Monday, December 30, 2013

More Than a Second Banana: My 25 Most Memorable Comedy Supporting Players on TV

Before embarking on the latest installment, let me tackle the parade of "WTF" elephants that's primed to march through the room.

#1. Animated Characters will not be featured on these lists.
It sounds like I'm one of those pricks from the Emmy nominating committee, and maybe I'm leaning on such precedents to help bolster that decision. There's a slight chance I may do another blog down the road that's focused exclusively on the animated world, but the residents of Springfield and South Park will have to wait until then to plead their cases. And yes, that means Homer won't be around to be crowned king in the final list (which will cover comedic lead characters).

#2. Many icons didn't make the cut.
Some of the best known comedic characters didn't make the list. In some instances, it's because I just didn't think they were all that funny or well written, hence no appearance from the Fonz, residents or employees of the Brady household or castaways from any three-hour tour. Others came close, but just didn't crack my top 25, so no Colonel Klink, no employees of the Alan Brady show nor any tenants of creepy, spooky or magic-infested homes from the sixties. 

And…even with as much TV viewing as I've racked up over the years, there are STILL a few shows I never watched -- or really never liked. So Barney Fife's absence is actually due to the startling revelation of my never having watched a full episode of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. And you won't see anyone by the name of Mertz or Ricardo on this or future lists -- I really DON'T love Lucy.

#3. With all this cheating, I'm NEVER getting into the Hall of Fame.
The previous blog featured a "duo" that I simply didn't have the heart to break up, and *surprise surprise* that is going to recur on all four lists. There's also a "trio" that will show up today, but I don't think that could be avoided. Finally, there's an entry on this list who I confess is truly more a lead character, but I bent the rules a bit to accommodate that special spouse. I almost did that for another person, but then decided to opt for one of that family's kids instead.

In the passages that follow each person, if there were other contenders from that same show (and in several instances, a very tough decision had to be made), I'll discuss them there. Comedy is so terribly subjective, and what may make one viewer dissolve into fits of laughter can leave the next as stony-faced as Mount Rushmore. Something to keep in mind whether you're nodding in agreement or shaking your head in disgust over the next few minutes… 

Now let's get this party started


More Than a Second Banana: My 25 Most Memorable Comedy Supporting Players on TV

25. CHARLIE KELLY
 (IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA)



If you're seeking a little heart in the otherwise dark and narcissistic world of IASIP, then look no further than this rat-hunting, kitten-mitten inventing, green-bodysuit wearing illiterate. His perpetual innocence is a nice counter-balance to the creepy deviance of Dennis, and one can feel a tad sorry for Charlie as his unrequited love (the forever unnamed Waitress, played by Charlie Day's actual wife) seems to sleep with everybody but Charlie.


24. JOHNNY "DR. FEVER" CARAVELLA
 (WKRP IN CINCINNATI)


This was the first of many exceedingly difficult choices. There were several colorful employees at that little radio station in Cincinnati: Les Nessman, Herb Tarlek, Venus Flytrap, Jennifer Marlowe. But no one greater symbolized the fateful day when WKRP's format changed and Johnny Caravella became Dr. Johnny Fever, ripping the stodgy elevator music records off the turntables and proceeding to rock out…

...while stopping to say "Booger!"




23. PHIL DUNPHY (MODERN FAMILY)


If you've watched the Emmys over the past few years, you've noticed that the Supporting Actor and Actress in a Comedy Series categories are practically wall-to-wall cast members of MODERN FAMILY. And in that Murderer's Row of Mirth, the MVP is often Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy. He brings a unique mix of physical comedy and hapless expressions, as if fusing together the disparate styles of Jerry Lewis and Jack Benny. Whether he's vying for his father-in-law's approval, his children's respect or his wife's tolerance -- Phil always means well…and he always brings the funny.



