So, instead of asking again so soon after my last Top Ten List, I decided, eh, maybe I can come up with better topics. Or maybe, I already have. I decided to go back and search through old polls and lists that I did beforehand, and try to look through some categories that were requested before, (Or in this case, one that I came up with as a possibility earlier) and see if I can find something that inspired me. Right now. Just something that I felt like talking about and was worthy of a post.
Doing that, I found this category, the TOP TEN UNDERRATED SITCOM CHARACTERS. What does that mean? (Shrugs) Well, they're characters on sitcoms, and they're underrated. As in, wherever they're supposedly rated, it's not good high enough.
I feel like I'm supposed to have more of an explanation, but-eh, I don't. I just don't. What do you want, what defines, "Underrated"? I don't know, whatever the hell it means. I wish I had a better answer, but more concrete answer, but it's underrated. Could that be a character from a sitcom that's bad, but the character is good. Could it be a supporting character in a great sitcom that doesn't get discussed as much? Are they actually legendary television characters that still don't get nearly the acclaim or credit they deserve? Are they characters from short-lived shows that no one remembers, or long-running series that were on television for years? Are they smart characters? Dumb characters? Strange characters? Cliche characters? Groundbreaking characters?
And the answer to those and all of the other questions you can think of are, "Yes, sure. Maybe? I don't know." "Third Base".
Look, underrated is subjective. What makes a good character, is also subjective. I'm gonna do my best here....
They're just regular characters in television sitcoms that I think need to be more recongized. There's really not much else to this. Alright, give me a little time and I'll run through my Sitcom rolodex and see what I come up with.
(3 Days later)
Tsk. Okay, I think I'm gonna go with this.
(picks up papers, bounces them on their side on the table)
Alright, let's do this. We're counting down.
THE TOP TEN MOST UNDERRATED TV SITCOM CHARACTERS OF ALL-TIME!
According to me, and my whatever biases I supposedly have. Let's start with number ten.
And I know this character and this show has to be underrated, especially these days, 'cause I can't find any halfway decent clips of it anymore. Which is a real shame, 'cause this was a pretty groundbreaking and influential show.
10. Martin Tupper-"Dream On"
People forget this show, in the history of HBO, which is really and ridiculous since the fuzzy screen dissolve that's still apart of their current logo, started from this show,
Yeah, that logo. That's from "Dream On", which predates even "The Larry Sanders Show" and I would argue was really HBO's first really huge series hit. It was a controversial show at the time, 'cause it was one of the first big ones that contained a lot of sex and nudity, and a lot of humor about it too. It was actually a weird contrast, because my favorite part of the series, was the conceit of its main character, a publisher named Martin Tupper, played by Brian Benben, is shown in the beginning intro of the series, be sat down as a baby, watching old black-and-white television, and then, just basically staying there until he was an adult. In some ways, the show kinda foresaw this obsessive nerd culture that we have of recalls and references to the shows, movies, and other literature that's shared among the pop culture. Except that wasn't like a thing that was as acknowledged and celebrated these days, so during his daily adventures, mostly involving whatever affairs with the wrong person he was having that week, we would see his inner monologue shown in those old b&w clips. He was the protagonist, but he was a complete schmuck. An unlikeable prick who floats through life with barely being able to get through his day, just barely above water. He's a failed father, a failed husband, he's not even a great businessman. In my head canon, he ended up in publishing 'cause he figured if he actually went into TV he'd be looked down upon, but he still hangs around TV stars. He's not the most memorable or interesting character strangely enough on the show; most people I know think of Wendie Malick's ex-wife or Michael McKeon's eccentric boss as being the more intriguing characters, but Martin Tupper is kind of a great caricature of the simplistic male mind. One brought up on the image of the machismo male characters of the past, and now exhibits all those traits in a world where the only real joy left is casual sex. In hindsight the show and Martin Tupper are subtlely more influential then I think it gets credit for, and unfortunately, for a show, that is out there, it's shockingly hard to find. Currently a DVD set of Seasons 1 & 2 is "on sale" on Amazon for $150! Yikes! Why isn't this on HBO Max?!
LOL, I love freaking people out with this. Why wasn't this "Rickrolling", I would've understood that stupid trend if it was this they found!
Actually, I might have mentioned this once or twice; I don't think I've truly made it clear, but I truly think "Blossom" is one of the most underrated TV shows of all-time. I do not get why this show has just not seen a real rerun revival in recent years. This was a smart show about being a smart teenage girl, and it was also really funny. It's one of the best and smartest sitcoms to show many of the struggles of growing up. It's not perfect, there's a lot of confusion, oddly with some of the adult characters that come in and out of the series, and sure, by the end, it got too emotional with the "special episodes", but most of those episodes were good and dealt with issues seriously that other sitcoms about teenagers really hadn't until then. I think I can make a pretty strong argument for several character from this series to make the list. Blossom of course, was a great character. Her brother Joey is somewhat mocked now because of Joey Lawrence's brief teen idol run, but he did play one of the most underrated funny dumb characters out there. Also, Blossom had one of the best, best friend characters too, the troubled Six LeMeure that Jenna Von Oy played, and she was a fun trainwreck as well. Just the fact that she used to be able to talk that fast was amazing for it's time.
And, surprisingly, I decided to go with the, oldest brother.
