5 Fun Sitcom Characters With Really Dark Backstories
The nice thing about sitcoms is that nothing bad ever happens in them. Or at least, nothing bad ever happens without a laugh track playing over it. Still, there has to be some kind of conflict in these shows; otherwise you have nothing to contrast the comedy against. No one wants to watch a bunch of rich, good-looking bros hanging out and getting laid, and their lives are so perfect, and oh shit, Entourage! I just wrote the show Entourage.
So, other than Entourage, no one wants to watch a show without conflict. And in order to create conflict, you need flawed characters. Those flawed characters need a solid backstory, but sometimes writers go too far and we get backstories for fun characters that are more than just a little dark ... they completely change the way you see them. For example, did you know ...
Sophia On Golden Girls Has Permanent Brain Damage
Golden Girls is both my personal favorite TV show and also the agreed-upon-by-everyone best show that has ever been made. Or at least, that's what my friends nervously agree upon as I stand in front of them, cracking my knuckles menacingly. I will watch those horny old ladies eat cheesecake together all damn day, but one of those horny old ladies has a backstory that makes her kind of sad.
Sophia, the oldest and sassiest Golden Girl, gets her moxie from a stroke that destroyed the part of her brain that censors what she says. Every time she zings Blanche, what she's actually saying to the audience is "HAHAHA PART OF MY BRAIN IS DEAD!"
That's not just me trying to excuse Sophia's actions; it was actually the story they used in her introduction to the show. While it's for sure the cutest brain damage I've ever seen, whenever she speaks, it still makes me wonder which of her zingers are Sophia being a queen, and which are the dying gasps of her remaining brain tissue.
What other ways might this stroke have affected her personality that we don't know about? Sophia isn't just the mouthiest Golden Girl; she's also the least moral. There's an episode wherein she teams up with Dorothy's ex-husband to try to scam a baseball team out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance money after she's accidentally hit in the head by a foul ball. Is that Sophia, or the stroke?
Either way, she's still my favorite Golden Girl, and learning I've modeled my life after someone coping with the effects of a traumatic brain injury has had no effect on me whatsoever. I'm choosing to think of it as a superhero origin story. Sophia is Doesn't Give A Shit Woman, my personal idol.
Karen From Will & Grace Was Raised As A Criminal
Karen is Will & Grace's hilarious, rich, alcoholic pill addict. She spends most of her days finding new and creative ways to ignore open container laws. A pastime which seems a little less zany when you find out that a Young Karen prequel would've been the most depressing show on television.
Karen's past is billed as strange and mysterious until Season 4, when we meet her mother and find out she's a professional con artist who used Karen as an assistant in her cons. Upon seeing her mother again for the first time, Karen says to Jack, "My entire childhood was spent following her from town to town, running scams on people." As an adult, the extent of their mother/daughter relationship is that Karen pays her mother to stay away from her.
Knowing Karen was a baby grifter puts a lot of her "fun quirks" into perspective. Her drinking and gold-digging, the crux of all Karen jokes, could easily be explained by her unstable childhood. Knowing she grew up without a lot of money and ran away from home fairly young, it makes sense that she would want to marry into money.
She probably saw her many rich husbands as an opportunity for the stability she didn't have early in life -- or hell, for that matter, an escape from outright abuse. The only way she saw her mother make money as a child was by stealing it from other people, so marrying someone rich probably seemed like the only legitimate way to legally support herself. As for the drinking and prominent pill addiction, both could be great ways to forget that she spent her childhood in a gritty crossover of Curly Sue and Mommie Dearest.
Leo From That '70s Show Abandoned His Family
Leo, That '70s Show's lovable old hippy, played by Tommy Chong, has a backstory that's a little hard to pin down, because it's being told by Leo, who famously has drug-induced memory issues. These issues are always played for laughs. "HAHAHA, Leo has forgotten that he owns his own business!" "HAHAHA, Leo has forgotten who all of his friends are!" "HAHAHA, does Leo have an actual problem? Has anyone ever suggested Leo go to a doctor? Because I know people who smoke a lot of weed, but I've never met anyone who smoked so much weed that they forgot about their wife and son."
