The Top 10 Supporting Characters On TV Now (And the 5 Best From Series On Hiatus)
By Rachel Bennett
Television Editor & Columnist
Of all the top 10 lists I compiled so far, this one is undoubtedly the most difficult for me.
Choosing the best supporting characters on TV is not an easy task because there are too many fantastic second-hand roles out there. Writers no longer just focus on the lead. Instead, they’re learning to flesh out the supporting players to make series even better, and in several cases, these parts and the actors who fill them steal every scene.
This list, however, is more about the characters than the actors — these roles are already so colorful on the page that you can’t ignore them.
But as I said, I stressed over this list, so I couldn’t limit it to just 10. Here are the 10 best characters on TV right now and the five best from series on hiatus:
The 10 best characters on TV right now:
10. Caroline Forbes, The CW’s The Vampire Diaries
Those who watch The Vampire Diaries know the focus is mostly on the men of the series: Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley) and Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder). Sure, they’re nice to look at, but the best supporting character to Nina Dobrev‘s lead Elena is her best friend Caroline (Candice Accola). Caroline began as a superficial, flighty character, but once she turned into a vampire in season two, she grew into so much more. She found her confidence and her true self in what was supposed to be a curse, unexpectedly becoming a major player in the series’ proceedings. But not matter how serious situations get, what I love best about Caroline is that she never loses her optimism or humor.
9. Nolan Ross, ABC’s Revenge
Revenge was my favorite new broadcast series of 2011 (Showtime’s Homeland being the best new show of any channel, naturally), and many would probably consider Madeleine Stowe‘s villainous Victoria Grayson a more worthy character for this list. Though hers is definitely a fantastic role, I instead picked Emily’s (Emily VanCamp) sidekick Nolan (Gabriel Mann). It’s been obvious from the beginning that Victoria would be a major factor in the series, but Nolan came almost out of nowhere. He turned from a slightly annoying billionaire into my favorite part of the show, acting as the only person who knows who Emily/Amanda really is — humanizing her when needed. He’s also handy with gadgets and clever one-liners, which doesn’t hurt.
8. Schmidt, Fox’s New Girl
When New Girl premiered in 2011, the spotlight was on Zooey Deschanel and her “adorkable” character Jess. The three supporting guys with whom she lives initially seemed there to solely highlight her, but roommate Schmidt (Max Greenfield) quickly stole the show. The quirkiness of Jess got old soon after the premiere, but the shallowness of Schmidt was the gift that kept on giving — and it still does. The series has since evolved Jess, Nick (Jake Johnson) and Winston (Lamorne Morris), but Schmidt kept the show afloat until it did. His unexpectedly sweet relationship with Cece (Hannah Simone) was also a highlight of the first season, and I hope the two can find their way back to each other soon.
7. Alex Kerkovich, ABC’s Happy Endings
Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) may not be as consistently funny as Jane (Eliza Coupe) or Penny (Casey Wilson) throughout Happy Endings run so far, but she’s definitely the most improved. Instead of being just half of a potential couple with Dave (Zachary Knighton), as she was in season one, she became more dimensional in season two. Now, she’s clueless yet lovable and all-around hilarious — especially when she sounds like Rhett Butler.
6. Saul Berenson, Showtime’s Homeland
It hurts me to put Saul (Mandy Patinkin) at No. 6, but the competition is just too tough. Nevertheless, Saul is the unsung hero of Homeland. Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) are flashier roles, but Saul is the anchor that steadies the action. He’s also largely the heart of the series, as we see his marriage crumbling in season one despite his best intentions to save it and watch him looking after Carrie as a father would his daughter — even when she makes huge mistakes. The writers wisely ruled out a romance between the two early on in the show, so we thankfully don’t have to worry about that. I am, however, concerned Saul could be the mole — but he wouldn’t do that, right … ?
5. Troy Barnes and Abed Nadir, NBC’s Community
Okay, Community may not be on the air, but it should be and will premiere someday (fingers crossed). I also know Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) are two characters, but they’re pretty much attached at the hip. Anyway, my favorite Community moments usually involve them, especially their hilarious morning program. The comedy may center on Jeff (Joel McHale), but Troy and Abed add a needed sweetness to the series that the other characters lack. Part of growing up, after all, is about figuring out how to be a kid at heart even when you have to deal with adult situations, and Troy and Abed are nothing if not kids at heart. They make me want to build a pillow and blanket fort, and not many characters can do that.
4. Kalinda Sharma, CBS’s The Good Wife
Even though Kalinda’s (Archie Panjabi) storyline has been a bit flat in the fourth season of The Good Wife (her husband needs to take a hike), she and her “boots of justice” are usually the most entertaining aspect of each hour. As an investigator for law firm Lockhart-Gardner, she’s smart, tough and gets what she wants. If she had her own show, it would probably be similar to ABC’s Revenge. She can also wield a sledgehammer like nobody’s business. What’s always made Kalinda so intriguing is her mysteriousness and unwillingness to share information about her past, which may be why the present season is a bit frustrating. Regardless, she’s evidence that Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) isn’t the only powerful female worthy of attention on the legal drama.
3. Daryl Dixon, AMC’s The Walking Dead
Ah, my not-so-sweet Daryl (Norman Reedus). The character isn’t in the comic books, but am I sure glad he’s in the series. When The Walking Dead wasn’t exactly worth watching at the onset of its second season, he provided one of the only reasons to tune in. I know we’re supposed to root for leader Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), but if you had to put a gun to my head, I’d choose Daryl over Rick any day. Though Daryl began his stint on the zombie drama as a racist jerk, he surprisingly transformed into a somewhat sensitive inspiration for the group (Remember when he gave Carol a Cherokee Rose?). Not only that, but he is also sharp with a crossbow and enough of a badass to ride a motorcycle with zombies walking around. In short, he’s awesome.
