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The 21st century has been a renaissance of great TV. The mockumentary TV show was born, some of the most gripping series in television history have premiered, and animated sitcoms have found bold new ways to get around censorship rules and show, shall we say, phallic images on screen (I’m looking at you, Big Mouth.) The past two decades have been a great period for television of all genres but, those who have been following my articles may have noticed that I’m a comedy girl. The past 20 years have been a great period for dramas and I’d love to be able to comment for you on Cersei’s pillaging of Westeros but to be honest, I watched the first four episodes of Game of Thrones, decided it was too dark and retreated into a binge-fest of Modern Family.
This new millennium has brought us some of the best sitcoms of all time. Comedy has become bolder, more meaningful, and most importantly funnier. The secret to a great sitcom is great characters. Characters in a sitcom drive the story and provide all the humor. The characters make a sitcom worth watching. While you might watch a drama for action or the air of tension, characters are what define a sitcom.
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And so, here is my list of the top 10 sitcom characters of this century – the greatest ones:
#10- Mr. Peanutbutter from Bojack Horseman (2014-2020)
Mr. Peanut Butter is an animated Labrador Retriever and he fulfills every stereotype of his breed. He’s loyal, loving, and is a ball of sunshine in the dark and tragic world of Bojack Horseman. Bojack revolves around a has-been celebrity who also happens to be, hopefully, you gathered from the title of the show, a horse. Mr. Peanutbutter is to eating Froot Loops for breakfast while Bojack is to skipping breakfast and reading all the works of Ayn Rand instead. Mr. Peanutbutter is the perfect comedic foil to Bojack’s cynicism.
Bojack Horseman is a tragicomedy and to balance out the tragedy and the comedy, you need counterbalances to the glum that is inherent in Bojack’s story. Mr. Peanut Butter is such a great character because he has everything Bojack wants and probably could have if he wasn’t such a downer. He marries the girl Bojack pines over, he still has success in his career and he lives a life fulfilled. But Bojack doesn’t care and chooses to loathe Mr. Peanut Butter which inherently makes the audience loathe Mr. Peanutbutter since we see the show through Bojack’s eyes. Despite this, Mr. Peanut butter is a great character who offers us a glimpse into what could be if Bojack was less of a cynic.
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#9- Charles from Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-)
Honestly, every character’s a gem in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The squad of quirky cops that inhabit the world of this show each has their own priceless personality. But, only one can have a spot on the list and that spot goes to Detective Charles Boyle. Charles has some of the funniest lines on the show with his unintentional sexual innuendos and hyper enthusiasm towards his friendship with the main character Jake Peralta. You know how people say everyone needs a Samwise Gamgee in their lives. I disagree, Charles Boyle runs friendship circles around Samwise Gamgee. Charles is one step short from idolizing Jake and his obsession with his friendship teeters between adorable and creepy. Still, Jake always knows who to look for a pep talk, a motivational speech, or an impromptu shoulder massage and Boyle will always have Jake’s back no matter what.
#8- Rebecca from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019)
The name of this show is a misnomer: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is by far the most feminist show of the 21st century. It’s about a woman who moves across the country to be with a guy. I promise it gets feminist soon. At the center of the show is Rebecca who stumbles through figuring out how to live a happy life throughout the show’s four-season run. Crazy Ex is one of the few sitcoms ever to openly and honestly talk about mental illness as Rebecca struggles with Borderline Personality Disorder. She learns how to manage her BPD while trying to balance her life in the process. Rebecca spends the series evolving and learning that the only happy ending in life isn’t one you’ll find in a 1950s Disney movie. She finds a network of support for herself in her friends and seeks meaning in her life. And suddenly, she doesn’t need a man to find happiness.
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#7- Roger from American Dad (2005-)
I must admit, Roger was an attempt to add diversity to the list, being the only pansexual amorphous extraterrestrial alien on the list. Roger is the epitome of a comedic foil to the straight-laced, all-American Stan Smith. Stan is forced to hide Roger from his higher-ups at the CIA after Roger saves his life. Roger’s dialogue is filled with biting sarcasm and he has absolutely no filter which is exactly the opposite of what a man trying to run a conservative white-bred household needs. He is the most thin-skinned character on this list and if you say his cowboy disguise makes him look fat, you can expect to find yourself waking up on the roof in your underwear.
