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Friday, June 18, 2010

Response to Entertainment Weekly's 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years

I often find myself catching up to pop culture because real life just gets in the way. But that’s the thing about Pop Culture, it waits for you. Sometimes it waits a long while, keeping dinner warm. Only something worthy of being an icon of Pop Cult could endure the time it takes for me to get around to it and it lasts for years. There is no expiration date for a truly great piece of PC history. So, it wasn’t until this past week that I finally got around to reading EW’s article on the 100 greatest characters in the last 20 years. For once, I’ve lost my appetite for a dinner that should be piping hot even after two decades.

Now, I am usually pretty quick to go after EW online for it’s shameful lists. I may not even be a mediocre writer, but the people they get to write up their top whatever of the whatever lists needs a serious slap in the face from a tuna. Plucking through the written pages of the actual magazine usually derives more satisfaction because this is you’re A-Team working on the articles. Yet, the author gives us such tripe that I expected to it be written for my blog. That’s how bad I regard my skills.

First of all, why 20 years? Could it possibly be a running theme with EW as of late? They’ve been waxing nostalgic about “20 years ago, this week” in the mag, bringing me back to my Sophomore year of high school. The problem is that some of the more iconic characters they are choosing share their roots with pre 1990 Pop Culture. In fact their number one pick, who I don’t necessarily disagree with, got their start in 1987. So let’s dissect the biggest offenders an then, as usual, I will offer my own truncated list of 20 in 20.

Homer Simpson from The Simpsons
There is no denying that Homer Simpson is one of the greatest. But to say that he’s the greatest of the last twenty years makes me say wonder if EW is really so smart, s-m-r-t. Homer got his start as a crudely drawn loud mouth father, featured in animated shorts on the Tracey Ullman show in 1987. It wasn’t until December of 1989 that The Simpsons became a full fledged show on its own. Even then, the draw to The Simpsons wasn’t the bumbling everyman but his sarcastic, rotten son named Bart. Look back at the first part of the 90s and you’ll be pressed to find Homer on every other t-shirt. Bart was the real iconic character of the early years. Homer was dumb and slovenly but It wasn’t until the second and third seasons when Dan Castellaneta dropped Homer’s voice from one that sounded like Coach Buttermaker to one that gave him greater comedic freedoms that Homer finally took his place as the face of the show. So, I guess it’s debatable as to when Homer finally was born into the Pop Culture lexicon.

Harry Potter from the Harry Potter series
I have no arguments with Harry Potter being in the top 10. I have some concerns about him being number 2.  Books, movies, video games, amusement parks, you name it. That’s a true sign of Pop Culture proliferation.

Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I’ll be the first to admit that I am shocked and elated to see Buffy on this list. The character represents a great deal of girl power...more so than the Spice Girls. Strong, witty, honest, loving and tough to kill she’s equal parts Ripley and Cher from Clueless. But I think a better choice for the number three slot would be to take a page from Buffy herself. In much of the series and especially in the final episode, Buffy broke the rules of The Slayer. For millennia The Powers That Be stated that it was always a solo gig, when the Slayer dies, another one is “activated.” One girl against the forces of evil. That disallowed attachments for family, love, and life. However, the Scoobies evolved as a desire to not tackle the demons in the world alone and in a final act of teamwork, Buffy devised a plan that involved using her team to activate every potential Slayer in the world at the same time, allowing her to attack the First Evil head on with her own army. So, that act of selflessness and teamwork leads me to nominate someone else in her place....further down the page.

Tony Soprano from The Sopranos
No complaints with Tony being on the list. Welcome to the club. Much deserved.

The Joker from The Dark Knight
I was all prepared to blast this one away as a moment of pretentiousness but the more I read that title, the more I see this as preserving a moment in the life of the character. The Joker is 70 years old and has been played by Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill (voice), Andrew Koenig (Growing Pains’ Boner), and Heath Ledger. To be fair, the cutoff of 1990 excludes Jack Nicholson’s performance however, how could you not think of at least Cesar, Jack, and Heath as the trinity of Pop Culture Jokers on film? Heath’s portrayal and academy award for The Dark Knight is bittersweet in that it’s up in the air as to the lasting impression his performance would have made had he not died.

Rachel Green from Friends
Another deserving to be on the list but I don’t know if I would have put her above Hannibal Lecter. Rachel Green inspired a hair style and a love of the idea of a spoiled rich girl actually seeing the love of her life in the form of her childhood best friend’s dorky older brother. Ross and Rachel embodied a triumph for all of us schlubs who pined for the pretty and popular girl in our home town but never got her. Friends was a decade long love affair with a close knit group of twentysomethings that grew up with us and to not acknowledge one of them would have me knock my fists together with my thumbs out at you.

