They may not be the star of the show, and weren’t even in all of the episodes, but these comedic characters did more than deliver a punchline, shape a storyline or provide insights to the major players. A salute to the characters who were just too damn awesome to limit to just one episode.
Lionel Hutz – The Simpsons
A lawyer as unethical as he is unsuccessful. Quite content to claim a phone booth as an office, offer shoe repair and use a doctor as immoral as him, only the resourceful Hutz would sue the casting producers for not giving clients a part whilst starring in the production itself. Hutz was the ultimate ambulance chaser with eternal optimism in search of a quick buck. Attempting to put Homer and Marge at ease he explains: “I’ve argued in front of every judge in this state…often as a lawyer!” He even decided to try his luck at real estate, as most of his clients ended up losing their homes anyway. Hutz was voiced with panache by the irreplaceable and multi-talented Phil Hartman, who also brought Troy McClure to life. Hartman’s tragic death may have robbed us of other classic lines, but it also meant his character is immortalised with just genuine quality and unlike the show itself, never fell away. Besides, his work with Hutz is just too good to be forgotten. When Bart tells him he wants to be a lawyer just like him, he replies with flawless sincerity: ‘Good for you son. If there’s one thing America needs, it’s more lawyers.”
Linda Freeman – Two and a Half Men
Though she hit the award-laden big time in the current campfest that is Glee, actress Jane Lynch already had an acting CV as long as a comedic wall of China. One that stands out even among her strong acting repertoire is as the acerbic shrink Linda Freeman in Two and a Half Men. Her role as a therapist for Alan’s son Jake, before extending to Charlie and Alan, and later to Charlie’s replacement Walden, Freeman represents a cynical outlook that refuses to pull any punches. When Alan falls asleep for 40 minutes in her session, she charges him for the full hour by reasoning that she was still awake even if he wasn’t. When Charlie tells her that he has become constipated around the same time he has feelings for two different women who want to marry him, she explains he is emotionally and therefore physically blocked: “If you pick one, you can go two”. Her lack of empathy is best summed up when Charlie complains that is it cheaper for him to get a prostitute than pay her fees. She retorts: “Hookers don’t have to listen to you.”
Franklin – Arrested Development
With all the phenomenal characters in Arrested Development, it may seem sneaky to go for a puppet but then again Arrested Development was that kind of show. Introduced in series 2, Franklin Delano Bluth was a foul-mouthed, streetwise black puppet who had the ability to make anyone using him adopt his outrageous personality. The racially vocal Franklin was even treated like a member of the family either when being arrested by cops, acknowledged by security guards or being attacked by George Bluth Senior (forcing GOB who is controlling him to say ‘That’s my hand, dad!). Despite only appearing in seven episodes, Franklin was crucial to storylines (once even taking the stand in court!), having a singing career with GOB and making political statements, such as wearing a ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black puppets’ t-shirt) When a laundry accident leaves him bleached, Michael quips: “At least he’ll be allowed in the country club now”.
Bulldog – Frasier
A brash prankster, Bob ‘Bulldog’ Briscoe certainly had the ability to jump off the page and steal any scene. Host of the Gonzo Sports Show, which runs straight after Frasier’s phone-in programme, the amoral Bulldog consistently acts like a pin to Frasier’s pompous balloon. What makes it so much worse for Frasier is that the popularity of Bulldog’s show (even including Frasier’s dad) means he can get away with all kinds of crudely inappropriate comments that would get the rest of us fired. Despite his lack of height and sporting physique, Bulldog acts machismo, but as shown by his fear of lizards and use of his colleague Roz as a shield from a gunman, it’s shown to be all bluster. Believing the three magical words to say to a woman are “Stay for breakfast”, he also refuses to blame himself for anything: “Doctors. You pick up the same disease three or four times, they start lecturing you like it’s your fault.” When called up on his tactless behaviour, his excuse is that of the ultimate showman: “Screw you. I’m an artist. We live by different rules.”