9. Anthony 'Tony' Russo-"Blossom"
Yeah, something else that's kinda overlooked about this show is that, "Blossom" was about a girll growing up in a very broken home. And not in, it's broken-but-still-happy way like "The Brady Bunch" or something. Both her parents were musicians, who struggle to get work, and they're divorced, and it was the mother left her three kids, to live on another continent, leaving more pressure on the father to work, and less time for him to raise his kids. Also, the show begins with her eldest brother Anthony, coming home for the first time years, in an attempt to clean up from drug addiction. And this is not played as much for laughs as you'd think. Over the course of his run on the series, he is literally sobering himself up and it's not a one-episode thing. He struggles with it, others struggle and worry about him struggling with it. Everything is a constant reminder to him. Also, since he is the oldest, and kinda raised himself, albeit badly, he is often the go-to surrogate parent for Joey and Blossom for social situations and questions at times. There's a couple episodes where he reflects on some past memories of friends of his during his drug days, and they half-the-time end with the fact that most of his old friends are dead now. It's one of the few great portrayals of longterm addiction recovery that I can really think of in sitcoms, and not one that like happens over a single "special episode" of two. He's an addict, he went off-the-rails and off-the-grid 'cause of it, and it could happen again. Hell, he did have one lost weekend in Vegas that ended with him getting married, and they even stuck with that too; that didn't did humorously correctly after an episode or two, and why not, he was ready to try to have a normal life and family by then. This is definitely a character who gets heavily overlooked on a series where the other characters are more memorable, but it's also a character on a sadly overlooked series, that wasn't just good, it was more elaborate and complex then, that hilarious-in-hindsight opening credits scene. Also, Michael Stoyanov, underrated actor and he played the role very well.
I have a lot of British readers and friends and I've noticed that they don't always catch every American sitcom reference I make, and vice-versa. We do kinda have some assumption, often incorrect ones about what series crossover and which ones don't. I figured I oughta put at least one Britcom character on here. I think I still went with the one that's a little too Americanized according to some Brits, but-eh, yeah, I still feel like I gotta go with this one. You have any criticisms of this choice, Jane?
8. Jane Christie-"Coupling"
"Coupling" is far and away the best thing Steven Moffat's ever done. Yes, I know what else he's done, I stand by that statement. I've often pitched this show to others, and most people I know who've tried it, have liked it a lot, and yes, even I used to pitch it as "Friends" meets "Sex and the City" to make a little more palatable for them. In hindsight I'm not sure that's accurate though. It's definitely more of a sex farce then "Friends" and has the nudity of "Sex..." but the trick with "Friends" was that it was code for "Family" and while there were on-again off-again romances within that group, "Coupling" is very specifically about those, well, "Couplings". It's about two people in a romance, and the baggage of their friends and/slash ex-lovers hanging around, and there's few baggage like Jane Christie. I flat out love this character. She's easy to compare to similar characters, especially at the time Gina Bellman's character felt reminiscent of the quirky kinky Phoebe Buffay from "Friends" or the outlandishly sexual aggressive Karen Walker from "Will & Grace", and those aspects are there, but she's a lot more nuanced. She's got that weird kind of innocence about her. She's not weak by any means, but it's like she's going through the world for the first time, unlike say Phoebe who grew up on the streets and live through tragedy. That egocentric obliviousness to the rules and customs of the world around her, her self-disillusion that's she's genuinely happy, how she's sexually manipulative above all else; this is a fascinatingly damaged character. She's the kind of person who will be the only one in the room that's naked, and claim that everyone else is wrong for wearing clothes. She's my favorite of those characters who seems like they really shouldn't be able to get along in the world, but somehow manage to not only keep going through it, but somehow survive and thrive through her own strange skillset. And I gotta give extra credit for Bellman being able to masterfully pull this character off. If you don't think this is a feat, you should see the drastic failure that was the American remake of "Coupling". Like, I don't want to bash Lindsay Price too much, and among every other problem with that thing, everybody was miscast, but man, she in particular on that show, was badly miscast, and more of this show hinges on getting Jane right then it might look at first.
So, there's a long list of great television doctor characters. I'm sure you can list a bunch off the top of your head. Most of them are objectively from drama series, but not all of them. In fact, I can think of several doctors from comedy series. Of course, you've got the doctors from "M*A*S*H" and "Scrubs", and there other unconventional picks. Doogie Howser, M.D., Dr. John Becker, that's an underrated one. So is Dr. Jenna James from "Getting On". Hell, the people that made "Frasier" once made a whole sitcom that's just a family of doctors. (It's called "Out of Practice", it only lasted one season, but it's actually a pretty good little underrated show. It used to stream on Amazon Prime, not sure it does anymore, but nice show to seek out.). As I was doing this list though, I realized that there is a modern doctor character on a sitcom that frankly nobody ever brings up in this discussion, and I think he's way more unique and interesting then people realize.
