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Saturday, February 18, 2006

TV's all-time best characters

March 10, 2004

What do Spike, Deputy Barney Fife, and J.R. Ewing have in common?

They’re some of my all-time favorite TV characters that I’d most like to have to dinner. Of course, I’d have to make room for a few other favorites. And that list is pretty big. But just imagine this dinner conversation: Alex P. Keaton talking about whom he’s endorsing for president. Murphy Brown explaining the role the media played in Martha Stewart’s conviction. Jed Clampett telling us the best way to clean the cement pond. And Jerry Seinfeld going on about ... well, nothing.

TV’s most memorable characters can usually be identified by just one name. Who doesn’t recognize Lucy, Dawson, Roseanne, or Felicity?

But compiling a list of the all-time best characters, is a tough job, even for a TV expert such as myself. Where do you draw the line?Are cartoon characters a separate category, or can Bugs Bunny be included in the list? Should I choose characters by topic, such as best detectives, funniest females, who looks best in leather pants? Or should I group them decade-by-decade?

You see my dilemma.

For my favorite TV doctors, Doug Ross, Cliff Huxtable, and Michaela Quinn would certainly make the cut. And for favorite detectives, no list would be complete without Andy Sipowicz, Thomas Magnum, and Adrian Monk.

But what about actors who’ve pulled double duty and created more than one memorable character? Do you chose Opie Taylor or Richie Cunningham? Zack Morris or John Clark Jr.? Michael Knight or Mitch Buchannon?

And what about favorite aliens? Is it really fair to include Clark Kent in the same category as ALF?

Some characters have endeared themselves to me with a simple phrase. For Archie Bunker, it was the invention of “meathead.” For Vinnie Barbarino, it was that cocky slur “Mis-tuh Kot-ter.” For other characters, I love them for their abilities. Who could resist a man like MacGyver, who can scale a mountain with only a shoestring? Or Buffy Summers, who can stake a vampire after landing a back handspring?

Narrowing my list of favorites to the top 10 is even more difficult, like trying to pick your favorite kind of chocolate. So I’ve decided, the more the merrier.

Sure, my dinner party may be crowded. But it won’t be dull. And planning the seating chart is the most fun I’ve had in a long time.I think it’s safe to put Hawkeye Pierce next to Wonder Woman. But, seating Marcia Brady next to Joey Tribbiani could be troublesome.

I’m not sure Frasier Crane would have much in common with Crockett and Tubbs. But watching Bret Maverick share some card tips with La Femme Nikita would be a hoot. And who could resist eavesdropping on bionic woman Jaime Sommers discussing home improvement projects with Tim Taylor, or listening to Cosmo Kramer and Ed Stevens discuss the merits of a good bowling shirt?

And there’s one match I’m certain would be a hit: Wile E. Coyote and Lex Luthor. With Lex’s advice, maybe that pesky Road Runner would finally get his comeuppance.

Originally published 3/10/04 in The Exponent Telegram newspaper.


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