100 Memorable TV Characters…Part 3

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.

Dwight Schrute (The Office)

It took me awhile to warm up to Dwight. He’s a bit prickly and definitely weird. However, in the course of nine seasons he grows on a person…atleast that was my experience. There was a spin-off on the table for his character, which is why we got a backdoor pilot episode during the final season of The Office, but the new show never happened. Dwight is a total kissass to his boss, shows a slight tendency toward violence, has a bunch of peculiar hobbies & interests, and owns a beet farm as a side hustle. Ultimately, despite his many unappealing qualities that make him difficult to like, he shows himself to be a loyal friend & decent human being. His romance with holier-than-thou accountant Angela is an underappreciated element of the show, and their marriage was a great way to wrap things up. 

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.

25 Favorite Cartoons…..Part 2

Welcome back. If you haven’t already taken an opportunity to peruse Part 1 please do so now. Take your time…I’ll wait.

 

pixarOkay, so now…let’s move forward. Let me take this opportunity to give a shout out to the Big Three animation studios responsible for almost all of these cartoons. Hanna-Barbera, Warner Brothers, & Disney produced most of our long-time favorites during the Golden Age of Animation from the 1920s thru the 1960s. They played a huge role in creating fond childhood memories for multiple generations. Of course time marches on and technology evolves, so nowadays companies like Pixar & ILM use stunningly beautiful computer animation to make wonderful big screen movies like the Toy Story trilogy, the Shrek series, Aladdin, & Finding Nemo, but they owe a debt of gratitude to the folks who made the classics a half century ago. Animated shorts (the kind they used to show right before a movie) have given way to commercials (in a theater!!) & way too many obnoxiously loud previews, yet animation ILM-headerhas oftentimes become the main attraction. I don’t watch Cartoon Network so I have no idea what is available there, but I have to assume that they weave some of the classics into their programming, and how cool is it that cartoons have a TV station all their own anyway?? At any rate, please enjoy the conclusion of this little animation pontification, and don’t hesitate to leave some feedback.

 

 

 

 

15 Mighty Mouse
Here he comes to save the day!! So I said in the preamble to Part 1 that I was leaving superhero ‘toons off this list for various mightyreasons, but I suppose we have an exception…kind of. Mighty Mouse is indeed a parody of Superman. That’s it…that’s the hook. Simplicity at its best. And it has one of the more memorable cartoon theme songs, one that late (supposedly) comedian Andy Kaufman used to utilize in his act, most notably on the inaugural episode of Saturday Night Live in 1975.

 

 

14 Fat Albert
Hey hey hey!! I know I know…Bill Cosby isn’t exactly Mr. Popularity these days, but we can’t ignore the man’s considerable albertcontributions to pop culture, one of which was this show that was based on his youth in Philadelphia. Albert and his buddies Mushmouth, Dumb Donald, Weird Harold, Bucky, & Russell…aka The Junkyard Gang…were inner city kids who played basketball, formed a band, & hung out like boys do, getting into various adventures and learning an appropriate life lesson in the process. Viewers learned that lesson right along with them, making Fat Albert more of an educational program than most cartoons. I suppose some aspects of the show weren’t politically correct (that again!), but I couldn’t possibly care less. Back then no one else did either.

 

 

13 Speed Racer
The Japanese have invaded our list!! Known as Mach GoGoGo in the Far East, the show was imported to the USA in the late speed1960’s. Speed is an open wheel racer that always seems to land in some sort of danger. His team consists of his mother & father Pops, little brother Spritle, girlfriend Trixie, best friend & mechanic Sparky, and Spritle’s pet monkey Chim-Chim. Speed’s chief rival is the mysterious masked Racer X, who in actuality is his older brother Rex who left the family years earlier after an argument with his father. Racer X often sacrifices certain victory to help his younger brother, who for some reason is frequently the target of nefarious plots and evildoers. Speed Racer suffers from the same inept voiceover lag time thing that was a trademark of the Americanized versions of old Godzilla movies, but it’s part of the program’s hokey charm. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Mach 5, which ranks right up there with the Batmobile, KITT, & Doc Brown’s DeLorean time machine as one of the coolest fictional vehicles of all time, and the catchy theme song that you are undoubtedly singing to yourself this very moment.

 

 

12 The Jetsons
Let’s take a trip to the future. I’m not sure exactly what century The Jetsons is supposed to be set in, but it sure looks cool. Yet jetsonsdespite its futuristic underpinnings the show is mostly a archetypal sitcom about the life of a fairly typical family…patriarch George, wife Jane, teenage daughter Judy, young son Elroy, family dog Astro, & robot maid Rosie. Well okay…I suppose a robot maid isn’t all that commonplace. The Jetsons actually aired on ABC in primetime for a couple of years in the early 60’s. Thereafter it became a staple of Saturday mornings, with new episodes being produced in the 80’s. A live action film was discussed for years, but now I am given to understand that a big screen adaptation using modern fancy computer animation is in the works. That’ll probably be a lot of fun. The Jetsons actually prophesied some of our current technologies, stuff like flat screen TVs, Skype, the Roomba, & tablet computers. How awesome is that?? We’re still waiting on flying cars and George’s work week of three hours a day three days a week, but I suppose we’ll just have to be patient.

