Tuesday, April 14, 2009

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Top Ten Television Characters

Facebook has this new thing where you can pick your Top Five in several categories. Recently, I put up a list of Top Five Television Characters, and no one was surprised at all: 1-4 was the cast of The Golden Girls, with David Suchet's immortal Hercule Poirot at 5.

Only my sister Gia called my bluff, pointing out that out of all the shows ever produced, the fact that I chose all four GGs was either a testament to the show's brilliance or evidence of my laziness. And while it is MOST ASSUREDLY the former (for The Golden Girls is the greatest show ever made, bar none), it got me to thinking. While a Top Five on Facebook begs for quick clicking and not enough thought, a Top Ten on my blog will allow more room for debate.

I made just one rule for myself: no Poirot, as he is not an original television character. And while this may be true of a few TV icons (Carrie Bradshaw, Buffy), Poirot has never appeared in a single original episode. Each was adapted from a novel or short story written by the great Agatha Christie. So, my dear Hercule, I disqualify you.

So, Gia, I hope you're reading this. Consider this my retribution.

10. Daria Morgendorffer, Daria (MTV, 1997-2001) & Beavis and Butt-head (MTV, 1993-1997)

Jodie: You realize your negative approach to everything is self-defeating, right?
Daria: Well, it's nice to know there's someone I can defeat.

One of my all-time favorite shows. Daria gave me my first real taste of sarcasm used as a weapon. Up 'til then, I had only see it used as witty repartee. She saw through everybody's bull, and used her biting wit to reveal others' follies to themselves. It rarely worked, but she was awesome.

9. Jane Lane, Daria (MTV, 1997-2001)

Jane: Some day the curators will look back on these and say they're from my 'art colonies suck' period.
Daria: Curators?

Daria's best friend. Jane was a relief on the show, a perfect match for Daria. Whereas Daria was stubbornly antisocial and cynical, Jane partied, went out with guys, and could see the good in others every now and then. To me, Jane was the show's conscience, the stable one, the one ready to bring us back to reality. And she was an artist, which was bad-ass.

8. President Josiah Bartlett, The West Wing (NBC, 1999-2006)

Abbey Bartlett: I'm going to the Residence. I'm taking a bath. I'm turning on Sinatra.
President Bartlett: How does Mrs. Sinatra feel about that?

The leader we all want. I've always had this weird fascination with old people, and Bartlett is just the cream of the crop, a brilliant scholar with a sharp wit. His simultaneous frustration and exultation of God is one I can identify with. Besides, it's Martin Sheen.

7. Jim Halpert, The Office (NBC, 2005-present)

I would save the receptionist.
Lord, I wish I could be as confident as Jim. And as boyishly handsome. I mean, I am, but less obviously so. A few friends say I'm more like Toby in HR, but to tell the truth, I've always felt a real kinship with Jim, especially in the first two seasons. Plus, Jim means Pam, and Jenna Fischer is just...wow.

6. Niles the Butler, The Nanny (CBS, 1993-1999)

Fran: Come on Niles. You know all about that fancy-shmancy stuff.
Niles: Yes. I'm very proud of my command of both the fancy and the shmancy.
As a child, I looked up to the butlers for some reason. They were gentlemen, sophisticated, wise, and full of dry wit. And no one personified this image better than Niles. A loyal British manservant, he was full of sage advice, though he often insulted both his employer and the "nobles" around him. Niles brought class to The Nanny, and the relationship between him and the bitchy C.C. Babcock was always entertaining.

5. Niles Crane, Frasier (NBC, 1993-2004)

Her lips were saying "no," but her eyes were saying, "read my lips."
There are many reasons why we choose favorite characters. Some of them represent what we want to be (Jim). Others are parental types we can look up to (President Bartlett). A few remind us of our sisters (Daria & Jane). But the big ones, the ones you keep in the Top Five, are the ones you love because they are you. Though I do believe Niles Crane is the epitome of...well, me. His snobbery, his faux British accent, his love for Daphne. That's me to a T. He's awkward and nebbish, like a character from a Woody Allen play, yet he prides himself on being intellectually superior to those around me. Like me. To not include Niles would just be wrong.

4. Mr Humphries, Are You Being Served? (BBC, 1972-1985)

Captain Peacock: We can't burst into song every time the lift opens.
Mr. Humphries: What a pity; I was looking forward to being a counter tenor.

