What a Likeable Unlikeable Character
Some television shows have characters that are difficult or impossible to like. Despite these characters being unlikeable they are liked or even loved by the show’s fans. These are not characters that fans love to hate. These are characters who fans liked despite their unlikeable personalities. Here are 5 characters that are unlikeable yet were liked by many fans. This Hub contains spoilers for some of the episodes mentioned.
Dr. Zachary Smith
Probably the most unlikeable likeable character is Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) of “Lost in Space”. Dr. Smith and The Robot were not in the Lost in Space pilot. In the series Dr. Smith, The Robot, and Will Robinson (Bill Mumy) were the main characters in most of the show’s episodes. In the first episode Air Force Colonel (Dr.) Zachary Smith snuck onto the Jupiter 2. He killed a Security Police Officer with a karate chop and dumped the body. He programmed the robot to destroy the Jupiter 2 8 hours after launch. The Jupiter 2 went into lockdown for the final countdown and Dr. Smith was locked inside the space ship. His motive for his treason was money. For the first few episodes Dr. Smith was a love to hate type of character. Jonathan Harris wasn’t happy with the Dr. Smith character for two reasons. He found the character boring. He also figured Dr. Smith would soon be killed off and he, Jonathan Harris, would be unemployed. In Dr. Smith fashion he devised a sneaky plan. He inserted some comedy into his character. Lost in Space creator Irwin Allen liked what Jonathan Harris was doing with the Dr. Smith character and asked him to do more of it.
Dr. Smith evolved into a character that is sneaky, greedy, and scared of his own shadow. He is snobbish and stupid. Despite his cowardice he would ignore warnings and safety measures that are inconvenient to him. What is there to like about this despicable character? His comedic villainy makes the character fun to watch. His connivances only work on children, Will and Penny (Angela Cartwright), and gullible aliens. Will Robinson was a boy genius so seeing Dr. Smith deceiving him so easily gave average intelligence boys who watched the show a chance to feel superior. He also seemed to be the only adult who had time to spend with Will and Penny. From today’s perspective parents could feel superior to Mr. and Mrs. Robinson (Guy Williams and June Lockhart). What kind of parents would let their 12 year-old son go off alone with someone like Dr. Smith?
Probably the most likeable of unlikeable characters is Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) of “Star Trek”. Mr. Spock had a Vulcan father and a human mother. He identifies as Vulcan. He is extremely intelligent and prides himself on having logic dictate his decisions and behavior. As any good Vulcan he has complete control over his emotions. He never displays his emotions or lets emotions interfere in his decision making process. That is his official line. There are occasions where he seems to depart from the logic only approach. In the episode The Galileo Seven he made a desperation move which paid off because the USS Enterprise hadn’t departed as it should have. When challenged on that by Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) Mr. Spock gave a logical rationale for his illogical behavior. He is honest, loyal, and when necessary does show sympathetic understanding of humans and their problems.
Mr. Spock is an interesting character for a television show but how would he be viewed if it was a real life situation? He is on a ship with 300 humans and he goes out of his way to let humans know he has a low opinion of the human race. The episode Amok Time makes Vulcan claims of superiority over humans ridiculous. In this episode Mr. Spock is going through Pon Farr. He has to go back to Vulcan to marry. It is a physical necessity and his medical condition is deteriorating rapidly. It is a dark Vulcan secret.[i] When The Enterprise returns to Vulcan Spock’s betrothed, T’Pring (Arlene Martel), rejects him. In these instances the woman chooses a champion and a fight to the death settles the issue. T’Pring chooses Captain Kirk (William Shatner) as her champion. After Mr. Spock believes he has killed Captain Kirk he wants nothing to do with T’Pring. He asks her to explain her choice. Her logic was by pitting Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk against each other the winner would want nothing to do with her. She would be free to marry the man she wanted. If she miscalculated and Mr. Spock still wanted her she would be no worse off than she was before. The lesson here is someone can be coldly logical and utterly evil. In a real world situation would anyone on The Enterprise want anything to do with Mr. Spock after this incident?
