March Madness of television: Sitcom characters

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A memorable sitcom protagonist has the ability to make or break their show. That’s not to say the character needs to be likable — in fact, that’s rarely the case when it comes to several of the great sitcoms of the past decade. But one thing’s for sure: A great sitcom character needs to leave audiences with a multitude of iconic one-liners, nutty scenes or even a handful of emotional gut-punches that solidify their place in television history.

The Daily Californian’s arts & entertainment department is back at it, bringing you the greatest sitcom characters of all time.

The first round of the bracket-style contest transpired with almost no upsets; our one-seed Michael Scott of “The Office” easily trumped the 16-seed Ted Mosby of “How I Met Your Mother”; our two-seed Leslie Knope of “Parks and Recreation” beat 15-seed Sergeant Terry Jeffords of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and so on. One notable upset came in the closest matchup of the first round, with nine-seed BoJack Horseman beating eight-seed George Costanza from “Seinfeld.” Perhaps it’s a testament to the fact that television comedies have come a long way since the 1990s juggernaut “Seinfeld” reigned supreme, with modern audiences favoring the existential dark comedy of Netflix’s “BoJack.”

Another notable matchup in the first round took place between Andy Samberg’s Detective Jake Peralta from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and Zooey Deschanel’s Jessica Day from “New Girl.” After all, who can forget the iconic crossover moment when Jake abruptly stopped Jess’s car on the streets of New York City?

The second round of matchups also proceeded without any significant surprises — save for one, where five-seed Jake Peralta beat out the four-seed “Parks and Rec” favorite Ron Swanson. While Swanson may not be the lead character in his sitcom, his esoteric quips about libertarianism, woodworking and the perils of local government made him a force to reckon with. Still, Peralta’s puzzlingly immature-but-brilliant detective schtick carried him into the final four.

The final four thus included two worthy but predictable battles. Michael Scott, the painfully awkward vanguard of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company branch in Scranton, Pennsylvania, faced off against the plucky young Detective Peralta, and ultimately triumphed. Steve Carell’s performance in the American version of “The Office” is simply unforgettable, and while his over-the-top humor and antics defined Michael Scott’s role on the show for years, it’s Scott’s heartbreaking exit that viewers recall to this day.

The other battle in the final four came down to characters played by one of our favorite Hollywood duos — Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. While we love the pair equally for their years of “Saturday Night Live” collaborations, film partnerships and awards-show-hosting skills, we ultimately gave the edge to Amy Poehler’s performance as the fervent Pawnee Parks Department enthusiast, Leslie Knope. While Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon drew from Fey’s own experiences on “SNL” and helped define the critical and comedic success of “30 Rock,” she was no match for audiences’ favorite small-town politician.

Ultimately, the championship round was one that came down to our top two seeds, with the one-seed Michael Scott facing off against two-seed Leslie Knope. In a matchup that saw the leads of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” — both single-camera mockumentary-style shows with Greg Daniels at the helm — Leslie Knope reigned supreme. While “Parks” may have been heavily influenced by “The Office,” and while it may have stuttered on its way to establishing its presence in the field of late 2000s sitcoms, Leslie Knope’s victory in our March Madness competition is a testament to the fond memories that audiences still carry of this political satire with a heart of gold.

Anagha Komaragiri is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @aaanaghaaa.

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