Fans spend dozens or even hundreds of hours with their favorite TV characters. But there are some who always leave us wanting more.
When a brilliant writer creates a compelling character and casting fills them out with the perfect actor, a transformation occurs: their words take on biblical force. Each time they appear on screen, we will the character to share more of the wit, wisdom, or wickedness that is written into them.
And yet, more of a good thing isn’t always… a good thing. For example, Frank Costanza had some of the most jaw-dropping lines on Seinfeld. But would fans like a solo ‘Frank episode’? It might be a bit much. Some great characters are at their best when they keep it short. Heck, some of the most memorable TV characters never appear on screen at all.
Crossword-Solver is in the business of words. We wondered which characters’ lines actually improve top shows, from Seinfeld to SpongeBob, Game of Thrones to Parks and Recreation. So, we put on our data science hat and balanced the word count of popular characters used against the viewer ratings for each episode, revealing the characters audiences really want to hear more or less from. (And yes, Frank-heavy episodes of Seinfeld do get lower ratings.)
Crossword-Solver calculated the average number of words used by the most-regularly appearing characters for some of TV’s most popular live-action and animation shows. Then we identified the average IMDb rating for the episodes when each character spoke more often than usual. We determined the characters who have a higher average rating for the episodes where they’re more talkative to be the ones that fans would like to have more lines.
You might think that Gunther was one of those ‘Frank Costanza’ characters who fans prefer to pop up with occasional zingers – but the stats show that we’d like to hear more from the bashful barista. Despite being the show’s most frequently seen recurring character, Gunther remains an enigma, and it seems that fans want to know more. (Or the TV-watching world is just over-invested in Rachel Green’s love life.)
Seinfeld was a show about people saying what’s on their mind – however awful. Elaine hit that perfect balance of being despicable, id-driven, and outrageously honest while remaining easy to identify with. As well as pioneering a new age of rounded female TV characters, her feelings of love, hate, and lust (often all at the same time) were so strong that Elaine episodes were never less than compelling.
“What is dead may never die…” Theon Greyjoy may not begin Game of Thrones as a headline character, but his steep and complex character growth makes every appearance gripping. In fact, he is the most highly rated character for any show in our study. “I hated you, I felt sorry for you and then I loved you,” as one Twitter user put it. “That’s a good character that will be missed.”
Wanting more from The Office characters is a bittersweet desire: when every sentence makes you cringe, how much more can you take? As the beating heart of the show, Michael Scott embodies this tension. And his lines encapsulate the pointless mundanity of so much contemporary work – coming across like a William Burroughs cut-up of those ubiquitous professional self-help PDFs: “Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not like this compulsive need, like my need to be praised.”
The ensemble nature of Parks & Recreation appeals to fans, according to our calculations: there are just 0.2 points between the show’s most and least popular characters. The most popular, Ron Swanson, is the closest thing to the show’s ‘breakout character’ thanks in part to his deadpan, carefully-worded style of conversation (or, more properly, lecture). It helps that every word from his mouth feels hard-won: “I would rather bleed out than sit here and talk about my feelings for 10 minutes,” says the big hard-to-get ol’ lug.
What does it say about SatC that the top five characters fans would like to hear more from are all men? Or that episodes where the ‘ladies’ speak more than usual score an average of just 7.5 or lower? Aidan is Carrie’s second main love interest and the character fans most want to hear more from - although he’s hardly the most quotable character. Maybe these results just show that when SatC viewers rate an episode moments after it’s finished, they’re more likely to offer a high score if they’ve just spent 30 minutes in the smoldering company of Aidan Shaw.
Fellow radio show host Gil Chesterton is Frasier’s most sought-after character. Gil’s take on over-educated pomposity is softer, kinder, and more poetic than Dr. Crane’s. Indeed, Gil is less a food critic than a poet who talks about food – ranging from the fabulous (“Sounds like you might be coming down with something. So I had this sent over from Rosenthal's Deli: chicken soup, so lovingly prepared even the chicken gets well.”) to the pun-tastic (“They make an osso buco that's so divine I call it the veal shank redemption.”)
Wise, innocent, and nerdy, Abed Nadir offers a pleasing contrast to the cockiness of Community’s alpha douche Jeff Winger. Like Abed for his pop culture references and meta-insights, love him for his periodic feel-good affirmations: “I've got self-esteem falling out of my butt. That's why I was willing to change for you guys. Because when you really know who you are and what you like about yourself, changing for other people isn't such a big deal.”
The show may sometimes be sugar-sweet, but Simpsons fans have a dark sense of humor – preferring the bitter cynicism of Bart’s teacher to the cartoon villainy of Mr. Burns. Edna Krabappel-Flanders is actually a character of huge pathos, as she veers from the damning (“These tests will have no effect on your grades. They merely determine your future social status and financial success. If any.”) to the confessional (“Bart, you’re the closest thing to a man in my life, and that’s so depressing, I think I’m going to cry.”)
