Entertainment

24 TV Characters That Shined Beyond Their Supporting Roles

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These characters couldn’t be contained in the box reserved for backup players…

Better Call Saul is finally coming to a close, essentially concluding another chapter in the Breaking Bad universe and potentially forcing Jimmy McGill’s fast-talking yet lovable criminal lawyer to face the music.


AMC / High Bridge Entertainment

Yet, not every standout supporting character in television has had a chance to headline their own spin-off, despite getting over with their audiences in an organic and substantial fashion. With this in mind, I’ve assembled 24 of television’s most mesmerizing supporting performers who went above and beyond the limits normally afforded to those operating largely on the sidelines.

1.

Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) on The Walking Dead


Collection Christophel / AMC Film Holdings LLC / Alamy

Parlaying boyish optimism into an emotional journey that ended in the show’s most shocking moment, Steven Yeun exuded a major star quality in this supporting role that he has since shown in films like Minari, Mayhem, and The Humans.

2.

Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) on Stranger Things


Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

In the break between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of Stranger Things 4, fans of this sci-fi sensation were incredibly vocal in their concern for the fate of Steve Harrington, a character that evolved from an obnoxious small-town pretty boy to the centerpiece of the series’ most endearing redemption story.

3.

Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) on Buffy the Vampire Slayer


20th Century Fox Film Corp. / Courtesy Everett Collection.

In addition to her scene-stealing comedic performances in American Pie and How I Met Your Mother, Alyson Hannigan cemented her stardom among geek culture through her stellar, multi-faceted role as best friend-turned-volatile-witch, Willow, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

4.

Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) on Boardwalk Empire


HBO / Alamy

Jack Huston brought a metric ton of empathy, nobility, and inner turmoil to the morally driven gangster in a star-making performance which led to high-profile roles in House of Gucci, Ben-Hur, and American Hustle.

5.

Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza) on Legion


FX / Courtesy Everett Collection

Aubrey Plaza may have been a star on the big and small screen prior to her enigmatic and occasionally terrifying turn on Legion, but her performance on this show demonstrated an undeniable energy and range that redefined the oft-understated performer.

6.

Coach McGuirk (H. John Benjamin) on Home Movies

View this video on YouTube


Burns & Burns Productions / Fremantle / Via youtube.com

You may recognize his voice from Archer and Bob’s Burgers, but H. John Benjamin made one hell of an impression earlier in his career by anchoring this hysterical cult series as the frequently disheveled gym coach that attempts to dish out his own terrible brand of encouragement and wisdom to his students.

7.

Kareem Said (Eamonn Walker) on Oz


Alamy / The Levinson/Fontana Company / HBO Original Programming

In a show filled with powerful performances, Eamonn Walker’s reserved voice of reason in a concrete nightmare was incredibly captivating, especially when juxtaposed against the chaos of the more venomous and violent storylines surrounding the other characters.

8.

Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor) on The Larry Sanders Show


Alamy / Partners with Boundaries Productions / HBO Entertainment / Brillstein-Grey Entertainment

While the actor’s legacy on television will always be complicated by his personal actions during his time on Transparent, it’s hard not to see his work as the hapless blowhard sidekick to Larry Sanders as chief among the definitive supporting performance of ’90s TV comedies.

9.

Owen Sharma (Rahul Kohli) on The Haunting of Bly Manor


Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

Horror television rarely gets the proper recognition when it comes to its performances, but Rahul Kohli was nothing short of spellbinding as the ill-fated emotional anchor of Mike Flanagan’s chilling limited series.

10.

Proinsias Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) on Preacher


Skip Bolen / AMC / Courtesy Everett Collection

Playing the resident vampire of this absurd adaptation of Garth Ennis and Steven Dillon’s R-rated graphic novel, Joseph Gilgun stood out among a very capable ensemble by emphasizing the charm, pathos, and humanity within a literally inhuman character.

11.

Whiterose (BD Wong) on Mr. Robot


USA Network / Courtesy Everett Collection

Embodying the coldest and most calculating manifestation of heartbreak-ridden revenge, BD Wong crafted one of the most compelling and enigmatic TV villains in recent memory.

12.

