No icons like Superman, Mickey Mouse, or Flash Gordon (you get the idea) that existed somewhere else were included on this list. The characters had to exist on TV and then from there, create their own path. No “reality” show people are a part of this list. Kim Kardashian isn’t a character, she’s just a whore. So she and her like were not included. Those were the only rules.
Other than that, I decided to do the 15 best characters on TV right now – and the 60 greatest of all time. Only time will tell how many of today’s characters will make the list later. I was really shocked how tough the competition became, I even left two close calls in the mix. Read on…
15) Larry David – “Curb Your Enthusiasm” – Himself: Few people would have the balls to put himself what David does every week, especially if they’re calling the shots. Being this raw and emotional on a weekly series has never looked worse, or been so funny.
14) Rick Castle – “Castle” – Nathan Fillion: Smooth, cool, and full of clues – this guy would be too good to be true if it weren’t for the one redeeming quality, he makes fun of himself. And he loves his daughter, make that two redeeming qualities.
13) Roger Sterling – “Mad Men” – John Slattery: A late series regular add no one on series TV has better one-liners than him right now, a lesser actor would deliver them with less pathos and mystique, that’s why he’s on the list.
12)Robin Scherbatsky – “How I Met Your Mother” – Cobie Smulders: In an ensemble of bigger stars, she could get overlooked – but this wacky, gun-toting Canadian with a powerful ‘80s mall singer secret makes us laugh, because she earns them.
11) Kenny Powers – “Eastbound & Down” – Danny McBride: The idea behind his character was to get the audience to root for the asshole. Mission accomplished. Powers is an asshole and we love it.
10)Gloria Delgado-Pritchett – Modern Family” – Sophia Vergara: Again, an ensemble could swallow a lesser actress whole. But not only is she the funniest of the bunch, she’s also the scariest – you know she would cut you for the right price. It doesn’t hurt that she’s intensely foxy either.
9) Sheldon Cooper – “The Big Bang Theory” – Jim Parsons: Who knew being an arrogant nerd could be so funny? Add in a dash of geek for good measure, and this puddle of quirks and disorders is comedy brilliance.
8) Dr. Gregory House – “House M.D.” – Hugh Laurie: Quite possibly the most complicated character on TV. Laurie infuses this gruff and brilliant doctor with enough pain and sorrow to fill a prescription pad himself. But it’s his caustic tongue that says exactly whatever it wants that gets viewers tuning in every week.
7) Walter White Sr. – “Breaking Bad” – Bryan Cranston: The series creator told Cranston his character was going to go from Mr. Chips to Scarface over the course of the series. It’s that evolution that’s interesting, but it’s the actor who still has to carry out the charge. No wonder he’s won three straight drama Emmys, the most since the ‘70s.
6) Raylan Givens – “Justified” – Timothy Olyphant: A man’s man who lives by a code and will kill you for the same one. Never does more than he says he will do, but frequently not only is that enough, it can leave a bad guy with no alternatives. A cowboy never looked so good between this and his “Deadwood” character of Seth Bullock. Olyphant is simply the most intriguing actor on the small screen, you can’t shy away.
5) Blair Waldorf – “Gossip Girl” – Leighton Meester: She was supposed to be the bitch. She was supposed to be spoiled. She was supposed to be the foil to Blake Lively’s Serena. She’s all of those things of course, but she also became part of the most beloved couple in tweendom. She gives the best line readings around for a new generation. She’s funny as hell. And cute as can be. She’s on the list – and you better watch your back.
4) Ari Gold – “Entourage” – Jeremy Piven: Forget about the actor’s B.S. This character not only changed how the game was played, we now understand what the game actually is because of him. He is the essence of every Hollywood agent out there, take my word for it. But somehow, no matter how bad it gets, we still want to see Ari succeed. Even if he’s hugging it out with his bitches.
3) Nancy Botwin – “Weeds” – Mary-Louise Parker: In the hands of a lesser actress this show would fall apart. What she’s expected to carry is a little mind numbing: be funny, be supportive, be dramatic, carry the show under the weight of your name – and don’t get too ridiculous because that’s what the rest of your acting ensemble is for. How Mary-Louise hasn’t won an Emmy yet is absolutely criminal.
