Just Being Neighborly


Chris: Shame on us for releasing a video on Thanksgiving. Okay, not really shame on us, but I do apologize for putting anyone in a situation where they had to deal with debating while in food comas. However, any non-US viewers, what was your excuse? Come to think of it, US viewers, aren’t we used to food comas anyway, what with being ‘Muricans? Shame on everyone!

Second thought, shame on no one but wacky neighbors, which is what I came here to talk about before getting distracted with so many leftovers. After seeing Kyle and I flop about on camera as we compared Kramer and Urkel, all I can think is that we both held back the truly wacky attributes of either.

I ended up winning with Kramer, but I neglected to mention many of his wackiest moments such as getting in multiple fights with his little partner Mickey, living in his shower for a while, installing a hot tub in his apartment, or converting his entire living room into the Merv Griffin Show.

Kyle could have easily capitalized on that by bringing up Urkel’s many more and arguably wackier antics with the Winslow family, such as … uh … actually, I don’t really remember much of what he did other than talk in a high-pitched, squeaky voice while playing the accordion and mentioning his great love of cheese – which isn’t so wacky as we all love cheese.

However, a handful of commenters brought up Wilson from Home Improvement and I felt compelled to look into that, though mostly because someone made the claim that Wilson wasn’t the wacky neighbor, but rather that the entire show was centered around Tim Taylor, the ultimate wacky neighbor. My mind was blown by how much sense that made, especially since Wilson was always the voice of reason. Wacky neighbors don’t give sound advice, they defy sound advice, stuff that Tim did all the time when he added more power to everything in his house or spent who knows how much of his little show’s monthly budget building impractical bathrooms or kitchens for men.

The simple Wilson/Tim neighbor flip got me thinking about other shows, such as The Simpsons. Is Ned Flanders really wacky? Is being a nice Christian really wacky, or is Homer the really wacky one, what with his penchant for utter nonsense and roasting deer carcasses over his chimney? What about in Friends? Who’s the wacky neighbor there? Aren’t they all wacky neighbors? Is that just the perfect example of how little you’d want to live around your friends if they were all wacky in perfectly nonsensical ways? Or in South Park? Can anyone be a wacky neighbor if the entire world is based around the wacky neighbor logic?

All of this thinking has given me a headache since all I really want to do is eat more mashed potatoes and watch some Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix. Is Sokka the wacky neighbor, or just a wacky teammate? I don’t know, but further research is needed.

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Kyle: A goofy neighbor character can really change the dynamic of a sitcom. Family Matters was a run-of-the-mill family story that benefited from the inclusion of Steve Urkel because it gave the show a hook. An individuality. Even a reason for folks to remember it. It became a show that centered on the wacky neighbor himself, and that’s a bent formula that has even been reused and adapted for shows like Home Improvement.

Meanwhile Seinfeld is a show about nothing, and that individuality or hook was not affected by the presence of Kramer. With or without him, the show would still be about nothing.

And one major thing about the wacky neighbor: There is a penchant to ruin things. If there’s a vase, they will break it. If there’s a meeting, they will trash it. But at least Urkel taught everyone a lesson when he wrecked things. Kramer, on the other hand, would just show up and destroy stuff, and that was that.

Further, Urkel was very well defined in his archetype. The science, the goofy dancing, the clumsy … striking. He wore a specific hat. But Kramer was nebulous. He started somewhat sleazy, but became more legitimate when the episode demanded it (including meetings with name-brand companies about his inventions). He’s a high-class vagrant, at home dumpster diving and smoking Cuban cigars and sipping scotch with the higher-ups.

Finally, Urkel is the superior wacky neighbor because he has a relationship with each of the Winslows. Carl is the father he never had, Eddie is his best friend, Laura is the love of his life. Even Richie is the only person who will look up to his goofy ass.

Meanwhile, Kramer doesn’t have that strong an impression on anyone. Jerry and Kramer tolerated each other, mostly due to their living arrangements. But he really didn’t have a big thing with anyone. Jerry is still sarcastic, Elaine is still horribly awkward, and George is still a terrible person. Kramer never really made them more than what they already were.


Dan: My wife and I are currently in the market to have a wacky neighbor, i.e. looking for a new place to live. Something about a leak leading to the ceiling in my child’s nursery caving in is making us stir-crazy. However, there’s no filter on the real estate websites for level of wackiness in the surrounding population. Why is that? Because all neighbors are wacky to a certain degree. That’s why almost every sitcom based around a domicile has a wacky neighbor. You’ve got Joey from Friends, Wilson from Home Improvement … the list goes on. From dorms in college to apartments and homes, everyone who lives around you is one crazy scheme away from a Kramer or an Urkel.

We still want a new place to live though, so does anyone want some roommates?

Now to points. Chris snagged the first point with entrance pizzazz. Both of these wacky individuals had pretty great entrances, but if you’re going for odd neighbor gold, you better have a memorable pop-in every time. Steve would sometimes just walk in and say hi; with no special pomp and circumstance. The audience would still clap and howl as it did back then. Kramer, on the other hand had that door opening appearance down to a science. Fast, slow, loud, clumsy, sometimes with nonsensical phrases like “Yo-yo-ma” and “Giddy up” uttered along with it. That’s how you let everyone in the apartment know that the wacky neighbor had arrived.

Chris also snagged the second point with the argument of intention. Kramer was wacky due to harebrained ideas and untraditional reactions to life’s randomness. You never quite knew whether he was going to adopt a highway and make the lanes larger or make a salad in the shower for your dinner party. Urkel was more predictable in that there were only two reasons for his crazy adventures. Either he created something with the goal to win Laura’s heart, or he was so clumsy that something happened that would need fixing. Maybe an odd fixation with Polka here and there, but he was less random and more nerdy. Random is always going to be more wacky than nerdy.

Kyle got on the board next with a rebuttal to Chris’ previous argument. Steve always had a plan and that plan usually worked. Kramer did crazy things, and usually it made people kick him out of establishments. Steve did crazy things, and it led to successful cloning, time travel, and more often than not, saving the day. In the Seinfield episode where Kramer finds lobster pots, he just takes the lobsters and feeds them to his friends, and he’s shunned when he’s found out. If Steve did that, he might have started out the same way, but in the end he would have invented some new way of catching lobsters that made everything ok in the end. That’s the difference between the two; Kramer gets in situations, but only Steve bothers to resolve them.

I don’t usually like to award points based on negative comments to the other side’s camp, but Chris’ point was too good to ignore. Urkel at one point decides that the only way Laura will love him is if he changes himself to a non-wacky version of himself. After doing this and going a bit mad with power, he later clones himself, putting the wacky side in one and the “Normal” side in the other. Laura ends up with the normal side, therefore verifying his hypothesis of her only loving the more socially acceptable version of himself. Kramer has never backed down or tried to un-“Kramer” himself for a woman or a man. He is Kramer, he is wacky and the world can either take it or leave it. Bravo, Mr. Kramer, bravo.

Next point went to Chris for a no-brainer. Pretty self-explanatory, Kramer never engulfed the show to the point where an episode couldn’t go on without him. Urkel basically became the main character of Family Matters with the main family becoming his neighbor. Done and done.

Kyle tried for one last push by arguing that Urkel is the catalyst for all the crazy adventures that occurred on his show, but it was too late. Chris took the win, and then we all ate way too much food at Thanksgiving. Nice.

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Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.