Dumb sitcom characters have long been a staple of television comedies. Some prove so popular and enduring they could easily rank among the greatest TV characters ever, or, at the very least, the funniest. But not every sitcom moron started out that way. Some actually began as quite different characters, so much so that they eventually became unrecognizable from their early appearances. In a way, this is forgivable; after all, characters evolve naturally over the lifespan of a TV show - or, in the case of stupid TV characters, they devolve. In some cases they became so butchered by their own stupidity to the extent that the character, and sometimes even the show itself, suffered greatly.
There's a word for this phenomenon in pop culture-speak: Flanderization. When TV writers take one or two noticeable traits of a character and gradually those one or two traits become the whole character, that's Flanderization at work. The term is named for The Simpsons' Ned Flanders, Homer Simpson's neighbor, who started out the series as an optimistic, devout dad and morphed into a right-wing nut-job who can't see beyond the lens of his own fervent Evangelicalism.
And so: behold the sitcom characters who get dumber over time, or in other words, Flanderized to the max.
Kelly Bundy was never a Rhodes scholar. When Married...with Children premiered, however, she was portrayed more as a rebellious, dreadful student than a blond bimbo airhead. In other words, Kelly wasn't book-smart, but she had the kind of savvy that only a "bad girl" could possess. That changed as Married became one of the longest-running sitcoms ever, and, presumably, there weren't a lot of directions for Kelly Bundy to go. Running gags included Kelly not being able to read (because illiteracy is oh-so-funny) or pronounce simple words, and there were actually times when she didn't even remember her own name. That's a whole new level of stupid.
Based on the name alone, we all know it would probably kill Homer Simpson to know he'd been the victim of Flanderization. And really, he's more like the poster child for it: the most obvious and extreme example on this list. When Homer started out, not only was his voice unsettlingly different, but he was much smarter and more plugged-in as a parent. Over the years, the old Homer slowly disappeared, and his new incarnation has undertaken some of the dumbest projects ever seen on primetime television. Even attempting to compile a list of his stupidest accomplishments wouldn't begin to scratch the surface, but among them would be: getting both arms simultaneously caught in adjacent vending machines; gaining weight in order to become obese so he could qualify for disability benefits; and inadvertently killing Frank Grimes and Maude Flanders (and likely others as well).
Joey began Friends as a likeable goofball and ended Friends as someone too stupid to live. In the early days you could see Joey's charms: his roughness-around-the-edges, his dreams of stardom, his big heart, that smile that illuminated his whole face. It all made sense. Until…it didn't. Joey transformed into such a complete and total idiot (remember Joey speaking "French"?) that it was hard to fathom how he dressed himself and managed to hold a conversation, let alone keep a gaggle of friends at his side for 10 years.
This one hurts because Jackie Harris was, for many seasons, one of the best characters on Roseanne. She was incredibly neurotic and seemed to always be on a search for happiness and contentment in a hardscrabble, minimum-wage world, something to which many of us could relate. Laurie Metcalf, who won three consecutive Emmys for her role as Jackie, superbly embodied the humor and pathos of this one-of-a-kind character. But when Roseanne veered off the rails in its last couple of seasons (and let's not even mention that absurd final season), so too did Jackie. Her neuroticism became stupidity, and Jackie was reduced to being a ninny, only good for a punchline or an over-the-top reaction. And it's a damn disgrace; Metcalf - and viewers - deserved better.
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