2) Don Draper – “Mad Men” – Jon Hamm: What is identity? What makes us who we are? These must be interesting questions to play if you’re an actor, especially if your own character struggles with them on a weekly basis. Add to that the fact that you’re responsible for changing the very culture you desperately want to assimilate to. Don Draper is suave and handsome , but he’s also incredibly deep and shockingly shallow all at the same time – what a joy to play. What a joy for us to watch.
1) Dwight Schrute – “The Office” – Rainn Wilson: If you don’t know why this guy is #1. You need to buy/rent all the DVDs and discover the footage for yourself.
Just Missing the Cut:
· Mr. Rogers – “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” – Fred Rogers: Fearing the impact the medium of TV was having on the nation’s kids, this man stepped up to the plate and created the show that focused on two things: learning and imagination. Rogers even insisted that the show be laid back, so as not to shrink the kids’ attention span. The fact that he was sincere about all of these things, and not just collecting a paycheck puts him close enough to get a mention.
· Joey Potter – “Dawson’s Creek” – Katie Holmes: I think folks probably underestimate this show and dismiss it as trite teen fare – boy are they wrong. The writing style and tone of this show influenced much of today’s teen heroes and heroines (“Juno” and “Twilight” anyone?). It was Holmes’ delivery that was the most shocking, the sweet and innocent girl next door had indeed grown up, and this is what she had become. I guarantee you now that you know more Joey Potters than Carol Seavers – she stood for today’s generation, even before they knew it themselves.
60) Chris Stevens – “Northern Exposure” – John Corbett: Philosophical, quizzical, and comical – this show was all of that and more, unlike anything seen on primetime TV up to this point, Chris was the resident DJ dispatching wisdom to the community. But more than that he was also the show’s conscience, and probably the direct link to the showrunner’s brain.
59) Rocky Manivia – “Monday Night Raw” – Dewayne Johnson: It was just too hard to ignore this guy’s charisma, and the fact that this was the #1 show on cable for more than a decade – seriously! There may have been bigger stars on the show, but no one has made more for himself afterward, or kept his nose cleaner. I’m looking at you Hulk Hogan.
58) Bill Haverchuck – “Freaks & Geeks” – Martin Starr: Committing to a role is sometimes easier than most, living a role in your real life has to take its toll. Take a look at the real Martin Starr and you understand what I mean. This supporting player could have been easily dismissed, but over the course of the series, it’s still his one-liners and sincerity I remember the most.
57) Officer Bobby Hill – “Hill Street Blues” – Michael Warren: On a show chock-full of characters, Bobby Hill surfaces near the top for a few reasons. First, he had to deal with Renko, and that couldn’t have been easy. Next, he was the solid foundation that the very premise of the show existed on – a beat cop with enough emotion to make something of the job, but not enough to corrupt him. Impressive by any standard.
56) Tommy Gavin – “Rescue Me” – Denis Leary: Filled with more demons than a haunted house on Halloween, this guilt-ridden and alcoholic fireman still makes the most of his life that he can. He survives by rescuing others, unable to rescue himself. But it’s the gallows humor that the show exhibits that lets them (and our nerves) of the hook every week.
55) The Road Runner – “The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show” – Mel Blanc: C’mon man, it’s not always about the grit and grime. This character accomplishes more without saying a word than most Shakespearean trained actors. More so than anything, the Road Runner was consistent. The formula was simple, and never really faltered – what the Runner did each week was something akin to a haiku.
54) Det. Vic Mackey – “The Shield” – Michael Chiklis: “Entertainment Weekly” just named this show as one of the five that changed TV the most in the last 25 years, hard to argue. Forget that this show ushered in the critical acclaim for all of the basic-cable ventures, Vic Mackey was one complicated hombre, and Chiklis portrayed him with an unnerving resiliency and a steely-shine in his eyes.
53) Special Agent Dana Scully – “The X-Files” – Gillian Anderson: This one truthfully could have gone either way Mulder or Scully. I gave the nod to Dana because I think it’s harder to play the skeptic in an extraordinary world with fantastical circumstances than the other way around. She not only was the grounding force for Fox, but she also filled in as a surrogate for the audience. The fact that she did it with such grace only catapults her higher on the list.