 

 

11 Alvin & The Chipmunks
The Chipmunks have a really interesting origin story. A guy by the name of Ross Bagdasarian used the stage name David Seville chipmunksand had a few minor hits with novelty songs but was by no means a household name. In the late 50’s he began messing around with a tape recorder, speeding up tracks & such. In 1958 he wrote The Chipmunk Song, aka Christmas Don’t Be Late, which became a holiday staple that still today gets radio play every December. Out of that song an empire was built, including records, TV shows, & movies. A couple of live action films were made a few years ago and I think I may have seen the first one, but obviously it was forgettable.

 

 

10 Mickey Mouse
You might be surprised to see Mickey rated this low. To be honest I rated him this high only because he is the iconic symbol of mickeyDisney. Perhaps the reason I don’t feel as connected to Mickey as many is that I’ve never been to Disneyland or Disney World. Also, the famed Mickey Mouse Club was on television in the 50’s before my parents even met. Yes, I am aware that they did a reboot in the early 90’s with Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, & Keri Russell. No, I never saw it (I was a college man). At any rate, despite all that Mickey Mouse is a cultural icon. Like most other celebrated cartoon legends he starred in a plethora of animated short films in the 1930’s thru the 1950’s, most notably his 1928 debut in Steamboat Willie. In 1940 Mickey was a memorable part of Fantasia, a really interesting feature film that meshes together animation & classical music. In 1983 he made a significant contribution to my beloved pantheon of annual Christmas classics with Mickey’s Christmas Carol. And obviously we can’t give love to Mickey without mentioning his gal pal Minnie Mouse, his dog Pluto, & Goofy (also a dog).

 

 

9 Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, & Yosemite Sam
bb1You can’t have one without the others. Bugs is another cultural icon, the Warner Bros/Looney Toons equivalent of Mickey Mouse. Like his counterpart Bugs has been quite ubiquitous since 1940. He was even the first cartoon character ever immortalized by the U.S. Postal Service on a stamp. He is a rather charming & blithe fella, always chomping on carrots and asking “What’s up Doc??”, cleverly outsmarting those out to get him. One of those adversaries is Elmer Fudd, a hunter with a speech impediment (that again??) whose sole purpose seems to be “hunting wabbits”, specifically “that wascally wabbit”, aka Bugs Bunny. Of coursebb2 he can never catch Bugs. Neither can Yosemite Sam, a boisterous, ill-tempered cowboy who despises Bugs. Whereas Fudd hunted with a double barrel shotgun Sam carried two six shooters, but luckily for Bugs ol’ Sam was just as inept as Fudd.

 

 

8 Popeye
The vast majority of classic cartoon characters are anthropomorphic animals, but there are exceptions. Popeye is a sailor who popeyegains superhuman strength by eating spinach. His girlfriend Olive Oyl (one of the great cartoon names) is constantly being wooed by Bluto (aka Brutus), a dim-witted, muscle-bound hulk who looks like he could easily best Popeye but never does. Olive is your typical damsel-in-distress, and much of Popeye’s time is spent rescuing her, although he does have time to get into other scrapes and save various folks from certain doom…as long as he eats his spinach. Popeye’s buddy J. Wellington Wimpy (simply known as Wimpy for the most part) is always around too, trying to mooch hamburgers from anyone & everyone. There’s even a fast food place named in honor of Wimpy!! The late great Robin Williams portrayed Popeye in a 1980 live action film and it’s actually pretty good.

 

 

7 Yogi Bear
Speaking of food. All Yogi really wants out of life is a picnic basket (or as he says it “pickanick basket”) full of tasty vittles. yogiUnfortunately he usually steals them from unsuspecting campers at Jellystone Park, in the process angering Ranger Smith. Yogi’s best buddy is Boo-Boo, a mild-mannered bear who usually tries to talk Yogi out of whatever mischief he’s about to get them into. Conversely, Yogi is extremely confident, often proclaiming himself “smarter than the average bear”. Yogi may or may not have been named after baseball Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra. Berra actually sued Hanna-Barbera for defamation back in the day before withdrawing the suit. Personally I see nothing defamatory about Yogi Bear, unless you want to get all worked up about his kleptomania. Yogi’s personality IS based on Ed Norton (as portrayed by Art Carney) from the 1950’s sitcom The Honeymooners. To my knowledge Carney never felt the urge to get litigious about it though. There was a 2010 live action film, but I don’t recall ever watching it. I might have to see if it is available on Netflix.

