Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes when you watch a TV show you love, there are great characters that you think should be used more often, and could really bring something to the show. For me, it’s Rose and Bernard from Lost. Their flashback episode showed what great chemistry they had, and the way they interacted with the other characters was sharp, witty, and often poignant. What is the one character from a show you love (or hate, for that matter) whom you wish was utilized more often? —Zach Wood
That might depend on whether you’re just asking about characters we’d like to see more of exactly as they were, Zach, or characters we wish had more screen time so they could have been better developed and maybe better integrated into the plot. From the beginning of Deadwood, I was a big fan of Robin Weigert as Calamity Jane; her dialogue was rich and steeped in simultaneous pain and good humor, and her delivery was hilarious. I felt like the story, which sometimes wallowed too much in grimness and misery for its own sake, seemed far more bearable given her cheerful take on roughly the same miseries and personal failings everyone else had to contend with. But given that she tended to function as a pawn and a sad comic-relief character most of the time, I’m not sure the show would have benefited much from a whole bunch more of her exactly as she was. I just continually wished she’d had more of a story arc, and a little more room to grow as a character in… well, any direction whatsoever.
Latecomers to The Wire—say, someone who theoretically just finished the series a couple of weeks ago—might be surprised by how little the legendary Omar Little, played by Michael K. Williams, actually appears onscreen. But as creator David Simon explained, there’s a reason for that: as a quasi-mythic figure whom even the most hardened street criminals fear, a little Omar goes a long way. Williams’ wry charisma makes Omar loom larger than his time onscreen, as if he, like the character he plays, might be lurking just around any corner, ready to pounce. On a well-constructed show, there’s usually a good reason why characters appear as much or as little as they do; in some cases, giving them more scenes might actually diminish their impact. That said, when a show is as sprawling, and occasionally scattered, as Boardwalk Empire, someone’s bound to get shorter shrift than they deserve. Perhaps Michael Stuhlbarg’s imposing Arnold Rothstein is Boardwalk’s Omar equivalent, although it’s hard to resist wanting more of Stuhlbarg’s terrifying chill. But Williams’ bootlegger, Chalky White—now there’s a fella we ought to see more of. Throughout the season, I kept thinking the fact they’d engaged an actor of Williams’ caliber meant the writers had more in store, but Chalky never moved past supporting player, and a secondary one at that. Sure, he had that monologue about his father’s tools—grossly overwritten, by my lights, but still substantial—but considering the character represents an entree into a whole world whose surface Boardwalk has barely scratched, we could use a lot more Chalky in season two.
I’m not sure whether this technically counts as a character, but I do a little cheer inside whenever Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer has an excuse to slip into his alter ego as rogue, no-nonsense FBI agent Burt Macklin on Parks And Recreation. It’s basically a ridiculous character playing an even more ridiculous character (and not very well), but I know I’d pay to see a mini-movie where Macklin’s back—he’s a disgraced agent who’s been falsely accused of stealing the president’s rubies, and is now obsessed with tracking down the elusive Janet Snakehole—plays out in all its poorly thought-out glory.
Alexei Sayle’s career hasn’t exactly suffered from his experience on The Young Ones. Since the short-lived, groundbreaking comedy had its original run in 1982, Sayle has gotten a steady stream of TV work in England—including a string of sketch-comedy shows based around his madcap, Python-esque weirdness—not to mention numerous film roles, books, and albums. But the shaved-headed comic’s many brief appearances on The Young Ones always left me wanting more; in particular, his recurring role as Mr. Balowksi, the absentee landlord of the regular cast of misfits, makes me wish he would have suffered some fall from lesser grace and wound up moving in with Rick, Neil, Vyvyan, and Mike (especially since Sayle also played the other members of the Balowski clan). Hell, maybe it could have even spun off into a family sitcom spotlighting the rotund comic: The Big Balowski.
I never felt that Sheriff Bud Dearborn had a chance to shine during his time on HBO’s True Blood. I mean, why hire an actor like William Sanderson to play the part if you’re not going to give him a chance to show his chops? Aside from when Sheriff Bud was under the sway of Maryann (Michelle Forbes) during the second season, I’m hard-pressed to remember another moment when Sanderson got a chance to do much of anything besides bitch about the strange goings-on in Bon Temps or turn to co-star Chris Bauer and offer up yet another line beginning with, “Dammit, Andy…” I’ve never read any of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries books, so I don’t know if the decision to have Sheriff Bud give up his position was done strictly for the TV series, but for my part, I always just figured that Sanderson got bored and left.
