The greatest sitcom characters of all time
Petty, self-centred, stupid... and hilarious. We chart the 20 best comic creations of all time.
20. Kenny Powers (Eastbound & Down)
Subtle as a fastball to the groin? Perhaps. But Danny McBride’s hapless pitcher is a peerless modern monster.
Typical line: [To his PE class] “The amount of money that I’m gonna be making would hurt your parents’ feelings.”
19. Sergeant Arthur Wilson (Dad’s Army)
The true star of the classic Home Guard comedy wasn’t jobsworth Captain Mainwaring or any of his naive troops, rather it was second-in-command Wilson – the well-spoken day-dreamer with a mysterious side and a winningly louche demeanour.
Typical line: “Would you mind awfully falling in, please?”
18. Edmund Blackadder (Blackadder)
Before sabotaging Chariots Of Fire performances, Rowan Atkinson played a dynasty of Edmunds across the mock-historical series. The standouts are the dashing Elizabethan nobleman and the wily butler to the Prince Regent. All were scathingly sarcastic.
Typical line: “I couldn’t be more petrified if a wild rhinoceros had just come home from a hard day at the swamp and found me wearing his pyjamas, smoking his cigars and in bed with his wife.”
17. Jim Royle (The Royle Family)
The entire family was fairly sedentary, but Ricky Tomlinson’s patriarch was especially immobile. On the rare occasions when Jim wasn’t slumped in his armchair, controlling the remote, he was off down The Feathers or to the loo for “a Tom Tit”. Despite the nose-picking and ball-scratching, Tomlinson made him hugely lovable.
Typical line: “Anne Robinson, my arse. Watchdog? I’m watching a bloody dog.”
16. Joey Tribbiani (Friends)
While the other five tried to be funny – all rapidfire quips or self-conscious kookiness – the originator of “smell-the-fart acting” ploughed his own furrow and quietly became the mega-sitcom’s funniest draw.
Typical line: [Trying not to spoil The Shining] “All blank and no blank makes blank a blank blank. Oh, and the end, when Jack almost kills them all with that blank but at the last second they get away.”
15. Phil Dunphy (Modern Family)
There’s something of David Brent about the self-proclaimed “cool dad” and doofus estate agent (or “ninja in a blazer”).
Typical line: “I’m hip, I surf the web, I text. LOL: laugh out loud. OMG: oh my God. WTF: why the face?”
14. Norman Stanley Fletcher (Porridge)
Ronnie Barker’s portrayal of the cynical HMP Slade inmate – truly his finest hour.
Typical line: “When Harry Grout asks a favour, it is on the understanding that it gets done. Otherwise he takes it as a personal insult, and sends a henchman to mete out dire retribution. From Crusher With Love.”
13. Tracy Jordan (30 Rock)
Just about the best in an ensemble of enormously funny characters. And that’s down to his preposterous lines and their pin-point delivery by Saturday Night Live alumnus Tracy Morgan (try spotting the difference between the actor and the 30 Rock caricature).
Typical line: [On his tough upbringing] “I once saw a baby give another baby a tattoo. They were very drunk.”
12. GOB Bluth (Arrested Development)
George Oscar Bluth has ridden his Segway into the history books: selfish, vain and prone to disastrous magic ‘illusions’, he really is the thinking man’s idiot.
Typical line: “You didn’t eat that dove, did you? Because I only have a couple of days left to return it.”
(One of O.P.'s favorite GOB lines: "I'll buy you 100 George Michaels you can teach to drive!")
11. Super Hans (Peep Show)
Mark and Jez are superbly observed, but it’s Jeremy’s deadpan, drug-hoovering band-mate Super Hans who’s the cult star. Notable for getting addicted to crack (“moreish”).
Typical line: “People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis. You can’t trust people, Jeremy.”
10. Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Playing an exaggerated version of himself, Larry’s life is a string of faux-pas and petty feuds – invariably culminating in shouting and humiliation.
Typical line: “Can I tell you something about apricots? One in 30 is a good one. It’s such a low-percentage fruit.”
