In Praise of the Janets: TV Characters We Love Despite the Fact Their Shows May Not
Back in the beforetime of television, you could tell writers didn’t really care about characters when a) the characters acted only as the dull voice of reason, and b) were unattractive (it had to be both). But, now, we exist in a magical time where ugly people aren’t allowed on television, huzzah!, so it becomes harder to tell when a writing staff has nothing but utter contempt for an actor or character (until they kill said character off and then basically have the whole cast shit on them at their funeral).
But, for some, it’s not that the writers actively despise the performer or character. It’s just that they haven’t quite figured out what to do with them. You can tell they love them, but haven’t the slightest goddamn clue what to do with them, like when you babysit your infant cousin. And sometimes that’s okay. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the aimless, pointless ride.
For the following characters, we love them even though the writers are completely stupified by their presence.
Honestly, even when Ann had something to do, she didn’t have much to do. I have to imagine that they just really liked Rashida Jones so much, they wanted her on the show. And we all like Rashida Jones so much, we want her on the show forever. It would just be so nice for her to, you know, do stuff. Even having her work in the same building didn’t help matters. Luckily, they seem to not really know what to do with Chris, so they’ll probably just get them back together. And give us more Ann/Ron interactions along the way.
Here’s the thing about everyone on this list: the casts of all these shows are so strong that it’s at times imperceptible just how useless some of the characters really are. Particularly when they make us laugh. But there seems to be a common phenomenon wherein a character starts out as the central premise of the show, then falls to the wayside when, after the central premise idea runs its course, they realize they have nothing else for this person. And that’s kind of where we find ourselves with Alex on “Happy Endings.” Luckily, the show is good enough that we don’t really even notice that Alex doesn’t do anything. And when she DOES do something, it’s golden (drag queen Marilyn Monroe).
For Ted, it’s kind of a different issue. They know exactly what to do with him. Unfortunately, they can’t do it for another season and a half. So, for the past year and until that point, we’re kind of just floating along, paying attention to everyone else’s stories while Ted just kind of tells them…Sagetly.
I know a lot of people hate Ted. And I might love him for those very same reasons. In real life, he would unwantedly text you and tweet you all the livelong day, ignoring any lack of reciprocity. But on TV? He’s a lovely romantic! Any girl would be lucky! He’s a pretentious asshat, reminding me of every fucknose I went to film school with. But on TV? He’s adorable! Quirky! He likes crossword puzzles and geeks out at Will Shortz! So until Ted meets “your mother” (which always sounds like the worst yo mama joke ever) we’ll just appreciate him for what he is. A complete tool. But the BEST complete tool.
Oh Shirley. God bless you.
Here’s the thing: the show has fleshed her out exceptionally. She’s a layered individual with a past and a personality and she’s often a scene stealer. But, despite all that, they still don’t know what the hell to do with her week-to-week other than Jesusy things. And that’s fine, I love those Jesusy things. Honestly, what it reminds me of most is Catherine on “NewsRadio” and it’s probably no accident that Catherine was also a black female character. The writing staff tries but lacks the worldview to give the character much to do. At least “Community” has some female staff members. Paul Simms and co. had to make do with a roomful of dudes (and, dammit, they did a fine job as long as they could).
Maybe another “Mixology Certification”-style B-plot for Shirley is in order. And maybe the return of Theo Huxtable will bring her some quality screentime. Either way, I’ll be happy and enjoy every last ounce of this show until they pry it from my cold dead hands. But if we can get a little extra Shirley before we have to say adieu, that would be niiiice.