Sarcasm is an art form. Delivered in the right manner, a sarcastic retort can silence the most obnoxious opponent. But when it comes to TV, not every actor can do sarcasm. It takes a certain je ne sais quoi (a quality that cannot be described or named easily), because the lines have to be delivered in a believable manner — or else audiences won't believe that the character would have said it.
With the right script and the right actor, a sarcastic TV character can level an enemy or put someone neatly in their place. With an entire cast of perfectly sarcastic characters, you just might get a legendary series:
Here are five characters who, despite their dry wit (or because of it), leave no doubt as to what they were trying to say.
Russell Jackson ('Madam Secretary')
Portrayed by the Emmy-winning Željko Ivanek, Russell Jackson is the president's chief of staff on the popular CBS drama, #MadamSecretary, which is now in its third season — and he consistently delivers some of the best one-liners of the series. Whether it's to quell someone's incessant interest in a topic that is none of their business or to get across a jab at someone who clearly isn't paying attention, Russell Jackson is quite the connoisseur of sarcasm.
"There's this new thing called terrorism. It's really catching on."
Toby Ziegler ('The West Wing')
Toby Ziegler, the king of 'isms,' was the White House communications director and zinged his way through every episode of #TheWestWing in the six plus years that he was a main character. The writers gave him the dialogue, but Schiff created #TobyZiegler. And most of us, at one time in our lives, wish we could have been as blunt as Toby was.
“OK, that didn’t seem to be about anything that interests me.”
Evelyn Harper ('Two And A Half Men')
Though Evelyn Harper (played by Holland Taylor), the maternal figure on #TwoandHalfMen, had a handle on one-liners, she was especially good at quips that would leave others struggling to answer her because they just didn't know what to say. Her comments were often made funnier by the fact they seemed so realistic, as though Evelyn didn't see any reason why she shouldn't be saying what she was saying.
"Why does anyone want a party? To feel superior while feigning humility!"
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Spike ('Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' 'Angel')
Spike, played masterfully by James Marsters, added a bright spot of sarcastic humor when he joined #BuffytheVampireSlayer in Season 2. Whether evil or trying to win Buffy's love, he delivered one-liners that were unforgettable. And when forced to become one of the good guys by the chip in his head, Spike played the tortured vampire with wise-cracking ease.
No one can ever say Spike didn't elevate #Buffy to a higher level of drama and comedy when he made his entrance — and there were even times, in spite of his evilness, the viewers felt sorry for him. All thanks to James Marsters's bloody good acting skills.
"Oh, poor Watcher. Did your life pass before your eyes? Cup of tea, cup of tea, almost got shagged, cup of tea?"
Gregory House ('House')
No list of sarcastic characters would be complete without the irreverent doctor you love to hate, Gregory House. Hugh Laurie made this character into one of the most hated doctors on television, but also one that never failed to keep viewers coming back for more of his sarcasm and vile comments. No one was off-limits when it came to his lack of filter. And for some odd reason, he still had a best friend.
House never ceased to deliver one-liners that left people with their mouths hanging open, and he didn't hesitate to use his handicapped status in an effort to excuse his bad behavior. In reality, there was no excuse, but still we kept turning in each week because, in spite of what he said, he made us laugh. Perhaps it really was because he could say things we wish we could, and that's just one of the reasons that #House remained a top-rated show throughout its eight seasons.
"Somewhere out there is a tree tirelessly producing oxygen so you can breathe. I think you owe it an apology."
Sarcasm will always have its place on television because it makes viewers laugh. Beyond that, the characters get away with it. In real life, we have to bite our tongue to keep from saying something that might get us fired or reprimanded.
That's why we envy these characters and sometimes wish we could step inside our televisions and be them, even if only for a moment, to say what's on our minds. And to get away with it.
Who is your favorite sarcastic character on television?