Supporting roles in TV-shows – As important as the main characters?

Sure, what would ‘The Sopranos’ be without James Gandolfini? Would ‘Breaking Bad’ have made it to 5 seasons if it hadn’t been for the amazing job Bryan Cranston has done with the main character of Walter White? Could anyone else have pulled off the role of Luther as good as Idris Elba did in the self-titled show?

1. (Probably not much)
2. (Absolutely not)
3. (No)

If a TV show lacks a believable lead character, chances are it won’t make it past a pilot, let alone a season. You can probably add a few adjectives to the last sentence. Sympathetic, likable, interesting, complex… They’re not all definite. I do love ‘Breaking Bad’ and Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of Walter White, however I do not find his character very sympathetic or likable. Interesting however? Very much so.

However, for me to really enjoy a TV show, there needs to be other ingredients at work in the recipe as well. It can’t all be meat. You need the gravy, the red wine and your vegetables as well. This is where the supporting cast comes in, and the characters (and casting of them) are essential. I’ve already written about some of my favorite supporting roles in TV shows here.

Here are a couple of characters I feel really contributes to their respective TV show:


Mike – ‘Breaking Bad’

played by Jonathan Banks

Jonathan Banks literally kicked ass in 'Breaking Bad'
Jonathan Banks literally kicked ass in ‘Breaking Bad’

Showed up at the end of season 2, and quickly became one of my favorite characters on the show. Stone cold killer with a coolness and sense of old school gangster about him that gave a new dimension to the show. Whereas most of the bad guys in the show up until this point had been young drug dealers, Mike was instantly on par with his co-actors with his deep voice and calm presence. Continuing on my food analogy, Mike would definitely have been the gravy.
Mike was also in one of the funniest scenes from the show, as he and Walter completely ignores Jesse’s attempt of suggesting the use of magnets for one of their little, umm… side projects:


Alice Morgan – ‘Luther’

played by Ruth Wilson

Ruth Wilson was brilliant in the critically acclaimed 'Luther'
Ruth Wilson was brilliant in the critically acclaimed ‘Luther’

In the pilot episode of ‘Luther’, one of the most interesting relationships in modern TV is formed; that of Luther and Alice Morgan. With her parents found dead, Alice is brought in for questioning, and boom… magic happens. Idris Elba is brilliant as Luther, but Alice Morgan is the red wine, the gravy and quite possibly the vegetables as well in this masterpiece of a TV show. Ok, I’ll stop with the food analogies now.


Doug Stamper – House of Cards

played by Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly important both for Kevin Spacey's character and the TV show itself in 'House of Cards'
Michael Kelly was important both for Kevin Spacey’s character and the TV show itself in ‘House of Cards’

Although possibly slightly overrated, ‘House of Cards’ was/is still a very good show, with Kevin Spacey in a role pretty much perfect for him. Robin Wright is impressive in her role as well, but to me Michael Kelly was one of, if not THE most, impressive bit players in the show’s first season (I have yet to see the second season). Michael Kelly is made for these roles – the business/agent type – and he still shone despite being in the presence of the brilliant Kevin Spacey. An honorable mention also to Corey Stoll as Peter Russo who did an exceptional job as well.
In addition to these, here are a few personal favorites from other TV-shows. Some as part of the main cast (though not lead character), some in smaller parts.


Rachel Menken in ‘Mad Men’ – played by Maggie Siff

– One of the first women that challenged Don Draper. Loved her on the show, and she was one of the reasons I started watching ‘Sons of Anarchy’, where she was especially impressive in her final scene of season 5.


Sloan in ‘The Newsroom’ – played by Olivia Munn

– Socially awkard and brutally intelligent in her field. Together with Thomas Sadoski as Don Keefer quite possibly the most interesting and funny characters of the show.


Rebecca Halliday in ‘The Newsroom’ – played by Marcia Gay Harden

– Marcia Gay Harden didn’t have too much screen time, but she is always a great addition to any cast, as she was to ‘The Newsroom’ when she entered the TV show in its second season.


Pamela in ‘Louie’ – played by Pamela Adlon

– The chemistry between Louis C.K. and Pamela is amazing. Some of the best scenes of the show are the ones with the two of them together.


Chris Sanchez in ‘Damages’/Reese Lansing in ‘The Newsroom’ – both played by Chris Messina

I like Chris Messina. He’s got something. He can perfectly well play an asshole, but is equally good as one of the good guys. Did a great job on ‘Damages’ – as most of the supporting cast in that wonderful TV show – and I always enjoy his smugness as Reese Lansing in ‘The Newsroom’.



Which supporting characters are your favorites?

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