In Which We Celebrate The Boob Tube, Dude

The Dreamy Syndicateds

by Tess Lynch

Remember Dream On? This post is sort of like that.

I wanted to make a list of my favorite characters of television, but I have to add the disclaimer that I don’t watch The Wire or Deadwood or the American Office. Also I realize that Pete & Pete should be featured more prominently, but I don’t want this to get too long and I don’t want to cut anybody. HAPPY HOLIDAZE.

The Sopranos

1. Peter Paul Gaultieri, aka Paulie Walnuts

Yes, everyone. I love Tony Soprano. In fact, I think I’m most like Tony Soprano of any character in television besides Mary Tyler Moore. However, Paulie Walnuts is, to me, one of the most interesting folks ever created by someone else. First of all, his relationship with his mother both terrifies me and makes me want to bake him a pie. He is funny and totally obnoxious, and his character traits (superstitions, fabulous hair, difficulties with women, foot-in-mouth syndrome) stay consistent, while still avoiding the tedium that sometimes comes with this. He could easily exist. He is probably an uncle of someone you know, in some other incarnation.

2. Christopher Moltisanti

Christopher is like Hamlet, and also like George W. Bush, and also like Prince Hal. He is nothing like Hal Prince, however. Christopher is a loser (see: Cleaver, sitting on a dog), but he’s also, in a lot of ways, the most tragic hero (if you can say that) of The Sopranos.

3. Livia Soprano

Livia can be the most pathetic person in the world, or else she’s being Iago. She’s absolutely impossible to please, and is vindictive as all get-out. Despite her manipulations and wrongdoings, she absolutely (unlike, I think, any other character on the show) avoids repercussions. In a way, she’s a more conniving and distilled version of Tony himself.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

4. Mary Richards

Mary Richards is not only a character, she is now a monument. She has a history (broken engagement!), she has a purpose (real career woman!) and she has the great attitude you usually only see with people in cults. But Mary’s not in a cult, she’s just made of SUNSHINE AND GINGERSNAPS. Mary had shitty parties, a terrible time finding good dates, and then, later, even made the best of her husband’s death by moving in with good ol’ Rhoda. But she was such a well-imagined character, it never even occurred to me to say, “My God, she must take mother’s little helpers.” She was just unflappable.

The (British) Office

5. David Brent

David Brent: impossibly ludicrous and delusional, but everyone I know who works in an office knows someone exactly like him. He was the crux of the totally perfect, delicate note that The Office hit: bittersweet, hilarious, ridiculous and the awful shame of everyday acts of being human. Unlike Mary Richards, David Brent could not turn the world on with his smile; instead, he made the (surprisingly frequent) mistake of bringing a guitar places and forcing people to watch him play it.

Lost

6. John Locke

Besides the fact that John Locke looks to be the same age as the man who plays his father (something I have trouble getting over every time I watch Lost), he’s interesting because he’s both strong and weak. He’s creepily ageless, and politically, I can’t place him (growing pot, but those shirts?); I thought his relationship with that woman back in season 2 or so was kind of vague and half-baked, but still, he’s worn many hats.

7. Kate Austen

Judging from how many searches we get for Evangeline Lilly, you agree with me that Kate is one of the best (and most attractive) characters on Lost. In a way, she’s one of the few female characters we see, lately (ask Molly), who has all the drive and depth of her male cohorts (aside: I say this because I saw Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead and it was ruined for me, completely, by wondering the entire time why in God’s name Marisa Tomei’s character was into these fools. She had nothing at all to do. It was so depressing). Kate is totally able to do everything the boys do, but she’s still a hottie, and is driven by things like loyalty and justice as opposed to looking hot. She’s kind of like a more empathetic Lara Croft.

Taxi

8. Alex Reiger

When I was little, I had a huge huge huge crush on Judd Hirsch in Taxi. It’s hard to explain why, really, since he was kind of a mess. He was always listening to everyone’s problems, kinda introverted, marriage problems, gambling. But he was also the one you wanted to get out of the transportation business the most; you thought he could do better, but he knew that, for whatever reason, he couldn’t. You know he cries into his gin. But he still shows up, every day.

Big Love

9. Barbara Dutton Henrickson

I feel like Jeanne Tripplehorn was born to play Barb on Big Love. The two expressions she tends towards are this naive-looking elation and really, really hurt — perfect for Barb, who has the sad history I seem to favor (uterine cancer, uhh, having to share her husband with some bitches). Because she’s been pretty much disowned by her own mother, she compensates by acting as mother to her sister-wives, but questionably has to give up her role as sexy wife to Bill. She’s brave and fragile, and sometimes I feel like there’s some David Brent in her.

The Golden Girls

10. Dorothy Zbornak

Yes, I am one of those people who loves loves loves The Golden Girls. However, I’d still put Dorothy on the list if I didn’t like the show; I can still understand why Bea Arthur eventually wanted out, because she was always the butt of mean jokes, had a really boring endless plotline with her ex-husband, Stan, and was simply too good at being Dorothy. She was a gambler (reformed), a smoker (reformed), and even had the ubiquitous Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (resolved). Poor Dorothy always seemed like she had hairy legs, but she was also the one Golden Girl who never seemed old. For this, she makes the list.