Newman – Seinfeld
Jerry’s “sworn enemy” and Kramer’s occasional partner in crime, the indelible Newman is a cartoon style villain who fits perfectly into the madcap world of Seinfeld. Living down the hall from Jerry and continually able to get under his skin (once quite literally when he introduces fleas into his apartment), Newman is always scheming ways for obtaining financial success and that dream transfer to Hawaii. A postman who hilariously represents the worst of the stereotype, and refuses to deliver the mail when it rains, Newman delights in his mischief. Originally meant to be the son of a landlord and only supposed to be in one episode, Wayne Knight’s stocky build and superb portrayal inevitably meant he was given more, eventually making 48 appearances (out of 180 episodes). Knight’s pitch perfect delivery (which has since led to plenty of voiceover work) fully realised Newman’s vocabulary, which could quote poems, describe broccoli as a “vile weed” and Jerry’s audience as a “half-soused nightclub rabble”.
Trigger – Only Fools and Horses
With competition that includes Homer, Coach/Woody, Dougal and Baldrick, Trigger truly is three cards short of a full deck and one of comedies iconic idiots. A friend of Del Boy since school and nicknamed after his resemblance to the horse who partnered with actor Roy Rogers in the 50s and 60s, Trigger is 24 carat road sweeper gold. Even in a show with working class characters, Trigger’s lack of intelligence is astounding and hilarious, capable of stealing even the funniest scene, or livening up an otherwise ordinary one. When Del Boy, surprised to see the wasteland dump closed, says that Trigger had told him it was open 24 hours a day, Trigger replies: “It is, but not at night”. Aware of Rodney’s growing interest in saving the environment, Trigger decides to cheer him up by changing from the fossil fuels of gas and oil to coal. When a girl approaches him and tells him that she is not wearing a bra, he says back “I’m not wearing a vest but you don’t hear me bragging about it”. Trigger’s inability to realise that Del Boy’s brother is called Rodney, and not Dave, is one of comedy’s greatest running gags. But amidst his inadvertent one liners, even his stare was enough to get a laugh, as best seen in the legendary scene where Del Boy falls through the bar and Trigger fails to notice. Though actor Roger Lloyd Pack has had a decorated acting career, Trigger will always be his finest hour.
Mrs Wolowitz – The Big Bang Theory
When it comes to great recurring characters in The Big Bang Theory, we really are spoilt for choice. There is the self-deprecating comic shop owner Stuart who openly admits his professional failures and dating shortcomings that always puts the group’s problems into comical perspective. Not to mention the experimental physicist Leslie Winkle who is un-intimidated by the “dumbass” Sheldon and has her own take on romantic social conventions. But arguably, the star is Mrs Wolowitz, Howard’s mother. Jewish mothers are ripe for comedic interpretation, and her role as an overprotective, overbearing and opinionated single mother is a joy. She joins Maris Crane, Vera Petersen, Carlton the Doorman and Bob Sacamento in a list of characters who are mentioned but never seen, though unlike them we actually hear her voice. And boy do we hear it! Shouting everything, Mrs Wolowitz continues to treat Howard as though he was still a child, a relationship she disturbingly (and hilariously) seems to pass on to Howard’s wife Bernadette. Though co-creator Chuck Lorre has promised never to show her face (the odd blurred image aside), the fact she is described as being obese, having facial hair and painted on eyebrows means we could probably pick her out of a line up anyhow.
Larry Duff – Father Ted
There are running gags of course, and then there are running gags. In the crazy world of Craggy Ireland, a continuous visual joke about a man being called on his mobile at the worst possible time makes perfect sense. A long time friend of Father Ted, (though the two are never in the same room together), Ted himself buys Duff the phone and calls him after Duff is “always complaining nobody ever rings him on it”. This includes getting called while skiing down a steep slope, when just about to turn driving by a steep cliff edge, when trying to control rottweilers he has just bought, being accused of weapons smuggling by armed guards, when about to be trampled by donkeys, and when getting skewered by a blindfolded knife thrower. Arguably, the two most memorable ones are when he is just about to win £10,000 on a gameshow after almost completing the main challenge and when he is just about to finish a card pyramid but knocks it over after mistakenly grabbing the stapler. Regularly described as “tremendous fun” by Ted, Duff certainly leads an adventurous and charmed life, rewarded by always recovering for his next appearance.