Friday, August 25, 2006

UPDATE on Today's Question- Camera Obscura (Late Edition)

I am more than a little ticked off with the Blogger problems today, but hopefully it appears it has been resolved .... better be anyway!!!

So on the question from the previous post today -- Who are the 10 most memorable TV characters?

And please check out the comments in the previous post today - some fine answers are there and some are on my list ... sort of.

This is a very tough selection of answers, and I'll probably forget something, but here goes. One thing I did keep in mind were shows which I often find myself watching both new and in reruns, in other words, the characters as well as the stories, always made me come back for more, My answers are in no particular order:

1 - Homer Simpson -- A fan of Bart and many others, including Mr. Burns, I have to give it to the main man, Homer. If the ancients had the storyteller of the same name to catalog their myths, then the Homer of Springfield is the modern equivalent. He is the Everyman of America. At times selfish, oafish, inattentive to family, fearful, searching for that one gimmick which will bring endless wealth and fame, content to sit in his underwear and watch whatever appears on the television. He argues fiercely with God, is often promoted at his work for no particular reason and just as often fired for the same reasoning (or lack of it). His memory of history is dictated by the needs of the moment. He has been to outer space, has been a victim of crime and punishment, and yet, no matter what, he usually finds that being connected to his family is something he values completely. Unless food, beer, or ease of comfort are offered as alternatives.

2. - Agent Dale Cooper -- It is rather hard to name just one favorite from the enigmatic "Twin Peaks," it was Coop we all could relate too. He loves good coffee and good pie, and has an investigative mind which pieces together bits and pieces of a mystery that still defies complete description. Brilliantly played with both childish innocence and an understanding of the darkest criminal hearts, he was a pinnacle in American detective fiction. Without Coop, we would never have been ready to accept Scully and Mulder.

3. - Buffy Summers - Yes I am a huge fan of the show. And I have a great admiration for Spike and Drusilla, two of the best vampire characters I've ever seen on television (a thin field, admittedly). What kept me watching constantly and made me a lifelong fan however, was Buff. She endured mindless authorities, brutal enemies, was accepting of the ever-changing nature of her closest friends, was sometimes gullible and forgiving to a fault, and deep down had immense self-confidence. But more importantly she was courageous as a constant, she learned from errors, and she refused to accept being categorized as one type of person. Juggling with ethical and moral dilemmas, the character waded through the both the mundane and the serious challenges from high school and college beyond. In my mind, a bona fide hero who realized 'with great power comes great responsibility'.

4. - Rod Serling -- Like Whedon said, he wasn't exactly a character, but he was a defining center to all the real and surreal stories of "The Twilight Zone". He spoke directly to the viewers, casually had a cigarette in his hand and his use of language was often poetic, he presented challenges to morality and to reality, urging viewers each week to remember there is much more to the world than the things we can see and can touch. And again, I'll often find myself watching marathon reruns and have more memories of a vast collection of some of the best actors and actresses as well as writers who worked throughout the 20th century. Sadly, Hollywood made him a spokesperson for the rather uninspiring tales of "The Night Gallery", but the hundreds of shows he shepherded on "Twilight Zone" remain benchmarks of television.

5 - Mr. Haney -- There has never, ever, ever been a TV show as surreal or as funny as the short-lived "Green Acres." And it was tough for me to pick just one from that unusual show - Hank Kimball, Arnold Ziffle, and even Mr and Mrs Douglas were also memorable, but Haney's quivering constant sales pitches and devotion to mindless capitalism were so very entertaining. All he sold (or perhaps I should say misrepresented) was "original, genuine, one-of-a-kind" and always worthless and pointless. Still, he never wavered despite the lunacy of his products. A failed product was merely an opportunity to sell someone something else to replace it. Whatever you needed, he always had it "on the back of my truck". He was Advertising Incarnate.