7. Dr. Fitch Cooper-"Nurse Jackie"
Here's a character who I think slips through the cracks because nobody actually thinks of him when they think of show he's on. Showtime comedies tend to get pushed aside a little more then they really should to begin with, and "Nurse Jackie", despite being on the air forever, I don't think too many people actually liked this show. It's not a laugh-out-loud "funny" show necessarily; I'm a pretty big fan of it and even I've only gotten through like, five seasons of it myself, and I keep finding excusese to put off watching the rest. And it's not like Dr. Cooper's a favorite character of mine either; he's like my fifth favorite character from the show. There's a reason why they give Edie Falco and Merritt Wever the Emmys for the show. Still though, he's a quirky character. He's not a great doctor, at all, he's not Frank Burns incompetent or anything, but he's one of those privilidge kids who went into medicine thinking it would be cool to be a doctor, and he just has way too much self-confidence compared to his ability. He also grew up a little too alone and heavily mothered, by his lesbian parents. He's not good with people, and stresses out when scared by the most simple confrontation, which is the excuse for weirdest quirk, a groping form of Tourette's where instead of cursing or stammering, when frightened, he grabs the nearest boob. I have no idea if that's a real thing, but it's so weird it's funny. But that, kind of obliviousness where a medical professional is completely unaware of how he shouldn't be celebrating that he's got a gunshot wound victim, that's something that you don't normally see in the darkest of these shows. Peter Facinelli who's been an interesting actor since the Kevin Spacey film, "The Big Kahuna", he's played a lot of these odd characters who are kinda too handsome for their own good and don't realize how inept they are, but this is still the best of that bunch.
However, I called him a "modern" doctor character, because he does have one trait above everything else that makes him stand out even more then others; he has a fascination with fame. He's like that people know he's a doctor and that kind of recognition.
Okay, so, I have an anecdote here, so bare with me a minute. I like to watch reaction video in my spare time, and one of my favorites is this guy Devin Stone, who goes by the Youtube name "Legal Eagle", and he's a lawyer who talks about the law, and sometimes he reacts and reviews movies and TV shows and talks about the legal accuracy of them. He's one of a few lawyers who do these "Lawyer Reacts" videos, but there's also a group of "Doctor Reacts" videos, where youtubers who are Doctors react to medical shows and movies and other media and talk about the real life medical accuracies of them. I don't like a lot of them as much, but I did go through a bunch of them for awhile, when they were doing of a trend of watching important episodes of "Scrubs" and "House" that I love, and I swear to god, they all reminded me of Dr. Fitch Cooper! I swear, the exact details are obviously different, but it doesn't matter who it is, male, female, different races, different ethnicity, etc. it's like every hospital's version of that character, is the one with the medical reaction channel. They didn't remind me of any other TV doctors, just him. So, he's more distinctive, and I suspect these kinds of personality traits are more common in modern-day hospitals then we'd think. So that's why I've put him up on here; I have a sneaky suspicion that he's more reminiscent of the modern archetypal young doctors today, then some of the past prototypes we've seen in television, especially in comedy.
Speaking of overlooked characters on Showtime sitcoms....
6. Tara Gregson-"The United States of Tara"
I wasn't going to include her on this list, originally. I mean, I know the show ended after only three seasons, but I think everybody knows this was a great character. Hell, it's an Emmy winning performance; sure, it didn't last as long as it should have, but it was a cult hit that most look back on fondly. I'm not sure too many people put it on their greatest shows lists, but I don't think anybody hates it either. And obviously, it's a complicated character, who actually playing, eh, one, two, three,...- eh, I think by my count, eight characters, over-the-series? Or "Alters" as they're referred to. But then I realize, "Yeah, but the category is "Most Underrated" and you can still be rated pretty high and still be underrated. Also, it's a Toni Collette performance, and, yes, absolutely, if there is any actress who is underrated, by any standard, it is Toni Collette, and that's including television. And Tara Gregson is underrated. Seriously underrated. "The United States of Tara" is underrated. So is, for that matter, the show's creator, Diablo Cody. And so is Toni Collette; I know I mentioned that already, but she's really underrated! If you don't believe me, look up Be Kind Rewind's recent Youtube video outlining her career.
There's a few reasons for this, some I mentioned already, but in terms of this character, yes, Disassociative-Identity Disorder is the intriguing part of her character, although she's quite interesting outside of that, and outside of her alters, I particularly love how season three's entire plot was her showing just somebody who didn't believe in the disorder slowly believing that at least she actually had it. That was good. I also like how, unlike other sitcoms, even at the time, the series was surprisingly insular. It was a series about this woman fighting an inner struggle with herself, and every real major new plot thread, was indeed, not a new character coming in to create conflict, but a new conflict within herself. That was done well, and it's shockingly unusual these days, even for sitcoms.
However, when we think of DID disorder and television, who do we think of immediately? Not Tara Gregson, but "Sybil"! A TV movie from forty years ago, it's still the reference everybody makes. And half the reason we think off it, is because before then, nobody thought Sally Field was a serious or good enough actress to pull that off, which-, honestly that sounds like science-fiction when you say that out loud now. (No, I didn't put "Gidget" or "The Flying Nun" on here, unfortunately, despite being a TV and movie legend, Sally Field was oddly never on great TV shows) Tara Gregson doesn't get that benefit, 'cause we all already know that Toni Collette is an amazing freak of nature actress, so while we were amazed, we were not surprised. In an era where the when Lead Comedy Actress is a stronger category then ever before at the Emmys, her name just doesn't get mentioned as much as it should, and I don't think people are gonna bring it up much in the future, which is a ridiculous shame.