Edward Scissorhands from Edward Scissorhands
Great character, great portrayal, wonderful addition but top ten? Meh. Jack Sparrow belongs in the top ten in Eddie’s place. Sorry, Johnny, but you are better than you.

Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs and its sequels
It puts the doctor in the top five or else it gets the hose. I’m slightly torn. Once again, EW looks at a microcosm of a character, a performer. That’s not to say that Sir Anthony Hopkins didn’t chew up the scenery with some fava beans and a nice Chianti, but the “Character” was born into existence a decade earlier in the novel Red Dragon. Lecter was also played by Brian Cox in the 1986 adaption of that novel. Still, I will give props to Hopkins for turning Lecter into the icon he is today but to put him at number eight behind Edward Scissorhands and Rachel Green is something that makes the lambs scream.

Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City
I will not dismiss SATC as a piece of Pop Culture history, however, putting Carrie Bradshaw in the top ten is ridiculous. And since EW found it ok to list two characters for the price of one throughout this list, I say you need to have all four characters from SATC to be accurate. Together they are better than their individual parts. Alone, Carrie is not memorable, it’s only the addition of and observation of her close friends that makes her interesting. Without them, she’s just a goofy girl on the corner in a tutu.

SpongeBob SquarePants from SpongeBob SquarePants
Oh, how I wish it weren’t so. But, yes, SpongeBob is a part of Pop Culture. To put him in the top ten above another kid targeted icon is a huge fail for EW. Listing SpongeBob at 10 while Elmo is at 38 is crazy. And with that, I will give you my gripes with the rest of the list.


19. Morpheus from The Matrix series
Why not Neo? After all, he is the one. Hey, I love Laurence Fishburne and Morpheus was a great character but dude, Neo or even Mr. Smith was a greater character.

33. Sarah Connor from Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Yeah, the 2.0 model of Sarah Connor was more kick ass than 1.0 but still, the character was born in the 80s. Shouldn’t be on this list with these parameters.

40. Ron Burgundy from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
You mean to tell me that Ron Burgundy is a greater character than Jack Bauer or Tyler Durden. Stay Classy, EW.

46. Jerry Maguire from Jerry Maguire
Tom Cruise didn’t win the Oscar, Cuba Gooding, Jr. did. Jerry Maguire was not as great as Rod Tidwell in terms of character. Hell, the kid was a better character than Jerry Maguire. Rod Tidwell should be in the number 46 slot.

57. Clayton Bigsby from Chappelle’s Show
Great, yes. Better than Chappelle’s Rick James? No. Oh, but Rick James is a real person and he was from 40 years ago. If you are going to allow characters from previous decades a place on this list then the second season’s inclusion of the actual Rick James as a commenter on his life being recounted by Charlie Murphy should be allowed if you can’t handle Chappelle’s portrayal.

63. John Locke from LostLocke is an awesome character. But LOST produced so many of them that they are all great individually. And with the season six finale revealing that John Locke truly was dead and his image was being used by The Man In Black, the actor, Terry O’Quinn made the guise of John Locke that much more interesting. However, if I had to pick one character from all of LOST that summed up a “greatest character” representation I would have picked the island. And if that doesn’t suit you, I say Benjamin Linus as a very close second. Michael Emerson’s portrayal of Ben is hands down one of the greatest in Pop Culture, ranking up there in the shadow of Hannibal Lecter.

93. Game Boys: Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series; Kratos from the God of War series; and Niko Bellic from Grand Theft Auto IV
Nathan Drake, Hell yes, Kratos, ok. Niko Bellic? Maybe, but if you want to really look at the Grand Theft Auto series as a part of Pop Culture then you need to take a step back and look at a character that thrust GTA into the annals of PC and that would be Claude Speed. Not good enough for you? Fine. Then Tommy Vercetti. Still not good enough for you? Then how about ALL of the main characters from GTA. Since Master Chief got his own slot, Nathan Drake can have his own on the 100, too, preferably above Mary Catherine Gallagher.

100. Tim Riggins from Friday Night LightsI have never seen Friday Night Lights in movie form or television form but if you are going to cap off your list with Tim Riggins and neglect having Walter White on this list, you need to have your head examined.


20 Senator / Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars Episode I – III)
19 Wolveine (four movies)
18 The Genie (Aladdin)
17 Sue Sylvester (Glee)
16 Lara Croft (The Tomb Raider Series of games and film)
15 Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar (Waynes World movies and SNL sketches)
14 Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski (The Big Lebowski)
13 Walter White (Breaking Bad)
12 The Joker from Dark Knight
11 Andy Sipowicz (NYPD Blue)
10 Benjamin Linus (LOST)
9 Shrek (Shrek movies and television special)
8 Harry Potter (From the novels and films)
7 Verbal Kint aka Keyser Soze
6 Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)
5 Cosmo Kramer (Seinfeld)
4 Elmo (Sesame Street)
3 The Scoobies / Angel Investigations (The Whedonverse)
2 Hannibal Lecter (Hannibal films and novels)
1 Homer Simpson (Simpsons)


I can’t say that I’m completely familiar with the entire list but there are some glaring omissions and I’m going to replace some people who should have made this list. I’m not going to reorganize the placement of the list but some will probably move up or down based on my substitutions.