22. BARNEY STINSON (HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER)


In many ways, Barney Stinson is a bit of a throwback to earlier sitcoms. He relies on an overabundance of catchphrases ("Suit up!", "It's gonna be Legen -- wait for it -- dary!", "Challenge accepted." and dozens of variations of high-fives and slang with the prefix "Bro-"), and for the first several seasons, his main focus in life was having sex with as many attractive women as possible. That, and maybe laser tag. But Neil Patrick Harris infused this man-slut with a certain sweetness that belied his immoral ways, and Barney brings a much needed spark to hundreds of scenes that would have been lifeless otherwise. Ask most HIMYM fans why they continue to watch the show after so many years, and Barney Stinson will often be the reason given. True story…



21. DETECTIVE PHIL FISH (BARNEY MILLER)


First off, let me reassure you that as of this writing, Brooklyn born Abe Vigoda is indeed still alive and should be celebrating his 93rd birthday this coming February. Situated in the center of the 12th Precinct squad room, Detective Fish probably spent more time in the bathroom than he did catching crooks. As curmudgeonly as they come, Vigoda's ever-weary Fish was an altogether unique character on a cop show or any show for that matter, which is probably why he later got his own short-lived spinoff series.



20. PHOEBE BUFFAY (FRIENDS)


Choosing one of the FRIENDS came down to a coin flip between Joey Tribbiani and Phoebe Buffay, and a misguided plot turn during the twilight of the series helped break the deadlock. The Joey/Rachel storyline was one of the worst things to ever happen to the series (along with the shrill caricature that Monica became). But Phoebe was a quirkily consistent breath of fresh air, even when she sang about a smelly cat. She truly cemented her place here with her sexy showdown with Chandler in "The One Where Everybody Finds Out". Because they don't know that we know they know we know…y'know?


19. TROY BARNES and ABED NADIR (COMMUNITY)


If the Great War of Pillows and Blankets couldn't drive a permanent wedge between these two study group buddies, who am I to separate them? WIth a mutual fascination of all things geeky coupled with a childlike sense of wonder and enthusiasm, the Troy and Abed combo is the best bromance on any current comedy series (sorry Howard and Raj). Although Dean Pelton would probably claim he shares a deeper bond with Winger...


18. LARRY, DARRYL, and DARRYL (NEWHART)


In this dreamy unnamed town in Vermont (and I use the word "dreamy" most deliberately -- which may be why the town was nameless), there were all sorts of odd residents. But none were quite as bizarre as the three woodsmen known as Larry, Darryl, and Darryl. They garnered their own little sliver of the pop culture zeitgeist with their oft-repeated introduction "Hi, I'm Larry; this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl." William Sanderson displayed keen deadpan comedic prowess as Larry, and deadpan doesn't begin to cover his two silent brothers. Quick trivia question: Darryl and Darryl do finally speak in the finale -- but what do they say? "Shut up!"


17. DARLENE CONNER (ROSEANNE)


There were few characters we saw grow up as believably and amusingly as Darlene Conner. Not cookie-cutter cute or annoyingly precocious, Darlene was very much a chip off the old block, as the edgy sarcastic side of her mom clearly did not skip a generation -- it just was totally channeled into one of her three children. Darlene represented the life and road not taken by Roseanne herself, which is probably why the stories that yielded the most potent laughs and tears revolved around that relationship.


16. ROBERT BARONE (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND)


After ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and FRASIER, Raymond and Robert Barone are probably the next funniest male siblings on any comedy series. Although twice his size, Robert spends his whole life believing he lives in his younger brother's shadow. The glee he takes when things invariably go horribly wrong for Raymond is palpable and giggle-inducing…but the episode where Robert finally cracks while demonstrating his ventriloquist skills is one of the best sitcom moments ever.


15. DAN FIELDING (NIGHT COURT)


Here we have the quintessential sitcom comic foil. Much like Louie De Palma or Dwight Schrute, Dan Fielding is set up as the "soft antagonist" on NIGHT COURT, displaying behavior and an attitude that runs contrary to everyone else, and the polar opposite morally and/or ethically speaking compared to the protagonist. In the previous examples -- that would be Alex Reiger and Jim Halpert, and here it is almost painfully earnest Judge Harry Stone. Sure, Dan's obsessed with money and sex. Isn't that why we have places like Las Vegas? But every once in a while, we also get a glimpse of the human side of these hysterically horrible people, and it's those moments that won John Larroquette four Emmys for this role.


14. DR. PERRY COX (SCRUBS)


No one does long speeches fueled with vindictive fury and laced with razor-sharp wit the way Dr. Cox can. He was the eternally reluctant mentor, and as sappy a dork as JD always was, we all secretly wanted Cox to relent and give him that hug just once. And then call him an all-new girl's name.

…just look what he can do with the word "No."




