Beard styles are often a point of pride for men throughout the world. The best beards are well-groomed and often add a layer of confidence to the person they adorn. Much like the clothing worn by characters on TV, facial hair can say a lot about the themes and symbolism behind a character’s innermost qualities. Some of the most iconic men’s beard styles on TV are ones to aspire to in real life, and others are so bad or wacky they become iconic. We’re here to explore the types of beards sported by some legendary characters we’ve come to love, and sometimes even hate, on our small screens!
There were a lot of corny sitcoms on network television throughout the 1990s. Tim Allen’s hyper-masculine semi-satire Home Improvement was one of the most popular vehicles for ABC throughout the decade. The comedy hijinks of the Taylor family entertained millions, but it was Tim’s trusty sidekick, Al Borland, who often landed the most laughs throughout the episode. Borland was portrayed by Richard Karn, and his luxurious and well-kept facial hair gave him an extra layer of ruggedness that worked in ironic juxtaposition to his mild-mannered temperament. Al was a momma’s boy and a perpetual bachelor, but that certainly wasn’t because he was lacking in the beard department. Fans often felt that Al’s beard was symbolic of his competency on the fictional home repair show “Tool Time” that was often featured throughout each episode.
Bryan Cranston’s work as Walter White is some of the best acting in TV history, but it’s not only the portrayal of the iconic antihero that helps to make him memorable. Walter White’s appearance goes a long way towards shaping him, adding layers of symbolism and literary density to his journey throughout the five seasons of Breaking Bad. Walter starts the series with a razor-thin mustache — a decision made by Cranston rather than the creators — but as he falls deeper into his Heisenberg alter-ego, the fearsome meth-maker grows out a goatee that shapes his face and makes his frown more menacing. This is an intentional choice that helps give Walter the look of someone who truly scares his opposition.
When discussing the best TV characters of the 21st century, Rick Grimes is often overlooked and under-appreciated. Andrew Lincoln was fantastic in the role of Rick, lending a steady hand and confident demeanor to the group of survivors trying to carve out a place during the apocalypse. As Rick became more callous as the show went on, his beard grew equally heavy and masculine. Lincoln was game to just keep letting the facial hair grow wild, and it certainly made sense because the characters were living in a world without many trimming tools. Rick’s beard was a symbol of survival in more ways than one. When he trimmed it off, it often represented a turning point for the characters during their journey amongst the zombies in Atlanta, Georgia.
HBO’s best western drama of all time is arguably Deadwood, which featured an enormous cast with varied personalities. Bar owner Al Swearengen commanded the full respect and attention of the residents of the small South Dakota town. The actor who portrayed him, Ian McShane, sported a thick mustache and soul patch underneath his mouth, an instantly recognizable combination to fans of the short-lived period piece. This facial hair felt like it added an extra-piercing blow to every insult and curse-filled tirade the pimp spouted at the other residents of Deadwood.
Many fans of HBO’s The Last of Us were skeptical at first of the decision to cast Pedro Pascal in the role of the main character, Joel Miller, partly because they were unhappy about the actor’s inability to grow a full beard like the original character in the video game. In the grand scheme of things, this ended up being a non-issue, as Pascal turned in an iconic performance in the first season of the series, and his thinner beard helped to add a layer of humanity to Joel that wasn’t present in the Playstation game. Pascal’s interpretation of Joel has a lot more subtlety and is often more tender than the character’s personality in the source material. Fewer of Joel’s violent tendencies are shown on screen (until the season one finale, anyway), and his incomplete beard helps to symbolize this change from the source material. We can’t wait to see how Pascal continues to evolve the character in the second season of the show.
When it comes to science fiction series, TNT’s Falling Skies probably isn’t going to cross people’s minds before something like Stranger Things or The Mandalorian. It was a solid cable show that felt like sci-fi junk food, but the best seasons of the series were able to highlight themes like family, perseverance, and survival. Tom Mason, the leader of the human group trying to make do with what’s left after an alien invasion, sported beard with a haggard look that matched the aforementioned Rick Grimes and Joel Miller. You’ve probably noticed by now that facial hair is quite prominent when the world has gone down the crapper!
Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of the wisest Jedi in the Star Wars galaxy. He trained Anakin Skywalker, he was Luke Skywalker’s first mentor, and he has appeared in more parts of the franchise’s timeline than virtually any other character. You can easily identify where Obi-Wan is in his journey depending on the length of his facial hair. His well-maintained, medium-length beard in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+ was a sign of the Jedi’s growth as a solitary knight during the 20 years between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy. Ewan McGregor was able to step right back into the character after years away from the role, and a big part of his success was getting the facial hair just right.
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