Perhaps Jimbo Kern is a bit too close to home for some South Park fanboys. Stan’s gun-toting, anti-authoritarian, patriotic macho man is the only regular character with an average episode rating lower than 8 for episodes in which he speaks more than usual. Sample quote: “Hell, everything's legal in Mexico. It's the American way.”
Perennial fun-spoiler and bully Beth Smith only lets up on the put-downs for occasional soul-searching about being a possible clone and even more occasional half-hearted support for her family (“You can’t make people like you. You just have to wait for hating you to bore them.”) Rick And Morty fans apparently prefer the light side, voting Beth’s idealistic son Morty the character they’d most like to hear more from.
SpongeBob fans (or perhaps their IMDb-visiting parents) are a wholesome bunch, demanding more of the show’s eponymous hero and downvoting unsavory villains Karen and Sheldon J. Plankton. But this show is one of the rare places where the hero gets better lines than the villain – as this scene demonstrates, SpongeBob can always weave color through our souls, while Plankton tends to over-rely on bad guy clichés.
Futurama’s writers have got it right, with most of the main crew among those that fans love to hear the most. But the number one is janitor Scruffy Scruffington, a background character who comes to the fore as the series rolls on. When he finally does get to talk, Scruffy is revealed as a profound soul right out of a mid-20th century American novel, adding unlikely depth to the oddest moments – such as when contemplating a relationship with his bucket: “It’s wrong, wash bucket. Oh, it would be sweet for a while, but in the back of our minds we’d know that I’m a man, and you’re janitorial equipment.”
A bit harsh, perhaps, to put Lady Rainicorn in last place – she speaks little English and is mostly understood through a universal translator device. But even when you can understand her, Lady Rainicorn’s dialogue rarely has the bite of Adventure Time’s most popular talker: Marceline the Vampire Queen. “The only thing women love more than fun is excitement,” notes Marceline. “She needs to feel her blood pump, man! She needs to... BE CHASED BY WOLVES!”
Find out how your favorite character fares by exploring our full data set of which fictional friends and foes that TV fans want to see more or less of.
Lately, shows have experimented with limiting the quality time you get with your favorite characters – although this is more about playing with the form than playing ‘hard to get.’
Atlanta first dared viewers to sit through several single (main) character episodes and then presented nearly half of season three with no regular characters at all. The Afterparty retold a murder story Rashomon-style, following a different suspect through each episode. (In both shows, weak standalone character episodes have revealed how shallowly written the female romantic leads actually are, defaulting to a kind of Manic Pixie Dream Mom.)
On the other hand, Westworld hasn’t the heart to deprive viewers of top characters. Indeed, “death has become meaningless,” with the show’s creators devising ways to kill off popular characters and bring them back at will - without even having to ‘do ghosts’!
In an age of unprecedented international viewing figures and lucrative spin-offs and prequels, every creative choice is a massive economic (and career) gamble. But giving the audience what/who they want is not always the smartest decision. Because if your favorite character is to remain truly compelling, they need to have their own life, too.
To find out the TV characters we wish spoke less, we selected some of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows of all time, for which detailed transcripts were available. The source of transcripts for each show is listed in the table below.
For each show, characters who made the most episode appearances were selected. Using TV show transcripts, a median number of words spoken by each character per episode was estimated based on the lines they spoke on the show with the removal of stop words, i.e., articles, prepositions, conjunctions, etc.
Once we sourced the rankings of each episode of the show from IMDb, characters were compared on the average rating of the episodes, where the number of words they said was higher than the median number of words they usually say in an episode.
The data was collected in May 2022.
Adventure Time Wiki (2022). Transcripts. adventuretime.fandom.com
Bista, S. (2022). Frasier Dialogs. kaggle.com
Bukun (2022). Seinfeld Text Mining. kaggle.com
Cominetti, F. (2022). The Office Lines. kaggle.com
Encyclopedia SpongeBobia (2022). List of transcripts. spongebob.fandom.com
Futurama Wiki (2022). Episode Transcripts. futurama.fandom.com
He, L. (2022). Parks and Recreation Scripts. kaggle.com
Kaggle Kerneler (2022). Friends Transcripts. kaggle.com
Rick and Morty Wiki (2022). Transcripts. rickandmorty.fandom.com
running-tiger (2019). Analysis of lead characters' dialogue from the TV show Community. reddit.com
Simpsons Archive, The (2010). Episode Capsules. simpsonsarchive.com
South Park Archives (2022). Scripts. southpark.fandom.com
Thompson, A. (2022). Every Sex and the City Script. kaggle.com
Tumanggor, A. (2022). Game of Thrones Script All Seasons. kaggle.com