Friday, September 8, 2006


James Gunn apparently started it.

Joss Whedon picked up the challenge and brought it into a bigger spotlight.

Then I followed the meme over to Rob Buckley's "The Medium Is Not Enough" .

So let me get in on the act - my list of the top 25 TV characters.

James Gunn did put several restrictions on the lists, including no Muppets/puppets and no cartoon characters. Some folks aren't following that guideline, but since this was Gunn's idea, I'll follow his lead... but only in that regard. All of my choices are humans, well, humanoid, but I couldn't restrict myself to just regular characters. I also couldn't exclude mini-series, which in a stretch, is what a series of commercials can be......


1 Dr. Miguelito Loveless, 'The Wild, Wild West'
Officially, he only appeared in nine episodes. Unofficially, the diabolical dwarf made appearances in four other shows and a TV movie. (He's hardly the character with the least amount of appearances on this list.) But aside from the vivid portrayal by a truly gifted actor, Dr. Loveless is proving to be central to the Toobworld mythos, in much the same way Noah Cross proved to be in David Thompson's book "Suspects".

2 Mary Richards, 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'
Sure, of the MTM characters, Laura Petrie was sexier in those Capri pants. But you know she'd always remain faithful to Rob. At least with the symbol of 70s single women, a guy had a chance. And she still turns my world on with a smile.

3 Number Two, 'The Prisoner'
Even though all of the Number Twos were interesting, I'm only referring to that functionary as played by Leo McKern in three episodes. Most likely it's the Everyman heroics of Number Six and his fierce determination to escape the Village which has made this 17 episode series the cult classic that it is. But it's McKern's pragmatic bureaucrat who made it fun.

His identical cousin Horace Rumpole also had that impish spark and a way with the quotes, but since we caught up with Number Two at a younger age, he made it all nimble.

4 Lt. Columbo, 'Columbo'
It doesn't matter how often I see that rumpled detective's episodes, there's never a fear that it will get old and tired. Because it's not the mystery that's important; the mystery is over before Columbo even shows up! No, it's the interplay between the Lieutenant and his suspect.

5 Bret Maverick, 'Maverick', 'Bret Maverick'
Charming, clever, and something of a coward, it's hard to think of a better fit between actor and character; where it's impossible to think of anybody else in the role. In fact, the only way the Mel Gibson movie works for me is to think of him as Bret Maverick, Jr. (which the movie suggests as well).

6 Captain Kangaroo, 'The Captain Kangaroo Show'
Even after all these years, it's hard for me to think of the Captain as a character and not as a real person. He was a comforting presence in my home as I grew up and someone I knew I could call friend.
When I was five, I ran away from home to find his Treasure House. At fifty-one, I wish I had found it.

7 Anthony Fremont, 'The Twilight Zone'
He only appeared twice on Television, first in an episode of 'The Twilight Zone' ("It's A Good Life"), and then in a sequel nearly forty years later ("It's Still A Good Life"). Yet Anthony has to be one of the scariest monsters ever to come out of Toobworld and his impact can still be felt in other shows. If it's not a reference just to the title of 'The Twilight Zone', the biggest pop culture touchstone from the series has to be Anthony's power to wish people into the corn-field. (It's still a great way for me to keep calm when dealing with idiots at work - mentally, I take a deep breath and then wish them into the corn-field.)

8 Buddy Sorrell, 'The Dick Van Dyke Show'
I'll bet most people would rather have been Rob Petrie - after all, he got to sleep with Laura Petrie! But when I was a kid, I wanted to be Buddy Sorrell. His life was everything I aspired to - he got paid to tell jokes, he got to sleep on the job, and he got to make fun of a bald guy.

Okay, so I get to sleep on the job.

9 Agent 99, 'Get Smart'
The amazing thing about 99, besides those legs and that come-hither smile, is that she was never over-shadowed by the antics of Maxwell Smart. Barbara Feldon provided the perfect combination of sexy and funny. And for Toobworld, our reigning theory is that she also appeared in episodes of 'Cheers' and 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.', using aliases long before Sydney Bristow.

