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Television’s Great Angry Wives

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Friends, we are living in a Golden Age of Angry Wives on TV. Unlike most of their counterparts from earlier eras, today’s television wives give full voice to their fears, frustrations and fury. It’s a beautiful thing. Take a look at some classic examples from today and yesterday.

JANUARY JONES IN “MAD MEN”

Don Draper gets all the attention, but Betty Draper’s story arc on “Mad Men” is equally compelling and also tragic. We see her transform from mousy and petulant to passive aggressive to outright bitter. No one holds an angrier cigarette than Betty.

SOFIA VERGARA IN “MODERN FAMILY”

Here’s a case where having a character show anger makes her much more likable. As Gloria, Vergara easily could have been just eye candy. Instead, she uses her zero to sixty temper to be someone who stands up for herself, thinks for herself and is funny in her own right.

AUDREY MEADOWS IN “THE HONEYMOONERS”

Alice Kramden is the TV Angry Wife rock of Gibraltar. That voice! That withering stare! Not only did she give as good as she got on “The Honeymooners,” she apparently conducted much of her life in a dreary apartment roughly the size of the Kardashians’ bathroom.

LEAH REMINI IN “KING OF QUEENS”

I think the closest thing to Alice Kramden in recent years was Leah Remini as Carrie Heffernan on “King of Queens.” Carrie didn’t put up with any guff from her larger-than-life hubby and she had a ferocity about her that jumped off the TV screen.

TICHINA ARNOLD IN “EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS”

Everybody may have hated Chris, but they were downright scared of Rochelle. She ruled the family with a steely resolve and a glare that could see through solid rock – in this case a young Chris Rock. Yet the show made quite clear that Rochelle’s anger stemmed from her desire to keep her husband and kids moving forward.

PATRICIA HEATON IN “EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND”

The meaner Patricia Heaton got on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” the funnier she became. She was a joy to watch, particularly as she branched out and got angry at her in-laws. The fact that she’s so tiny made it even more impressive.

ESTELLE HARRIS IN “SEINFELD”

Despite playing a secondary character, Estelle Harris was an essential part of “Seinfeld.” Her epic arguments with her TV husband, Jerry Stiller, were atonal symphonies of spite. Bravo, Estelle.

ALICE PEARCE AND SANDRA GOULD IN “BEWITCHED”

Two actresses shared the role of nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz on “Bewitched.” Alice Pearce trafficked expertly in odd facial expressions, while Gould (shown here) went in for a more hostile vibe. Let’s just say Mr. Kravitz had his hands full.

JANE KACZMAREK IN “MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE”

Ah, Lois. Your sitcom anger was pure farce, but it was truly formidable. Kaczmarek crafted a character who used yelling to convey humor, honesty, love and concern, as well as indignation.

SUSIE ESSMAN IN “CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM”

And then there’s Susie. Her put-upon, California wife in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is a force of nature. Her anger is volcanic. Her expletives are extraordinary. I’m fairly confident she can divert weather systems with the sheer energy emanating from her face. If TV is going to have a Larry David, there has to be a Susie Essman to balance things out.

Oh, but there are so many more. You have Edie Falco in “The Sopranos,” Felicity Huffman in “Desperate Housewives,” Julie Bowen in “Modern Family,” etc. Who are some of your favorites?

TV’s Delightful Dolts

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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.

 

GILLIGAN

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.

 

JOEY TRIBBIANI

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.

 

JETHRO BODINE

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!

 

EDITH BUNKER

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.

 

HERMAN MUNSTER

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.

 

KEVIN MALONE

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

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.

 

VINNIE BARBARINO

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!

 

HOMER SIMPSON

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.

 

MALLORY KEATON

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!

 

GOMER PYLE

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 GARELLI

Before he was encouraging people to eat worms on “Fear Factor,” actor Joe Rogan was a very cool dolt on “NewsRadio.”

Joe: Look, I don’t care what you say about me, but making fun of alien technology is just stupid.

 

HOWARD BORDEN

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.

 

GEORGETTE BAXTER

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.

 

REESE

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.

 

TONY BANTA

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.

 

ED NORTON

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?