Hancock (Hancock) Sorry will, I didn’t really like the movie all that much and it didn’t hit Pop Culture all that much.

Tim Riggins (Friday Night Lights) See above

Tracy Flick (Election) I can think if ten other characters that are greater, but she is pretty awesome so she’s gone.

Mary Katherine Gallagher (SNL and Superstar) There are much better sketch characters than Superstar MKG The Spartan Cheerleaders, Nat-X, The Church Lady (who appeared in the 90s and 2000) and my substitution listed below.

Mary Jones ((Precious) The next ten years, maybe we’ll go back and include her. Like Avatar, the characters are too fresh on the canvas of PC

Allie and Noah (The Notebook) meh... just meh

Wikus van de Merwe (District 9) Same reason as Mary Jones. Too soon.

Tracy Jordan (30 Rock) I substituted a better character from the show below.

Jerry Maguire (Jerry Maguire) See above

John Locke (LOST) I hated to do it but Benjamin Linus is a better choice.

Clayton Bigbsy (Chappelle’s Show) See above

Austin Powers (Austin Powers Movies) great character, but if you are going to recognize Mike Meyers in that movie a better choice would be Dr. Evil

Cal Stephanides from Middlesex I admit it.  I've never read the novel and I really don't care.  I just needed to get rid of somebody to include The Borg.

Leo McGarry (The West Wing)  The late John Spencer was the greatest straight man in a show about a bunch of screwball West Wing Staff, he was the glue that kept the daily operations together. I could have chosen Toby Ziegler, C.J. Cregg, Josh Lyman, Sam Seaborn Donna Moss, or even President Bartlet but Leo McGarry made them all better characters with his excellent wrangling of personalities.

Angela Chase (My So-Called Life)  Before there was Dawson, Pacey, Joey, or Jen, there was Angela, Rayanne, Brian and Jordan. It was a short lived show that had it aired two years later would have been picked up for more seasons.

Spider-Man (The Spider-Man films)  With great power comes great responsibility. If X-Men proved that superhero and comic book films were not dead, Spider-Man gave the genre eight legs to run amok. Spider-Man in the hands of Tobey MaGuire made the geek king and allowed a vulnerable teenager the chance to play God and figure out his way in the world of duality. The man you are, the legend you’ve become, the legacy you leave.

Lenny Briscoe (Law & Order franchise)  How could you not include such an iconic character as one of New York’s finest hard boiled detectives. His legacy is only stunted by the fact that Jerry Orbach died before he could assume the lead in his own spinoff.

Robert Langdon (Dan Brown novels) Bookish yet devilishly adept at fending off assassins and terrorists, Langdon emerged as a thinking man’s hero on the pages of Dan Brown’s controversial novels, Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. In film, Tom Hanks brought a whole other facet to the character, as well as a weird hairstyle that reminded us of bad coif choices like Harrison Ford in Presumed Innocent.

Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy films and novels)  People will debate who was the better Captain of the Enterprise, James Bond, and Jack Ryan for as long as there will be a bar to sit in and debate the topics. For my money, I loved Harrison Ford from Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. A friend of mine will defend Alec Baldwin with his life. No one is willing to touch Ben Affleck, though.

Jack Donaghy (30 Rock) I admit that I don’t watch 30 Rock due to my hatred of it in light of winning the sketch show within a show war against Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip, however I cannot exclude Alec Baldwin’s excellent portrayal of the Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming for GE. All I have to say is three words, porn for women.

Troy McClure (The Simpsons) The late Phil Hartman had so many wonderful characters, Anal Retentive Chef, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, Bill McNeil, Frank Sinatra, Frankenstein, to name a lot. However, Troy McClure represented a great pitch man and washed up movie actor. McClure had become one of Hartman’s most popular characters and voices and it’s only fitting that the character was retired after Phil’s death.

Rod Tidwell (Jerry Maguire) See above

Ben Linus (LOST) See above

Rick James (Chappelle’s Show) See above

Dr. Evil (Austin Powers movies) Mike Meyers nails down at least four characters throughout the three films but none of them, not even the International Man of Mystery can hold a candle attached to the head of a frickin shark to Dr. Evil. Case in point...

There you have it. My soap box is now gone. EW, you really missed the boat on this one. For shame.

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