A skilled actor does not need a lot of screen time to stand out. As such, some of television’s most memorable characters didn’t even make an appearance in their respective show’s first, second, or third season. Here are some of the best TV characters that came in late but left a lasting impression on audiences.
Holly Flax (Amy Ryan) on The Office
Holly Flax does not make her first appearance on The Office until the two-part finale of season four, but her effect on Steve Carell’s Michael Scott and The Office as a whole is significant. From their very first scenes together, Holly and Michael have strong on-screen chemistry, and her sweet disposition makes the audience like Michael more. More than that, she reshapes Michael’s sense of humor and makes him less mean and more thoughtful. She also changes the course of Michael’s character, taking him away from Dunder Mifflin, and provides a reason for his exit from the show in season seven.
Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers) on MASH
In the early seasons of MASH, Hawkeye Pierce takes joy in torturing Frank Burns, but Frank is never clever enough for any proper retaliation. Winchester, however, is a worthy opponent for Pierce and often pranks him in epic fashion. For MASH fans, it is hard to imagine the later seasons without the pompous but good-natured Charles Emerson Winchester III.
Craig Middlebrooks (Billy Eichner) on Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation is full of memorable characters, but when Pawnee merges with Eagleton in season six, Craig Middlebrooks is one of the survivors from the former Eagleton city staff. Billy Eichner’s manic and hilarious performance earned him more punchlines and his own storylines, usually pairing him with Donna or Tom. Craig is rumored to return to Parks‘ final season tonight.
Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies) and Frank Lapidus (Jeff Fahey) on Lost
In the final seasons of Lost, many new characters are introduced from Charles Widmore’s boat and the science team. Among the science team is Daniel Faraday, a physicist whose fate is tied to the island. Daniel’s unrequited crush on Charlotte and his mother’s history with the island add new intrigue to a show with a million and one mysteries.
On the surface, Frank isn’t that big of a character in the final seasons of Lost, but his deadpan reactions to the insanity going on around him make Frank the perfect comic relief. He also gets one of my favorite lines of the entire show: “We’re not going to Guam, are we?”
Carl Sack (John Larroquette) on Boston Legal
Boston Legal had a rotating cast of lawyers including Julie Bowen (Modern Family), Christian Clemenson (The Big Lebowski), Monica Potter (Parenthood), and Saffron Burrows (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), but the addition of Carl Sack in season four is worthy of note.
The law offices of Crane, Poole & Schmidt have become nuttier since season one. The lawyers have become involved in completely inappropriate ways, and it takes an outsider like Carl to see it. He might be more straight-laced and conservative than his colleagues, but he provides stability to Shirley Schmidt and ends Denny Crane’s last hope that he might win Shirley back.
Mike Hannigan (Paul Rudd) on Friends
Before he was headlining Ant-Man, Paul Rudd played Mike Hannigan, Phoebe’s longest lasting love interest on Friends. He isn’t introduced until season nine, but his relationship with Phoebe is charming and surprisingly complex. After he refuses to marry Phoebe, he nearly loses her forever. Before the show ends, however, Mike and Phoebe tie the knot, and they plan to have as many children as the Von Trapp family, minus the Nazis.
Keith Dudemeister (Travis Schuldt) on Scrubs
J.D. and Elliot are the on-again-off-again relationship of Scrubs, but the show offers Elliot an attractive alternative with Keith Dudemeister. Keith is a good doctor and a great boyfriend, and he loves Elliot. Even after Elliot dumps him before the wedding, the show writers do not write him off the show because he has developed to become more than just Elliot’s boyfriend.
Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) on Doctor Who
Doctor Who is an on-going show, so it seems like an odd choice for this list. However, Donna Noble is an important part of Russell T. Davies’ legacy as showrunner. She is my favorite of the Doctor’s companions since the show’s revival in 2005, and her adventures with the Doctor range from hilarious to heartbreaking. She proves that an outspoken, opinionated temp worker can be the most important person in the universe and the hero that the world needs.
Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) on Cheers
I was never that crazy about Sam and Diane. When Rebecca Howe took over on Cheers in season six, I was ecstatic that the show’s new lead female character had absolutely no sexual tension with Sam. Instead, the duo develop a friendship that is much more rich and interesting than another ill-fated romance. Rebecca is a driven career woman, and she is focused on improving the bar, even when it leads to ill-fated schemes like turning the pool room into a tea room.
Senator Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) on The West Wing
Senator Arnold Vinick, who runs as the Republican presidential candidate in the last two seasons, is a rare kind of character in a political drama. He is an intelligent, passionate conservative who holds his own against the Democratic candidate, Jimmy Smits’ Matt Santos. Vinick ultimately loses the presidency to Santos, but he proves himself more than up for the job, holding his own in a debate while also fighting against extremism in his own party.
Unique Adams (Alex Newell) on Glee
In the later seasons of Glee, the writers tried to introduce the new class of New Directions, but none of the characters stuck like Rachel Berry or Kurt Hummel. The only exception is Unique Adams, the show’s first transgender character. I don’t think her storylines have been handled with the best of care, but the addition of her character is significant in primetime network television. Even when Unique’s storylines are lacking, actor Alex Newell is a very talented performer, and Unique’s songs — including “Pinball Wizard” and “Boogie Shoes” — are highlights in the later seasons.
Logan Huntzberger (Matt Czuchry) on Gilmore Girls
For better or worse, Logan Hutzberger represents the world of Richard and Emily Gilmore, the world that Rory is gravitating towards in the later seasons of Gilmore Girls. Logan is charming and cares for Rory, but he is privileged and unmistakably upper class. His relationship with Rory proves just how far she has come from the baby-faced favorite daughter of Stars Hollow.
Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester) on Mystery Science Theater 3000
Mystery Science Theater 3000 goes through two hosts and a handful of sidekicks and villains during the show’s run. Mary Jo Pehl plays several bit parts throughout the years, but in the last few seasons, she plays Pearl Forrester, the show’s final villain. Pehl gets the chance to showcase her own unique sense of humor, and she becomes the show’s only female principal character that is not a robot.
Alan Shore (James Spader) on The Practice
James Spader shakes up the final season of The Practice as Alan Shore, an attorney who believes that the ends justify the means, even when those means lead to ethics violations. Spader won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, and he landed his own spin-off for his character, despite only appearing in 22 of the series’ 168 episodes.
Elmo (Kevin Clash/Ryan Dillon) on Sesame Street
Elmo is one of the most popular characters on Sesame Street, but he was introduced on the show in 1985, sixteen years after the show’s premiere. The character was developed by Kevin Clash and became so popular that he got his own regular segment on Sesame Street, the best-selling Tickle Me Elmo toy, and two films: Elmo in Grouchland and Elmo Saves Christmas. It is hard to imagine Sesame Street without Elmo, and that is the sign of a true star, no matter when he joined the show.