By Art Allen
Let’s say situation comedies have been around for 60 years. In those 60 years, only two sitcoms have ever taken place in Minnesota. That’s an average of one sitcom in Minnesota every 30 years! Hardly seems fair.
But perhaps equally important were the Minnesotan supporting characters on non-Minnesota-based shows. There are only two major notable main characters from Minnesota (on non-Minnesota-based sitcoms). That also hardly seems fair. (There are Minnesotan characters for whom their home state is not a defining characteristic, and they are included in this list.)
When a sitcom character is from Minnesota, there tends to be a theme of kindness coupled with naïveté bordering on idiocy. “Simple” is thrown around a lot when describing these characters. They aren’t stupid, per se; there seems to be more of a childlike undefeatability that each of these characters exemplifies. As oblivious as they are, and perhaps because of it, these characters are rarely unhappy—and when they are, it doesn’t last long.
Below are the major Minnesotan sitcom characters. I am not including any characters from the shows Coach or The Mary Tyler Moore Show in this list because this list is about Minnesotans within ensemble casts. There is a whole other article brewing about Coach and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, so you’ll just have to be a good simple idiot and wait for that.
Rose Nylund (Golden Girls)
There may be characters who are blissfully unaware more than Rose, but I do not know them. Does that make me blissfully unaware? Probably, because I’m from Minnesota. I like Rose, but I think she’s often just a dumbed down, watered down version of Sophia with less interesting sex jokes and clownish confusion. And I don’t think this is fair, because the blissfully unaware, friendly character has so much more to offer than the throw-away jokes and borderline meanness she is given. And I’m not just saying that because it was super popular to like Betty White nine months ago. It’s the truth!
I feel like Jason Segal can’t play a native New Yorker because he’s got that laid back stoner thing going on. He played a stoner in Freaks and Geeks, which takes place in Michigan, so that’s sort of a double dose of acceptably laid back. But New York needs to be neurotic, so Marshall needs to be from Minnesota. Not an ounce of real concern in that character’s body. He’s also the most relateable character on the show (Ted is a poor man’s Zach Braff, and Zach Braff is a poor man’s emotionally vulnerable male archetype—but Ted still got the total Jerry Seinfeld neurosis going on), which I may only think because I’m from Minnesota. But you probably are too, so I will assume you agree with me. He is likewise exciteable and routinely happy. Everybody loves him.
This is an absurdist show, and still the Minnesotan achetype comes through. Chris Elliott’s character is unstoppable in his happiness. The saddest emotion he ever feels is confusion. “Is this character really from Minnesota?” I hear you asking. Yes, he is. He delivers the Pioneer Press as his job, which is really only circulated in the Twin Cities. In one clip, his father even calls him a “simp,” which is short for “simpleton.” The ancillary characters can’t be wrong!
While not technically a sitcom, it is one of the most notable comedies around. These characters are nothing but joke delivery machines, and even they embody this archetype. They make jokes and are happy and industrious despite all their stranded forever in space setbacks. True Minnesotans!
This wasn’t a sitcom, so I won’t actually name them, but they were blissfully unaware, kinder than everyone else fishes out of water too. It’s everywhere, man!
Not really a sitcom, more of a sketch comedy cartoon, but Bullwinkle definitely has that simpleton thing happening.