12 Overlooked / Underrated Fictional Characters I Wish to Bestow Accolades Upon (2/2)

Continuing on from last time, here’s the rest of the list. Remember these are not presented in any particular order.

Little Bear

Little Bear was perhaps the best series Nick Jr ever aired along with Blue’s Clues. It was a great slice of life show that actually felt real, even if the characters were a bunch of talking animals (and, bizarrely, a human girl named Emily.) I loved how Little Bear’s dad sometimes went on extended trips out to sea, so he and his mom would have to keep each other company in the dad’s absence. Then there’d be plot lines where Little Bear’s dad came home and literally the entire episode would revolve around the two of them getting up early to make pancakes together for his mother. That strongly resonated with me, since my dad and I used to get up really early to make pancakes together when I was young too. There was another episode where it was just Little Bear and his family going to his grandparents’ golden anniversary party and taking in what a special bond the two had for it to last so long.

I’ve never seen another show, even other coming of age programs like Hey! Arnold or Doug, ever do such lowkey and honest vignettes like these. They may not have been the most edge-of-your-seat, exciting plotlines but I appreciated having something different, that reflected on the mundane. Little Bear was sweet, it was understated and it was real. In some ways, I consider shows that encourage an appreciation for the precious everyday moments in life to be just as important for kids as Mr. Rogers telling them about feelings or Sesame Street teaching them to count.

Marie Schrader

Breaking Bad spoilers to follow.

Out of the entire White-Schrader family, the most sympathetic person (besides the kids, obviously) was Marie by a mile. Marie wasn’t perfect–she was a kleptomaniac and the early episodes made her out to be somewhat rude to her sister. However, that pales in comparison to being a drug dealing murderer, a racist meathead with anger issues, and a cheating enabler like her family members. I really don’t understand why the character seems to get so much disdain from certain elements of the fanbase, and why the other factions never seem to sing her praises. I’d go as far to say that after Jesse Pinkman, Marie Schrader was my favorite character.

Where Marie really starts to shine for me is when she stands up for Walt’s right to bodily autonomy in the intervention scene. While everyone else is berating Walt to go into chemo and probably suffer a prolonged, agonizing death because it’s easier for them, Marie stood against the crowd for the sake of her brother-in-law. As a supporter of a patient’s right to die with dignity, as someone who’s pro-choice, believes in drug as well as prostitution decriminalization and as a transwoman, the fact that Marie stood up for self-autonomy was really cool in my eyes. Nobody else gets to decide what you do with your own body; your body and what happens to it is one of the few things a person gets to be selfish about.

Marie also demonstrated what a patient, caring woman she was in the rest of the series with how she treated Hank. He yells at Marie, takes out his trauma and career frustrations on her, and emotionally abuses her at times. She never complains, she never cheats, (*cough*Ted*cough*) she never stops supporting her man. Marie understands that Hank’s been through a near death experience as well as career pressures and builds him up however she can. It honestly makes me really sad watching the way Hank yells at her while she worries over his mental/emotional welfare. Sadder yet are all the times Hank’s life was threatened and Marie had to cry and worry about his safety. (I don’t think it’s possible to watch this scene and not want to hug Marie and tell her everything’s gonna be okay.) Walt put this poor woman through hell and, in the end, she suffered more than arguably any other member of the family as a poor embittered widow because of his ego. Unlike Skylar, who knew what was going on and could have walked away, Marie was truly the lamb to the slaughter from beginning to end.

I hate the fact that Skylar and Walt often treat Marie as if she were a nuisance, even as she takes in their kids for over a year and looks out for Skylar’s well-being (“I’m not leaving until I know what’s wrong with her.”) Worse yet is how many audience members I’ve seen treat Marie as a weak link in the cast and/or a bad person for no reason except the occasional petty theft. She was flawed as are we all but she put family first, whether that meant insisting everyone got to see Hank in the hospital or her willingness to forgive Skylar as late as “Ozymandias,” even after everything that happened up to that point.

She’s such an awesome partner, making her husband feel like a man again at his lowest point.

Becky Conner

I had never watched Roseanne, even though it was a mainstay at Nick@Nite for years when I was growing up. (And I saw a lot of old sitcoms that way, from The Brady Bunch to I Love Lucy to Laverne and Shirley and Three’s Company.) I only got into it very recently, when I was having constant asthma attacks and too on-edge to watch any of my usual stable of films. My awesome buddy Ron happened to have some DVDs of Roseanne and I decided a lighthearted comedy in 22 minute increments would hit the spot.

