RSS Feed

Tag Archives: The Office

The Best Workplace Sitcoms

Posted on

officelogo

“The Office” sauntered into TV history last night, leaving longtime viewers wondering when another great workplace sitcom will come along. Actually, one is already going strong (I’m talking to you, “Parks and Recreation”) on the same network. Perhaps now is a good time to revisit the very best workplace sitcoms of all time.

30 ROCK

30rockcast

The halls of NBC aren’t your typical workplace, but who cares? The office antics of Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy and Tracy Jordan are as hilarious as anything TV has ever seen. Blerg.

BUFFALO BILL

buffalobilltvshow

In one of the all-time best bits of casting, Dabney Coleman played the vain, sexist, sarcastic, needy host of a daytime TV show in upstate New York. “Buffalo Bill” was filled with razor-sharp writing and excellent performances by Joanna Cassidy, Geena Davis, John Fiedler and others. Can you imagine a scene between Coleman’s Bill Bittinger and Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy?

M*A*S*H

mashcast

I almost left M*A*S*H off the List, since the workplace here is an Army hospital. Still, the 4077th’s ever-changing personnel and aura of difficult, noble work is a good fit. Great banter by people thrown together in a confined, insane situation.

NEWSRADIO

newsradiocast

“NewsRadio” had a classic workplace structure, masterfully executed. You had the endearingly odd Everyman (Dave Foley), the eccentric executive (Stephen Root), the egotistical talent (Phil Hartman), the nutjob (Andy Dick) and the dumb guy (Joe Rogan). There were no wasted moments on this show.

FAWLTY TOWERS

fawltytowerscast

Rarely has the small screen seen as brilliant a bumbler as Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese. He presided over a wonderfully sketchy inn and restaurant in Britain, where pratfalls were common and visits by German tourists invariably led to inadvertent comments about Adolph Hitler.

THE OFFICE

officeusa

So many excellent characters populate the American version of “The Office,” including plucky Pam, dorky Dwight, ice queen Angela and always-joking Jim. But by far the most amazing thing about the show was Steve Carell’s carefully modulated performance as man-child boss Michael Scott. It didn’t happen all at once – the audience got to see Carell find exactly the right combination of stupidity and humanity during the first season. It remains a marvel.

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW

marytylermoorecast

My fear is that with each passing year, this show becomes more of a museum piece. The pace, the look, the social themes, all seem antiquated now. Take my word for it, though, the crew at WJM pioneered the TV idea of an office being like a family.

THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW

larrysanderscast

Where Mary Tyler Moore’s comedy flowed from sincerity, “Larry Sanders” emerged from a sublime sense of insincerity. Garry Shandling took his own observations about show business, mixed them with memories of Johnny Carson, and created one of the best shows ever. Plus, how could you go wrong with stellar support from Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor? Hey now!

BARNEY MILLER

barneymillercast

Each character in “Barney Miller” was a tiny gem of comedy craft. What a great ensemble, from Hal Linden and Ron Glass, to Jack Soo and Abe Vigoda. There was real affection in the writing and the acting, plus a healthy dose of absurdity.

MURPHY BROWN

murphybrowncast

One thing tends to be forgotten when people recall the success of “Murphy Brown.” It was very funny. True, it had a progressive edge to it, with a galvanizing main performance by Candice Bergen. But it wouldn’t have lasted a full season without its sharp wit and genuine character development.

WKRP IN CINCINNATI

wkrpcast

Here’s a great example of a sitcom that started as a collection of stereotypes and gradually gelled into something special. The cast, playing employees at an Ohio radio station, beautifully blended and contrasted their many quirks. I particularly loved Howard Hesseman as Dr. Johnny Fever.

PARKS AND RECREATION

parksandrecreation

Amy Poehler had a similar challenge in “Parks and Recreation” to what Steve Carell faced in “The Office.” How do you play a sitcom’s central character as an eccentric, rather than an Everywoman? But she’s done it, and done it very well. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is the best workplace comedy ever set in an Indiana municipal government building.

CHEERS

cheerscast

“Cheers” is another great sitcom that you don’t automatically think of as a workplace sitcom. My argument would be that the best interplay on the show stemmed from Sam Malone’s intermingling of business, pleasure and friendship.

WINGS

wingscast

“Wings” was treated almost like a second-tier sitcom, but I defy anyone to watch a few episodes and not laugh. It was about a collection of odd characters working at a tiny airport on Cape Cod. Dynamite cast, too, including Tim Daly, Steven Weber, Crystal Bernard, Thomas Hayden Church and Tony Shalhoub.