10 Ford Prefect, 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy'
David Dixon wasn't the first to play the visitor from Betelgeuse and not from Guilford - that would be Geoffrey McGivern in the radio drama. And he wouldn't be the last to play Ford - that would be Mos Def in the horrible movie version. But for Toobworld, he's the man... or the nearest correlation to one.

Dixon's elfin charm and his distinctive wardrobe would make him an excellent candidate to be a certain renegade Time Lord. It's his belief that a drink will do nicely no matter what the emergency that makes him the perfect Ford Prefect.

11 King Tut, 'Batman'
Yeah.... choosing him over villains like Frank Gorshin's Riddler or Burgess Meredith's Penguin, or especially Julie Newmar as Catwoman does bring my manhood into question. I mean, those gaudy robes and that kohl-based eyeliner!

But Victor Buono never let the character get away from him even when King Tut went way over the top. The florid phrases and outlandish gestures made him a Bat-villain who could only work in Toobworld. And then to have it all crash down around him as he reverted back to the sad little figure of Professor William Omaha MacElroy of Yale (Yeah, Connecticut!) brought poignancy to the role.

12 Captain Jack Harkness, 'Doctor Who' (coming soon: 'Torchwood')
For decades, the "action figure" of most space-based sci-fi shows had been petrified by the oh-so-proper regimen of the Starfleet officer. A few characters came along to shake off that tight-ass attitude, like John Crichton ('Farscape') and Mal Reynolds ('Firefly'), but nobody busted it as wide open as Captain Jack Harkness of the 52nd Century.

And once it was wide open, the omnisexual Time Agent would probably have sex with it....

13 Nichols, 'Nichols'
Everything I said about Bret Maverick applies to his identical second cousin Nichols (no first name discovered), only magnified ten times and without any redeeming values. At least Maverick had a code of honor based on the "noble" calling of his profession - gambling.

The scene that introduced Nichols to the TV audience is still burned into my memories and his ultimate fate in the last episode remains my Holy Grail - I had to go to some meeting for Boy Scouts when it aired and I've regretted it ever since.

14 Uncle Tonoose, 'Make Room For Daddy'
Outrageous and exaggerated in his mannerisms, Uncle Tonoose set the standard for that wacko eccentric of a family member that would become common in many sitcoms. In a way, he could almost be perceived as a predecessor for Kramer on 'Seinfeld' as well (although Ed Norton better serves that function.) And Hans Conreid, who portrayed Tonoose, was so adept at comedy there never was a fear that he would take it too far over the top.

15 Sarah Jane Smith, 'Doctor Who'
Sarah Jane was the Companion when I was introduced to the Doctor, and you never forget your first.* What a rush to see her return this past season of the series, still beautiful as living proof that TV characters do grow and mature even when we no longer can see them on screen.

(*Of course, the way that Leela would overflow her primitive skins almost did the trick!)

16 Stuart Best, 'Murphy Brown'
It doesn't look likely that 'Murphy Brown' will be releasing any more full-season box sets on DVD since the first season fell below expectations in sales. But they should think about doing "Best Of" sets and a themed package of episodes featuring Wallace Shawn as the hapless former member of the 'FYI' crew would be my choice for a collection. There were at least four, maybe six episodes total. And Stuart was at his hysterical best when he was playing against the rock-steady persona of Candice Bergen's Murph.

17 Mother Dexter, 'Phyllis'
Here are two snippets of paraphrased dialogue to show why I loved this old biddy:
Bess: Mother Dexter, do you want to come on our picnic? We'll be out on the grass, under the trees.....
Mother Dexter: The grass is full of ants and the trees are full of perverts.
Phyllis: Why, Mother Dexter! You're not so mean after all!
Mother Dexter: That's right, dear. And if you ever tell anyone, I'll break both your knees with a baseball bat!

