Television shows are all about the people in them, which is why the series that have the best characters tend to stand out. Folks loved Seinfeld because a 'show about nothing' only worked because Jerry, Elaine, George, & Kramer managed to drive the story, and the same could be said of Friends, The Sopranos, or any other great series.
Of course, not every television show has great characters, and when that happens, they don't typically last for long. Getting someone to be compelling, funny, interesting, or sad requires two basic things: a great actor to play them and an outstanding backstory they can build off of to bring the construct to life.
A person's backstory needs to be compelling, and it also needs to have some intrigue that's never fully explored during the show. How interesting is it to have someone with a shady past involving murder, but the nature of that killing is barely hinted at or discussed?
Whatever their past involves, it's usually dark and mysterious, and for the best characters, it's incredibly disturbing. A dark and troubled history helps make a person interesting, and throughout all of television history, these ten characters have a backstory most people would run away from screaming.
10. Phoebe Buffay - Friends
Phoebe is the ditzy, quirky, fun friend who would do anything for the people she cares about, but there's a darkness behind all the smiles and laughter. Phoebe's life before the pilot episode of Friends was full of death and misery, and there were some issues with the criminal justice thrown into the mix.
Her mother killed herself when she was a teenager, and since her father left when she was a baby, she ended up being homeless. She mugged people outside a comic book shop and even mugged Ross before they officially knew one another.
She has a twin sister, but they were estranged sometime around their mother's death. Eventually, Phoebe found her birth mother, which came as a complete surprise to her, but not to her sister, who knew all along that the woman who killed herself wasn't their real mom. She also had some run-ins with the law, but the show never went into what that entailed.
Most of what is known about Phoebe's past comes from the various off-handed comments she made on the show. Here are some of the things she said over the years:
"I spent my sweet 16 being chased around a tire yard by an escaped mental patient who, in his own words, wanted to: '[Slay] me, or whatever.'"
She got Hepatitis after "A pimp spit in my mouth."
"Someday I'll tell you about the time I stabbed a cop," followed by, "He stabbed me first!"
"Originally I'm from upstate, but uhm... then my mom [took her life] and my stepdad went to prison, so... I just moved to the city where uhm... I actually lived in a burned-out Buick LeSabre for a while..."