The Greatest HBO Character of All Time: Day Five

Day Five of Giddy Up America’s Greatest HBO’s Greatest Character Ever Tournament- the second rounds of the Tony Soprano and Jimmy McNulty Brackets

This is the start of round two. This is exciting. This is so wide open. This post is also sponsored  by seventeen different kinds of cold medicines and thirty-three cups of green tea- with honey of course, I’m not a caveman. But the point is, please excuse me if I trail off and start rambling about something else. Oh, and I’m listening to the new Justin Timberlake album (yes, he has a new album out- you probably hadn’t heard anything about it) so there’s a good chance some Timberlake-related thoughts might be strewn about here and there- much like discarded tissues are strewn about our house right now.

But don’t worry, I’ll pick them up. Once again, I’m not a caveman.

Today we’ll be running through the second round of both the Tony Soprano Bracket and the Jimmy McNulty bracket. I’ll admit right off the jump here that I’m already conflicted about the following match ups:

Tony Soprano (1) vs Bubbles (4)
Hannah Horvath (3) vs Larry David (2)

I’m also conflicted about this whole Jay Leno/Jimmy Fallon thing, but that’s mostly because I’m worried that moving to 11:30 will rob Fallon’s show of everything that makes it great.

Okay, let’s do this.

The Tony Soprano Bracket: Round Two

1. Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) vs. 4. Bubbles (The Wire)

I think it’s a safe assumption that everyone knows who Tony Soprano is. Even if you never saw The Sopranos, you know who Tony is. That’s because during the show’s run, he became such a force of cultural significance that it was damn near impossible not to know who he was. You probably even know that he may or may not have died in the last minute of the show’s finale (I personally don’t think he did- and that’s not the cold meds talking.)

What makes this a tough match up for me is that Bubbles isn’t nearly as well known as Tony. No, this isn’t a popularity contest in the broader sense of the word. But it is a personal popularity contest, meaning that who I like the best is taken into account. However, another factor is cultural significance. So before even starting anything, Tony has the upper hand in that one. These cold meds are making it hard for me to connect the dots. And it’s snowing. Spring my ass.

Bubbles was the one junkie on The Wire that we, the audience, really cared about. Hold on, let me say that again with the proper emphasis- Bubbles was the one junkie on The Wire that we, the audience, really cared about. Bubbles was the Shakespearean fool of the show, providing commentary about life on the street that cut between the police and drug dealer story lines. Goddamn we wanted him to get clean (which he did by the end of season 5.) We did. He tried the first time to get clean in season 1 and he came so close. This led to three more seasons of Bubbles hijinks, which were great from entertainment stand point but a massive bummer from the perspective of caring about a character’s well-being. Throughout his journey of trying to get clean, we were able to see just how much of an uphill climb a junkie like Bubbles faced.

Bubbles was the heart and soul of The Wire. And he was also the comic relief and voice of reason. He was all over the place and through him, we the viewers got such a better view of the grim world the writers were trying to show us. The Wire was a show of a layers and Bubbles allowed us to see those layers in a lot of the scenes he was in.

This is going to break my heart, but I just can’t have Bubbles beating out Tony Soprano here and I’ll tell you why. Bubbles was a passenger on the bus whereas Tony was the driver. Bubbles was at his best when giving observant asides. Tony gave us monologues and entire scenes that propelled the show forward. This is kind of like how so many baseball nerds say each year that a relief pitcher or designated hitter shouldn’t be able to win the MVP- they only contributed to a part of the game, not the whole thing.

Bubbles contributed to parts of The Wire, Tony contributed to all of The Sopranos.

Winner: Tony Soprano

3. Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk Empire) vs 7. Kenny Powers (Eastbound and Down)

In the first round, Kenny Powers pulled off an upset, beating Al Swearengen of Deadwood. That’s not going to happen this time. Powers isn’t going to beat Nucky, even though there are similarities between Nucky and Swearengen.

Dude, when I hear the song “Suit and Tie,” it’s literally stuck in my head for the next 48 hours. Damn you, Timberlake and you’re catchy songs!

As for Nucky and Kenny, the argument made in the Tony Soprano/Bubbles match up doesn’t apply here. On both of their shows, Powers and Nucky are the bus drivers. But I think where there is a difference is the magnitude of the show they are driving and what’s required of their character. Nucky Thompson is a complex dude- a dude who openly straddles the line between politician and gangster and has seen and thwarted uprisings from the following people:
1.) his mentor
2.) his prodigy
3.) his brother
4.) a wildly deranged asshole from New York.
Nucky killed his wife’s first husband, saw his brother get thrown in jail and made a nice little trade with the Irish- guns for whiskey. Which I should add would be a great name for a band: Guns for Whiskey. Boardwalk Empire is a well-dressed  tornado of a show and Nucky is the eye of it.

On the other hand, Kenny Powers is hilarious.

But hey, so is Nucky when he wants to be.

Kenny Powers, you’re effin’ out.