18 Two-Way Medicine Cabinet Guy, 'Right Guard Commercials'
Gotta get me some Chuck McCann in this list! I don't know why the two-way medicine cabinet hasn't been revived since so many other classic commercial icons of the late 60s, early 70s have seen a resurgence. We should be seeing more of them especially in NY-based sitcoms. But their popularity has to be attributed to the exuberance shown by McCann with only that small window of the medicine cabinet in which his oversized personality can bloom.

"One shot and I'm good for the whole day!"

19 Zack Brock, 'Picket Fences'
TV kids can either be so natural that they aren't even acting (Marc Copage from 'Julia', as a painful example; or better yet, Jonny Whitaker on 'Family Affair'), or they're really just adults in miniature. (Danny Bonaduce on 'The Partridge Family' and Chris Demetral on 'Dream On' are good examples.)

Then there are those that strike just the right balance. Ron Howard's Opie Taylor and Jerry Mathers' Beaver Cleaver are probably the best examples.

But I prefer Adam Wylie as Zack Brock in 'Picket Fences'. No matter how difficult the scene or the subject matter, he was able to play it convincingly despite his young age. That image of Zack is lost forever to Time and the effects of aging, but I'd love for the chance to revisit Rome, Wisconsin, someday just to see how Zack is faring.

20 Chris "In The Morning" Stephens, 'Northern Exposure'
I don't think there was anything in the show that better sold the image of Cicely, Alaska, as a unique Toobworld location than the Zen-like musings of its resident deejay echoing through the aether. Add to that his unruffled demeanor but with a shady past, and his biological quirk regarding his pheromones, and you have a true Toobworld individual.

It'd be nice to hear his voice playing over the fictional NPR someday on another show (Hey, 'Men In Trees' - hint hint!)

21 Hugo "Hurley" Reyes, 'Lost'
It's not just that Jorge Garcia is so damned funny in the role. And more than the fact that he's proving to be so central (possibly) to the mystery of the island because of his connection to the Numbers. No, it's Jorge Garcia's talent as an actor this past season that proves what a coup it was that they hired him for the role; he's adept at underplaying the comedy as well as the drama to be found in the role and in so doing, make it more powerful.

22 Georgette Franklin, 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'
23 Penny Majors, 'Forever Fernwood'
24 Maggie Jacobs, 'Extras'
I'm running these three together because basically they fall into the same type. Sweet, full of faux innocence, and cute to boot. Maggie Jacobs was the recipient of the 2005 Toobit for Best Supporting Actress for her refreshing and yet heart-breaking daffiness. Penny Majors ably stepped into the void created by the loss of 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman' as a totally different character who combined the classic qualities of silent movie heroines with the standard long-suffering young woman of soap operas. And as Georgette would say herself, she was "Damned nice!" One of the biggest thrills for me when I first moved to NYC 30 years ago was to see Georgia Engel in action, taking a dance class.

25 DCI Gene Hunt, 'Life On Mars'
DCI Hunt is the most refreshing character to come along this year, mainly because of his retro, un-PC attitude and beliefs which have not been softened to make him more palatable to the audience a la Archie Bunker. It's just a shame that there's an added layer of un-reality to him, as the Gene Genie is not only a fictional character but could also be a figment of Sam Tyler's imagination.

DCI Hunt is credited with my favorite line of dialogue so far in 2006:

"Drop your weapons! You are surrounded by armed bastards!"

The problem of course with a list like this is the limitation. I ran out of slots before I could get to Tom Veil, ('Nowhere Man'), Detective Arthur Dietrich ('Barney Miller'), Tobi Pedalbee ('Dream On'), Uncle Joe Carson ('Petticoat Junction'), and Dr. McCoy ('Star Trek'). And I never remembered to check if animals were allowed, or else I would have added Arnold Ziffel of 'Green Acres'!


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