TAXI

taxicast

There was an incredible creative spirit at work within the confines of the Sunshine Cab Co. Here were truly original characters (Louie DePalma, Latka Gravas, Rev. Jim Ignatowski, etc.) brought to life by expert actors, terrific writers and gifted director James Burrows. Beyond that, “Taxi” was soulful. It followed Alex Reiger and his fellow cabbies as they sorted out the territory that exists in-between our dreams and our actual daily lives. When you can laugh at that, you’re golden.

THE OFFICE (U.K. VERSION)

officeuk

Even though it yielded a great American remake, the British version of “The Office,” to my mind, was the best workplace sitcom ever filmed. Not only did it have a singularly brilliant central character (Ricky Gervais’ David Brent), it also NEVER pulled its punches. “The Office” is riotously funny, excruciatingly painful and deeply touching.

There you go, workers of the world. Be sure to add a few favorites of your own.

TV’s Best Occasional Characters

Posted on

freddyrumsen

It’s amazing how much impact an occasional character can have on a TV show. Without the benefit of a long-term story arc, the great occasional character bursts onto the scene and always leaves the viewer wanting more. These are some of my favorites, with one proviso: I only allowed myself one example from any given show.

DAVID PUDDY

davidpuddydevil

Forgive me, Frank Costanza! My favorite “Seinfeld” side character is Puddy. Patrick Warburton has perfected a deadpan delivery that sounds like John Wayne on mushrooms. Yeah that’s right. Puddy is terrific in all situations, whether he’s painting his face for a hockey game or explaining to Elaine that she’s going to hell.

DEDE PRITCHETT

shelleylongmodernfamily

Shelley Long is a truly gifted sitcom actress, and she proves it yet again each time she appears on “Modern Family.” Her stock-in-trade is neurotic women with a large bundle of issues, and she really goes to town as Jay’s ex-wife, DeDe. The key is that she allows for vulnerability without losing her wit or oomph.

ERNEST T. BASS

ernesttbass

This little guy, played by Howard Morris, was a live wire. A hillbilly with a hankering for love, he’d pop up on “The Andy Griffith Show” to hurl rocks through windows and cause lots of low-grade mayhem. And who can forget his lilting lament: “It’s me, it’s me, it’s Ernest T!”

ADAM

adamarkinnorthernexposure

Gourmet chef, dedicated hermit, sock hat afficionado. That’s Adam, the angry sourpuss played so well by Adam Arkin on “Northern Exposure.” This character seethed with sarcasm, but in a good way. Just don’t use too much cumin when he’s in the vicinity.

CHARLES MINER

idriselbatheoffice

Idris Elba was phenomenal as a short-lived supervisor on “The Office.” He brought a jolt of realism to this zany workplace, allowing us to see the regular characters in a slightly different light. Charles Miner was a tough, rigid boss, but thanks to him we finally could see why Jim Halpern actually fit in so well at Dunder-Mifflin.

ANGEL

angelrockfordfiles

The cowardly crook with inside information has been a staple of cop/private investigator/crime shows for decades. For me, the cream of the crop was Stuart Margolin as Angel, on “The Rockford Files.” Angel was Jim Rockford’s former cell mate, and Margolin played him with a very 70’s, very twitchy sense of humor.

ENDORA

endora

How perfect was Agnes Moorehead? On “Bewitched,” she played her mother-in-law-as-a-witch role to the hilt, doling out equal bits of imperiousness and shtick. I loved it when she would call Darrin “Durwood.”

DEVON BANKS

willarnett30rock

Any guy who can go mano-a-mano with Alec Baldwin on “30 Rock” deserves to be on The List. The great Will Arnett does just that as the devious Devon Banks. Their scenes of staccato, deep-voiced threats are like comedy symphonies.

CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN

cigarettesmokingman

Okay, so he’s not an exemplar of healthy habits. Still, fans of “The X-Files” yearned for CSM’s appearances. He (William B. Davis) was a mysterious, tantalizing link to figuring out what the heck was going on throughout the series.

RICHARD ALPERT

eyelinerguylost

Nestor Carbonell – AKA “Eyeliner Guy” on “Lost” – was everything you want in an occasional character on a sci-fi drama. For the longest time, you had no clue about his back story, other than the fact he was hundreds of years old and seemed to have a huge stash of Maybelline. Yet Carbonell always grounded him, humanized him and made him sympathetic.

