Monday, August 17, 2009

10 Great Fictional Characters

For me, a key driver of entertainment value in a book, movie, or television show is character development. I know for many movie-goers the key is cinematography and for many readers it is all about the plot. I think in TV it is more widely recognized that interesting characters are required but for me, characters can carry the day in any medium.

Here are 10 of my all-time favorite characters:

1. Sid the Sloth from the Ice Age movies. He tops my list figuratively and literally. If there was a movie just about him, I would download it right now. I'm giving it about another year and then I am going to write the screen-play myself.

2. Sam Malone from Cheers. He was really dumb without being clueless and really self-absorbed but in a harmless and endearing way. Throw in his professional sports resume and you've got a winner in my book.

3. Jenny Piccolo the sitcom urban legend. As far as I know, she never appeared in an episode of Happy Days but was referred to regularly by Joanie Cunningham. By the time Joanie was a teen, the canon of 2nd-hand references to Jenny had painted a clear picture in my mind; she was a real pistol.

4. Erwin Martin from James Thurber's "The Catbird Seat". If you have not read this short story, I highly recommend you do. Erwin is a fantastic character; seems quite simple but ultimately more complex than first imagined.

5. Billy Ray Valentine played by Eddie Murphy in "Trading Places". Karate men bruise on the inside; don't show their weaknesses.

6. Steve Austin as the Six Million Dollar Man. How could a kid watch that show and not sincerely hope to lose a few limbs and organs while test piloting some advanced spacecraft. I never understood why he didn't pursue a career in he NFL with his bionic limbs but like I said, the story doesn't matter if the characters are cool enough.

7. Dirk Straun, merchant pirate. He was the patriarch of the Straun family in the James Clavell epic narratives about colonialism and commerce in Asia. When faced with a tough decision, I sometimes ask myself, "What would Dirk do?"

8. Pig Pen from Peanuts. True, he only had a bit part among the more famous cast of characters but he had an enormous talent (acquiring dirt) and never thrust his talent in your face. He just went about his business and let you appreciate him -- my kind of guy.

9. Alf the sarcastic alien. You either know him or you don't. I suppose his inclusion on the list will please my imaginary readers in the Marblehead area but will signal to everyone else that the intellectual persona I have labored to cultivate is a complete facade.

10. Vinny "take your pick". You may choose either Vinny Gambini from "My Cousin Vinny" or Vinny Barbarino from "Welcome Back Kotter". Each embodied the perfect combination of local street smarts wrapped up in worldly naiveté. You couldn't help but like them.

Honorable mentions would be Simon Bar Sinister from Underdog fame, those grumpy old guys in the balcony on the Muppet show, Spock from Star Trek, and George Costanza from Seinfeld.

So who is on your list but not on mine?


  1. Anonymous8/18/2009

    Gilligan: Naive, vulnerable, loyal, eternally optimistic. You wouldn't want to be him but you would want him as a friend. Reitrof

  2. Of course Jenny Piccolo appeared on the show. She was in several episodes.

  3. I thought she might have showed up eventually - you sure it was in Happy Days and not some spin off about Joanie and Fonzie's nephew "Spike"?

  4. I think Joanie only had one date with Spike. Remember, he punched her in the arm? She ended up with Chachi Arcola.

  5. Jeff Ryer8/23/2009

    Without ALF blazing the trail, I dare say there would be no Sid. ALF was a true pioneer.
    What about Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie ? She can't compare to what is on TV these days, but back then she was about as risque as they come.