One of my last cuts on this list was, Darlene Connor from "Roseanne". For a while, I actually had her glued into a pretty high spot on this list, but after I thought about a bit, yeah, she is underrated, if for nothing else, then for being one of the few first genuinely melancholy, depressed, smart teenagers. And had "Roseanne" not gotten a reboot, I probably would've found a spot for her, but it's clear now that everybody recognizes the seminalness of her character. At least, for a list like this, I think that's one of the detriments to this run of reboots and sequel series spinoffs of older classic series, it's that those characters that we loved decades ago, we realize that they were just as loved and now that we're seeing what else they're doing, and in Darlene's case how much more she's doing, it's not bad, but it does underline that maybe they weren't so overlooked before.
Then again, it could work the other way. Sometimes with these reboots we find out where these characters are now and see just how great they really were the first time.
5. Jim Dial-"Murphy Brown
I think "Murphy Brown" is a generally overlooked and severely underrated series these days. It's never been a good show for reruns, it's never had a complete collection of it's series on DVD, and while I think the recent one-season revival was amazing, it didn't get great ratings and critics apparently didn't care for it either...- (TV critics are lousy; seriously, I will defend most film critics forever, even the ones I disagree with most of the time, but TV critics mostly suck. I think TV critics have never actually seen good television and don't know what it looks like.) One of the things I realized was that Jim Dial was a great character. A lof of ways he's underrated, the series of course, the fact that there's a lot of eccentric and memorable characters on the show, most of which you'd think of first, but he was arguably the soul of the series. Admittedly, part of this might be the fact that he's a relic to a, let's face it, better time in television journalism, but I'm okay with idyllic romanticized portrayals of the way things should be. Besides, you need that voice surrounding the chaos in order to keep things together. And he is a great stern, by-the-book character. His whole arc of the series was that, essentially he was still going on, while he was seeing the essences of his industry changing right before him, and those changes frustrated him then. Many of my favorite plots involving him were when was trying to seek out those good-old days, only to have his old delusions of those days undermined when he realizes that they weren't as great as they were, or they were already very different then he originally realized. He was never particularly angry at those revelations though, not that I remember. Of course, he spent his career covering politics, so of course, nothing probably phased him, naturally. As far as anchorman, he's dwarfed by Ted Knight's Ted Baxter in terms of memorable TV sitcom characters, as well as several of his castmates as well. But he was also the fatherly figure in the workplace, who everybody looked up to and respected and admired, and even by that standard, I think you'd think of a long list of others character mentioned before you hit Jim Dial. In many ways, you could look to him as a prototype of someone like a Dr. Cox from "Scrubs" or a Ron Swanson on "Parks and Recreation" among others. Sure, I can point to someone like Lou Grant or Alex Reagor as some earlier variations of that archetype too, but Charles Kimbrough's iconic Jim Dial deserves mention in that as well. You gotta have that one legend that everyone respects, you know?
So most of these characters are character that I grew up with to one degree or another so far, mostly from my lifetime. I didn't plan it that way, but I do suspect that, in more recent decades we've cared more about creating great characters as opposed to, in traditional sitcoms, we'd more-or-less have our typical lead characters, and they'd be a husband, mother or child's issue to get through and wait 'til the husband deal with them. I mean, you can sort through, say, "My Three Sons" and find a lot more interesting nuances in some of the minor characters, but you'd still find more compelling one in modern versions of those shows like-eh, what's the modern-day version of "My Three Sons", eh, "Weeds" maybe? I'll go with "Weeds". (That was a joke, but that actually isn't a terrible comparison.)
That said, when you dig into some early television, you do see some interesting things do make you tilt your head a little that somebody was doing this back then? Cause are occasionally those old ones you catch, where you realize they were, eh, probably a lot more subliminal progressive in their series then I think most people realized. Case in point, exhibit A: "Bachelor Father".
4. Bentley Gregg-"Bachelor Father"
This show amazes me. Now, I clearly read it as camp now, and it wasn't actually a huge hit at the time; during it's five year run from '57-'62, it actually aired on all three major network at one point or another, most of that time on NBC. It had a decent run in reruns as well over the years, but I only started catching it recently, and-, well, I don't know quite what to make of it. They didn't have "Created By' credits back then, so I don't know exactly where this show came about, I'm gonna assume that Arthur Allsburg was the main voice behind it, since he wroter/co-wrote a majority of the episodes, including the Pilot, but I know somebody must've had this concept as a way to backhandedly do some things that they wouldn't normally be able to get away with. The great John Forsythe, in his first regular television role, plays Bentley Gregg, a Beverly Hills attorney, known for his bachelor ways, and then, he has to take care of his 13-year-old niece, after her parents die, and so now, he's a "Bachelor Father"! Wokka-wokka!
So, like, I think this is how the fifties got away with shows about being a single parent? You can't be divorced, you couldn't have a kid out of wedlock, you can have a dead parent, but since that means a parent is single, that leaves open the possibility of dating, which he can't be doing if he has a kid... (I'm using '50s logic here, so ignore that that doesn't add up) and this show, really wanted to make that contrast, so adopting orphans was a big thing for awhile.... (Seriously, that's happened in a lot of shows.), so here we are, he's a "father" according to the law, but he's also a "bachelor". Do people still use the word, "bachelor" in that way that indicates it being a "lifestyle?" I hope not. Anyway, this is one of the shows that plays so camp today, that I have to assume somebody was trying to project a larger message, but even if this was taken seriously at face value, A. it's actually a decent show still, and B., you could probably label it influential. Honestly, watching episodes now, it kinda feels a lot like a primordial version of "Two and a Half Men". Bentley Gregg trying to have his own love life while watching over his growing teenage daughter, however many flips through hoops they had to do to get there, it still makes the character surprisingly groundbreaking.
