Not Great, Bob!: Great Television Actors in Completely Thankless Roles

Entertainment Features
07.02.13 47 Comments

Today I want to talk about thankless actors. They are not necessarily Emmy worthy (although, in some cases, maybe they are). They often also play unlikable characters, or minor but crucial roles. In most cases, however, they are surrounded by other actors who get most of the attention on the particular shows they are on. They wake up every morning, put in an awesome day of work, and go home and watch others around them collect the awards trophies. Or they take on roles in which the character is despised by the audience, and despite that, they go in every day and try to make that character as despicable as possible. They are what makes great television possible, and they provide the backs upon which higher-profile actors climb to collect their Emmy gold. They deserve some proper recognition, damnit.

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Rick Hoffman — Rick Hoffman plays Louis Litt on the USA Network show, Suits. You may know him best as the not particularly attractive character on the show, but he has also been crucial to elevating the series above a pedestrian USA Network dramedy and into one in which many of us have become hugely invested: He’s the bully, and the bullied, the enemy, and the one with which we sympathize. He is the most human, well-drawn character on the show, but because he’s not (necessarily) the one who sends everyone to their bunk, he’s sadly often overlooked, despite the fact that he’s the fulcrum on the show upon which most of the interoffice politics rest.

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Zach Woods — Known best as Gabe on The Office, Woods had the misfortune of playing one of television’s least liked sitcom characters for years, but credit Woods for transforming that character from a smarmy know-it-all into a creepy comedic stalker, and allowing us to hate him even more. In an even smaller role, he did great work on Veep this season, in particular one scene in which he laid down a few of the season’s best insults that quickly made me realize that Zach Woods is not Gabe: He’s actually a great actor. (He may have the best scene in all of The Heat, too, which is saying a lot considering how good Melissa McCarthy was in that).


Lucy Liu — Better known by most for her feature film work in the Charlie’s Angels movies and Kill Bill, Liu was unbelievably great in the fourth season of Southland, which is where I realized that I could actually like a Liu character. She parlayed that role into Joan Watson on Elementary, where she had the deck stacked against her, not only by the BBC’s “Sherlock” and her brilliant British counterpart, played by Martin Freeman, but the fact that she was playing the first major female version of that character. Credit to Liu for making that character both sympathetic and likable, and for bringing out the human in Johnny Lee Miller’s Sherlock.


Timothy Simons — Simons sole purpose through two seasons of “Veep” is to be a punching bag. No one gets insulted more than Simons’ Jonah Ryan, and no one on television gets called worse names, and yet, he manages to maintain his ego and cluelessness. You’d expect any character in that position to have blown his brains out by now, but Simons is good enough in the role that we believe that the insults somehow roll off his back, and he never wavers in his obnoxiousness.

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Annet Mahendru — Most of the attention for The Americans is focussed on Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys’ stellar performances as Russian spies posing as a normal American family, and Noah Emmerich’s stellar supporting turn as the FBI agent. But Annet Mahendru — who plays Nina, a character is playing both sides of the Cold War — uses a heady mixture of sexuality, vulnerability, and intelligence to spare her own life, and in many cases, fuel the plot of The Americans. In a show that is often too grim for its own good, Mahendru brings some light in.

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