Top Five Unmanly TV Characters

Pajiba presents the five TV characters that we love for being the good, and unmanly, men they are.

Written by Dustin Rowles

Joanna Robinson’s 8 Great Actors That Personify Manliness list was spot-on, but it triggered a supplementary thought, one that I have a particular self-interest in: Lacking “Manliness” doesn’t necessary preclude you from being an awesome “man.” I am married; I have a child; and I am heterosexual, but besides watching 12 hours of football a week and perhaps lingering a little too long on the beer commercials, I don’t fit under the stereotypical definition of manliness: I don’t hunt; I don’t fish; I don’t consume large portions of red meat; I don’t scowl; I don’t kick any asses; and I’m somewhat emotionally available. Nor would I consider myself a “metrosexual”: I don’t dress with a particular flair; I don’t shop; and I don’t use product, except for moisturizer, because that’s just good sense. And while there’s certainly a debate as to whether a man who spends a lot of time absorbing media, dotes on his wife, prefers the treadmill to the weights, and bathes regularly can be considered “attractive” or “sexy,” there’s little question in my mind that these five television characters are awesome men, even if Ron Swanson could squash them all with his mustache.

Troy Barnes, “Community”
Unmanly Traits: Although Troy Barnes was both a high-school quarterback and prom king, there’s nothing particularly jock-y about him. He takes modern dance and acting classes, he uses a decidedly unmanly Motorola Droid X, he’s a nerd, he eats candy cigarettes, and he chooses not to drink alcohol. And while there’s nothing masculine about a love of LeVar Burton and Reading Rainbow, there’s everything endearing about it.

Marshall Eriksen, “How I Met Your Mother”
Unmanly Traits: Marshall is a goofball who is in a solid, intimate relationship with a wife, Lily, with whom he’s not afraid to cede control of the relationship. He’s extremely emotional and not afraid to cry in front of people; he can play the piano well; he has dancer’s hip; he once admitted to have never been in a fight; he’s an environmental lawyer; and he cannot grow a mustache. Moreover, when he’s depressed, he binge-eats ice cream. He’s also very cuddly and comfortable with his sexuality.

Brad Williams, “Happy Endings”
Unmanly Traits: A typical favorite night for Brad Williams is not downing six shots of whiskey and kicking ass. Brad would prefer to stay at home, watch TV, eat Chinese food and have sex with his smoking hot wife, who controls all the power in the relationship. He likes to wear dresses as shirts (he likes the deep tuck) and would consider wearing tight-fitting baby shirts; he likes “girly” drinks, loves “The Gilmore Girls,” and enjoys crudité. He also dresses nicely, likes to express himself through touching, and loves to twirl.

Chris Brinkley, “Up All Night”
Unmanly Traits: Chris Brinkley was a lawyer who gave up his career to stay at home and take care of his baby. He wears aprons and cartoon boxers; he bakes; he loves to play Peek-a-boo with his infant daughter, and he “likes” everything on Facebook because he likes the way pressing “like” makes him feel.

Phil Dunphy, “Modern Family”
Unmanly Traits: Phil Dunphy dotes on his wife; he’s very juvenile; he was a cheerleader in college; he feels threatened by his father-in-law’s masculinity; he learned the dances from “High School Musical” to impress his children; he suffers from coulrophobia; he loves cheesy movies, and he’s completely useless with the stereotypically male chores around the house.

Originally appeared at

—Photos Newsday/AP [Ty Burrell]; HitFix/AP [Jason Segel]; Road Runner/AP [Will Arnett]

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  1. Should we safely say that Chandler Bing of FRIENDS was the one to pioneer this trend of ‘unmanly’ characters?

  2. I couldn’t define what is ‘regular’ or ‘manly’ if I tried. Hunting and fishing are perfectly noble activities (as long as you eat what you’ve killed). “kicking ass”, not so much. That’s just another word for assault, really. Do the images of husbands relinquishing a large share of their power to their wives disturb me? Yes, but so does the opposite. I think it’s strange that any relationship isn’t entirely equal, but I guess I can accept that some men and some women are okay with being the submissive one.

  3. When you celebrate “unmanliness” it implies that you don’t celebrate “manliness.” And it leaves me wondering when being manly suddenly turned into something negative.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Phil on Modern Family and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother. Those are zany, quirky guys but at their core they are very manly. They provide for their families in a variety of ways and are good people. But Brad on Happy Endings is atrocious. He’s a complete wuss, lets his wife run his life and is annoying as all hell. And this is celebrated??

    Again, I see more and more people rushing to condemn the “new” masculinity when I’m not even really sure what that is or why it’s needed.

  4. I posted this same link in the comments under the ‘Tough Guise’ article by Will Conley – glad to see it getting more play! I think it includes a lot of great examples and I would add honourable mentions for characters like JD and Turk from Scrubs. There are probably other great examples too but those two jump to mind as predecessors to Troy and Abed (mentioned above) from NBC’s Community as well.

  5. Tom Matlack says:

    It’s taken me a while to warm up to Phil. I am a huge Modern Family fan but Phil really threw me off. His zany and at times pathetic side kind of got me down when there are so many other male characters on the show to love. But over time I have seen the genius in his madness and how in fact he is kind of the glue that holds the show together.

    I want to give Ross Matthews an honorable mention here:

  6. Donald Glover (the guy who plays Troy Barnes) rocks the house down. I’m crazy about him.

  7. The average guy is manly. The myth implied by this article and others is that manly men are not good men, and that good men are unmanly. It’s ridiculous and does nothing to help men become good men or better men.