 

 

6 The Smurfs
Are they hobbits?? Dwarves?? I don’t know. Kind of. Smurfs are tiny blue human-like forest dwellers that live in little houses thatsmurfs resemble mushrooms. They are reminiscent of Snow White’s pals because of their descriptive names that often define their personality or occupation…Brainy, Lazy, Handy, Hefty, Farmer, etc. The village patriarch is Papa Smurf, although I don’t think he was actually the father or grandfather of the rest of the group. The only female is Smurfette, who, despite the fact that she is a cartoon character with blue skin, seemed vaguely sensual to a prepubescent grade school lad in the early 80’s (I’m not mentioning any names). Smurfs are constantly in peril from grotesque wizard Gargamel & his cat Azrael. Gargamel is determined to capture smurfs and somehow turn them into gold. Unfortunately for him Papa Smurf seems to be a wizard as well and always defeats the bad guy. The Smurfs always somewhat reminded me of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The protagonists are little people that live in a pleasant village. Their leader, Papa Smurf, is similar to wise Gandalf, while evil Gargamel is a bit like Saruman. Maybe it’s just me…does anyone else see the parallels?? Anyway, two live action films came out not that long ago but I’ve not seen them either. I just don’t think these live action movies retain the charm of the animated originals.

 

 

5 Beavis & Butt-head
Going from the bucolic wholesomeness of Yogi and The Smurfs to Beavis & Butt-head might create a bit of cognitive whiplash, bbhbut I gotta do what I gotta do. The show debuted on MTV in 1993 and ran for four years. I have such fond memories of my buddies Greg, The Owl, Phil, & others coming over to my college apartment as a prelude to late night bar-hopping. We’d consume adult beverages (of course), sometimes grill out (once during a driving snowstorm, another while shooting fireworks at unsuspecting boaters on the Ohio River), occasionally watch movies, & often tune in to Beavis & Butt-head. Good times. At any rate, the two titular heroes are mindless teenage delinquents who like to sit around and watch music videos. Actual music videos are shown and the twosome react to them. If it’s a hard rock band like Megadeth or AC/DC they might opine that it “kicks ass” or “that’s really cool”. A slow ballad or some kind of otherwise terrible song elicits a “that sucks” from Butt-head and an “Aaaaahhh!!! Change it!!” from Beavis. When the duo do get up off the couch and go to school or amble around the neighborhood they interact with characters like Tom Anderson, a curmudgeonly old neighbor that Beavis & Butt-head often take advantage of, Stewart, a nerdy milquetoast who wants to be cool, and Mr. Van Driessen, a hippy teacher that likes to talk about feelings and play his guitar. An animated feature film was made in 1996 called Beavis & Butt-head Do America, and it was fine. MTV briefly revived the show a few years ago, but after the initial excitement I quickly lost interest. I suppose I’ve grown up & moved on, which is probably a good thing, but I will always cherish the fact that these two morons were a hilarious part of my collegiate experience.

 

 

4 The Flintstones
While The Jetsons takes us to the future The Flintstones takes us all the way back to the Stone Age. However, just like TheflintstonesJetsons, The Flintstones is, in many ways, a typical sitcom centered on a nuclear family and their day-to-day life. The show ran for six seasons on ABC primetime in the 1960’s, but has been on TV ever since in some form somewhere. The premise is obviously loosely based on The Honeymooners, and Jackie Gleason pondered the idea of filing a lawsuit but never did. Fred Flintstone is reflected in so many modern fictional Dads…hard working, well-meaning, often blundering, with an outward bravado that hides a tender heart. His dutiful & patient wife Wilma, young daughter Pebbles, best friends & neighbors Barney & Betty Rubble with their son Bam-Bam, & and family pet Dino (a dinosaur…obviously) complete the picture. The Flintstones never fails to amuse with a plethora of geologically pertinent puns like Cary Granite, Rock Hudstone, Stony Curtis, & Ann Margrock, and it is really funny how they had modern conveniences like cars, dishwashers, telephones, & washing machines despite having no electricity. A couple of live action films were made about 20 years ago but I never bothered. How could they possibly measure up??