52) Mr. Roarke – “Fantasy Island” – Ricardo Montalban: “Smiles, everyone. Smiles.” There must have been some interesting times over at ABC back in the day for this show to ever see the Saturday night lights, but what’s even more amazing is Montalban’s unwavering belief in the scripts. He couldn’t play it anything but straight for one second, as if everything under his domain could actually happen – without him believing in the suspension of disbelief, there would be no show.
51) Captain Malcolm Reynolds – “Firefly” – Nathan Fillion: This series was way too short lived. Blame the bastards at Fox for that. Not even with a feature-length movie do I think we got enough of Capt. Mal. And if my math is right, Nathan Fillion is the only actor with two entries on this list, which must say a lot for his subtle brand of playing around. Reynolds is many things – funny as hell, a true leader, and a bit of a hot head. Knowing Fillion pulled them all off with such ease is a true testament to his skills.
50) Dr. Elliott Reid – “Scrubs” – Sarah Chalke: No one played neuroses better than her, not even her co-star Zach Braff. She handled the comedy, she handled the pathos, she handled everything they threw her way – even the hundreds of bra shots they asked her to do. Why she’s on the list for me is simple – most actors who played this role would have made Elliott annoying at some point, Chalke never did. We always rooted for her, right up to the very end.
49)Ally McBeal – “Ally McBeal” – Calista Flockhart: Those short skirts, an 3-D-animated, dancing baby, the break out song and dance numbers, the cutaways for a quick joke – all of these things influenced the TV that came after. At the very center of all the craziness was McBeal trying to rise above it.
48) Summer Roberts – “The O.C.” – Rachel Bilson: The living embodiment of every geek’s dreams, Summer Roberts hit at a point in the zeitgeist that she won’t be forgotten anytime soon. With the omnipresent force of the Internet directing pop culture and the inclusion of comic books, the geeks finally had their day. And here was a girl who loved them for it anyway – no judgments. She even dressed up in a Wonder Woman outfit and kissed her boy Spider-Man style – hubba and hubba!
47) Victor Sifuentes – “L.A. Law” – Jimmy Smits: The role that really started it all for Smits. A dedicated lawyer fighting for the little guy in a large firm who wasn’t afraid to make a life for himself either. This stoic and centered man was not only principled, he was driven. After this, Smits never stopped working in TV – his new show airs on NBC this fall.
46)Ed Norton – “The Honeymooners” – Art Carney: Had the toughest job in show business for quite awhile, slinging barbs with the great Jackie Gleason, while at the same time being his straight man – that’s a lot of heavy lifting for anybody. The fact that Norton is as a vital part of the show as Gleason, signifies the character’s worth to me.
45)Det. Sonny Crockett – “Miami Vice” – Don Johnson: It’s hard to think of another character that actualized the ‘80s better than Crockett, it’s also hard to believe that Crockett could make this list without Tubbs, but what can I say – I was always partial to the stubble and the crocodile owner.
44) Dr. Doug Ross – “ER” – George Clooney: The best care possible. Above all else, this was the driving force behind any of Doug’s decision, especially if it concerned a kid. If Crockett defined the ‘80s, then Ross defined the ‘90s. The last really big primetime show ever, ratings have consistently slipped for a variety of reasons, but Clooney’s Caesar’s haircut wasn’t one of them.
43)Data – “Star Trek: The Next Generation” – Brent Spiner: There are more than a few Star Trek characters that could have made the list, and I’m sure I’ll hear some gripes for no Kirk, Spock, or Picard – but Data goes in for two reasons: longevity (his show ran more than three times as long as the original), and he was always the most interesting to me. A machine desperately trying to be more human.
42) Trapper John – “M*A*S*H*” & “Trapper John M.D.” – Wayne Rogers & Pernell Roberts: There’s a fine line here, the latter series never really claimed it to be the same guy. There were subtle hints along the way, and they both aired on CBS, but no one can know for sure. To hell with it, you name a show that you know what to expect. What I always liked best about both actors’ portrayals – there was always a twinkle in his eyes. A devilish wink to the little kid that fought off boredom in Korea once upon a time.
41) Joey Tribianni – “Friends” – Matt LeBlanc: Playing dumb is not easy, everyone thinks it is – but only actors that have to do it know the truth. Yes he was a womanizer and a bit of an oaf. He was also fiercely loyal, and fought harder to keep the group together than anybody else. Everyone else on the show had their own loves – for Joey, it was the entire group.
