I was watching an episode of Saturday Night Live in which they talked about Michael Richards (Kramer from Seinfeld) and they mentioned that he was the only one NOT to host Saturday Night Live. That got me thinking about those characters on sitcoms that are usually the quirky friend or neighbor and how they very rarely find success following that one show. By accepting that role, they’ve pigeonholed themselves into a very specific character. Let’s go back in time and honor these quirky best friends and pour one out for the homies that didn’t make it.
Screech (Saved by the Bell)
I’m beginning where I remember the first oddball. There were probably some before me, in the era of Andy Griffith and Mary Tyler Moore, but I’m not familiar enough to speak to those. So I’m starting with the quintessential quirky friend. Screech Powers. Actor Dustin Diamond probably thought he was going to rocket to stardom but he’s been Screech for almost 30 years now and it’s probably starting to get old.
Kimmy Gibbler (Full House)
The weird girl next door was characterized perfectly by Andrea Barber, who (according to IMDB) hasn’t had a job since Full House. A runner-up for this position was Jenna von Oy who played Six in Blossom. They’re both kind of like the same person.
Balki (Perfect Strangers)
When Perfect Strangers aired on TV, that my first experience with the “odd foreigner” archtype, played by Bronson Pinchot. He was naive, he was quirky, and he was the ideal “fish out of water” character. While Pinchot played this perfectly, he didn’t get many roles after this to show off his other acting chops.
Steve Urkel (Family Matters)
And then there’s Steve Urkel. Jaleel White brought us the loveable character who made “Did I do thaaaat?” a household phrase. Even though he got the occasional episode to show off Stefan, that wouldn’t give him a chance at scoring another job after Family Matters was cancelled in 1998.
Cody (Step by Step)
After the success of weirdo neighbors in both Family Matters and Full House, they decided to try it again on the new show Step by Step, so they cast Sasha Mitchell as the loveable but dimwitted neighbor Cody. A splash of smalltown ignorance and a dash of surfer guy stupidity. It worked, but it also did a number on his career, relegating him to bit parts in cable shows and the occasional straight-to-DVD movie.
There were basically four characters on Seinfeld. They were all weird in their own right, but Kramer was a step beyond. Michael Richards was a comedic genius but he never really got a footing in the larger world of entertainment. After a few years out of the spotlight, Richards went crazy with a spree of racist remarks that destroyed any possible resurgence he might’ve had.
Now, this is debatable because some might say that 1.) Phoebe and Joey weren’t that quirky and 2.) they’ve achieved fame after Friends. Well, I’d debate both these things. In a cast of six, Phoebe and Joey were clearly the butt of most jokes. Be it either stupidity or just ignorance, they stood out as being abnormal. And let’s talk about post-Friends fame. Aside from Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, Lisa Kudrow hasn’t had a main role since Friends (at least in mainstream TV or movies). And Matt LeBlanc is just as doomed. He’s played himself in some cable shows and played Joey again in his destined-to-fail spinoff.
Fez (That 70s Show)
The archtype of clueless foreigner was resurrected with That 70’s Show, which introduced us to Wilmer Valderrama as the loveable Fez. He had an indistinguishable accent and his origins were never revealed. Well, I hope he enjoyed his time in the spotlight because after the show was cancelled in 2006, he hasn’t seen much success. He was given a spot in the amazing (but still cancelled) show Awake. But unfortunately I don’t think it’s enough to give him any sort of redemption.
Dr. Cox (Scrubs)
When you think about Scrubs, you might be inclined to label the mysterious Janitor as the oddball character in the cast. But however strange his origins were, Neil Flynn always played his character straight. The oddball in the cast went to Dr. Cox, played perfectly by John C. McGinley. I loved Dr. Cox, but his mannerisms, quotes, and strange quirks cornered him into a very certain type of character. And unfortunately, those characters don’t show up often.
Buster (Arrested Development)
If one cast member stood out on Arrested Development as being quirky and outlandish, it’s Buster Bluth, played by Tony Hale. He ended up with a hook for a hand, dating Liza Minelli, and competing with a Korean adoptee for the love of his alcoholic mother. He was completely out of touch and it’s no wonder that Hale is now completely out of work. He’s managed to find success in doing voiceovers and some web-based shows, but hasn’t really come back on the mainstream radar. Maybe the return of Arrested Development on Netflix will give him a chance at redemption.
Dwight (The Office)
The Office is basically a bunch of somewhat average people reacting to a few very strange people. Rainn Wilson’s Dwight is the usual suspect for this, as well as (formerly) Steve Carell’s Michael Scott. Wilson has had a turn at movies but most of them are laughably bad and it’s unfortunate. With The Office in its final season, we’ll have to wait and see if Rainn can make it with a new show or potential movies.
Kenneth (30 Rock)
Another person who’s still on television is 30 Rock’s Kenneth, played by Jack McBrayer. He’s perfect as Kenneth, but I fear that he’s only acting like himself, which makes him somewhat typecast already. He’s been in a few films, such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Talladega Nights, but he’s essentially the same character. Will McBrayer have a future after 30 Rock? History teaches us to not be optimistic.
Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory)
Our list ends with another show still currently running. Sheldon Cooper, played by Jim Parsons, is the epitome of awkward and quirky and weird, and I’m curious if anyone will take a chance on Parsons in a new franchise. The only other projects he’s worked on have all been the same basic character. For example, you might remember him as the Knight from Medieval Times in Garden State that also speaks Klingon. Point made.
This is a short list of the quirky neighbors and best friends that were lost to us after performing incredibly well at one certain type of character. What are some other examples? Did any oddjob friends ever make it to famedom after their TV show? Let me know in the comments below!