The best character on the show is Becky Conner, though this seems to be an unpopular opinion among the fan base. She is cute, and the only one of the kids who feels like a normal person episode to episode as opposed to a two-dimensional sitcom quip machine. I like the one where she and her dad realize they don’t have a lot in common, don’t understand each other, yet still love one another all the same. That rang true for me as the child of a former high school sports star who tried to push all his former glories on me growing up. My favorite Becky moment came when a salesman died in the Conner house. While every other member of the family treated him as a spectacle, a nuisance or joke, Becky alone decided to treat the deceased as a person. “Nobody who works all their lives deserves to be buried as ‘John Doe.’ He needs a name.” And name him she did–“He looks like a William.” 🙂

Beyond that, and this may be a weird thing to comment on, but I like how they had the guts to write Becky’s adult life as a mess. Becky dropped out of school, eloped with some guy and had to crawl back home for support. She has to work as a waitress and live in a trailer park, despite growing up as a very smart kid. I mean, it was sad but at least a realistic change from most sugary sweet happy sitcom endings. Sometimes people who had a lot of promise initially just fall on hard times due to bad choices made as the result of unusual circumstances or dysfunctional families. I’d like to see more of that acknowledgement in media as opposed to pretending things always work out for the main characters.

Marie Kanker

So, Marie Kanker is probably the most embarrassing childhood crush I’m willing to admit to on this site. I remember my friends and I watching Ed, Edd ‘n’ Eddy and wondering “why doesn’t Double D just get with her–she’s cute!” I don’t know if it’s the blue hair or the voice actress (Kathleen Barr) but Marie just seemed to radiate a nonconformist brand of femininity I always found appealing. While the Kankers are often depicted as three halves of the same bully, it’s clear to any fan of the series that Marie is not as dumb as May nor as domineering as Lee. If she has affection for the soft-spoken, sensitive, intelligent Double D then Marie must have pretty good taste in guys too, valuing them for more than assertiveness or brute strength. The other two Kankers mirror the personalities of their crushes, so it stands to reason Marie is probably smarter than she lets on as well. In my head-cannon, Double D starts to understand the good thing he’s got after another year or two when he’s old enough to appreciate girls. (And if Marie has moved on by that stage, as youthful infatuations often do, I imagine Double D would probably regret not acknowledging her sooner.)

The audience is supposed to perceive the Kanker sisters as the definition of white trash: ignorant, abrasive, and undignified in their sexual advances. Yet, if one understands their backstory I feel these traits are not only excusable but verge on being endearing. The Kankers are poor, their mom either hasn’t had a lot of luck finding Mr. Right or else she sleeps around with various men simultaneously. (I’m not judging, just pointing out the facts.) Each of the sisters has a different father, and it’s strongly implied their hyper sexuality is a learned behavior from their mom. With this in mind, I find their dysfunctional attempts to win the Eds’ favor to be the sympathetic acts of mistreated children. It’s likely they’ll eventually grow out of these behaviors and normalize as they spend more time around other kids at school, get out of that environment, smoke some weed and do a little self-reflecting. Plus, at the end of the day, the Kankers were willing to go to hell and back for the Eds in Big Picture Show to prevent them from coming to harm. I feel they truly did care, in their own twisted and unconventional way.

I know the creators never intended on such a heavy comparison, but nevertheless after reading To Kill a Mockingbird later in life, I always equate Marie Kanker to Mayella Ewell. (A financially destitute, mistreated girl with poor hygiene who copes with her situation by making aggressive sexual advances at someone.) Maybe I’m alone, but I feel like if any of the characters in Ed, Edd ‘n’ Eddy have enough material to warrant a spin-off (or a particularly inspired fanfiction) that’s free from the content restrictions of children’s TV, it’s the Kankers hands-down. I’d love to know what kind of teenagers they grew up to be given their dysfunctional upbringing.

This episode has some of my favorite standalone Marie moments.

The Shooter

I ended up catching The Cincinnati Kid by accident on Turner Classic Movies one night. They were doing an Ann-Margret themed marathon, my then-girlfriend and I tuned in to watch Bye Bye Birdie, (which is a nostalgic guilty pleasure I intend to review one of these days,) and just left it on that station because there was nothing else on. For those who’ve never seen it, the film’s about an upstart stud poker player, Eric “the Kid,” Stoner, who sets up a game against the reigning champion, Lance “the Man” Howard. Along for the ride is Kid’s friend/mentor the Shooter, who will be the dealer for this fateful game, and his loose wife, Melva.

Cincinnati Kid wound up being one of the best films I’ve come across in recent years, but to be honest I’m still not sure how I interpret the main plot. There seems to be quite a few references to the Kid having his opponent up against the ropes during their poker game, and all the while Lady Fingers is needling the Man about his advanced age. As if to drive the point home that he’s at wit’s end, we see the Man alone in his hotel room muttering “no lady, [the Kid] hasn’t got through to me yet. But he damn well might.” Yet, in spite of all that build up implying the Kid’s ascendance to the undisputed poker champ, he loses with a full house against a royal flush with everything on the line. But did the Man resort to cheating in the last hand (strongly implied given the impossible odds)? Or did he know playing the game correctly would only ensure a slow loss and decide to pull a Hail Mary on the off chance the long odds paid off? (As he himself puts it, “making the wrong move at the right time.”) It’s up to the viewer to decide, and this particular viewer still hasn’t made up her mind yet.

