Monday, June 04, 2012

Secondary Characters

Every TV show has its back-up or supporting characters. If the show is on long enough, these characters get to have episodes where they come out of the shadows.

This can be a good thing for a strong character/actor. Or it can be an annoying one if the character is not one you like.

It seems to happen more on sitcoms. In fact, sitcoms usually boast several annoying characters. These are a few of the people I dreaded seeing more than the usual minute or two. What about you? It doesn't always mean that the actor is a poor one. In fact, it often is that the supporting character was meant to be a thorn in the side of the major players. Witness Carla's jabbing of Diane on CHEERS. And clearly Brenda's parents are played to be as annoying and whiny as possible.


Anonymous said...

Good point. I never really found Carla funny because she was just so hostile. As for Brenda's parents on THE CLOSER, less is definitely more.

To be honest, we do not watch a single current sitcom. I'd say the first BOB NEWHART SHOW (as opposed to the later NEWHART) had it right - virtually every one of his supporting characters was a welcome addition. On the later show, not so much.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

We watch BIG BANG THEORY but there is not one character I don't like on that one because the writing is so terrific.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I'm not all that much of a TV watcher, but I agree in general that well-drawn secondary characters can add a lot to a series, whether it's a TV or book series. When I read your post I thought of Elettra Zorzi in Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti series. Secondary but crucial to the series' success. I know, not TV - sorry.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Col. Sherman T. Potter (Harry Morgan) in M.A.S.H., Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) in YES MINISTER, and Frank Barone (Peter Boyle) in EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND — where would sitcoms be without these terrific actors? Far from being annoying or dreadful, I enjoyed all their episodes. I often find supporting characters better than the lead actors. In spite of funny man Ray Romano, I couldn't imagine "Everybody Loves Raymond" without Peter Boyle.

Anonymous said...

Sir Humphrey was not exactly a supporting character but I know what you mean.

On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as discussed last week they could have dropped Georgette off a cliff after one appearance and I doubt she'd have been missed.

Gomer and Goober on Andy Griffith were no Barney Fife.

I know Frank Burns was on MASH as a foil for Hawkeye but he rarely contributed much of value.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

All of these would have made my list. Harder to think of characters from dramas. But I might put on Gary from Thirty-Something. Dull or whiny.

George said...

I was never very fond of Lane Pryce on MAD MEN. And, sure enough, they dispatched him last night.

Todd Mason said...

Jeff...the first THE BOB NEWHART SHOW was a 1960s variety show which won the Peabody. Noting what you refer to as the first Newhart sitcom or the MTM or 1970s BOB NEWHART SHOW wouldn't be incorrect. And, yes, I think everyone, or nearly so, found it superior to NEWHART. Hell, BOB was superior to NEWHART, even though the '80s sitcom had its moments before the final five minutes.

Frank Burns was used well on occasion, as well as being a carryover from the novel and film...the episode where Trapper is unwillingly given an insight as to how to create a Frank Burns, and can't help but feel some empathy with him, is one of the more telling vignettes in the series.

And, of course, Margot, there is a BRUNETTI tv series, as well...we even get to see it occasionally in the States on the MHz Worldview network.

Patti said...

Just lost my whole comment where I said then there are ones with almost perfect casting (Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends) and perfectly awful casting: Thirty Rock, Newhart. (IMHO)

Anonymous said...

I found all of them whiny on THIRTYSOMETHING, Patti. I still remember when a parent died (can't remember whose) Hope whining about how they shouldn't have to deal with things like this.

Well, boo hoo.

Todd, I did think of mentioning that but as Patti had mentioned "sitcoms" I didn't think it was necessary.

Other than Larry, Darryl and Darryl (maybe it's just my perverse sense of humor that made me enjoy them so much) there was no one on NEWHART that I ever looked forward to seeing. On the 70's show? Emily, Howard, Mr. Carlin, Carol, Mr. Peterson, etc.

Jeff M.

Todd Mason said...

Jeff--sorry, too many people want to insist that the '70s sitcom was his first series (as opposed to his third).

Patti--wow...I find some of the supporting cast on 30 ROCK excessively one-joke...but still easier to take than nearly everyone on FRIENDS. I even preferred Lisa Kudrow's recurring one-joke (well, perhaps two-joke) character on MAD ABOUT YOU to FRIENDS's characters, on the whole. I know you're more tolerant of traditional sitcom setups than I am at this point.

Todd Mason said...

NEWHART, sadly, was GREEN ACRES, which didn't need NORTHERN EXPOSURE, either. Even if the first season of NE managed to wring some humor out of the pompous fish in aggressively foolish and Therefore Correct waters. I think it was reasonably well-cast (NEWHART), just really poorly conceived.

Patti said...

NE was great. Thinking back on it, there was no truly irritable character and some extremely original ones. The closest it came was the same actor who plays Brenda's Dad on THE CLOSER. He could get on my nerves in big doses but he was a necessary component.

Yvette said...

Oh you didn't like Frank Costanza? I think that was his name - I loved George's parents. They were just SO artfully awful. Every time I saw them I understood the equally awful George a little better.

For me, Elaine was a hard nut to crack. Though she was not really a secondary character.

I think some actors are born to be secondary and that's their special niche. When they try to become 'stars' it usually never works.

In the old days, everyone 'knew their place' and worked steadily and made a good living at it. :)

Since I don't get cable anymore I don't watch much television except in batches on Netflix which is not, really, the best way to view TV.

I'm with Prashant, I can't imagine EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND without Peter Boyle or for that matter, Doris Roberts. Loved them. I discovered the show late, when it was in reruns a few years ago. Very few shows make me howl with laughter, but the occasional episode of RAYMOND did that.

Remember MacLean Stevenson? I think that was his name - on MASH. He was so splendid. Then he made that ill-timed effort to become the star of his own show. The worst decision of all time, in my book.

But I loved him on MASH.

I'm not really fond of the new 'space age-y' SHERLOCK, but I do love Rupert Graves as Lestrade. I wish they had more of him and less of the special effects and pomposity of Benedict Cumberbatch. SO HARD TO TAKE. I've still to sit through a full episode (except for the first one).

I guess my favorite secondary television characters would have been the cast surrounding the splendid Martin Sheen on THE WEST WING. Especially in the first few years when everyone was still in place.

Charles Gramlich said...

Niles, who started out as a side character on Frazier, became so important to that show over the years. Loved his character.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I liked Jerry as George's Dad, did not like him on KING OF QUEENS.
Niles stole the show.
Many secondary characters do not make good main characters. I think of Valerie Harper and McLean Stevens as two.

Anonymous said...

WEST WING never recovered from Leo's death.

Jeff M.

Deb said...

I rarely watch "Two and a Half Men," but I like the character of the housekeeper (Conchita Farrell?)--in the "bold, brassy broads" category. But that character couldn't carry an entire show, it would be too much.

No one has mentioned my favorite show, "The Simpsons," where--after 20-plus years--even the most minor character has a great backstory: Principal Skinner, Mrs. Krabapple, hapless Gil, Patty and Selma, Comic Book Guy, the crazy cat lady, the list goes on....