from bamboo and coconuts.

Oh, obscure trivia: "Gilligan" was the character's last name.  His first name was "Willie".

2. Judith Harper-Melnick (Two and a Half Men)

This bitch is the Patron Demon of Greedy, Selfish Ex-Wives everywhere.  Let's start at the beginning:

She divorces her husband Alan Harper because she feels "suffocated."  All right, granted, Alan is more than a little bit quirky and he can be irritating at times.  But he's a successful chiropractor, he's a good father, he took care of the Harper household, and he loved his wife beyond all reason.  For that, she broke up their family and forced Alan to move in with his degenerate brother (who, ironically, proved to be less screwed up than the actor who played him).  And what consequences does she suffer for destroying Alan's life?

She keeps the house, and pulls in huge alimony and child support checks.  You'd think that would be enough for the soul-sucking shrew, but it's not, not even close.  In one episode, Judith wrecks her car and questions why Alan hasn't kept up her insurance premiums.  Alan patiently explains that SHE'S NOT HIS FRIGGIN' WIFE ANYMORE, and she needs to take responsibility for herself.  She responds with, "Well, let's just see what my lawyers think about that."

At the risk of repeating myself, he should've just shot her.  Or dumped her ass on Gilligan's Island.


3. Joanie Cunningham (Happy Days)

I can't really think of a sit-com where the kid sister wasn't an annoying pain in the ass.  Dee on What's Happening, Cindy on The Brady Bunch, and Jennifer on Family Ties spent most of their screen time disrupting the lives of their older siblings.  But none were as focused on this goal as Joanie Cunningham, younger sister of Richie and Chuck (the writers always hoped we'd forget about the eldest Cunningham child, but he was there in season one with his ubiquitous basketball in hand).

I always thought Joanie was kind of creepy-looking (though she did get hotter as she got older) with her freckles and shit-eating grin which she usually flashed after getting Richie in trouble.  And for Pete's sake, in one episode she developed a crush on Potsie.  That's right, POTSIE!  Fonzie, sure, I think we could all understand that, but Potsie was second only to Ralph Malph on the Happy Days douchebaggery scale.  What she saw in that guy, I'll never know.  Still, she eventually hooked up with Chachi Arcola, to the point where the network gave them their own spin-off.

Yeah, that worked.

Little sisters should never get their own shows.  Period.

4. Ralph Furley (Three's Company)

For those of you unfamiliar with the term "jump the shark" here's the basic definition: It's the point in time where an entity (usually a TV show or rock band) passes its peak and rushes downhill to a devastating and long overdue demise.  This is usually caused by a key cast member leaving (Shelly Long leaving Cheers is a minor example, though in my opinion the show was better without her), a new and usually annoying character being added (we're back to Cousin Oliver again), or the same character being played by a different actor (Bewitched replacing one Dick with another).

Three's Company was a shark-jumping extravaganza.  Chrissy departed and was replaced by Teri.  Then Teri got the boot and Cindy entered.  And of course, Mr. and Mrs. Roper moved out and were replaced by the new landlord, Ralph Furley.  What an irritating bastard THAT guy was.  It's almost like the producers said, "No, the Ropers just aren't grating or obnoxious enough, we need somebody who has all those same off-putting qualities and . . . hey, what if he actually SNORTS when he laughs?  How would that be?"

They went with it.

And I thought Don Knotts couldn't out-do his portrayal of Barney Fife.

5. Lily Aldrin (How I Met Your Mother)

Now here's a show that baffles me.  Of the five major characters on How I Met Your Mother, only one is consistently funny and interesting (Barney), one is mostly tolerable (Robin), two are usually annoying (Ted and Marshall) and one deserves to be banished from television entirely (Lily).  And yet, with so many bothersome personalities, I really enjoy the show.

I guess it's the writing.

Anyway, Lily Aldrin is just painful to watch.  First of all, she's married to Marshall Erickson, but she didn't take his last name, which always bothers me.  What, she's too good to be an Erickson?  Furthermore, she spends most of her time drinking at McLaren's Pub in New York, and in one case, visited a strip club.  That wouldn't be worth much notice, except she's a KINDERGARTEN TEACHER.  Not that kindergarten teachers shouldn't have lives, but seriously.  I can't imagine this ditz working with five-year-olds.

She's annoying, plain and simple.  Kind of like a grown up Joanie Cunningham.


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20 comments:

Kat said...

I love all of your "bests" and had a good laugh at your Honeymooners clip - a classic. I don't know all of your "worsts" but have to agree with the ones that I do know.

