Television is chewing gum for the eyes. – Frank Lloyd Wright
My father & I occasionally hearken back to the late February day 18 years ago when we laid my mother to rest. We always recall how blessed our family was with such a beautiful sunny day, because on top of our grief it would have been that much more difficult to go thru the whole process in the midst of rain, snow, & chilly temperatures. We’ve been fortunate to once again have had some unseasonably temperate days here in West Virginia lately, and since I am a self-diagnosed sufferer of Seasonal Affective Disorder and know I’ve had issues with Vitamin D deficiency in the past I have taken the opportunity to award myself some much needed sunshine therapy this week. Alas, now we are back to the cold & wet climate more typical of this time of year, but the good news is that means that we can move forward with this project. If you aren’t up to speed with previous entries then by all means check them out here, here, & here. After you are all caught up come back and enjoy what’s next with the rest of us.
50 Beavis & Butt-Head (Beavis and Butt-Head)
In my final year of college I finally escaped dorm life and got my first ever Bachelor Palace off campus. It just happened to be a few blocks away from our favorite watering hole(s), so oftentimes my buddies would stop by to hang out before we headed to those establishments. It was during this time that MTV premiered a crudely animated sitcom in which two dimwitted delinquents wander around their town causing chaos in between sitting on the couch commenting on music videos (which MTV still aired occasionally at that time). It’s a show with a narrow focus and I assume a very specific target audience, which explains why I wasn’t nearly as interested once I graduated and segued into adult life. However, I have really great (though a bit fuzzy) memories of that year. Some things are special because it is a shared experience, and I am so glad that Beavis & Butt-Head were a memorable part of that era in my life. A feature film was released in 1996 in which the moronic duo go on a quest to find their stolen TV and somehow end up at the White House hanging out with President Clinton. The movie is alright, but not great. A few years ago I got excited when a revival of the show was announced, but I must admit that I never watched the one season return.
49 Lenny & Squiggy (Laverne & Shirley)
Speaking of idiots…
Wacky neighbors are a dependable television trope, so while the titular twosome (who had been introduced on Happy Days) were the focus of the show and the ladies swooned over “The Big Ragu” Carmine Ragusa, oftentimes it was Lenny & Squiggy who got the laughs. Lenny Kosnowski & Andrew Squigman live in the apartment above Laverne & Shirley and are truck drivers for the same brewery at which the ladies are bottlecappers. They frequently pop in to annoy the gals, and fancy themselves as tough, cool, desirable 50’s greasers, when in truth they are just a couple of goofballs that don’t appeal to women at all.
48 Matt Foley (Saturday Night Live)
It is an inescapable fact that Chris Farley’s weight was used as part of the joke in most everything he did, from SNL to the films in which he appeared. But since Farley himself seemed to be okay with that I suppose no one else should be offended. By far his best SNL contribution was Matt Foley, a raucous motivational speaker who is “35 years old, eating a steady diet of government cheese, thrice divorced, and living in a van down by the river!”. Foley isn’t as much a motivator as a cautionary tale since he is unkempt, belligerent, rude, pessimistic, & apparently a failure, hence the humor, and he usually ended up somehow hilariously crashing thru a piece of furniture. The character was the perfect showcase for Farley’s unique brand of physical comedy, and it is unfortunate that he passed on before Matt Foley could be brought to the big screen.
47 Opie Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)
These days Ron Howard is best known as an award-winning director of films like Apollo 13, Splash, & A Beautiful Mind, and many affectionately recall his role as awkward teenager Richie Cunningham in the retro sitcom Happy Days. However, way back in the 1960’s little Ronny got his start portraying the precocious son of the local sheriff in The Andy Griffith Show. We literally get to watch Opie grow up from an adorable six year old to a young teenager. Father-son interactions provide some of the most uplifting moments on TAGS, but Opie has plenty of entertaining scenes with many other inhabitants of Mayberry as well. Two of my favorite TAGS episodes…Season 3’s Mr. McBeevee and Season 4’s Opie the Birdman…showcase Opie and give an indication of just how great of an actor Ron Howard could have been if that would have been his passion.