13. BERT CAMPBELL (SOAP)


SOAP was a series that was way ahead of its time, and no one took as insane a journey as Richard Mulligan's Burt Campbell. He was a contractor who became sheriff, had a mental breakdown after accidentally murdering his wife's first husband and thereafter believed he could turn invisible by waving his arms and snapping his fingers. He was later taken aboard a flying saucer and replaced by an alien clone. Burt eventually escapes, returns to Earth and runs for political office. With a resume like that, I simply couldn't keep him off the list.



12. DWIGHT SCHRUTE (THE OFFICE)


Dwight Schrute was a modern day Frank Burns, only with far greater intelligence. The assistant to the regional manager, his clear lack of social skills made him painfully awkward to everyone other than himself. His ever-escalating prank wars with Jim Halpert and his toadying up to Michael Scott were among the highlights of the early years of the American version of THE OFFICE, but unlike Frank Burns, our time with Dwight lasted considerably longer, so we occasionally did get a peek at the human side of Dwight, especially regarding his relationship with Angela.


11. GOB BLUTH (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT)


How does one choose between Tobias Funke, Buster Bluth and his brother Gob? Each one could compile a fantastic sizzle reel of their finest comic moments. But after consulting with the Alliance of Magicians, I went with Gob. The sibling rivalry between Gob and Michael was one of the core relationships on the show (the others being the father-son ties between Michael and both his son and father). And when Netflix released the 4th season of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, it was Gob who held up the best as the focal point of a few episodes. Even if Will Arnett went on to do this schtick in several roles since AD, it's here where he does it to perfection.  

I mean, come on!




10. WOODY BOYD (CHEERS)


I came very close to picking Fraiser Crane instead of Woody Boyd. I had several strong reasons to choose Dr. Crane, but I ultimately swayed back to the farm boy who sauntered into the bar at the beginning of the fourth season. Woody wasn't just an adequate replacement for Coach, he quickly became a fan favorite. The audience's adoration was based largely on his innate innocence and charm, as well as tiny peeks into an Indiana childhood that sounded far stranger than one would ever suspect (I think this idea was taken to a far more extreme level on 30 ROCK with the Kenneth the Page character). Funny, goofy, well-meaning, lovable…that was how audiences thought of Woody Harrelson over the course of eight years. And then came NATURAL BORN KILLERS...


9. HANK KINGSLEY (THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW)


Hey now! Watching Jeffrey Tambor's Hank Kingsley would lead to equal doses of chuckling and cringing. Years before Ricky Gervais's THE OFFICE or Larry David's CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW led the way with awkward delights built around characters that were not necessarily the most likable of folks (one could say this was also done on SEINFELD, but with a softer touch). Hank was the ultimate punchline, respected by no one, alternately self-deluded and self-loathing. The light barbs tossed his way on the talk show (much like Carson and McMahon) all carried a certain sting with them, because Larry simply never gave a damn about him. And just when we might feel some sympathy for the man -- he would proceed to do or say something that proved Larry was right to distance himself from the train wreck that was Hank Kingsley.


8. MAJOR FRANK BURNS (M*A*S*H)


The ultimate sitcom antagonist, Major Frank Burns was probably a bigger threat to the 4077th than the exploding shells that would rain down time to time. The original bible-thumping character from the book and film was toned down for television, but made far funnier by the inspired ineptitude and wrong-headed righteousness that Larry Linville played so well. The Lipless Wonder was the best foil possible for the likes of Hawkeye and Trapper (and later B.J., but the less said about him the better), and while Charles Winchester was actually a more fully developed and even eventually likable character -- M*A*S*H never quite filled the void that was left when Frank Burns went AWOL for good.


7. BILL McNEAL (NEWSRADIO)


Pompous, arrogant, bombastic and a constant irritant to his boss, Bill McNeal was the biggest star at radio station WNYX, and he sure knew it. Whether he was getting under the skin of Dave Nelson by constantly disregarding any rules or admonishments (such as no smoking in the office) or his ongoing torture of Matthew the man-child doofus, Bill's smooth and smug ways were a major source of humor on the series, especially when they didn't work on the lobby security staff of the building. 

And no one handled an interview quite like Bill McNeal -- eat your heart out, Anderson Cooper!