Regardless of whether or not the Man himself played dirty, there’s a motif of cheating which permeates the entire film. We see it with the loser of the small time game the Kid plays, to Slade’s plan to fix the climactic matchup in the Kid’s favor, to the Kid cheating on his woman with Melva (played by Ann-Margret.) There’s even a scene with Melva cutting up a puzzle piece so it will fit where she wants it to. Shooter sees this and pleads “Melva, do you have to cheat on everything?” with the clear implication being that she’s unfaithful and he knows it. Her reputation is so scandalous that Slade is able to use it as leverage against Shooter to force him to give the Kid an edge.

But here’s the big question for me, and why I find Shooter the most interesting character in the movie: why is he even married to Melva anyway? If he knows she’s unfaithful to him and it’s an open secret, why does he put up with that disrespect? Is he desperate, is he supposed to be unattractive? (I’m not sure how he’s written in the novel, but I find the actor, Karl Malden, to be a decently good looking guy.) Moreover, why is Melva with Shooter if she doesn’t love him and he’s established to be not particularly well-off financially either? The only explanation I can think of is that Shooter’s too nice for his own good and took Melva in while knowing her past, either out of pity because she was badly off or he thought if he showed her love and made an honest woman out of her, she’d love him back someday. It’s sad to think that Shooter put his clean reputation, both as a man and later as a dealer, on the line to help Melva out and she repays him by sleeping with the Kid anyway. It’s somehow even sadder to think that the Kid, whom Shooter has been like a father to, doesn’t even try to understand the position his friend must have been put in to fix the game, and instead lashes out at him by cheating.

Shooter is one of the most morally upright guys I’ve ever seen in cinema: a great teacher, friend and husband. And yet, he is deeply betrayed by the two people in the world whom he loves most, after putting everything on the line for them. In every single scene, Kid and Melva take him for granted and either humiliate or coldly brush him off. Even in the end, when Shooter alone tries to comfort the Kid after his loss, he’s given the cold shoulder. I found that very endearing and I wanted desperately to be able to give Shooter a pat on the back by the time The Cincinnati Kid was over. Sad as it is to say, I’ve been in his shoes once or twice in my life, seemingly giving someone everything I could only for them to treat me badly as a result.

Captain Olimar

Pikmin was the shit back when I was a kid. Those first two installments on the Gamecube stimulated my imagination more than any other game before or since. As a kid, I was always really fascinated by insects and the micro-landscapes they resided in. I would play around with rocks in my mom’s garden and watch the ants scurry around in response to changes in their surroundings. Pikmin, with its 1-inch tall avatar, built off of that sense of imagination by forcing me, as the player, to navigate similar environments from a bug’s eye view. The ecosystem which the protagonist, Captain Olimar, finds himself in is one of brutal savagery and stunning beauty at the same time. His minions, the titular Pikmin, are like anthropomorphic eusocial insects, insignificant as individuals but collectively unstoppable.

What’s really commendable is that Nintendo managed to make its protagonist an interesting character in his own right, worthy of the inventive world which surrounds him. Even as a kid, I always loved reading Olimar’s journal entries at the end of each day. His meticulous notes about the strange planet he’d crash landed on revealed a curious mind sorely lacking among Nintendo’s usual batch of straightforward silent protagonists. Olimar’s reminiscences about his family, whom he knows he may never see again, match his intelligence with emotion. While we as the player may take the mechanics of the world for granted since we know it’s just a game, I appreciated the journal entries where Olimar would pull the curtain back for a minute and wonder why these gruesome creatures so willing to pummel all other species to death seem willing to spare him alone. This kind of lampshaded fourth wall breaking encourages the player to be inquisitive of the world-building and come up with their own explanations. The Piklopedia in Pikmin 2 also imbued the audience with a sense of grandeur for the biology of this world, even as it tried to kill us at every turn.

While Mario, Link and Samus all have great adventures, if there’s any one Nintendo protagonist I’d like to spend the afternoon with and talk about life, it’s Olimar. I like to believe we’d see eye to eye on a lot of stuff. He’s the only character in the entire Nintendo pantheon (and maybe even all of video games) who could plausibly be described as “a poet, a scholar, and a mighty warrior.”

The second installment is my favorite. I never had more fun trekking through a single player game on any console than I did with this. I wish Nintendo treated this particular series better and that it wasn’t so niche among players.

1 Comment

  1. Very thoughtful article. Sometimes the bit players have more character and more important things to say than the primary actors. It is good to see tis pointed out. If I watch these programs or movies again this will cause me to watch and listen to these characters more closely. Another great job of media analysis by the lady I am very proud to call my best friend!

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