100 Years, 50 Losers: #15 – 11
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 17, 2008
Elaine Benes, Seinfeld
Played By: Julia Louis-Dreyfuss
Born to Lose: It’s my firm belief that Elaine was the most underrated of the big Seinfeld four. Given the unenviable task of pretty much representing the entire female gender on a largely male-dominated show, Elaine was still one of the show’s funniest characters, a woman dissatisfied with her place in the world–she hates her employers, she hates her friends, she hates most of the guys she ends up with–but too jaded and lazy to do anything about it. She was good-looking, but not so much so that it was unrealistic that her idiot male friends could consider her an unsexualized equal, and generally give her as much shit as they give each other–one of my favorite Elaine memories is when Jerry keeps betting on her backsliding in her relationship with Puddy, and cackles with a cigar in his mouth as Elaine keeps shelling out money–and the model of that dynamic was extremely influential on at least a couple of the other female losers on this list. Professionally she was moderately successful, but she wasn’t above making a scene out of herself, drunkenly making out with co-workers at weddings, refusing to take off her Orioles cap at Yankees games and dancing blissfully arrhythmically at company functions. Years before Sex and the City, she offered a slightly less magical, but arguably more cost-effective representation of the single woman in the Big Apple.
Ultimate Low Point: You gotta love the episode where Elaine stops having sex and gets more and more stupid, guffawing at her boyfriend’s answer to the Crossword clue “Winnie the ___.”
Philip J. Fry, Futurama
Voiced By: Billy West
Born to Lose: Despite what many may tell you, Futurama was not a great show. In fact, especially considering that I’ve seen every episode multiple times, it really was barely even a particularly good show. The plots were mostly unmemorable, the satire was lame and the rest of the humor was often mediocre, and a lot of the characters (Zoidberg, Bender, Zap) ranged from overrated to downright grating. The fact that people exist that consider the show equal or superior to The Simpsons keeps me up at night. But even at its worst, the show was always at least watchable, and that was largely due to Fry–the show’s core, and its one legitimately great character. There wasn’t anything hugely special about Fry–he was just some average dude in his 20s with a lousy job and a fed-up girlfriend that happened to get frozen in time for 1000 years. But the way he experienced all the goings-on in Futurama–the combination of wide-eyed wonder and “yeah, I guess I can buy that” amicabilitymade him the perfect protagonist for the show, a guy who, like much of the audience, was so little enamored with his world in the year 2000 that he was perfectly willing to roll with the punches of a completely new and strange universe. Add in the fact that he was the show’s only emotionally compelling character–the episodes involving his unrequited love for Leela and his sadness over his old dog Seymour are among the show’s most beloved–and it’s amazing that the guy doesn’t get more credit for as doing much for Futurama as he does.
Unlikely Loser Branding: I never really understood what it said about Fry that his favorite song was Katrina + the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine,” giving the song more exposure than it would get until a whole lot of tasteless jokes got it back in the public consciousness in 2005.
Tim Canterbury, The Office (UK)
Played By: Martin Freeman
Born to Lose: The gap between Tim and Jim is one of the quintessential points of differentiation in between the US and UK versions of The Office. Same basic character, of course–mid-level office worker with a contempt for a lot of his co-workers and an (at first) unrequited affinity for the office secretary. But there’s an edge to Tim that Jim doesn’t really have–my ex-roommate, upon viewing the American version for the first time, pointed out that Jim “was basically a frattier version of Tim,” and while I dunno if I’d quite put it like that, the sentiment is pretty right. Jim hates his job and hurts for Pam, sure, but you feel like he’s probably got his life pretty together besides, and his smugness seems based more on a feeling of superiority than a legitimate bitterness. Tim, on the other hand, has a snap to his pranks and snipings at co-workers that reflects a genuine anger, and based on his conversations about his mentally ill father and his claims to having no friends, you get the feeling like his home life is similarly frustrating and unsatisfying. He even looks significantly more desperate than Jim (and is, in fact, about a half-decade older), who is too shaggy and adorable for you to ever really pity him. When he finally hooks up with Dawn at the end of the show’s run–in maybe one of the ten best moments in all of TV history–you’re not just thrilled because he got the girl, you’re also just glad that he now has a reason to live.
