This is something I have seen happen more often than I would like. A sitcom will have a good character. They are well acted and even popular. Then for whatever reason the character changes during the run.
Now of course most characters evolve. Kids grow up, the irresponsible type learns responsibility, the uptight stick in the mud learns to loosen up, and so on. But once in awhile the natural character evolution will take a sharp turn and take the character into a strange place which makes no sense. Or the character will de-evolve, and become the show’s resident goof ball. Why does this happen?
Sometimes the creators of the show decide to change the character, usually because the show is getting stale and the creators decide they need to shake things up. Or maybe they want to tweak something about the show to make it accesible to a wider audience. Damn the people who love the character the way he or she was! And very often this causes the actor or actreess to say f*** this and leave.
The other reason this happens is because I swear the actor/actress just forgets how to play (or maybe gets to comfortable playing) the character to the point the character is just a cartoon vesion of the original. This is especially bad when a series goes a long time. I am no actor but maybe it is hard to play the same character for years. I mean, some can do it. Kelsey Grammar’s Frasier feels like the same guy whether you watch an early episode of Cheers or a later episode of Frasier. The same for Henry Winkler as Fonzie on Happy Days. Oh sure he spoke less in the early days but overall the character never changed beyond the natural evolution. But some actors just can’t pull it off and the charatcer just loses their direction and because something they weren’t when the series began.
Here are some example of what I mean:
Jaleesa (A Different World)
This is a perfect case of the show mucking a character up. A Different World was of course the spin off from The Cosby Show. Jaleesa, played by Dawn Lewis , was the elder student in the dorm at Hillman, and sort of served as a mother figure. She a divorced woman and very smart. As the series became more about Dwayne and Whitley, Jaleessa got seen less. Then in Season 5, the show opened with the shocking news that Jaleesa had run off and married Col.Turner. Ok, this made no sense really. But it may have been ok, except that suddenly Jaleesa went fromn being this strong type to a weepy pregnant woman who was always crying. Not surprising Lewis jumped ship for Hangin W Mr.Cooper, and her character just vanished without explanation.
Screech (Saved by the Bell)
Oh poor Screech. Why did they have to make you a punchline? Have you ever watched the first season of Saved By The Bell? You would think it was another character being played by Dustin Diamond. He was nerdy in the sense that he cared more about science than anything, but he was still basically a normal kid. Then the show got popular, and a little show called Family Matters was popular, so they tried to make Screech into SBTB’s answer to Steve Urkel. He was annoying comic relif, spouting stupid catch phrases and making weird faces. He sort of acted the live version of Shaggy from Scooby Doo. It seemed his dialogue consisted of nothing but jokes, and that would have been ok except they were stupid comments which he should have been smarter than! They turned the kid from a brainy nerd into stupid sidekick, and I never understood why. They did make him aÂ bit better when he was in The New Class, but who the hell watched Saved By The Bell: The New Class?
Miles (Murphy Brown)
Miles was the neurotic executive producer who Murphy was constantly teasing. Of course that was because he was a bit young for the job. Miles was funny when he would freak oit over stuff and attemot to control things going on around him. Then late in the run, they decided to have Miles run off and marry Corky. Suddenly Miles was whining about his marriage and stories with him became about that, and the charatcer just lost focus. So much so that Grant Shaud up and left the series. He was replaced by Lily Tomlin, and while I love Lily Tomlin that was the point I stopped watching. This wasn’t the only time this would happen on this show….
Murphy (Murphy Brown)
When Miles left the show, it was still bascially the same series. Then something happened to ruin that too! In the final season it was decided to give Murphy breats cancer. Ok, that sounds like it could be interesting. Or it could be a lame excuse to get viewers. The problem? They watered down Murphy so bad, it wasn’t even the same character anymore! Suddenly she is nice and soft spoken…when the hell was Murphy ever like that? The show should have quite when it was ahead.
Eric (Boy Meets World)
This one may get some disagreement, and I will admit his caracter wasn’t “ruined“, but as I have never really watched every episode of this show I may be wrong. So the big question, what the heck happened to Will Friedle’s character? He apparently had the Screech syndrome happene to him where he went from being a cool older brother to moronic comic relief. Why? To be fair they do get him back on track by the end of the series but man, to go from an early episode to a later episode you have to wonder-who is that guy?
Elaine & George (Seinfeld)
This is the one which really baffles me. I just don’t get it! Elaine starts out as a sweet person. Oh ok, she has her problems. She can be short tempered and for some reason spends all her time hanging out with an ex boyfriend and his loser best friend. But for the most part she was likable. Then around Season 6 the character was changed. Suddenly she became much meaner, even angrier. She clealy resented her life and had obviously resigend herself to the fact that was stuck with these guys. I blame this one on Julia Louis Dreyfuss herself. She really had no respect for the choices her character made, and I think that came out in the way she played her as the series went on. But as bad a that was, it doesn’t compare to George. Couldn’t Jason Alexander see the wya his charater had regressed from a basic loser to a screaming rage filled lunatic? I mean, what the heck happened??
Rose, Blanche, and Sophia (The Golden Palace)
This might be cheating but they were supposed to be the same characters when The Golden Girls became The Golden Palace. Problem is that without Dorothy, the three characters didn’t work as the leads. They needed that fourth responsible one. So what did they do? Rose suddenly got smarter, Blance suddenly got responsible, and Sophia wasn’t so quick with her wisecracks. The result? Cancelled after one season, basically because what made these characters work on The Golden Girls just wasn’t in the spin-off.
