The AV Club’s latest inventory features “Showblockers: 22 characters who stop good TV shows in their tracks.” The list has the expected mix of one-note supporting characters who are over-used (Kenneth, Klinger) and leading characters who come off as being awful people, like Ted Mosby and, perhaps most famously, Dawson of Dawson’s Creek. The “Television Without Pity” site actually originated as “Dawson’s Wrap,” devoted to recapping Dawson’s Creek with an emphasis on what a worthless, self-loving creep the title character was.
We can all have our disagreements with the choices on the list — even the older Rudy was less intolerable than Elvin or post-reprogramming Denise, and was okay with Dawn by the last two seasons of Buffy; Spike, Tara and even Willow were bigger drags — but I think we can all agree that the phenomenon is real; there are some characters who, when they get an episode or even a big scene in an episode, make us wish they’d go away.
I think the ultimate showblocker may be Carmine “The Big Ragu” Ragusa from Laverne and Shirley: no one, before or after, has been quite so useless. He wasn’t funny, he wasn’t handsome, he wasn’t likable, and he frequently held up episodes by singing and dancing. Whenever you saw him, you knew you were in trouble, and if he didn’t do anything particularly offensive, you feared it was just a ruse to distract you from the impending doom musical number.
Also, some characters, like Dwight, start out really good and then become irritating as the show goes on. (Dale on King of the Hill had this too; it might be an inevitable part of the Greg Daniels universe that as the show goes on and develops the characters more, the one character who’s completely nuts begins to get on our nerves.) Bull from Night Court was like the predecessor to Kenneth, in that he got too popular for his own good with the writers and some of the fans, and went from a funny-in-small-doses character to one who was given to us in unbearably large doses. Too bad 30 Rock couldn’t get Richard Moll for that reunion episode, because there could have been a symbolic passing of the torch.
Update: Linda Holmes writes in defense of Ted Mosby. Someone has to. But the problem with Ted, as with many showblockers, is that the writers were unaware that he wasn’t cool and awesome and wonderful, and therefore spent a long time writing him as if they thought we liked him. That’s a common showblocker issue: if the writers know we don’t love someone, then they will write him accordingly. The horrible thing happens when the writers love someone like Wesley Crusher, and write him as a heroic super-guy. The thing with Ted was that they spent the first season telling us what a wonderful, romantic, sweet man he was, when we at home could see that his “romantic” behaviour was either stupid or creepy. Then they spent the second season telling us that Ted and Robin had great chemistry, when they didn’t. The writers eventually wised up and started admitting that Ted is annoying and has no chemistry with anybody, but it was too late. A show can get away with having a flawed central character, but when the show is not aware that the flaws are in fact flaws, that’s when showblocking happens.