And then on top of that, they add this weird level of Hollywood satire on it? I think the reasoning is that, they couldn't only see a "bachelor", raising a kid in some liberal cesspool like Hollywood or something, (Although Hollywood wasn't as liberal back then as we think of it now, but whatever.) so, I guess since that was their logic, they decided to add this level of Hollywood satire. So, you get a lot of leering looks at good-looking, scantilly clad-for-the-time girls all around, and raising a daughter in that environment is something else too. This Hollywood satire thing was also more common then you'd think in the early days of television, especially in the era when sitcoms had to compete with a lot sketch variety shows. (Apparently, this show for instance, used to flip weeks on the schedule with "The Jack Benny Program" for awhile.) You'd be surprised how often that comes up too, even something out there like "Mister Ed" has a surprising amount of celebrities playing themselves in guest sports for instance. So Bentley Gregg is basically Charlie Harper meets Ari Gold, in the '50s.
Mostly, I think of the show as being a series with a lot of subversive subtext for the time, one that's almost written out of tv history, but I think deserves to still be here. It's probably John Forsythe's third most remembered TV role, but it shows he had a lot of range. Basically any show that dares to contrast lust with raising children from "Married... with Children" to "Full House" even, especially in it's early days, has a bit of a debt to this show for showing that you can indeed do both, and they did it before they can actually, show a single parent, parenting their own kid. There's a lot of dead parent shows during this time, like, a real lot, (most aren't really worth looking up), but this is kinda the one good show and the one good character where it seems like he's trying to have it all, and it's a good thing, it's not an inevitable thing to be dating and raising a kid. It doesn't say that a family is preferred to be a tradtional two-parent household, and shows a parent who does a lot for his kid when he might rather want to be doing something else. I'm not gonna be pretend this is the greatest show ever either or anything, but as a character and a concept, probably more interesting and influential then a lot of other television characters from this time.
The highest ranked female character on my list. Well, definitely a character played by a female, at least; I'm not sure her species has gender actually.
3. Sally Solomon-"3rd Rock from the Sun"
Despite two Emmy wins for Kristen Johnston and still being relatively beloved, I think people have kinda forgotten just how big a show "3rd Rock from the Sun" was at the time. I don't think it's aged badly by any means,- if anything I think it's more influential then people realize. I used compare "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" to "Seinfeld" for instance, but actually, "3rd Rock from the Sun" at it's best might actually be a better comparison. both shows are about three guys and a girl trying, and failing to understand whatever subject they've decided to dive into and they end up outrageously wrong about everything. Sally in particular had the difficult job of being assigned as the "woman" on the mission, which, honestly I can't think of too many female aliens, certainly not in sitcoms before her. Everybody remembers John Lithgow's Dick Solomon, who always seems to find a new way to get back into the zeitgeist, but Sally Solomon was just as outrageous and unique, probably moreso even. We'd seen, a Mork-like character before, someone new to Earth and trying to contemplate our ways, but a female character like that, in a good show (charitably)..., umm...you might have to go back to maybe "I Dream of Jeannie" and that show's probably gotten too much attention over the years (Although it does some fascinating subtext to that one too, good and bad....) After that, what, "Out of This World" maybe. Yeah, I'm going with Sally.
"3rd Rock from the Sun" kinda gets forgotten next to most of the rest of NBC's '90s lineup, which really is a shame, and half the time when you do mention it, they think you're talking about "30 Rock" now. Some people only vaguely know it as that show Joseph Gordon-Levitt was on as a kid too. I'm trying not to let my thoughts on the actors get in the way of analyzing characters too, but Kristen Johnson is also a seriously underrated actress. I'm glad she's a got new regular role on "Mom" right now, 'cause she's needed to get much more roles for years now. Every time I see her in something she makes me smile, which has been not enough for too long now. Her character of Sally Solomon though, I think you can debate that she might've been one of the most unique female characters ever on TV at that point, and one of the hardest to play. A military veteran alien, assigned to a female gender on Earth in an information-gathering mission, if nothing else, it's a unique character and just doesn't get the attention or appreciation it deserves. This is one of those shows where you have to look back and go how did this show work at all, much less this well. Great writing, and great characters and great casting, and this is weird combination of all three knocked out of the park that nobody ever brings up.
Now this is a character I have seen brought up a little more often recently, but yeah, he's still underrated.
