February sweeps are swinging into action, and this year they offer, among other things, the wedding of Ed and Carol on “Ed,” Phoebe’s wedding on “Friends,” a promised hookup on water-cooler favorite “The Apprentice,” and Meredith’s final series of choices on “The Bachelorette.”
It’s boyfriend season, for sure. Take a moment, then, and drink a toast to the good, the bad, and the nearly forgotten. Ane we play fair: are honored too.
Best Nixon Aficionado:
Alex P. Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox, “Family Ties”
Had Me At: “I wear a jacket and tie everywhere I go. Except train stations at three o’clock in the morning, in which case I wear a tuxedo.”
Alex was a seriously sketchy person, but an uncommonly good boyfriend. After pursuing a series of fools and sycophants, he discovered to his own surprise that all he really wanted was someone who was as smart as he was.
Not only did his initial declaration of love to the liberal and self-reliant Ellen exude charm and a shyness of which he had not seemed capable, but he later attended an interpretive dance audition to try to impress her. A guy who will dance the story of the stock market crash of 1929 to the accompaniment of the William Tell Overture will do almost anything for you.
Peter Hunt, played by Scott Bakula, “Murphy Brown”
Had Me At: “Your Clinton years are lookin’ pretty good to me.”
A dark horse, Peter was the only good match Murphy got in 10 seasons. He was cute, he was funny, and he never resented the fact that she was loud and difficult. In fact, he thought it was charming. Score!
Sadly, it was perhaps the beginning of the end of the show when the character was written out. It just wasn't credible that such an obviously worthwhile relationship would have been frittered away in the lame cold-feet scenario that was offered. Peter, incidentally, was also unabashedly hot for Murphy, despite the fact that she was in her mid-forties, which in television normally makes you too old for anything but mother-in-law roles.
Best International Spy:
Michael Vaughn, played by Michael Vartan, “Alias”
Had Me At: The moment when he introduced himself.
Okay, admittedly, getting married to someone else counts against him. But come on, he waited for the DNA testing to come back before concluding that Sydney had died in a fire. How’s a guy to know that his enemies have kidnapped his girlfriend, pilfered her dental pulp, and injected it into a corpse?
Besides, there’s nothing like watching a guy scatter what he believes to be your ashes into the ocean to cement those feelings of love.
James Falconer, played by George Clooney, “Sisters”
Had Me At: Bringing a teddy bear to a woman named Teddy. Obvious, but a quality maneuver.
I am not embarrassed to say I watched this show. In fact, this role immediately preceded “ER” in the George Clooney oeuvre, so if you want to find the original Clooney wellspring, this — and not Doug Ross — is where you should look.
As the passionate and devoted (but hair-impaired) police detective who cozied up to Sela Ward’s fiery Teddy Reed, Clooney perfected the mix of gravity and goofiness that has served him well ever since. Indeed, the best husbands remain boyfriends forever, and Falconer was a peach until the day he, unfortunately, blew up. And then Teddy went blind, and she sought revenge against the evil Gregory Harrison, and . . . okay, now I’m a little embarrassed.
Worst Washed-Up Athlete:
Sam Malone, played by Ted Danson, “Cheers”
Lost Me At: “I’ve never met an intelligent woman I’d want to date.”
Sam was not meant for monogamy. He hated it. He rebelled against it. It made him bitter and endlessly frustrated, and aside from the ready access to sex, it was never clear why he experimented with it in the first place. Moreover, he was never even particularly good at feigning enthusiasm.
Romance has its ups and downs, but it is a rare young girl who lolls about her bedroom, listening to music and dreaming of the day that someone will come along who will grudgingly tolerate her.
Worst Teenage Drama Queen:
Dawson Leery, played by James Van Der Beek, “Dawson’s Creek”
Lost Me At: One of the many times he snorted contemptuously.
Dawson was the most irritating kind of bad boyfriend, in that he was the kind of bad boyfriend who was preoccupied with what a good boyfriend he was. His Attitude-O-Meter only had two settings, labeled “obsessively sycophantic” and “patronizingly dismissive.”
Most disturbingly, Dawson was always convinced that if only his darling Joey would accept that destiny had made reservations for them on the great Carnival Cruise of Life, all would be solved. He was only controlling and judgmental, he reasoned, because she refused to accept the inevitability of it all and the depth of his love. There’s a word for that, and the word is “stalker.”
Worst Insufferable Gasbag:
Frasier Crane, played by Kelsey Grammer, “Cheers”/”Frasier”
Lost Me At: Let’s see, it was that one time he tried to act young and hip to catch the attention of a woman, only to be grotesquely humiliated. No, the other time. No, the other time.
Frasier is just about the longest-running character in prime-time history, and never has he had a decent relationship. And honestly, why would he?
Who could cozy up to that air of superiority and submit herself to a lifetime of lectures about wine and opera and allegedly meaningful “art”? Who would submit to a relationship premised on the declaration, “My darling, you will always be my soul mate, closer to me than anyone . . . except, of course, my brother, who will be sitting around our living room twitching 18 hours a day for the duration of our lives together”?
Worst Idea: Jordan Catalano, played by Jared Leto, “My So-Called Life”
Lost Me At: “Just a girl.” (said with a shrug)
A controversial choice, obviously, considering the legions of young women who still sigh over this one. And no one could have faulted young Angela Chase for pining for the emotionally unavailable Jordan, nor could she be blamed for dreaming that something lurked behind the blank expressions. It probably did.
In the long run, though, as the show’s final episode proved by revisiting one of Angela’s mother’s old loves, what is romantic at 15 or 16 has as much to do with what you are trying to prove as it does with what’s going to make you happy. Jordan’s claustrophobic reaction to his own feelings quickly wore thin. His heart never seemed to be in his periodic experiments with hand-holding and other good boyfriend rituals. And — well, he was in a band, and being in a band, like falling down during your double-axel, results in a mandatory deduction.
Linda Holmes is a writer living in Bloomington, Minn.