“Film is one of three universal languages, along with mathematics & music.” – Frank Capra
My original intention was to post this a few days ago, but stuff happens…like having a big chunk of what I wrote disappear because evidently I forgot to save my work. When something like that happens I can become quite emo, and to be honest I just lost my desire to write for a few days. Anyway, I’m feeling a little better about life in general now, so let’s finish this thing up and move on to the next gig. If you have not perused Part 1 please do so, and as always I really would enjoy some feedback.
16 A film that is personal to you…
We Are Marshall
I graduated from Marshall University in Huntington, WV in the mid-1990s, and the tragic 1970 plane crash that killed the entire football team, coaching staff, and a number of parents & boosters is a tale well known to anyone who has ever lived or attended school there. A couple of years after the crash a beautiful fountain on the student center plaza was dedicated in memory of the 75 lives lost, and during my four+ years at MU I passed by that fountain every single day. Anyway, 2006’s We Are Marshall, though an imperfect film, does an admirable job of depicting the event & its aftermath, with the haunting performance of Matthew Fox (Party of Five, Lost) as assistant coach Red Dawson deserving kudos. If you dig We Are Marshall I would highly recommend a 2000 documentary called Ashes to Glory, which is a more factual and much more emotional rendition of the story.
17 Favorite film sequel…
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
I really had to think long & hard about this one. Rarely do sequels even approach the greatness of the original. And what about trilogies & series?? Do I prefer the second, third, or fourth movie?? I generally think of such things as one entity and don’t go so far as to break down each film, although there are exceptions. Having said all of that, and while I still think the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation is the best of the series, the particular niche that Christmas Vacation has carved out in the pop culture landscape is undeniable. Three decades after its theatrical run it is shown on television dozens of times each holiday season…and we still watch.
18 A film that stars your favorite actor/actress…
Joe Versus the Volcano and The Glenn Miller Story
First, I had to decide between Jimmy Stewart & Tom Hanks, but I’m taking the easy way out and not making that choice, Secondly, I have shown love to other films by both men already, so what I have chosen to do is give a shout out to two of their lesser known films. Glenn Miller was a real life big band leader in the 1930’s & 40’s and the composer of hits like Moonlight Serenade, Little Brown Jug, & In the Mood. While flying from a gig in the United Kingdom to Paris in December 1944 Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Channel. He was only 40 years old. James Stewart just so happened to be a Glenn Miller doppelganger, so when a biopic was produced in 1954 he was the ideal choice for the part. If you like Stewart or Miller you’ll love both after watching this movie, and you just might become a fan of big band music, as I did. Joe Versus the Volcano isn’t as well-regarded as other Hanks/Meg Ryan films, but I encourage everyone to give it a whirl. It’s a bit of a slog at the beginning, but if you can make it past those gloomy first few minutes what you’ll find is a story that contains a lot of symbolism and has much to say about life.
19 A film made by your favorite director…
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
I don’t generally have any director specific loyalties…I judge a film based on what I see on the screen, regardless of who is in front of or behind the camera. However, I am an 80’s kid, and that means I’ve seen just about everything that John Hughes wrote, produced, and/or directed. Christmas is usually the main focus of holiday entertainment, as it should be, but there is one really great film that focuses on Thanksgiving. It is the perfect mix of comedy & sentimentality, which is right in my wheelhouse. I wish Steve Martin & John Candy would’ve made more movies together, but then again I’m not sure there’s any way they could have topped their inaugural effort.
I don’t remember when or why I watched IAWL for the first time, but during my childhood it was on television countless times on numerous channels at all hours so there were no shortage of opportunities to see it. The idea of a small town guy with big dreams who never quite escapes to fulfill them spoke to me from an early age, and at this point I suppose I’m sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. IAWL was actually marketed as a romantic comedy, but has become a Christmas classic. To say it changed my life may be a tad dramatic because I’m not one to assign such power to a movie, but it does mean a lot to me and has become an important part of my holiday tradition.
21 A film that you dozed off in…
Monty Python & The Holy Grail
I’m probably going to catch some flack, but I have to be honest. There was a little video store down the street from my college dorm, and I decided to rent this movie that I’d heard so much about but never seen. Obviously it was a less than thrilling experience. I just don’t enjoy British humor.
22 A film that made you angry…
The Big Wedding
When a movie stars Robin Williams & Robert DeNiro I don’t think it is out of line to have high expectations. Sadly, not only does this movie fall short, it is undoubtedly one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I have never left a theater before a film is over, but I came pretty close with this one. DeNiro continues to trash his legendary legacy, while the late great Williams made a string of forgettable flops in the decade before his untimely demise.
23 A film made by a director who is dead…
Again, I’m not married to any particular directors, as in I adore every movie they’ve ever made. On top of that I’m not really a Hitchcock kind of guy. However, he did make a few films I’ve enjoyed, and his work with my man Jimmy Stewart is quite good. Rear Window is interesting in that it is essentially shot from one perspective, that of main character Jeff Jefferies, a professional photographer sidelined with a broken leg. Jeff lives in a courtyard apartment and becomes kind of a voyeur, intently watching neighbors that he doesn’t really know and making up stories about them that may or may not be true. When he decides that one of those neighbors might have murdered his wife things become really interesting. Rear Window wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, which, in hindsight, seems like a real crime.
24 A film you wish you saw in theaters…
Apollo 13 and Titanic
I pondered & debated with myself, but I just can’t choose. History shows that Apollo 13 was released in June 1995, which wasn’t a good time in my life, so I’m not surprised I didn’t make it to the local cineplex for a flick. However, I have seen it countless times in the ensuing years and count it among the best movies ever made. I cannot recall a specific reason why I didn’t head to the theater to watch Titanic, although I’m not one for massive crowds so perhaps that scared me off. But by now I have watched it numerous times. I have always opined that some movies really should be seen on the big screen, and with a gigantic ship sinking into the ocean & a huge rocket being launched into space I can only assume these would have been really cool films to see in a theater. Alas, I suppose my 55 inch smart TV will have to suffice.
25 A film you like that is not set in the current era…
I cannot believe we have made it this far without mentioning what I consider to be the best film ever produced. It is nearly flawless. Thankfully, since it is set in the 1940s & 50s The Godfather fits this category perfectly.
26 A film you like that is adapted from somewhere…
I have never read Winston Groom’s 1986 novel, and am inclined never to do so. It is my understanding that the film differs vastly from its source material, and since I think it’s a damn fine movie I’m not going to ruin it by reading the book. I am usually in the camp that believes that the book is almost always better than the movie, but there are exceptions and I’m just going to mark Forrest Gump as one of them.
27 A film that is visually striking to you…
Batman & Robin
I believe I have previously described Batman & Robin as “aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses”, and I stand by that assessment. However, there is no denying that it is visually striking, and in hindsight it is far from the worst movie ever made.
28 A film that made you feel uncomfortable…
Very Bad Things
Oh wow…let me tell you something folks…if you’ve never seen Very Bad Things you really should. It’s something everyone needs to experience just once. I say that because it’s not the kind of film for which repeat viewings are a thing. Once is enough, and it’ll be something you will remember…for better or worse…for the rest of your life. It seems like a harmless enough concept…a group of buddies go to Vegas for a bachelor party. And with an all-star cast including Jon Favreau, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven, Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, & Jeanne Tripplehorn one would assume it to be a fairly mundane, mainstream cliché…but that hypothesis is way wrong. As a matter of fact everything about this movie is so wrong, but in the kind of way that one cannot avoid staring at in complete fascination.
29 A film that makes you want to fall in love…
When Harry Met Sally
I freely admit it…I am comfortable enough with my smoldering machismo to proclaim my affection for rom coms, and in the early 90s America’s Sweetheart was Meg Ryan. She made three awesome romantic comedies (Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle, & You’ve Got Mail) with Tom Hanks, who is the prototypical leading man for such films. However, I think When Harry Met Sally is probably the best of the genre. Billy Crystal is 14 years older than Ryan and early scenes depicting him as a recent college grad stretch the limits of credibility (he was 41 years old at the time), but the movie is funny, heartwarming, & a joy to watch. Near the end Crystal’s character says “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible”, and I would love to find that person and begin the rest of my life.