40) Gob Bluth – “Arrested Development” – Will Arnett: No one took false arrogance and buffoonish bravado to such dizzying heights. Yes, he was consistently the most zany character on the show, but he also delivered the biggest laughs. His chicken dance will never be forgotten. Even if it could, believe me – I’ve spent thousands of dollars in therapy trying to do that very thing.
39)Mr. Furly – “Three’s Company” – Don Knotts: The Roepers leaving the show could have been the nail in the coffin for this show, so what do you do? You bring in a TV icon and he reinvents his whole persona. As a past-his-prime lothario, the audience could see just how much Furly had to suffer through the ‘70s. Add to the fact that he does the best double takes in the business, and he was comedy gold.
38) Rose Nylund – “The Golden Girls” – Betty White: From one TV icon to another, this was the series that White became American’s sweetheart. Playing the loveable, but extremely gullible Rose, she was not only the heart of her show, she was the easy target too. White played it all with a sincerity that simply has to be a part of her DNA, nobody is that good.
37)Lt. Columbo – “Columbo” – Peter Falk: “There’s just one more thing…” – look out bad guy. A grungy, disheveled man with a keen eye (sorry, couldn’t resist) isn’t your typical TV detective, but then again, Falk isn’t your typical actor. Figuring out how Columbo (not if he would) would catch the criminal was always the most fun.
36) Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli – “Happy Days” – Henry Winkler: I seriously almost went with Potsie, the guy just got to me – but in the end, I had to go with the coolest guy on the planet (for a little while at least). Yes, he was a hood that could take care of business. Yes, he was quite the ladies man. But what sets the character apart is how he dealt with Mrs. C, it humanized him and it made us root for him to the better end.
35) Det. Frank Pembleton – “Homicide: Life on the Streets” – Andre Braugher: For those of you that haven’t seen the first season of this series, please do so now. Then you won’t have to ask why this character is so high on the list.
34) Alex P. Keaton – “Family Ties” – Michael J. Fox: Everybody’s favorite Republican of the ‘80s (even more than his idol Ronald Regan), Alex was more than a handful for his Democratic parents to say the least. He also won a slew of Emmys and had the best TV, comedic timing since Jack Benny
33) James T. West – “The Wild, Wild West” – Robert Conrad: I’m really not sure how this show ever got approved to be on the air – after all, it’s more than a bit weird. But it is my kinda weird. Equal parts rogue, hero, and ladies man – James T. West was “the” guy, and there was more than a little of the actor in the part too. Anyone who doubts that never say Conrad compete on “Battle of the Network Stars”.
32) Juan Epstein – “Welcome Back, Kotter” – Robert Hegyes: The Puerto Rican Jew as he called himself, was always searching for a way out of class courtesy of a note signed by “Epstein’s Mother”. In a show full of interesting characters, Juan just struck the right cord with me – what can I say? To me, he will always be more memorable than Vinnie Barbarino.
31) Grover – “Sesame Street” – Frank Oz: Anyone who doubts the improvisational skills of Frank Oz never was paying attention. Equal parts stand-up comedian, the recurring role as Grover as a terrible waiter come to mind – and talk-show host, interacting with the show’s young children for riotous results – this furry, blue Muppet stole our hearts on a consistent basis and made us laugh.
30) Col. Steve Austin – “The Six-Million Dollar Man” – Lee Majors: No, not the wrestler. This was, “We can rebuild him. We have the technology.” And so America was introduced into the notion of a cyborg – the fact that Austin always played it straight for the side of the good ol’ USA, and never had a hair out of place to boot, earns him his spot.
29) Mork – “Mork & Mindy” – Robin Williams: Yes, he was zany and eccentric and other-worldly, but he was also engrained into the pop culture of the time. So much so, AC/DC even quoted him at the end of one of their songs. For me, the heart of the show (and the character for that matter) came at the end of each week where Mork would give his summations on humanity to his higher-up Orson.
28) Sgt. Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson – “Starsky & Hutch” – David Soul: Violent and rugged – this guy cut down bad guys in L.A. like it was a habit. The more soulful and healthy one of the pair, he was one half of the first bad cop/bad cop pairing on TV. A product of his times to be sure, but his influence can be felt on everything from “The Shield” to “NYPD Blue” today.
