My 25 Favorite TV Characters Ever
According to Javi, there's a meme circulating among television producers who have blogs (there are three of them that I'm aware of) which asks them to name their Top 25 Favorite TV Characters Ever. I'm not a TV producer -- I don't even play one on, er, I guess that one's too obvious, isn't it? -- but I'm never one to let a good meme escape me. So read on to discover my picks...
First, the completely arbitrary rules as established by whoever started this thing:
- No puppets or cartoons. (D'oh! No Homer? Or Kermit? That sucks...)
- No mini-series. (So much for Augustus McRae from Lonesome Dove.)
- No reality-show people. (Well, duh. Like any of them are actual characters. Or even actual people.)
- All characters must be regulars on the show. (Okay, that one makes sense. How silly would it be to say "my favorite is that guest star from episode 39"?)
Anyhow, here's my list, presented in no particular order:
- Thomas Sullivan Magnum, Magnum, PI
Let's review: the guy is tall, good looking, fun-loving, and in great physical shape; he lives essentially rent-free on a wealthy man's estate and is allowed to drive that wealthy man's Ferrari; he works sporadically and seems to spend much of his time playing on the beach; he's got a buddy who owns a helicopter; and all the ladies love him. In short, he's the ultimate male fantasy. When I was about fourteen or so, I was convinced I'd grow up to be just like Thomas... my failure to do so haunts me to this day.
- James "Sonny" Crockett, Miami Vice
Tough and tormented, but also compassionate and infuriated by injustice, Sonny was one of my first "grown-up" heroes, i.e., the brooding characters that walked close to the dark side and which became so popular in '80s and '90s. He was also damn cool, largely due (I believe) to Don Johnson's performance. Colin Farrell's take on the character wasn't nearly as appealing...
- Chief Miles O'Brian, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The only "blue-collar" character ever seen on a Trek series, Miles was just a decent, hard-working family man trying to get by in a universe at war. Sure, he could fix anything, but he wasn't any kind of a genius, and while he definitely had a dark side, he wasn't much a warrior, either. In short, he was Everyman, a rare commodity in a fictional universe filled with exceptional individuals.
- Joe Dawson, Highlander
Duncan MacLeod, the titular protagonist of the series, was handsome, sophisticated, philosophical, and immortal, but Joe was often the more heroic character. All too mortal, as evidenced by his prosthetic legs, Joe was brave under fire, willing to tell authority when to stick it, and he stood by his friendship with MacLeod when even Duncan himself didn't believe in it. And he played a mean blues guitar, too.
- Rick and A.J. Simon, Simon and Simon
Okay, so I'm fudging by naming two characters together, but I'm not sure these guys would have been at all interesting without the other to play off. I never had any siblings, so Rick and A.J. embody my conception of what it must be like: competitive, sometimes infuriating, often funny, and always supportive.
- Dr. Johnny Fever, WKRP in Cincinnati
He may have been a hippie burn-out, but he was cool, with a gently anti-authoritarian streak and a lot of heart underneath the shades and sweatshirt.
- Lt. Starbuck, Battlestar Galactica (1978 version)
A fast-talking, card-playing, cigar-smoking, womanizing, hotshot fighter pilot who uses brash recklessness to cover a tender heart. How could you not love a character like that?
- Willow Rosenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Even when she became the All-Powerful Super-Lesbian-Witch-of-Vengeance, Willow remained lovably insecure and vulnerable. I always wanted to take her in my arms and tell her everything would be okay. You knew Buffy would get through it somehow, but Willow needed our help, and a hug...
- Giles, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
With his mild technophobia, dry, British wit, and hints of a much wilder past than his tweed jackets would suggest, Giles was the ultimate mentor -- and father figure -- for his teenage charges. He started off as something of a bore and grew into a fascinating, nuanced creation. His evolution was as compelling as Buffy's.
- Dr. Leonard H. "Bones" McCoy, Star Trek
Kirk was Star Trek's hero and Spock its intellect, but Bones was its heart. Vulnerable and curmudgeonly, but driven by compassion and braver than he ever believed himself to be, McCoy was probably my least favorite character on the show when I was a kid, but he grew on me as I got older. Changing perspectives, I guess...
- Col. Sherman T. Potter, M*A*S*H
Hawkeye was frequently sanctimonious, B.J. was a bore, Winchester and Frank Burns were... well, Winchester and Frank, but Sherm was everybody's grandfather: basically kind-hearted but willing and able to boot you in the butt when you got out of line.
- Mr. Roarke, Fantasy Island
Mysterious and not always as benevolent as he seemed, Roarke's true nature was never explained. I loved that about him. And the white suit? It doesn't get cooler than that, baby...
- Jake Cutter, Tales of the Gold Monkey
Before Stephen Collins got mired in the sap of Seventh Heaven, he played a 1930s cargo pilot adventuring his way through the South Pacific. Not as ruthless as Indiana Jones (at least in his original Raiders incarnation), Jake was basically a nice, All-American boy who'd ended up trying to survive in a strange corner of the world. Not unlike the real All-American boys who would end up fighting the war that was just only a few years away from Gold Monkey's 1938 setting...
- Col. Wilma Deering, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Sure, she was uber-sexy in her skin-tight spandex, but Wilma was as confident and capable as her male counterpart, Buck Rogers himself, at least in the first season. In the show's ignominious second season, she was demoted to standard "woman in distress" mode and became a lot less interesting. For the record, I began my adolescence with a huge crush on first-season Wilma...
