Saturday, June 05, 2010

100 Characters

Roger points out that Entertainment Weekly did another of their "list" things, this time the "100 Greatest Characters of the last 20 years". I don't much like EW, but their lists are usually good for a blog post or two, so I'll just reproduce their list with comment on the entries. (Now, I'm not reading the actual EW article, so I'm not sure of their criteria.)

1. Homer Simpson. While I can't quibble with the placement, I call foul in that Homer Simpson first showed up more than 20 years ago, and therefore should not be eligible.

2. Harry Potter. On the basis of Homer's ineligibility, Harry should be Number One. Not just a cultural phenomenon, but Harry's also a great character, and one of the pleasures of the books is watching him grow.

3. Buffy Summers. I really need to watch Buffy one of these years, in its entirety. I always liked what I saw when I caught sporadic episodes here and there.

4. Tony Soprano. Meh. I know lots of folks liked this, but it wasn't my cup of tea.

5. The Joker (The Dark Knight). Not sure about the eligibility here, either. This was a new take on a very old character, not a new character. Great performance, but this also seems a bit high to me.

6. Rachel Green (Friends). This high? I dearly loved Friends and it was huge in its day, but for whatever reason it hasn't had much staying power. But then, maybe we're a little too soon yet for 1990s nostalgia. It's taken this long for overalls to start coming back into style, after all.

7. Edward Scissorhands. This high on the list? Really? (This movie was my first date with The At-the-time Future Wife. Love the movie, but I'm not sure I'd put Edward this high up.)

8. Hannibal Lecter. Again, shouldn't be eligible. Silence of the Lambs, which came out in 1991, was an adaptation of a book that was several years old. Yes, Anthony Hopkins cemented Lecter in our cultural mind, but that's not the same thing.

9. Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City). I never watched this show. She wore overalls a lot, though, from what I've seen.

10. Spongebob Squarepants. Sure, why not?

11. Cosmo Kramer. Absolutely!

12. Fox Mulder & Dana Scully (The X-Files). Two characters as one? Huh? A great duo isn't a great character. Both are great characters.

13. Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean). Come on, EW! It's Captain Jack Sparrow.

14. Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (The Big Lebowski). I need to see this.

15. Shrek. Sure, why not?

16. Bridget Jones. Maybe. I know nothing about her.

17. Lara Croft. OK, maybe.

18. Sue Sylvester (Glee). I don't know why, but I cannot get into Glee. I've watched it a bunch of times, and every single time, I bounce off it. So no from me.

19. Morpheus (The Matrix). Ummmm...I'm on the fence, here. Laurence Fishburne's performance was terrific, but the character's really your basic Mentor character in a Campbellian hero journey tale.

20. Ally McBeal. I hated that show. Hated it, and mostly because I tend to hate the people in David Kelley's shows. So no.

21. Rosanne Conner (Roseanne). Hated the character. Hated the show. And she debuted in 1988, so not eligible, anyway.

22. Eric Cartman (South Park). OK, I guess. I can't believe the show's still on, but "Respect mah authoritah!" and "Screw you guys, I'm going home" are always good lines to have at one's disposal.

23. Austin Powers. Sure.

24. Felicity Porter. Huh? Seriously? The show wasn't that great...but then, EW is pretty firmly in the camp of worshipping everything JJ Abrams touches. I'm surprised they haven't put a LOST character on the list yet.

25. Woody (Toy Story). Absolutely! But I wonder how many Pixar characters I'll find on this list. Pixar does character better than anybody. I'm hard-pressed to think of a badly done character in any of their films.

26. Kavalier & Clay (from Michael Chabon's novel). Again, a duo is not a character. A great book, though.

27. Frasier Crane. Not eligible! He first appeared on Cheers in the 1980s!

28. Madea. I have no idea who she is. Pardon me whilst I I've never heard of any of this. It's always amazing how certain cultural items can slide by you so completely and utterly. This feels like something I should at least know about, and yet, nothing at all.