27) Dan Fielding – “Night Court” – John Larroquette: Talk about Emmy streaks, he finally had to concede and not run anymore so other actors could get a shot at winning. Lascivious and devious, his good side was hidden way, way deep and only came out once in a blue moon. If he wasn’t so damn funny, we probably couldn’t have forgiven him for it.
26) Murphy Brown – “Murphy Brown” – Candice Bergin: Some more screen history, Vice President Dan Quayle called the character out for her lifestyle choice. Since she was a member of the media, she could actually respond – another one Quayle failed to think through. She was the culmination of a women’s libber in the prime of her career. Tough-as-nails, feisty as all get out, and extremely touching when she had to be.
25) Dr. Johnny Fever – “WKRP in Cincinnati” – Howard Hesseman: Tore through the ‘70s era of decadence as much as network TV would allow. He owned the air in more ways than one, this DJ probably launched many a career. And was simply unforgettable whether he was lusting after Loni Anderson or shooting the shit with Bailey and Travis. But for me, it was his friendship with Venus Flytrap that made me come back week after week.
24) Barney Miller – “Barney Miller” – Hal Linden: The Captain of the cops in the shop, who for the most part, were loonier than the lunatics (crooks) in the asylum (jailhouse) they were sent to arrest. I probably never appreciated this show as much as I should until I heard Dennis Farina (an actor and ex-cop) say this was the closest thing to the real thing TV ever say.
23) Maxwell Smart – “Get Smart” – Don Adams: Classic catchphrases, ridiculous gadgets, Mel Brooks and Buck Henry’s writing, all during the height of the cold war. This could have fallen flat, like dead in the water flat, but it’s Adams’ determination to make Max both believable and incredibly inept at the same time – no small feat.
22) President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet – “The West Wing” – Martin Sheen: The only president all of America could agree on for the last 40 years, what we saw in him we wanted for our own leaders – but in the end we knew it couldn’t happen. However, the fact that we forgot this for an hour or two every week is the true testament of this show. And no one can deliver a monologue quite like Martin Sheen. Thinking back, some scenes still give me chills.
21) Sydney Bristow – “Alias” – Jennifer Garner: A smart, hot girl that can still kick your ass – that’s an interesting mix to be sure. But Garner grounded Sydney in the land of the living and ordinary, so we could still identify with her. This was a challenging, oftentimes rambling series, but we never lost sight of cheering for our college spy.
20) Jim Rockford – “The Rockford Files” – James Garner: There is a difference between best and favorite – and perhaps Rockford is my favorite on the list. He could have easily been dismissed as something less, but Rockford had a knack – not for life (because he clearly struggled there), but professionally, the dude knew how to deliver. He may not have looked the part, but his results all spoke for themselves.
19) Al Swearengen – “Deadwood” – Ian McShane: Complicated and violent, eloquent and explicit – Al was a walking contradiction. In a tough town filled with tough and interesting characters, Al stood head and shoulders above the rest with a resiliency and intelligence unmatched on TV anywhere. Plus, his line readings of “cocksucker” were a thing of poetry.
18) Samantha Stevens – “Bewitched” – Elizabeth Montgomery: Another high-concept character that could have imploded if not for the charisma of its lead, this witch made us all want to spend some time on the not-so-darkside. Plus, she had to deal with two different actors playing her husband, and not let on about the difference – ever!
17) David Addison – “Moonlighting” – Bruce Willis: Do bees be? Do bears bear? For a brief time there at the close of the ‘80s, no one was cooler. Yes, most of America tuned in for David AND Maddie, but for me without David, this show was nothing more than “Knots Landing”. Willis owned the dial for two, good solid years there. Making this easily one of the most memorable characters ever.
16) Rob Petrie – “The Dick Van Dyke Show” – Dick Van Dyke: The classic family/workplace sit-com that influenced shows for decades – and probably should still influence more today. Getting a behind-the-scenes look at how Hollywood (a TV show) worked was a rare glimpse into the unknown for this fascinated kid. But of course, it’s Rob’s interaction with Laura and their son that stole our hearts and solidified Mr. Van Dyke as one of TV’s biggest icons ever.