I have opined on multiple occasions that “anyone who doesn’t shed a tear during the last 10 minutes of Field of Dreams doesn’t have a heart”. You see, it is so much more than a “sports movie”. It isn’t really about baseball at all. Field of Dreams is about regret & redemption, and the film’s conclusion packs an unexpected emotional punch, one that resonates even deeper three decades later than it did originally.
So what exactly are we trying to accomplish here?? Are we seeking the best movie of the 1990s?? Not really. Are we looking for my favorite movie?? Well, yes and no. Is this about zeroing in on the signature film of the 90’s that most represents the decade?? That would be ideal but I’m not sure it’s possible. I suppose I am ultimately looking to “have my cake and eat it too”. It has always fascinated me that movies that make a ton of money are oftentimes loud, obnoxious, unintelligible games of chicken in which studios spend mind blowing amounts of cash and directors have fun with impressive technological toys all to tell a story that makes no sense, has no intellectual or emotional resonance, & people rush to theaters to see but forget about ten minutes after it’s over. Meanwhile, critics like to heap praise on erudite, pretentious snoozefests that Joe Sixpack in flyover country has no interest in seeing. Can a movie be successful critically AND commercially?? The 1970’s produced several such films: Jaws, The Godfather, Star Wars, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Apocalypse Now, All the President’s Men, & Young Frankenstein all spring to mind as being both popular and acclaimed. I’m okay with liking “bad” films…we all have our guilty pleasures. However, for the purposes of this competition what we are hoping to find are good movies that normal folks like you & me actually enjoy.
If you have not checked out first round action in the Fly and Phat divisions please do so, but for now we move forward. Enjoy.
Starring: Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn
Directed By: Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith)
Batman & Robin
Starring: George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone
Directed By: Joel Schumacher (St. Elmo’s Fire, Falling Down, The Client)
One may make an assumption that Batman & Robin is included in this competition for the same reason films like Showgirls & Very Bad Things have been thrown a bone…because they are so dreadful that their sheer awfulness prompted a level of negative buzz that warrants discussion (kind of like how Cabbage Patch Dolls were considered so ugly they’re cute). That is partially true. However, as a huge fan of all things Batman I must also opine that it’s not really as bad of a movie as many seem to think. In 1995 Joel Schumacher took the reins of the franchise after Tim Burton was asked to step back from the director’s chair because the studio wasn’t happy with the box office for Batman Returns in 1992. Schumacher had already done St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, & the John Grisham adaptation The Client, so there was reason to believe that he wasn’t a decent choice, and 1995’s Batman Forever did little to dissuade that notion. But then, after Val Kilmer decided not to reprise his one stint as The Caped Crusader for various reasons, George Clooney got the job. Clooney was still doing the TV show ER but had begun his movie career as well. Schumacher wanted to pay homage to the kitschy 1960’s Batman television show, so he decided the tone of his films would be more colorful & humorous than its predecessors, and though no one seemed to have much of an issue with the more cartoonish vibe of Batman Forever, it seems to be a point of contention when it comes to Batman & Robin. On paper the cast is top notch…Clooney, Schwarzenegger, Thurman, Silverstone…but critically it bombed & commercially didn’t fare as well as the previous films in the series. I remember seeing it in the theater with my best buddy Greg and thinking that it was aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses. However, when watching Batman & Robin on video…in the comfort of one’s own home where you can control the volume & the lighting…it’s much more palatable. In hindsight the movie suffered from comparisons with its forerunners, and as the fourth film in a series with two directors and three leading men there was a lack of stability that fans found unsettling. In a game of “One of These Things Isn’t Like the Others” it sticks out like a sore thumb…but on its own merits it is harmless cinematic fluff that is acceptably entertaining. Swingers was written by Jon Favreau, and was the first starring role for both he & Vaughn. The plot isn’t necessarily as important as the vibe, with the story revolving around a group of underemployed actors in 1990’s Los Angeles, a period when 60’s era swing music was experiencing a revival. The soundtrack is top notch, with tunes from the likes of Dean Martin, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Bobby Darin, & Sammy Davis Jr. There is a portion of the film that takes place in Las Vegas, and y’all know that tickles my fancy. Swingers isn’t a thought-provoking masterpiece that will cause one to ponder deep & philosophical questions of life, but it oozes cool and is quite quotable. Critic Roger Ebert called it “sweet, funny, observant, & goofy”, and I concur.
The Verdict:Swingers. Batman & Robin has a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was the 12th highest grossing film of 1997, although it must be noted that it is the least successful of any Batman film ever produced. When compared to 1989’s Batman ($250 million), 1992’s Batman Returns ($163 million), and 1995’s Batman Forever ($184 million), Batman & Robin’s $107 million is the very definition of The Law of Diminishing Returns. The franchise probably should have been given a rest after Forever, especially when faced with casting & creative changes. The viewing public obviously had Gotham City fatigue, and the absolute mauling given to the film by critics certainly didn’t help. Swingers has an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score, and ranked 155th at the box office in 1996. However, given the fact that it made $4.5 million on a $200k budget and its cast was a bunch of unknowns at the time the financial situation is relative. The film has become a cult favorite and its cast all went on to varying degrees of fame & success. It is a simple case of expectations vs. reality. Hollywood continues to make the mistake of giving huge budgets to movies with mega stars, dazzling effects, & over-the-top plots, when oftentimes it is a small budget, obscure but talented performers, & a well-written story that stands the test of time.
Starring: Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short, Kimberly Williams
Directed By: Charles Shyer (Baby Boom, I Love Trouble)
What About Bob?
Starring: Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss
Directed By: Frank Oz (The Muppets Take Manhattan, Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels)
FotB 2 is a remake of a sequel from 1951 called Father’s Little Dividend starring Spencer Tracy & Elizabeth Taylor, and a sequel to 1991’s Father of the Bride. Martin returns as the titular father who must deal with the concurrent pregnancies of his daughter and middle-aged wife. Martin Short is given a bigger role in the sequel after an amusing turn as an eccentric wedding planner in the first film. FotB 2 ranked 17th at the box office in 1995, ahead of some well-regarded movies like Braveheart, Clueless, Casino, Dead Man Walking, The Usual Suspects, & Leaving Las Vegas. It holds a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critic Roger Ebert opining “movies like this butter us up so well that we’d feel like a grouch criticizing them”, adding that the movie is “warm & fuzzy, and has some good laughs & a lot of sweetness” before concluding that “I had the unmistakable feeling, toward the end of this film, that they may be reaching the end of this particular road and that there may be new horizons to investigate”. Other critics said things like “Short is trotted back out for more of his mincing shtick…a pretty feeble way to keep his character in the story”, “starts off weak but finishes strong…wacky & weepy, silly & sweet”, and “the strengths of these films are not so much laughs as sincerity & heart”. What About Bob? is a dark comedy about a psychiatric patient who stalks his therapist on vacation and befriends the doctor’s family, which upsets the arrogant shrink to the point that he becomes unhinged & ends up in a catatonic state. Bill Murray apparently doesn’t work & play well with others in real life, and nearly two decades after the film was released Richard Dreyfuss said of Murray “Terribly unpleasant experience. We didn’t get along, me and Bill Murray, but I’ve got to give it to him…I don’t like him, but he makes me laugh even now.”, which kind of sums up my feelings about Murray. I’m not a huge fan, but I give credit where it is due in that he is a talented actor who has been in some memorable movies. I’m just not sure that What About Bob? is one of them. It was the 19th highest grossing film of 1991 and holds an 83% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with The Washington Post proclaiming it “one comic session strung to feature-length breaking point”, while Entertainment Weekly states that it “begins as a rambunctious satire…but turns into little more than a pleasant one-joke movie.”