[i] In Star Trek movies and subsequent Star Trek TV shows everyone seems to know about it.
Architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) is the protagonist in the television series “The Invaders”. The pilot episode “Beachhead” sets the tone for the series and the David Vincent character. David Vincent is driving home from a business trip. He takes a short cut and gets lost. He stops at a deserted diner and goes to sleep in his car. At just past 4 AM and he sees a flying saucer. He doesn’t know anything about the occupants or their purpose. He finds the nearest police station and reports the incident. He insists the police go to the area and check out his story. The part of the story that could be verified, the name of the deserted diner, didn’t check out. He claimed it was Bud’s Diner. The diner’s name was Kelly’s Dinner. There is a honeymoon couple camping in the area (Skip Ward and Bonnie Beecher). They claim they didn’t see anything and David Vincent yells at them angrily claiming they had to have seen something. That night he goes back to the area and confronts the couple. He angrily asks the woman if they changed the sign then grabs the man when he refuses to show David Vincent his hands. The confrontation and subsequent incidents prove the aliens’ purpose was Earth conquest. When the series ran in 1967 and 1968 the United States was still actively investigating UFOs so reporting a flying saucer sighting to authorities wasn’t out of line.[i]
David Vincent is often curt with strangers and friends. He doesn’t hesitate reaching into people’s personal lives. An example is in the episode “Moonshot” where he tells an astronauts wife (Joanne Linville) her husband is an alien and she knows it. He often seems to have more of a rapport with the aliens than he does with humans. An example is in the episode “Valley of the Shadow” where Vincent and an alien (Joe Maross) work out a solution to prevent the necessity to destroy a town. The traits that make him unlikeable also make him likeable. He is an intelligent everyman who finds out the world is in peril. He accepts his responsibility to try to save the human race even though no one has given him the authority to act. If a similar situation happens humanity would need someone like David Vincent.
[i] Project Blue Book was the active UFO study. The study ended in January 1970.
What Would You Do?
Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) is a blue collar worker who lives in Queens, New York. He lives with his doting wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), his adult daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers) and his son-in-law Michael Stivic (Rob Reiner). These are the main characters in the television series “All in the Family”. Archie Bunker’s character got the title of the “Loveable Bigot”.
Archie Bunker often uses racial and ethnic slurs and stereotypes. The language and stereotypes were well known to the audience but hadn’t been used on television before. Archie is stubborn and stupid. He would often refer to Edith as a “dingbat”. Even when proven wrong he rarely admits his mistake or gives credit where due. In the episode “Edith Has Jury Duty” Edith is the lone hold-out on a jury that wants to convict a man of murder. The man is proven innocent vindicating Edith’s stand. Michael and Gloria praise Edith’s courage. Archie sees no reason to credit Edith since she and the other jurors were wasting time judging the wrong man. While Archie is big on law and order he doesn’t have any problem breaking laws he finds inconvenient. Tax evasion, insurance fraud, buying stolen goods, and smoking in no smoking areas are no problem for him.
Despite the over the top deprecation of Archie many in the audience believe Archie won many of the arguments he had with Michael. The show had moments of fairness such as in “Everybody Tells the Truth”. In this episode, told in flashback, Archie and Michael have two different versions of the refrigerator repair man and his assistant. Archie depicted them as a gangster and knife wielding militant. Michael depicted them as two door mats and no knife was involved. In actuality they were average men and there was a pen knife involved. In “Archie and the Editorial” Archie’s solution for the plane hijacking problem, while sounding ridiculous on its face, might actually work.[i]
Archie loves his wife and daughter. He let Mike and Gloria stay in his house, with free room and board, so Mike can finish college. Archie had to drop out of school to get a job to support his family. He is cheap because he is living, and has always lived, with limited means. He was brought up to believe you respect your parents. He was largely a product of how he was brought up and his life experience. In later episodes the writers toned down Archie Bunker’s bigotry.