29. Vincent Vega & Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction). All right, EW, grab your chalk and write "Duos are not characters" 50 times on the blackboard. Both are great characters.

30. Stephen Colbert (in the persona he portrays on his show). Huh. Wouldn't have thought of him as a character, but yup!

31. Forrest Gump. He's a great character, but the 1994 movie is based on a 1988 book. Not eligible.

32. Beavis and Butt-Head. OK, here's a legitimate exception to the "Duos are not characters" rule, simply because they are never shown in any light other than interacting with one another and they are cut from the same cloth.

33. Sarah Connor (Terminator 2). No, because it's a sequel to a 1984 movie! Not eligible!

34. Cher (Clueless). No idea; never saw it.

35. Dexter Morgan (Dexter). No idea; never saw it.

36. Gollum (Lord of the Rings). So obviously not eligible that it boggles the mind. Yes, he's an amazing film-making creation in the movies, but the movies do not create the character.

37. Kyser Söze (The Usual Suspects). He's a Macguffin and a plot-trick all in one. I wouldn't even consider him a character. (And besides, the movie is crap.)

38. Elmo (Sesame Street). Not eligible. He's been around forever. Sure, he's become huge more recently, but that's not the same thing.

39. GOB Bluth (Arrested Development). I never really watched this show, so I don't know.

40. Ron Burgundy (Anchorman). OK, I guess. I loved the movie.

41. Harold and Kumar. Never saw the movie, so I can't comment on whether they're enough of a single entity to qualify under the "Beavis-and-Butthead Exception".

42. Sydney Bristow (Alias). I was never really impressed with the show, so no.

43. Cal Stephanides (the novel Middlesex). No idea; never read it.

44. Jack Bauer – 24. Absolutely. In fact, he should probably be higher; Bauer was really a great pop cultural summation of the entire decade of the 2000s.

45. Stewie Griffin (Family Guy). OK, yes. The parts of that show that actually make me laugh always seem to involve either Stewie or Brian, the talking dog.

46. Jerry Maguire. Sure.

47. Corky St. Clair (Waiting for Guffman). Not a clue.

48. Red (The Shawshank Redemption). Not eligible...Stephen King's original story was published in 1982.

49. Vivian Ward (Pretty Woman). Meh. The hooker with a heart of gold?

50. Pearl the Landlord. I have zero idea who this is.

51. Omar Little (The Wire). I've never watched The Wire. It doesn't look like my cup of tea.

52. Annie Wilkes (Misery). Novel published in 1987. Ineligible.

53. Edward Cullen. No. No no no a thousand times no. Great popularity does not equal great character. Edward Cullen is a creepy and abusive stalker.

54. Juno (Juno). Sure.

55. Tracy Jordan (30 Rock). Sure, OK.

56. Barney Stinson (How I Met Your Mother). Sure, OK. I'd probably love the show if I could get beyond my irrational loathing of Bob Saget.

57. Clayton Bigsby. No idea who he is.

58. Thelma & Louise. DUOS ARE NOT CHARACTERS!

59. Master Chief (Halo). Not a clue.

60. Mary Jones (Precious). Never saw it.

61. Vic Mackey (The Shield). Never saw it.

62. Jimmy Corrigan (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth). I've had this on my shelf for years. I suppose I should actually read it some day....

63. John Locke (Lost). I'm surprised that they didn't put him higher than this. Never gave the tiniest crap about the character (one reason I never much liked LOST is that I didn't like the characters), but it was great seeing Terry O'Quinn get a chance to show what a great actor he's been for years.

64. Maximus (Gladiator). Huh. OK, I guess.

65. Lorelai & Rory Gilmore (Gilmore Girls). I've only seen a few episodes and enjoyed them. But DUOS ARE NOT CHARACTERS.

66. Allie & Noah (The Notebook). DUOS ARE NOT CHARACTERS.

67. Borat. Yes!

68. Effie White (Dreamgirls). Never saw it Probably should.

69. Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada).

