How Messy Do You Like Your Heroes? 10 Of TV And Film's Most Beautiful Disasters

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How Messy Do You Like Your Heroes? 10 Of TV And Film's Most Beautiful Disasters

By Joanna Robinson | Seriously Random Lists | June 17, 2013 | Comments ()

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It's no mystery that we love a flawed hero. Who wants to see a glossily perfect human being float through life? Where's the drama (or even the comedy) in that? Heck, even the most recent Superman, our own American Jesus, is laboring under more angst than he ever has before. But how flawed is too flawed? Everyone has their own barometer, their own threshold for walking disasters. Some hold Hannah from "Girls" or Ignatius Jacques Reilly from "Confederacy of Dunces" up as perfectly imperfect. But for me (in Season 2 of "Girls anyway) they push past the boundary of acceptably and enjoyably messed up. I can't root for them. The following ten characters, on the other hand, possess just the right degree of haplessness and self-destructive tendencies. I may cringe at their behavior from time to time, but they have my heart.

Geoffrey Tennant -- "Slings And Arrows": Driven mad or actually haunted by the ghost of his former friend and mentor, Artistic Director Geoffrey Tenant is our Hamlet proxy for this fizzily enjoyable love letter to Shakespeare. What he lacks in Hamlet's cold, Germanic philosophy, he more than makes up for in his tendency to speak to the empty air. Geoffrey's antic disposition might wear on us a little around Season 3 (when everything in the Series begins to wear on us a little) but for the most part the way in which he wears his heart on the wrinkled sleeve of his overcoat is enough to keep our sympathy.

Annie Walker -- Bridesmaids: I must admit Kristen Wiig's erstwhile baker pushes past the lovable boundary a few times in this movie. It's hard to watch someone in free fall. Between blowing up both friendships and relationships (who yells at an Irishmen who buys you flour?), Annie is on an amazing self-destructive roll. But, ultimately, her love for Maya Rudolph's Lillian and her eventual self-awareness, won me back to her side.

Daisy Steiner and Tim Bisley -- "Spaced": We love them. Even when they're lying. Even when they're scamming the welfare office. Even when they're too loud, too drunk and too lazy. Because they're Tim and Daisy. And they found each other.

Frances Halliday -- Frances Ha: Even as Frances wanders from sublet to coach to dorm room and back again, she remains steadfastly lovable. She may lie to save face or make odd, rash travel decisions but, ultimately, she develops enough practicality and sense of self to keep us on her side. The only complaint I have about Greta Gerwig's Frances is that she's just a little too beautiful and put-together for the Frances she seems to be trying to portray. Her self-description of "the girl with acne holding more acne" is a little laughable when juxtaposed with Gerwig's luminous, raw boned face but, at the very least, her hair remains unbrushed throughout.

Jeff -- Jeff, Who Lives At Home: He might live in his mother's basement and smoke too much weed and generally lack a desire to put on pants, but Jason Segel's Jeff is leaps and bounds more sympathetic than his weasel of a brother (played goatee-ly by Ed Helms). But the journey these two men take towards the middle, towards each other, is absolutely heart-warming.

Bridget Jones -- Bridget Jones's Diary: If you want to see just where my patience with Bridget's antics breaks, you need only look to the dreadful 2004 sequel. This was a complete character assassination of the blowsy but sweet girl we'd come to know and love from the first film and the books. But the original Bridget's most endearing quality, her love for and dedication to her friends, makes her haplessness worth it.

I -- Withnail & I: You know who does try my patience? You know who tries everyone's patience? The titular Withnail. Perhaps the messiest, most disastrous individual on the list, Withnail's selfish, wine-soaked demeanor is funny from a distance but would be impossible to live with. But what's important to remember is that the titular "I" dwells in the same squalor, sucks down the same amount of booze and is as willing to prey upon Uncle Monty's generosity. The difference? "I" is, ultimately, good-hearted. Here are two individuals who exist on either side of the of my disaster threshold and though part of me is pained to see "I" shave and cut his hair and move on at the end of the film, there is another part of me that knows there's no other way the story could end.

Will Graham -- "Hannibal": Bryan Fuller is so damn brave to make two completely mentally unstable characters the twin leads of a network drama. But whereas Mads Mikkelson's reserved psychopathy and natty suits make him a familiar figure in fiction, Hugh Dancy's Will Graham has come completely unhinged. Often sweaty, ill-kempt and suffering under delusions, he's a hard character to hold on to. But Dancy is so earnest and Graham so vulnerable that, despite his warped world view, he's easy to love.