6. TED BAXTER (THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW)


Pompous, arrogant, bombastic and a constant irritant to his boss -- wait, didn't I just say that? Probably because Ted Baxter was the ultimate template for newsroom comedy, a precursor to every goofball news personality on later programs such as MURPHY BROWN, NEWSRADIO and HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER to films like ANCHORMAN and BRUCE ALMIGHTY. Ted Knight brought a true soul to this image-conscious money-grubbing news reader, and the depth he brought right away to the character led to later story lines centered around Ted meeting the love of his life, Georgette. 

…not to mention a new found love of knock-knock jokes!




5. DR. NILES CRANE (FRASIER)


Niles Crane defied typical sitcom convention. Generally speaking, when you have two siblings, you do your utmost to make them night and day, from lifestyles to occupations to personalities. But Niles and Frasier were both cut from the same cloth, which is more surprising considering how different they both were from their father. But similarities can lead to rivalries just like differences can, and there was always some jealousy on Niles' part due to Frasier's celebrity status (something that influenced the brother relationship on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND a few years later). David Hyde Pierce showed he was more than a match for Kelsey Grammar when it came to delivering a witty retort…

…and as for physical comedy, well, just watch this.




4. EDITH BUNKER (ALL IN THE FAMILY)


Here's where that rule-bending comes into play, as Edith Bunker is really a lead character. But it felt right to place her here, because there was no bigger support mechanism in the Bunker household than Edith. She was the voice of wisdom and reason in a contentious household, and even if she wasn't necessarily the smartest person in the room, she was usually the most understanding. 

Like Archie, she also came from a different generation where certain conservative and even bigoted thoughts were commonplace and acceptable. The difference was whenever she was confronted with these notions and views, she invariably accepted and even embraced that which might have been alien to her growing up, whether it be issues of race or sexual preference.

There are very few performances in the history of the medium -- be it comedy or even drama -- that can compare to what Jean Stapleton did with this role. I chose not to "pair" her with Archie in a later list, as I truly wanted Mrs. Bunker to stand on her own. For a generation of TV viewers, Archie may have been our embarrassing uncle, but Edith will always be our favorite aunt.



3. LOUIE DE PALMA (TAXI)


We've now reached one of the two decisions that proved to be the most gut wrenching for me. It came down to Reverend Jim Ignatowski and Louie De Palma. Both have a plethora of classic scenes and story lines devoted to their characters. Both were played by former residents of "the Cuckoo's Nest" who went on to even greater acclaim afterwards. And both were as unique and unconventional as any character one had ever seen on television at that time.

I chose Louie due to one simple reason: if Rev. Jim had never joined the Sunshine Cab Company, would TAXI still have been worth watching? Yes. Maybe it would've ended up a bit bland at times, but there was always enough "flavor" to go around at that grungy taxi depot in the city. But could there have been a show without Louie De Palma? I'm going to have to say no. He was often the antagonist, the opposing force, the biggest obstacle (for such a little guy) for Alex and the rest of the cabbies to overcome. You lose Louie, you lose the show. And THAT's why I picked Louie.

Also, while the "What does a yellow light mean" scene is a classic -- THIS is actually my all-time favorite moment from TAXI...




2. GEORGE COSTANZA (SEINFELD)


And here we have "Seinfeld's Choice", where one could make a case for Elaine, Kramer, or George. They each have their moments, from Elaine's jerky-jerky dance moves to Kramer's Merv Griffin Show decor.  But out of all Jerry's friends, and perhaps even more than Jerry himself, George is the engine that drives the funny train. He kicks off the "Master of Your Domain" contest (and supposedly wins); he's co-writes "Jerry" with Jerry; he deals with "shrinkage"; he pops the Bubble Boy's bubble; he has the greatest answering machine message since Jim Rockford; he beats Saul Goodman by almost 20 years when HE says "It's not a lie if you believe it"; and he saves a whale by removing a golf ball from its blowhole.


Here's a sparkling collection of his greatest hits. When you watch these all together, you'll see why George tops Elaine and Kramer. You still might disagree, not that there's anything wrong with that...




1. ED NORTON (THE HONEYMOONERS)


When I started putting this blog together, I had a list of sixty-seven names that I had to whittle down to fill twenty-five slots. I weighed several factors to rank them. Importance to the show, lasting impact on pop culture, quality of writing and performances…and the biggest one of all -- just how truly funny the character was. So shifting names between slots #25 and #2 took a little while…but the very first thing I did, the biggest no-brainer of them all, and remained that way even after submersing myself in photos and clips of practically everyone else -- was type #1 next to the name ED NORTON.