70. Mary Katherine Gallagher (SNL). Erm...meh.

71. Det. Alonzo Harris (Training Day). Never saw it.

72. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Battlestar Galactica). OK, we're testing my standards of eligibility here. I'm going to allow it, even though BSG is based on a show from 1978. Why? Because the re-imagining was so extensive that the newer Starbuck can really only be said to be based on the original character in name only.

73. Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct). No. One iconic film moment -- we know the one -- does not a great character make. She's pretty much a cipher in the movie, a character on which to hang plot stuff. She's a female Keyser Soze, and he's not a character, either.

74. Don Draper (Mad Men). Never saw it, but sure.

75. David Brent (The Office - original from the UK). You bet!

76. Tyler Durden (Fight Club). I didn't like the movie, but that was more of a "cup of tea" thing than any obvious flaws I could point out -- I found it very well-made and interesting, but ultimately unpleasant.

77. Mimi Marquez (Rent). Never saw it.

78. Patty Hewes (Damages). Never saw it, either.

79. Elphaba (Wicked). Never saw the musical or read the book. We're hoping to see the show when it comes to Buffalo again next May, though.

80. Gorillaz, the world’s greatest virtual band. No idea what they are.

81. Amanda Woodward (Melrose Place). Meh. Didn't like the show much.

82. Tracy Flick (Election). Didn't see it.

83. Jen Yu (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). I've seen parts of this movie. I should rectify that.

84. House (House). Yes!

85. Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood). Never saw it.

86. Karen Walker & Jack McFarland (Will & Grace). DUOS ARE NOT CHARACTERS!

87. Tony Stark (Iron Man). Not eligible. I'm not even going to bother Googling when Iron Man first showed up in comics, since I read him as a kid.

88. Napoleon Dynamite. I should probably see this.

89. Wilkus van de Merwe (District 9). This too.

90. Marge Gunderson (Fargo). Absolutely! Strange thing -- she's too good a character to be contained in just one movie, and yet, a sequel would just seem kinda dorky, you know?

91. Hancock (Hancock). Never saw it, but I have a hard time seeing this on the list.

92. Christopher Boone (The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time). I know nothing about this.

93. “Game Boys”: Nathan Drake – Uncharted, Kratos – God of War, Niko Bellic – Grand Theft Auto IV. I have no idea what this is talking about.

94. Truman (The Truman Show). Sure. This movie seems underrated to me these days.

95. Wilhelmina Slater (Ugly Betty). Not sure; I only saw one or two episodes of this show and wasn't all that thrilled by it.

96. Bernie Mac (The Bernie Mac Show). Meh. Wasn't really my cup of tea.

97. Violet Weston (August: Osage County). Not a clue.

98. Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Not a clue.

99. The Bride (Kill Bill). I haven't seen the whole thing. I'm not sure how good a character she is. How many dimensions of character are there in this blood-soaked violence fantasy?

100. Tim Riggins (Friday Night Lights). Meh...the few episodes I saw didn't knock me over.

OK, so there's the list. Again, I didn't read any of EW's commentary, but it seems pretty clear that they're judging things on the basis of when characters became Big Cultural Things as opposed to when they originated, but that seems to be splitting hairs to me. Sure, Frasier Crane became a lot bigger when he had his own hit show, but he wasn't exactly a bit part on Cheers -- it's not like they made a juggernaut hit out of Harry the Hat, for example. This is how they're able to choose Tony Stark (not the most famous of Marvel superheroes) and not Spiderman or Wolverine (who were hugely famous long before they showed up in movies).

Better, in my view, to select characters only created since 1990. Sure, way more people know who Gollum is by virtue of the LOTR movies, but it's not as if the books were obscurities known only to a small number of cultists and fanboys. It may be fun to view fantasy and science fiction fandom as something of a small ghetto, but consider: the LOTR books have been in print for more than half a century. I see no logical argument to be made that Gollum is a character of the "last 20 years". If we're restricting ourselves to movie characters, then maybe, but EW didn't do that.