Opie Winston (Ryan Hurst) on Sons of Anarchy


FX Networks / Courtesy Everett Collection

From his humble beginnings to his soul-crushing end, Sons of Anarchy‘s most tragic supporting character established Ryan Hurst as a must-see talent and an in-demand performer who continued to stun on the small screen in Bates Motel, Outsiders, The Walking Dead, and Bosch.

13.

Kang Sae-byeok (HoYeon Jung) on Squid Game


Alamy / Netflix / Moviestore Collection Ltd.

Squid Game skyrocketed a number of Korean performers into the global limelight, but few were able to command the screen as well as HoYeon Jung as the savage yet selfless North Korean defector Kang Sae-byeok.

14.

Stevie Janowski (Steve Little) on Eastbound & Down


Gary Sanchez Productions / Rough House Pictures / HBO

If you want to know a true testament to Steve Little’s talent, it’s probably that this writer has never laughed so hard while simultaneously feeling so much sympathy and shame for laughing as he has at Eastbound & Down‘s go-to whipping boy, Stevie Janowski.

15.

Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) on Ozark


Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

In her breakout performance, Julia Garner’s two-time Emmy-winning turn as Ruth Langmore went from stealing scenes to becoming the can’t-miss presence that keeps you glued to the screen.

16.

The Creature (Rory Kinnear) on Penny Dreadful


Showtime Networks / Courtesy Everett Collection

Penny Dreadful has a murderer’s row of incredible performers throughout its cast, but Rory Kinnear was the MVP with his internally conflicted and occasionally blood-soaked performance as Frankenstein’s Monster.

17.

Judy Gemstone (Edi Patterson) on The Righteous Gemstones


HBO / Rough House Pictures / Fred Norris / Prod DB / Alamy

Edi Patterson has been the comedy world’s secret weapon for a number of years, but after her attention-grabbing turn on Vice Principals, she was rightfully given the time to shine as the crude and ambitious daughter of the Gemstone family.

18.

Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) on Succession

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Gary Sanchez Productions / HBO / Via youtube.com

From the power struggle in his marriage to his Stockholm Syndrome-esque relationship with Cousin Greg to his desperate posturing with his father-in-law, Matthew Macfadyen’s worm-like performance as Tom Wambsgans makes for some of the funniest and, honestly, most shocking moments on the whole series, if not television in general.

19.

Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) on Billions


Jeff Neumann / Showtime Networks /Courtesy Everett Collection

After bursting onto the second season of Billions like a force of nature, Asia Kate Dillon has continued to amaze with her confident and selfless performance as the mercurial Taylor Mason.

20.

Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) on Lost


Alamy / Bad Robot

Initially hired for a small arc as a random member of “The Others,” Michael Emerson quickly demonstrated that he was in a league of his own, ultimately becoming *the* TV staple that you could love to hate and eventually shaping his energy and attitude to similarly deceitful characters on Person of Interest and Evil.

21.

Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) on The Wire


Alamy / Blown Deadline Productions / HBO Entertainment

The Wire had multiple iconic characters, from McNulty to Bubbles to Stringer Bell, to name a few, but none felt as critical and beloved as stick-up man Omar Little, which elevated the late Michael K. Williams into a welcome favorite who would effortlessly steal scenes for the likes of Spike Lee, Antoine Fuqua, Todd Solondz, and Paul Thomas Anderson, to name a few.

22.

Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) on The Golden Girls


Alamy / Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions

There may have been no weak links among the core cast of The Golden Girls, but every Golden Girls fan understands exactly why the show would lean further and further into the sharp-tongued Sophia Petrillo’s story in later seasons.

23.

Leon Black (JB Smoove) on Curb Your Enthusiasm

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HBO Entertainment / Via youtube.com

Curb Your Enthusiasm is largely kept afloat by its great supporting cast, from the late Bob Einstein to Susie Essman to Richard Lewis, but JB Smoove’s Leon Black essentially hijacked the show with every one of his appearances and became an integral part of the show’s DNA.

24.

Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) on Game of Thrones


HBO Entertainment / Alamy / Television 360

Has there ever been a TV actor who has done so much with so little? Though his tenure on Game of Thrones was short-lived, Pedro Pascal’s memorable turn as “The Red Viper” took his career to the next level, including a leading part in Narcos, the titular character on The Mandalorian, and substantial roles in the Kingsman, Equalizer, and DCEU franchises.

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