Sixty years later, the most famous sewer worker in America is still the platinum standard for sitcom excellence. So many wonderful and oft-quoted lines, so many graceful moves whether he was learning to dance, teaching a golf swing, sleepwalking or just eating a pizza. It's a credit to Jackie Gleason, himself a talent of immense proportions both figuratively and literally, that he always allowed ample room for Art Carney to shine and essentially steal almost every scene he was in.


On this list, the applicant is not a bum…he's the greatest "second banana" in TV comedy history

Here's a pair of classic moments to showcase why...



*     *     *     *     *

Whether you were revisiting fond memories of sitcoms past or learning about characters unbeknownst to you before now, I hope you enjoyed the first of two journeys through the history of television comedy. 

The next installment will snap back to drama, as I stack up the 25 Most Memorable Dramatic Leads of All Time, and the series will end with the Most Memorable Comedy Leads sometime after that.

This will be my 40th and final blog of 2013. For those of you who have read most, some, or just a few of them -- thanks making this more than just me rambling to myself. Have a happy new year! 

Till next time, keep your feet on the couch -- and keep reaching for the remote!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Not Just the Right-Hand Man or Woman: My 25 Most Memorable Dramatic Supporting Players on TV

Welcome to the first installment of my four-part series devoted to the most memorable characters in TV history. I'll be looking back over the past sixty years of television and selecting the heroes and villains, the gallant and the goofballs and all the others who left their mark not only on the pop culture landscape -- but on this most impressionable viewer as well.

A few things to mention before I begin:

#1. I lied. It's not going to be four top ten lists. It's going to be four top 25 lists. 
If it was good enough for BREAKING BAD, why not these four processionals of excellence? I'd rather give more candidates their just due than a paragraph's worth of honorable mentions. Although more than twice as much work, it seems to be a fairer way of going about things. Speaking of fair…

#2. Arbitrary rule time -- each TV series can only appear ONCE
That's right -- even if the series is a huge ensemble (and many great TV shows are just that) --  each series will only have ONE representative on each of these lists. Essentially, I steered closer to Senate rules instead of the House. So sue me if ya don't like it. And as far as such things are concerned…

#3. Opinions are like, oh, you know… 
You may agree with many of my choices or you may hate them. You may feel the order is all wrong, or that there's simply too many of your favorites missing. You may not like that I SAY a series can only have one representative, but it will soon be evident I'm guilty of breaking that very rule both on the list below as well as future ones.

That's all fine. It's expected. Hell, it's even desired. How many Best Of/Top 10/Top 100/All-Time lists do we comb through on the inter webs or in magazines that appear to have been compiled by chimpanzees armed with a fresh load of dung? Just to be sure, I ate half a bunch of bananas...

I can assure you that a few popular picks will not be here. In some instances, it's due to my lack of familiarity with the series (sorry DR. WHO fans). Other instances, I concluded that although I may like or even love a series, it doesn't mean it featured a character that cracked the list (deepest apologies to those who pine for TWIN PEAKS, soar with the crew of BSG or ride with the SONS OF ANARCHY).

With all that in mind, let's get on with it, shall we?

My 25 Most Memorable Dramatic Supporting Players on TV


25. NATHANIEL FISHER, SENIOR (SIX FEET UNDER)


Nate Fisher Senior dies at the very start of SIX FEET UNDER and proceeds to cast a shadow over his family until the very end, sporadically haunting each character. We eventually uncover secrets that didn't get buried along with this irascible son-of-a-bitch. But we see these skeletons unearthed by the people whose lives he touched. As a result, we learn even more about them


24. DCI GENE HUNT 
(ASHES TO ASHES and LIFE ON MARS, UK VERSION)


Gene Hunt is the anti-hero counterpoint to the tragically time displaced Sam Tyler and later Alex Drake. Boisterous and ribald, every scene with Hunt feels like a bull pawing the earth inside a china shop, and at any moment he could bring the house crashing down. We may have felt for the plight of Sam and Alex, but it's Gene that captured our attention and even our fancy in both series.