And of course, there are some other quibbles as well, as I note throughout. EW's list is wildly skewed toward what's popular as opposed to what's good, which leads to stuff like Edward Cullen being on there. And the whole thing of counting couples or duos as single characters really bugged the crap out of me; there's really only one duo on there, Beavis and Butthead, that can be considered, for me, a single character entity (although Harold and Kumar might well qualify as well).

And then there are the simple omissions from the list: characters who most absolutely certainly ought to have been there. Here are just a few, tossed off the top of my head:

President Josiah Bartlet. An intelligent character, smart as a whip, and depicted as being governed by very strong moral principles that he nevertheless ignores at times. He's a very human character.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds. I'll take him over any character in any teevee series ever helmed by JJ Abrams.

Severus Snape. The way JK Rowling handled Snape over the years was nothing short of brilliant -- we never knew, until there were mere pages left in the last book, whether he was a villain or not. And even when that question was finally answered, his motivations turned out to have been deeply complex. He's a terribly underrated character, in my view.

Pixar characters: Mr. Incredible. Wall-E. The old guy in Up. And since they liked duos so much, I'm surprised they didn't pair Woody with Buzz Lightyear, or include Marlin and Dory.

Captain Barbossa. They have Captain Jack Sparrow up there, but a good adventure movie can only become a great adventure movie by virtue of its villain, and Barbossa's one of the best.

Jack Dawson. I know, we've culturally agreed that we can only sneer at Titanic these days, but I don't.

Lieutenant John J. Dunbar. Same thing with Dances With Wolves.

Hayao Miyazaki characters: Ashitaka, San, Chihiro. And more.

Gil Grissom. He was so cool back when CSI was new.

If they're including duos and some very recent characters, where are Castle and Beckett? (Not that I'm including duos, but I'd have Castle and Beckett on there separately.)

I wasn't a huge Law and Order fan, but when the show's cancellation was recently announced, just about every blog post or article online I saw about it mentioned Jerry Orbach's long-running character, Detective Lennie Briscoe. That seems a good addition, to me.

Dr. Perry Cox from Scrubs; Dr. John Carter from ER. Also from The West Wing, Donnatella Moss and CJ Cregg. And from my beloved Once and Again, Rick Sammler and Lily Manning.

OK, that's it.


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

WOW..what a list. I would agree with you and at least 50 of those characters don't deserve to be on the list. They need to come up with a great duo list because in the case of say, the Gilmore Girls, one is nothing without the other.

I would add Micheal Weston from 'Burn Notice'.

Unknown said...

Surprised they (or more accurately you) didn't mention an SW prequel character- Qui-Gon worth a mention?

Roger Owen Green said...

Well, I read the magazine, and the thing is that I STILL am unclear what the criteria are. Is it the performance (as seems obvious by picking Heath Ledger's Joker, not The Joker, which is what EW said), or even a performance in a series (Frasier, who as you correctly point out, was on Cheers).

Actually, I'm less bothered by Frasier than the Joker. If I said, "Who was the best baseball player in the past 50 years?", surely, it'd be Willie Mays, though his career started earlier than that.

Jason said...

Napoleon Dynamite. I should probably see this.

No, you really don't. I am utterly mystified by the popularity of this unfunny, meandering waste of time. One of the five movies I've seen in my entire life that I've wanted to walk out on, and yet, masochist that I am, have not.

For some reason, it's tremendously popular here in Utah, probably because it was filmed in a small Idaho border town so it's culturally very recognizable to folks in these parts. Still doesn't make it funny though.

Some dude stuck in the Midwest said...

Hi, sorry to intrude, but I read your blog constantly.

Sidney Bristow was not as interesting as her father Jack Bristow.

I am not sure about Castle and Beckett (although I love the show). Too early to be culty.

I'd say Charles Logan from 24 belongs on that list.

And how could have they miss Denny Crane?

Some dude stuck in the Midwest said...

Sorry, for intrusion. Read a lot never post.

How could they have missed Denny Crane?

I'd also put Charles Logan there on that list, right next to Jack Bauer.