46 The Riddler (Batman)
Batman is my favorite superhero, and while his comic book origins are indeed dark…an aesthetic that most renditions of the story stick with…one notable exception is the beloved goofy 1960’s TV show. Episodic television allowed a different villain to invade Gotham City each week, including the already established “rogue’s gallery” of Batman baddies as well as some pretty hysterical adversaries created exclusively for the show. I’m a traditionalist, so I prefer the bad guys we all know & love to hate, and my favorite has to be The Riddler. Edward Nygma likes to tease The Caped Crusader with riddles that are clues to his location and/or the crime he is about to commit. Riddler wears a garish green costume peppered with question marks, and has an irritating laugh.
45 Balki Bartokomous (Perfect Strangers)
ABC had a penchant in the late 80’s into the 90’s for churning out silly sitcoms that, by any objective measure of quality, shouldn’t have made it more than a season or two, but somehow became cherished by the masses. It is an interesting lesson that modern television executives should learn. Not everyone is on the edge of their seat waiting for the next gritty, studious, sanctimonious, ripped-from-the-headlines show. Sometimes we simply crave pointless escapism that tickles our funny bone. At any rate, Balki is a sheepherder from the Mediterranean island of Mypos. He comes to Chicago to stay with his tightly wound cousin Larry, and boom…you have a fish-out-of-water story that’s also an amusing take on the Odd Couple formula. Balki’s misunderstandings about American culture are comical, as are Larry’s exasperated attempts to clear up any confusion. When anything good happens the two engage in Balki’s Dance of Joy, which kind of looks like something folks do at a Greek wedding.
44 Frank Costanza (Seinfeld)
In addition to the hysterical main cast, Seinfeld also had a ton of memorable guest stars and several great recurring characters. Frank is the obnoxious father of George. He is a temperamental traveling salesman best remembered for inventing Festivus, a non-commercial Christmas alternative that features feats of strength & airing of grievances.
43 Daisy Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard)
I went thru puberty while The Dukes of Hazzard was on the air, so yes…a sexy woman known for wearing super short jean shorts and who appeared in a skimpy bikini in the show’s opening credits every week for seven years definitely frosted my cupcake. Daisy is a hybrid…part sweet southern belle, part tough as nails tomboy. She is said to “drive like Richard Petty, shoot like Annie Oakley, & know the words to all of Dolly Parton’s songs.” She’s not above using her feminine gifts to distract anyone trying to go after her family, and most often does so with charmingly inept Deputy Enos Strate, who has always had a huge crush on her. In contrast to modern shows in which very little is left to the imagination even on network television, Daisy Duke seems like a quaint reminder of a more innocent time.
42 Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, & Sophia (The Golden Girls)
I just can’t choose one. The entire ensemble made The Golden Girls work, and even with two Emmys & three Golden Globes I still think it may have been an underrated program. Dorothy Zbornak is a Brooklyn born teacher who is divorced from philandering Stan. She is smart, acerbic, & perpetually exasperated by her roommates, though she thinks of them as family. Blanche Devereux is a well-to-do southern belle and a widow with a healthy libido. Rose Nyland is a naïve & simpleminded widow who is fond of telling pointless stories about her childhood in St. Olaf, MN. She’s really sweet & trusting, and prone to being taken advantage of by others. Sophia Petrillo is Dorothy’s elderly mother. She is sharp as a tack, fearful that Dorothy will send her back to Shady Pines retirement home, & loves to tell stories from her youth in Sicily, though there is a general vibe that most of those stories are poppycock. As opposed to many shows that tend to feature young & pretty people, The Golden Girls proved that “seasoned citizens” can be a lot of fun.