MILES DRENTELL

milesdrentelloccasional2

The Zen master boss from hell. David Clennon made Miles Drentell on “thirtysomething” a malevolent, Machiavellian figure. He was full of wit, style and delightful, dark humor.

JANICE

janicefriendsoccasional

Dear lord, that laugh! Maggie Wheeler would show up periodically on “Friends,” first as Chandler’s girlfriend and then as a general nuisance. Each time, she hit it out of the park. Wheeler took a funny, annoying accent and turned it into high art.

NATHANIEL FISHER

richardjenkinsmrfisher

Richard Jenkins played the deceased patriarch of the Fisher clan on “Six Feet Under,” one of the most emotionally taxing shows in TV history. Jenkins has a way of offering multiple feelings with each look and line of dialogue. He’s angry AND understanding; he’s playful AND depressed. His scenes always sparkled.

FREDDY RUMSEN

freddyrumsensolo

Freddy Rumsen, one of the old-school advertising dudes on “Mad Men,” is a deeply likable character, while also being deeply flawed. Actor Joel Murray keeps him low-key, even in episodes where Freddy is humiliated, bewildered or upset. He’s a nice counterpoint to some of the more forceful personalities on the show.

ALAN BRADY

alanbrady

For me, the king of the hill among occasional characters has to be Carl Reiner as Alan Brady, the egotistical TV star on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Reiner commanded the screen in his moments on the show, despite the fact that he was surrounded by sitcom heavyweights such as Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. It was such a strong performance, in fact, that just the mention of Alan’s name in other episodes caused a reaction. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Reiner was the creator of the show.

No doubt I’ve left out dozens of other great examples. Feel free to suggest them!

TV’s Greatest Straight Men (and Women)

Posted on

With the passing of Andy Griffith earlier this week, it seems only fitting to devote a List to the best straight men and women in TV history. It’s such a delicate balance: being strong enough comedically to stand up to your zany co-stars, yet grounded enough for the audience to relate to you.

HAL LINDEN

BARNEY MILLER (1974-82)

At the center of one of my favorite shows, Linden’s compassionate cop, Barney Miller, presided over an absurd, smart, feisty circus of humanity. He was the moral compass, but with enough personal quirks to keep things interesting.

JASON BATEMAN

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (2003-06)

Bateman gave a virtuoso performance as the put-upon Michael Bluth in “Arrested Development.” His timing is fantastic, every episode, every line. Plus, he had some great scenes with Attorney Bob Loblaw.

EDDIE ALBERT

GREEN ACRES (1965-71)

Of course, no character was more put-upon than Oliver Wendell Douglas, played by Eddie Albert. This surreal sitcom about city folks living in the country had daffy Eva Gabor, sneaky Pat Butram and a brainy pig among the ensemble. And in the middle of it all was Albert, who gamely tried to regain control – but thankfully never did.

MARY TYLER MOORE

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (1970-77)

This one is a tough call, particularly since I’m not including Dick Van Dyke on this List. Mary’s character was incredibly funny in her own right, but I always felt she played it best when she was reacting to Lou, Ted, Rhoda, etc.

DAVE FOLEY

NEWSRADIO (1995-99)

Here was a terrific show that featured a great cast, with Foley as the straight-arrow guy running the radio station. He was witty, while being at his wit’s end. Not a bad game plan when your co-stars include Phil Hartman and Andy Dick.

DAN ROWAN

ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN (1967-73)

Dan Rowan had one job to do on “Laugh-In” and he did it exceedingly well. Amid all the groovy goings-on, with sketches coming and going at lightning speed, Rowan simply looked tan and dapper while cleanly setting up punchline after punchline. You can look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls. I dare you.

GEORGE BURNS

THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW (1950-58)

Although a lot of their material is now dated, it’s amazing how much of the Burns & Allen formula still works in today’s scripted TV comedies. Gracie had all the best lines, of course. But George was smooth as silk.

ROB MORROW

NORTHERN EXPOSURE (1990-95)

Rob Morrow sort of came out of nowhere as Joel, the New York City doctor stuck in a crazy Alaskan town. The concept burned itself out after a few years, but it was great while it lasted. Joel’s frustration kept the show on its toes.

ISABEL SANFORD

THE JEFFERSONS (1975-85)

It took a very strong personality to hold the screen with Sherman Hemsley as George Jefferson. Enter Isabel Sanford as Louise. By turns she would yell, plead, cajole and guilt trip George to keep pace. It was a classic sitcom combination.