2. Roc Emerson-"Roc"
Roc Emerson might be the last great classic leader-of-the-house character that nobody mentions anymore, which is a shame 'cause while "Roc" didn't have a long run, it really needs to be more seen these days. "Roc" also had a weird run; it was one of the major shows on early '90s FOX, when the network was primarily a spot for both African-American sitcoms and anything weird and experimental and contrarian to the traditional sitcoms that went against it. It also always stuckout from those "Martin"'s or "Living Single"'s though, 'cause it was more lower class and seemed to take a neorealist approach; looking at it now, especially the second season, which they famously decided to shoot and air live, which nobody else dared to do for a full season until that weird "Undateable" show on NBC that starred Chris D'Elia, which, eh, the less said about that the better. (Modifier's dangling, but I meant the show was a piece of shit, but D'Elia is too, so....) The series feels more like a forgotten Norman Lear show then anything else of its time. Actually if you did follow the series; it got much more radical that most of Lear's work, even in the '70s. While everybody remembers the episode of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" where Will got shot during a robbery attempt, there's a character that gets killed on "Roc", shot in cold blood, and the entire season was building up to it, eventually sets up the new condition for the third season of the show and Roc Emerson is the main suspect in the killing! Did I mention that it was also a gang murder! "Roc" is like, the sitcom version of "The Wire"! And it was all centered around a garbage man who wanted to do his family well, whatever that entailed. Easier said then done when living in a crime-riddled Baltimore neighborhood. Roc was the '90s version of a radical morally-conscious Archie Bunker. There wasn't much political disagreement at the dinner table, but there was a lot of conflict, and he jumped into the center of it, and tried to make things right.
"Roc" was never a ratings hit, per se, although it's always had a cult following; it's a show that really stretch itself as far as it could from the lightest of comedy to the most intense of drama and back that a sitcom could go. It was more consistent sitcom, I bet it would've been a little more highly regarded; it might've helped too if it was able to be promoted more, although the whole shooting live thing hurt that a bit, but "Roc" was way ahead of it's time, and willing to take it's audience to differing places on such a quick turnaround that it could seem like whiplash. He's still, a great iconic character, you know what, I still see occasionally in scattered reruns despite less then 75 episodes made of the series. He still should be brought up more. Charles S. Dutton is still one of our great unsung actors, and he ended winning a couple Emmys for Guest Acting and even one for Directing; but "Roc" literally is a real-life nickname for Dutton, and the series was inspired by much of his own life and experience and I always feel a bit bad that his most passionate project is also one of the more forgettable and underappreciated ones. We arguably need more shows to have the kinds of freedoms it had, and on a network series no less.
Oh well. I still have one character that I think is more underrated then even Roc left, but let's run through a few Honorable Mentions.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (Alphabetical by main series)
Dr. John Becker-"Becker"-Okay, I have this theory about "Becker" about how the entire show is only everybody else's reaction to Becker, and that he's generally a nice guy and a good doctor but nobody ever sees that side of him. I always thought this because he's one of the few lead characters who always enters the room shortly after the scene begins with everybody else, so everything generally normal and then he enters and what we see is how everything changes when he enters the room? This theory doesn't remotely hold up to scrutiny, but he's still a great character.
Howard Borden-"The Bob Newhart Show"-I think between this and his work on "I Dream of Jeannie", Bill Daily's pretty well remember as one of the great best friends/annoying neighbors in television, but that show was full of strange side-characters that I think he slips through the cracks more often then he probably should.
Bill Bittinger-"Buffalo Bill"-Oooh, this show was way ahead of it's time. It only lasted a couple seasons, but Dabney Coleman's character was kind of an early, nastier version of Garry Shandling on "The Larry Sanders Show", only on a bad local TV show.
Charlie Runkel-"Californication"-I was gonna go with his wife, the Pamela Adlon character, but sometimes I wonder if the show would've been better from his perspective. And then sometimes I wonder if they just made him nuttier to compete with Jeremy Piven's Eli Gold character from "Entourage". Does anybody actually like "Californication" or was it just so out there that we just decided to keep putting up with it whether we liked it or not? I go back-and-forth on that one too.
Molly Bickford Dodd-"The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd"-Before she was on "Fringe", Blair Brown earned five Emmy nominations for playing this quirky Bohemian New York divorcee. It's kinda like '80s "That Girl"; I guess? I actually don't know what to make of this show, but what few episodes I've seen, I can't think of too many things to compare it too, even today. And those episodes, were not easy finds btw. This show has never gotten a DVD release and isn't streaming anywhere legally, and probably won't because of music copyrights they never got.
Danielle Van De Kamp-"Desperate Housewives"-I think we've unfairly written "Desperate Housewives" out of our pop culture psyche in general; I won't pretend that a lot of that wasn't their fault, 'cause they really fucked up by jumping ahead five years that time, (and badly so at that) but god, there's a lot of great characters on this show. I was gonna go with Bree, but then I remembered how much of a irredeemably manipulative little cunt her daughter was. Seriously, go back and recall everything awful she does and why she does it. Her mother watched and did nothing as multiple lovers of hers died, and Danielle's still worst then her!
Dwayne Wayne-"A Different World"-I wasn't gonna put him on here, 'cause "A Different World" is kind of a difficult show to talk about 'cause, well, Cosby...., (Sigh) but-eh, after thinking about it, how is Dwayne the one African-American nerd charcter from the '90s that nobody remembers fondly?! I mean, how many famous sitcom mathematicians can you think of? Leave it to a character with those glasses to get overshadowed by his girlfriend.
Chloe-"Don't Trust the Bitch in Apt. 23"-I'm still mad that this one got cancelled way too soon. I'm sure Krysten Ritter was great on that Marvel series, whatever it was called, but man I can't think of her without thinking of how great this character was. I read her novel though, "Bonfire"; it was pretty good.
Waldo Faldo-"Family Matters"-Urkel wasn't the only character to find his way into a permanent supporting role on this show, and that's more impressive then it should be. He was also funnier then he should've been.
