TV’s Best Tertiary Characters

By Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal®

How do you know you’re a great character?

There’s a fan outcry when you aren’t around.

Since Homeland began its second season, viewers have been plagued with questions:  Will Carrie realize she was right? Will Brody get caught? But perhaps the biggest question troubling viewers was: Where is Virgil?

The beloved surveillance expert brilliantly played by David Marciano finally returned on Sunday.  I actually clapped when he came on the screen. There is something so wonderful about Virgil and his relationship with Carrie. He’s exasperated when he should be, protective when he needs to be, and funny when the show is in desperate need of comic relief. Plus, he’s kind of the only character besides Carrie that I truly trust at this point.

But the really interesting thing about Virgil is that he’s obviously not a main character (that’s Carrie and Brody). But he’s not a secondary character either (lsuch as David Estes or Mike). He’s a tertiary character. And to make a tertiary character stand out you’ve got to be really good.

Here are some of my other favorite tertiary characters on television:

First Lady Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) on Scandal: I adore Mellie. First of all, she’s a woman in the right. Her husband, the President of the United States, cheated on her and continues to be hung up on a woman he cannot and should not have.  Secondly, would you want to cross her? Young brilliantly pulls off the tricky act of being simultaneously sympathetic and devious. The scene in the limo where she asks her husband to forgive her? Heartbreaking. The scene where she tells her husband that she needs to start making plans for her future.  A little terrifying.  The season Young was promoted to series regular and is rightly getting so much screen time that she’s almost a secondary character.

Grizz (Grizz Chapman) and Dot Com (Kevin Brown) on 30 Rock: As Tracy’s entourage, the pair have provided some of the comedy’s best laughs with their droll commentary on their boss’s ridiculous antics. They’re the voice of reason not just in Tracy’s world but sometimes for the entire series. I would so watch the Grizz and Dot Com Show. Now that 30 Rock is ending, isn’t it about time for a spinoff?

Cora (Barbara Hershey) on Once Upon a Time: How do you make viewers feel sorry for the Evil Queen? Give her a mother who is worse than she is. Hershey is wonderfully evil. I’m so glad she is still around this season causing trouble. Also bonus points for the fact that Hershey actually looks like she could be Lana Parrilla’s mother.

Brad Bottig (Brock Ciarlelli) on The Middle: As Sue’s enthusiastic former boyfriend, Ciarlelli makes me smile every time he comes on the screen.  He also exemplifies what makes The Middle such a fantastic show.  Brad could have been a one note joke – Sue doesn’t realize that her boyfriend is probably gay. But he has become so much more than that. The Middle thrives because it’s a very funny show with humor based in truth and characters we know. I always say there’s a little bit of Sue in anyone who has ever been a teenage girl. And I definitely had friends such as Brad when I was in high school. He’s simply a fantastic character.

Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley) on Glee: O’Malley provides some of Glee’s best moments. He is my favorite television dad.  Here’s hoping there’s a holiday episode in our future where Kurt goes home to see his dad.

Who are some of your favorite tertiary characters? Talk about it below.

Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B ____ in Apartment 23 and Nashville

Here’s my three-part TV viewing assignment for the week:

There are times when I truly believe an episode of television was created just for me. It’s like television’s way of saying “thanks Amy. We’re glad you’re here.”  And the premiere of Don’t Trust the B____ in Apartment 23, which returns for its second season tonight at 9:30 p.m. on ABC, is one of those times.  James Van Der Beek, who continues to hilariously spoof himself, reluctantly decides he will do a Dawson’s Creek reunion.  I don’t want to ruin the jokes by telling you any more than that. But any show that can reference The Facts of Life Goes to Paris and stage a fame intervention is my kind of show. You must watch.

I have championed Happy Endings since it premiered. Dave writing thank you notes after being left at the alter is one of the funniest television moments ever (“Darkness reigns. Hope gurgles out its dying breath. Thank you for the beautiful crockpot.”).  As it returns for its third season (tonight at 9 p.m. on ABC), Dave (Zachary Knighton) and Elisha Cuthbert (Elisha Cuthbert) are back together but keeping it casual. They’re this decade’s Ross and Rachel if you didn’t think Ross and Rachel should actually be together. The show has become more Scrubs-like as the seasons have progressed (more totally out there flights of fancy humor) but the writing remains razor sharp. What other show has hilarious lines such as “You two have fun talking like Scott Caan’s groomsmen.”  Again, you must watch.

People, people, people. What is going on? Why oh why is Nashville (Wednesday at 10 p.m. on ABC) on the bubble? Why aren’t you watching the best new show of the season? This is starting to remind me of Lone Star. Talk to me.  Why aren’t you watching?

That’s all for today. Remember to follow my blog so you will know every time I have a new post. And on Thursday I’ll have this week’s best familiar faces and quotes so if you’re heard a great quote or seen a familiar face email me about them through my contact page.

5 thoughts on “TV’s Best Tertiary Characters

  1. I think Stuart, the comic book store manager, is a great tertiary character on The Big Bang Theory. Glad he’s stepped up in recent episodes.

  2. I think the problem with Nashville is just that the premise itself has no interest for me. It may be a great show, but there is no desire to even give it a glimpse. No interest in country music. It looked like so many of the other shows about singers currently on reality tv that also hold no interest for me. If the commercials emphasized less about the singing/country aspects it may have warranted a view based on the great reviews.

    • Don! Try an episode. Just like Friday Night Lights wasn’t really about football. Nashville is about so much more than country music. It’s not like any other show currently on television. I promise.

  3. I’m a huge country music fan but I wasn’t feeling the 2nd episode of Nashville. Not sure what it is but there’s just something missing. I feel like I know what’s going to happen. I’m still going to continue to watch as long as its on.

    Speaking of tertiary characters. I would say Mike’s mom on M&M (although she could be considered supporting but she isn’t in every episode so she’s borderline). btw where the heck has she and Jim been this season?

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