Starbuck -- "Battlestar Galactica": Picks fights, drinks too much and alienates the affection of those closest to her. Despite her enviable musculature, wolfish grin and slick skills in the cockpit, Kara Thrace is an absolute mess of a human being. Too much of a mess for some. I've heard plenty of Starbuck hate here and elsewhere. But I don't know if it's because of Katee Sackhoff's appealing demeanor or some deft maneuvering on the part of the writers, but Starbuck never lost me. Not once.

Honorable Mention

Lester Bangs -- Almost Famous: Though not a complete disaster (nor even our hero), it is interesting, is it not, that we take the word of Lester Bangs, a sloppy man who's always home and eager to talk to a teenager, as gospel. And yet, we do. He speaks pearls.

Joanna Robinson understands Hannah from "Girls" is not done with her journey yet. She may get there.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Prestocaro

    I am outraged that Pete of Pete v. Life is not on this list. The messiest of characters.

  • Alberto Cox Délano

    Since you mention a literary example: Don Quixote is the most fabulous messed-up hero in the history of... everything.

  • foolsage

    Ohhh, good one.

  • Starbuck never lost me. But making her a fucking angel almost did.

  • Stellamaris2012

    Not once? Not once did Starbuck lose you? Even when she was cheating on her husband? And then got all self-righteous about it? Cuz that's when she lost me.

  • knifeyspoony

    Jimmy McNulty.

  • culturerabble

    Jimmy! Maan, did he love burning bridges, stirring everyone's shit storm, and having drunken car hood sex in public. A sexy hot mess that one is.

  • apsutter

    Whenever I think of McNutty all I can picture is Bunk getting wasted and throwing up on the street.

  • aroorda

    Its a cop out to not include the entire cast of Girls because "they haven't finished their journey yet" when neither has Will Graham. He's having more lucid moments than he was, and hes got that inflammation or whatever which is entirely outside of his control. Hannah specifically CHOOSES to be a hot mess cause it's, "artistic?" I don't even know why. TBH I only watch Girls because you all keep saying its good. But I don't get it. Granted as a 26 year old male, I'm not the target demographic, but those characters all just act irrationally and mean. With some antibiotics Will could approach normal again.

  • foolsage

    Will's journey isn't over, but then there's a real question: would he be as interesting a character if/after the issue is fixed? I think the issues that make him an increasingly unreliable narrator are central to who he is in the series, and anyhow things seem to be drawing to a crisis. I'm trying to avoid spoilers. ;)

  • Simulacrum 1138

    What, no Columbo?

  • Yossarian

    I love this whole list. I mean, I still need to get to Hannibal and Withnail & I is languishing in my instant Watch queue but they are in excellent company.

  • foolsage

    Deeply flawed characters whose flaws make them interesting and sympathetic include:

    * David Brent/Michael Scott.

    * The entire cast of Arrested Development.

    * The entire cast of Archer.

    * Batman.

    * (Cumberbatch's) Sherlock Holmes.

    * "Doctor" Rusty Venture.

    * Phil Connors (Bill Murray) from "Groundhog Day".

  • TheRealPaganChick

    "* The entire cast of Arrested Development."

    Well, except Gob.

  • foolsage

    ... riiiiiiiight. Gob's a perfectly functional and healthy adult.

  • TheRealPaganChick

    Not sure I understand? I'm saying that Gob's flaws don't make him sympathetic. They make him really unlikeable.

  • foolsage

    Oh, ok, fair point; I thought you were arguing that he's not flawed (heh). He's not very sympathetic at all, but his flaws do make him interesting as a character. Frankly, the Bluths as a group really aren't very likable people.

    Actually, none of the people I listed are very likable.

  • jydog1

    Nope. The Annie Walker character is pretty much just a selfish asshole.

  • Kirbyjay

    A selfish fuck buddy? A bankrupt business and a minimum wage job?
    2 wacko roommates, one that doesn't pay rent? Losing your best friend to marriage and a manipulative rich bitch? Being maid of honor when you're dead broke? Moving back to mom's? No brake lights? ALL AT THE SAME TIME
    Bitch is entitled.

  • Zen

    I deny all accusations.

    Withnail would be awful to live with, to be around, and to be, but I like him because of Richard E. Grant. The man has an impressive capacity for monologue - and he drank vinegar from the lighter fluid bottle. Natural reaction, that.


  • Sara_Tonin00

    I think Bridget Jones - which I did not expect to like when I read the book - is one of the first flawed heroes I really connected with. I didn't expect to - I'm not really like her - but I found her so winning, even in all her screw-ups.

    Withnail though...clever chap, but not someone I want to spend time with.

