TV characters who are incompetent at their jobs

In a thread I’m too lazy to link to, someone brought up JK Simmons, who played (and may still play) a psychiatrist on the original Law & Order. This thread isn’t about either that actor or that character, though, but rather the character JK’s sort-of-replaced: Elizabeth Olivet. I always had the faint impression that we were meant to think she was incompetent. Not COMICALLY incompetent, like the coroner on Scrubs–but overall more likely to be wrong than right. It was always clear that she empathized so much with her patients that it cost her her objectivity; I’m not sure she was even a good therapist, and certainly she was a horrible consultant for the DA’s office. I think that is Jack McCoy’s appraisal of her.

What other characters like that come to mind?

Frank Burns on MAS*H
Hamilton Burger from Perry Mason

Going back a few decades:

Ted Baxter
Norm Peterson
Carlton the doorman
Frank Burns
Murphy Brown’s Secretary of the week
George Costanza
Stephanie the maid on Newhart

Col. Klink on Hogan’s Heroes

Tim Taylor on Tool Time

Re: Frank: I should have been clearer that I didn’t mean COMICALLY incompetent.

Burger may well have won every non-Mason case he got. Alternatively he may have deliberately thrown cases because Perry was giving him kickbacks. I don’t trust people named after sandwiches.

Skald, I’m shocked, shocked to find out that you have a blind prejudice against people named Reuben.

Binghamton/Leadbottom on McHale’s Navy

Hawk’s cracks notwithstanding, there’s no indication Frank’s incompetent - except for the brief period between Henry leaving and Col Potter arriving, where he also had to be an administrator.

Mercenary, sure, with all the compassion and personal charm of a snake, certainly. Not as good as Hawkeye, of course, but even his Hawk was forced to acknowledge he knew what he was doing as a doctor, when it came down to it.

I don’t know if they were truly incompetent or just didn’t care.

Seems like when they both tried they could do their jobs. Remember when Stephanie was afraid she’d get fired “Michael I’m competing for a job that I think is beneath me.”

Lucy Carmichael was really incompetent. Especially after the show moved to California. (The Lucy Show, not I Love Lucy)Though there were a few episodes where Lucy was show as a hard worker, mostly Mrs Carmichael came across as just stupid.

I stand corrected then, Tengu. I could have sworn that Burns was portrayed as an incompent doctor after the first couple of seasons.

In the movie, it’s specifically stated the Frank Burns is an incompetent surgeon who viciously lays the blame for his mistakes on others. He was softened for the TV show.

In The Unusuals, Eddie Alverez was incompetent at the interpersonal aspects of his job, though he was OK otherwise. He could solve a crime, but couldn’t see the big picture.

One could say that Number 2 in The Prisoner (all of them) was incompetent, creating elaborate plots to trick Number 6 and always failing.

Johnny Drama

As a whole I’d agree but there were a couple of episodes where Frank says something like “Well this guy is dead,” and Hawkeye rushes in to save him.

In the category of not totally incompetent, but not up to what their jobs required:

Sam Malone on Cheers wasn’t totally incompetent (that was Rebecca’s job) but in one episode he brought in someone who actually knew how to manage a bar, and made more money that night than ever before.

Henry Blake in both the movie and TV versions of MAS*H. To be fair, Blake never wanted the job and was smart enough to stay out of the other surgeons’ way in the OR, let Houlihan manage the nurses, and let Radar do all the paperwork.

In one of the later story arcs on Hill Street Blues, Ray Calletano, one of Furillo’s lieutenants, was promoted to captain and commanded his own precinct. It was revealed that he did a horrible job as captain.

On E/R Mark Greene was a terrific doctor but a poor administrator. The character of Kerry Weaver was brought in to be co-chief and eventually eased Greene out of all his administrative duties.

Whuh? You must be kidding! His POW camp had the longest record of no escapes!

  • Of course, he had the help of Sgt. Shultz…


- Me.

Dr. Leo Spaceman from 30 Rock. That everyone goes to him for medical advice is proof that 30 Rock has the dumbest characters in the history of television.

On St Elsewhere, Jack Morrison, Elliot Axelrod, and Wendy Armstrong were protrayed as marginal doctors. I believe George O’Malley and Izzie Stevens are portrayed the same on Grey’s Anatomy. Not as bad doctors but it’s clear they’re not as good as their peers.

Howard Wolowitz isn’t exactly the best engineer in the world. Nor is he the ladies man he fancies himself to be.

Homer Simpson.

(and Glenn Beck too)

Giles from Buffy.

Did he ever lend a single book to a regular student?