Television’s Best Recurring Characters

By 01.10.12

Recurring characters are like inside jokes: They exist in part to reward viewers of television series, not just the episodes. They’re like drunk uncles or ex-girlfriends who drop by every few months, drink all your beer, dance naked in your living room, puke on the floor and vanish, only to return again six months later looking to crash on your couch. And we let them, goddamnit, because we have an unyielding affection for them, no matter how much they wreck the place.

The best shows use these recurring characters sparingly. They’re typically one note, but it’s a glorious note, and as long as it’s not overplayed, the character can continue to return without ever wearing out his or her welcome (see, e.g., Senor Chang, who was elevated to series regular on “Community” and almost immediately became unbearable).

I’ve taken the liberty of ranking, without comment, television’s best recurring characters. A note about the criteria: To be included on the list, the character must be in an on-going television show; he or she must have been in fewer than 30 percent of the show’s episodes; and he or she must have recurred in two or more seasons of the show. Limit one recurring character per series.

15. Daniel Shaw, “Chuck”

14. Sam Weiss, “Fringe”

13. Ted Danson, “Curb Your Enthusiasm’

12. Dewey Crowe, “Justified”

11. Pamela, “Louie”

10. Dr. Leo Spaceman, “30 Rock”

9. Chucky Marstein, “Sons of Anarchy”

8. James Stinson, “How I Met Your Mother”

7. Tom, “Cougar Town”

6. Trudy Campbell, “Mad Men”

5. Rickety Cricket, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

4. Fat Neil, “Community”

3. Louis Canning, “The Good Wife”

2. Jean Ralpho, “Parks and Recreation”

1. Rafi, “The League”

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