The Verdict:Father of the Bride Part II. Several years ago I had a co-worker who enjoyed sour candies like Skittles, Lemon Heads, & Sweet Tarts, while I am all about chocolate. I am reminded of that comparison now because some folks like edgy, dark, cynical entertainment, while others…like yours truly…prefer what I call “comfort food cinema” that leans heavily toward sentiment, a few good laughs, a pleasant cast, & a low-key vibe. I suppose it also comes down to whether or not you’re a fan of Murray, Dreyfuss, Martin, or Short. I gravitate toward the latter duo.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joes Pesci, Rene Russo
Directed By: Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, Scrooged)
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler, Joe Mantegna
Directed By: Michael Lehmann (Heathers, Hudson Hawk)
The only issue I have with the Lethal Weapon series is that it is easy to get the plots confused. They all star Mel Gibson & Danny Glover as a pair of mismatched cops fighting nefarious criminals, with the latter two films adding Rene Russo as a love interest for Gibson and 2, 3, & 4 having Joe Pesci as an annoying reformed criminal. In the third installment Riggs & Murtaugh track down a dirty cop who has become an arms dealer. A subplot involves the budding romance between Riggs and internal affairs officer Lorna Cole. LW3 was the fourth highest grossing film of 1992 and had the best box office of any film in the series. It has a 57% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert opining that “we miss the sense of invention that brightened the earlier movies…this one falls back on experience & craftsmanship”, and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calling the film “mediocrity wielded by experts”. Those are fair assessments in that we don’t necessarily keep going back to series like Lethal Weapon for innovative storytelling or fresh ideas…we have developed a deep fondness for familiar characters and the actors who portray them. Airheads is an example of the earlier work of guys like Sandler, Buscemi, Fraser, & Mantegna. It is a mildly entertaining tale about an unsuccessful garage band who takes an L.A. radio station hostage in an effort to get their demo tape played. It has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and ranked 138th at the box office in 1994, which was atleast better than something called Spanking the Monkey.
The Verdict:Lethal Weapon 3. I’m not usually a buddy/cop movie kinda guy, but I adore the Lethal Weapon series. Airheads is a fun little movie, but there’s really no competition here.
Starring: Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti
Directed By: Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus)
In the Line of Fire
Starring: Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo
Directed By: Wolfgang Petersen (The NeverEnding Story, The Perfect Storm)
I love a good biopic. Let’s face it…if a movie is being made about a person’s life story it is a fair assumption that the person & their life was noteworthy and/or interesting. Whether the movie tickles one’s fancy largely depends on the level of curiosity about the subject, and I am old enough to have some degree of fascination with Andy Kaufmann. I am not a big Jim Carrey fan, but do recognize that he has a fair amount of talent when given the right material. Man on the Moon derives its title from a 1992 song by alt-rock band REM that was written as a tribute to Kaufman. The movie follows Kaufman’s rise from struggling night club act to infamous sitcom star thru his death from cancer at age 35. There are some questionable decisions made (like the cast of the sitcom Taxi portraying their 1970’s selves fifteen years later) that negatively impact one’s overall impression of the film, but praise for Carrey’s performance as Kaufman is nearly universal, to the point that he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor. In the Line of Fire is a criminally underappreciated movie about a guilt ridden Secret Service agent whose failure to save JFK’s life has messed with him for three decades. The agent gets another chance when a deranged former CIA assassin threatens the current President. The conclusion is somewhat predictable, but the ride getting there is lots of fun. I’ve never been a bigtime Eastwood fan simply because he typically stars in westerns & cop films that aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but for some reason I find this particular movie compelling.
The Verdict:In the Line of Fire. Rotten Tomatoes scores Man on the Moon at 63% and it was the 58th highest grossing film of 1999, which seems far too low for an Andy Kaufman biopic starring one of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time. Movies like Stuart Little, the god awful Wild Wild West with Will Smith, & Deuce Bigelow: Male Jiggolo did better at the box office. In the Line of Fire was the 7th highest grossing film of 1993 and has a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I can’t help but wonder if Man on the Moon was a huge missed opportunity that might have fared better with a better script and a different director.
Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Sophia Loren, Burgess Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak, Ann Margret
Directed By: Howard Deutch (Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful)
Fools Rush In
Starring: Matthew Perry, Salma Hayek
Directed By: Andy Tennant (Sweet Home Alabama, Hitch)
I think we’ve established the fact that I have a type. If I am in vegg mode and doing some couch potatoing on a lazy afternoon I gravitate toward breezy comedies with pleasant characters and a charming plot. That’s my jam and I’m not sorry. Grumpier Old Men is a follow-up to the 1993 original and finds our two favorite cantankerous geezers resuming hostilities in the frozen tundra of Wabasha, MN. Things have calmed down between John Gustafson & Max Goldman, with John now happily married to Ariel (who moved into the neighborhood in the first film) and the two men’s offspring…Gustafson’s daughter Melanie and Goldman’s son Jacob…set to get married. But an alluring Italian divorcee moves into the neighborhood and all hell hilariously breaks loose once again. The cast is terrific, proof that not everyone has to be a gorgeous 20something for a movie to be good. Old-timer Burgess Meredith is the unsung hero once again, stealing the show at 87 years of age. It was the 20th highest grossing film of 1995 but only has a 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. By 1997 hit TV show Friends was only in its fourth season (not even halfway thru its decade long run) but the cast was already beginning feature film careers. Matthew Perry’s first leading man role was Fools Rush In, about a NY City architect who has a one night stand in Vegas while he is there supervising the construction of a night club. The vivacious young lady shows up at his door a few months later with a bun in the oven, and simply wants to introduce him to her close-knit & very traditional Mexican family so that when she breaks the news about her pregnancy she’ll be able to tell them they’ve met the baby’s father. The city boy is enchanted by the beautiful woman and her family ties, and in short order the two have a quickie wedding and move in together. Of course the culture clash is inevitable, especially when his snooty parents show up, and as tends to happen in rom-coms the couple fight, break up, & eventually reunite just in time to welcome their child into the world. It’s all very sweet & predictable, but I’m okay with that. Fools Rush In was the 70th highest grossing film of 1997 and has a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Verdict:Grumpier Old Men. This is a tough choice because I really like both movies, even though critics didn’t. Our old pal Ebert called Grumpier Old Men “a big-screen sitcom”, opining that “I would love to see this material transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs”. I am intrigued by that insightful comment, because of course two+ decades later isn’t that what eventually happens to a lot of movies anyway?? Think about it. We go to the local cineplex to watch loud, visually stimulating, effects laden action flicks that provide us with a momentary jolt of adrenaline…but decades later when we’re chillin’ out & flipping thru the channels what kinds of movies stand the test of time and provide a measure of jovial comfort on dreary & tedious days when we need that sort of cozy contentment?? Oftentimes it is exactly the kind of “big screen sitcom” that Ebert describes that has been “transplanted to the TV screen where it belongs” just as he suggested. He was a man ahead of his time. Of Fools Rush In Ebert said “it is a sweet, entertaining retread of an ancient formula, in which opposites attract despite all the forces arrayed to push them apart”, and “Yes, the movie is a cornball romance. Yes, it manufactures a lot of standard plot twists. But there is also a level of observation and human comedy”. It feels wrong that either film has to be eliminated at this point, but Grumpier Old Men has the edge in repeat viewings & legendary movie stars.