9. Jill Tyrrell (Nighty Night)
One of the great grotesques of 21st-century sitcom, Julia Davis’s psychotic beautician will do anything to get her man – married doctor Don.
Typical line: “You know my feelings on asthma: take a deep breath and get over it.”
8. Father Dougal Mcguire (Father Ted)
The titular priest’s dunderheaded pal believes in Darth Vader more than he does in God. Yet while Ted rails against the universe, Dougal sleeps soundly. In He-Man sheets.
Typical line: “It’s like a big tide of jam coming toward us, but jam made out of old women.”(Was not expecting Dougal, but it's a nice surprise! Love his character sfm)
7. Basil Fawlty (Fawlty Towers)
The hotel proprietor with the bendy straw physique is the ultimate sitcom buffoon.
Typical line: [On his wife’s laugh] “Sounds like somebody machine-gunning a seal.”
6. Malcolm Tucker (The Thick Of It)
Peter Capaldi pitches No10’s policy enforcer (“the PM’s all-swearing eye”) somewhere between Alastair Campbell, Sir Alex Ferguson and Begbie from Trainspotting. Armed only with a mobile phone and a lethal line in put-downs, he’s terrifying and funny.
Typical line: [His response to a knock at his office door] “Come the f*ck in or f*ck the f*ck off.”
5. Del Boy Trotter (Only Fools And Horses)
Some of the jokes may be as careworn as that falling-through-the-bar clip, but Del is a true one-off. He drinks disgusting cocktails, drives a yellow three-wheeler, misuses French phrases and dreams of trading in his council flat for something more salubrious. A ludicrously attired hero.
Typical line: “Don’t you realise those watches are a very sought-after property? They are especially sought after by the River Police and the Flying Squad.”
4. Homer Simpson (The Simpsons)
Our only animated entry has had his role ‘embiggened’ since the early days. The focus of Matt Groening’s creation shifted from Bart to his dad Homer, as everyone realised the doughnut-munching doofus was the hero. No one says “Don’t have a cow, man!” any more. But they do say “D’oh!”
Typical line: “All right brain, you don’t like me and I don’t like you. But let’s just get me through this and I can get back to killing you with beer.”
3. George Costanza (Seinfeld)
Jerry’s bald, bespectacled best mate was based on Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. The self-styled “Lord Of The Idiots”, George is the selfish, lazy, insecure little man inside all of us. He lies to get perceived tiny advantages in relationships. He says things we might think but would never dare admit. A god, despite it all.
Typical line: “No, no, I don’t think I’m special. My mother always said I’m not special.”
2. Alan Partridge (I’m Alan Partridge)
North Norfolk’s premier broadcaster started in spoofs (The Day Today, Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge) before moving into sitcom territory with the two series of I’m Alan Partridge. He remains Steve Coogan’s masterpiece: your textbook Daily Mail-reading, Top Gear-watching menopausal man who loves the sound of his own burbling voice. Alan’s nonsensical rants are legendary, but what distinguishes him is Coogan’s immersion in the character. We believe that Alan Partridge is real, from his fastidiously combed hair to his sports-casual loafers. From catchphrasey bravado to the little-boy-lost look in his eyes.
Typical line: “Right, dry skin cream. I’m having an attack of the old flakes again. This morning my pillow looked like a flapjack.”
1. David Brent (The Office)
To think the chilled-out entertainer began life in a 1997 sketch called ‘Seedy Boss’. The beauty of Brent is in Gervais’s mannerisms – tie-fiddling, finger-pistols – and the gap between his view of himself and the reality. In his mind, he’s a comedian, hip dude and musical genius. In truth, he’s incompetent, offensive and even in his Sergio Georgini jacket is deeply uncool.
Typical line: “There are limits to my comedy. There are things that I’ll never laugh at. The handicapped. Because there’s nothing funny about them.”
Lawd hammercy the lack of female characters on this list is infuriating. Who are your favorite TV characters, ONTD?