Real quick: I try and make these as spoiler-proof as possible but I’m only human. If you recognize a show you’re still watching I’d skip ahead or stop reading.
This is a blog I’ve had in my back pocket for forever. Every show has either a main character or a group of main characters that carry it. We all know that. Hell, that is the way stories work in general, be it a book, TV, movie, porno, epic poem, play, etc….However, in particular with television, a show often lives and dies by its #2 characters, its “bench players” as I have called them here.
The tricky part in making this list is deciphering where the line is between a main character and a true #2. For example you’ll see later on that Carmella Soprano is not on this list. Why? Well I’d consider her too involved in the show and too central to many plot-lines to be a #2. If Tony’s wife had been a different kind of person the show could have been drastically different or lacking. With that said, let’s define a #2 character/bench player as a character who, while the show and plot could have easily moved forward either without them or by substituting any number of other characters for them, was executed so excellently they pushed the show beyond what it already was. Here goes.
**As always with these, please don’t consider this in any particular order.**
10.) The Hound, Game of Thrones
In The 300s group chat the argument for best #2 in the realm came down to our two favorite sell swords, The Hound and Bronn, later Ser Bronn of the Blackwater. I was eventually outvoted for the Hound and have exactly zero qualms about that. The gigantic mercenary with about 1/10 of a normal conscious that he used at exactly the right times was a source of incredible battles, nihilistic monologues, and pithy one-liners that always threatened to steal the show.
9.) Mike Ehrmantraut, Breaking Bad
Lippa: Mike may look like (and is) a grandfather, but he is one of the most no-nonsense characters in the history of television. He doesn’t take shit from anyone and doesn’t have time for anyone’s bullshit. His disdain for everything Walter White represents and his biting sense of sarcasm makes him an elite secondary character.
8.) Wags, Billions
A lot of folks, including a couple of my colleagues, probably want me executed right about now because they consider Wags more of a main character. However if we stick with a #2 as defined, the show could move forward without Wags without losing momentum. It would not have been as funny as it is at times, but it’s also not a comedy in and of itself. That said, “Uncle” Wags’ Ari Gold-like unbridled macho energy and profanity laden, analogy-based monologues regarding everything from profit to sushi make him a legendary bench player.
7. Kevin and Veronica, Shameless
I think it’s fair to include “Kev” and “V” as a unit as that is how they’ve always existed on the show. One a white trash, golden retriever of a meathead armed with tank tops and below average intelligence. His better half a street-smart, maternal, tough loving black girl who always knows what to do in a pinch. They (hilariously) serve as the Gallagher’s next door neighbors, confidantes, security blankets, and closest advisers all while dealing with their own shit. Regardless, whether they are living in the highest of highs or lowest of lows, they have always been the most consistent relationship on the show. True love indeed.
6.) Paulie “Walnuts” Gaultieri, The Sopranos
Paulie Walnuts might be the quintessential bench player. There were a slew of mostly faceless capos and soldiers in Tony’s circle. They were brought into the thick of the plot if and when necessary but for the most part they were interchangeable. Paulie stood out though. Despite being a true wiseguy and a tough customer, Paulie would wax poetic on just about anything, regardless of how much sense it made. He often provided the levity needed to make such a psychologically taxing show work.
5.) Max Piotrowski, Homeland
I feel like there is a Max Piotrowski in all of us. By that I don’t mean we are all wizard-like when it comes to every facet of technology, particularly that related to intelligence. What I mean is I feel like we’ve always been in a job or a role or place in life where we’ve felt that we’ve done a fantastic job and/or put in incredible amounts of effort and never really were given the credit we deserved. Max has always been that guy for Carrie Mathieson and the rest of the CIA team. On top of all that, he really fucking cares about what happens. A lot. So maybe that’s the part about Max we should focus on. Not just that he does what he does, but that he does it at 100% and out of shear loyalty.
4.) Tony Almeida, 24
If I’m being honest, re-watching 24 and being transfixed with Almeida’s intensity is what made me want to come up with this list. He was Jack Bauer’s adviser and enabler. He would do what Jack needed him to do even when filled to the brim with apprehension and completely unsure of what the result might be. Sure, they butted heads sometimes, but only when Almeida thought things were completely out of hand. He was a true Patriot and shared the blind loyalty trait with Max.
3.) Omar Little, The Wire
I know, I know, but hear me out.
Despite Omar being one of the greatest TV characters point blank period – I’d rank Tony Soprano above him and maybe no one else – where he was positioned in the show was as a #2 character. In season 1 for instance, any snitch could have been used by McNulty and company to put a case on Bird. It could have been another conjured crew that goes to war with the Barksdale organization and tangled with Marlo, couldn’t it? But the show wouldn’t have been half as awesome as it was and that is what makes Omar Omar.
Come for the king, you best not miss.
2.) Opie, Sons of Anarchy
This is another one where I’m towing the line dangerously close to “main character” status. Opie played a significant part on this show throughout his run. But in the end, there were countless SAMCRO members, named and unnamed, that could have shouldered his load in some capacity. Only he did it his own brooding, imposing way.
“This is what she felt.”
1.) Mr. George Feeny, Boy Meets World
It’s interesting that both Boy Meets World and Home Improvement were on during the same time period and both employed the use of a sage next door neighbor. However, Feeny, in my respectful opinion, is the far superior character as he is immersed in the lives of those he is dispensing advice to while Home Improvement’s Wilson comes in with almost deus ex machina-esque wisdom to save Tim Taylor’s ass when all hope is lost. Indeed the kids, and sometimes adults, of Boy Meets World could have gone to anybody when they were in a pickle. But it was always the grandparent-like Mr. Feeny who guided them on their journey through life, love, stress, and setbacks (shout out Atmosphere).