Decision '08: Who's the greatest TV character ever?
So at least for a little while, we're going to disregard the names Obama, McCain and Biden (and forget we ever heard of Palin, quite frankly), and focus on some characters we actually care about: TV characters. Bunker. Simpson. Fife. Bradshaw. We probably wouldn't want them running the country, but for a few hours at a time we're more than happy to give them the run of our living rooms.
With the lure of corrivalry so strong these days, we pose the following question: Who is the greatest TV character of all time? While such a contest would be fun by itself, given this silly season we're in we thought it necessary to add a twist. We're going to divide our list of 18 characters into their appropriate (according to us) political parties, and have you, our loyal readers, choose three candidates (Republican, Democrat and Independent/Crazy-Ralph-Nader-Upset-Dude) from a series of primaries. Those three will then compete for the office (er, title) of Greatest TV Character Ever. If that sounds a bit convoluted and overly complicated, well, that's democracy for you.
We'll begin with the Republicans. To vote for your favorite, leave a comment with their name, and maybe why you think others should vote for them. (Keep in mind this is all meant in good fun, so let's keep any crazy political diatribes to a minimum.) And don't forget to give us hell about who we may have forgotten.
Candidate #1: Alex P. Keaton, "Family Ties"
With heroes like William F. Buckley Jr., Milton Friedman and Richard Nixon, Alex P. Keaton is not only a prime Republican candidate, he's the very embodiment of the Grand Olde Party itself. Alex, played by Michael J. Fox, has a passion for economics and a flair for wearing neckties around the house. The character even became a prime pop culture example of the influence of Reaganomics in the '80s. The constant head-butting between Alex and his liberal, hippie parents providing much of the show's humor, Alex also had a soft side, like when he chose to comfort his distressed sister Mallory instead of completing an interview at his dream school, Princeton. Whoever said the Compassionate Conservative is dead?
Candidate #2: Barney Fife, "The Andy Griffith Show," "Mayberry R.F.D."
Everyone knows the NRA always supports Republicans, so who better to represent and protect the Second Amendment than self-affirmed gun expert Barney Fife? Sure, his abilities with a firearm may be questionable — the Mayberry sheriff's deputy (played with manic energy by the great Don Knotts) usually only carries around one bullet, which is almost always discharged accidentally — but try and take it away from him and you'll have a fight on your hands. Overly emotional and alarmist, Barney's main reason for being is enforcing the law. And even if no law is currently being broken, that won't stop him from exerting a little authority. He's a teddy bear at heart ... but watch out for those claws.
Candidate #3: Archie Bunker, "All in the Family," "Archie Bunker's Place"
Specifically designed by Norman Lear to be an unlikeable sourpuss, Archie Bunker (the late Carroll O'Connor) has endured as one of television's most beloved hotheads. A big fan of Nixon and an early supporter of Reagan (in an episode that aired in 1976, he actually predicted Reagan's '80 White House win), Archie is very much set in his ways, and would never let something as trivial as facts get him down. With his left-leaning son-in-law Mike taking the brunt of Archie's racist rants and uninformed malapropisms — and giving the show a biting political slant that's still fresh today — Archie was basically just a decent guy with a big mouth and a short fuse.
Candidate #4: Eric Cartman, "South Park"
Cruel, opportunistic, and hysterically offensive, Eric Cartman is one mean little bastard. He's also fiercely calculating and controlling, and is constantly hatching plans to either accumulate wealth or exact revenge — often against his best friends. (Actually, he doesn't even like his friends all that much, unless he needs something from them. That would make him a pretty good Senator, come to think of it.) Fervently anti-Semitic, Cartman is so far right he should really be running under the Fascist Party. But this is a contest of character, not politics, and Cartman has become one of the funniest in the history of TV.
Candidate #5: Oscar the Grouch, "Sesame Street"
At this point you may be saying to yourself, 'Wow, these so-called "Republican" characters are mostly a bunch of slow-witted, misanthropic blowhards.' Obviously we didn't intend for this happen — it's just kind of working out that way. Case in point, our fifth candidate. He's a trash-loving anti-environmentalist, keeps a chauffeur who carts his whole house around for him ... he even has a pet elephant named Fluffy. If Oscar the Grouch isn't a member of the Grand Olde Party, then this whole exercise is a waste of time. One of the original residents of Sesame Street, Oscar the Grouch ("grouch" is the name of his species, by the way, not just an allusion to his temperament) has served for decades as a foil for the, shall we say, more cheerful denizens of that sunny boulevard. He shows kids that it's OK to be grumpy now and then — and it may even serve you well in an election. (Though try telling McCain that.)
Candidate #6: Ari Gold, "Entourage"
Sure, he’s a Jewish Hollywood agent from the East Coast with a Harvard education and a public school background. That’s exactly why “Entourage’s” Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) would vote for the Grand Olde Party — as a giant middle finger to the stereotypes. Ari may have been a liberal in his Harvard (or Michigan) days, but he’s a successful businessman and a family man now. Sure, Ari is a peacemaker (his favorite phrase is some form of “let’s hug it out”), but his practical take-no-prisoners approach and his belief in the power of the individual is much more in line with Republican values. Think of him as a Guiliani-Republican, socially progressive enough to encourage pot-smoking but not afraid to use force when necessary. (An aside: The inspiration for Piven’s character is Ari Emanuel, brother to Illinois Congressman and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Rahm Emanuel).
That's it for the Republican primary, folks! Check back here for the Democratic primary on Friday. Vote early and vote often!
— Malavika Jagannathan, firstname.lastname@example.org, Adam Reinhard, email@example.com