Are You Being Served?
started it all. I watched this show before I even started school, and oh how I delighted in the misadventures of the department store staff that was Grace Bros. And I felt a great affinity for Mr. Humphries of Menswear. He was undoubtedly the greatest salesperson on the floor, and would often comment stone-faced on the goings-on around him. Mr. Humphries also happened to be my first exposure to "girly men". Although Mr. Humphries' orientation was never confirmed on the show, he had a mincing step and effeminate air about him, but both the actor and the writers declared him to be more of a mama's boy than anything else, which I COMPLETELY identify with.

3. Rose Nylund, The Golden Girls (NBC, 1985-1992) & The Golden Palace (1992-1993)

Stop it all of you! What difference does it make that Lorraine's a little long in the tooth and Michael's a skinny white boy? Can't you see they love each other? We should be celebrating not arguing whether or not it's right. Now what do you say we all join hands and sing a chorus of 'Abraham, Martin and John?'
That joke's HILARIOUS when you know what she's talking about. Rose and I share a kind of naivete about some things. She much more so, of course, but there are times when she goes places that seem natural for me. And her St. Olaf stories are killer! Rose is always sweet and good-natured, no matter how poorly people treat her. Then we got to see crazy Rose, who would come out in a competitive situation, like coaching little league football, or participating in the bowling competition. She didn't often crack wise, but when she did, it was a hoot.

2. Dorothy Zbornak, The Golden Girls (NBC, 1985-1992)

Rose: The surprise is, you think it's a regular pie, like apple or cherry, but when you bite into it, it's herring!
Dorothy: Oh, what fun!

The sarcastic and most intelligent Golden Girl, Dorothy is how I imagine most of the women in my life will wind up in their 50s. Like, attitude-wise, not looks-wise. Dorothy always had the good ideas, although she was often led astray by her own determination. People say Sophia had the best lines, but no one could put as much character or pack as much punch into a line reading like Dorothy. Her signature, "Whoa" preceded Joey Lawrence by six years, and no one will ever say it quite like she did. And how can you not love a woman who loves her mother so -- and always knows when it's time to get the cheesecake?

1. Toby Ziegler, The West Wing (NBC, 1999-2006)

We're gonna see to all those things. In the meantime, at a time when the public is rightly concerned about the impact of sex and violence on TV, this administration is gonna protect the MUPPETS! We're gonna protect Wall Street Week, we're gonna protect Live from Lincoln Center, and by God, we are going to protect Julia Child.
The West Wing opened my eyes to this whole new world of politics. Before, I was but a follower of the Republican Party, blindly following the path my family was on. And The West Wing challenged me to think of a number of things I took for granted, and it was Toby who guided me. Toby, who with his acid wit and sullen face, reminded me of myself on my worst days. Now, turth be told, I am much more of a happy camper than Toby is, but goodness knows the man was my conscience. Like on gun control:
...if you combine the populations of Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, you'll get a population roughly the size of the United States. We had 32,000 gun deaths last year, they had 112. Do you think it's because Americans are more homicidal by nature? Or do you think it's because those guys have gun control laws?
Or on foreign policy:
Toby: Have them send us two.
Mandy Hampton: Second of all, China is not inclined to give us gifts right now.
Toby: Then get us two regular bears, a bucket of black paint, a bucket of white paint, bam-bam. Next case.

On loyalty:
You're gonna lose, and you're gonna lose huge. They're gonna throw rocks at you next week, and I wanted to be standing next to you when they did.
On etiquette:
Sam: Toby, do you really think it's a good idea to invite people to dinner and then to tell them exactly what they're doing wrong with their lives?
Toby: Absolutely, otherwise it's just a waste of food.

On debate:
No, I'm disagreeing with you. That doesn't mean I'm not listening to you or understanding what you're saying - I'm doing all three at the same time.
And, of course, teamwork:
We're a group. We're a team. From the President and Leo on through, we're a team. We win together, we lose together. We celebrate and we mourn together. And defeats are softened and victories are sweeter because we did them together... You're my guys and I'm yours... and there's nothing I wouldn't do for you.
And even though they completely screwed up his character in the last season, I always remember the Toby I started out with. He was the greatest role model a teenager could have, and, clearly, the best character to grace the television screen.

1 comment:

V said...

Ah, so much more diverse! A bit of trivia: when I was in high school, a Mr. Eddie DePasquale (friend of Dina) called me "Jane" from the character of the same name on Daria. Glad to know I can be of some influence, somewhere.