Starring: Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman
Directed By: Dean Parisot (Home Fries, Red 2)
Starring: Whitney Houston, Kevin Costner
Directed By: Mick Jackson (L.A. Story, Volcano)
Galaxy Quest works on multiple levels. It’s a comedy. It’s a sci-fi adventure. And it is a spoof. Allen, Weaver, Rickman, et al portray the cast of a Star Trek-esque TV show that was cancelled long ago but still has a community of hardcore fans that hold conventions & such, many of which the actors attend because they’ve been typecast and aren’t able to make any kind of money otherwise. The “captain” still basks in the glow of his small slice of fame, but the rest of the crew is really just over the whole deal. But then a strange thing happens…they find themselves caught up in an actual outer space adventure when a well-meaning group of aliens mistakenly believes the TV show to be real life and thinks the crew can save their species…or something like that. I suspect that Trekkies & other sci-fi nerds are the only audience that can truly appreciate everything Galaxy Quest has to offer, but perhaps those who just enjoy good popcorn cinema are entertained by it as well. The Bodyguard was a big deal back in 1992 because Whitney Houston was at the top of the music charts and was transitioning into acting with her first film role. Houston portrays a famous singer (not much of a stretch) who gains a former Secret Service agent as a bodyguard after being nominated for an Academy Award and being sent death threats by a mysterious stalker. Unsurprisingly the singer & the bodyguard fall for each other, and naturally the audience loves it because of the undeniable charm and chemistry of Houston & Costner. The Bodyguard has a little something for everyone…mystery, suspense, action, romance, drama…and gave us what…to my knowledge…is still the best-selling movie soundtrack of all time.
The Verdict:Galaxy Quest. This one is tricky. Ideally I’d put it up for a vote from The Manoverse, but that doesn’t seem to work for me so I’ll make the tough choice. The Bodyguard was the 7th highest grossing film of 1992, behind the likes of Aladdin, Home Alone 2, & A Few Good Men but ahead of competition such as Wayne’s World, Unforgiven, & White Men Can’t Jump. It has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with our old pal Roger Ebert opining “the basic situation is intriguing enough to sustain a film all by itself”, but adding that he “felt a little cheated by the outcome”. Other critics were less generous. TV Guide called it “a dreary, turgid melodrama”, while Entertainment Weekly said “it is an outrageous piece of saccharine kitsch…or, atleast it might have been had the movie seemed fully awake.” Ouch. Galaxy Quest was the 30th highest grossing film of 1999, beating out notables like The Thomas Crown Affair, Eyes Wide Shut, Varsity Blues, & Fight Club. Rotten Tomatoes scores it at an impressive 90%, with the Associated Press calling it “alot of wacky fun” and Entertainment Weekly saying it is “a fast, loose, & very funny parody that pulls off the not-so-simple feat of tweaking Trekkies and honoring them, ribbing long-in-the-tooth actors and applauding them, bringing together Star Trek savants and those who couldn’t give a squat about dilithium crystals, and saying ‘See, there’s room on the final frontier for everyone.’” So what this boils down to is one movie that made a bunch of money but generally isn’t viewed as being very good versus a movie that didn’t make as much money but is well-regarded as being good at what it is supposed to be. All too often Hollywood seems to believe that they can take any old schlock and sell it to the masses as long as a big star or two or three is attached. And sadly much of the time they are right. I feel like The Bodyguard was successful because Whitney Houston was such an awesome singer and everybody likes Kevin Costner. That soundtrack that made a ton of money is mostly songs by Houston and probably would have been about as successful if it were just another one of her albums with no film attached, so I don’t think it should factor into the equation. As always I ask myself what I would watch if I were flipping thru the channels, and since I probably haven’t watched The Bodyguard since I saw it at the theater the answer is pretty clear.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper
Directed By: Jan de Bont (Twister)
Dazed & Confused
Starring: Jason London, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey
Directed By: Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Fast Food Nation)
Keanu Reeves first came into our pop culture consciousness in the late 1980’s as Valley Boy slacker Theodore Logan in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But since one can’t portray dimwitted high schoolers forever he moved on to more serious roles in Point Break and My Own Private Idaho. And then came Speed. The thriller about a bus rigged with a bomb programmed to explode if it slows down below 50 mph thrust Reeves into superstardom and also introduced the world to Sandra Bullock. It was the 8th highest grossing film of 1994 and has an exceptional 94% Rotten Tomatoes score. Dazed & Confused is a Hindsight Film, meaning that it has remained relevant in large part based on what several of its young stars went on to become…especially McConaughey & Affleck. The movie itself is a slice of life look at the last day of school for a bunch of high schoolers in Austin, TX. It is set in 1976 so there is a lot of pot smoking, cruising, & hazing of younger students…things that wouldn’t fly in our modern PC purgatory, and had even diminished by the late 80’s when I was in high school. Dazed & Confused isn’t as much about a particular plot as it is about capturing a mood and painting a picture of an era, which it does really well. The cast is…obviously…stellar, and the soundtrack (featuring songs by Foghat, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, & Black Sabbath) is terrific. It was only the 121st highest grossing film of 1993 but has become a cult classic in the ensuing years. It has a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes, with Ebert referring to it as “art crossed with anthropology” and Rolling Stone calling it “the ultimate party movie…loud, crude, socially irresponsible, & totally irresistible”.
The Verdict:Speed. I am hesitant to reward a film based largely on the fact that its casting director did a superb job of finding young unknowns who eventually became famous. Matthew McConaughey’s next project would be starring in A Time to Kill two years later and EdTV (a film ahead of its time) in 1999. Ben Affleck did a few decent films after Dazed & Confused, but in 1997 cemented his status by winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay after writing Good Will Hunting with his pal Matt Damon. Dazed & Confused is a fun flick that does an excellent job of creating a snapshot of not just a moment in time but a time in life that just about everyone fondly remembers even if the details vary. Having said that, I cannot overlook the cultural impact of Speed. It was a surprise phenomenon that dominated the summer box office in 1994. Bullock had previously been in a couple of decent films (Love Potion No. 9 and Demolition Man), but Speed made her a star and she’s still making movies two decades later.
Starring: Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci
Directed By: Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, Men in Black, Wild Wild West)
Saving Private Ryan
Starring: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Ed Burns, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston
Directed By: Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can)
The Addams Family made their debut in a series of cartoons published in The New Yorker beginning in 1938. In the 1960’s the kooky clan came to television for two seasons, and although the show was cancelled due to poor ratings it lived on in syndication, to the point that I was watching it as a kid growing up in the 80’s. The Addams Family finally came to the big screen in 1991 in a tale that finds a greedy lawyer & a con artist scheming to get ahold of the Addams fortune that is hidden deep in the bowels of their creepy mansion. The con artist’s son just happens to look like Gomez Addams’ brother Uncle Fester who has been MIA for 25 years, so there’s your plot. Hijinks ensue and of course the evil plan goes off the rails, all in the midst of the oddball family’s usual weirdness. The cast is superb, the movie is entertaining enough, and critics didn’t completely hate it. The Addams Family was the 7th high grossing film of 1991 and its Rotten Tomatoes score of 63% is fairly solid. The New York Times said that its “aimlessness & repetitiveness eventually become draining”, Variety opined that “despite inspired casting and nifty visual trappings the eagerly awaited Addams Family figures as a major disappointment”, and Ebert observed that “there are a lot of little smiles and many chuckles & grins, but they don’t add up to much”. Conversely, the Austin Chronicle gushed that “it’s hard to imagine a better screen adaptation of this queer household….Charles Addams would have been proud”, while the BBC complimented the cast, saying that it “elevates this film from flimsy to sheer delight”. Saving Private Ryan is a totally different kind of movie from its competition. It is a gritty & unflinching look at D-Day and its aftermath when a team of U.S. Army rangers are given the task of finding & rescuing Private James Ryan, whose three brothers have all been killed in the war making him the only son remaining. The mission isn’t easy and there is violence & death along the way. This is not a romantic, sanitized, family friendly war movie, though I don’t feel like it is gratuitous either…it’s just very very candid. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is poignant & impactful. Saving Private Ryan was the highest grossing film of 1998, has an amazing Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%, & was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. It won five of those Oscars, including Spielberg’s second Best Director award. It was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Shakespeare in Love, which in retrospect might be the biggest travesty in award show history.
The Verdict:Saving Private Ryan. I’ve got to be honest…I only watched Saving Private Ryan once twenty years ago and don’t have the desire to ever watch it again. That’s not because it’s a bad move (obviously), it’s just that on a lazy day of couch potatoing violent war films aren’t my thing. Having said that, I cannot in good conscience overlook it, not simply because of its pedigree but out of respect for the historical events that inspired the story. It goes without saying that Spielberg is terrific, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better or deeper cast in the entirety of cinema. It is a story that needed to be told, and thankfully it was told really well. The Addams Family is an innocuous & engaging comedy that actually got a sequel a few years later, though I must admit that I’ve never seen it. I am intrigued by an animated Addams movie set to be released in 2019, but all in all I am inclined to stick with reruns of the old TV show.
Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home. – David Frost
I am easily distracted and have a short attention span. In years past I could easily finish a 500 page book within a week, and not that long ago I would have completed a fun & frivolous project like this in 3 or 4 days, but the older I get the less I seem to be able to focus and the more time it takes me to complete a task. Perhaps I’m just bored with life in general. I don’t know. Anyway, y’all didn’t stop by for me to lay on the couch and have you analyze my neuroses. If you need to get caught up with how we arrived at this point please click here. Today we reach the summit and discuss the Top 25 most memorable television characters of all time (in my humble opinion). I don’t think there are too many surprises in store, but I could be wrong. I still believe that there are writers out there creating great characters in all forms of entertainment, but sadly I think nowadays those writers and thus their characters frequently embrace a gloomier, more solemn & complex vibe. There’s nothing wrong with complexity, but for pete’s sake most of us are just trying to relax, laugh a little, and escape from the tedium of the daily grind, not join a crusade about serious worldly issues. Hollywood has become far too enamored with promoting various agendas and has forgotten how to chill out & have fun. That’s my viewpoint anyway. Your mileage may vary and that’s alright. For now though let’s recognize & give kudos to times when those left coasters got it right. Enjoy.
25 Alex P. Keaton (Family Ties)
Okay okay okay…I suppose Family Ties did have a quasi-political premise. It was the 80’s and Ronald Reagan had cast his spell on a huge portion of the country, which didn’t sit well with aging 60’s radicals. And so we got a sitcom about middle-aged former hippies raising a family in Columbus, OH, with their eldest son being a right leaning yuppie Republican. However, despite that general theme the show itself didn’t deviate much from standard nuclear family fare, except that it was funny and extremely well-written & performed. Alex Keaton isn’t your typical teenager. He wears a suit to school, carries a Richard Nixon lunchbox, reads the Wall Street Journal, and actually enjoys studying economics. While Alex is depicted as somewhat uptight and often disagrees with his parents’ opinions he is never shown to be a bad guy or antagonistic, and he’s actually rather comical. He loves his family and they love him. There is a reasonably fair-minded presentation of differing worldviews, which has become all too rare just a few decades later.
24 Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Star Trek)
Dammit Manoverse…he’s a doctor, not a writer!! Admittedly my love for Bones McCoy began with the half dozen Star Trek movies produced in the 1980’s because that was my first exposure to Trek, but rest assured that he’s the same cantankerous curmudgeon even in the original series…just a few decades younger. He’s the voice of reason that tempers the reactionary passion of his captain and injects humanity into the detached analysis of the ship’s science officer. He’s also really funny and has some of the best one liners.
23 Luke Spencer (General Hospital)
Lucas Lorenzo Spencer emerged as one of the more provocatively popular leading men in soap history a few decades ago, a real accomplishment for a character that was intended to disappear after a few months. Instead, Luke’s stay in Port Charles lasted…off & on…for nearly four decades. He famously falls for beautiful young Laura Webber and rapes her at a college disco, a deed that would normally brand a character as a villain. However, Laura loves him, so Luke is redeemed and becomes a good guy. Luke & Laura’s wedding in 1982 had 30 million television viewers, which still has to be some sort of record. Over the years Luke evolved into a beloved scoundrel, always ready for an escapade or hatching a scheme to proliferate his bank account. He is the quintessential soap hero, constantly engaged in battle with the dastardly Cassadine clan while exhibiting fierce loyalty to his family, especially son Lucky, Aunt Ruby, & sister Bobbie. Luke & Laura both die and return to life a couple of times as soap characters tend to do, and eventually end their marriage. Luke moves on with bitchy socialite Tracey Quartermaine, which is arguably a more enjoyable pairing. He is a restless soul and always finds himself in hot water, but somehow makes it thru. Alcoholism becomes an issue, as well as horrible childhood memories that had been repressed for decades, both of which add layers of complexity to Luke but weren’t well-received plot points by GH fans who prefer their fun-loving scalawag instead of a depressed, broken, suicidal old man. Luke left Port Charles a few years ago and is presumably living a life of adventure somewhere in Europe.
Actually his given first name is Norville. Of course he is Scooby’s owner/master (or whatever title you prefer), and the two are inseparable. Shaggy is the prototypical slacker, an animated homage to Bohemian beatnik Maynard G. Krebbs from the early 60’s sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Unlike his friends, who bravely seek to solve mysteries they encounter, Shaggy is a chicken who runs at the first sign of trouble. He mostly prefers to hang out with his dog and take it easy. Oddly enough they both seem to always have the munchies, though I have no idea what that’s all about. Well-known radio personality Casey Kasem voiced Shaggy for four decades.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the world’s foremost consulting detective in 1887, writing four novels & 56 short stories about Holmes and his trusty wingman Dr. Watson over the course of four decades. Since then Holmes has had a long life in films, television, radio, stage plays, & any other entertainment outlet imaginable. At one time Guinness had Holmes listed as the most portrayed fictional character in history, though I believe Santa Claus & Dracula are right there with him. At any rate, though (surprisingly) I have never seen Benedict Cumberbatch’s well-regarded interpretation of the treasured detective in BBC’s series Sherlock, I do fondly recall the late Jeremy Brett’s depiction in an 80’s series that ran here in America on PBS. There were 41 episodes of Sherlock Holmes, each rather faithfully adapting one of Conan Doyle’s stories. I’m sure that all 60 would have been produced had it not been for the untimely death of Brett at the age of 61. Most rankings & polls out there rate Brett’s version of Holmes as one of the 2 or 3 best, and I wholeheartedly concur.
20 Mork from Ork (Mork & Mindy)
Robin Williams was a force of nature (and cocaine)…a legendary comedian who evolved into one of the most significant actors of a generation. His acting career was launched on a 1978 episode of Happy Days in which he portrays a goofy alien from outer space who wants to take Richie Cunningham back to his home planet as a human specimen. Mork got his own spinoff in which he lands in Colorado and befriends the young & beautiful Mindy, even telling her the truth about his identity. Mork lives in Mindy’s basement for four seasons, with the two eventually falling in love, getting married, & having a “baby” (hilariously played by legendary comedian Jonathan Winters). The show itself was never great, but it was a showcase for Williams’ peerless talent and an indication of great things to come.
19 Les Nessman (WKRP in Cincinnati)
Persnickety newsman Les Nessman is probably the most overlooked part of WKRP’s greatness. Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap are cooler, receptionist Jennifer Marlowe is sexier, & clueless boss Mr. Carlson gets a lot of laughs, but Les is the comedic gem of the ensemble. Unlike his laid-back colleagues Les is super serious about his job, approaching it as if he is an important journalist breaking momentous news on a major media outlet, whereas in reality he’s the newsman for a smallish radio station at which rock n’ roll pays the bills and news is not essential at all. Despite his erudite demeanor & professorial appearance Les is a total dufus and completely incompetent. His only area of expertise seems to be husbandry, for which he has won a Silver Sow Award and multiple Buckeye Newshawk Awards, accomplishments for which he is quite proud. He amusingly likes to imagine that his cubicle is an office, putting tape on the floor where walls would be and demanding that his co-workers knock on the imaginary door. Les Nessman’s shining moment is the 1978 Thanksgiving episode Turkeys Away, during which he gives dire news updates on a promotional gimmick initiated by Mr. Carlson that goes horribly yet hysterically awry.
18 Cliff Clavin (Cheers)
Actor John Ratzenberger originally auditioned for the role of Norm Peterson, but when he didn’t get the part he asked the producers if they had a bar know-it-all in the cast, and thus the part of blowhard mailman Cliff was created. Cliff is a middle-aged momma’s boy who is terrible with women, and like the rest of his cohorts he’s a loveable loser that would come across as sad & pathetic in reality, but somehow works as a sitcom character. The funny thing is that we’ve all known people like Cliff that are mostly full of bull and try our patience when we’re in their presence for any length of time, but despite their faults we kind of like having them around.