23. EVELYN "ANGEL" MARTIN (THE ROCKFORD FILES)


On this list you'll find heroes, anti-heroes and out-and-out villains. Angel Martin doesn't fall into any of those categories. He's a conniver, a liar, a con artist and something of a irredeemable scuzzball -- but he's not a villain. Angel's usually a hapless victim of his own selfish behavior, which has led to a number of guys in wide ties looking to break his scrawny little legs. It's almost inexplicable why Jim Rockford would continue to be friends with this man, but the bonds some men form in prison can last a lifetime.


22. ARVIN SLOANE (ALIAS)


Cold. Ruthless. Sinister. Obsessed. Horrible traits for an online dating profile, but perfect for a true villain, and there are few more so than Arvin Sloane. Instantly despicable and despised, we're later confronted with circumstances that actually make us feel sorry for this icy bastard. And then we go right back to hating him all over again…


21. ERIC NORTHMAN (TRUE BLOOD)


I'll be the first to say that TRUE BLOOD is a guilty pleasure on its best day, and it's become a show that I have often found myself wishing for a "Moldavian Massacre" moment to clean house of all the Bon Temps residents I find either tiresome or downright annoying. But if there's one truly compelling character, it's this extra tall drink of Nordic blood. A flaxen haired male vamp who gets all the good lines, who starts out as a villain and becomes heroic if not an actual hero -- sounds eerily familiar. We'll see the fanger who I believe was an inspiration for this bloodsucker later on…


20. DETECTIVE JOHN MUNCH 
(HOMICIDE: LIFE IN THE STREET, LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, LAW & ORDER: TRIAL BY JURY, LAW & ORDER, THE X-FILES, 
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, THE WIRE…)


Any character that's hopped from series to series, network to network, genre to genre…how can I not put him on the list? Hell, he was also on Sesame Street and The Simpsons…he was even mentioned on the great BBC series LUTHER! Who would have thought a character that started out as little more than existential comic relief on HOMICIDE would end up with more TV degrees of connections than Kevin Bacon? Fun trivia fact for TV fans -- John Munch was actually inspired by real-life detective Jay Landsman -- who was also the inspiration for a character (by the same name) on THE WIRE, and in fact appeared himself in a small recurring role on that series.


19. G'KAR and LONDO (BABYLON FIVE)


There are some duos that I simply cannot break up. Peanut Butter and Jelly. Bert and Ernie. G'Kar and Londo. It's a credit to both actors that the some of the most emotionally wrenching moments were done under layers of both cumbersome costumes and latex makeup. Over the five years of B5, the yin-yang relationship between these two opposing forces was often orbiting around the heart of the show. But it became the centerpiece for the second half of the final season, rescuing what had been shaping up as a an abysmal way for a once-great Sci-Fi show to finish up its run.


18. DR. ZACHARY SMITH (LOST IN SPACE)


Let's face it, LOST IN SPACE would have been completely forgettable if not for the gloriously goofy character of Doctor Zachary Smith. His turn from insidiously evil to hysterically craven coward helped fuel the Jupiter 2 for three seasons, even if much like the other castaways on the series, Harris' fellow cast mates were never thrilled that it soon became "all about Smith".


17. TOBY ZIEGLER (THE WEST WING)


Here we have the first of several "Yeah, I like that one…but why didn't you pick--?" There were a other worthwhile candidates from THE WEST WING: C.J. Gregg, Sam Seaborn…even Josh Lyman. But I have to go with the character I had the most kinship with in that White House, and I don't mean the one I bore the most resemblance to, smart-asses. The bone dry sense of humor, the ever-present sadness that was instilled in this avid Yankee fan and reformed Jew from his turbulent childhood in Brooklyn. A hardcore cynic as well as an eternal idealist, Toby gets my vote.


16. VIOLET CRAWLEY, DOWAGER COUNTESS OF GRANTHAM 
(DOWNTON ABBEY)


It's wonderful that the character who injects the most life in what might otherwise be a stodgy and soapy update of UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS…is also the oldest. Imminently quotable, Violet may not always be right (despite what she says to the contrary), but you can count on the Countess to make the most cutting and uproarious comments in the room. Which brings me to...


