I decided to make a list of the greatest recurring characters of all time. If you are wondering what my criteria for this is (and why wouldn’t you be), I am referring to characters who are not in a TV show as a main character yet have appeared in a number of episodes but not all of them (less than 50%), I am however excluding guest actors or actors who have only appeared in a grouping of episodes. I initially intended this to be a list across all genres but as I wrote down the names that I felt deserved to be on the list... they were all from comedy shows. I think this may stem from the fact that dramas do not lend themselves to strong non-starring characters the way that comedies do. The list is in no particular order:
For me the ultimate recurring character is Newman. Every other recurring character must look up to Newman as their god because when he got his screen time he made the most of it and became a legend because of it.
Newman the fat, curly haired, associate of Kramer, arch nemesis of Jerry and deliverer of mail, what can’t this man do? The Newman episodes of Seinfeld always felt a little bit extra special because you knew that some crazy Newman sketch (usually with Kramer) was going to unfold and very rarely did they disappoint.
For me Newman is the fifth member of Seinfeld and is the third best character, which is a massive compliment to a character that only showed up in about 8 episodes a season.
Really you could write an article about the whole of Springfield being amazing recurring characters, but I decided to limit it to the best one and for me that is Abe ‘Grampa’ Simpson.
The kooky old senior citizen who is loved (sort of) by the Simpson family as he shuffles around and gets confused by every day events (much like all old people, or so I’ve heard). It is hard to imagine the Simpsons without Grampa Simpson because although he isn’t a major character, he is such an integral part of the Springfield experience that without him the show wouldn’t be the same.
It helps that The Simpsons have gotten the Grampa character spot on in terms of what many old people are like (he reminds me of my grandfather in many ways) and that, as well as the fact that he is very inadvertently funny, makes him a great character.
Super Hans the drug addled friend of Jez from Peep Show, and the man who makes drug taking look cool and sexy (when apparently... it is not). Like many great recurring characters Super Hans' main purpose is to get into crazy schemes and situations with one of the main cast.
There isn’t really much that you can say about Super Hans that I haven’t really said, but he is and lives the life that many people wish they could (being a layabout with no responsibilities) and does so with style, he is the embodiment of cool.
The first of many appearances from a 30 Rock character! Dennis Duffy, the loser ex-boyfriend of Liz Lemon, who as much as she tries will not leave her alone, is a well-deserved entrant on the list.
Dennis pops up from time to time (much to the distaste of Liz) showing that even losers can make themselves a career as an entrepreneur. Dennis portrays that one person in everyone’s life, that as much as you try to get rid of them, they just keep coming back and it really is a pain in the tits.
Now, I know what you are thinking (because I can read minds), what Satan is this you are referring to? Well, first off... how kind of you to ask and secondly, I am, of course, talking about the Satan from South Park (not the one who talks to the Walton’s).
It is funny to think that when you imagine what Satan would be like, you think of him being big, red, and one mean bastard. You look at South Park’s Satan and he is big (tick), red (tick) and a pansy homosexual who is bossed about by his lovers (wait, what?). That is what makes Satan in South Park so great; he just isn’t what you’d think of when you imagine what a cartoon Satan would be.
A large proportion of the episodes that Satan appears in also include Saddam Hussein (who doesn’t love Saddam [South Park’s Saddam not the real one]) and it is possibly the greatest homosexual relationship in television history!
Not an obvious name on the list when you first look at it, but Bebe Glazer is Frasier’s agent in, well, Frasier. It is always interesting when the ambitious Bebe shows up in an episode of Frasier because you know that she will be using her powers of seduction to once again entrap Frasier in her web.
There was that one weird episode where the agent-client relationship between Frasier and Bebe get a little too close and they end up bumping uglies much to the distress of everyone (Frasier included).
The arch nemesis and sometimes colleague of Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock, portrayed by the brilliant Will Arnet is the best of the many recurring characters in which 30 Rock has produced.
Devon is the openly gay (although once engaged to Kathy Geiss, who is also known to be gay) business competitor of Jack who (in many ways similar to Dennis Duffy) manages to upset Jack at every point possible.
Often found to be competing for the same jobs as Jack and eventually failing to get them (because Jack is awesome), he eventually decides to live a family life with his 3 gaybies produced from a swirl sample with his boyfriend so that they won’t know who the father is (but... they are black so I’m guessing they aren’t his).
Devon is the Yang to Jack’s Yin and the combination of these two great actors is always going to produce the fireworks that you’d fully expect.
