Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Seven TV Characters That Are Only Tolerable On Television


A few weeks ago, this blog celebrated (or, more accurately, overlooked celebrating) its ten-year anniversary. At first that seemed like a good topic for a piece, but then it began to feel too self-aggrandizing, especially since I am one of my least favorite subjects. So instead I’ll just say thank you to everyone who has stopped by, who visits often, who comments on the posts, and who bought any of my books. You are all very much appreciated. Now let’s get back to business as usual.


There is an interesting subset of television characters that viewers enjoy watching, but would never want to associate with if those characters were real.


Those that fit this description are almost always supporting characters, since building a series around a potentially unlikable lead rarely if ever works (see: My World and Welcome To It, Buffalo Bill). But it’s always more interesting when characters we like run into nosy neighbors or sponging friends or annoying coworkers. Like whom, you ask? Glad you asked…


Eddie Haskell

Leave it To Beaver

If there were an official name for these types of characters, it would be Haskells, after the young man that first personified them to the classic TV landscape. 


Wally’s ne’er-do-well friend Eddie was a lecherous instigator and troublemaker, who rarely calls anyone by their actual names. But as soon as Wally’s mom appears he turns into a perfect young gentleman. “Good morning, Mrs. Cleaver. That’s a lovely dress you’re wearing. I was just telling Wallace how delightful it would be if Theodore could accompany us to the movies.” He appears in about half of the show’s episodes and was always good for a laugh – as long as he stays on his side of the television screen.


Lt. Philip Gerard

The Fugitive

Whenever Gerard shows up in a Fugitive episode it means, as it’s said in the modern parlance, sh** just got real. Dr. Kimble is going to have to suffer even more and work that much harder to avoid the clutches of the police detective obsessed with his capture. But that quest, as we see throughout the series, risks destroying Gerard’s marriage and his relationship with his son. 


Anyone that single-minded is not going to be good company for very long – you can just imagine him bringing every conversation around to the one crusade that gives his life meaning.


You: “Hi, Phil, good to see you. We just got back from California. The kids loved spending time at the beach.”


Gerard: “The beach…I once tracked Kimble to Santa Barbara, he was using the name Jeff Cooper then….”


You: “Then we went to this amusement park…”


Gerard: “That reminds me of when Kimble was working at a gift shop at Santa Monica Pier. I was too late then….”


You: “Yeah…okay. Good seeing you, Phil.”


Gerard: “Kim-BLE!”


And so it goes. The episodes he’s in are usually guarantees of an exciting hour. Hanging out with the guy…not so much.


Wally Plumstead

The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet

Everybody likes Wally, David and Ricky’s college fraternity brother on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, but it’s hard to figure out why. 


He never has any money, despite never paying back the money he borrows from everyone. He’s a bad student, he bullies the freshmen in his fraternity, he eats like a horse on everyone else’s dime, and he treats his girlfriend Ginger horribly. But as a viewer it’s impossible to hate the guy, cause actor Skip Young is just too likable. His infectious laugh can be heard in more than 120 episodes of this treasured series, and I’m always happy to see him. But if I saw Wally coming my way on the sidewalk, I’d hide my wallet and run for the hills.


Ann Marie

That Girl

I know I said in the intro to this piece that characters fitting this description are rarely leads, but in this case it’s not that Ann Marie was unlikable – she was often effervescent and delightful – but she was also exhausting. Would I enjoy lunch with her? Sure. But looking back at what she put poor Donald through in five seasons would give any guy pause about a closer relationship. 


Take the episode “Secret Ballot,” in which Ann and Donald arrive in New York City after a two-hour drive from her parents’ home in Brewster, and then have to drive right back up because Ann forgot her purse. Ann’s parents are out for a walk when they arrive, and the house is locked. Ann decides to climb a tree and enter through her bedroom window on the second floor – and then she gets stuck up the tree. She tells Donald to trek over to the fire station to get a ladder. He begins to leave, stops, and then looks up at Ann and asks, “If I were to turn and walk away from here, never to return, would you understand?” Yes, Donald, we would.


Howard Borden

The Bob Newhart Show

I’ve never lived in an apartment building, so I don’t know how common it is for tenants living next to each other to drop by unexpectedly at any time, day or night. But even where this might be routine, a neighbor like Howard abuses the privilege. Usually he enters Bob and Emily’s apartment without knocking, and usually he’s either there to borrow something or to get a free meal. Bob’s soft-spoken tolerance of his neighbor’s numerous quirks was certainly a product of the understanding way he handles his patients. Only a qualified psychologist could live next door to Howard and not lose his marbles. He even let the guy date his sister! Thankfully, she eventually dodged that bullet. 



Hank Kimball

Green Acres

I’ve always described Hooterville county agent Hank Kimball as a personification of government bureaucracy. 


He ostensibly serves as a source for important information, but offers nothing of value. He has a lot to say but none of it is helpful. As a fan of this series I smile every time Alvy Moore arrives to raise Oliver’s blood pressure with his nonsensical ramblings. His scenes are never not funny. But if I were a farmer who needed help with planting or harvesting or pest control, and he was the best local source of professional assistance available, I’d probably want to strangle him as much as Oliver does. 



Angel Martin

The Rockford Files

This is the one time when viewers might get as fed up with the character in question as Rockford does. Personally I never liked the Angel episodes but I know plenty of fans that do, and Stuart Margolin won two Emmys for his portrayal of Jim’s old cellmate. Angel was a weasel, pure and simple.  Smart people would avoid him like Monkeypox. But Rockford just can’t quit him, as much as he probably wishes he could. 



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