At the risk of sounding corny, let’s contemplate the many reasons we watch television. Sometimes we watch a show out of a desire to relate to the characters’ dilemmas and take comfort in the fact that we’re not the only ones. Other times we crave a little schadenfreude and feel relieved to see how much saner we are than the people on reality shows. And still other times we want to watch people who embody the kinds of personality traits we don’t possess but wish we did. And there’s nothing like watching a blindly optimistic character shrug his or her shoulders in the face of hardship to get us thinking about the right way to live.
There seems to be a trend these days, especially in comedy, toward optimistic, Pollyanna type characters. Long gone are the days of Seinfeld and Roseanne, shows in which the cynical, sarcastic characters were the standouts. The L.A. Times points out that there are more than a few positive characters to get inspired by on TV these days
The Office’s Michael Scott, as brilliantly played by Steve Carell, introduced us to a new kind of character who royally screwed things up but didn’t let that stop him from trying. Parks and Recreation might be the most positive show on television, with can-do heroine Leslie Knope, “literal” Chris Traeger and blissfully ignorant Andy Dwyer. But even they can’t compare to the following six characters, who take blindly optimistic to a whole new level. They risk coming across as dumb or annoying, but thanks to great writing and excellent actors, they end up being the kind of people we can learn something from.
1. Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir), Parks and Recreation
Dammit, Jerry! Nothing gets you down. Jerry might be the butt of jokes and the one everyone wishes would go away, but that doesn’t matter to Jerry, because he has a gorgeous wife and three lovely daughters to go home to and sing with about breakfast food. This is a man who adores the menial tasks his job requires of him. He spends all night stuffing envelopes, and when he realizes he did them all wrong, he happily begins redoing them, saying, “It ain’t government work if you don’t have to do it twice.” Jerry is my favorite character. I’m not ashamed.
2. Sue Heck (Eden Sher), The Middle
Poor Sue. This is what I say every week when I watch The Middle. Sue Heck is one of the most underrated TV characters. She’s a hopeless loser but she doesn’t even realize it. Everything goes wrong for her, from missing out on her hard-earned attendance award to having back-to-back classes at opposite sides of the school. But does she let it get her down? No siree! This is a girl who did a science experiment to figure out if smiling is contagious. We can all learn something from Sue.
3. Erin Hannon (Ellie Kemper), The Office
Everyone always says Erin is just dumb, and she’s certainly not the smartest person on the show, but when you consider how tough her life has been living in foster homes, it’s amazing she can stay so cheerily naïve. She sees the best in people and never wants to disappoint anyone. She thinks disposable cameras should be thrown out before developing the film, but she still smiles as she tosses the camera in the garbage.
4. Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell), Modern Family
Aww, Phil. He’s surrounded by his control freak wife, his embarrassed children and his cynical father-in-law, but he never compromises his childlike, fun-loving nature. He can be immature and irresponsible. Buying an alpaca comes to mind. But he’s also a present, emotionally invested dad and husband. Phil’s-osophy, his book of wise advice for his college-bound daughter, shows charming optimism and a great heart. Remember when the smoke detector kept beeping and he kept trying to find out which one it was? That’s perseverance.
5. Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer), 30 Rock
Kenneth loves television. And everybody. How Kenneth manages to ever watch TV is a mystery, because he’s constantly working, he lives in a dump, and he grew up on a farm. Kenneth lives to please, and he’s lived a loooong time. He talks about the bugs in his apartment with a huge grin on his face, and he’ll happily ride his bike to Tracy’s house to hold his hand during Lost. We should all be as upbeat.
6. SpongeBob SquarePants (voice of Tom Kenny), SpongeBob SquarePants
Yeah, I went there. Sure, it’s a kid’s show, but I’ve been known to turn on SpongeBob every once in awhile to unwind. While I relate to Squidward more than someone should relate to an animated character, sometimes I wish I could be more like SpongeBob. Remember when he thought he was ugly but just had terrible breath? He ended up saying, “I’m ugly and I’m proud.” We can all learn from that.
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