15) Jack Bauer – “24” – Kiefer Sutherland: He severed heads, never pissed, and always made us feel safe in our own backyard. If Jack Bauer were a real person, he’d have his own TV show based on him. Think about that. He’s the modern hero for interesting times, and besides a lost cougar – Jack always delivered the action.
14) Gomez Addams – “The Addams Family” – John Astin: He made weird cool, and he made being different OK. The first character on American TV that catered to the eccentric in all of us, plus he had a “smoking” hot wife (you need to see the show to get the joke). Truthfully, think of his influence. Based on a comic strip, Gomez Addams gave birth to goth, emo, and other strange cliques many years before they were born elsewhere. I don’t think he gets the credit he so richly deserves. I hope this makes up for it, at least a little bit.
13) Carmella Soprano – “The Sopranos” – Edie Falco: Yeah, I know Tony is the heavy lifter of the show, the one that changed all TV as we know – but behind every successful man, right? More to the point, Carmella had a much more interesting line to blur, she’s the one who actually had to compartmentalize the differences between “the family” and her family. Knowing all along her husband was a miserable son of a bitch. It took her years for her to stand up for herself, and when she finally did, this was the hit that hit Tony hardest.
12) Homer Simpson – “The Simpsons” – Dan Castellanata: Decades from now, this man will be quoted as if he were a religion , which is odd because he’s quoted as saying “God is my favorite fictional character.” As far as buffoons go, they don’t get any bigger, or any better. Once the writers figured out Homer was the lead in their show and not Bart, the world of pop culture has never been the same – even if it is a little more yellow.
11) Elaine Benes – “Seinfeld” – Julia-Louise Dreyfus: Jerry was the center. Kramer was the outlandish maniac. George the pessimistic curmudgeon. The rest was Elaine – foil for Jerry, possible love interest, best friend, the voice of reason (most of the time), and the female perspective – that’s a lot to ask. It was always a delicate balance for Ms. Benes, after all that’s a lot of marks you have to hit. Now add being funny, consistently funny in order to keep pace with the other boys. She’s the secret weapon, even if you don’t want to admit it.
10) Fred Sanford – “Sanford & Son” – Red Foxx: Cantankerous, boisterous, and one of the bluest comedians ever to work a stage, was the picture of restraint (verbally speaking anyway) for the length of this series. Fred got away with his barbed insults for nearly a decade, but they always came in a family-friendly package. So, it was no surprise to anyone when you tuned in just to see what he would say next. He was the loudmouth grandpa no one really wanted, but he sure as hell made things more fun.
9) Sam “Mayday” Malone – “Cheers” – Ted Danson: A washed-up pitcher, who just happens to be an alcoholic opens up a bar. As blue collar as they come, this pub owner sparred verbally and sexually with waitress and intellectual Dianne Chambers. People may forget this was the show that actually created the “will they or won’t they?” mystique hundreds of other shows have copied since it aired. The fact that he was a ladies man with a heart of gold, and a practical-joking boyish streak a mile wide certainly didn’t hurt things either.
8) Mary Richards – “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” – Mary Tyler Moore: Full disclosure: No other character has been as well supported as Mary Richards, just look at her cast (and the dozens of TV icons in it) and you’ll know that’s true, but someone had to center the action. Someone had to be the face of the franchise. Someone had to be the face of the women’s lib movement. Mary Richards was Murphy Brown at her first job. Mary Richards was the ONLY version of a working woman millions of ladies had across the country. There’s a reason they love her so much to this day. The other reason, this show is just as funny today as it was when it first aired. On a personal note, I’m proud to say the show took place in my hometown.
7) Archie Bunker – “All in the Family” – Carroll O’Connor: When Norman Lear created Archie, he was shocked that the entire country wasn’t shocked and outraged by his contemptible and prejudiced behavior. Turns out, half the country was – the other have just happened to agree with him. It’s amazing then that such a polarizing character could become so beloved. Running for oodles of years and spinning off more shows than a cotton candy maker, Archie was the center of this universe. Folks tuned in to disagree and agree with what he said, but they tuned in.
6) Desmond Hume – “Lost” – Henry Ian Cusick: The center of the show, no matter what the show was about. At the core of the proceedings, the creators of “Lost” said the show was really about love. It’s no surprise then that the greatest love story the tale ever told was about Dez and Penny. This anti-hero of epic proportions did everything he could to get back to his beloved Penny. Then once he did, he did everything he could to ensure the world left behind for his wife and newborn son Charlie was one worth living in. It doesn’t surprise me at all to rewatch the series and know all of my favorite episodes featured him.