Classic Loser Quote: “No I don’t talk about my love life for a very good reason, and that reason is I don’t have one. Which is very good news for the ladies-I am still available. I’m a heck of a catch, cos, er well look at it. I live in Slough, in a lovely house, with my parents. I have my own room, which I’ve had since yep, since I was born. That’s seen a lot of action I tell you. Mainly dusting. I went to university for a year as well, before I dropped out, so I’m a quitter. So, er, form an orderly queue ladies.”
Charlie Kelly, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Played By: Charlie Day
Born to Lose: Maybe the most promising new loser to come out of TV in the last few years, Charlie is also probably the most consistenly hilarious character of any sort on TV right now. Sunny is another one of those “everyone’s a loser to some extent” shows, but there’s absolutely no doubt who the odd one out in this bunch is. Nervous, impulsive, constantly drunk and essentially illiterate, Charlie consistently goes that extra mile to put that final level of desperation between him and the rest of the gang at Paddy’s. He sniffs glue, he lives in unmentionable squalor, he writes insane story songs that he makes even more insane musicals out of, and with nothing but the most negative of reinforcement, he continues to unreciprocatedly obsess over the same waitress to the point of obvious stalkerdom. And he also makes himself one hell of a human guinea pig, whether he’s pretending to be a crippled veteran to get sympathy at a strip club or getting chairs broken on him and popping steroid pills to prepare himself for underground street fights. Everyone always says that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is “like Seinfeld on crack,” a description I generally fiend too flattering–but for Charlie’s character, it might actually be something of an understatement. Double points for making Green Man one of the classic loser Halloween costumes, as well.
Real-Life Retribution: In one of the all-time real life loser triumphs, Charlie Day is married to Mary Elizabeth Ellis, the supercute chick who plays the Waitress. Danny DeVito’s jealousy on the DVD commentaries is disturbingly palpable.
Enrique “Ricky” Vasquez, My So-Called Life
Played By: Wilson Cruz
Born to Lose: Most of the characters on this list are loveable schlubs, generally untragic figures good for a decent self-effacing laugh or two. There is absolutely nothing funny about Ricky Vasquez. Even Bill Dauterive is basically a carefree, happy-go-lucky individual compared to Ricky, a gay teen in Pittsburgh with little but soul-crushing misery to be found in his nineteen episodes on My So-Called Life. Points to the show for not really making him a target of school bullying or anything so obvious–truth is that by the time he got to high school, an extroverted kid like Ricky wouldn’t still be getting picked on by the school’s more fortunate. Instead, Ricky just gets ignored by everyone except his two closest friends, barely even a blip on the radar of a school that doesn’t really understand what the deal with homosexuality is, and doesn’t much care to find out. Meanwhile, he gets beaten up and kicked out of the house at home, and has to show up at his English teacher’s door because he has no other options. No doubt Ricky would’ve had the time of his life once he got to college, and it’s even likely that had MSCL gotten a second season, they would’ve eventually at least thrown him some sexually ambiguous new kid to flirt with, but instead the lasting legacy of Ricky Vasquez is that of the permanent outcast, who not only can’t see a way out, but doesn’t even know to hope that somewhere there exists the slightest chance of a way out. Loserdom isn’t always pretty, kids.
Moment of Triumph: Moments after being humiliated at the school dance, and delivering the most heartbreaking monologue in a series full of ’em (“You know, that..I belong nowhere. With no one. That I just don’t…fit”), Ricky teams up with the similarly jilted Delia Fischer to perform a stunningly emotional tango and grind to the strains of Haddaway’s “What is Love?” while the entire school stares and applauds. In a remotely just world, this is the TV moment that the 90s one-hit wonder would’ve been inextricaly linked to.