A Field Guide to TV’s Loser Husbands and Boyfriends


Social science newsflash: pathetic guys often date women who are too good for them. Of course, the conclusions of this recent Slate piece will come as no surprise to those of us who watch TV. From Homer Simpson to Andy Dwyer to George Costanza, television shows abound with dudes who don’t deserve their ladies. A field guide to those gentleman, by type, is after the jump.

The artiste

Andy, from Parks and Recreation, may be lazy, unemployed, and prone to perilous, drunken falls — but hey, he has hopes and dreams! He’s in a band. He’s not a loser; he’s an artist. So it makes perfect sense that his beautiful, sweet, overworked-nurse girlfriend, Ann, should cater to his every whim while he lazes around on the couch, delaying his recovery at every opportunity. This type of deadbeat significant other predates the TV medium by a few thousand years, and there’s one sure sign you’ve got an “artiste” on your hands: if he spends more time talking about his work than actually doing it, it’s time to head for the hills.

The mismatch

How many dumpy, juvenile UPS guys do you know who manage to score gorgeous wives? And yet, Doug Heffernan from The King of Queens is just one in a long line of TV’s average dudes with supermodel wives — in fact, this trope dates back to the 1951 sketch that launched The Honeymooners. Not only do these ladies tend to outshine their men in the looks department, but the somehow also end up doubling as the 30-something-year-old big baby’s de facto mommy. Girl, don’t you know you can do better?

The mirage

You spot him across the classroom on the first day of school. He is the most beautiful creature you’ve ever laid eyes on. For months, you analyze over his every word and movement. And then, by some mistake of fate, you are actually kissing Jordan Catalano. But just about as soon as it happens, you realize that mystery you were so drawn to is actually illiteracy or drug addiction or plain, old slow-wittedness and lose interest. The mirage is not husband material — hell, sometimes he doesn’t even make it to the boyfriend level. And yet, like a song stuck in your adolescent head, the only way to stop obsessing over him is to give him a spin.

The lothario

Like the mirage, the lothario lures women in with his good looks. But it can take longer to see him for the loser he really is. Take Don Draper, for instance. He’s superhumanly handsome, charming, and intelligent. When you’re with him, you feel like you’re on top of the world… until you find out that he already has a wife. Or you are his wife and you find out he has a whole secret identity. Or you know about all of that stuff and he still has some morally reprehensible tricks up his sleeve to make you rue the day you met Dick Whitman (or Chuck Bass or Charlie Harper, etc.).

The commitment-phobe

Seinfeld‘s George Costanza and his beautiful fiancée, Susan, were one of those unbelievable TV mismatches. And yet, when it was time for them to tie the knot, it was balding, neurotic George who started getting cold feet. In one of television’s most controversial episodes, after he bought the cheapest invitations available, Susan died from licking the toxic glue on their envelopes — and George wasn’t exactly crying over it. Not all of TV’s commitment-phobic men are quite so heartless. Some of them even come around, eventually (see: Mr Big from Sex and the City). But are they worth the wait?

The fanatic

Imagine this: Everything is wonderful in your decade-long marriage — until you nearly die of uterine cancer and your husband gets a little grabby with the woman who’s helping nurse you back to health. And then he gets this idea — sorry a “testimony” — that God wants him to marry this lady (who, by the way, is totally crazy) and return to the polygamy he was raised amid. Eventually, he gets hitched to a third girl, who you all find out much later was only 16 at the time. Oh, and did we mention that he’s a politician who’s inspired a fatwa against your family by “coming out” as a polygamist? Not all fanatics are driven by religion, like Big Love‘s Bill Henrickson. Some are more like Archie Bunker. What they have in common are the insane ideas they use to terrorize their wives, girlfriends, and anyone else within earshot.

The freak

No one is happier than we are that nerds have become cool. But some guys out there are still beyond the pale — like Arrested Development‘s Tobias Funke. This never-nude therapist-turned-failed actor isn’t quirky so much as a full-fledged freakazoid. Also? He may have some unresolved sexual identity issues. Yes, like Screech and Urkel before him, Tobias is just too weird to be in a relationship. Not that Lindsay’s such a prize, either.

The Peter Pan

Some dudes make it all the way to adulthood — married! with kids! — without growing up, even a little bit. Bart may be the designated troublemaker on The Simpsons, but look at who his major male role model is. Poor Marge doesn’t have three kids and a husband — she has three small children and one enormous one. The Peter Pan is often combined with other loser types (lothario, mismatch), and he is utterly pervasive on TV. We’re not sure whether men or women should be more offended by the received wisdom that guys refuse to grow up.

The teacher

Let’s be fair: Teacher-student romances are much more common on TV than we imagine they could possibly be in real life. And while there certainly have been male student-female teacher relationships depicted (notably on Skins and Gossip Girl), the 2010-11 season alone has been replete with girl students getting hot for guy teachers: Aria on Pretty Little Liars, Julie on Friday Night Lights, Carol Lynn on Big Love, Lux on Life Unexpected, and Serena on Gossip Girl (which is never shy about recycling a story line)… While it’s hard to blame teenagers for developing crushes on authority figures, any teacher who dates a student probably qualifies as — you guessed it — a loser.

The has-been

Sure, he was something, back in the day. He was a rock star or a rocket scientist or, like Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, maybe one of the world’s most fearsome vampires. But then government operatives implanted a chip into his head making it impossible for him to harm humans — and suddenly, he’s all mushy and needy. He might be good for some hate sex or apocalyptic martyrdom, but his glory days have long passed.