The Likeable Unlikeable TV Characters
What a Likeable Unlikeable Character
Some television shows have characters that are difficult or impossible to like. Despite these characters being unlikeable they are liked or even loved by the show’s fans. These are not characters that fans love to hate. These are characters who fans liked despite their unlikeable personalities. Here are 5 characters that are unlikeable yet were liked by many fans. This Hub contains spoilers for some of the episodes mentioned.
Dr. Zachary Smith
Probably the most unlikeable likeable character is Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) of “Lost in Space”. Dr. Smith and The Robot were not in the Lost in Space pilot. In the series Dr. Smith, The Robot, and Will Robinson (Bill Mumy) were the main characters in most of the show’s episodes. In the first episode Air Force Colonel (Dr.) Zachary Smith snuck onto the Jupiter 2. He killed a Security Police Officer with a karate chop and dumped the body. He programmed the robot to destroy the Jupiter 2 8 hours after launch. The Jupiter 2 went into lockdown for the final countdown and Dr. Smith was locked inside the space ship. His motive for his treason was money. For the first few episodes Dr. Smith was a love to hate type of character. Jonathan Harris wasn’t happy with the Dr. Smith character for two reasons. He found the character boring. He also figured Dr. Smith would soon be killed off and he, Jonathan Harris, would be unemployed. In Dr. Smith fashion he devised a sneaky plan. He inserted some comedy into his character. Lost in Space creator Irwin Allen liked what Jonathan Harris was doing with the Dr. Smith character and asked him to do more of it.
Dr. Smith evolved into a character that is sneaky, greedy, and scared of his own shadow. He is snobbish and stupid. Despite his cowardice he would ignore warnings and safety measures that are inconvenient to him. What is there to like about this despicable character? His comedic villainy makes the character fun to watch. His connivances only work on children, Will and Penny (Angela Cartwright), and gullible aliens. Will Robinson was a boy genius so seeing Dr. Smith deceiving him so easily gave average intelligence boys who watched the show a chance to feel superior. He also seemed to be the only adult who had time to spend with Will and Penny. From today’s perspective parents could feel superior to Mr. and Mrs. Robinson (Guy Williams and June Lockhart). What kind of parents would let their 12 year-old son go off alone with someone like Dr. Smith?
Probably the most likeable of unlikeable characters is Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) of “Star Trek”. Mr. Spock had a Vulcan father and a human mother. He identifies as Vulcan. He is extremely intelligent and prides himself on having logic dictate his decisions and behavior. As any good Vulcan he has complete control over his emotions. He never displays his emotions or lets emotions interfere in his decision making process. That is his official line. There are occasions where he seems to depart from the logic only approach. In the episode The Galileo Seven he made a desperation move which paid off because the USS Enterprise hadn’t departed as it should have. When challenged on that by Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) Mr. Spock gave a logical rationale for his illogical behavior. He is honest, loyal, and when necessary does show sympathetic understanding of humans and their problems.
Mr. Spock is an interesting character for a television show but how would he be viewed if it was a real life situation? He is on a ship with 300 humans and he goes out of his way to let humans know he has a low opinion of the human race. The episode Amok Time makes Vulcan claims of superiority over humans ridiculous. In this episode Mr. Spock is going through Pon Farr. He has to go back to Vulcan to marry. It is a physical necessity and his medical condition is deteriorating rapidly. It is a dark Vulcan secret.[i] When The Enterprise returns to Vulcan Spock’s betrothed, T’Pring (Arlene Martel), rejects him. In these instances the woman chooses a champion and a fight to the death settles the issue. T’Pring chooses Captain Kirk (William Shatner) as her champion. After Mr. Spock believes his has killed Captain Kirk he wants nothing to do with T’Pring. He asks her to explain her choice. Her logic was by pitting Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk against each other the winner would want nothing to do with her. She would be free to marry the man she wanted. If she miscalculated and Mr. Spock still wanted her she would be no worse off than she was before. The lesson here is someone could be coldly logical and utterly evil. In a real world situation would anyone on The Enterprise want anything to do with Mr. Spock after this incident?
[i] In Star Trek movies and subsequent Star Trek TV shows everyone seems to know about it.
As a member of the USS Enterprise how would you view Mr. Spock after Amok Time?
Architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) is the protagonist in the television series “The Invaders”. The pilot episode “Beachhead” sets the tone for the series and the David Vincent character. David Vincent is driving home from a business trip. He takes a short cut and gets lost. He stops at a deserted dinner and goes to sleep in his car. At just past 4 AM and he sees a flying saucer. He doesn’t know anything about the occupants or their purpose. He finds the nearest police station and reports the incident. He insists the police go to the area and check out his story. The part of the story that could be verified, the name of the deserted dinner, didn’t check out. He claimed it was Bud’s Dinner. The dinner’s name was Kelly’s Dinner. There is a honeymoon couple camping in the area (Skip Ward and Bonnie Beecher). They claimed they didn’t see anything and David Vincent yelled at them angrily claimed they had to have seen something. That night he went back to the area and confronted the couple. He angrily asked the woman if they changed the sign then grabbed the man when he refused to show David Vincent his hands. The confrontation and subsequent incidents proved the aliens’ purpose was Earth conquest. When the series ran in 1967 and 1968 the United States was still actively investigating UFOs so reporting a flying saucer sighting to authorities wasn’t out of line.[i]
David Vincent is often curt with strangers and friends. He doesn’t hesitate reaching into people’s personal lives. An example is in the episode “Moonshot” where he tells an astronauts wife (Joanne Linville) her husband is an alien and she knows it. He often seems to have more of a rapport with the aliens than he does with humans. An example is in the episode “Valley of the Shadow” where Vincent and an alien (Joe Maross) work out a solution to prevent the necessity to destroy a town. The traits that make him unlikeable also make him likeable. He is an intelligent everyman who finds out the world is in peril. He accepts his responsibility to try to save the human race even though no one has given him the authority to act. If a similar situation happens humanity would need someone like David Vincent.
[i] Project Blue Book was the active UFO study. The study ended in January 1970.
What Would You Do?
You spotted an alien space craft and think it's a threat to national security.
Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) is a blue collar worker who lived in Queens, New York. He lives with his doting wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), his adult daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers) and his son-in-law Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner). These are the main characters in the television series “All in the Family”. Archie Bunker’s character got the title of the “Loveable Bigot”.
Archie Bunker often uses racial and ethnic slurs and stereotypes. The language and stereotypes were well known to the audience but hadn’t been used on television before. Archie is stubborn and stupid. He would often refer to Edith as a “dingbat”. Even when proven wrong he rarely admits his mistake or gives credit where due. In the episode “Edith Has Jury Duty” Edith is the lone hold-out on a jury that wants to convict a man of murder. The man is proven innocent vindicating Edith’s stand. Michael and Gloria praise Edith’s courage. Archie sees no reason to credit Edith since she and the other jurors were wasting time judging the wrong man. While Archie is big on law and order he doesn’t have any problem breaking laws he finds inconvenient. Tax evasion, insurance fraud, buying stolen goods, and smoking in no smoking areas are no problem for him.
Despite the over the top deprecation of Archie many in the audience believe Archie won many of the arguments he had with Michael. The show had moments of fairness such as in “Everybody Tells the Truth”. In this episode, told in flashback, Archie and Michael have two different versions of the refrigerator repair man and his assistant. Archie depicted them as a gangster and knife wielding militant. Michael depicted them as two door mats and no knife was involved. In actuality they were average men and there was a pen knife involved. In “Archie and the Editorial” Archie’s solution for the plane hijacking problem, while sounding ridiculous on its face, might actually work.[i]
Archie loves his wife and daughter. He let Mike and Gloria stay in his house, with free room and board, so Mike can finish college. Archie had to drop out of school to get a job to support his family. He is cheap because he is living, and has always lived, with limited means. He was brought up to believe you respect your parents. He was largely a product of how he was brought up and his life experience. In later episodes the writers toned down Archie Bunker’s bigotry.
[i] At the time domestic hijackers wanted to go to Cuba. No one in the United States had been killed in a plane hijacking.
Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is a computer expert on the TV series “24”. She is a member of the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU). As computer skills go she is the best of the best. She is great at guiding Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) through dangerous situations.
She is not a people person. One day the mother of a CTU member died. Chloe showed no sympathy and insisted he continue doing his job. Another day she met her counterpart at the FBI. After she surveyed the FBI’s computer network she told the FBI computer expert whoever put the network together “didn’t know what they were doing.” The FBI computer expert was the woman who put the network together. The FBI computer expert told Chloe she was the one who put the network together. The FBI didn’t have equipment as sophisticated as the CTU at their disposal. At the end of the day Chloe grudgingly admitted to her FBI counterpart that she did well considering the equipment she had to work with. One day after spending a night with a man she curtly told the man to get out of her bed. Chloe seemed perpetually sullen even before her personal life took a bad turn. In “Live Another Day” Chloe unwittingly helps someone who is attempting a villainous plot.
Chloe O’Brien is loyal to Jack Bauer. She trusts him even when others believe he can’t be trusted. She found the perfect job for her personality and talents. If her computer wizardry wasn’t so critical in such an important job, preventing terrorists’ mass destruction plots, she would be difficult to work with and impossible to work for.