What is your favorite kind of television character? I used to think mine was a hotshot lawyer, the kind whose courtroom shenanigans infuriate judges and charm juries. Everyone from Jack McCoy to Saul Goodman, if you’re a lawyer on television and a cranky judge has threatened to hold you in contempt, I’m with you. I also like hotshot cops, too, the ones whose loose cannon shenanigans infuriate their antacid-chugging chiefs. I love hotshots and shenanigans. They’re my favorite.
Or so I thought. This year, I found myself drawn to a different kind of character, one I refer to as “the lovable doofus,” Doofus might not be a fair word. Not all of these characters are complete idiots. Some of them display a surprising amount of competence every now and then, often in one specific area. Sometimes their issues come from being stubborn, sometimes they’re just naive, sometimes their brain has been wiped by an evil robot in a futuristic theme park. But they are all charming in their repeated failure to comprehend or achieve and I love to watch them do it.
It’s not a particularly new category of character. The prototype here is probably Homer Simpson, who has been doing this kind of thing for close to thirty years now. There were a lot of them in 2018, though. My original plan was to rank all of them but I realized almost immediately that this plan was untenable. How can I possibly be expected to choose between my sweet boys? It’s not right. I won’t do it. It would hurt them almost as much as it would hurt me.
And so, instead of that, I will now present my favorites, unranked, in no particular order. Welcome to the year of the doofus.
Noho Hank, Barry
My favorite thing about Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan) is what a great host he is. Yes, he was also the number two in a violent criminal organization. Sure, he ordered a few murders here and there. But know this: If you’re coming over to discuss one of these murders, Noho Hank will offer you a juice box or submarine sandwich before the meeting starts. He just wants everyone to be happy.
He was so necessary to the overall vibe of Barry, too. That show got dark in places, man. Bill Hader took his character through hell for most of the season. Parts of it were sad, parts were depressing, even a lot of the funny parts were heavy. Noho Hank was a damn burst of sunshine, sending emojis and Hang In There kitty cats with text messages about doing crimes, looking out for Barry when he shouldn’t, just being a swell guy. It turned the violent Eastern European or Russian mobster trope on its head and it paid off for him in the end. I am more excited about his story than anyone else’s in season two.
Jason Mendoza, The Good Place
How could anyone not love Jason Mendoza? The man is a simple Florida breakdancer and minor criminal whose only true loves are the Jacksonville Jaguars and throwing Molotov cocktails. His favorite restaurant is called Stupid Nick’s Wing Dump. His best friend is named Pillboi. He calls his father Donkey Doug. Between all of that and Manny Jacinto’s flawless bone structure, Jason is kind of like a Zoolander character who was plopped into a network sitcom about philosophy and ethics. This is, to be clear, the highest compliment I know how to give.
Do you think you would get along with Jason? In real life, I mean. I’m torn. A big part of me wants to say yes because he is such a nice but confused man. The bigger part of me, however, would probably get fed up with all the Molotov cocktails. “Dammit, Jason, you can’t blow up my car just because the Jaguars benched Blake Bortles! I have errands to run!” I would be so steamed. But then again… how can you stay mad at Jason? It’s impossible. It’s like being furious with a puppy.
Nick Miller, New Girl
It’s a good thing Jason Mendoza exists because, otherwise, I’m not sure to whom Nick Miller (Jake Johnson) would have passed the Network Television Most Lovable Doofus Award upon the of end of New Girl’s run this year. Nick was a legend, a sweetheart and a crank whose opinion about everything was held firmly and was usually wildly incorrect. The sky? Too fickle, a play-place for birds. Fish? Can’t trust them because they breathe water and that’s… crazy. Towels? Don’t need to be washed because, and I quote, “the towel washes me.” I would happily spin a wheel covered with random topics and demand his opinion on whatever the needle landed on. For hours. Days, maybe.
There’s an important distinction here, though. Nick is not an empty vessel like Jason Mendoza or a nice man in a not-nice profession like Noho Hank. Nick is, allegedly, somewhat intelligent. He went to law school. He runs a bar. He wrote a bestselling novel about a man named Julius Pepperwood. His doofus tendencies lean more in the direction of eccentricity. He’s like a guy who made up his mind about the world at age 11 and said “Yup, nailed it” and never wavered one inch. And do you know what? As I sit here typing this… I mean, he does have a point about the sky.
I will miss him dearly.
Cousin Greg, Succession
Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) was the human version of a goldfish in a tank of piranhas. He’s a naive young man who is about 80 percent arms and legs and he spent most of the first season teetering on the edge of destruction. His whole relationship with Tom was abusive, veering from name-calling to peer pressure (and please to picture Tom bristling at me referring to Cousin Greg as his peer) and back again. The two of them were the outsiders, the son-in-law and non-immediate member of the family. Tom looked at Cousin Greg as something between a threat and a pawn. Cousin Greg looked at Tom like he really wanted Tom to stop yelling at him.
It was so good, too. Having a normal person (normal being relative here) on the show allowed everyone else’s insane actions to register as actually insane sometimes. His perplexed face reminded us that, right, these people are awful, all of them. The show knows that. Their actions need to seem normal to them because they’ve lived this life forever, but Cousin Greg has seen how the rest of us live. He’s worked as a mascot at a theme park. He’s puked through the eye holes of that mascot’s head. He somehow knows the most and least about the real world of any character on the show.
I truly hope that this series ends with him in charge. Cousin Greg the Conqueror.
Coach Steve and Rick the Hormone Monster, Big Mouth
Big Mouth is lousy with idiots. Most of the characters on the show are operating at a sub-optimal level of intelligence. Even the ones who know things — parents, various hormone monsters — have gaping flaws in their worldviews. No one holds a candle to Steve and Rick (both voiced by Nick Kroll), though. Coach Steve is a grown man who lives in a storage container on a diaper barge and is hopelessly uninformed about sex, which presents an issue, as he is the school’s sex ed teacher. Rick is a hornless abomination who advises the young boys he is assigned to mentor that the motion they should use to pleasure themselves in the same as grinding pepper. Neither one of them should be giving anyone guidance about anything. And yet, they do. They try to, at least. What are you gonna do?
Here’s how I knew this character type was my new favorite: Teddy (James Marsden), a boring nothing of a character on Westworld, a confusing and bloated show that flirts with being good a few times a year only to retreat backwards into its own digestive system by the end of each season, got his whole computer brain wiped clean by an evil sentient robot who is hellbent on destroying their human masters, and he immediately became my favorite character on the show by a factor of 10. It makes no sense. He was still a boring nothing of a character and I still didn’t know what was going on. But every time he looked at Dolores with those adorable empty eyes and tried to run her words through the abandoned steel mill inside his head, I started shouting things like “LEAVE TEDDY ALONE. HE’S A SWEET BOY. JUST LET HIM PLAY WITH THE HORSIES. HE’S BEEN THROUGH ENOUGH.”
So that’s where I was at this year, mentally. I’m sure it’s fine.