Mallory Keaton-"Family Ties"-To this day, I can't believe I lost a bet on who the more famous Bateman sibling would be in the future. I know, everybody remembers Alex first, and they should, but Mallory was the cool Keaton.
Al Floss-"The Famous Teddy Z"-This is an example of just a terrible show that happened to have a really great character in it. It was canceled after a year and Alex Rocco won an Emmy for it anyway; that's how good the character is.
Father Dougal McGuire-"Father Ted"-You know, the damnedest thing is that the more you listen to him, the more sensible he sounds.
Shoshanna Shapiro-"Girls"-I love that Shoshanna's just as much an out-of-her-depth mess as everybody else on the show, but in a completely different way then everyone else.
James 'J.J.' Evans, Jr.-"Good Times"-I know he became a punchline, but if you look past that, he was a really compelling character.
Oscar North-"He & She"-I put out a request on Facebook for people to recommend some famous characters for this list; I didn't get too many responses but a friend of mine did recommend this one. I had never seen "He & She", so I had to look it up, and-eh yeah, I get it. Jack Cassidy's character is the only part of the show worth watching, and thank God 'cause "He & She" is just a mindblowingly bad show. This is also one of those series from the '50s or '60s that happens to be a low-key parody of Hollywood like "Bachelor Father" was like, between the regular plots of the series. That still happens by the way, the failed "Up All Night" comes to mind, but that's gone on with a lot more shows then people realize.
Bonnie Molloy-"Life with Bonnie"-Bonnie Hunt has had several attempts at vastly different albeit usually good series over the years. None of them ever really panned out, this one was the closest to actually being a hit.
Maynard G. Krabbs-"The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis"-TV's first stoner best friend! I'm sure that enough people knew about this beatnik that he didn't really come close to making the list, but it is a shame that most people think Bob Denver, and think Gilligan first.
Jefferson D'Arcy-"Married... with Children"-There's a few famous new characters that get added to existing series that I think improved a series a lot, and this one doesn't get the credit for improving this show as much as he should.
Halley Rutledge-"Mozart of the Jungle"-I legitimately don't get why this show never caught on more, and it got cancelled right when her character was just about to discover her true calling. That was a real bummer.
Christine Sullivan-"Night Court"-The producers of "Night Court" actually managed to wait through an entire season with no regular Public Defender in order to get Markie Post for this role specifically. There were a lot of changes to the series over the early years or "Night Court", but adding her as a regular is truly the big one; the show doesn't work without her.
Tig-"One Mississippi"-Another example of how Diablo Cody is ridiculously underrated. Amazon just has the worst luck with TV shows sometimes.
Sgt. Ernest G. Bilko-"The Phil Silvers Show (oka You'll Never Get Rich)"-I probably debated putting Sgt. Bilko on here more then I should've, but I still think Phil Silvers doesn't get nearly the credit or acclaim he deserves; in terms of early television, his name should really be at the tip of our tongue, up with Lucy, Gleason and Benny among others.
Carlton the Doorman-"Rhoda"-Writers love characters that are never seen onscreen, you can write anything for them, but sometimes it helps to be able to hear them occasionally.
Darlene Connor-"Roseanne", "The Connors"-If she hadn't taken over as the lead the reboot series after Roseanne used up all Get Out of Celebrity Jail Free Cards, I probably would've had her on the list.
Hanna 'Belle de Jour'-"The Secret Diary of a Call Girl"-I would've sworn that there had to be another interesting prostitute character in sitcoms before Belle, but I'll be damned, I couldn't think of one. (Well, I couldn't find clips of one anyway; I tried to find old clips for Norman Lear's TV adaptation of "Hot L Baltimore", but nobody saved that one.) That said, I think this show only worked for two seasons, after that it kinda lost it's way. Still, doesn't anybody have a best friend or a crazy neighbor that's a hooker anymore, or have I just lived in Vegas too long?
Lisa Simpson-"The Simpsons"-I thought I should put one animated character on here. I was debating between, Lisa, Meg Griffin and Jay Sherman. Actually, I'm not sure she's that underrated, or that any of them are actually, but I think I can make an argument that a lot of animated sitcom characters are overrated. I'm looking at you two Rick & Morty! (Yeah, I said it; come at me!)
Bridgitte Bird-"SMILF"-I hope Frankie Shaw has learned her lessons, 'cause it's a shame that she really fucked up a good show and a great character at it's center by being really reprehensible behind the scenes.
Burt Campbell-"Soap"-This is one of those shows where I could've picked a character at random and made an argument for them. I've been debating whether or not to do a whole blog on "Soap" for awhile now; I don't know if I'll ever get to it, but as much respect as this show does gets, it's not nearly enough.
Natalie Hurley-"Sports Night"-I know it'd be obvious to pick one of the other characters from "Sports Night", but Natalie's got one of the more compelling arcs on the series then it seems at first.
Alex Reiger-"Taxi"-This might be sacriligious to some, but I stand by this. He's one of the few lead characters from an all-time great show that you generally don't think of first because there's so many great Supporting characters on it. There are some great ones from the show, but Alex is still great too.
Sarah Pfefferman-"Transparent"-Man, thank God "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" is just amazing, 'cause Amazon, even their hits inevitably have problems eventually. I can list a few characters from this show and make a decent argument for any of them, but anyone who's so annoying that her dominatrix can't take it any more and quits, that's gotta be up there.