Imagine if Cockroach moved in with Bill Cosby, Urkel took shelter with Carl Winslow, or, perhaps most fittingly, George Jefferson occupied a master bedroom in Archie Bunker’s place. That’s essentially been Larry David’s predicament the last couple of seasons on Curb Your Enthusiasm. The curmudgeonly divorcee’s relationship with Hurricane Katrina victim-turned-housemate Leon Black comically stretches the boundaries of a more traditional sitcom’s cranky-protagonist/wacky-neighbor dynamic, and has coasted on the charm of ex-SNL writer J.B. Smoove as Leon. Although unlike Archie Bunker, Larry David judges people less by the color of their skin than their chutzpah and social etiquette, so he and Leon make for unlikely allies as often as they offend each other. Which is why I personally could never see enough of moments like Leon encouraging Larry to literally create a chasm in a skinhead’s asshole, or the two of them arguing over the origins and semantics of a mysterious cum stain. Leon and Larry are more than ebony and ivory, or MJ and McCartney. They are each other’s better and worse halves, and a marriage made in TV heaven.
As much as the stars of ER were celebrated throughout its 15-year run, from George Clooney to Anthony Edwards to William H. Macy to Julianna Margulies to Maura Tierney to John Stamos, no one ever mentioned the unsung heroes of the show: the nurses. A few actors on the show played nurses week after week for 15 years, getting one or two lines per episode, usually either explaining a sucking chest wound to the ER doc, or making some sort of morbid remark to pass the time. Of those nurses, the only one who never got any story love was Malik McGrath, played by Deezer D. I mean, Chuny got to date Mark Greene and Luka Kovac, and Haleh was fired twice. But from the first episode to the last, Malik was there to tend to the sick, lend some muscle if a patient got unruly, and generally just be the loose, fun presence every ER needs. Could John Wells have, at least once, followed Malik home to see him interact with his wife and kids? Why did Chuny get to have all the fun?
Fringe has done a great job in the past three seasons with expanding its world(s) and deepening its three leads, but with all the craziness and dimension-jumping, some of the secondary recurring characters haven’t gotten their chance to shine. Barring some sort of miracle, the show’s upcoming fourth season will almost certainly be its last, and if that’s the case, between resolving its central storyline and giving us a few more crazy Walter Bishop moments for the road, I hope the series’ writers can find the time to shed more light on the life of Bishop’s most loyal, patient assistant, Astrid Farnsworth. Actress Jasika Nicole has managed to put a lot of personality into a role that, at least initially, was mostly relegated to “Yes,” “No,” and the occasional double-take. The last season did give her a bit more to do (including playing an alternate-reality version of herself, who was twice as geeky but just as charming), but it isn’t not enough. Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead-type episodes, told from the perspectives of non-leads, are a popular dramatic conceit, so why not bust out the form here, and give the world’s prettiest Igor her much-deserved chance in the sun?
It took me a while to come up with an answer to this question. Most underused TV characters on good shows are underused for a good reason. Sure, I’d like to know more about Mike from Breaking Bad, but that would kill a lot of the mystique central to making the character seem like such an ultra-competent bad-ass. And yeah, it would have been great to follow Sal’s struggles on Mad Men a bit longer, but that would have required the show to make a huge shift in focus, or portray its characters as unrealistically accepting of homosexuality, given the era. So I’m okay with how most shows use their ensembles, even if those ensembles are huge and sprawling. (I could make a pretty big list of good shows that use certain characters poorly too often, but that isn’t the question.) Still, there’s always an exception or two, and to me, there are few greater wastes than how little 30 Rock uses the other writers and Pete. These characters are relics of the time when the show was going to be more of a workplace sitcom about working on a sketch-comedy show, but they’ve all developed their own daffy comic energy, particularly when shut in a room together (or with Liz), and every time we get yet another Jenna or Kenneth subplot, I’m reminded of how much I’d like to watch these guys just fuck around for half an hour.
At the risk of going for the low-hanging fruit, I love just about everyone who has ever appeared on Parks And Recreation. Chris Pratt’s genial goober was pretty much the definition of a random character everyone loved so much, he was thrust joyfully into the center of the show. I’m not sure I’d like to see something similar happen to Ben Schwartz’s Jean-Ralphio. Part of what makes the character so great is that, like Mose Schrute on The Office—another memorable bit part played by one of the show’s writers—we see him so infrequently that he never wears out his welcome. Jean-Ralphio is more than just Aziz Ansari’s best friend and business partner—he’s also sort of his weird alter ego and id. He’s a terrific foil for Ansari in part because, like so many breakout stars, he seems to live in his own private universe, albeit one that’s strangely simpatico to the equally delusional private realm Ansari’s schemer inhabits.
Never mind being underused—why didn’t Albert Rosenfield, the abrasive FBI man played by Miguel Ferrer on Twin Peaks, have his own show? Well, the fact that Twin Peaks kind of imploded might have something to do with it. But really, I could watch Albert’s weekly adventures for season after season as he bounced from hick town to hick town looking down his nose at their ignorant ways and then, just as he pushed them too far, revealing the philosophy guiding it all. Beyond being a committed pacifist, he sees his cynical bearing as a pathway to a higher truth. Or in his words, he’s “a naysayer and a hatchet man in the fight against violence.” Why not explore those seeming contradictions in a series of its own? Maybe Albert could even team up with DEA Agent Dennis, the brave, cross-dressing character played by David Duchovny? Hey, Californication can’t last forever. It might not be too late.