GEORGE FENNEMAN

YOU BET YOUR LIFE (1950-61)

Fenneman is a unique figure in television history. As the announcer for the Groucho Marx quiz show, “You Bet Your Life,” he was verbally pummeled from here to Tuesday by one of the funniest human beings who ever lived. Groucho could be merciless, and George routinely was left speechless. Oddly enough, it made Fenneman all the more endearing.

JOHN KRASINSKI

THE OFFICE (2005-PRESENT)

As Jim Halpert, Krasinski carries his show’s “regular guy” role without the benefit of being the lead character. It’s a tricky thing to calibrate, but Krasinski has been all over it from the first episode. He gets his own jokes in, too.

BOB NEWHART

THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (1972-78)

How great was this dude as a straight man? Well, he often was HIS OWN straight man, in scenes on the phone. No one does a thoughtful stammer like Mr. Newhart. Perfection.

LINDA LAVIN

ALICE (1976-85)

This wasn’t Gilbert & Sullivan, but it was solid comedy. Lavin played things straight as working class mom Alice, adding a touch of drama here and an earthy zinger there. And she held her own around characters willing to shout “Kiss my grits!” at the drop of a hat.

ED McMAHON

THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JOHNNY CARSON (1962-92)

Gotta give it up to the most durable sidekick in talk show history. Ed was Carson’s Rock of Gibraltar: quick with a laugh, a comment or a helping hand. He was a joke target when need be, as well. And the show was never funnier than when Ed got in a funny line at Johnny’s expense.

BUDDY EBSEN

THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (1962-71)

Ebsen’s Jed Clampett had a way of seeming smart and not-so-smart at the same time. He never, ever veered out of character.  One of his main responsibilities was to bear witness to the twin whirlwinds of Granny and Jethro, which he did with his trademark country squint.

DEAN MARTIN

THE DEAN MARTIN COMEDY HOUR (1965-74)

Dino went from being Jerry Lewis’ straight man in movies to being everybody’s straight man on television. He was superb at it. Effortlessly, he made singers, actors and comedians who came on his show look good. Here was a guy who was the butt of nearly every joke, yet he was clearly the coolest guy in the room.

DEMOND WILSON

SANFORD AND SON (1972-77)

Absolutely an unsung hero of TV sitcoms. Wilson was the all-too-human counterpoint to Redd Foxx, who gloriously chewed the scenery like it was a danish from the craft service table. Without Wilson, the show doesn’t work nearly as well.

LARRY HAGMAN

I DREAM OF JEANNIE (1965-70)

Looking back, maybe this wasn’t the most enlightened comedy premise in the world: an astronaut finds a bottle containing a beautiful genie who becomes his servant. But that’s not Hagman’s fault. He did every ridiculous facial contortion known to man during his years as Major Nelson, as if he knew most people would later know him as J.R. Ewing.

JOHNNY GALECKI

THE BIG BANG THEORY (2007-PRESENT)

He’s a nerd’s version of a straight man, but it still applies. Galecki expertly reels in audience sympathy while lobbing up softballs for Jim Parsons to knock out of the park. Well done, sir.

STEVE ALLEN

THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW (1956-60)

A TV pioneer, Steve Allen was a genius at conducting “interviews” with his stable of comic actors. They included Don Knotts, Louis Nye and Tom Poston. They’d show up as crazy characters and Allen would gently skewer them with puns and wry observations. David Letterman and Jon Stewart have been doing a version of this for years, but Allen got there first.

RON HOWARD

HAPPY DAYS (1974-84)

Though not a huge fan of “Happy Days,” I very much respected the way Ron Howard gave the show a likable, viable central character. I also admired the way he didn’t quit the show when the Fonzie character took over the world.

YVONNE DE CARLO

THE MUNSTERS (1964-66)

Yes, it is possible to be a great straight woman while dressed as a lady vampire. Despite her appearance, De Carlo basically played a suburban housewife dealing with a sarcastic father and a childish husband. They got most of the one-liners and she was the rational, head of the household.

JUDD HIRSCH

TAXI (1978-83)

Hirsch was the voice of reason on “Taxi.” Sometimes that meant giving a pep talk; sometimes it meant taking someone to task. Usually, it meant trying not to crack up while the likes of Danny DeVito and Andy Kaufman brought the funny.

FORREST TUCKER

F TROOP (1965-67)

Very little about “F Troop” made sense, except that it was disarmingly funny. Tucker played his Sgt. O’Rourke like he was the lead in “The Music Man,” which was exactly the right approach.

