Maybe I give myself too much credit. Perhaps I am not so lovable. Still, as much as I might enjoy the power trip that comes along with identifying with a tough-as-nails lead or a ne’er-do-well trickster, the characters that most seem to resemble me are the betas. The second-stringers. And, hey, here’s to us. We keep the world running while the alphas are hoarding the pretty girls and money. Sure, it’s just the illusion of being important. Give us something, we have so little.
Clarence Worley, True Romance
I know, I know, a lot of people are going to see this name and think “Clarence was not a lovable loser.” I disagree. At the beginning of the film, he is about as low as a person can go: alone on his birthday, working at a dead-end job. I’ve been there. I have a time share there. I’d say I own property there, but if I were well-off enough to do that, I’d be less of a loser and lose my claim to the land.
Clarence transforms over the course of the film, and it’s safe to say he becomes a little bit cooler. But a lot of that is through blind luck and horrible sacrifice. Clarence takes a bad situation, tries to fix it, makes it worse, bumbles through things, and barely makes it out alive. He is driven by a passion we losers all hope to achieve: to finally fit in. When he suddenly sees a place for himself in the world, he starts to think bigger. Sometimes, all it takes one good connection to transform a life. For Clarence, that’s Alabama.
Detective Charles Boyle, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Charles Boyle is the whole reason I wrote this article. From the very first episode, I saw part of myself in Boyle. He’s kind, naïve, and weird. He’s also a bit of a lummox, and though I do not feel I fall into that category, I have been one on occasion. He falls deeply, madly in love with a woman who can never return his feelings(done it more than once, will probably do it again), clinging to the slightest shred of hope. He maintains a blog that very few people read(hmmm). He’s also quite a sycophant, something I do not consider myself. Still, I understand the energy and obsession behind his character.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a term for Charles’ tendency to move too quickly in a relationship, calling it going “Full Boyle.” Nothing rings truer to me than that.
Abed Nadir, Community
I am not autistic, nor do women find me cute enough to throw themselves at me. I suppose that feeling removed and misunderstood is more universal than I would like to admit, but I identify with it all the same. I’m nowhere near as selfish as Abed, though I am often just as stubborn. The ways I most identify with Abed are the way he sees the world through the lens of pop culture and his overactive imagination.
My tendency to daydream has always caused me trouble, and I learned from a young age that I didn’t see the world the way most other people did. I stood out in a way that got me attention I didn’t want. This leads to another way I differ from Abed, though: I fight back. Someone tried to stuff me in a locker once. Tried being the operative word.
Paul Tannek, Loser
Okay, I am probably going to lose cool/nerd/what-have-you points for admitting that I enjoyed Amy Heckerling’s Loser. I readily admit that it will never be a classic of cinema. It is, however, is a nice, uplifting story that makes dorks like myself feel like life won’t always kick them in the ass(spoiler alert: it pretty much does). Paul is the stereotypical nice guy, always doing good deeds and being way too nice to everyone. He is incredibly non-confrontational until pushed too far, and he takes some pretty serious insults with a smile.
In truth, Paul is probably what all lovable losers aspire to be. He isn’t just nice; he’s clever, outgoing, and fairly confident. He’s the right kind of nerd, socially awkward but incredibly endearing. The fact that he’s in a boilerplate romantic comedy where the nice guy finishes first just proves it’s not realistic.
Dean Venture, The Venture Bros
So, are the Venture brothers cute?
Well, Dean… he’s kinda cute. He dresses like Buddy Holly.
That’s pretty cool.
Yeah. but I think he does it accidentally.
That’s Dean Venture in a nutshell. In his defense, he lived an incredibly sheltered life and was raised by an ambivalent father. Dean is weird. For most of the series, Dean is a wide-eyed and easily excited. He falls in love with Triana Orpheus the moment he meets her, prints a weekly newsletter regarding banal household events, and is the foil to his hyper-aggressive fraternal twin, Hank.
Later in the series, Dean realizes that he and his family are the life-long butt of a very cruel joke. The Venture family peaked well before he was born, his father is perhaps the most pathetic person on the face of the earth, and the girl of his dreams? She kinda likes him, but not enough. The Venture Bros is a show about failure, and Dean perfectly encapsulates the sort of failure that comes from being oblivious. Sweet, well-meaning, and utterly useless, Deany-V is the type of person we all worry we’ll turn out to be. Season five Dean is who we often become, and it’s not any prettier.
Milhouse van Houten, The Simpsons
This is it: the one dork I identify with more than any other. Constantly playing second fiddle, Milhouse van Houten is the perennial lovable loser. His name alone is a punchline. No one takes him seriously, even his best friend. He spends most of his existence in everyone else’s shadow. Everything just comes up a little short with him. The only person on The Simpsons more pathetic than Milhouse is Gil. Thank goodness I’m not a Gil. I mean, that guy… yeesh.
In recent episodes, the show has gone a little lighter on him: his long-standing unrequited crush on Lisa is validated. As much as it’s nice to see the good guy get a win, it’s also a sign of the way The Simpsons has transformed from being a source of biting social commentary to a sappy, run-of-the-mill sitcom. Milhouse is shorthand for sad sack. He’s not supposed to win in the end. And that’s okay. While it’s true that nice guys usually finish last, sometimes they get sweet songs like this one from Allie Goertz: