The Greatest HBO Character of All Time: Day Seven

I have been in self-inflicted jams before. This is not my first rodeo. It’s not even my second.

When I was younger, my best self-inflicted jams were usually a result of me trying to pull one over on my parents. Here’s the thing- pulling one over on the Silver Fox and Ma Dukes, a suburban version of Sherlock Holmes and Watson,  is damn near impossible, if not totally impossible.  And then there was the self-inflicted jam of credit card debt that happened once I realized that you could buy drum equipment with one. And I’m not going to even get into self-inflicted jams that were produced by alcohol. Not even going to touch that. Seems pretty self-explanatory.

But now I have the Elite Eight of the Giddy Up America Greatest HBO Character of All Time Tournament and this my friend, might be one of the worse self-inflicted jams I’ve ever gotten myself into. How am I supposed to pick between Tony Soprano and Nucky Thompson or Jimmy McNulty and Larry David? Even though this tournament is largely governed by irrational arguments with myself- how can I be cool with the result of a battle between Tyrion Lannister and Omar Little or an unexpectedly tough match up between Stringer Bell and Daenerys Targaryen? This is tough- tougher than having to say goodbye to Friday Night Lights or going to mass on Palm Sunday after spending the previous evening at a beer-tasting festival.

I might be an idiot.

I don’t see how I get to the bottom of this with a good feeling in my heart.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

Let’s do this.

The Tony Soprano Bracket: Round Three

1. Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) vs. 3. Nucky Thompson (Boardwalk Empire)

It figures that the alpha male bracket, a bracket consisting of dudes like Soprano, Thompson, Kenny Powers and Al Swearengen, and even a woman like Margaret Thompson, would come down to two of the better alpha males HBO has produced: Soprano and Thompson. I knew Tony would be here, I wasn’t as sure about Nucky. But now that Nucky is here I think it makes total sense. In only three seasons, Boardwalk Empire has clearly established Nucky Thompson as a ruthless and complex anti-hero.

But wait a tick- ruthless and complex anti-hero. That sounds like someone I know.

That sounds like Tony Soprano.

Mainly because that is Tony Soprano.

I think you could easily say that without Tony Soprano, there is no Nucky Thompson. And I’m just speaking from a character perspective. That does not even include the fact that the creators of Boardwalk Empire all came up in the school of David Chase on the set of The Sopranos. From strictly a character perspective, Tony Soprano is the template for characters like Nucky Thompson, Al Swearengen and even someone like Stringer Bell. These are bad dudes who do bad things, yet because of how they’re written, we end up routing for them. We can’t help it. They’re likeable. Nucky Thompson is a conniving son of a biscuit, whose interests are largely just his own. Just like Tony- he’ll steal, he’ll murder, he’ll undermine all in the name of self-preservation. We shouldn’t like him, but we do.

The anti-hero makes you question your allegiances, which is what Tony Soprano did and Nucky Thompson is currently doing.

That right there is the knock on Nucky, though- the fact that he is following in the footsteps of his competitor. And he’s still following those foot steps, which I feel makes it harder to judge him. It’s like how I feel about Lebron James and the argument about whether or not he’s better than Michael Jordan. Right now Lebron is not better than MJ. He’s just not. But he is also not done and when he is, there is a good chance you could make the argument that yes, Lebron is better than MJ. But that is then and this is now. And now, MJ is the man and Tony Soprano is better than Nucky.

Yet I wouldn’t feel right putting this to bed without first hearing from the biggest Nucky fan I know: my boss, Carey Loch.

“I think it boils down to two keys things for me: baggage and sex appeal. They both have baggage, but Nucky’s is far more intriguing and romanticized if you ask me. Tony’s is a little more depressing. Nucky’s story also has not completely unfolded so there is added mystery there. And I don’t know how to explain this, but while I found Tony to be charismatic, I was never really drawn to him. I was scared of him at times, felt sorry for him at others, but I was never attracted to him. I find Nucky’s power and personality to be exhilarating and while I can’t imagine being his Margaret, I can totally imagine being his Billie. And she dies. That’s saying something. :)” (authors note: that is the only emoticon that will ever appear on this blog.)