15. ROGER STERLING (MAD MEN)


Toughest choice so far. Up until five minutes ago, the name following number seventeen was Peggy Olson. But Peggy is more a lead than a supporting player, and while I was sorely tempted to then select Pete Campbell…I again chose the person who always get the best lines (as well as the best gifs). Don Draper may have mocked the book "Sterling's Gold", but Roger's hair and tongue are silver, dropping dialogue that's often comedic gold or at least sadly insightful. Wit and wisdom indeed…


14. SHANE VENDRELL and 13. BOYD CROWDER
    (THE SHIELD)                        (JUSTIFIED)


Instead of the eye-roll-inducing sub-channel FXX, FX should be developing a network based solely around Walton Goggins. The series-long arc for corrupt cop Shane Vendrell on THE SHIELD crackles with intensity. A journey that grew darker from season to season, and by the end, the saga of Shane Vendrell stayed with me for days, weeks, even years later...

…and despite all the scenery-chomping guest stars and bit players on JUSTIFIED, no one snatches a scene away from Boyd Crowder. Early on, I thought the writers were unsure where the character was heading, but that was simply Boyd seeking his chosen path. The leads may be the engines in these FX series, but it's Goggins who brings the high octane gas.



12. RICHARD HARROW (BOARDWALK EMPIRE)


A man of few words and even less face, Richard Harrow quickly became a fan favorite. Harrow left his soul on the battlefield to return initially as hollow a shell as his mask. The fact that his deeply rooted sorrow is so clearly conveyed despite half his visage garishly covered as well as having to speak in a mechanical monotone -- one hopes the actor Jack Huston will get more work outside of those Guinness TV spots. He does have a nice little part in AMERICAN HUSTLE, which was fun to see. He's also the late great John Huston's grandson, so there's that


11. DR. WALTER BISHOP (FRINGE)


FRINGE was a mythology heavy, dark and twisted hodgepodge of science fiction and speculative science theories. The clear descendant of classic series like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE X-FILES, it dealt in conspiracy theories, alternate realities and dystopian futures. But there was one ingredient that made it palatable to its cult following: Dr. Walter Bishop. Few characters in the history of the television medium have been so comically tragic/tragically comic as this LSD loving mad scientist. Off screen, the real tragedy is John Noble never receiving a single Emmy nomination.


10. DARYL DIXON (THE WALKING DEAD)


The Robert Kirkman comic book series has been one of the most popular TV adaptations of all time, but fans of the original four panel adventures have had a myriad of issues with the deviations from the source material. Not so much plot alterations (acceptable) as much as the weakening and watering down of characters (unacceptable -- look no further than Andrea). But all agree that the best TV decision was the creation of Daryl Dixon. How a squirrel-hunting redneck became the most beloved of all the survivors is almost entirely due to the soft-spoken charisma of Norman Reedus. I do wonder just how many arrows he has, since I don't see how he can possibly retrieve ALL of them...


9. SPIKE (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL)


I've mentioned heroes, anti-heroes and villains. Spike is one of the few who's gotten the chance to be all of them. When he wore the black hat (figuratively -- this isn't Heisenberg we're talking about here), he was probably the best liked villain of any Joss Whedon show (and tell me you don't see a smudge of Spike in THE AVENGERS version of Loki). With a sardonic sense of humor as lethal as his incisors, and just as susceptible to the tribulations of unrequited love as any sappy mortal…Spike is just cool as fuck. Hmm…sound familiar? (*cough* see number 21 *cough*)


8. TYRION LANNISTER (GAME OF THRONES)


Hurl a stone in any direction from any spot in Westeros, Winterfall or the Wall - and you're likely to pelt yet another colorful supporting player in the intricate tapestry of GAME OF THRONES. But the Half-Man is still twice the person as anyone else in this epic tale. Brilliant, calculating…but never plunging to the inhuman depths of the rest of his kin, Tyrion's easily the most likable of the Lannisters (though Jamie may have won a few fans during his arduous journey of the past season). Dinklage doesn't just make what could have been a preposterous character believable, he makes us care about him.


7. LIVIA SOPRANO (THE SOPRANOS)


There has been a lot of terrible mothers on television over the years. Those that can be debated, like every mom on any AMC drama or Gemma from SONS OF ANARCHY. And there are those MINOs (mothers in name only) that are without question simply awful, such as Brenda's mom on SIX FEET UNDER, Namond's mama on THE WIRE and Gillian Darmody on BOARDWALK EMPIRE. But the true queen of maternal toxicity will always be Tony Soprano's mother, a martyr with murder in her heart. One need only think of the words "Poor you" to sum up their relationship. Knowing that creator David Chase based this character on his own mother -- jeez, what was that childhood like?