In retrospect Friends was better than most of us realized at the time. Oh sure it was popular, ranking as a Top 5 hit in nine of its ten seasons, and the cast became superstars, but if you watch it now in syndication almost fifteen years after the final episode aired what you realize is what a well-written & performed show it was. I can’t single out any one character from the ensemble because I feel like each was a vital part of the program’s success. Monica Geller is an OCD fussbudget, a chef by trade who acts as the de facto glue that holds the group together. Monica’s brother Ross is a neurotic paleontologist whose ex-wife became a lesbian. Ross’ best friend is Chandler Bing, a sarcastic business executive. Chandler lives across the hall from Monica with Joey Tribbiani, a dimwitted yet kindhearted struggling actor who is a bit of a ladies’ man. Monica’s childhood friend Rachel Green, a self-absorbed rich girl who left her fiancé at the altar, shows up and becomes Monica’s roommate in the inaugural episode. Rounding out the group is hippy dippy massage therapist & quirky songwriter Phoebe Buffay. They mostly assemble in Monica & Rachel’s apartment, Chandler & Joey’s place, or at the local Central Perk coffeehouse. Ross’ unrequited love for Rachel and their subsequent on again/off again relationship is a principal focus of the show thru the years, and in later seasons Chandler & Monica become involved & get married. I’m not sure it’s fair to say that any of them are accurate illustrations of real 20/30-somethings, but some of their issues do ring true and did so at a time in my life where I really appreciated that connection.
16 Fred Sanford (Sanford & Son)
For some reason Fred, an elderly black junk dealer from south central Los Angeles, always reminded me of my paternal grandfather, a retired Italian-American coal miner from West Virginia. Perhaps it is because my Papaw was a fan of the show. Fred is a widower who lives with his middle-aged son Lamont and runs his business out of his home. Fred is a feisty old dude, never hesitating to mix it up with sister-in-law Esther, next door neighbor Julio, or Lamont’s best buddy Rollo. Though he & Lamont appear to be close he is quick to belittle his son, often calling him a big dummy. Fred is oftentimes shown to be bigoted, which is played for laughs but probably wouldn’t fly with the modern day PC Police, and he is rather lazy as well as a bit of a manipulator. By far Fred’s most enduring legacy is when he would find himself in a tight spot or on the verge of having one of his harebrained schemes exposed, at which time he’d fake a heart attack and proclaim “This is the big one! You hear that, Elizabeth?? I’m coming to join you honey!!”.
15 Louie DePalma (Taxi)
Danny DeVito has had a moderately successful film career, appearing in movies like Romancing the Stone, Ruthless People, Throw Momma from the Train, Twins, Batman Returns, & Deck the Halls, but his first taste of fame came via 80’s sitcom Taxi. Louie is the dispatcher at the Sunshine Cab Company and acts as if he’s the boss, although in retrospect I’m not sure if he had any kind of authority or just likes to pretend that he does. He is a misogynistic & unscrupulous schemer who shows zero respect for any of his colleagues and is rarely at a loss for words, usually of the demeaning & insulting variety. His diminutive size coupled with an arrogant, abrasive attitude are indicative of a classic Napoleon complex. However, despite his faults Louie oftentimes does the right thing, and, in contrast to his coarse exterior, deep down there’s a big ol’ soft heart that makes an appearance on occasion.
14 Ari Gold (Entourage)
I have no idea if life in Hollywood is as…colorful…as it is depicted on Entourage, but if there really is an agent like Ari Gold I’m not sure if an actor should sign with him without hesitation or run away as fast as possible. He is ill-mannered, foul-mouthed, arrogant, belligerent, & somewhat deceitful, but is also shown to be really good at his job and truly concerned about his clients, especially rising star Vincent Chase. In contrast to Vince & his buddies, who enjoy basking in the party lifestyle like a bunch of wealthy & carefree delinquents, Ari is a faithful husband & father whose biggest fault just might be hardcore dedication to his career. Ari is one of those rare characters that demands attention, stealing every scene in which he appears.
13 Dr.Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory)
Far be it for me to fall into the “prisoner of the moment” trap, but after a decade on the air I don’t think it is an overreaction to consider Sheldon one of the best characters in television history. While TBBT writers have done a good job of remaining faithful to the ensemble dynamic of the show and still give a fair amount of screen time & storyline to everyone, it is undeniable that Sheldon is the breakout character, especially since the 9 year old version of him is already starring in a spinoff even as the original show remains one of the highest rated programs on television. I watched the first episode of Young Sheldon, but it just didn’t pique my interest. In TBBT thirtysomething Sheldon is a theoretical physicist, a genius with an eidetic memory and a total lack of social skills or emotional intelligence. He is egotistical, peculiar, somewhat irrational, & oftentimes childish. He & his pals are classic geeks who love comic books, technology, & sci-fi but know next to nothing about sports, pop culture, contemporary music, or current events. His mother is a devout Christian, and Sheldon’s devotion to science causes him to view her faith with derision, a foible that has troubled me a bit on occasion. Sheldon is an extremely well-written character whose physical comedy is an underrated portion of what has been an award winning performance.
12 Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (The Dukes of Hazzard)
Is he a bad guy?? Not really. Is he corrupt?? I suppose, but not in the traditional sense. It’s more accurate to say that Rosco is a weak-minded follower who is easily led astray by his greedy brother-in-law Boss Hogg. It is initially revealed that Rosco had served with integrity for 20 years, but got screwed out of his pension just as he was on the verge of retirement (Dukes was a show ahead of its time). He joins in Boss’ schemes in order to get back the money he lost. All traces of bitterness soon fade away though, as Rosco evolves into a simpleminded, inept, & comical lawman. His constant companion is a lethargic basset hound named Flash, and despite his own foolishness he consistently calls deputies Enos & Cletus dipsticks. He enjoys “hot pursuit”, but it usually doesn’t work out well as he oftentimes seems to “scuff his vehicle”. Rosco genuinely cares about Boss Hogg but is also intimidated & taken advantage of by him, rarely getting more than a small fraction of whatever windfall the duo earns from their deceitful plots. He doesn’t seem to have any genuine beef with the Dukes but is regularly ordered to chase them by Boss Hogg, though they rarely get caught & easily escape when they do end up in jail. Much like Hogg, Sheriff Rosco is portrayed as far more sinister in the 2005 big screen adaptation, which is another strike against that film.
Television viewers have a love/hate relationship with spinoffs. Sometimes they work, but oftentimes they fall way short of expectations. Gomer Pyle USMC lands somewhere in the middle, which isn’t intended to be negative…it’s just that it’s almost impossible to measure up to TAGS. Gomer appears in Seasons 3 & 4 of TAGS and was introduced because the actor who portrayed Floyd the Barber had a stroke and was off the show for awhile. Like most residents of Mayberry Gomer is an unsophisticated bumpkin with a friendly & gentle disposition. He works at Wally’s Filling Station and is alternately shown to know nothing about automobiles or to be an expert mechanic (TAGS had issues with continuity). He is always willing to help out when needed and is deputized by the police on several occasions, though he proves to be a totally incompetent lawman. On a few occasions Jim Nabors is able to show off his real life singing talent. Any episode of TAGS with Gomer is even more of a delight than usual, which is probably why he was given a spinoff. That show lasted for five seasons and features Gomer as he enlists in the Marine Corps and clashes with hard-nosed drill instructor Sergeant Carter. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story, with a bit of an Odd Couple vibe thrown into the mix. I like the TAGS version of Gomer much more than I like him in the spinoff, but that probably has more to do with the overall quality of the two shows rather than the character. When Gomer leaves Mayberry the void is filled by his cousin Goober, but I’ve never enjoyed Goober as much as Gomer.