Quirkyloon said...

Gee. I always thought Potsie was kinda cute.

*ducking tomatoes*

I've never watched those newer comedies: Two and A Half Men or How I Met Your Mudda.

However, my 13-yr-old did clue me into two comedies that I never watched originally but I think are hilarious now: Everybody Hates Chris and Malcolm in the Middle.

Good review!

Loved Mash! Hotlips anyone?

EmptyNester said...

Absolutely LOVE The Big Band Theory. It's the only new-ish one that I watch. The rest of the time? It's reruns of the old ones!

Eva Gallant said...

What a great post. Loved the blast from the past Honeymooners video. I'm also a big fan of the Big Bang Theory, and I also loved Taxi.

Anonymous said...

Goodness what a wonderful post.Loved the video.

ReformingGeek said...

I love Hawkeye!

I hate Judith.

How I Met Your Mother needs to get to the point. Lily and Marshall together don't bother me as much as separately.

Great post!

Mariann Simms said...

"Don't touch me...I'm sterile!" One of the funniest Honeymooners skits as well. Art Carney sure was funny.

I'm shocked you never watched "Frasier".

Joanie always looked OLD to me.

Loved the Jim reference...and I remember that episode well. Hilarious. :)

Fred Miller said...

What's goin' down, Mr. Peterson?

"My buttcheeks on this barstool."

Suldog said...

"How's it goin', Mr. Peterson?"

"It's a dog-eat-dog world, and I'm wearing milk bone underwear..."

**************************

I'll go very old-school for one of my favorites that you missed (or, given your age, may not have had a chance to enjoy as often as I did.)

Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko. TV has rarely seen such an oily and greedy (and funny) character since Phil Silvers left the air. The only one I can recall who came even close to matching him for sheer comic repulsiveness was Eddie Haskell (Leave It To Beaver).

I would also include Bob Denver's other well-known character, Maynard G. Krebs (Dobie Gillis) as one of my faves. Just the mere fact that his eyes got wide and his voice changed any time work was mentioned... (WORK?!?)

Kenton said...

Great post!
Sheldon is awesome!! He rules TV right now.
Judith and my ex-wife should get together sometime. lol
I almost dismissed the whole post becuase you bashed lily, but you make a valid point and I think the only reason I like her is because she's HOT! :)

Uncle Skip, said...

I had high hopes for Howard Hesseman as Dr.Johnny Fever on WKRP in Cincinnati but he went downhill from the first episode. It was the antics of Herb and Les that kept me watching.
Big Bang Theory actually make me laugh out loud and I'm pretty sure it because of Sheldon because none of the others, except maybe Penny, would be half as funny without his character to play off of.
As for worsts... I'm sure if I thought about it for awhile I could think of someone besides yours.

injaynesworld said...

I agree with all of these, except Lily. I love Lily. She always cracks me up.

And couldn't agree with you more on Ed Norton. Freakin' genius.

Oh, yeah -- and your theory about Ron Howard makes a lot of damn sense, too.

Jamie said...

Wow, I'm about 50/50 with familiarity of these shows but I'd say you're spot on with the ones I know... and now I have a new goal. You know, since blogging doesn't eat up enough time.

J.J. in L.A. said...

I think Judith is funny because she's a bitch.

I liked Rebecca on Cheers WAY more than Diane.

I can't believe you never watched Frasier. My all-time fav comedy.

Also like Everybody Loves Raymond. But I can't stand Frank (the dad).

LOVE Big Bang Theory! I have a crush on Leonard. Sheldon is funny in a 'I wanna smack him' kind of way. And I loved his and Penny's 'kitty' song duet.

I don't see what the big deal is about HIMYM. The only character I like is Lily. Barney is another guy I want to smack. Ted too, if I had the chance.

Tony Van Helsing said...

I agree with Suldog about Sgt Bilko. They still show it over here in England. Classic.

Boom Boom Larew said...

A great list. Love Rev. Jim and Hawkeye! And Suldog's favorites? Maynard G. Krebs was always a favorite of mine, too!

Trauma Queen said...

I cannot STAND Lily Aldrin. But what does it matter what her surname is? She would be as annoying anyway....

Dakota Lipscomb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dakota Lipscomb said...

Robin is the most tolerable character on How I Met Your Mother? Lily is the female who is actually consistently funny. Robin, however, I think is one of the most irritating characters on any tv show. Marshall I think is the funniest on the show (while I think Barney is hilarious also). The show is almost perfect with the exception of her.

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