Will & Grace & Karen & JackÂ (Will & Grace)
Yep, all four of them. I don’t know what happened here but these characters really got lame. Will probably had the least damage, but he started to become more of a stereotype as the series progressed. Grace really got boring! I don’t know why, maybe Debra Messing just got tired of playing her or something. Karen and Jack both became cartoon caricatures of who their characters were in the start. Sean Hays Jack got incrediblt dunb and Megan Mulally’s Karen basically became a cartoon. In the first two or three years Karen was so cool, she was a rich socialite who said whatever she wanted. Towaed the end she was just annoying as hell. This show was just bad those last few years. Hey, speaking of turning a character into a cartoon….
I briefly touched on this back in November when I did my article on Roseanne. When we first met Bev she was a pain in the butt mother, sure, but overall she was a normal person. But as the series went on, the character just got sillier and sillier. The high pitched voice got so irritating! There was one episode that tried to explain this, when it’s revealed that it’s all act to drive he daughters crazy and in real life she is normal. Nice little scene for Estelle Parsons, I admit, but overall the character went from being a fun recurring character to an annoying one.
This was a weird one, but what do you expect when talking about Andy Kaudfman? We all know Latka was the sweet mechanic who worked in the Taxi garage and spoke in a funny accent. But when Kaufman grew tired of the character the writers solved this by giving Latka a multiple personaility disrder. While it was cool to see Kaufman out of character, this isn’t what we waned to see when we watched this show. Eventually the alter ego was dropped and Latka was back to normal for the rest of the run.
Tony (Who’s The Boss?)
Yeah this show did something in it’s later years which I never understood. Or liked! They turned Tony into a raving jerk. He was always yelling, was jealous, and just did dumb things. What a depaeture from the nice, positive, fun loving guy we had for most of the series. Now there was trouble on this show that final season, apparently Danza had a temper in real life, so maybe that is where this comes from. Like Julia Louis Dreyfuss maybe Danza took his aggravation out on the character. Or maybe it was bad writing since the show was pretty much done at that point. But I will never understand why Tony turned into such a jerk in those episodes. Though to be fair, the final season was a lot better than the final season of Growing Pains. But, that’s another article.
I already went on about what they did to the characters on Night Court those last two years. Especially Dan, who they turned into a do-gooder for some reason. It was so nice when they reverted him back to his normal, sleazy pesonality.
These are all examples of taking a character’s development and throwing a curve into it, so they become a totally new character. But natural evolution can hurt to. Sometimes by letting the character grow you can actually damage it. Oh sure the show will try to keep the essence there, but it’s not the same. Here are some examples of what I mean:
3rd Rock FromÂ the Sun
The whole fun of the show was that the Solomons wer aliens trying to understand what makes humans tick. But by Season five they got so assimilated as humans that the show just got boring toward the end.
Fresh Prince of Bel Air
I kind of mentioned this before, but here we go. Will was an immature, fun loving kind of guy. He never played by the rules and did things his own way. Then they decided to get him into a serious relationship, and even engaged. This more mature Will made sense from a character point of view. Problem is that it ruined what made the character fun.
Steve Urkel was the breakthrough sensation, but as Jaleel White got older it was harder for him to be that adorable nerd. The show tried to give White chances to play other characters, and in the last season Steve finally had a few changes made to achnowledge that he was getting a little older. But it was lame, toward the end Steve Urkel looked less like a nerdy kid and more like a normal guy pretending to be a nerd. And it just wasn’t the same.
The above problem is a common one when you have kids. For instance, what were the creators of this show to do when Punky began to hit puberty and develop, well, you know. They tried to deal with it but it was getting pretty clear Soleil Moon Fry was just getting to old to be Punky anymore. The same problem affected Webster, Diff’rent Strokes, and even The Cosby Show among many others.
The Big Bang Theory
Yeah, I will admit it. This show is quickly going from a show about four nerdy science guys trying to understand what relationships are all about to a show which is a rip off of Friends! I mean, the character development makes sense but it isn’t the same show without Leonard being so shy and neurotic. And how much more can they drain from his relationship with Penny? Just marry them already! How about sleezy Howard suddenly married and mature? Even having Raj suddenly able to talk to girls makes sense, but it takes something very speical and unique away from the character. They do try to keep Sheldon true to his character, but you have to wonder how long that will last. The show has been OK this year but I am beginning to prefer my re-runs.
Finally, before I go I should mention that once in awhile they will change a character for the better. Here are some quick examples:
Night Court-When we first met Bull Shannon he was a brooding guy who never smiled. They softened him up and he became the sweet dufus we all loved for the rest of the run on that show.
Seinfeld-When we first met Kramer he was a creepy agoraphobic. But the creators finally dumped that and ended up making Kramer the best character on that show.
Benson-Ms.Kraus was the no nonesense German head of the kitchen. As the show progressed she softened consdierbaly and became Benson’s secretary when he was Lt.Gov. And, it worked. The character needed to grow and the essence was still there.
Everybody Loves Raymond-In the first season, Brad Garrett played Robert as very introverted. He spoke weird, walked weird, and he was heavier. But Garrett lost the weight and the creators let Robert be more comfortable and, well, normal. The result was a character that worked very well.
Cheers-Rebecca was the replacement for Diane, and she seemed to have a new personality every week. One week she was a bitch, then she would be goofy, then she would be a loyal friend. On another show a character like this would be hated, and yet Kristie Alley was able to play her in such a way that we loved her, quirks and all.
Friends-Joey was supposed to be the jerk of the group. But Matt LeBlanc gave the character such warmth that he ended up as the lovable dufus.
Of course very often it isn’t the character that changes but the setting and/or premise. I will be back next week to discuss sitcoms that drastically did this. Sometimes this worked, and sometimes it went horribly wrong!
Please let me know if you feel I missed any that deserve to be mentioned. Till next time my friends!