#6- April from Parks and Recreation (2009-2020)
April is a human who is somehow weirder than the anthropomorphic alien and Labrador Retriever that preceded her on the list. She is an employee in the Parks and Recreation department of Pawnee, Indiana. She’s known for her bizarre non-sequiturs and for being strangely obsessed with the occult and human sacrifice. Picture a girl whose parents didn’t let her watch Disney movies and instead had her watch the films of David Cronenberg for hours on end. That’s April. Despite this, she does genuinely care for her friends and coworkers and this occasionally shines through between the sarcastic comments and literal curses she puts on other people. That’s what makes her a great character. While a character like her can easily slip into being one dimensional, the audience does grow to feel for April throughout the series. Granted, that is when they’re not overly jealous of her for getting to kiss Chris Pratt on screen.
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#5- Eleanor from The Good Place (2016-2020)
Eleanor was once a proud telemarketer for a sham pharmaceutical company who would do anything to avoid doing a favor for a friend or calling her mom. But all that’s changed now, mostly because she’s dead. Eleanor begins her time in ‘The Good Place’ questioning whether there is a Medium Place because she definitely doesn’t belong in the Good Place and she wants to avoid the Bad Place at all cost. I mean, we learn that demons shove bees and fire up your unmentionables in the Bad Place so it’s probably wise to avoid. But then, Eleanor realizes she has to atone for her bad deeds on Earth and gradually becomes a better person. Eleanor is an extremely flawed person but the moral of The Good Place is that anyone can become a better person if they try.
#4- Abed from Community (2009-2015)
Community is full of funny and zany characters on the campus of Greendale Community College, Abed is by far the funniest and the zaniest. Danny Pudi plays the character to comedic perfection and holds his own playing with comedy legend Chevy Chase. It’s hard to pinpoint what’s the funniest aspect of Abed’s character from his purely deadpan delivery of lines to his potential clairvoyance. Despite his lack of any expression whatsoever, Abed does genuinely care about his friends and would do anything for them. Abed proves time and time again that though he is the least expressive of his friends, he has the biggest heart of them all.
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#3- Maurice from Big Mouth (2017-)
Wouldn’t it be nice to have had a little angel on your shoulder to help you through the most hormonal years of your life, gently guiding you towards the right decision? Well, Maurice is most definitely not that. He’s a hormone monster, the personification of those emotions in your preteen and teenage years that made you the A-hole that all teenagers are. A shout out to Connie for being the sassy female counterpart to Maurice but the beast, nay, the legend takes the cake. Maurice is one of the many characters in Big Mouth voiced by Nick Kroll whose insane impression talents also give life to Nick, Coach Steve, and Lola. In other words, all the funniest characters in the show. Maurice and the other hormone monsters on the show remind us that nostalgia is trash, our teenage years were the worst and no one should ever want to go back to any time between ages 10-20.
#2- Rick from Rick and Morty (2013-)
Grandpas in sitcoms give timeless advice while struggling to figure out which of the five remotes on their kids’ coffee table turns on the TV. Meanwhile, Rick Sanchez is traveling to other dimensions in his spaceship, partying with aliens, and being probably perpetually drunk in the process (We still don’t know what’s in that flask he’s always holding.) Rick is the world’s most brilliant scientist who operates out of his daughter’s garage.
He goes on intergalactic and interdimensional adventures on a regular basis and then comes home to an archetypal and mundane sitcom family. And of course, like all the best scientists in pop culture, his partner is a teenage boy who should really be in school right now. Rick is known for his cynicism and nihilism which is part of what everyone loves about the character and the show. Rick’s attitude can best be described with two simple words: screw it. He hates everyone and everything and oddly, that’s what draws audiences to love the character.
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#1- Michael from The Office (2005-2013)
It’s debatable whether it’s a dream or nightmare to have a boss like Michael Scott. Michael manages Dunder Mifflin Paper and he sees himself more as a best friend and mentor than a boss. It’s physically impossible to not fall in love with Michael while watching the seven and a half seasons of the show he starred in. His timeless quote sums up his character perfectly, “Would I rather be loved or feared? Easy, I want people to fear how much they love me.” Michael is both a comedic tour de force and the emotional center of the show.
Through his time on the show, we root for him to finally achieve his one goal in life: to have a family. Of course, he goes about it in all the wrong ways proposing to a girl on their ninth date and having sex with his boss. Of course, this is in between deciding his successor based on a series of beach-themed games and getting a sugar high on a soft pretzel. Michael’s personality is best compared to that of a puppy. He just wants to love and be loved by everyone. Now, put that puppy in charge of a paper company and see what happens.
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Carrie Fishbane is obsessed with all things comedy and loves to reflect on the impact of comedy on the world. Having spent thousands of hours studying literature, she also writes about the political impact of entertainment and the power movies and TV have to create social change. Hollywood Insider promotes ethics and substance in entertainment, which is exactly in line with Carrie’s perspective. Carrie’s favorite movies include Jojo Rabbit, Deadpool, and Inception and her favorite shows are Rick and Morty, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and The Office.