In Season 5, Leo suddenly disappears from the show. In real life, it was Tommy Chong's jail sentence that caused his character's three-season absence (because prison doesn't allow you furlough for your sitcom). Leo suddenly leaves town, upsetting main '70s person Hyde, since Leo was a sort of surrogate father to him. He leaves behind a note explaining, "One day I stopped in Point Place for some gas, before I knew it eight years had passed. Whoa, that rhymes. Anyway, I should get home to my wife."
Yeah, his wife totally assumed he's dead. If my husband disappeared without a trace for eight years, I'd wait maybe two before I had a funeral, poured one out, and married Shawn the attractive waiter from my favorite pizza place. Maybe it would be someone else who's gorgeous and has unlimited access to pizza, but I'm probably not going to do better than Shawn.
Leo abandoning his wife is even darker when you consider that way back in Season 3, he also briefly mentioned having a son. So basically, he left his family to get stoned with a bunch of teenagers, becoming a father figure to one of them, while his biological son was out there somewhere playing catch with himself, thinking his father is dead. That is so '70s.
Britta From Community Was Molested At A Birthday Party
Britta's backstory before ending up in the study group at the center of Community involved dropping out of high school because she "thought it would impress Radiohead." She then joined the Peace Corps, dated some anarchists, and traveled the world before returning to her hometown and enrolling in Greendale Community College. She mentions several times a strong disdain for her parents, and attempts to rally against "The Man" at every possible opportunity. In Season 6, we meet her parents, and they seem like perfectly nice, normal people. So what could have caused Britta's hatred of them and her strong anti-establishment personality?
It's because she was molested at a birthday party by a homeless man dressed as a dinosaur. If this sounds insane, that's because it is! It's the sitcom equivalent of burning down your house instead of lighting a birthday candle. The writers needed a reason for Britta to drop out of high school and bum around for a decade before entering community college late. It could have been that she joined The Polyphonic Spree, or got really into an underground Pokemon card game, or anything other than getting molested by costumed children's party entertainer.
There's no big soppy scene wherein Britta spells this out for everyone while weeping over a dinosaur costume, but there have been various allusions to it through out the series. Also, Dan Harmon confirmed it in a Reddit AMA. And it was apparently mentioned under her bio on the original website for the show when it launched.
This horrifying Easter egg that no one wanted to find puts the rest of Britta's personality into perfect context. Of course she's angry with her parents; they failed to protect her from something awful. Her strong but directionless sense of social justice probably comes from a misplaced sense of repressed anger at dinosaurs. If I were her, I'd be out there burning down every damn natural history museum on earth.
Diane From Cheers Is Drawn To The Exact Spot Where Her Life Fell Apart
I used to wonder why Diane hangs around Cheers. She obviously sees the bar as beneath her, but her attachment makes much more sense if you watch the pilot episode. Diane didn't arrive at Cheers looking for a waitress job. She stopped by for a drink on her wedding day with her fiance ... who subsequently abandoned her AT CHEERS!
To make things even more depressing, her fiance was also her boss. So not only was she out a husband, but also a job. Cheers is the place where Diane's world collapsed. She spends years trying to get back into the academic field she was in before, but she always ends up right back at Cheers. Why? Is there something about the florescent lighting and sticky floor that she just can't quit?
Her relationship with Sam the bartender went so badly that she ended up checking herself into a mental hospital, but when she got out, she came right back to work beside him at Cheers. Knowing her backstory, it seems like an unhealthy attachment to the place where her entire life fell apart. Imagine being dumped by someone in a place you've never been before, and then hanging out there for five years. That's a deep-fried Big Mac level of unhealthy.
Even when she did finally leave the show for several seasons to pursue her dream of becoming an author, she ends up coming back to Cheers in the series finale. In a cruel parody of her entrance to the show, she and Sam decide to get married, get on a plane, and then Sam leaves her to return to "his one true love": Cheers. Was the original title of this show Fuck Diane? I feel like there's going to be a Cheers reunion show someday that just features Diane's skeleton clinging to a smoking doorknob.
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Steve Urkel didn't have a dark backstory, but Family Matters did get weird toward the end.
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