Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Who Dat?: The 10 Best Unseen, or Mostly Unseen, TV Characters

Seriously, who is that? That disembodied voice over the phone or intercom system? Those quick glimpses of the back of someone's head? That bellowing from the other room? Or sometimes nothing at all, just someone being spoken of or to? Well these are those (mostly) unseen characters of TV legend and lore. Sometimes these characters are an annoying neighbor, like the fence peaking Wilson on Home Improvement. Sometimes they are that weird girl from school, like Angela Valentine on Leave it to Beaver. Sometimes they are an aloof husband like Phyllis's always absent , and sometimes philandering hubby, Lars Lindstrom, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Sometimes it's a waitress upon whom to pine, such as Barney Fife's crush, Juanita, on The Andy Griffith Show. There's nothing half so sweet as Juanita, Juanita, Juanit. Sometimes it's a school bully like The Gooch on Diff'rent Strokes. Sometimes it's a shady go-to guy like Bob Sacamano on Seinfeld. Sometimes it's the wouldbe heartthrob of a high school band, like the never present, but always mentioned Tino, in My So-Called Life. Hell, sometimes it's the actual president of the United States, like the unnamed, unaffiliated, and quite unseen POTUS on Veep. But none of these (mostly) unseen characters made our actual list. Perhaps we should get on with that list.

And awaaaaaaay we go...

Special Mention: George Steinbrenner on Seinfeld

We probably see more of this character than any other on this list. Well, at least we spend a lot of time looking at the back of his head, while he yells at George or rambles on about whatever the hell it is he rambles on about. This character also holds something special that none of the others on this list do. He's actually a real person (which is why he's listed as a special mention, instead of being on the list proper). Well, it's not actually the real George Steinbrenner, the man who made the modern New York Yankees, but instead it is series co-creator Larry David, doing his rambling, often screaming voice. And we love him.

10. Mrs. Columbo

Never seen and never heard, this character was only ever mentioned by her husband, Lt. Columbo, aka Peter Falk, in the 1970's cop show, Columbo. At first, some assumed that there was no such person as Mrs. Columbo, and perhaps she was merely a figment of the detective's imagination. Eventually other characters spoke of knowing her though, so that theory went out the window. Eventually though, there was a spin-off called, appropriately enough, Mrs. Columbo. This show starred Kate Mulgrew as the titular character, and in this series, Mr. Columbo is never mentioned, only alluded to. Hmmm? Eventually, the writers distanced Mulgrew's character from the original series. Hmmm??

9. Ugly Naked Guy

Granted, we do get to see most of him (sans the obvious parts) in a later episode, when Ross attempts to woo him in order to get his apartment when he moves out, but mostly, Ugly Naked Guy is just talked about by the six friends of Friends. Sure, they poke him with a stick in an episode, fashioned from taped together chopsticks no less, and stretched across the street and into his window. Really? That sounds a bit implausible, but hey, if you question things like that, then you probably have to question why the best seats in the coffee shop are never taken by anyone other than our six not so intrepid friends. Oh well.

8. Diane

"Diane, I'm holding in my hand a small box of chocolate bunnies." This is one of many quotes spoken by Twin Peaks resident FBI Agent Dale Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan, into his portable tape recorder. Apparently, this sentence, as well as all the others spoken into said tape recorder, are meant to be played for the benefit of Agent Cooper's never seen assistant, Diane. The fun thing here is that Kyle MacLachlan was actually nominated for a Best Spoken Word Grammy for his recording of these aforementioned tape recordings.

7. Stan Walker

Rich, enormous, and never seen, Karen's behemoth meal ticket of a first husband on Will & Grace could surely give Ugly Naked Guy a run for his money at any buffet - not that Ugly Naked Guy would be allowed in. On Will & Grace though, all we got were Karen's snide and snarky comments about poor hapless Stan's gluttony, and the things she must do in order to keep her man happy, and the jewels and clothes coming. I think we have seen a chubby foot when they were in the bath together, but I'm not sure. Eventually the writers killed Stan off, only to have it be faked (oh, spoiler...sorry), but eventually Stan and Karen do get divorced, and she goes on to marry John Cleese, who we all get to see and hear.

