One of the smartest things the TV sitcom ever did was introduce us to a few idiots. They say and do all the dumb stuff we do, yet we get to laugh at them. Here are some of TV’s more glorious dimwits.
Long before “Lost,” there was this crazy TV island where a group of castaways contended with all manner of strange twists and turns. “Gilligan’s Island” was strictly played for laughs, though. At the heart of it was Gilligan, a naive numbskull played by Bob Denver.
Professor: Listen, Gilligan, how far down was she? How many feet?
Gilligan: Professor, in navy circles, we don’t say feet. We say fathoms.
Professor: All right. How many fathoms?
Gilligan: Oh, I don’t know, about 15 feet.
Matt Leblanc rode the stupid train all the way to the bank with his portrayal of Joe Tribbiani on “Friends.”
Joey: If he doesn’t like you, then this is all just a moo point.
Rachel: Huh. A moo point?
Joey: Yeah, it’s like a cow’s opinion, you know, it just doesn’t matter. It’s moo.
America LOVED Max Baer Jr. as Jethro on “The Beverly Hillbillies.” So much so that he had a tough time finding non-Jethro roles later in his career.
Cousin Pearl: Jethro, tell your Uncle Jed why there ain’t no snow in California.
Jethro: Don’t look at me, I didn’t take it!
Even with the screechy accent and all the jokes playing off her lack of intelligence, Edith came off as a real person with a heart and soul, thanks to Jean Stapleton. “All in the Family” wouldn’t have been nearly as good without her.
How’s this for high-concept TV? Take the Frankenstein monster and turn him into a henpecked husband with Dracula for a father-in-law! “The Munsters” did just that, with a miraculous physical performance by Fred Gwynne.
Grandpa: Hmm, what smells so good?
Herman: I cut myself shaving.
Part of the strength of “The Office” is its strong group of secondary players. One of them, Brian Baumgartner’s Kevin Malone, is a complete boob. Kevin would get a huge laugh out of that description.
Kevin: I don’t like getting advice from more than one person at a time. I’m a textbook overthinker.
Gracie Allen’s genius as a writer and performer was masked by her stage and screen persona as the loony half of “Burns and Allen.” Yet a close examination of the jokes often showed a real edge to spacey Gracie.
George: Gracie, would you like a doctor?
Gracie: One at a time, kiddo, I’m not through with YOU yet.
John Travolta’s breakout role on “Welcome Back, Kotter” was hugely popular and absolutely moronic. It was the walk, the talk and the swagger that made it work, not the dialogue.
Vinnie: Up your nose with a rubber hose!
Not only is Homer one of the best idiots in TV history; he’s one of the best characters in TV history. Voiced by Dan Castellaneta, Homer of “The Simpsons” is a juggernaut of laughs.
Homer: Maybe, just once, someone will call me “sir” without adding, “You’re making a scene!”
Homer: Son, if you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They’re about to announce the lottery numbers.
Overshadowed by Michael J. Fox as her older brother on “Family Ties,” Justine Bateman still got plenty of good lines as Mallory.
Mallory: The light bulb is out in my bedroom! What are we going to do?
ERNIE PANTUSSO, WOODY BOYD, SAM MALONE
“Cheers,” one of the best sitcoms to come down the pike, gave us a trio of intellect-challenged characters to love. Ted Danson’s Sam Malone was the star of the show, of course. Woody Harrelson’s Woody Boyd also was a classic character. But I think I’ll focus here on Ernie “Coach” Pantusso, played by the late Nicholas Colasanto. Here’s to you, Coach.
Bar crowd: Let’s hang him in effigy.
Coach: The hell with that; let’s hang him right here in Boston!
Not everyone’s cup of tea, Gomer had a crazy voice and enough catchphrases for a squadron of Steve Urkels. But he scored Jim Nabors two sitcoms: “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gomer Pyle – USMC. Sur-prise, sur-prise!
Joe: Look, I don’t care what you say about me, but making fun of alien technology is just stupid.
Like everything else about “The Bob Newhart Show,” Bill Daily’s Howard Borden was all about the soft sell. Daily played Bob and Emily’s idiot neighbor, an airline pilot.
Howard: I was, uh, just decorating my Christmas tree and I was wondering, is there a trick to stringing cranberry sauce?
LARRY, DARRYL & DARRYL
Speaking of the great Bob Newhart, his “Newhart” sitcom in the 1980s hit a stupidity trifecta with Larry, Darryl and Darryl. The brothers were led by a terrific actor, William Sanderson.
Larry: Hi, I’m Larry, this is my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl.
Sweet and stupid, that was Georgette, who married pompous and stupid anchorman Ted Baxter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Actress Georgia Engel always left the viewers with just a hint that Georgette might have more marbles than they realized.
Georgette: I really miss Phyllis. I never knew her very well. Maybe that helps.
On “Malcolm in the Middle,” brother Reese (Justin Berfield) provided brainy Malcolm with a fierce, thick-headed adversary.
Reese: A shortcut doesn’t mean it’s a shorter way. It means it’s a different way.
I maintain that Tony Danza has always been underrated as an actor. In “Taxi,” he was supremely consistent as Tony Banta, a cabbie who dreamed of a successful boxing career.
Doctor: Tony, has any doctor ever advised you to quit boxing?
Tony: Yeah, I suppose.
Doctor: You suppose?
Tony: I mean a lot of guys have yelled at me to get out of the ring. Some of them might have been doctors.
Merely the best. Art Carney captured a bit of magic with sewer worker Ed Norton, Ralph’s neighbor on “The Honeymooners.” Norton was poetry in motion, all flailing arms and shifting slouch hat. And that voice!
Norton: First, you address the ball. Hello, ball.
Okay folks, who else should be on the list?