The buffoon captain of the Nimbus flagship, Zapp Brannigan, is the Earth's most revered commander and occasional sexual liaison partner of Leela.
How can you not love Zapp? He's incompetent, arrogant and has general chauvinistic manners, the perfect captain! It is made all the better when you consider that he is essentially a take on what William Shatner would be if he was in fact Captain Kirk. He's a ridiculous idea for a character and that's what makes him so brilliant.
Father Dick Byrne
The arch nemesis (I feel like I have wrote this a lot) of Father Ted Crilly who lives on the neighboring Rugged Island. Who knew what priests got up to on their spare time? Well, thankfully because of Father Ted we know, and it seems like they spend their time getting into rivalries with other priests who they don’t like.
Father Dick Byrne has a tendency to get under Father Ted’s skin and usually gets the better of their rivalry which inevitably has Father Ted cussing "Oh, I really hate Father Dick Byrne," and who doesn’t? He is a dick. Even though Father Dick Byrne is a dick he did produce the finest song to never make it onto 'Eurovision Song Contest' ever!
The bumbling lawyer of the Bluth family on Arrested Development makes us all question why a family who was once rich did not have a better lawyer (like a Bob Loblaw for instance), but that would require logic... and to be honest, if the Bluth’s lawyer was competent would it still be funny? No probably not, and because he is so useless, he fits in nicely with the rest of the Bluths.
Barry is quite possibly the most closeted homosexual in all of television comedy (or maybe not, it is hard to tell because he is rather homophobic). Barry is certainly a totally inadequate lawyer. The fact that Barry is so useless as a lawyer leads to the continued legal troubles of the Bluths, which you can only imagine would be less worrying if they had a half competent lawyer.
The mother from Hell (or just your mother if you come from an Irish-Catholic background) also happens to be the mother of Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock (told you that there were a lot of them).
The loathing mother-son relationship of the Donaghy’s rears its head every so often throughout 30 Rock and when it does, you know that you are going to be witnessing that bitch Colleen. Colleen is always doing her best to undermine Jack’s achievements and general awesomeness. The real problem with Jack and Colleen's relationship is that they are too similar (which isn’t surprising considering she is his mother) and this allows the battle of the minds to be damn good.
It isn’t really surprising that there are two of Jack Donaghy’s nemeses on this list, as Jack is such a great character that anyone that can play off of him gains instant credibility.
The legendary Jerry Stiller plays the father of the legendary George Costanza, so there can only be one outcome from that combination... an amazing character! I could feasibly have included Frank’s wife, Estelle, but decided instead to just include Frank because, for me, he is the slightly stronger character.
It isn’t really surprising that George Costanza is nuts. When you look at his parents, he begins to look remarkably normal. Frank Costanza is probably the nuttiest character on the list (which is quite a feat when you consider all the nutters on the list) and likes to show how nutty he is by making sure that even if you are standing across the street, you will still hear him.
Imagine if you had Frank Costanza as a father and Colleen Donaghy as a mother... Could you picture how screwed up you would be? That sounds horrible!
Dr. Leo Spaceman
The local doctor for the 30 Rock crew, Dr. Spaceman, is a sort of qualified physician... much like many people on the list you find yourself questioning how the hell did he become a doctor?
Personally, I take most of my advice on medical situations from things that Dr. Spaceman says, because after all... he is on TV and it isn’t like they would put a man on TV that is talking complete medical gibberish (well that’s my theory anyway).
Dr. Spaceman never really takes a big part in an episode of 30 Rock (he is usually part of the sub-story) but the impact he has in his minor recurring role makes him one of the most likable and memorable characters on the whole of 30 Rock, and that is a hard feat with such a memorable cast.
There it is! The top recurring characters in 30 Rock (it just feels like that)... I mean, in TV. There seem to be two types of recurring characters. They are either a kooky friend for starring characters to play off of or they are the nemesis of a starring character.
It is funny to note that I put in 4 characters from 30 Rock on the list (the next closest being Seinfeld with 2), I really do think that 30 Rock did a marvelous job of using recurring characters to their full potential. The great thing about recurring characters is that you don’t get them all the time so when they show up it makes it extra special, however it can only be made extra special if that character is also one you like or one who adds something to the show. So, credit to 30 Rock because they do this better than anyone else.
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Anyway leave a comment if you have any recurring characters you believe I have besmirched by leaving off of the list, or alternatively leave a comment telling me how much you loved the list and how great you think I am. Either way all comments are appreciated.