6. VERN SCHILLNGER (OZ) 



I preferred to pick a character that made it from the first season to the last, and since OZ racked up a death toll that would make George R. R. Martin blush, that eliminated many prisoners (not to mention employees, correctional officers and visitors). I also wanted it to be someone who inspired a strong reaction in the audience. And of all the characters on OZ, the one fans loved to hate more than any other was Vern Schillinger. The escalating violence between Schillinger and Tobias Beecher and their extended families was riveting and horrifying season after season. This white supremacist's evil may not have taken on global proportions, but for a while he had a strong claim on the worst villain in TV history. Until some kid in Westeros took the throne, that is.



5. AL SWEARENGEN (DEADWOOD)


By the third and maddeningly final season of DEADWOOD, Al Swearengen had travelled a fairly short distance from villain to…let's say frenemy. But was he a villain? He's a small businessman, running his own saloon and and offering companionship services. He's a concerned citizen, monitoring the comings and goings from his terrace. He's a community leader, heading up a council and distributing political power and responsibility to fellow Deadwood residents. Al Swearengen is all of those things. He also happens to be a scheming murderous control freak who uses the word "cocksucker" the way an obsessive-compulsive uses hand sanitizer -- liberally, frequently and downright excessively. Yeah, guess he was a bit villainous after all…plus a big ol' potty mouth.



4. JESSE PINKMAN (BREAKING BAD)




With all this talk of tragedy, it was only a matter of time before Jesse turned up, as only a small handful of characters on TV have experienced the levels of physical and emotional torture that Mister Pinkman undergoes over the course of the two year time line that encapsulates BREAKING BAD. As it becomes more and more evident that Walter White has lost himself in his own ego-fueled quagmire of immorality, Jesse becomes the true heart of the story, despite the fact he is both a drug dealer and manufacturer who makes his own series of questionable choices leading to even worse behavior and consequences. But that's the life of being a playa, bitch.


3. BENJAMIN LINUS (LOST)


Sure, I could have gone with one of the castaways on that mysterious Island like Sawyer, Locke, Hurley or even Desmond. But the most compelling person on that magical lump of land was also one of the more longtime residents. As machiavellian as they come, Benjamin Linus is the perpetrator of so much truly awful things, it's amazing one can feel a drop of sympathy when it later becomes evident that it was all for naught. But in the beautiful coalescence of excellent writing and sublime acting, by the time we reach the series finale, not only do we actually like Ben, we're actively rooting for him to complete his redemptive journey back to humanity.


2. MR. SPOCK (STAR TREK)


Without a doubt, he's the most recognizable and downright iconic character on this list. The only question was whether Spock a supporting player or not. Thankfully, Leonard Nimoy was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Emmy all three years the original series ran on the air, which made this determination much easier for me. No offense to any incarnation of Superman or  any other Sci-Fi series, but Spock was the coolest alien ever on television. His impact has continued to reverberate through every subsequent Trek series, cartoon, book and film, and his catchphrases have been forever etched into the pop culture landscape. But it's the relationship between Spock, Kirk and Bones that was at the heart of that series, and that has not been replicated since. More than simply chemistry, the trio had a special indefinable something that just clicked when they were in a scene together. It may be highly illogical, but it's a fact.

I just realized that Nimoy made the list, but Shatner's Denny Crane didn't. Guess the Shat got the Shaft. And while we're on the topic of one bad motherfu--


1. OMAR LITTLE (THE WIRE)


No offense to fans of GAME OF THRONES, LOST or THE SOPRANOS, but above all other television series, THE WIRE features the ensemble to end all ensembles. And in the midst of several stunning and searing performances, no one stands out more than Michael K. Williams' Omar Little. Omar encompasses a huge range of emotions and shadings, from quietly powerful to explosively deadly. He's cautious and clever, funny and stone-cold serious, and he's about as hardcore bad-ass as they have ever come. Sure, he's a criminal, but he has a sense of nobility and righteousness that even many of the cops don't possess. 


After all, a man's got to have a code




*     *     *     *     * 

Based on how long this took to put together, and realizing I'm slated to do three more, I need to scale back my original plan of pumping these all out by the New Year. That's just crazy talk. I will try my best to get them done over the next week to ten days. All I can definitively promise is the next one will cover comedic supporting players, meaning the final two will be the lead performers in both genres.

Till next time, keep your feet on the couch -- and keep reaching for the remote...