DICK YORK/DICK SARGENT

BEWITCHED (1964-72)

The wonderful duo of Darrins did their level best to hold their heads high, no matter what incantation or evil twin scenario they were up against. That’s what happens when you marry a witch with a big family.

BUD ABBOTT

THE ABBOTT AND COSTELLO SHOW (1952-53)

Abbott was a legendary straight man from the stage and the big screen, but he also qualifies for The List because of his popular, but brief TV series with the great Lou Costello. Abbott was like a professional hit man of comedy. He was sharp and he was confident and you almost never knew he was there.

ANDY GRIFFITH

THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (1960-68)

Thank goodness for Andy Griffith. His show was heartbreaking, human and hilarious. At its best, it was as funny as any TV program before or since, and it did so with a firm belief that humor could come out of everyday life and common foibles.

Is it possible I’ve missed anyone? Add them to The List!

The Joke’s On THEM: Great Sitcom Punching Bags

Posted on

Pretty much all sitcom characters absorb their share of cutting remarks – it’s the nature of the art form. But some characters are built almost entirely on the premise that they’ll be the butt of jokes. When it works, it’s comedy magic.

MEL COOLEY

Cooley, the long-suffering lackey to an egotistical TV star on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” was played with mild-mannered grace by Richard Deacon.  No matter how badly Morey Amsterdam’s character, Buddy, needled him about his baldness, the most Mel would do is say, “Yechh!”

LAMONT SANFORD

Demond Wilson played Lamont, the junior member of “Sanford and Son,” the 1970s sitcom starring Redd Foxx. It was a prickly relationship on screen, especially with Foxx’s character calling his son a “dummy” nearly every episode. But Wilson managed somehow to show both resentment and affection in a way that humanized the harshness.

TOBY FLENDERSON

Possibly the best TV sad sack ever. Toby is the beleaguered HR guy on “The Office,” the one person boss Michael Scott truly loathes. As played by Paul Lieberstein, Toby gets heaps of abuse for no good reason other than his existence. One thing that makes this work so well is Lieberstein’s subtle use of an incredibly halting, stammering voice.

TED BAXTER

What a great character. Ted Knight’s childish, pompous TV anchor on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” was insanely funny. And unlike most sitcom Punching Bags, he also tried to make a few verbal jabs of his own.

Lou: Put it on an idiot card for Ted.

Ted: Cue cards, Lou. I don’t know why everyone insists on calling cue cards idiot cards.

Murray: We just have trouble thinking of you as a cue.

JANICE

Actress Maggie Wheeler appeared only sporadically on “Friends” as the always-annoying Janice. Yet the very mention of her name (and certainly the sound of her laugh) caused a visceral, derisive reaction from both the other characters and the audience. She was a Punching Bag who punched back quite effectively.

MR. WILSON

Joseph Kearns played Mr. Wilson in the  TV version of “Dennis the Menace.” He was winningly cranky, and he invariably got the short end of the stick in his interactions with young Dennis. Sadly, he passed away before the end of the show’s run and was replaced by Gale Gordon as Mr. Wilson’s brother – who also found Dennis to be rather menacing.

COL. KLINK

A Nazi prison camp commanding officer is certainly a fine choice to be a sitcom Punching Bag, outlandish as that sounds. Actor Werner Klemperer did wonderful work as Klink on “Hogan’s Heroes,” making the Colonel a vain, gullible chump.

NEWMAN

Jerry’s main foil on “Seinfeld” was played by Wayne Knight with a terrific sense of evil fun. Newman was a schemer of the first order, and there are people I know who still invoke his name when they’re exasperated with just about anything. Newman!

DARRIN STEVENS

Whether you prefer Dick York or Dick Sargent as the husband on “Bewitched,” they both served as excellent sources of material for the mother-in-law character, played by the great Agnes Moorehead.

Darrin: I’d like it much better if you’d call me by my first name.

Endora: Very well, Dennis.

SCREECH

Aptly named and hopelessly hapless, the character Screech on “Saved by the Bell” was played by Dustin Diamond. I can’t say I was a fan of this show, but I’m aware that it, and Screech, achieved a sort of cult status.

CAPT. BINGHAMTON

This guy, I remember. Binghamton (Joe Flynn) was the comedic villain of “McHale’s Navy.” His voice was like a foghorn on the fritz, and he played his many moments of anger and frustration with broad strokes. Who could blame him for being mad? McHale (Ernest Borgnine) ALWAYS got the better of him.