6. - Caine -- From the time I watched the pilot movie to the last episode (and not that crappy remake from the early 1990s), the stories and the viewpoint of the Shaolin priest on-the-run in the Old West was more influential on me than I can say. Everything about that show was far and above the typical TV fare. Tackling topics of racism, greed, vendettas, poverty, and so much more, this one character somehow found joy in the smallest of things, was always a creature of wonder and of wandering, and his waking world leapt between memory and the moment. Watching then and now in reruns, I am amazed that these Zen riddles ever found success in the television world. It isn't a perfect show, but that character made an indelible impression.

7. - Ted Baxter -- The witless news anchor of "Mary Tyler Moore" was the one character on the show I liked best. I seldom seek out reruns of that show, but in each of the episodes he was in, he boldy paraded his ignorance with such bravado and commitment, it was easy to see him as real. Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy owed much to Ted - a barely educated, tough-talking, opinionated doofus he truly believed that by altering the tone of his voice he could make facts out of anything. I think his character is so similar to the current crop of talking-heads so prevalent in TV news today. Vain, cowardly, and ill-informed, he presented the reality that a news-reader is hardly a person to be admired by the viewing public.

8 - Captain Jean Luc Picard -- No, he isn't the icon of the mythic characters of Kirk and Spock of the original "Star Trek," and I do enjoy the heights of over-acting those characters reached. There is one simple reason Picard is on my list -- just imagine the re-invention of the Trek franchise without him. The character, played to perfection by Patrick Stewart, provided a vital ingredient: Credibility. I'm sure few will agree with me, but that's my argument and I'm sticking to it. And the franchise would have never been extended without him.

9. and 10 -- A Tie -- I'm going to cheat a little here, since I think two different casts of players made two shows the stuff of legend. The original casts of "Saturday Night Live" and the cast of "Monty Python's Flying Circus". To this day, both of those shows are icons in television because of the combined and individual efforts of the original casts. I seldom get excited to see a repeat of SNL unless it is from the first two or three seasons (Bill Murray did bring much to the show when he arrived and Chevy Chase left). And as for Monty Python -- I never, repeat NEVER, fail to laugh even though I've seen those episodes hundreds of times. Both casts made television history and I can think of no ensemble who had such astounding talent.

POSTSCRIPT: I am positive over the next few days, I'll think of another character or performance that will jump into my mind, but that's part of the fun of this kind of exercise. Please add your own favorites, demonize my choices, and thanks to all who have played along so far. (It does really bug me that I can't think of a private detective, cop or doctor as I have put this list together.)

UPDATE 2: A few other bloggers have also picked up this thread (and thanks very much for the links!!!!). You can check them out at Salem's Lots, Sharon Cobb and Tennessee Ticket.

UPDATE 3: I've decided that since I had a tie for Number 9, that leaves me the wiggle room necessary to name a Number 10. That has to be Stephen Colbert -- in a very short time, the character he has created for his show has unmasked the Clueless Hardcore Conservative as a tenacious chucklehead. That character brought all of the Washington elite and the Press Corps face to face with their failings in a way that was evocative of Mark Twain or Will Rogers, and if either of those brilliant folk had a TV show, it would be just like Colbert's. As many others have said before me - I Heart Stephen Colbert.
And really, I may just have to make the next list of TV faves a Top 25. Thanks again to all for playing along with this!!


  1. Cinemonkey11:55 PM

    While I mirror your reverence for the original cast version of SNL, I think similar heights were attained, perhaps more regularly, by many of the Phil Hartman years.
    Your mileage may vary, of course.

  2. Anonymous12:09 AM

    "private detective, cop or doctor"

    Peter Gunn, Kojak, Dr. Kildare

  3. I was most tempted to add Peter Gunn, or Eliot Ness.
    Columbo and Rockford were also considered.
    Ultimately, cop shows never appealed that much, other than the Dennis Farina character from Crime Story.

    As for doctors ... i really don't like those shows at all. I have grown to admire House, however, as he seems more like actual physicians I have known - a little surly and mean.

