Now that the U.S. and Iraqi elections are long behind us, I am taking the opportunity to focus on more important topics. The question posed in this post provides a perfect example:
Who are the greatest sitcom characters of all time?
To answer the question, we need some parameters. I am thinking of the three greatest characters from 1/2 hour sitcoms who could make you laugh, and who could also move you on occasion.
Here is a recent list of the top 50 sitcom characters compiled by a writer at the Jacksonville Times-Union. And awhile back, Bravo came out with their list of the top 100 television characters of all time. Bravo’s list included sitcoms and dramas. They also allowed entire cast ensembles to be make the list as a unit.
We’ll allow no such clutter in this list. If Jerry or George can’t make the list on their own, then they’re out.
I show you mine if you show me yours…
You’ll find a link to a comments section at the end of this post. Make your own picks and defend them if you can.
1. Archie Bunker: This one was easy for me. Archie was the greatest. He was one of the most consistently funny characters on television, he could make you cry, and with the help of some solid writers, he often made America think. The Chair. The cocked head. The exasperation. There has never been anyone close to the Arch. Of course he had the advantage of being on perhaps the greatest sitcom ever featuring one of television’s greatest ensemble casts. Edith Bunker could easily have made this list. It’s interesting to note that the character of Archie probably couldn’t play in today’s post-irony media and social climates. Today’s viewers just wouldn’t get that the joke was often on Archie. They’d take him at face value (and many would like him anyway). If Archie Bunker hit the airwaves today, it would probably be as an anchor for Fox News. Hannity and Bunker.
2. Louie De Palma: His name alone places Louie towards the top of any television list. But he was a lot more than a pretty name. Louie’s first big laugh came in Taxi’s pilot episode at the moment he exited his “cage.” Even though you laughed, you had to feel a bit sorry for the character (and the actor) who was being laughed at in large part because of his appearance. And that feeling – laughing at but empathizing with the often hateable character – is what made Louie so unique and so great. Danny Devito’s perfect comic timing didn’t hurt. Louie’s show (while my personal favorite) was a lot more uneven than Archie’s. But like Archie, Louie shared the stage with a few of TV’s top characters including Latka (once they named him after a potato pancake, how could they lose?) and Jim Ignatowski (the guy who paved the way for Kramer and so many others). And no one from my old Sunday school class would forgive me if I forgot to mention Elaine Nardo (attributes need no explaining). And then there was the guy that places number three on my list…
3. Alex Rieger: I know I will be alone in this pick. But it’s a personal choice, not a global one. In a debate, anyone could easily argue that a host of characters were funnier and more important to television’s history than Alex Rieger. Edith, Mary, Hawkeye, Ralph, Lucy, The Fonz, Carrie Bradshaw, Roseanne and others had a bigger impact on the culture. Who knows, maybe the same can be said for Rerun, Horshack, Kid Dynamite, Fish, George Jefferson, Chico and even The Man. But I just love Alex Rieger. Whenever I’ve moved to a new town where I have no friends, I always flip on the television to find a familiar face (a behavior which I’m pretty sure can be found in any guide to serial killer symptomology). Alex felt like home. If Alex Rieger came out of my television and offered me any advice, I’d probably take it. Try saying that about one of the Friends…
All right, those are my top three. Now let’s see yours. Hit the comments link and fire away.