5) Lucy Ricardo – “I Love Lucy” – Lucille Ball: The single best comedienne the small screen has ever seen – period. Her show invented the rerun (seriously, blame her), but it also invented the actual “situation” in the word sit-com. Think of all the memorable events Lucy found herself in (the chocolate factory and the wine making scenes immediately come to mind). The fact that she did all of this in a man’s world, finding her own niche and massive audience in the process, only cements her iconic place more so.
4) Thomas Magnum – “Magnum p.i.” – Tom Selleck: When producers of the show came to Selleck with the idea of creating a suave p.i. in the vein of James Bond, he said, “I’m in, on one condition. We make him fallible.” The result was one of the most interesting guys the boob tube ever saw. Equal parts suave and intelligent, and bumbling and ordinary – Magnum suffered through as many cases as he breezed through. The show’s premise was nearly perfect and fully developed before it ever hit the screen. Cool set-up: live at a rich author’s estate in Hawaii. Cool car: Ferrari. Cool friends: ex-Viet Nam buddies – one owns a helicopter, one runs a nightclub. Cool foil: the author’s manservant (or maybe the author himself) who always stuck his nose in your business. Throw in a rubber chicken and 2 Doberman Pinschers – and that’s one helluva show.
3) Buffy Summers – “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – Sarah Michelle Gellar: The breed of hero. Troubled and tormented like the anti-heroes of yesteryear. Kicking ass like the brand of hero before that. But this one was a pop-culture-spewing high school student – oh, and she’s a hot chick too! To say there has never been anything like Buffy Summers on TV before is the biggest understatement of this list. What she did in the years (and shows) that followed only happened to cement her status even more. Clever enough of a concept to make high school analogous with hell, clever indeed to make the episodes (and much of the supernatural goings-on) actual metaphors for young adulthood. And at the top of that pyramid was a fragile girl who was mankind’s best hope at survival. She could go from the funny to the tears and back again in the span of a commercial break. Criminally overlooked by its peers, thank God the critics and a rabid fanbase made this show what it deserved to be.
2) Louie DePalma – “Taxi” – Danny DeVito: The second best cast in TV history. Hmm, both were created by James L. Brooks, I’m sensing a theme here. About a dozen years ago, “TV Guide” voted him their best character of all time. At that point, I really couldn’t argue – even if it’s a bit of an odd choice. He wasn’t certainly anything to look at, he was more or less a Hobbit in a cage, but he never really did fit in with the rest of the cast either. Always reduced to the fringes of the show (and therefore society?), Louie existed by his rules and his rules only. I always got the feeling he wanted you to like him, but he sure as hell didn’t care if you didn’t. The most caustic tongue on the list, I really wonder what gems he would have let fly if he was unleashed on HBO. I think he would have made Ari Gold blush.
1) Omar Little – “The Wire” – Michael K. Williams: The best character in the best TV show of all time. A byzantine epic, “The Wire” had a cast of hundreds during its run. The one that was always the most intriguing was the shotgun toting stick-up artist who pinched drug dealers according to a code. Not a very moral code, but it was his code. Did we mention Omar also happened to be gay? A violent man with no aspirations other than to survive and live a little why he still had time. He helped the police to serve his own means, he made deals with mortal enemies to ensure he would live to see another day. He also sang a nursery rhyme every time he was about to stick a joint up. A detailed planner, right down to the military tactics he often employed to get what he needed – this was a legend of the streets of Baltimore. Omar is a composite of several real life thugs that the show’s creator came across in his years as a crime reporter. To describe his essence to those who have never seen the show is like trying to describe how Johnny Cash sings – it’s real, it’s raw, it’s unforgiving, and it’s something that’s engrained into your very being after you witnessed it first end. And Omar’s end, his richly deserved coda – is not only a thing of beauty, it’s a tale of the streets that never stop evolving and creating more of the same.
In the immortal words of Porky Pig, “That’s all folks!” I sure hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And yes, I do realize that this will be a rather contentious list for some of you out there. Please feel free to let me know some of your own.
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