Can you imagine what TV would be like if it focused only on the characters that make the right fashion choices, never try to push freaky-ass paintings on you and don’t bring conversations to a grinding halt by blurting out the color of your aura or the latest news about an upcoming pet-snail convention? Boring! It’s the lovable freaks, the colorful small-screen eccentrics, who offer the weirdest comments and funniest situations on our favorite shows. They inspire us to celebrate our own, unique peculiarities, so let’s let our freak flags fly and shine a spotlight on our favorite TV eccentrics!
Whenever Darryl (Pete Gardner) is the center of attention on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I can’t help but think of the British phrase that pops into my head every time I see someone trying so incredibly hard—and failing miserably: “Bless his cotton socks!” Darryl, the head of Whitefeather & Associates, prides himself on his one-eighth Chippewa heritage and is the absolute king of crudités, he just hasn’t quite found himself yet. He has a heart of gold and the best of intentions, but his desperate need to call someone—specifically Paula (Donna-Lynne Champlin)—his BFF can become somewhat overwhelming. Luckily, he has found an amazing boyfriend in White Josh (David Hull), a dreamy hunk who puts up with Darryl’s questionable office décor and all his other strange quirks.
Can you imagine Friends without Phoebe? Exactly. Every group of friends needs a Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), otherwise things would get boring pretty quickly. Whenever Ross (David Schwimmer) acts as the voice of reason, Phoebe offers some otherworldly remark to rattle him; every time Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) places too much importance on the superficial, Phoebe shows her how much more fun she’d be having if she didn’t give a shit. Because, ultimately, that’s the thing with Phoebe: She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of her. All she cares about is being herself. She’s not afraid to share her strange reasoning as to why she no longer goes to the dentist or how her mother has reincarnated as a stray cat. If you can’t handle it, that’s on you. She knows she’ll never quite fit in and will always be the oddball, but she takes pride in this—and urges all other “smelly cats” to do the same.
Cassie (Hannah Murray) was one of the most compelling characters on Bryan Elsley’s hit series, Skins. It would have been easy to let her eating disorder define her completely, but the writers create a character full of love, dreams and a silent rage that manifests itself through varying degrees of self-harm. At first glance, one might think she’s a drugged-out airhead whose vocabulary consists of Oh, wow and little else. She’s blunt and acts on her childish impulses without worrying how it may be perceived by others. Her whimsical style further perpetuates this impression of naïveté, but in truth she’s probably the most empathic and insightful person in the group. She may not be able to help herself just yet, but she’ll go out of her way to ensure her friends are all right, most especially Chris (Joe Dempsie). Just don’t get on her bad side or she’ll squirt you with a water gun and name slimy slugs after you.
Constantly surrounded by strong, loud women, Truly (Stacey Oristano) has a hard time making herself heard. It’s not that Franny (Kelly Bishop) and Michelle (Sutton Foster) don’t give her a chance, it’s just that Truly doesn’t really know who she is or what she wants. But she knows exactly what everyone else wants, which leads to even deeper frustration. Luckily, she gets to live out her quirky creativity in her fashion boutique, Sparkles—and, yes, the juvenile name does indeed match some of her outlandish creations. (My personal favorite: a jacket made up of stuffed toy animal heads). In times of need, Truly turns to her trusted troll doll for extra support and good fortune. But be aware: If you’re not a part of her peculiar trust circle, you are not welcome at her table.
If only we could all live like Dharma (Jenna Elfman) for just one day—welcoming spring with a naked dance on the rooftop, flying cross-country just because we had a craving for delicious pie or putting on phony British accents to confuse the owner of the local hardware store. Dharma is everything her husband Greg (Thomas Gibson) is not: She’s free-spirited, impulsive, chaotic, forgiving and very loving, and as much as he adores these things about her, sometimes she can be a tad overwhelming, if not worrying. Give her a few candy bars and she’ll bounce off the walls like a tweaker; knock on her door and ask her for a bed to die in and she’ll happily make it for you. She’s kooky, that’s for sure, but trust that Dharma will always remain true to herself no matter what the world around her may make of it.
Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) considers himself to be the perfect human specimen, but his roommate, Leonard (Johnny Galecki), and pretty much everyone who knows him will tell you otherwise. Yes, he’s a genius, an absolute wunderkind, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s a bona fide narcissist with little regard for anyone but himself. He understands complicated theorems better than he’ll ever understand the people around him, and things like sarcasm and irony are completely lost on him. He adheres to a very strict schedule, including designated bathroom times and specific meals on specific days, and should anyone get in the way of his internal clock, they’ll have hell to pay. Don’t even try to sit on his spot on the couch—you’ll make it out of his apartment alive, but you’ll definitely have lost your sanity.
A visit to Twin Peaks’ R&R diner guarantees more than just a damn fine cup of coffee and a delicious slice of cherry pie—especially if the Log Lady (Catherine E. Coulson) is present. She’s not exactly conspicuous—despite cradling a wooden log at all times—but she’ll be sure to attract your attention with odd behaviors and a general disregard for her fellow townspeople. If she can’t lure you in with her intense stare, she’ll resort to obnoxiously loud gum chewing, and once she’s got your full attention, she’ll let it be known she has no time for nonsense. She may speak in riddles and does her utmost to appear disinterested when it comes to the going-ons of the town, but she’s a kind lady at heart. She probably just needs to get out more.
When Arthur (Rainn Wilson) joins the Fisher & Diaz Funeral Home as an intern, he’s offered more than room and board. Ruth (Frances Conroy), desperate for intimacy, finds herself smitten with Arthur’s odd ways and goes to great lengths to spark his interest. She loves the way he blows his nose in an old-fashioned handkerchief, and how fondly he speaks of his dear, departed Aunt Pearl, who raised and home-schooled him after he was orphaned at the age of five. He speaks in a gentle tone and moves through life somewhat robotically, taking special care of matching his identical socks based on the slightest difference in their black shading. Though he appreciates Ruth’s company, he’s unsure of his own sexuality, reacting to her advances with boyish embarrassment and awkwardness. His idea of getting it on consists of elbow-nudging and rubbing noses—not quite what Ruth had in mind when she envisioned a sneaky affair with the newest employee of the family business.
Sue’s (Michelle Gomez) title as staff liaison officer might suggest she is a people person, but in reality she’s far from it. She has created her own little world at the East Hampton Hospital Trust, and while it’s not necessarily soothing to patients and the staff, it sure keeps things interesting. Sue riding a camel up and down the hospital ward is no cause for alarm—it’s a normal day at the office. Her colleagues know better than to challenge Sue, let alone argue with her. (It’s not like they’d get anywhere, anyway.) How can one possibly have a serious conversation with a staff liaison officer who comes to work dressed in a squirrel costume, and is known to sexually harass Dr. Mac (Julian Rhind-Tutt)? Yes, she’s definitely a nightmare to work with, but all is forgiven when she seductively twirls her gorgeous mane in her hands—until the next time she shows up in the men’s urinal for a wee wazz.
It takes a special type to work for the likes of Bernard Black in his chaotic little bookshop: Not everyone is equipped to deal with his preferred living conditions and neuroses. Bernard likes to pretend he has a heart of stone, but it only takes one look at a pretty girl to bring out the babbling softy in him. He doesn’t take his personal hygiene all too seriously—his hair probably hasn’t seen a brush in years—and all he wishes to do in a good day’s work is “drink heavily and shout at you.” He’s highly suspicious of people with no nasal hair and he doesn’t believe in friends, just enemies he hasn’t met yet. Fortunately for him, he has two equally lovable nutters looking out for him: Manny (Bill Bailey) and Fran (Tamsin Greig). They’ll never be able to straighten out Bernard’s disheveled self, but then again, why would they want to? They love the terrible bastard just the way he is—edible hair-mushrooms and all.
