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.)
6. Gunther (Friends)
According to Celebrity Net Worth, James Michael Tyler, who played Gunther on Friends, is “worth” $500,000. Granted, that’s not much, especially when compared to his coworkers Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox, but considering the reason Gunther became an actual character, and not just a background albino, was because Tyler knew how to use a coffee machine, I’d say he’s doing pretty well for himself. Plus, that’s $497,000 more than David Schwimmer. He really overestimated how many people were going to attend The Pallbearer Convention.
7. Kenard (The Wire)
OK, fan favorite might be stretching it here, but Kenard’s reappearance in season five’s “Clarifications” is remarkable and unforgettable, considering how minor of a character he was. His first and only appearance in the first three seasons of The Wire is in “Dead Soldiers,” where he can be seen arguing with two other kids about who gets to pretend to be Omar Little. I’d say Kenard won that debate.
8. Wilfred (Doctor Who)
That Wilfred, Donna Noble’s crazy old coot of a grandfather, was originally intended by the Doctor Who writers to have nothing more than a brief guest appearance in the 2007 Christmas special, “Voyage of the Damned.” And not even as Wilfred; rather, he was just Stan, a simple newsstand worker. But when the actor who played Donna’s father, Howard Attfield, was forced to retire from the show due to illness, Ol’ Wilfie was made into a recurring character and gave the resurrected Doctor Who some of its most poignant human moments.
9. The Great Gonzo (The Muppet Show)
Everything was going great for Gonzo. In 1970, he made his TV debut in a Christmas special called “The Great Santa Claus Switch,” playing a character named Snarl who lived in a villain’s cigar box, but he quickly morphed into the world famous Whatever he is today, when he was redesigned for The Muppet Show. Then Muppets in Space happened in 1999, and even the greatness of The Muppet Christmas Carol can’t make up for that misguided disaster. Oh well, at least we’ve still got the “Wishing Song.”
10. Groundskeeper Willie (The Simpsons)
Like “Unnamed Hostess” turning into Adriana La Cerva, Groundskeeper Willie was originally written as “Angry Janitor.” He was a one-off joke without a voice — Dan Castellaneta first tried a Spanish accent, then a Swedish one, before finally settling on sounding like an angry Scottsman, free to celebrate Scotchtoberfest as he best saw…wait, there is no Scotchtoberfest? YOU USED ME, SKINNER. YOU USED ME.