Arrested Development

11. Lucille Bluth

What a classy, cold bitch is Lucille Bluth. Her relationship with her Buster verges on incestuous, her style is impeccable, and she probably takes diet pills that expired in ’77. Her only weakness is that she doesn’t know how to handle money, but neither did Holly Golightly. In fact, she could easily be Holly Golightly, aged to a fine crustiness, after a few cynicism-inducing experiences (mugging, death of cat).

Cheers

12. Woody Boyd

He’s a binge-eater because the sexual tension between he and his childhood sweetheart was too much to bear. He maybe became president, but then went back to working at the Cheers bar. What a fuckin’ enigma, man, just like the bromantic Woody Harrelson who played him. He seems to be a little Forrest Gumpy, but was voted the smartest student in his school. He is less man than force of nature.

The Twilight Zone

13. Rod Serling

Rod Serling hosted The Twilight Zone with Walter-Cronkite-like gravitas, talking about the moral import of invasions of teeny robots and parties with masks. The question of “how seriously is he actually taking this?” is secondary to how compelling a dude he seemed to be, which is what makes the show so totally addictive.

Seinfeld

14. Cosmo Kramer

Perhaps the first neo-hipster, Kramer was a man of mystery (like how he afforded his rent). His heroes are Bette Midler and Mickey Mantle, he served briefly in the Army, and is estranged from his parents. Because he exists in his own world, with his own rules of etiquette, and because he seems like he could grow a beard in 3 hours, I think he might be Jesus.

Roseanne

15. Dan Conner

People love Dan Conner. Without him, Roseanne would probably have been too depressing to deal with; in a show dominated by strong female characters, it’s impressive that Dan was so fleshed-out (no pun intended). Besides being easy-going around Roseanne (hard), he also had a sort of sad interiority that hinted at secrets.

Twin Peaks

16. Leland Palmer

To me, Twin Peaks became kind of insufferable by season two, but when Leland Palmer was on, I was into it. If there’s one thing I like, it’s people whose psyches are crumbling; if there’s another thing I like, it’s compulsive singing and dancing. Leland has both. Obviously, I don’t want to ruin anything for anybody, so I’ll just say that it’s great that Leland gets the plot twists he deserves. Fire walk with he.

Webster

17. Webster Long

What a weird, cutesy series: Webster. Certainly the most happy-go-lucky orphan on the block, he was also a kind of racial pawn between his white adoptive parents and his uncle, who wants to raise him. He always stayed aloof (calling his adoptive mom “ma’am”), and kind of reminded me of how kids act when they’ve lived through a terrible divorce. OH AND THEN HE HAS TO LIVE IN A HOUSE WITH A LIFE-SIZED DOLL WHO LIKE LIVES IN A CLOCK. Stoic warrior, Webster.

The Wonder Years

18. Winnie Cooper

How fucking hot was Winnie Cooper? Always making this face?

I stupidly forgot to put Danica McKellar on my Pink Rhombus list. She had sort of an Ordinary People kind of upbringing, but remained aloof enough that only Kevin seemed really privy to her emotions. There are people out there who treat her like Mother Theresa, and curse the writers for giving her plotlines that compromised her “purity and nobility;” where did they get that? She was a teenage girl. Props to the writers for giving her occasion to act like one every so often. I would have rather been her friend than similarly girl-crushy Jennifer Cavalleri’s.

Happy Days

19. Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli

I mean, please. He got applause as soon as he appeared on-screen AND he’s getting a statue in 2008. You think everyone’d be over Fonzie by now, but apparently not. He’s got super-human powers (and also the technical tap) with machinery, and also with women; no wonder the writers thought he was the only one who could carry off the original jumping of the shark.

Saved By The Bell

20. Zack Morris

Did you know that Zack became straight-edge after crashing his mom’s car? What about the fact that, politically, he was an Independent? Yes, he’s a complex guy. He controlled time (time outs), he controlled women (26 girlfriends from junior high to college), and ruled school (he decided not to go to Yale; perhaps he’d read American Psycho). Molly and I lived our lives kind of like Zack Morris all through high school and college, and it served us so well, it was almost as if we had become Zack Morris.

Honorable Mentions: everyone on Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, little Pete on Pete & Pete, Richard on Sex and The City, Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties. Molly adds Marge Simpson. I agree.

Tess Lynch is Contributing Editor for This Recording. She wants you to put these in your stocking:

Jeane (Smiths cover) — Billy Bragg (mp3)

Rich Girl — Hall & Oates (mp3)

The Venus In Furs — Ladytron/Thom Yorke (mp3)

Nothing — Mason Jennings (mp3)

Naked Pictures (Of Your Mother) — Electric Six (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Danish vs. Pitchfork

George And Gracie

The other George takes an incendiary trip to the bookstore, for some

32 thoughts on “In Which We Celebrate The Boob Tube, Dude

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