[i] At the time domestic hijackers wanted to go to Cuba. No one in the United States had been killed in a plane hijacking.
Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is a computer expert on the TV series “24”. She is a member of the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU). As computer skills go she is the best of the best. She is great at guiding Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) through dangerous situations.
She is not a people person. One day the mother of a CTU member died. Chloe showed no sympathy and insisted he continue doing his job. Another day she met her counterpart at the FBI. After she surveyed the FBI’s computer network she told the FBI computer expert whoever put the network together “didn’t know what they were doing.” The FBI computer expert was the woman who put the network together. The FBI computer expert told Chloe she was the one who put the network together. The FBI didn’t have equipment as sophisticated as the CTU at their disposal. At the end of the day Chloe grudgingly admitted to her FBI counterpart that she did well considering the equipment she had to work with. One day after spending a night with a man she curtly told the man to get out of her bed. Chloe seemed perpetually sullen even before her personal life took a bad turn. In “Live Another Day” Chloe unwittingly helps someone who is attempting a villainous plot.
Chloe O’Brien is loyal to Jack Bauer. She trusts him even when others believe he can’t be trusted. She found the perfect job for her personality and talents. If her computer wizardry wasn’t so critical in such an important job, preventing terrorists’ mass destruction plots, she would be difficult to work with and impossible to work for.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Robert Sacchi
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 22, 2018:
Ironically the original pilot didn't include Dr. Smith or The Robot.
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on July 22, 2018:
O I am so glad he brought humor to his character. He was just the one character I could not wait to appear each time I viewed the show. Angels once again are headed your way ps
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 20, 2018:
Thank you for reading and commenting. I watched a show where Jonathan Harris talked about Lost in Space. He found the original Dr. Smith character boring. He knew if the character continued this way he would be killed off. That would mean unemployment for him. He figured the only chance for the character's survival was as a comedic villain. He began throwing a bit of comedy into his character. Irwin Allen approached him and told him, whatever you're doing, do more of it.
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on July 20, 2018:
Dr. Smith is without a doubt my most favorite of these. He made the show in my estimation. I love love loved that show and that is saying something because I very rarely watched tv then. Well done. Angels are headed your way this evening ps
Robert Sacchi (author) on November 09, 2017:
Yes, I also liked Mr. Spock. It is interesting that Vulcans in the Star Trek spin-offs were called out on their behavior, in a way the audience would agree with the criticism. Dr. McCoy only seemed to make himself look bad when he challenged Mr. Spock's reasoning.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2017:
I rather liked the character of Mr. Spock in Star Trec. I know that there are many reruns of the old shows and I have probably seen all of them more than once.
Robert Sacchi (author) on November 07, 2017:
Yes, these were characters that made the shows memorable.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2017:
Those were definitely some interesting characters that were on television shows. All of those characters helped make the shows a success.
Robert Sacchi (author) on September 18, 2017:
Yes, I remember learning in a training class Mr. Spock is an adult, as opposed to Dr. McCoy the child. If you put 2 Vulcans together you'll get a very boring conversation. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on September 18, 2017:
I used to hate Dr. Smith as a child, and found Dr. Spock boring. But my brother explained Dr. Spock to me. He said he is logical, while Deforest Kelley is emotional, and that's why it is fun to watch them when they spar. I liked Dr. Spock's ears, but now they seem weird, like when you have a Boston Terrier's ears surgically made to go up sharply so that the ears stand upright.
Robert Sacchi (author) on October 05, 2016:
I think that is one of the things that made All in The Family a great show. The characters seemed real. It was a case of everyone knowing someone like a cast member.
Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on October 05, 2016:
This was a fun read. I remember thinking Archie wasn't a nice man but he really seemed to love and care for Edith and Gloria. I guess it balanced out his character and made him seem less one-dimensional.
Robert Sacchi (author) on August 13, 2016:
Yes, there was something about TV in the 60s. With only 3 networks making TV shows it was easy to keep track of what was on. It also meant TV shows had more of a chance to get a following. Some nights it was a matter of picking out the best of 3 "bad choices".