- Sgt. Schultz, Hogan's Heroes
While some have suggested that Schultz, with his "I know nothing!" catchphrase, is a distasteful representation of the Germans who refused to see what was happening around them, I prefer to see him as a man who knew perfectly well was happening around him -- i.e., that the so-called "prisoners" were running the camp -- and chose to ignore it because he knew which side was "the good guys." Besides, he was lovable and arguably the funniest guy on the show.
- Reginald Iolanthe Perrin, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
I'm guessing most of my readers will find this one a bit obscure; follow the link if you've never heard of this series. Reggie Perrin was my introduction to the wonderful world of British comedy. Sarcastic, depressed, and fed up with the absurdity of suburban, white-collar existence, Reggie could've been a thoroughly unlikable character, but instead he was immensely sympathetic, lovable, and damn funny. As I fast approach 40 and struggle with my own mid-life crises, he has become more and more a hero to me...
- David Addison, Moonlighting
Combative, irresponsible, infantile, obsessed with sex, and a smart-mouth -- a horrible person to know in real life, but funny and cool on TV. Funny how that works, isn't it?
- Margo Ledbetter, Good Neighbors (a.k.a. The Good Life)
Another Brit-com character, Margo was a fuss-budget, upper-middle-class snob who got her come-uppance when her suburban neighbors decided to become self-sufficient by plowing under the lawn and planting a vegetable garden -- complete with goats and pigs. Like Reggie Perrin, Margo could've been immensely shrill, but a combination of good writing and an excellent performance made her lovable. And unlike Reggie, she evolved and grew throughout the series, always a plus.
- Chris in the Morning, Northern Exposure
Another flavor of cool, the New Age-y, unbelievably well-read Chris was the resident guru of Cicely, a guy who looked like a motorcycle bum but could quote, well, everything. A gentle spirit with really great hair (I always wanted hair like Chris').
- Barney Fife, The Andy Griffith Show
A walking package of neuroses, insecurities, and nervous tics, Barney is every person who ever felt inadequate and overcompensated to cover it up. I can't praise Don Knotts' skills as a physical comedian (or an actor giving an achingly sympathetic performance) highly enough.
- Edith Bunker, All in the Family
Ditzy but never stupid, Edith was the glue that held her tempestuous family together, often by bringing the voice of common sense into the eternal battle between Archie and Meathead. In certain respects, she reminded me of my own mom, forever trying to keep Dad and me from killing each other.
- Samantha Stevens, Bewitched
The hottest wife and mom ever to cross a CRT, and she was a witch to boot! Seriously, Sam was an interesting character, a proto-feminist in the sense that she was choosing her own destiny instead of following the path laid out for her, and Elizabeth Montgomery had a great sense of comedic timing.
- Worf, Star Trek: The Next Generation/Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Of all the characters on all the Treks, none evolved more or were more fully developed than our resident Klingon, Worf. Stoic, noble, scary, searching, and quirkily funny, Worf was the coolest character on two shows.
- Chloe O'Brian, 24
Chloe is your worst nightmare of a coworker -- needlessly hostile, unnecessarily sharp-tongued, paranoid, passive-aggressive, and, just to ensure you can't stand her, uber-competent -- but she's sure fun to watch, especially in this past season when events forced her to reveal some of her humanity. I don't like Chloe, but I do find her entertaining and fascinating.
- Les Nessman, WKRP in Cincinnati
Pretentious, incompetent, jingoistic, and borderline delusional, Les was the worst excuse for a journalist ever seen on television. He was also hilarious and, like Barney Fife, lovable in his all-too-recognizable insecurities. The episode where he lands a date with Jennifer is one of the funniest things ever done in this medium.
As usual when I do these lists, I have a few observations:
First, this list was harder to assemble than I anticipated. You wouldn't think it'd be hard to come up with 25 possibilities out of all the hundreds of characters that I've seen over the years, but it was. Not because I couldn't narrow it down, but because I was having a hard time figuring out which qualified as "favorite."
And for that matter, what is the definition of "favorite," anyhow? Does it mean the most likable characters, the ones I wish I had as friends or with whom I'd like to share a meal? Does it mean the characters I don't like as people but who are damn entertaining to watch (i.e., the bad guys who you "love to hate")? The ones who evolve the most during the series' run? Or how about the ones I'd most like to be? I finally opted for a combination of all of the above, weighted heavily toward the "share a meal" criterion.
I find it interesting in looking back at my list that many of the characters I mentioned are sidekicks as opposed to the heroes of their respective shows, or else members of large ensemble casts that don't really have "heroes." I'm not sure what that says about me, except that I maybe find the ordinary joes more likeable than the exceptional folks.
Finally, the former liberal-arts student in me couldn't help but notice that there are no people of color on this list (unless you count dark-skinned Klingons) and damn few women compared to the blond white guys. Is that because I am subconsciously racist and/or sexist? Or is American television racist and/or sexist, presenting few appealing characters who aren't blond white guys? While I suspect the latter is definitely a problem (and I hope the former is not), I think the data here are probably skewed by the fact that I was trying to hold myself to only one or two characters from any given series. The truth is, I could've listed the entire cast of several series as "favorites" -- including Deep Space Nine, Highlander, Northen Exposure, and Buffy -- which would've boosted the feminine and ethnic quotient somewhat.
Of course, there's always the possibility that I'm thinking too much about this...