7 TV Characters That Created New Archetypes

TV has been defined by characters since its inception. The strength of a TV show — more than a play, movie, or novel — hinges on the uniqueness and intrigue of its characters. They need to be people we want to spend an hour a week with for years. In TV's history, these are some of the most pivotal friends and enemies we've followed as they changed the landscape of entertainment forever.

1. Tony Soprano: Bad Guy With a Good Side

We'd seen good guys do bad things in the early '90s on TV, but seeing bad guys try to do good things? Tony Soprano was the three-dimensional character that the movies had had for ages (Michael Corleone), but it wasn't until The Sopranos that we could get this type of complexity on the small screen. Walter White and Stringer Bell owe this guy a nod of thanks.

2. Lucy Ricardo: Hare-Brained Dreamer

"Women aren't funny." 

While we assume anyone who utters this sentiment in the present day is a bit of a neanderthal, even 60 years ago this argument never held water. Lucy blew away the chalk-lines of gender roles during the height of '50s conservatism. Compare the aspiring Lucy to Donna Reed or the other housewives of the day.

3. Homer Simpson: Fat, Lazy Dad

Fat, simple, lazy dads abound on TV, but when you think of any of them, there is one fat guy who lounges head and shoulders below them all. Homer Simpson brought an endearing quality to a guy that should be impossible to like, a guy no one should be rooting for. This is not only a guy we wanted to spend time with every week, he was a guy who inspired characters in dozens of other shows — who we still wanted to spend time with.

4. Andy Sipowicz: Good Guy With a Dark Side

Good guys can be bad guys. Detective Sipowicz paved the way for entire casts of characters (The Wire, Luther) by being the worst kind of guy to do good things. He showed the dark side of good and TV has been addicted to it ever since.

5. Cosmo Kramer: The Zany Next Door

Before there was Dwight Schrute, there was Cosmo Kramer. Zany was never quite enough to describe Kramer's well-timed intrusions into the world of the semi-sane. Having a credible character who was capable of doing anything (having Japanese businessmen sleep in his dresser) was a great way to throw a curveball at any story.

6. Tom Haverford: Self-Confidence to a Fault

There have always been characters on TV whose anchoring quality has been their self-confidence. But when Tom Haverford first showed up on Parks and Rec, he also put the nail in the coffin of stereotypical casting. Tom's un-Indianness (and even un-South Carolinaness) gives him a unique underpinning while simultaneously teaching network execs that audiences don't want to see the same old stereotypes anymore.

7. Tracy Jordan: Self-Absorbed Eccentric... and Then Some

Very rarely does a character come along so strong that it creates and closes down its own archetype. Tracy Jordan did just that. A character that is so unique with such a consistent specific voice that can never be repeated again. At least not without lots of blogs and tweets crying "ripoff!" Tracy Jordan became a character so specific, he was inimitable.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Pete DAlessandro

After graduating from Penn State University, Pete D’Alessandro moved to Hollywood, CA in search of fame and fortune. Having found neither, he decided to lose the weight that had plagued him his whole life. He lost almost 40 pounds, and his notes became the book “The UnAmerican Undiet.” He now performs stand-up all over the country. He currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife, who was also his editor. Fame and fortune still elude him. He currently produces the podcast 2 Degrees of Alie.

MORE FROM

Jenny Slate’s raw, honest exploration of female sexuality is the most riveting part of ‘Landline’

Gillian Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm's new film lets its women characters express their sexual desires on their own terms.

MTV VMA Nominations 2017: A complete list of nominees for the 34th annual Video Music Awards

The 2017 MTV VMAs are going for woke with a new best fight the system category.

‘The Defenders’ doesn’t have patience for Iron Fist’s privilege either — and that’s great

The show acknowledges Iron Fist's shortcomings, and that stops him from ruining this series, too.

Know who’s really winning ‘Game of Thrones’ this season? The show’s editing team

Props to Crispin Green and Tim Porter for episodes one and two, respectively. Y'all are some gross monsters.

TJ Miller’s explanation of the “feminist agenda” in ‘The Emoji Movie’ proves the bar is too low

How feminist can a movie with no female writers really be?

On Lana Del Rey’s lust for social consciousness

For her latest studio full-length, LDR proves there's more to her than the flower-crown aesthetic.

Jenny Slate’s raw, honest exploration of female sexuality is the most riveting part of ‘Landline’

Gillian Robespierre and Elisabeth Holm's new film lets its women characters express their sexual desires on their own terms.

MTV VMA Nominations 2017: A complete list of nominees for the 34th annual Video Music Awards

The 2017 MTV VMAs are going for woke with a new best fight the system category.

‘The Defenders’ doesn’t have patience for Iron Fist’s privilege either — and that’s great

The show acknowledges Iron Fist's shortcomings, and that stops him from ruining this series, too.

Know who’s really winning ‘Game of Thrones’ this season? The show’s editing team

Props to Crispin Green and Tim Porter for episodes one and two, respectively. Y'all are some gross monsters.

TJ Miller’s explanation of the “feminist agenda” in ‘The Emoji Movie’ proves the bar is too low

How feminist can a movie with no female writers really be?

On Lana Del Rey’s lust for social consciousness

For her latest studio full-length, LDR proves there's more to her than the flower-crown aesthetic.