Dan W Miller from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000 on August 13, 2016:
(Most was accidentally erased.) But I enjoy reading just the kind of array of classic TV and cinema that I enjoy because my interest begins with the silents. You seem only JUST a bit older as I will be 58 soon.
Oh, I see my mentor (@Jodah) enjoys your work, also. I always knew he had class.
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 24, 2016:
Thank you for reading and the feedback. It is interesting how Dr. Smith and The Robot evolved through the course of the series.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on July 24, 2016:
Very interesting hub that brought back memories. I absolutely loved to hate Dr Zachary Smith in Lost in Space. It was my favourite show growing up.
Robert Sacchi (author) on July 08, 2016:
Thank you. You may have hit the nail on the head why these characters are popular, they remind us of someone we know.
C E Clark from North Texas on July 08, 2016:
I've never seen 'The Invaders," or "24," so I don't know the characters you describe from those programs, but I do know the others well. Of the characters I am familiar with I would have to say they are very similar to lots of people in real life. I've known lots of difficult people, and some are easier to get along with than others. Generally it's easier to get along with people like oneself, so if you don't have a run-of-the-mill personality and average intelligence, you may be the one people find difficult to relate to. I am one of those. :)
Robert Sacchi (author) on June 11, 2016:
Glad you liked the hub. In the original pilot Mr. Spock was one of the officers. Majel Barrett played #1. She played Nurse Chapel in the original series. They wanted to "get rid of the guy with the ears." I think everyone is glad they didn't do that.
I like Chloe. I also have that type of personality, as opposed to autism. It's a blessing and a curse.
All in the Family was a breakthrough series in the United States. The language they used wasn't used on television before. It also directly covered topics that were only handled indirectly, and rarely at that, on television.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on June 10, 2016:
These were interesting to say the least! The only one I didn't really know that we'll was Archie Bunker!
It's interesting you had Mr Spock on the list as I remember reading that in the original pilot for Star Trek the 2ic of the Enterprise was a woman but that was considered too radical for the 1960s in the US so it got changed to an Alien by the name of Mr Spock! I actually liked Spock because he could be relied on to be consistent.
Another good pick was Chloe from '24' as she's a typical autistic person (my daughter is slightly so and like Chloe in some ways!) Chloe is loyal because Jack values her as a friend and she values him!
Loved this hub
Robert Sacchi (author) on May 30, 2016:
Yes, by all means if you have a similar idea go for it.
Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on May 30, 2016:
I grew up watching many of those likeable villains or curmudgeons, etc. I guess my favorites are Dr. Smith, who wasn't comedic at first, but eventually became rather clownish. And then there was "Starchy" Bunker, as Mad magazine called him - you gotta love his hilarious bigotry and malapropism. Anyway, this is a very good idea for a hub. Can I steal it? Ha-ha-ha! Later!
Robert Sacchi (author) on May 28, 2016:
Yes, it is hard to think of them having the series without Mr. Spock.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 28, 2016:
I did not realize that in that original Star Trec pilot they had wanted to get rid of the Mr. Spock character. Glad they did not!
Robert Sacchi (author) on May 26, 2016:
Thank you Peggy W & Linda Robinson60. Yes, it is interesting with the first Star Trek pilot they wanted to "get rid of the guy with the ears." It was "the guy with the ears" that made that show. 24 was a great concept of doing things in real time and breaking the formulas. Yes, these are some of the most memorable characters in television. Glad you enjoyed this Hub.
Linda Robinson from Cicero, New York on May 26, 2016:
Good morning Robert, just loved this hub. Your content is funny yet you covered some of the ultimate television characters of all time. Excellent job and you nailed it perfectly, great characters to choose. Fantastic. Enjoy your day. :)
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 25, 2016:
I always enjoy reading your analysis of these plots. I personally liked the Mr. Spock character in Star Trec. He added to the interesting mix of characters on those space missions. The 24 series was addictive.