The 8 Most Beloved TV Characters
One of television’s greatest assets over film is its longevity, which allows us as viewers to become more invested and involved with characters and storylines than we could ever be within the confines of a two-hour movie. The greatest of television shows manage to use the format to create characters that become far more than just characters — they become friends, and they become cultural icons. Here are eight of our best friends — er, I mean, eight of the most beloved TV characters.
1. Omar Little, The Wire
Above all else, The Wire strived for (and handily achieved) realism, which means most of its characters inhabit their own gray areas that make it difficult for viewers to know whether to condemn or sympathize. But not Omar Little — we’ve always loved him, and not because he’s necessarily good. Omar operates solely on the wrong side of the law, but he works as Baltimore’s twisted version of a vigilante, enacting revenge on untouchable drug world kingpins no one else can even touch. Michael K. William’s roguish charms and the character’s status as a seemingly immune legend made him one of the greatest characters in the greatest TV show of all-time.
2. Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation
How did a mustachioed libertarian woodworker who just wants to be left alone become an iconic internet celebrity? Blame Nick Offerman’s performance, as well as the brilliant writing and eye for flawed yet lovable characters that characterized Parks and Recreation, for making the parks department’s irascible leader into something more than a steak-loving grump. Ron’s steadfast, often ridiculous beliefs made him a quote-spewing machine, while his reluctant friendship with polar opposite Leslie Knope highlighted a side of Ron that made him feel like the stubborn father figure you never had.
3. Special Agent Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks
It would have been easy to make the FBI agent arriving to the surreal Northwest town of Twin Peaks to solve a gruesome murder mystery the straight man to counteract all the weirdness that seems to infect the town of Twin Peaks and its residents. Instead, Kyle MacLachlan plays Dale Cooper, an FBI agent every bit as weird as everything else in this show, lousy with strange quirks and quotable catchphrases about “damn fine coffee.” Beneath all the supernatural beliefs and funny affectations, Dale Cooper’s defining trait, the one that makes him so easy to care about even when the series hit its rough patches in Season 2, was his unwavering decency.
4. Homer Simpson, The Simpsons
Homer Simpson didn’t become the beloved star of history’s longest running primetime series because he’s so perfect and admirable, but rather because he’s so flawed. He’s stupid, lazy, gluttonous, selfish, emotional, childish, and a whole lot more, but with just enough goodness beneath all his flab to make us care when he’s in trouble, or when his marriage is on the rocks, as it so often seems to be. Even if his flaws are the key to his boundless comedic potential, Homer is defined by the care and connection he has toward his titular family.
5. Kermit the Frog, The Muppet Show
The Muppets have become such a cultural institution that we often don’t realize how unusual it is to base a film, television and musical franchise around a group of low-budget anthropomorphic puppets. Ever since The Muppet Show first made us fall in love with this loose connection of vaudevillian performing puppets, Kermit the Frog has been the audience surrogate, his focus on putting on a proper show guiding viewers through an insane world with a degree of levelheaded affability that’s now completely inseparable from the voice originally provided by Muppets mastermind Jim Henson himself.
6. Lucy Ricardo, I Love Lucy
The show that all but created the modern sitcom template also birthed one of its greatest characters. Star Lucille Ball brought the titular ditzy housewife to life with a screwball energy that made her impossible not to love even as she routinely screwed everything up, hilariously owning a role that has too often been defined by men since I Love Lucy popularized this specific sitcom type.
7. Michael Scott, The Office
Steve Carell may be a great dramatic and comedic actor, but he’ll never outdo his work as the childish star of The Office, branch manager Michael Scott. He’s a nightmare of a boss, constantly disrupting work to make speeches and hold unnecessary meetings only to address issues that don’t really need addressing and put himself in the spotlight. Michael’s antics were so cringeworthy in this mundane setting that all audiences could do was laugh, but Carell grounded his painful performance in a childlike loneliness and need to be loved that helped Michael’s memory endure long after he left The Office.
8. Cosmo Kramer/George Costanza, Seinfeld
OK, this is a cheat, but I couldn’t include Cosmo Kramer — Seinfeld‘s wacky breakout character — without paying some lip service to the true hero of this “show about nothing,” George Costanza. Kramer is the prototypical sitcom neighbor, a hyperactive weirdo always hatching some hilariously harebrained scheme, while George is the neurotic mess whose consistent awfulness best represents the vindictive pettiness that defines the characters of Seinfeld.