According to the irreplaceable TV Tropes, an “Ascended Extra” is a “minor character who is given a greatly expanded role in the later part of the series, a new adaptation of a story, or in the Expanded Universe.” Typically, they’ll make their first appearance in the background or as an unnamed schmuck and stay that way until the writers eventually find something in, at which point, they’ll be promoted to a recurring, or if they’re lucky, main character.
Some might argue that Mike Ehrmantraut counts as an Ascended Extra (“some,” meaning TV Tropes), but I don’t think he quite fits the bill; Vince Gilligan and the rest of the Breaking Bad writers clearly had something big in mind for Ehrmantraut from the start. Below, I’ve picked 10 characters who began as nobodies before becoming fan-favorite somebodies, all of whom might be considered “The Guy.” Miss u, Mike.
1. Adriana La Cerva (The Sopranos)
Rarely do actresses billed as “Unnamed Hostess” have successful careers, but Drea de Matteo made such an impression in the pilot episode of The Sopranos, working in Artie Bucco’s restaurant, that the show’s producers suggested she be added into future scripts. From then on, she was Adriana La Cerva, Christopher’s wife.
Maybe she should have stayed unnamed…
2. Miles O’Brien (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
The answer: “Miles Edward O’Brien.” The question: “Name the former transporter chief who appeared on both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I’ll give you a hint: he didn’t have a name until the fourth season of The Next Generation, but appears in the pilot. One more: LOOK OUT ITCHY, HE’S IRISH.”
3. Butters Stotch (South Park)
Before Butters was Butters (so named because Matt Stone and Trey Parker used to call South Park co-producer Eric Stough, whom the character is loosely based off of, “Little Buddy”), he was Puff Puff or Swanson. It wasn’t until season three that Butters said his first line, despite often appearing in the background, dating back to South Park‘s pilot, and Stone and Parker regret not using him more in the Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.
4. Jonathan Levinson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Good thing Danny Strong was promoted from “Student” to Jonathan. Otherwise, that GIF may not have happened.
5. Kari Byron (MythBusters)
Kari Byron was in the first episode of MythBusters, where she had her butt modeled to test out the “can you get sucked it an airplane toilet” myth. Just as she always dreamed. Byron didn’t appear again until the beginning of season two, in the “Myths Revisited” episode, at which point she permanently joined the cast, alongside Scottie and Tory. (Also, no, you can’t get stuck on the toilet, so feel free to down that fish dinner without worry.)