The Most Emotionally Damaged Family Sitcom Characters
Okay, I’m back. What did I miss?
To begin, I just want to say I’ve missed you people very much in the last month. I’ve been kind of busy, first being too enormous to type words, then getting to hang out with the best, most awesome, most adorable little creature to ever be extracted from anything ever. Yes, after roughly seventeen months of gestation, I finally had that baby, and she is damn stellar, with pretty hair, tiny hands and toes so small they’re stupid.
While out of both my real office and my Pajiba office (ie, my couch), first on bedrest, then maternity leave, I’ve watched a lot of TV. A lot. Did you know Tim Gunn has some manner of syndicated self-improvement show, or that there’s a “The View” with cooking? BECAUSE HE DOES AND THERE IS. But mostly I’ve been watching the programs of my youth. And, you guys, I’ve seen some things. Some dark things.
Shawn Hunter, “Boy Meets World”
Seriously. The angst of it all, you guys.
In the early days of the show, Shawn was just a normal kid with a bit of a goofy streak. Then they made him poor. Then they made him the most tragic character in the history of television. His mom walked out on him, his dad followed suit and he had to live with Mr. Turner and his hockey hair, then Mr. Turner got into a motorcycle accident and disappeared forever, then he found out his dad had fathered a son who ended up getting to live a happy rich kid life, and then his dad fucking died. He was prone to jealousy, rage, bouts of alcoholism, commitment issues and instances of violently pushing the pussified, curly-haired Cory. I have to believe that this character development was formed as a result of Rider Strong’s superior acting level (the same could be said of Eric Matthews’s devolution into a moppy-haired Lennie Small) in regards to the rest of the cast, but good lord, you guys, he was a human after-school special. The writers either desperately loved him or really fucking hated him.
Stephanie Tanner, “Full House”
“Full House” would have you believe that walking cautionary tale Kathy Santoni was the messed up one, what with its frequent use of slut shaming the poor, rarely seen side character (she was the first to get boobs, then got pregnant and married in high school, not to mention that time she stole Jonathan Brandis away from DJ, that harlot) but the Tanner family was basically just one disaster after another. DJ had an eating disorder for one episode. Michelle developed some manner of dissociative identity disorder following a bout of horse-induced amnesia. And, yet, Stephanie still managed to be the most fucked up of the Tanner sisters. Stephanie suffered from acute Middle Child Twat Syndrome, frequently running away to dodge totally deserved punishments (such as that time she drove the car through the goddamn kitchen) and pouts her way out of everything else while the melancholy instrumental of the theme song plays. But none of this is really her fault. She is completely ignored by her entire family. In one episode, Uncle Jesse and Joey (aside: who was never at any point referred to as “Uncle Joey” so let’s *sideways peace sign, thumbs up, thumb pointed back* cut that out right now) are preoccupied with helping DJ, Danny is obsessively filming Michelle and Stephanie is desperately hula hooping for his attention and affection. Hula hooping! Tell me that’s not the gateway to afternoon shift stripping. Danny even excuses his behavior with a flippant “I’m filming your adorable sister.” Nice parenting, asshole. No wonder she turned to meth. That’s on you, chat show.
In an ironic twist, the most together character on the show? The constantly tortured Kimmy Gibler, who took every horrific insult with a smile.
Arthur Fonzarelli, “Happy Days”
You know, you can tell me someone is “cool” all you want, but when that person nails high school girls, lives in a garage above his teenaged friend’s parents’ house and only hangs out at a hangout for much younger people, I’m not buying it. A dropout and former gang member, Fonzie was at times defined by his sad past, and, while looked up to by his adolescent denizens, adults had trouble accepting him or seeing his inner goodness. When you think about it that way, he was basically a Michelle Pfeiffer or a Hilary Swank away from a “the unconventional white teacher saved my life” movie.
Al Borland, “Home Improvement”
Let’s put this out there: Al was always just one grunted insult away from a complete snapping shitshow, complete with fire, explosions and a power drill to Tim’s skull. A pathetic mama’s boy with much more skill than the professionally and personally more successful Tim Taylor, he served as the man’s punching bag and punchline for years, never to catch a real break. Also, Tim constantly torments him for his flannel, which one episode explains that he wears as a tribute to his dead father. WHY IS EVERYONE HORRIBLE TO EVERYONE IN THE WORLD OF THE G-RATED SITCOM?
Richard Belding, “Saved By The Bell”
At the site I used to write for, I once posed a very serious question: why wasn’t something done about Belding? Dicky, Dicky, buddy, what was up? What happened to you that made you this way? Because, seriously, Belding was basically Dean Pelton, and Zack Morris his Jeff Winger, only it was worse because Zack was a minor, and because Belding lacked proper costumery.