  • Jakesalterego

    Slings & Arrows does NOT wear. I refuse to accept that sentence. If I were an unconstitutional president, I would line-item veto the shit out of that.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Oh, but it does. Even Season 3 is better than 80% of TV out there, but it pales next to Season 1. And to be honest, the things that Geoffrey does just get more and more damaging to the actors he works with. That's the problem - his trainwrecks get bigger & bigger. He keeps making the same mistakes in more spectacular ways.

  • Jakesalterego

    Because he doesn't learn. Geoffrey is flawed and broken and should not be running the theatre at New Burbage. The fact that we root for him is because he's charismatic and awesome. That doesn't mean he's competent.

  • Kaetian

    I would have to add Bernard Black from "Black Books" to that list.

  • Okay, but where is Bernard Black from Black Books???

  • Tinkerville

    There is something so insanely sexy about that character despite the fact that I'm sure I'd want to throttle him in real life.

  • Arran

    "What are you eating?"

    "Some sort of delicious biscuit."

    "That's a coaster."

  • Guest

    plus a million upvotes

  • Guest


  • lowercase_ryan

    Lip from Shameless

  • competitivenonfiction

    Oh fuck yes.

  • x1000. I love that kid, even though he seems determined to sabatoge himself.

  • lowercase_ryan

    I know, but I will always root for him. I can't not.

  • totally. :)

  • pinkerton80

    Oh, Starbuck... ::swoon::

  • foolsage

    She was wonderful; enough so that I even accepted her as a space angel or whateverthehells she was by the end.

  • firedmyass

    All hell of yes. From the first moment she appeared on-screen... kicked me right in the neck (apparently, I'm into that).

  • Mrs. Julien

    Cake and fine wines! We want the finest wines available to humanity. We want them here and we want them now!

    Speed is like a dozen transatlantic flights without ever getting off the plane. Time change, you lose, you gain. Makes no difference so long as you keep taking the pills, but sooner or later you've got to get out because it's crashing and all at once those frozen hours melt through the nervous system and seep out the pores.

    (I have a contractual obligation.)

  • emilya

    Bastard asked me to understudy Konstantin in The Seagull. I'm not going to understudy anybody. Especially that pimp! Anyway, I loathe those Russian plays. Always full of women staring out of windows, whining about ducks going to Moscow

  • Joe Grunenwald

    I normally hate things where a character is unsure if what he or she is experiencing is real or not. The fact that I LOVE Will Graham, a character who goes through that EVERY WEEK, astonishes me to no end.

  • DeltaJuliet

    My husband and I have been DVR'ing Hannibal from the beginning and are up to episode 5 (I think). We are having a hard time loving it though. After each episode we kind of look at each other and go "Are we going to keep watching or no?"
    We haven't deleted it yet so I guess we are moving forward. I WANT to love it, but it's not letting me.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I've felt that way about Mad Men for five years now.

  • DeltaJuliet

    It's funny you say that because I have had Mad Men in my Netflix queue for a couple of years and still haven't started it yet. I get the feeling I'll feel the same.

  • foolsage

    Poor Will. I wrote quite a bit more but then deleted it, because it was full of spoilers. This is a great show and I don't want to ruin it for anyone, so I'll tread lightly.

    Anyhow, yes. We have an increasingly unreliable narrator, who's stared for far too long into the abyss, and it stared back. He's a great character, and I question whether the show will try to "fix" him. I'm unsure if the show would be as compelling at that point.

  • Tinkerville

    Question for Hannibal watchers. I get extremely bored with police/detective procedurals so I don't usually give them a chance. Just about every serial killer or murder mystery seems overdone on TV at this point. Should I still check Hannibal out? I do adore Bryan Fuller but I've avoided it thus far on account of the aforementioned procedural annoyances.

  • foolsage

    Hannibal isn't remotely akin to a procedural. It's very very very different from any other show I've seen, honestly. Solving crimes really isn't the point of the show at all; it's more about the relationship between Hannibal Lector and Will Graham (a special agent whose empathy and incredible imagination allow him to relive crimes; to "get into the heads" of serial killers).

    I really don't want to give too much away, yet I want to keep writing about the show. Ergh.

    I wasn't interested; this didn't sound like the kind of show I'd like at all. Then I gave the pilot a chance, and wow. Just... wow. I'm hooked.

    Check it out.

  • True_Blue

    Hannibal is not a police procedural. In Hannibal's world, there is no such thing as a D.A., FBI has a total of 3 lab techs who do everything, there are no higher-ups demanding resolution for political reasons, and the only media is a psycho crime blogger. Now will you watch it?

  • lowercase_see

    The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool.

  • dannyexplosion

    I'm always home because I'm not cool

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