 

 

3 Tom & Jerry
It is literally a game of cat & mouse. That’s the whole gag…a cat that is obsessed with catching (and presumably eating) a mouse.tj Of course in CartoonLand we know how these things go…the thing being chased is never caught and almost always outsmarts the pursuer. It’s the foundation of many classic ‘toons. A couple of things make Tom & Jerry stand out though. First of all there is rarely any dialogue, atleast between the main two characters. Music plays a huge part in telling the story. Secondly, it is the epitome of what we’ve come to refer to as cartoon violence, in which characters get beaten, run over, dropped off cliffs, blown up, and all kinds of crazy stuff but always survive to fight another day. Now I don’t have any children (that I know of), but I am well aware of how times have changed and that in the touch-feely, overly sensitive, politically correct 21st century cartoon violence is looked at very differently. A show like Tom & Jerry probably wouldn’t even make it on the air now, let alone become a legend within its genre. To that I can only say that I am thankful that I grew up when I did, before everyone was so uptight and started getting sand in their vajay-jay over every little thing, almost seeking out things to be offended by. I am also aware that in recent years folks have been in an uproar about some other things about Tom & Jerry, specifically its depiction of smoking and a character named Mammy Two Shoes, a large black woman whose face we never saw and who was either Tom’s owner or the housekeeper of the owner. Look, I get it. I’m not stupid or totally obtuse…I’m just not easily offended, and I think we have to be cognizant that many things are representative of the values & traditions of their era. The fact that society has grown beyond many of those beliefs is great, but we need not sanitize history or minimize the joy that something brought about because of one questionable element. Tom & Jerry is a great show that put smiles on lots of little kids’ faces, and I’m willing to bet that very few of those kids grew up to be racists or prone to violent behavior.

 

 

2 Scooby-Doo
You’ve got a dude wearing a cravat, a closet lesbian, a beatnik with the munchies (I wonder why), & a talking dog (who also scoobyconstantly has the munchies). What’s not to love?? Add in the fact that the group drives around in another awesomely cool vehicle (a van called The Mystery Machine) solving weird mysteries (kind of like a traveling tribute to Sherlock Holmes) and foiling nefarious plots. It is almost the perfect cartoon show. Unlike many of the programs we’ve discussed thus far, Scooby-Doo didn’t premier until 1969 (just a few years before my glorious birth). Therefore it doesn’t have many of the outdated, corny, potentially offensive elements present in several of the ‘toons originally produced in the 1930’s & 40’s. The worst thing anyone can say about it is that Scooby & Shaggy might be potheads, and in this day & age of meth labs, crack houses, & pillheads marijuana use almost seems quaint. I’ve been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was in grade school, and I think the mystery element is a real game changer for Scooby-Doo. It isn’t just cartoon violence & wacky characters with slight handicaps to laugh at. There’s intrigue & problem solving. Scooby & Shaggy are funny. Fred & Velma are smart. Daphne is cute. The bad guy is always caught. Order is restored and the good guys win. The human characters were based on the 1960’s TV show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, while Scooby-Doo’s name was inspired by Frank Sinatra. Unlike the majority of classic cartoons, Scooby-Doo didn’t originate in theatrical shorts or even comic books…it was made for Saturday morning television, which is where it stayed for decades. A couple of live action movies were produced about a decade ago. I think I may have seen part of the first one. I don’t recall. Anyway, I could still vegg out and watch a whole day of Scooby-Doo even now, which is a testament to its eternal charm and entertainment value.

 

 

1 Peanuts
I’ll be honest…I debated whether or not to include Charlie Brown and his pals in this project at all, let alone crown them #1. I’ve always said I wasn’t a comic book kid so this idea was never about that. Neither is it about comic strips that we all still see in newspapers, stuff like Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Hagar the Horrible, and The Family Circus. The idea was to focus on cartoons. However, at the end of the day I just couldn’t ignore Charles Schultz’s Peanuts. Yes it is undeniably the best comic strip of all time, and no it never spawned a regular Saturday morning TV show. However, there have been numerous animated television specials, which is the loophole I’m utilizing for inclusion. Two of the specials…It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas…are amongst the finest shows ever broadcast on TV in any genre. It is rare in modern society to peanutsappreciate much of anything a year or two after its debut. Everything is disposable and we have the collective attention span of a gnat with ADD. So those rarities…whether they are books, music, TV shows, or anything else…that last multiple decades become that much more appealing. Kids connect with Charlie Brown because he has many of the same quirks, foibles, & neuroses that they do. They might not understand that’s why they like him, but someday they will. Kids like Snoopy because…well, he’s a cute little dog that flies airplanes. How cool is that?? Kids like the rest of the gang because they see little pieces of themselves & their friends in the various characters…Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Pigpen, Sally, Schroeder, Franklin, Marcie, etc. Grownups love the whole deal partially because it takes them on a sweet ride down memory lane, but also because thru the prism of adulthood we get it. We see that Schultz had something to say and appreciate the subtle & fun way he made his point. It’s a shame that Peanuts never made it to Saturday mornings. I have to believe that the option was on the table and Mr. Schultz turned it down for some reason. He was indeed a man of strong faith & principles, so I respect his decision. There is a big screen movie coming out soon using fancy schmancy computer animation, and I am almost as excited about that as I am for a certain sci-fi film popping up just a few weeks later. Thank you Charles Schultz…you did good.