Sitcoms come and go. Some last for years while others are literally cancelled after one airing. The key to a successful show goes beyond good writing. You need actors who take the craft to another level. Their ability to get into the character and make it believable – no matter the zany situations they face – allow them to stand the test of time. With that in mind, here’s a look at 8 sitcom characters that rank among the greatest in history.
Charlie Harper – Two and a Half Men
Donning bowling shirts and cargo shorts, Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) is a womanizer, hard drinker, cigar chomper, gambler, and drug user who lives in a two-story beach house. He also sleeps in constantly and burns through money. Sheen was so good at playing himself that he ended up winning four Primetime Emmy Awards for his efforts. Once Sheen dialed up his already chaotic personal life about three extra notches, he was literally killed off the show, and in the final episode we discover that he is destined to spend the rest of eternity in Hell trapped in a woman’s body.
Homer Simpson – The Simpsons
When The Simpsons first began airing more than 200 years ago, Bart was the main attraction. I still remember my elementary school freaking out when a classmate showed up wearing an “Eat My Shorts” t-shirt. I’m old, guys. Anyway, after the first couple of seasons the show began to focus less on the rebellious 4th grader and more on the antics of his father Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta), who gradually transformed from somebody who couldn’t catch a break but had good intentions to a guy who just got stupider (and more lovable) every season. I must confess that I stopped watching the Simpsons back in the early 2000s when it had reached its peak. But when I did watch it, it was because I looked forward to seeing Homer finds himself getting stuck in yet another ridiculous situation. D’oh!
Phoebe Buffay – Friends
Whenever you have a show made up of an ensemble cast of talented actors, fans of that sitcom are always going to be partial towards one particular character. Friends is no exception. But there are so many reasons why it could be argued that Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) is the best of the bunch. She’s ditzy, endearing (Smelly Cat, still believing that Santa Claus exists), free spirited, and inexplicably connected to the underground world of organized crime! It should also be noted that when I was a teenager, my mom named our beloved dog after Phoebe. So there’s that too!
Cosmo Kramer – Seinfeld
Much like Friends, Seinfeld remains popular more than 20 years after the series ended. Kramer (Michael Richards) is one of the key reasons why people still enjoy watching the show. Goofy and eccentric and yet very often the voice of reason, Jerry’s wacky but lovable neighbor is a highly complex character that brought so much to the sitcom. It’s never explained how he supports himself, but he always seems to have enough money to pay for whatever he needs. He’s come up with ideas such a concept restaurant that only serves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; a bra for men called the “bro,” and a coffee table book about coffee tables that is itself a coffee table! What more could you want?
Ron Swanson – Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation was one of the best sitcoms of the 2010s because of its extremely talented and likable cast. But the one character who stood out above the rest is Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). In fact, due to his deadpan method of acting along with his ability to express a wide range of emotions, he was hailed as the best sitcom character since Kramer. His love of meat, hatred of anything that isn’t meat, and his belief that fishing is basically yoga but with the ability to kill something are just a few of the reasons why he deserves to be placed on this list.
Carlton Banks – Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
We all know that Fresh Prince of Bel-Air served as a vehicle that launched Will Smith towards Hollywood stardom, but the Fresh Prince’s preppy, privileged cousin Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) deserves a lot of credit for adding a high degree of complexity to an otherwise average – and often corny – sitcom. He comes off as cocky and annoying, but at his core he’s a caring person who makes rational decisions and looks out for his family.
Niles Crane – Fraiser
After a successful run as Fraiser Crane on the 80s/early 90s sitcom Cheers, Kelsey Grammer was given his own spin-off Fraiser, which was a ratings juggernaut in its own right. A key contributor to the popularity of the show was Fraiser’s younger brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce), who possesses a lot of the same personality quirks, but with the addition of being more intelligent as well as wimpy. He is obsessive compulsive. He has a bunch of phobias. When he tells a lie, his nose starts to bleed. Oh, and he faints at the sight of his own blood. Just a whole lot going on there.
Fez – That 70’s Show
That 70’s Show contains a lot of running gags through the course of its run, with the mysterious origins of Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) being perhaps the most notable. A foreign exchange student (with the other characters calling him “Fez” since they find his real name impossible to pronounce) he’s a fish out of water; he’s regarded as a big weirdo by his friends; and he’s also a tad creepy. Regardless, he’s also a big reason why so many people enjoyed the show. Well, that and Mila Kunis, I suppose.