Winner: Nucky

The Jimmy McNulty Bracket: Round 2

1. Jimmy McNulty (The Wire) vs. 4. Eric Northman (True Blood)

In round 1, Northman beat Vern Schillinger of Oz based largely on the grounds that Northman, a vampire, was immortal, and Schillinger, a skinhead rapist, wasn’t. That’s not going to fly around here because I’m pretty sure Jimmy McNulty might also be immortal. Sorry, Eric.

Let’s say this about Jimmy McNulty- on a show with a couple different buses, McNulty was the driver of bus number 1. McNulty’s Irish assholeness is what set the whole show in motion in the first place, as he was the one who got everyone talking about Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell. He burned bridges better than I’m burning through tissues and pity parties. Can you imagine if John C. Reilly was McNulty? I can’t, but it apparently almost happened. Dominic West was absolutely amazing as McNulty. Remember in round 1, I told you about the scene when McNulty crashed his car, then re-enacted it to see how it happened?

Am I condoning drunk driving? Hell no! That scene just happens to be a perfect example of what made McNulty great- homeboy flat out loved being a cop and every minute, every hour of the day- that’s what he wanted to do- be a cop. We never once questioned his motives or intentions because they were always so crystal clear. This was even more apparent on a show like The Wire, where deception, bullshit and lying is common place. McNulty was just McNulty. Even the cold meds agree on that one.

Eric Northman, I’m sorry. You might be a bad ass vampire and you might have gotten cooler as True Blood has gone on, but you sir, are no Jimmy McNulty.

Thanks for coming out, though.

Winner: McNulty

3. Hannah Horvath (Girls) vs. 2. Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)

Before I get into this, I need to say a few things about the season 2 finale of Girls. I left that show conflicted about how I really felt about Hannah. For the other characters, my feelings were pretty cut and dry, although I feel a little bad for Ray. But even there, it’s not a 100% because Ray, you got to do things for yourself, not for other people, buddy. Doing something for someone can be one of the reasons for making yourself a better person, but it should never be the only reason. But hey, congrats on the new coffee gig. I’ve never been to Brooklyn Heights, so I’ll take your word for it.

Hannah though, over the last couple episodes of this season, I almost found myself annoyed with her. Wait, scratch that- I was annoyed with her. And by no means am I minimizing the damage a disease like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can have on someone. I just feel like the mess she was in at the end was a mess she herself created and that’s why I didn’t really feel sorry for her and instead, felt annoyed by her. In the very first episode of Girls, Hannah said she wanted to be a writer and that she was going to the voice of a generation. Great! Good for you. Now don’t shrivel up to nothing when you get a book deal! All you’ve ever wanted to do is write, then you get an opportunity to do so, and you lose it. That’s bush league. And yes, Adam was a little bit of a loose cannon, but Hannah broke up with him. And Hannah created the distance between her and Marni and Hannah kicked out her gay ex-boyfriend, which led to her being alone. Even her parents kept trying to help her, but she wouldn’t allow it. You have got to help yourself, you need to be in control of your life. I have a hard time feeling sorry for someone brought down by their own bad decisions. And come on, cutting your own hair- unless it’s with a razor, is never a good idea. Not once have we ever seen that work out for the best.

When making a pick between her and Larry David, I can’t ignore those feelings I have about Hannah and Girls. I needed some help.

First from Frankie the co-worker:

“Hannah is a character trying to be the voice of a generation and falls short. Waaaay short in my opinion. Larry David speaks for all kinds of weirdos, cranks and neurotics everywhere.”

Then from Nina the former roommate and cooker of delicious venison chili:

“Larry David is way better because he hasn’t gotten naked. Yet.”

They both bring up good points. I think you also have to factor in the body of work both have produced- not Frankie and Nina, Larry David and Hannah Horvath. Curb Your Enthusiasm is in it’s eighth season and the entire viewing public wants to see a ninth. Girls just finished season 2. That puts Hannah at a serious disadvantage.

And then there’s this video Frankie added to his comments to bolster the case for Larry:

That clip pretty much sums up everything that makes Larry David hilarious and amazing. And in the end, I keep coming back to what Frankie said about Hannah, how she is trying to be the voice of a generation, but keeps falling short. It’s not like Larry never falls short, but he also has zero delusions about who he is and what his place in the world is. Sure he might crack under pressure just like Hannah did, but not to that magnitude, and if he did, it’d be pretty entertaining.

If Girls had ended differently this season, I might feel differently about Hannah. But it didn’t, so I don’t.

Winner: Larry David

Next up: the second rounds of the Tyrion Lannister Bracket and Stringer Bell Bracket

Photos: HBO

  1. […] second rounds of the Tyrion Lannister Bracket and the Stringer Bell Bracket. Yesterday we did the second rounds of the Tony Soprano and Jimmy McNulty Brackets. No major upsets in either, although I’m still a little upset I had to eliminate Bubbles. […]


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