6. Cousin Jeffrey

Seinfeld had several never seen characters (one of 'em is even spoken of in the intro) but none were quite as elusive, and quite as annoying to Jerry, than his cousin Jeffrey. Hello! Uncle Leo is always bringing up the wondrous exploits of his do-gooder (read: can do no wrong) son, making sure to passive-aggressively taunt Jerry with these impossible to outdo (at least in Uncle Leo's world) Jeffrey antics. Stupid Cousin Jeffrey.

5. Mrs. Debbie Wolowitz

Actually, bellowing from the other room, Howard's over-bearing, demonstrative mother on The Big Bang Theory, may be the one to give Stan Walker a run for his money at that aforementioned buffet. We've caught glimpses of Howard's mom on occasion, but mainly she's a voice only character, played by Carol Ann Susi, an actress who has been a slew of shows over the past two decades. The closest we've come to "seeing" Debbie Wolowitz, is when Howard's wife, Bernadette, does the pitch perfect, and quite scary, impression. We do get an aerial shot of the mother of the groom at Howard and Bernadette's rooftop wedding (see above). 

4. Vera Peterson
The classic, or at least semi-classic, unseen TV wife. The oft-maligned wife of Cheers stalwart, Norm Peterson, is much talked about throughout the show's eleven season run, and even glimpsed once (face obscured by a food fight pie to the kisser), during a Thanksgiving episode. Norm may have belly-ached about poor Vera, and may have stayed at the bar for way too long, but we all know that Norm loved Vera, and even fought a guy for her in one episode. Ain't love grand?

3. Carlton, the Doorman

Voiced by Lorenzo Music, the co-creator of The Bob Newhart Show and writer on Rhoda, the very show upon which his husky, drunken-seeming voice was heard for five seasons, Carlton Your Doorman was the snarky, obnoxious, and a bit on the nosy side, doorman in the NYC building which Valerie Harper's Rhoda Morgenstern lived. Carlton Your Doorman, which is how Music always opened his intercom conversations, actually received his own animated spin-off in 1980. Granted, this series lasted exactly one episode (a failed pilot), but we do get to see the character finally, even if he is a cartoon at this point.

2. Maris Crane

We've had a couple comically overweight characters on the list so far, so to be fair, here is a comically underweight one. Maris Crane, the first wife of Niles Crane on Frasier, is known for being a rich, spoiled, body-obsessed, wisp of a woman. Sure, Niles may have married her for her money, but after years of emotional heartache, the fussy psychiatrist finally ends things with his meal ticket. Eventually he will find his way to his long pined for Daphne (after a few situational hiccups), but the comically waif-like Maris will never be forgotten.

1. Charlie Townsend

How could we not end this list with such a character as this? The disembodied voice of John Forsythe, Blake Freakin' Carrington himself (though in his pre-Dynasty days) emanating from that speaker phone, telling his bevy of dangerous beauties, what they needed to do each week. And his Angels listened. Anything for Charlie. This never seen character held sway over the likes of Farrah Fawcett (Fawcett-Majors at the time), Kate Jackson, Jacklyn Smith, Ceryl Ladd, Shelly Hack, and Tanya Roberts. It's good work if you can get it.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

3 comments:

  1. I missed this somehow! I love this list and Maris is my favourite unseen character. She goes from underweight to the opposite. David Hyde Pierce speaking to her on the phone and in other places is the best especially when he gets a dog which seems eerily familiar. Now I thought it would be interesting for you to come up with characters that were in a show and then left and were never mentioned again like Richie Cunningham's brother or Aunt Clara from Bewitched. This was a fun read

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  2. Thanx. Actually the list you suggested is one I already plan on doing. You can reverse the idea too. Sondra Huxtable did not exist in the first episode of The Cosby Show (there is a mention of them having four children) then suddenly in episode two, there are five Cosby kids. Perhaps she is Chuck Cunningham, transformed.

    Thanx for stopping by. See ya 'round the web.

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  3. Lorenzo Music voiced Garfield the Cat in the cartoon series.

    The Inner Sibling

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