Television is like a library. There are a lot of library books in it, and you have to pick and choose what you take out of it. – David L. Wolper
10 Rev. Jim Ignatowski (Taxi)
The third member of the Taxi cast to make the cut is a spaced-out relic from the 60’s who might be the most entertaining dopehead not named Cheech or Chong. Iggy grew up wealthy, but his Mom died when he was very young and his father was a busy doctor, so he was mostly raised by servants. He was extremely intelligent and attended Harvard, but in a comical twist on the whole Adam & Eve/forbidden fruit concept is goaded by his girlfriend into eating a marijuana laced brownie, which leads to him permanently becoming an eccentric & absentminded burnout. Jim’s random tangents that have nothing to do with the topic of conversation are hysterical, especially when he completely forgets whatever point he thought he wanted to make. Occasional glimpses of his former intellect & deep thinking skills sneak thru the fog and he says something profound, which of course takes everyone by surprise. Iggy once opined “You know the really great thing about television? If something important happens, anywhere in the world, night or day… you can always change the channel”, which kind of sums up how I feel about TV nowadays. In an early Season 2 episode titled “Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey” the cabbies get Jim a job, but first they must take him to the DMV so he can pass the driver’s test and get his license. It is quintessential Iggy, and quite possibly one of the best sitcom moments of all time.
For some reason I really identified with George. He is Jerry’s best friend since junior high school, and becomes pals with Jerry’s other quirky cohorts. Jerry opines that George could have been normal, but isn’t mostly because of his crazy parents. He is a self-described “short, stocky, bald man” who is alternately bombastic & self-loathing. He always looks for the easiest way to do something, or even avoids doing it altogether. He’s awkward, impulsive, insecure, narcissistic, high-strung, occasionally devious, & not good at all with women. He has several relationships throughout the series, but always manages to screw it up. I am reminded of the 1999 film Office Space, in which the main protagonist states that “it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care”, except in George’s case he actually is lazy, though not necessarily stupid. Jerry Seinfeld made a brilliant choice when he decided to play straight man and let his co-stars be the wacky oddballs with most of the comedic moments.
Michael Scott (The Office)
When we began this journey I noted that there were allegedly great television shows that I’d not watched, therefore some significant characters y’all might love may not appear here. That is still true, however I have rectified one glaring omission. The Quarantine of 2020 prompted me to binge The Office on Netflix since I had never seen it when it originally aired on NBC from 2005-13. Though it is a delightfully quirky ensemble there is no doubt that the heartbeat of the show is the World’s Best Boss, Michael Scott. As portrayed by Steve Carell, Michael is, well…unique. Clueless. Superficial. Egotistical. Unintentionally offensive. Occasionally disrespectful. Desperate to be admired. In short, he’s certainly not management material, but that is the essence of the joke. In the real world someone like Michael wouldn’t last five minutes in a leadership position. We wonder how he stays employed. Despite his shortcomings though, he sincerely loves his job and shows genuine affection for (most of) his employees. He tries really hard, and that’s why we like him. When Carell’s budding film career took off & he left the show it was never the same. Fans are generally united in the belief that Seasons 8 & 9 were lackluster, which is proof of the significance of Michael Scott.
8 Dr. Frasier Crane (Cheers and Frasier)
Frasier Crane has the distinction of being one of the two longest running live action characters in television history, appearing in nine seasons of Cheers and, of course, all eleven seasons of the eponymous spinoffFrasier, for a total of twenty years on the air. He’d probably deserve a spot on this list for that alone, but there is so much more to love. Dr. Crane first appears in the third season of Cheers as the new beau of waitress Diane Chambers. The two are kindred spirits…pretentious intellectuals that don’t really fit into the working class pub dynamic. Alas, Diane can’t fight her attraction to bar owner Sam Malone and eventually leaves Frasier at the altar. Even after Diane departs Cheers at the end of the fifth season Frasier sticks around and becomes a regular part of the group, eventually marrying then divorcing aloof fellow psychiatrist Lilith and fathering a son with her named Frederick. When Cheers concludes Frasier moves back to his hometown of Seattle to help his brother Niles care for their father Martin, a police officer forced to retire after being shot in the line of duty. In Seattle Frasier hosts a radio talk show, so there is interaction with eccentric callers & quirky work colleagues in addition to the familial relationships. Frasier is a bit more masculine than his brother, but is just as much of a pompous elitist. He is passionate about theater, fine art, literature, & gourmet food, but because of his time in Boston is considerate toward his blue collar father’s lifestyle & hobbies, though he by no means shares those proclivities. It almost seems as if he might be bipolar because he can transition from eloquently helping a caller on his radio show in a soothing & melodious tone into an indignant fit of rage just minutes later, something that happens in nearly every episode. Despite being an alleged expert in helping other people solve their issues Frasier does not understand his own complexities and doesn’t have a great track record with the ladies. In addition to the doomed engagement to Diane & divorce from Lilith he dates a plethora of women in Seattle, but nothing ever seems to work out.
7 The Dynamic Duo (Batman)
Nearly every incarnation of Batman stays true to his gloomy origins as an orphaned billionaire who becomes a crime fighting vigilante after his parents are murdered in the gritty, violent, & sinister milieu of Gotham City. Robin is originally a young boy in a family of acrobats who witnesses his parents die in an accident arranged by a mobster, and is afterwards taken in by Bruce Wayne who becomes his legal guardian. But all of that melancholy stuff is set aside in the 1966 action sitcom that aired for three seasons on ABC. Dick Grayson (aka Robin) is still the “youthful ward” (now a teenager) of billionaire Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), and the two team up to fight crime in Gotham City, but the atmosphere is bright, the dialogue is cleverly corny, the villains are hardly intimidating, & the end result is delightfully absurd. Adam West’s interpretation of Bruce Wayne/Batman is funny because the character takes every situation so seriously, delivering his lines in a solemn & melodramatic tone. This incarnation of Robin is enthusiastic & peppy, but not annoyingly so. The entire show is cheeky & whimsical, a definite departure from the norm and a risky choice that paid off. Joel Schumacher’s 1997 film Batman & Robin starring George Clooney as The Caped Crusader attempted to borrow the cheesy vibe, but it fell flat because…well, let’s face it…Clooney isn’t Adam West.
6 Archie & Edith Bunker (All in the Family)
Contrary to popular belief the idea of Hollywood idealists using their entertainment platform to promote an agenda and talk down to the masses about issues that common folks in flyover country are allegedly ignorant about isn’t a brand new concept conceived in the 21st century…it’s just that they used to be much better at it. Norman Lear did a lot of it in the 1970’s and did it quite well, creating shows like Sanford & Son, One Day at a Time, Maude, Good Times, & The Jeffersons. By far his greatest creation was All in the Family, centering on a working class family in Queens, NY. The head of the household is Archie Bunker, an ill-tempered, opinionated, & narrow-minded loading dock foreman. He is an equal opportunity contrarian who insults just about every minority, religion, & nationality. He is especially dismissive of his ultra-liberal son-in-law, who he calls Meathead. However, despite his gruff exterior, deep down Archie is a loving & decent man who cares about his family and friends, though he often becomes impatient with wife Edith, who he calls Dingbat. Edith is rather ditzy, but she’s usually quite jovial & compassionate, the sort of person who might get on one’s nerves but you just can’t help but like. She’s a bit of a throwback…a submissive & dedicated wife, mother, and grandmother that would be scoffed at by modern day feminists. The Bunkers are extreme caricatures certainly created to make a point. Archie is intended as a mean-spirited dig at conservative values, while Edith’s kindhearted yet naïve subservience is meant as negative commentary on the traditional but allegedly outdated idea of the stay-at-home housewife. But an odd & unexpected thing happened…the audience actually liked & identified with them. Fans understood that conservatives aren’t really evil racists and easily dismissed many of Archie’s more exaggerated traits while realizing that some of his views had merit. They were able to chuckle at Edith’s comical zaniness while recognizing that being a traditional housewife isn’t a horrible thing. People saw thru the self-righteous poppycock of Meathead and agreed with Archie’s assessment of him. Decades later folks who are now much more aware of media bias can clearly see how Lear attempted to manipulate the conversation…and how he failed miserably.