Rockwell 'Rocky' Sin-"Valentine's Day"-You probably don't know this one, it's not a memorable or great show but look this character up if you can and look up Jack Soo while you're at it. People should remember him more often then they do.
Shane Botwin-"Weeds"-There's a lot of interesting characters I could've picked from this show, but I suspect the kids' transofrmations are the most interesting and jarring, and Shane's in particular...- he had a weird arc when you think about it.
Bailey Quarters-"WKRP in Cincinnati"-I know, I can't be the only one who thinks Bailey was more interesting then Jennifer, right?
Okay, let's do this. Number one....
When I decided to do this list, I didn't think this character would be number one. I definitely thought about him, thought he'd be on the list, but I thought, eh, I didn't see enough of him to put him number one.... I still haven't seen more then the few episodes I can find of this show, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I don't know what the general opinion was at the time, or if this holds up particularly strong but, the ways it reads in hindsight these days, at least in America the 1960s was the worst decade for television. Especially the late '60s.
Now, don't get me wrong here, there are good shows from this era; there are good and bad shows in every era, but boy does it not feel like it in hindsight. Between 1965, which was the last season of "The Dick Van Dyke" and 1970, which is when the Rural Purge happened, I think I might argue that only really great sitcom that had a really good run and not only still holds up but is undeniably a great show that came from era was "Get Smart". There are some other memorable, important and iconic series from this era somebody could name, but I don't know. especially on the sitcom side; I think quality-wise a lot of that is questionable-at-best.
That said, there is some good stuff here if you dig deep enough. A lot of television during this time was,- well, it was pretty experimental, which not only makes sense everybody was probably high, but this was also when there a lot of experiment American cinema that was inspired by foreign movements, for instance. Like, you can watch a few strange episodes of "The Monkees" and you'd be amazed at how strangely French New Wave and Godard-inspired they were. A lot of that was pretty cool, but most of it didn't play as strongly on television as it does for film, and since recording devices wasn't as common back then, we don't always find those shows on DVD or streaming and since the next generation of sitcoms is arguably the first great decade of television and has a neverending collage of great and influential television that still resonates, sometimes there a show or two, or a character that kinda gets overlooked in hindsight.
1. John Monroe-"My World... and Welcome To It"
I've only been able to find a couple full episodes of "My World... and Welcome To It" over the years, and every time I watch them, they BLOW MY FUCKING MIND! It feels like every innovative comedic idea I've seen in television over the last 25 or so years, I can find somewhere in the few episodes of this show that I can find, and it was doing them in 1970! The main character is John Monroe, a cartoonist who's based on James Thurber, the man behind, among other things, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," and he fantasizing about stuff, and can control those fantasies, literally with a snap of a finger, like Zach Morris. He also talks to us, the audience. And even the cartoon characters he creates, and they talk back. The show mixed media, was shot on single camera with no audience or laugh track, and I'm only just starting with the sardonic brilliance of the series and it's main character and series. Inspired by Thurber and featuring stories and ideas from his work, and with William Wisdon's Emmy winning performance as John Monroe, we literally got more inside the mind of a character then ever before, and were seeing of the strange, odd and occasionally thoughts the Mr. Brady's of television never really seemed to have. (The pilot episode involves him fantasizing about a neighbor girl, and ends with his wife and the neighbor having a catfight throughout the house, a catfight that's all in his mind! And that's the average episode from what I can tell!) This show was making fun of suburbia back when television's best jab at it was, "My wife is a witch, and her mother-in-law is the worst" To me, this show might be the peak of that late '60s era of television experimentation for experiments sake, but so few of those shows that were taking these chances, you don't see remnants of them still echoing on television anymore, but "My World... and Welcome To It", feels like the secret unknown origin of so much television today, that it almost feels like sometime in early '80s or '90s we accidentally slipped into an alternate universe where this show was the biggest series of its day.
1970 is a weird year for American television, and "My World... and Welcome To It" won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series for it's first and only season. The only other shows it was nominated against that lasted more then three seasons were "Love, American Style", which was an anthology series and "Room 222", the latter is actually a good show and an early dramedy that should get more attention, but by the next year's Emmys, television would look so different, that almost anything that was somewhat experimental and good would either be gone or forgotten in time, and for good reason, for the most there was so much better television that came after that most anything that did progress the medium in this era by miniscule amounts would be overshadow by leaps and bounds by the shows that came after. But Jack Monroe was the rare example of a character from this era that was ahead of his time. Most of the Lear-era and post-Lear-era shows would use television to reflect the societel ills of the time. There's still some of that, but a lot of television in this post-"Louie" world is more representative of a personal nature and has a freedom of the medium that we haven't seen as often until now, and few series I can think of, outside of "The Jack Benny Program" has the expansive, progressive approach to the medium the way "My World... and Welcome To It", and seeing a show from this kind of singular perspective, like Jack Monroe, you didn't see that back then. You see it a lot now. Maybe not talking to the camera, but the individual perspective on the world is the key motif and calling card of the modern sitcom.
The rest of this list, honestly, I can see arguments for nine other characters that you can exchange for the nine I picked and it'd make a reasonable list. Jack Monroe though, at this moment in time, unless I find someone else obscure that came a lot earlier, is the single most underrated sitcom character of all-time.