Top 10 Memorable Television Characters of the 1980s

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Top 10 Memorable Television Characters of the 1980s

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Nathan Sharp


This decade saw a huge surge in comedy programs, with many of the top shows being popular sitcoms that are still enjoyed today! Join http://www.WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 most memorable TV characters of the 1980s. For our series on the Top 10 Memorable TV Characters Per Decade, we're looking at those characters that were critically and culturally significant, and became synonymous with '80s TV culture.


Special thanks to our user Meng Lee for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at http://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest
Transcript
Top 10 Memorable Television Characters of the 1980s

Written by Nathan Sharp

This decade saw a huge surge in comedy programs, with many of the top shows being popular sitcoms that are still enjoyed today! Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 most memorable TV characters of the 1980s.

For our series on the Top 10 Memorable TV Characters Per Decade, we’re looking at those characters that were critically and culturally significant, and became synonymous with ‘80s TV culture. To make the list, the shows had to have started in 1979 or later, as the characters in question would have made their impact in the 1980s. Also, we’re only including live-action characters, and non-human characters are being excluded – sorry, Alf.

#10: Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV
“Magnum, P.I.” (1980-88)
Played famously by Tom Selleck, Magnum is a private investigator with a career and lifestyle that everyone envied. He lived in blissful Hawaii, he worked only when he wanted to, he drove a Ferrari, and most importantly, he always had a fridge full of beer. He was one of the coolest characters on television, living life to the fullest and making all viewers jealous. He also had a dark history, including a presumed dead wife, making him tragic and human as well.

#9: Sophia Petrillo
“The Golden Girls” (1985-92)
Out of a fantastic ensemble cast, which included the man-hungry Blanche Devereaux, the dimwitted Rose Nylund and the sarcastic Dorothy Zbornak, Sophia is arguably the most memorable. With her trademark bamboo handbag always on her arm, she’s the funniest of the group of ladies, often due to her rude and brazen remarks – especially those directed at her daughter, Dorothy. However, she loves them all, and is often the go-to member for advice. Her hints at a dark past, like insinuating that she was in the mob, also make her the most unique of the characters. She is mysterious, brash, and unapologetic – and we love her for it.

#8: Michael Knight
“Knight Rider” (1982-86)
A true man’s man, Knight helped redefine the policeman character on television, and kicked ass while doing so. But even so, Michael is your typical male hero: a meat and potatoes-eating ladies man, who knows how to handle himself in battle, but often refuses to use firearms. Instead of guns, he relied on his intelligence and moral code, which made him stand out from the usual gung-ho heroes of television. With his talking car KITT and his intense backstory that involved reconstructive surgery after being shot in the face and left for dead, Michael was a true hero in ‘80s television, an officer who got the job done and always looked cool doing it.

#7: Alexis Colby
“Dynasty” (1981-89)
The main antagonist of the primetime soap opera “Dynasty,” Alexis Colby – aka Alexis Carrington, Alexis Dexter, Alexis Rowan and more – was constantly stirring up trouble and gave ‘80s television one of its most despicable villains. While she loves her children deeply, she sometimes has a hard time showing it, and she often tries to control them, while also constantly undermining her ex-husband. Her behavior towards her kids reaches villainous heights, as she often neglects their needs or desires in order to remain in control. She is always causing trouble within her own family and with many other characters on the show, making her a truly memorable villain. Also, she practically invented the catfight.

#6: Angus MacGyver
“MacGyver” (1985-92)
MacGyver, working as a problem solver for a fictional government agency, was one of the smartest and most innovative characters on television. Like Michael Knight, MacGyver often neglected the use of weapons, relying instead on his intelligence and crafty creations to get himself out of dangerous situations. His resourcefulness was always enjoyable to watch, as each episode brought the excitement and mystery of what MacGyver would create and how he would escape his latest entrapment. A smart character, MacGyver’s name has since become a colloquial term regarding problem solving; a true testament to the impact of his character.

#5: B. A. Baracus
“The A-Team” (1983-87)
The “Expendables” of the 1980s, “The A-Team” revolved around soldiers of fortune as they helped solve crimes in L.A. B.A. has a bad attitude (hence the nickname), often flying into fits of rage and literally lifting his opponents and throwing them away. He’s the meanest of the group, but his tough guy persona and lack of control help to create a memorable character. He is not without humanity, as he shares a deep connection with his coworkers and has a fondness for helping children. He’s a badass with a heart, and a true hero, and we pity the fool who doesn’t know B. A.

#4: Alex P. Keaton
“Family Ties” (1982-89)
Alex P. Keaton is a memorable character not just because of his hilarity, but also because of what he represented in the 1980s in general. Alex is a very intelligent and ambitious high school student, with an interest in economics and dreams of working on Wall Street. But more than that, the character came to define the culture clash between Alex’s conservative Generation X and the hippie, counterculture style of his parents, the baby boomers. It provided laughs, but it also highlighted changes in 1980s America, and Michael J. Fox’s Alex was the star of it all.

#3: Al Bundy
“Married… with Children” (1987-97)
Ed O’Neill portrayed famous sitcom father Al Bundy over the course of ten years, drawing acclaim the whole way through. Al represents a stereotypical American father, making him relatable to dads everywhere, as he loves beer, is in debt, and both loves and is annoyed by his wife and children. What makes Al great is not just how relatable he is, but also his tragic side, as he is generally unhappy and makes sacrifices in order to appease his family. He is easily one of comedy’s most hilarious and loving fathers – in his own special way.

#2: Dr. Heathcliff ‘Cliff’ Huxtable
“The Cosby Show” (1984-92)
Despite the storm of controversy that has tainted Bill Cosby's legacy, the significance and impact of this immensely popular sitcom and the Huxtable family patriarch cannot be overstated. Cliff is always enjoyable to watch, mostly due to his goofy antics towards his family and his friendly competitions with his wife Claire. While Bill Cosby plays the silly, sweater-wearing embarrassing dad perfectly, he also portrays the character’s tender and loving side, as Cliff is extremely dedicated to his family and loves them deeply. That is, despite the fact that he often tries to get his elder children to move out in a running gag. He’s the father everyone wishes they had.

Before we look at our most memorable character, here are a few honorable mentions:
- David Addison
“Moonlighting” (1985-89)
- James ‘Sonny’ Crockett
“Miami Vice” (1984-89)
- Kevin Arnold
“The Wonder Years” (1988-93)
- Balki Bartokomous
“Perfect Strangers” (1986-93)
- Daisy Duke
“The Dukes of Hazzard” (1979-85)
- Dan Fielding
“Night Court” (1984-92)

#1: Sam Malone
“Cheers” (1982-93)
Earning actor Ted Danson two Emmy Awards, Sam Malone has become symbolic of the ‘80s and sitcoms in general. Barman at the titular establishment but also a recovering alcoholic, he’s adored by his patrons due to his friendly attitude and good cheer. Not only fun to watch for his camaraderie with his pals, it’s also a blast to see this former pro baseball player’s smooth seductions of women – oh, did we not mention he’s something of a womanizer? Such a memorable character in TV history that he’s become the subject of many academic articles – especially those about masculinity – Sam Malone was the soul of the bar. And, just as everybody at Cheers knew his name, so does the audience.

Do you agree with our list? What TV character from the ‘80s is your favorite? For more ranked top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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