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The greatest characters ever: At your service

Emmy Commemorative 2012

Doctor, lawyer, tinker, tailor: TV’s professional men and women are tirelessly dedicated to suffering humanity. Whatever chaos is occurring at home or in the waiting room, psychologist Bob Hartley never takes his gimlet eye off a quirky clientele. The Irish Catholic faith and mordant wit of nurse Colleen McMurphy give her the fortitude to minister to the wounded and dying who find their way to the gurneys of “China Beach.”

A bedside manner often involves a healthy dose of personal charm. The mellifluous radio voice of Frasier Crane purrs his recipes for psychological repair. Raffish Dr. Joel Fleischman wins over his Alaskan patients with the same likable goofiness we associate with earnest, daydreaming J.D. Dorian in his “Scrubs.” If you wonder whether a little beefcake can be effective, ask those who eagerly troop through the ER of hunky Dr. Doug Ross, or the “L.A. Law” offices of debonair Victor Sifuentes.

The best play by their own rules. Cynical Hawkeye Pierce heedlessly runs roughshod over military protocol to save lives. Upright Perry Mason won’t flinch from tampering with evidence now and then if it’ll bring the guilty to justice (which it always does). Even venerable Dr. Marcus Welby doesn’t hesitate to cross ethical boundaries, making him one of TV’s rare mentors more radical than their young seconds-in-command.

As selfless as TV’s nurturers may seem, a few suggest something darker going on down deep. The diagnostic brilliance of Dr. Gregory House has to be weighed against his colossal egotism and chilling misanthropy. The surface loyalty of Tyrion Lannister to his clan can’t disguise a cold willingness to play his own treacherous “Game of Thrones.”

Neither of them, let’s face it, is much different from Marie Barone, murmuring “I do it out of love” as she slips off the velvet glove to subjugate sons, daughters-in-law and husband under her iron, lasagna-rolling fist.

Emmy Commemorative 2012
Critic says ‘MASH’ top show of character
Anti-heroes | At your service | Authorities | Crimesolvers | Father Figures | Goundbreakers | Height of Hijinx | Heroes | Inseparable Duos | Journeyers | Ones of a kind

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