Second billed, but first-rate: TV’s best supporting characters

by Beacon Staff • March 3, 2011

Vincent Scarpa, TV Columnist

Some of television’s finest characters are often found in supporting roles. Whether it be the witty best friend we always depend on for a one-liner, the peculiar boss whose small appearances are always the best moments in an episode, or the overbearing mother who reminds us too much of our own, supporting characters on today’s prime time TV shows are worth celebrating.

They facilitate the solid gold moments for our favorite leads, and maybe don’t always get the credit they deserve. But trying to imagine any classic show without its supporting cast proves troubling. What would Mary Tyler Moore be without Rhoda? Would My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase have been nearly as endearing without Rayanee Graff as a contrast? And wasn’t it the supporting actresses, not Carrie Bradshaw, who made Sex and the City what it was?

These characters and many others who fill out America’s favorite shows are necessary for reasons difficult to celebrate. Here are some supporting characters on TV now who are worth appreciating, and whose real names are worth knowing.

Brick Heck

The Middle:

At the center of this gem, charting the trials and tribulations of the Heck family in middle-of-nowhere Indiana, is nine-year-old Brick Heck, played by the adorable Atticus Shaffer. He’s the youngest member of the family, and overflowing with oddness and idiosyncrasy.

Brick is fascinated by libraries, whispers the last words of sentences to himself, and says things like, “So there’s not beautiful singles in my area dying to meet me?” Brick delivers the funny in every episode, and Shaffer’s performance is always spot-on.

April Ludgate

Parks and Recreation:

While everything about this show is tragically underrated, it’s upsetting that few are bearing witness to the brilliance that is April Ludgate. Played by the deadpan Aubrey Plaza, April is the dry-witted intern who couldn’t care less. She’s a human version of Daria.

Mockumentary-style shows have taught us that the character who gets to look directly at the camera is always the funniest, and April is the perfect example. You can’t help but love someone who says things like, “At least I didn’t make any new friendships.”

Principal Figgins

Glee:

In a show where most of the characters seem like stereotypes, there’s something incredibly refreshing about Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba), the hysterically corrupt headmaster from Mumbai. He only has a few lines in every episode, but rarely are they wasted.

Figgins is a little uncomfortable to watch — maybe that’s why he hasn’t had a musical number thus far — but that’s the best part. Favorite Figgins quote? “I need those parents happy! They just found out we’ve been serving the kids prison food.”

Scotty

Brothers and Sisters:

It can’t be easy marrying into the loudest, drunkest family on television. The Walkers are dynamic people, and they have strength in numbers, but somehow Scotty stands his ground as Kevin’s thoughtful husband.

Played by Luke Macfarlane, he’s a breath of fresh, uninvolved air as one of the few characters on the show who doesn’t come with a disproportionate amount of baggage. Scotty’s there for comedic relief, a sweet shoulder, and, most importantly for the Walkers, more wine.

Marlene

The Big C:

Somehow, this show was both critically adored and largely unwatched by the public (Thankfully, it’s still been renewed for a second season). Laura Linney shines as Cathy, the suburban mom with the titular cancer, but her crotchety neighbor Marlene (Phyllis Somerville) is one of Showtime’s finest characters yet.

She’s uninviting, crude, and downright grumpy, but it’s never hard to love her. She helps Cathy pick up the pieces of a falling-apart life, all the while full of piss and vinegar and some great one-liners.

These are just some of the characters who support our favorite leads. There have been great ones before (think Karen and Jack on Will and Grace) and there will surely be more to come. It’s important to give these talented actors and actresses their due, because sometimes it’s a thankless job to be second best.

 

Vincent Scarpa is a junior writing, literature, and publishing major.