CARLTON

It had to be a thankless task, playing the rich, pompous counterpoint to Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” But Alfonso Ribeiro was able to find just the right undercurrent of humility beneath the arrogance.

HERB TARLEK

Tarlek, the ad sales guy on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” was a buffoon who could easily have turned into a stock character. Thanks to some amazingly bad clothing and deft comic timing by actor Frank Bonner, he became a crucial part of the show’s ensemble.

FRANK BURNS

Oh, Frank. “M*A*S*H” wouldn’t have been nearly as good in its early years without such a great lightning rod for insults. Larry Linville made Frank a towering sitcom monument to weakness, greed and insecurity. Bravo. And remember – Frank Burns eats worms.

Okay, friends, now it’s your turn. Add to The List!

10 Great Character Actors

Posted on

You may not know their names, but these masters of character acting make every TV show and movie they grace a whole lot better.

DELROY LINDO

What a pleasure it is to watch Mr. Lindo at work. He has charisma to burn, whether he’s playing a manipulative drug dealer (“Clockers”) or a noble family man (“Crooklyn”). People may know him lately for his TV turn as a corrupt alderman in “The Chicago Code,” but my favorite Lindo roles are his low-level gangster in “Malcolm X” and his brilliantly suave crook in “Get Shorty.”

LUIS GUZMAN

Pure, deadpan brilliance. He’s great in dramas, including “Traffic,” “Oz,” and “Boogie Nights,” but he’s sublime in comic roles, such as his inept criminal in “Out of Sight.” Actually, even most of his dramatic roles are marked by their comic edge.

AMY RYAN

I’m in awe of her incredible range. She was truly raw in “Gone Baby Gone,” wonderfully loopy as Steve Carell’s love interest in “The Office,” and intellectually agile as a therapist on “In Treatment.” In each case, she tempers or expands her characters with complex shades of thought and emotion.

STEPHEN ROOT

This gentleman is a virtuoso of weirdness, and I mean that with respect. All his best performances have a tinge of insanity: Jimmy James, the station owner on “NewsRadio”; Milton, the cubicle mutant from “Office Space”; and certainly the henpecked dude from “Dodgeball.” Count me as a big fan.

CCH POUNDER

She’s been in all sorts of good projects, from “Prizzi’s Honor,” and “L.A. Law,” to “ER” and “The West Wing.” She lends immediate intelligence to each part. Her best role has been as Capt. Claudette Wyms on “The Shield,” where she played with complex, shifting notions of morality amid violence and corruption.

KEN JEONG

As anyone who has seen “The Hangover” knows, Ken Jeong is fearless. Male frontal nudity, played for laughs? I’m just sayin’. He’s verbally dexterous, as well, specializing in teachers, doctors, Medieval role-playing gamers and other imperious types. He seems to be having a blast on TV’s “Community.”

DAVID MORSE

He’s sort of a modern Ward Bond – great at playing strong, quiet, wise characters who are unthreatened by being the loyal second-in-command. It was just the right vibe for “The Green Mile” and “The Rock.” Yet there are other sides to Morse that are equally cool, like his bad cop in “16 Blocks” and his turn as Hugh Laurie’s nemesis on “House.”

JOAN CUSACK

No matter how outrageous she is in her film roles, she always finds a vulnerability that makes it believable. She’s just rock-solid as an actress, from “Working Girl,” to “Broadcast News,” to “Cradle Will Rock,” to “Friends With Money.” She even played a terrific, evil schemer in “Addams Family Values” opposite the great Christopher Lloyd.

PHILIP BAKER HALL

Mr. Hall’s memorable appearance in the recent film “50/50” only hints at his greatness. With his raspy voice and those bags under his eyes, you never expect him to be so nimble. He was excellent in “The Loop,” a TV comedy no one saw a few years ago. And he was remarkable in the movie drama “Magnolia.” But my favorite of his roles is Lt. Bookman, who hounds Jerry about an overdue library book on “Seinfeld.”

RICHARD JENKINS

Anytime I see Jenkins appear on a movie or TV screen, it’s like seeing an old friend. Such heart and soul, and sad eyes. He takes small parts, such as the private eye in “Shall We Dance,” or the fitness club owner in “Burn After Reading,” and gives them a quiet, desperate humanity. His role as the ghost of Nathaniel Fisher on “Six Feet Under” is nothing short of incredible. And then you have his repressed widower from “The Visitor.” It’s like watching a dormant volcano finally erupt.

So that’s 10 for me. Who are some of your favorites?

TV’s Delightful Dolts

Posted on

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?