    And Cinemonkey - Hartman was very very good, but he could not carry the entire weight of the show, and still, the casts as a whole since the beginning have all fallen short.

  4. Cinemonkey3:35 AM

    No, I'm not talkin' about just Hartman, but the cast that was there during his tenure. "The Phil Hartman years" was what I said, ye addlepated maroon!

  5. Nobody's mentioned Barney Fife?

  6. Oh, man, Caine and Ted Baxter! Agreed. Also, I didn't think Stephen Colbert counted, but now that you mention it, he is a character, albeit one who has the same name as the actor portraying him.

  7. R.Neal - yesterday's comments did bring one mention of Barney from John H and another commenter added Ernest T. Bass, and in my followups from yesterday I did mention both Barney and Ernest T as very close to my top ten ... I do think the list should have been a top 25 in retrospect.
    Certainly, Barney made the show as far as I'm concerned and once he left the show, the show really lost much of its humor. The man picked up 5 emmys in a row, after all!!

    Cinemonkey - can you name the entire cast members other than Hartman in the years he was on?? I can only think of two - Jan Hooks and David Spade. (not sure but i do think Eddie Murphy was on in one or two of the Hartman years) And as I said, Hartman as good as he was, could not carry the entire weight of the SNL shows, so tthhhhppp!

  8. I'm a little surprised you didn't mention any of Charlie's Angels. ;) That show and SNL were the only ones I absolutely couldn't miss back in the day! SNL has had its moments since then, but the early days still rule... Landshark, Coneheads, Jane you ignorant slut, etc., etc., etc.

  9. Cinemonkey4:47 PM

    Not sure if they were all there at the same time, but.....
    Mike Myers, Dennis Miller, Rob Schneider, Victoria Jackson, Chris Farley....

  10. Look what you done started Cuppa..
    You got me thinking of John Candy & Chris Farley.. in a carnal way.

  11. I tend to agree with all of these, but no one's mentioned Archie Bunker. He's got to top someone's list...

    And, to a much lesser extent, Linda Lavin's Alice.

  12. well said Parlancheq ... though I was seldom a fan of the Charlie's Angel show, it was sure easy on the eyes. and the two movies were more fun than monkeys in a rodeo!!

    Cinemonkey - i think yer view of SNL is certainly viable, but, in my opinion, the early shows were the true groundbreakers, and the others never quite surpassed that. and over the years, I have become intensely appalled by Dennis Miller.

    Sande - obviously the latent carnal thoughts of Farley and Candy were in yer heart all along! ;)

    LAB - Archie did make a major break in TV lore, but time has made him a bit anachronistic in my opinion. but please, as with others who have commented, remember all yer opinions are greatly appreciated! Oddly, I think it was Edith who helped women's roles break out the most. And while I've thought Linda Lavin a very talented actress, I could not stand how that show distorted Scorcese's movie.

    Keep them suggestions coming!!

  13. And then there's Maude!

    Come on, caftans, cocktails, abortion, menopause, Vietnam and Adrienne Barbeau!

  14. No doubt Maude was ... well, on the air. Sorry, but I honestly tried to forget ever seeing any episodes.

    That said -- please continue to add yer faves -- my likes/dislikes are of no consequence in this endeavor.

    BTW, when will Kelvis and LAB be full-fledged Parental Units???

  15. Yes, I admit, Maude was pretty annoying. But I do like the way they always had cocktails in their hands. I swear, they had a highball glass full of scotch on the rocks in every shot. Call me crazy, but that's good tv!

    As for the arrival of the great Pumpkin, the countdown is at 7 weeks. And, I assure you, soon there after I too will be enjoying my own highball full of scotch on the rocks! It's been a loooooooong 9 months.

  16. that's a GREAT point about the boozing in Maude ... i hereby rank the show on a higher scale ... and maybe have myself a li'l drink too!!