By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."
With us all being under house arrest, I’ve been re-watching some of my favorite TV shows. What seems to get my attention are unusual (especially funny) characters. Of course, TV land is simply full of these so it is rich pickings.
Here are a few of my favorites:
George Costanza: George, of "Seinfeld" fame, played perfectly by the actor Jason Alexander, is a rageaholic. Only if you’ve watched the successor cable show "Curb Your Enthusiasm," also written by Larry David – the principal creative force behind Seinfeld, do you realize that George is largely based upon Larry David himself.
Curb shows a fictionalized version of Larry David – as he continuously gets into trouble with simply outrageous and socially inept situations. Only then when re-watching any "Seinfeld" episode – do you really begin to appreciate just how similar George and Larry David are.
George is a notorious skinflint (something not actually attributable to Larry David – who is worth a reported $800 million). One of the funniest episodes is when George is about to get married to his girlfriend Susan. George purchases the cheapest wedding invitations he can find. It turns out the glue on the envelopes is toxic and Susan succumbs to the toxin.
Watching George get told by the doctor that she didn’t make it is priceless. As George really didn’t want to get married anyway, he absorbs the news then shrugs (what are you going to do?) and then goes for coffee with his friends, Jerry, Kramer and Elaine, like water off a duck’s back.
Larry David’s inviolate rule for this show is “no hugging, no learning.” Well, after nine seasons, including the great finale, it showed that the four principals never learned a thing.
Alan Harper: From the show "Two and a Half Men," Alan is one of the biggest cheapskates alive (superbly played by John Cryer). His favorite gambit is “forgetting his wallet” when the bill comes at dinner.
In one of the best episodes, he and brother Charlie (Charlie Sheen) are at dinner with dates. When the bill comes, Alan heads to the restroom. Of course, brother Charlie knows what is going on so he follows Alan into the restroom and painfully waits for him to stall, delay, and simply do everything he can to wait out his brother.
Of course, when they eventually get back to their table, the dates have left, the check having been paid by the guy who took them home. Charlie says: “Are you happy?” All Alan can say (having lost his date) is, “Hey, free dinner.”
Emily Litella: A "Saturday Night Live" on-going character, played by Gilda Radner, is someone especially near and dear to my heart. Her “shtick” was getting “confused” about some socially relevant issue. She then prattles on forever, until the host (usually played by Chevy Chase) “corrects” the basic words she gets slightly wrong – rendering her entire diatribe pointless, to which she humbly says: “Never mind.” Here’s an episode on TV violence.
One can imagine another Emily diatribe along these lines:
Emily: “I’m just so upset over how they treat ducks. They don’t feed them enough food in public parks. They don’t put them in warm houses for the winter…..”
Chevy Chase: “Emily, we were talking about ducking your head (duck) so you don’t hit yourself getting into that car.”
Emily: “Oh well, never mind.”
Last on my list today is Rosanne Rosanna Danna: This "Saturday Night Live" character (played brilliantly also by Gilda Radner) is one of my favorites. Well naturally as she is from New Jersey (where my parents had a summer home) and she is a complete whacko.
Get her started on any topic and she will “catch fire” relating the topic to just about any other subject. I simply can’t get through one of her character sketches without laughing so hard tears pour down my face.
What usually attracts my attention to any TV show is the way the writers develop the characters. In order to have a successful show, it is not just the story line of an individual episode, but the way the audience relates to the characters. It is why "Cheers," "Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Friends," "All in the Family," and dozens of others were able to run for multiple seasons.
Let me summarize my thinking about all of this from Rosanne Rosanna Danna:
“I got a letter from a Mr. Smith in Newark NJ. He writes: ‘I stopped smoking. Now I find I have warts, gained weight, have gas, lost a lot of my hair, bad body odor, bad breath and I have lost three girlfriends.’”
“Gee Mr. Smith, you sound like a real attractive guy.”