Because she’s my boss, I’m contractually obligated to say that those are good points.

But those points are not good enough. Maybe if I do this tournament again a couple years down the road, the results will be different.

Winner: Tony Soprano

The Jimmy McNulty Bracket: Round Three

1. Jimmy McNulty (The Wire) vs. 2. Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)

Larry David has been somewhat 0f a revelation for me while doing this tournament. Before I started he was a no-brainer as a two seed and I thought he’d be a tough out. But the more I think about him and think about how great of a character he is, the more I think I might have underestimated him. This bothers me. However, this does not bother me because of any ill will I have towards Larry David or problems I have with the character or the show. No sir this bothers me because of who David currently up against- McNulty.

I love Jimmy McNulty. If this were a contest judged solely on personal popularity, McNulty would probably win in a landslide or at least finish as a close second.

Maybe you’re one of those unfortunate souls who have never seen The Wire and find yourself wondering, who’s McNulty?


Okay so now you’re possibly wondering- is McNulty a serial killer or some kind of murderer? No. It’s just that in season five of the show, McNulty, frustrated with the crippling budget cuts facing the Baltimore Police Department, invents a serial killer as a way to draw attention to the sorry state of the department and force the mayor and higher ups at the police department to finally start paying police for doing police work. Yes, it was as crazy and borderline unbelievable as it sounds, but it worked because up until that point we had learned several things about McNulty: he was a crazy drunk, a brilliant detective, a Dad who couldn’t be faulted for trying. Most importantly though, we learned that McNulty knew absolutely no boundaries. Homeboy didn’t stop. McNulty was the college friend we all had who was an massive liability whenever they got drunk and were a reason why we ended up getting kicked out of parties or had us apologizing to a girl we barely knew. We never kicked this friend to the curb though, because when not being a massive liability, they were a good friend and fun to be around. They had value that made us be okay with putting up with their shenanigans. That’s McNulty. Like everything else on The Wire, he was complex and more than just what appeared on the surface level.

Yet if there is a reason out there for McNulty not to advance and for Larry David to move on to the Final Four, it’s that for season four, arguably the best season of The Wire, McNulty was essentially on the bench. What does that say about a certain character when a show has it’s best season and that character we’re talking about wasn’t really part of it? I’ll give you a minute to think about it.

Did you think about it? If you did, you probably came to the conclusion that perhaps McNulty isn’t as important as we thought and maybe, just maybe, Larry David is the better character. For eight seasons now, Larry David has been right smack in the middle of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Could the show even exist if David took a season off like McNulty did? No. No way. All of the characters on Curb revolve around David- Leon, Jeff, Susy, Richard Lewis and more. Granted The Wire and Curb Your Enthusiasm are two totally different shows- but characters are characters and lining one against the other, I have a hard time picking McNulty over David.

Especially when you have scenes like this…


And like this…


Think about how quotable Larry David is. He speaks for all of us and does and says things we all think, but don’t know how to verbalize.


Sidenote to that: I would also add shitty cover bands and stoned college kids.

But back to it. This is not a competition that is coming down to who is funnier. This is coming down to who is more important to the show they are on and also who has had greater significance culturally. Personal popularity is thrown out in this one because I feel those two other factors are more relevant with this one.

When I started this, I laid out the ways in which the tournament would be judged:
– Personal favoritism
– The character’s role on their show
– Their length of time on their show
– Cultural significance
– Memorable quotes and/or scenes

I haven’t done this yet because I haven’t felt the need to. But let’s do this:
– Personal favoritism: McNulty
– The character’s role on their show: Larry David
– Their length of time on their show: Larry David
– Cultural significance: Larry David
– Memorable quotes and/or scenes: tie

That’s 3 to 2 in favor of Larry David. I can think of no other way to judge these two.

I’m sorry McNulty, but your time is up.


Winner: Larry David

Next up: the third rounds of the Tyrion Lannister and Stringer Bell Brackets.

Photos: HBO

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