Top Ten Favorite Sitcom Characters of All Time
Writer: Brett Porter
Sitcoms, or situational comedies for those that aren’t in the know, have been around since 1947 and are showing little signs of leaving primetime television. All sitcoms are alike; good, bad, mediocre, passable if you’re drunk, or the only thing on TV, have at least one thing in common: a cast. Even bad sitcoms can be remembered for either the zany antics, catch phrases, or pure entertainment value of at least one character. Here is my personal list of my ten favorite characters in sitcoms.
Just like every other ranked list that Mirth Films provides, this is a list of my favorites based on little more than my personal opinions. It would be a safe bet to say if we all made our own list that no two would be alike. You don’t have to like it. I acknowledge that my lens is smaller than many out there, especially being a 26 year old who missed a lot of television programming that was probably pretty great. This article, like everything else I write, is very little more than my opinion on the matter. Don’t angrily message us. Don’t yell at Frankie. Don’t boycott the channel. If you would like to write and publicly post your own counter-list, I would be delighted to read it. I love learning things and listening to other people’s perspectives. Get it? Got it? Great. Let’s dive in:
10. Steve Urkel, Family Matters (1989-1987)
You’re gonna learn quick that I do have a bias toward characters that have memorable catch phrases. Urkel’s “Did I do that?” always came out after he did some catastrophically bad thing, normally at the expense of the Winslow family, both figuratively and literally. Jaleel White plays the son of two absentee scientist parents in Family Matters. His combination of innate awkward mannerisms and his character arc throughout the series landed him a spot in my list. Spoiler alert since the last episode aired in 1997, he proposes to Laura, the woman he’s been sweet on for the whole series, and she says yes.
9. Carl Winslow, Family Matters
I have to give some recognition to Carl. He’s the father of a highly motivated daughter and a well-meaning-but-kind-of-misguided son. Carl plays a police officer in a suburb of Chicago. Carl’s character makes for a hell of a microcosm on three near-opposite fronts. Through some top notch script writing and subsequent dialogue, Reginald VelJohnson’s character is a microcosm to a few real world points of contention. Not only is he the well-meaning father who works too much. He’s also a black police officer in a near-majority black metropolitan area. With the then and still relevant notion of black Americans suffering disproportionately from bad policing, he played an interesting role. This duality comes up in one of my favorite episodes, where his son Eddie was pulled over in a predominantly white neighborhood and likely treated poorly based on the white cop’s negative stereotypes. When Carl found out about the ticket, his first reaction was to be a father and discipline Eddie, before he found out about the officer’s profiling. The episode is incredibly relatable in many facets, and if anything, should encourage y’all to binge the series in like four days, eleven hours, and 40 minutes. Long story short, Carl Winslow, number 9.
8. Wilson Wilson Jr, Home Improvement (1991-1999)
The younger demographic of ours may only recognize Tim Allen as the dad in Last Man Standing. Anyone over the age of, I don’t know, 28, will likely remember him as being the prideful but dimwitted blue-collar dad in Home Improvement. Whenever he or the rest of his family needed guidance or advice, they’d turn to their faceless neighbor, Wilson Wilson. Generally, he would reply with a “Hidey-Ho, neighbor Tim” before the serious dialogue ensued. Nine times out of ten, he’d pull some random but relevant quote from his memory bank and send the Taylor family on their way. In a couple rare instances he was even part of the main plot. The combination of his reoccurring gag of the viewer never seeing his whole face, his strange philosophical advice, and being something of an enigma to an otherwise mundane Detriot suburb make him worthy of making my list.
7. Joey Tribbiani, Friends, (1994-2004)
I’ll be honest upfront. I hate this show. I find it to be one of the more unrealistic sitcoms in television. I’m not going to go down that rabbit-hole in it’s entirety. That’s a story for a different time. What I will acknowledge however, is that this series is still making bank in syndication rights, commanding almost a billion dollars a year in royalties. Regardless of my personal views, that’s still an impressive statistic. Shows don’t make that kind of money and then get swept under the rug… they at least get recognition from a media outlet primarily geared toward skateboarders and Phish fans. All digressions aside, Joey Tribiani, portrayed by Matt LeBlanc, is the goofy and kind-hearted aspiring actor of the crew. His character can be briefly be described by his love of food, foosball, women, and sports. If you want to break it down even further, I can reduce it to three words: How You Doin’? Without a doubt this is one of the most widely repeated catch phrases in the history of media. How You Doin’ will live way beyond any of us, and Joey’s character was the perfect person to deliver it. Think of it, would it mean the same if Ross, the glum paleontologist said it? Not at all. That line needed a lovable idiot to say it and Joey stepped to the plate.
6. Archie Bunker, All in the Family (1971-1979)
Fun fact before I forget, if you’ve ever watched Family Guy, specially the introduction sequence, you see Peter and Lois sitting at the piano and singing. That was pulled directly from All in the Family. Glad I wrote that before it disappeared from my short term memory… Anyway, Archie Bunker’s character in this sitcom is your typical blue-collar guy. In essence, even if the times are changing around him, Archie will always be too stubborn to change with them. In the show, Archie was a World War II veteran, accompanied by his well-meaning but naive wife, his daughter, and her unemployed, draft dodging husband. From start to finish, the series has a lot of clashes of opinions. Archie, especially by modern standards, is politically incorrect, insensitive, and ready to debate anyone who doesn’t share his values. The show’s real world implications and social commentary are nearly unmatched in entertainment. Archie and Michael demonstrate an incredible example of the political disconnect between conservatives and liberals, a divide that’s only increased since the sitcom’s conception. Because of the on screen tension however, it made talking about heated and taboo topics easy. At no point is there any impression that the writers forced these bits in. Carroll O’Connor plays the part so well that I couldn’t think of any other actor from that time period that could fill the role. Regardless of your own personal political views, I think everyone could benefit a little from watching a few episodes of All in the Family. Even though Archie is crude and ignorant, the show stands the test of time. Fair warning before we get moving; watch this at your own risk. The language used was considered brash and edgy, even for the 1970s.
5. Cosmo Kramer, Seinfeld, (1989-1998)
Ah yes, the show about nothing. I remember being in my ninth grade English class when my teacher was speaking so ill of this masterpiece of a sitcom. At that point I had never watched Seinfeld or really many sitcoms. I just thought our teachers were right all of the time and that we were dumb kids. I went on for another almost five years with that narrative in my head before I learned two important things. Primarily that sitcoms are situational comedy, meaning what makes them funny is the entire SITUATION. Sure, when you take any day-to-day task out of context, it will likely be pretty boring, but when you add in the elements of unusual-but-believable scenarios, you’re bound to laugh. Secondly, I learned that teachers can be wrong, because Seinfeld is without a doubt my favorite sitcom of all time. The series has a few characters on the roster that are zany and unusual, but to a degree that it can be believed. Michael Richards’ character Kramer tends to be at the helm of the more ridiculous plots in the show. Off the top of my head, he’s been on strike from a bagel shop, only to return when offered a minimum wage position. He starts a massive fake corporation big and reputable enough sounding to hire an intern. He’s been beaten senseless over his refusal to wear a pin after running a marathon, and way too many more to list. All of his antics skate the line of possible and not. His zany and unpredictable nature, his crazy hair, his sudden and abrupt way of entering a scene, and his off-hand remarks make him one of the most memorable characters in television and part of my countdown.
4. Latka, Taxi (1978-83)
There’s something to appreciate about a sitcom that hyperfocuses one of the most unappreciated professions in the US, driving cab. Judd Hirsch, Tony Danza, Danny DeVito, and other rock solid castmates do a world class job playing the motley crew of cab drivers all aspiring for life after driving. The character that stands out to me most however, is their mechanic, Latka. Latka is a goofy but kind hearted member of the cab company, coming from some foreign land. Where? Hell if I know, or if anyone on the show knows. He speaks a dialect that nobody else can understand aside from his wife. Latka’s character is stemmed from a character Andy Kaufman invented, known originally as Mr. Foreign Man. Very little about Latka is ever made known to the viewer, including his aforementioned nationality, language, or if he actually knows how to actually repair and maintain vehicles. It wasn’t until later episodes that Latka was shown to be able to speak English. His accent though, is probably one of the funniest and geographically ambiguous accents to ever be spat out by an actor. Great series. Latka remains an underrated member of the crew.
3. Woody Boyd, Cheers (1982-1993)
Of all the sitcoms on this list, I discovered this one the most recent. Was this in part because of becoming a bartender? Yes. The other part was my coworker/bar dad Sean making references that I didn’t get. Cheers takes place in a bar if you couldn’t gather. It centers around a crew of Bostonian bar regulars at the only watering hole “Where Everybody Knows your Name.” Woody, played by Woody Harrelson, didn’t join the party until the fourth season. However, he will always be remembered as Coach’s replacement behind the bar. His naive and unsophisticated character worked well with the rest of the cast. A lot of the humor involving Woody stems from him not quite getting it, regardless of what “it” is. Many of Woody’s words and actions tend to be followed by a camera cut to someone’s facial expression at the bar, normally being an expression of disbelief, because he literally just said that. As the show progresses, Woody’s lovable idiot character grows on you, doing his best to fill Coach’s absence. The viewer eventually learns his real name isn’t Woody, but actually Hickleberry Tiberius Boyd. My favorite Woody moment has to be when he makes an incredible cocktail but can’t even remember what he put in it. To the bartenders out there, I feel like we’ve all had that moment. If not, proud of you… it’s happened to me at least four times.