5 Arthur Fonzarelli (Happy Days)
Fonzie was never intended to be a significant part of the Happy Days cast. He is introduced as a local mechanic who Ritchie & Potsie occasionally bump into at Arnold’s Drive-In. He didn’t even wear a leather jacket at first because the powers-that-be were concerned about him looking too much like a hoodlum (which is old school slang for what we’d now call a gang member). But Fonzie is too awesome to be held down by The Man, and eventually became a central part of the show. He’s all about being cool and chillin’ with the ladies. He has the ability to make a jukebox work with the pounding of his fist, and women flock to him with the snap of a finger. Richie, Potsie, & Ralph Malph all look to Fonzie for advice about various issues, and the Cunninghams treat him like a member of the family. In the beginning he is a high school dropout, but eventually completes his education, and at various points owns a garage, is part owner of Arnold’s, & even becomes a high school teacher. Fonzie’s oddest contribution to pop culture is the 1977 fifth season opener in which, after helping a couple of Hollywood producers passing thru Milwaukee deal with mechanical issues, he finds himself in Tinseltown for a movie audition. While there he is challenged by an obnoxious jerk to a water skiing duel (a laughable idea at best). During the competition Fonzie literally leaps over a tiger shark in the water. Though Happy Days would continue for six more seasons that episode was cited by some as a moment indicative of a decline in quality, therefore popularizing the term “jumping the shark”. Fonzie became so popular that some wanted to rename the show Fonzie’sHappy Days, but actor Henry Winkler adamantly refused and insisted that Ron Howard continue to receive top billing. I believe that, even to this day, more than thirty years after Happy Days went off the air, one can still see Fonzie’s leather jacket on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, which is a pretty cool legacy.
4 Captain Kirk & Mister Spock (Star Trek)
This may be the strangest variation on the Odd Couple formula ever seen on television. James Tiberius Kirk hails from Iowa and is Starfleet’s youngest & best yet most rebellious officer. While a student at Starfleet Academy he is the only person to ever overcome a training exercise called the Kobayashi Maru, a moral dilemma and no-win scenario that Kirk defeats by reprogramming the computer. Though his solution is what most would consider cheating he is actually commended for original thinking. That one story sets the stage for everything we see afterward from Captain Kirk. He is brash, passionate, bold, dedicated, & extremely smart. He thinks outside the box and doesn’t back down from a fight. The yin to Kirk’s yang is his science officer Mr. Spock, a half alien whose mother is human while his father is Vulcan. Spock exhibits many Vulcan traits, primarily the predisposition to rely on logic & reason and leave emotion out of their thought process. It is this ability that enables Spock to balance Kirk’s intensity and inclination to jump in with both feet. Spock can present all the options to Kirk along with every possible outcome. Conversely, since Spock is essentially a computer with legs it is Kirk that oftentimes explains concepts like feelings, humor, & emotions to him, helping him to make sense out of the foolish & illogical things that human beings tend to do. The two men don’t always understand each other, but have immense respect & admiration for one another and might have been television’s first bromance.
3 JR Ewing (Dallas)
Entertainment used to be very clear about the differences between heroes & villains. In old westerns the good guys would literally wear white cowboy hats, while the bad guys would wear black hats (an idea some would undoubtedly consider racist nowadays). However, somewhere along the line the concept of the anti-hero became prevalent, wherein a character might not necessarily be evil but certainly has dubious ethics & selfish motives. JR Ewing is the eldest son of a wealthy oil baron who eventually takes over the family business. He loves his family, but tends to love his money just a little bit more. Dallas originally intended to focus on the Romeo & Juliet-esque romance of JR’s younger brother Bobby and his new wife Pam, the daughter of patriarch Jock Ewing’s most bitter enemy, but JR’s penchant for screwing over everyone…business rivals, his family, his wife…with a sly grin on his face made him the character everyone loved to hate. It was always a treat to see who JR was going to cheat, shake down, intimidate, & defeat next. He is always a few steps ahead of everyone else, especially the honorable & benevolent Bobby, as well as Cliff Barnes, Bobby’s inept brother-in-law and JR’s spirited but overmatched nemesis. Dallas reached its pinnacle at the end of Season 3 when it popularized the concept of the cliffhanger after an unknown assailant tried to murder JR Ewing. During the entire summer of 1980 America was abuzz with the question “Who shot JR??”, a mystery that was solved that November in what remains the third most watched television episode in history, bested only by the series finales of MASH & Cheers. I was a kid when Dallas was on the air, and one of my most cherished memories is what a kick my Dad got out of it whenever JR was revealed to be the dastardly mastermind behind a scheme that had vanquished Cliff, Bobby & Pam, JR’s wife Sue Ellen, or one of Ewing Oil’s many adversaries. Dad was genuinely entertained by JR Ewing in a way that few people seem to be by anything on television these days.
2 Cosmo Kramer (Seinfeld)
Seinfeld has four of its characters on this list…two of them in the Top 10. Kramer lives in an apartment across the hall from Jerry and has been described as a “hipster dufus”, although I’m not exactly sure what that means. He has a unique fashion sense, as well as peculiar tastes in things like food, sports, cigars, & women. He is neurotic in a way unseen on television before or since, fearing clowns & mice and having seizures whenever he hears the voice of Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart. In nearly every episode Kramer busts into Jerry’s apartment with a combination smile & look of perpetual amazement. He doesn’t seem to have a job and supports himself with get rich quick schemes & wacky entrepreneurial ideas, sports betting, publishing a coffee table book about coffee tables, & a brief but lucrative gig as an underwear model. To call him quirky or eccentric would be an epic understatement. His philosophies & perspectives aren’t by any means normal, yet they oftentimes make sense in a way one would have never imagined to be possible. Kramer really isn’t comparable to any other character in any form of entertainment. He is a unique creation, with credit given to Seinfeld’s stellar writing as well as actor Michael Richards’ flawless physical comedy.
1 Deputy Barney Fife (The Andy Griffith Show)
TAGScan easily be separated into two eras…its first five seasons and then its final three. While it is true that those two time periods are most easily distinguished by the fact that Seasons 1-5 were broadcast in black & white before switching to color in the latter three years, a more significant difference is the departure of Barney Fife at the end of the fifth season. Barney is the excitable & ham-fisted deputy in Mayberry. Early on we are told that he is Andy Taylor’s cousin, but that relationship was only alluded to a couple of times and from then on the two are merely lifelong best friends & co-workers. Barney reminds me a bit of WKRP’s Les Nessman in the sense that he takes his job very seriously and is hilariously overzealous. There are also shades of Cheers’ Cliff Claven, with Barney’s incompetent attempts to present himself as a know-it-all when the truth is that he has no clue what he’s doing or talking about. Barney’s bravado is poorly disguised window dressing for tremendous neuroses and low self-esteem, and Andy selflessly goes above & beyond to save his deputy’s fragile ego on multiple occasions. Everyone likes Barney but few respect him, and respect is what he craves. He tends to overreact, while Andy is laid-back & steady. Barney is emotional, anxious, & easily taken advantage of by others, but despite his numerous shortcomings he is the heart of TAGS, and his absence during the program’s latter three seasons left a hole that was never quite filled. In Season 6 Floyd the Barber’s nephew Warren Ferguson becomes Mayberry’s new deputy, but he only lasted 11 episodes before the character was never heard from or spoken of again. Immediately following actor Don Knotts’ exit TAGS played with the idea of making a character who’d been introduced as a banjo player at a carnival the new deputy, but actor Jerry Van Dyke declined the opportunity. In hindsight the plan might have actually worked out for the show, but obviously that didn’t occur. Gomer Pyle’s cousin Goober was given the primary role as Andy’s sidekick, but I never really warmed up to Goober. As I’ve stated previously the final three seasons of TAGS were just dandy and it is still terrific TV, but it just isn’t the same, and I can’t think of any better example of a character’s exodus so significantly altering the fabric of a show.