The short-lived Popular is full of offbeat characters, such as Mary Cherry (Leslie Grossman) and Bobbi Glass (Diane Delano), but if you’re looking for the eccentric queens of Jacqueline Kennedy High School, just follow a trail of dirt-crumbs. April (Adria Dawn, pictured) and her sister, May (Mandy Freund), aren’t part of the Glamazons cheerleading squad, but they are in a league of their own. While May is happy as long as she has dirt or kitty litter to munch on, April would very much like to be recognized for her beauty and fashion sense. Unlike the other girls, however, April doesn’t have the cash to spend on designer clothes: She goes for the vintage look, though she admits she hasn’t quite perfected it yet. And even though April is made fun of, she hides her hurt feelings behind surprising verbal aggression. She may not be comfortable in her own skin—or with her status as a loser—but you’d never think so after seeing her flaunt her frighteningly overpowering horniness and obsession with dry-humping.
Stars Hollow is full of odd characters, but none quite compares to Kirk (Sean Gunn). Though he’s had some 62 different jobs, he’s the very definition of a man-child: He still lives with his mother and is prone to night terrors, which see him streaking through the town’s otherwise idyllic streets. He’s insecure and extremely competitive when it comes to the annual Dance Marathon or selling gift-wrap, and whenever he does win, he celebrates by rubbing it in everyone’s face. In addition to his numerous business ventures, Kirk fancies himself the next Asaad Kelada and has two short films to his name: I Love Your Daughter (which won the coveted “Good Try Award”) and A Second Film by Kirk. (Both are more reminiscent of David Lynch than Kelada, strangely enough.)
Charlie (Charlie Day) isn’t what you’d call “book smart,” unless you count him journaling his dreams with childlike drawings as an academic endeavor. But what he lacks in general knowledge, he makes up for with an impressive talent for the creative arts. Give him a few hits of glue or spray paint and he’ll even compose an entire musical (The Nightman Cometh). Unfortunately, as much he tries to channel his inner Bob Dylan, he cannot shake his stage fright: He usually finds himself sick to his stomach upon facing an audience. These are insecurities he can work through in his “bad room”—smashing up a few beer bottles has a therapeutic effect on him. And, if all else fails, snuggling up in his piss-stained long-johns with a plate of milk steak and a side of jelly beans always does the trick.
When two strangely enchanting oddballs form an impenetrable bond, it opens a whole new world of weirdness to be reckoned with. Such is the case with Greendale Community College’s favorite students, Abed (Danny Pudi) and Troy (Donald Glover). While Troy is incredibly sensitive and childish, Abed has a hard time picking up on other people’s emotions and relies on his vast knowledge of TV and pop culture to gain a better understanding of the happenings around him. They complement each other beautifully, making sense of each other when no one else can. They share the same interests and make a great pair when it comes to creating entertaining TV segments (“Troy and Abed in the Morning”), rapping, or constructing their very own “Dreamatorium.” Community simply wouldn’t have had the same charm had it not been for the Abed and Troy dream team.
The youngest of the Heck clan is definitely the most intelligent, but that doesn’t mean Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and Mike (Neil Flynn) can rely on Brick (Atticus Shaffer) to wow a crowd with his knowledge. Brick isn’t into people or social gatherings: He’s much happier reading his books under the living room table. His favorite book series is Planet Nowhere, but he’ll read pretty much anything, including lawn-mower manuals. As long as the fonts are attractive and the pages are filled with a lot of three-syllable words he can repeat back to himself in a whisper, he’s good to go. He’s sweet and kind, but he may give you the finger if you dare interrupt him during his treasured reading hours—which are pretty much 24/7. He has a tendency to obsess over things like catalogues and all types of facts and drives his parents and siblings crazy when he drones on and on about his new discoveries. But at the end of the day, the Heck family wouldn’t be complete without their little “Oops.”
Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.