2. Norm Peterson, Cheers
Would you look at that. Another set of back-to-back characters from the same sitcom on the same list. I can’t help how I decided to rank everyone. Hell, if I rewrote this a week from now, I’d probably have a significantly different countdown. Like every article I write, it’s spur of the moment. No revisions, just passion. Norm Peterson, played by George Wendt, is one of the main patrons of the bar. In simplest terms, he’s been beaten down by the world in many different ways. With that in mind however, his combination of a pessimistic attitude and quick wit contribute to a lot of the best back-and-forths in the show’s dialogue. His character has left us with a lot of memorable moments. Offhand I think of him busting out a calculator at the bar to determine how often he can buy beers and be within his drinking allowance. To me, Norm is the most relatable character in the series. I identify with him more than I’d like to admit.
1. George Costanza, Seinfeld
Speaking of characters I identify with, if I were to be transformed into a sitcom character, it would probably be George Costanza. Jerry’s best friend in the series, Jason Alexander does an excellent job of playing the only character in the series who is always down on their luck. Is most of it self-inflicted? For sure. Second only to Kramer, George finds himself in the most ridiculous and unfortunate circumstances, and it’s almost always in part to his dishonest and undesirable character. His amount of fraudulent activity is hard to measure. Whether it’s small things like keeping his car parked at the office for a week straight to fool his bosses into thinking he’s working late, or bigger lies like faking an entire charitable organization to get out of giving actual Christmas presents to his coworkers, George’s shtick is how capable he is of (trying) to get by on a series of seeking the easy way out. As luck would have it, after a whole series of George struggling with the fairer sex, he finally lands a girlfriend and later fiance. His corner cutting proved deadly when he elects to order the cheapest envelopes he can to send out wedding invitations, which contained a toxic chemical, killing Susan in the process. Did he want to weasel out of the engagement? Yes, but man, what a way to do it. In some episodes, generally only in the company of the main crew, he’ll break any facade in a way too real moment of realization of how little he’s accomplished. He lives with his parents, he can’t hold down a job or relationship, and he has a receding hairline, but to me, he’ll always be an architect, a marine biologist, and the centerpiece of Frankie’s most coveted poster, “The Art of Seduction.”
Frank Reynolds, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, (2005-Present)
Many people may not know this, but Danny DeVito’s character may have saved It’s Always Sunny from being canceled. DeVito only found out about the show’s existence because his daughter was a fan. Frank Reynolds joins his son and daughter alongside their best friends in the hopes of a better life in any way that doesn’t involve hard work, ethics, or honest business practices. Frank joined the cast in season two and immediately joined the gang’s questionable antics. Being independently wealthy from his years in somewhat mysterious business ventures, he became the defacto financier to every plot. Although some of my favorite moments come from plotlines that aren’t necessarily realistic, Frank does a wonderful job of suspending disbelief, such as their makeshift court sequence stemming from the age old debate of who is responsible for the damages to a car when the rear-ended driver was eating a bowl of cereal. Frank Reynolds may have possibly saved the show and at least at the time of this article, It’s Always Sunny is still cranking out episodes.
Robert California, The Office (2005-2013)
I feel like I’m going to get a lot of flak for this one, because The Office does have a lot of stellar characters, all with their own quirks. What I personal enjoy about Robert California’s character is that he is by far the most different from the rest of the reoccurring characters. It’s hard to describe him. He’s obscure. We know Robert California isn’t his real name, but what is? He did at one point introduce himself as Bob Kazamakis to someone, but it’s a safe bet that this could also be a pseudonym. Hell, he’s even referred to himself as the Lizard King. (Sorry Jim Morrison) James Spader knocks it out of the park with his rendition of an eccentric member of the paper sales world. Most, if not all, of his interactions with the rest of the cast are always uncomfortable. Funny, yes, but uncomfortable. It’s almost as if he is from some different plane of existence and ended up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Of all reoccurring parts of his character, his strange metaphysical way of looking at things is interesting, especially involving the penis. Interesting callback, writers…