41 Otis Campbell (The Andy Griffith Show)
I love any episode of TAGS in which town drunk Otis appears. I suppose nowadays some people would get their knickers twisted about alcoholism being treated as a joke, but thankfully folks were much less politically correct back in the 60’s. Otis actually has a job & a wife, but every Saturday night he goes out and gets snockered on hooch, then locks himself up in the Mayberry jail. Did you know that Hal Smith…the actor who portrays Otis…was a well-known voice artist?? He most notably voiced Goofy in several Disney productions, including Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
40 President Jed Bartlet (The West Wing)
I’ve often asked myself if I would vote for Jed Bartlet in an election, but there is no conclusive answer because I don’t believe that anyone like him actually exists. He is a man of high ideals but realistic expectations. He is a Nobel Prize winning economist, but despite being brilliant he’s also empathetic & quite funny. President Bartlet…like everyone associated with the show…is a bleeding heart liberal, but somehow all involved are able to make that look like a good thing, which is probably one of the greatest magic tricks anyone has ever performed on television. Martin Sheen might be a crackpot in real life, but credit where credit is due…he is a brilliant actor. The President was originally intended to be a rarely seen supporting character, with plots revolving around various White House staff members. However, that plan quickly changed, which undoubtedly made for a better program.
39 Dr. Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap (WKRP in Cincinnati)
When I was a kid I considered becoming a radio DJ when I grew up. Why?? Well, probably because Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap made the job seem so cool & fun. Johnny is a laid back pothead & former 60’s hippie whose career in radio had been successful before he fell on hard times. He had considered WKRP to be rock bottom, but when the station’s format changes from easy listening to rock n’ roll he is energized and becomes a very popular morning drive personality. Venus Flytrap (real name: Gordon Sims) is a Vietnam vet who is hired by his pal Andy Travis, WKRP’s new program director. It is Andy who suggests the pseudonym and also advises Sims to dress cool so he’ll act cool. Unlike Johnny, whose on-air persona is hyper & wild, Venus is tranquil & chill. He is rather conservative and oftentimes acts as an even-tempered voice of reason. These two dudes made being a disc jockey look like an attractive career option to a young boy in grade school back in the day, and it wasn’t until many years later that I learned that it’s actually a really low-paying & unstable gig.
38 Norm Peterson (Cheers)
Cheers is the bar where everybody knows your name, and that’s especially true of Norm, who is enthusiastically greeted by the crowd every time he walks thru the door. Norm is an accountant who frequently seems to be between jobs, so he ends up spending a lot of time sitting at the end of the bar drinking beer. He is married to Vera, who we never meet in eleven seasons. Norm doesn’t seem to be particularly unhappy or disdainful of Vera, but neither is he ever in a rush to go home. It’s pretty funny that in an entire decade of watching the guy do virtually nothing except drink beer we never see him even remotely intoxicated, and his huge unpaid bar tab is occasionally the subject of mockery.
37 Wayne & Garth (Saturday Night Live)
Party on!! Wayne Campbell & Garth Algar are the hosts of a public access TV show emanating from Wayne’s basement. They are two nerdy juveniles who think they’re cooler than they are because they like heavy metal music & hot women. The sketches introduced a ton of catchphrases that many of a certain age still utilize with some frequency, such as “Schwing!”, “That’s what she said”, “Not!”, “hurl” & “spew”, “Are you mental?”, and “We’re not worthy!”. In 1992 the duo took their act to the big screen in a surprisingly solid film that did well enough to get a sequel just a year & a half later.
36 Linus Van Pelt (Peanuts)
Peanuts is interesting. It never spawned a regular comic book or TV show, and creator Charles Shultz was content to simply produce his comic strip for a half century. However, he did allow the characters to be marketed, which resulted in a ton of merchandise that’s still being churned out nearly two decades after Schultz’s death. As I did when writing about my favorite cartoons I am taking advantage of a loophole of sorts in the fact that there have been a plethora of Peanuts animated television specials over the years, a couple of which many of us grew up watching and continue to enjoy annually. Linus is the youngest of the group, a blanket toting, thumb sucking boy who tends to be the most solicitous & sensible out of any of his friends. He’s a great listener and always gives good advice, although his self-absorbed pals continue to overlook & disrespect his insight.
