Showblockers -



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.

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  1. I know a lot of people would disagree with this, but for me Sue Sylvester from Glee is a Showblocker. I get that she's the driving force behind a lot of the action/plot, but I just don't enjoy watching her on the show. If I've got an episode taped, I usually fast forward through the Sue scenes. Given how popular she seems to be, I'd guess they're going to give her more and more airtime and make this a bigger problem. At least, that's how I 'C' it. ;)

  2. The first person to come to mind when I saw the title of that article – and whose absence shocked me – was Ken Jeong on Community. I like the show a lot, but Senor Chang is the opposite of funny most of the time.

    • Good point. He's exactly the kind of over-the-top, look-at-me-I'm-funny character who plagues a lot of comedies (like they feel they have to mug harder because there's no laugh track or something) and which the main regular characters have all blessedly managed to avoid being. (John Oliver's a bit like that too but they're not making him a full-fledged regular yet, just recurring.)

    • If we were picking a character from Community I would go with Pierce. Although I agree to a certain extent with the Senor Chang choice, the whole point of Pierce is that he's not funny, and none of the other characters think he's funny, so every time he says something it really stops the momentum of the scene as all conversation has to stop so they can look condescendingly at Pierce.

  3. If you're looking for someone to defend The Cosby Show's Elvin, I'll only be happy to do it. The fact that the guy was clearly out of his league was what made him so damn funny. He had this sort of bemused quality about him, as if he were constantly questioning his station on the show {"How in the hell did I get here?").

    The winner for showblocking has to be Mildred Krebs on Remington Steele. It took Everybody Loves Raymond for me to start enjoying Doris Roberts again.

    • Oh, God, Mildred. When I heard the commentaries for RS I couldn't believe the writers thought, or talked themselves into thinking, that she helped the show. (On the other hand, Murphy and what's-her-name from the first season were fine.)

  4. I currently fast forward any Ellie scene in Chuck. She's a whiny wet blanket.

  5. I have to strongly disagree about Dwight. He's stayed pretty much awesome, while the writers totally took away everything that was fun and interesting about Jim and Pam…

    • I'm not one of those people who thoughtlessly prefers the British Office – I think the American version is slightly better – but Dwight has been the problem on the Office from day one. He was always far too broad, and too generic in his craziness. Gareth from the original show was probably as broad but I think was more inventively demented.

  6. Ellie on Chuck — agreed. Awesome got more awesome when he found out the secret. Ellie managed to finally find out the secret and STILL be no fun. I thought letting her in on it would put an end to her tiresome nagging but it did not.

    Glee without Sue Sylvester would not be worth watching. She fits the mold of a showblocker because she's intrusive to the premise and really has nothing to do with anything, the problem is that the other characters are all worthless (Kurt and the dumb cheerleader — Brittany? — are bright spots but I don't think I'd watch the show for them). So then you have a couple of musical numbers, some of which are not very good anyway… dropping Sue leaves very little watchable with Glee.

  7. Nice to know there's a name for something that I've felt intuitively for a long time.
    And I'm going to use that as a measure of how good a show is.

    On the flip side you have characters that really make an episode, even if they are only a guest.
    I've never forgotten the scene on Cosby where he goes to buy a new car wearing old clothes and Gilbert Gottfried is shouting 'Doctor Huxtable, Doctor Huxtable!' in the background.
    That's also where Extras excelled.
    David Bowie singing Little Fat Man.

    And it's a different genre, but Fred Armisen on SNL, especially when he does that blind man walking in front of the camera bit. I remember one of his first appearances as the rimshot drummer with no timing sitting behind Chris Kattan.
    Just watched Boondock Saints 2 and I wonder if there's a trend to purposely include bad acting as part of the joke.
    It amazes and intrigues me that most people don't have the original version of The Office as their touchstone.
    I know a few people who are just starting to watch the original and I'm interested to see their take on it.
    Although Michael Scott has his share of cringe inducing moments, David Brent's were more horrific.
    That show was closer to the desperation of real life than the caricature of the newer one.

  8. Is it controversial to suggest Diane from Cheers? (Or even Carla, come to think of it).

    Frank on Everybody Loves Raymond comes to mind too. (I think both parents on that show were weak points, but Marie / Doris Roberts was central to the interactions – Frank really was just a spoiler).

    To dddddttr – I wonder if the occasional characters who make any given show are showblockers in waiting, ready to ruin a show if they're overused? I love Zapp Branigan on Futurama but you wouldn't want him in every episode (I say this without having seen the new episodes). For an example, see every single non-Simpsons character on The Simpsons.

    • How about Cliff on Cheers also

  9. To go back to your column Jaime, the thing I remember about Carmine and that I found confusing was that at first he was Shirley's boyfriend and he was a boxer and then he wasn't Shirley's boyfriend anymore and he was the singing/dancing guy.

    It was just weird.

    • I agree-that guy always confused me…I almost felt embarrassed for him and his overly happy tap dancing…wonder what happened to him?

  10. Urkell on Family Matters (was that the show's name?). For me at least. Actually I never watched the show because I found that character anti-funny.