    The silly stereotype promulgated is that manliness equates to men who routinely hunt and fish is laughably ridiculous since a large percentage of men grow up in cities, such as LA, DC, NY, Chicago and elsewhere and seldom or never hunt and/or fish. That means, by that crazy standard, the vast majority of men who grew up in and around cities aren unmanly. Many millions of women and men disagree.

    What makes one a good man is what he does for and how he treats others, especially his family, not because love getting together with other men to cry, watches Project Runway, or enjoys anal sex. Good grief.

    • You appear to have read into the article your own fears about being judged as less than worthy because of your stereotypical masculinity, but read it again. It does not criticise manliness at all. In fact, it begins by referring to another article specifically celebrating manliness, and all it has to say about that is “that’s fine, but you’re not less of a man just because you lack ‘manly’ qualities.”

      “Not less” is not the same as “more”.

      What you can do to become a better man is to stop worrying about being judged either for being too masculine, or too feminine. Let one person be an excellent man because he rescues people from burning buildings, and let another be an excellent man because he is a doting single father who takes his daughters to ballet. There are some who would contrast you with either the former or the latter, and judge you for it, but sod their close-mindedness. Be a good man in your own way, not anybody else’s.

      • I don’t have any fears.  My point is that your piece defines “manly” in an extreme and untrue way.  Other recent articles claim that “guys” are bad human beings.  Another one claimed that men who aren’t into receiving anal sex are homophobic; thus that’s what good men are supposed to desire.  Another one said that all good men watch Project Runway.  

        By your definition, most men aren’t manly because they seldom or even never hunt and fish.  There have been other pieces here that have done the same thing.  Frame “manly” and “guy” as some extreme Neanderthal-like being, and then claim that not being “manly” and not being “a guy” (as other articles have said) is not only OK; it’s, in fact, a good thing.

        Overwhelming anxiety about manliness is not a major issue for most men beyond their teens, or early 20s at the oldest.  They are far more worried about getting a or keeping their job, making their relationship healthy and lasting (or getting one), keeping their kids safe and on the right path, helping their sons not fall behind in school, helping their daughters to think for themselves and not be captive to peer pressure, keeping their marriages strong, etc.  Most men worked out any overwhelming masculine insecurities somewhere in their teens.

        By the way, in my experience, most fathers who rush into burning buildings also have no problem in taking their daughters to ballet when they aren’t rushing into burning buildings.  The two things are not mutually exclusive.  My muscle-bound, super athlete cousin does both, as do other guys at his station.

        • Manliness is kind of a problematic word in any case, but this article is just a fun way of highlighting different forms of manliness as shown in the media, particularly ones that challenge the societal norm. Traditional masculinity is, of course, still valid, but this article presents some alternative depictions. That’s a good thing. Things that challenge stereotypes are good.

          I don’t think it’s true that most men work through their issues surrounding masculinity in their teens. Lots of men who write and comment on the site (an educated guess says that most of them aren’t teenagers) say they feel pressure to be into sports, that society looks down upon them expressing emotion, that they’re expected to be providers instead of care-givers, and so on. You can still worry about all the things you mentioned in tandem with this – gender is a fundamental factor in how we view the world and how the world interacts with us .These stereotypes exist, they are prevalent, they can cause anxiety, and much of this site is dedicated to talking about them

          I can’t really see which part of this article implies that “non-manly” men are superior to the typical manly man. The author acknowledges that Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec is awesome, and the whole point of his character is that he is a bastion of traditional manliness. Surely the point is that men should be whatever kind of man they want to be, without feeling pressure to conform to some out-dated mythical version of masculinity?

          • “I don’t think it’s true that most men work through their issues surrounding masculinity in their teens. Lots of men who write and comment on the site (an educated guess says that most of them aren’t teenagers) say they feel pressure to be into sports, that society looks down upon them expressing emotion, that they’re expected to be providers instead of care-givers, and so on.”

            That concept is a theme of the GMP for whatever reason. Naturally, men who have such issues would come here to comment on them. There are so many more relevant issues affecting so many more men. This is truly a waste of space.

            In my paid work and my volunteer work (which I’ve been doing for a long time), I’ve met and know many hundreds (actually 1,000+) of men and have worked with them on a variety of issues. I have not found this to be a probem with adult men over 20 or so.

            “I can’t really see which part of this article implies that “non-manly” men are superior to the typical manly man.”

            It defines manly men as neanderthals by claiming that manly men, ‘hunt; fish, scowl, kicks asses, and is emotionally unavailable. So, per this article, by definition, a manly man is not a good man; he’s a bad and dysfunctional man, in fact.

            I’m not much of a TV watcher, but the men he references don’t seem all that unusual, certainly not to say they are outrageously “unmanly.”

            This article is one of a number of articles that demonizes regular guys who are, in fact, manly men (but aren’t neanderthals) because they (we) happen to be heterosexual regular go-to-work everyday take-care-of-the-wife-and-kids, law abiding guys.

  8. Great article! This really reminds me of the Irish comedian, Dylan Moran, who has zero qualms about not conforming to typical standards of manliness. In one of his shows, he says he refuses to fix anything around the house and when his wife asks him to take a look at the boiler or something he says “GET A MAN! Get a man to look at it! I’ll be upstairs in our room rubbing your expensive creams on my knees, I just want to see what happens. Don’t try to get in, I have blocked the door with huge lumps of turkish delight and I’m listening to showtunes. Stay away.”

  9. I’m so crazy about Brad from Happy Endings, glad I’m not the only one watching. Super fun little article.

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