Next door neighbors are a predictable plot device, thrown in for a cheap laugh or as a foil for the main character or family. Some neighbors, like Steve Urkel, Cosmo Kramer or The Jeffersons, take on a life of their own, overshadowing the stars or earning a spin-off. Others remain in the background, or are forgotten all together. Here are seven television neighbors, or at least close associates, who deserve some love.
1. Sam Anders, ‘Clarissa Explains It All.’
Anyone who remembers this Melissa Joan Hart vehicle remembers her best friend Sam Anders, played by actor Sean O’Neal. Not only was he a boy, he also used a ladder to descend into Clarissa Darling’s totally outrageous bedroom. They were Dawson and Joey before Dawson and Joey could even talk.
2. Harriet Brindle, ‘Small Wonder:’
Emily Schulman had a brief career playing bratty, self-centered characters in the 1980s, perhaps most notably in ‘Troop Bevely Hills’ and the excellent, oft-ignored sitcom ‘Small Wonder.’ In case you’re too young to remember this particular gem, the half-hour comedy about a scientist and his “daughter,” a robot he created and named Vicki Harriet lived next door and was always snooping around, causing trouble and getting dangerously close to discovering Vicki’s secret.
Honorable mention: Harriet’s mother, Bonnie, played by the far more popular and employable Edie McClurg, best known as the secretary in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and another annoying neighbor, Mrs. Patty Poole, on ‘Valerie’s Family,’ which would later be called ‘Hogan’s Family.’
3. Charlie Dietz, ‘Empty Nest:’
Charley Dietz, portrayed by notable actor David Leisure, was an oversexed pilot who constantly tormented, flirted with and generally annoyed his neighbors on this ‘Golden Girls’ spin-off about a doctor, played the amazing Richard Mulligan, and his daughters, Dinah Manoff and Kristy McNichol.
Despite his sleazy exterior, Dietz had a heart of gold and often provided the most laughs, next to the family’s dog, Dreyfuss. Leisure is still living in Los Angeles and works regularly, most recently on ‘Days of Our Lives.’ [Fun 'Empty Nest' fact: Mulligan and Manoff were on 'Soap' together. Manoff played his daughter-in-law until her character was gunned down while escaping from kidnappers. It was definitely one of the saddest moments in the otherwise uproarious serial satire.]
4. Six LeMeure, ‘Blossom:’
No matter how many episodes of canceled UPN show ‘The Parkers’ in which she appeared (108), Jenna von Oÿ will forever be remembered for her 114 appearances as funky and problem-prone friend Six on ‘Blossom,’ the surprisingly popular comedy about a girl and her hats.
5. Sylvia Winfield, ‘The Simpsons:’
Sylvia Winfield once lived two houses down from the Simpsons on Evergreen Terrace. She first appeared in the third episode of the long-running cartoon’s first season, “Homer’s Odyssey,” in which Mrs. Winfield, originally played by Cloris Leachman, and her husband laughed at the idea of Homer committing suicide. What an old witch.
Frustrated by the Simpsons and their calamitous adventures, Winfield and her husband moved to Florida in the eighth episode of season four, making way for ex-con Ruth Powers. Ruth Powers may be a better friend and all around character, but Winfield’s pugnacious nature made her a viable opponent for rambunctious Bart Simpson.
6. Richard ‘Boner’ Stabone, ‘Growing Pains:’
Boner, portrayed by Andrew Koenig, provided comic relief for the Seaver family from 1985 until 1989, when the character joined the Marines, never to be heard from again. As for Koenig, he became a human rights activist and spent considerable time protesting China’s various abuses. Sadly, he took his own life in 2010.
7. Jeffry Engels, ‘The Cosby Show:’
Engels deserves recognition not for his character, a Huxtable family neighbor whose son was friends with Rudy, but for the man who played him, beloved Wallace Shawn, an actor who can take the smallest, most insignificant role and make it the most memorable part of a piece. He only made it into five episodes over four years, but Shawn’s Engels, and all of this still famous actor’s characters, should live on in television history forever. It’s inconceivable he doesn’t have a lifetime achievement award yet.