2. Ron Swanson, NBC’s Parks and Recreation
Ron F***ing Swanson. The character, played by Nick Offerman, may be a man of few words, but he says more with his eyebrows than any other character on TV. He’s also every brunette woman’s dream: He can grill a mean steak, loves powerful women and adores Li’l Sebastian (But then again, who doesn’t?). Though Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) is the star of Parks and Recreation, she wouldn’t be anything without Ron. The writers realized this in season two, using him as her foil to make Leslie a little more human. But the relationship is mutual. He brings her back down to earth, whereas she brings out the sweetness in him. After four seasons, the show is almost as much about him as it is about her.
1. Violet Crawley aka The Dowager Countess, Masterpiece Theater’s Downton Abbey
Technically, the third season of Downton Abbey isn’t airing in the U.S., but it’s currently running in the UK. The popular British soap features several wonderful characters, but none of them come close to the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith). Her razor sharp one-liners, with the help of Smith, allow her to easily steal every — and I mean every — scene she’s in. The third season will see her competing with Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), Cora’s mother, for the spotlight, but I’m not too worried about how she’ll fare. The only thing I’m concerned about is if she’ll be around for season four — Downton wouldn’t be the same without her snark and criticism.
The five best supporting characters from series on hiatus:
5. Lilly and Jane, FX’s Louie
Louie’s (Louis C.K.) daughters may not be in every episode of the comedy, but the series wouldn’t be what it is without them. Numerous storylines revolve around Louie as a father and the situations he gets into because of them (like the women he meets through their school). But no matter what or how many women Louie loses, his kids (Hadley Delany and Ursula Parker) are the constant in his life. They’re also the most naturalistic children on TV (their moments are not improvised), and are responsible for some of the best moments of the show. Sadly, we won’t get more of Louie or his daughters until 2014.
4. Shoshanna Shapiro, HBO’s Girls
According to Girls creator Lena Dunham, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) wasn’t supposed to be on the comedy for long. I’m glad she changed her mind. By the end of the first season, Shoshanna was my (and many of my friends’) favorite character on the series. Her earnestness and naïveté are a refreshing departure from the cynicism and borderline arrogance of the other three “girls,” and I like her so much that when became upset because she wore white to a wedding, I felt a little sorry for her. Additionally, her cocaine high is easily the funniest sequence from season one. I can’t wait to see where season two, which premieres in January, takes her.
3. Tyrion Lannister, HBO’s Game of Thrones
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) became more of a lead in the second season of Game of Thrones, but since he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Emmys, I’ll consider him as such. Though the other characters see his dwarfism as a undesirable quality, Tyrion doesn’t let it get him down. Instead, he uses his intellect and cleverness to get the better of people. Not only is Tyrion a fantastic character on the drama, but he’s a wonderful and landmark character for actors who are little people.
2. Joan Harris, AMC’s Mad Men
When Mad Men began in 2007, I honestly wasn’t crazy about Joan (Christina Hendricks). She was bossy, rude and pretty unlikable. It’s hard to believe I’m talking about the same Joan as that of season five, as she’s grown into a mesmerizing character. Her confidence captures everyone’s attention, including the audience’s, and even the enigmatic Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is no match for her charms. At the same time, she can be a devastatingly complex character, as she often doesn’t get what she deserves — or she gets it but with consequences. Now that she’s a partner at the ad agency (RIP Lane), it’ll only be more fun to see her on screen.
1. Jesse Pinkman, AMC’s Breaking Bad
Jesse (Aaron Paul) is not just the best supporting character offscreen at the moment; he’s the best current supporting character, period. It’s hard to believe Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan planned to kill Jesse off at the end of the first season because he’s since become the heart of the drama. Whereas Walter White (Bryan Cranston) pretty much lost all of his morals to the meth business, Jesse continues to deepen and become more likable as the show progresses. He’s the only character who can expose whatever humanity “Mr. White” has left. I don’t know what Gilligan has in store for Jesse as the program comes to a close next summer, and I’m guessing it’s not pretty, but I’m holding out with the slight hope he’ll make it out alive.
What do you think of these supporting characters? Let me know in the comments below!
Tags: Aaron Paul, AMC, Amy Poehler, Andrew Lincoln, Archie Panjabi, Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston, Candice Accola, Casey Wilson, CBS, Christina Hendricks, Claire Danes, Community, Damian Lewis, Danny Pudi, Donald Glover, Downton Abbey, Elisha Cuthbert, Eliza Coupe, Emily VanCamp, FX, Gabriel Mann, Game of Thrones, Girls, Hadley Delany, Hannah Simone, Happy Endings, HBO, Homeland, Ian Somerhalder, Jake Johnson, Joel McHale, Jon Hamm, Julianna Margulies, Lamorne Morris, Lena Dunham, Louie, Louis C.K., Mad Men, Madeleine Stowe, Maggie Smith, Mandy Patinkin, Masterpiece Theater, Max Greenfield, NBC, New Girl, Nick Offerman, Nina Dobrev, Norman Reedus, Parks and Recreation, Paul Wesley, Peter Dinklage, Revenge, Shirley MacLaine, The CW, The Good Wife, The Vampire Diaries, The Walking Dead, Ursula Parker, Vince Gilligan, Zachary Knighton, Zooey Deschanel, Zosia Mamet