35 Captain Hawkeye Pierce (MASH)
Dr. Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce is the 4077th’s chief surgeon, a New England bred prankster who deals with the daily grind of being in a warzone by drinking copious amounts of martinis and flirting with every female in camp. He resents being drafted and definitely doesn’t conform to the Army way of life. Despite his irreverence it is Hawkeye that provides many of the series’ more somber moments after it segued into more of a dramedy during the second half of its run. In the series finale he suffers a breakdown and returns home to be a local country doctor after the war ends.
34 Bo & Luke Duke (The Dukes of Hazzard)
The show’s theme song describes them as good ol’ boys that never mean any harm. Luke is the older cousin and is shown to be smarter & more level-headed. He’s a former Marine. Bo is the younger, more vain & flirtatious pretty boy. He almost always drives the General Lee. The Duke Boys are on probation after being caught unlawfully transporting moonshine, and aren’t legally allowed to own firearms or leave the county, although they frequently do so anyway. They are constant targets of law enforcement, and regularly foil Boss Hogg’s shady schemes.
33 Dr. Heathcliff & Claire Huxtable (The Cosby Show)
While characters like Fred Sanford, JJ “Dynomite!” Evans, Arnold Jackson, & “Rerun” Stubbs are all entertaining on various levels, I don’t think there’s any way they could be held up as role models. Conversely, The Huxtables are undeniably so. Mom is a perceptive & resolute attorney, while Dad is a fun-loving & considerate physician. Both are educated and have high expectations for their five children. They are strict yet devoted parents, and their marriage is strong. They are affluent but not extravagant, and seem to have solid moral certitude. In other words, Cliff & Claire represent the vast majority of Americans, the sort of stable citizens & contributors to society that are often disregarded & ridiculed by the media & pop culture. The Cosby Show was popular and critically acclaimed, so I’m not sure why the formula hasn’t been duplicated a thousand times over. Of course I suppose any attempt to copy it would just be a poor imitation.
32 Fred Flintstone (The Flintstones)
Yabba dabba doo!! The Flintstones is a sneaky show. What do I mean by that?? Well, we tend to focus on the fact that it is animated, and that it is set in The Stone Age (the rock puns are always a treat). However, the truth is that it is simply a traditional sitcom about an average nuclear family and their friendly neighbors. Fred is an overbearing yet kindhearted crane operator. He’s short-tempered & irritable, but he’s devoted to his family & friends. He enjoys bowling, golf, & hanging out at the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos Lodge. When I was a kid I honestly thought that actor Jackie Gleason provided Fred’s voice, but I was wrong…sort of. Gleason may not have been directly involved with The Flintstones, but his Ralph Kramden character from 1950’s sitcom The Honeymooners heavily influenced how Fred was portrayed.
31 Dr. Niles Crane (Frasier)
Niles is the neurotic & effete younger brother of the show’s eponymous radio show host. Like his big brother Niles is also a psychiatrist. He’s the kind of pretentious nerd who loves opera, expensive wine, classical music, French food, & theater but knows absolutely zero about sports or pop culture. Niles is definitely a hypochondriac & a bit OCD, and tends to be overzealous in attempts to ingratiate himself into the perceived proper social circles. When we first meet Niles he is married to Maris, who we never see (much like Vera in Cheers), but his descriptions of her are horribly hysterical. They eventually divorce and he ends up marrying his father’s caregiver Daphne, who he’d been infatuated with since the day they met. I absolutely love Niles, and would have really enjoyed a Niles & Daphne spinoff, but sadly that never happened.
30 Sheriff Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show)
Andy Griffith was a brilliant actor. Take some time to watch the 1958 film No Time for Sergeants, in which he plays country bumpkin Will Stockdale, who hilariously clashes with his superiors when he is drafted into the Air Force (sounds like a great idea for a sitcom). After that watch 1957’s A Face in the Crowd, in which Griffith portrays drifter Lonesome Rhodes, who turns a random appearance on a radio show into fame & fortune on television then becomes an egotistical bully before his star falls as quickly as it rose. Griffith based Sheriff Taylor largely on Will Stockdale, atleast initially. After the first season of TAGS he figured out that other characters in Mayberry should be the source of humor while he played the bemused straight man, and so he toned down the hillbilly simpleton persona considerably. Sheriff Taylor is the kind of lawman we’d all love to encounter but probably doesn’t exist in reality…not anymore anyway. He doesn’t even carry a gun!! He’s a good friend, a pleasant neighbor, and the type of father all men should aspire to be. Check out the Season 1 episode A Feud is a Feud in which Andy explains Romeo & Juliet to Opie, or the Season 3 episode Andy Discovers America, in which he gives a unique history lesson to a group of boys. Andy is constantly doing everything he can to boost his deputy’s fragile ego, and is usually the voice of reason in the midst of idiocy. In the last few seasons Sheriff Taylor becomes a little too serious, frequently becoming aggravated by the antics of others, which is just one of the reasons that the first five years of TAGS are the best.
29 Kermit the Frog (The Muppet Show)
When The Muppets won the Sammy Award for Favorite Movie in 2011 I said that “Honestly, toward the end when Kermit breaks out into Rainbow Connection I became so swelled with happiness & emotion that if I could have jumped out of my wheelchair and given a standing ovation I swear to God I would have”. It was in that moment that I realized just what kind of impact The Muppets had on my childhood. In his other popular song It’s Not Easy Being Green Kermit laments that “it seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things, and people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water or stars in the sky”, which I have always taken as a perceptive nod to the marginalized in society who often feel ignored, disrespected, & taken for granted. I bet you didn’t realize Kermit was so profound.
28 Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
There are only two starship captains in the Trek universe that matter. Captain Picard is an alleged Frenchman with singularly British proclivities (“Tea! Earl Grey! Hot!). He is cultured, judicious, & somewhat aloof, though he does care deeply for his crew. He prefers diplomacy over battle, but ultimately does what needs to be done. He is fascinated with archaeology, enjoys fencing, is quite knowledgeable about physics & literature, and loves horses. Captain Picard is a true Renaissance man, even though he was born about 600 years after that period ended.
27 Stefano DiMera (Days of Our Lives)
I’ve been watching DOOL since I was about ten years old, and during that time no supervillain in any entertainment genre has been as evil as Stefano DiMera. He came to Salem in 1982 professing to simply be a European business tycoon, but it soon became apparent that he was more of a crime boss. Stefano has a longstanding vendetta against the blue collar Brady family and makes their lives a living hell for the biggest part of three decades. He dies about a dozen times, but is inevitably revealed to be alive, which explains why he calls himself The Phoenix. The actor who portrayed Stefano actually did pass away a few years ago, but the way the storyline was constructed on the show left things open ended, as though The Phoenix could rise again someday.
26 Charlie Brown (Peanuts)
Charlie Brown is essentially the animated personification of his creator Charles Shultz. He is the classic loveable loser, always being insulted & ignored by his friends. He’s a shy & mild-mannered kid with a bundle of neuroses bubbling up inside. But as unsuccessful as he tends to be Charlie Brown rarely gives up. He may not be confident about the result (with good reason), but he keeps trying. In the underrated 2006 sequel Rocky Balboa the aging boxer tells his son that “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.” That’s a great lesson for all of us, and Charlie Brown embodies exactly that attitude.
Okay ladies & gentlemen…let’s take another break. We’ll return for the exciting conclusion in a couple of days.