Best Characters — Supporting Male
Continuing with my lists, below I tackle best supporting performance by a dude. Once again, there are some arguable distinctions between lead and supporting (which is John Locke?), but let’s get going all the same, shall we?
Best Supporting Male
Honorable Mention to Duquan Weems (Jermaine Crawford) from The Wire, Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) from 30 Rock, Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor) from The Larry Sanders Show, BA Baracus (Mr. T) from The A-Team, Gob Bluth (Will Arnett) and Tobias Fünke (David Cross) from Arrested Development, Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr) from Freaks and Geeks, E. B. Farnum (William Sanderson) from Deadwood, and Lee Adama (Jamie Barber) from Battlestar Galactica. It’s a deep category, as you can see.
20. Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), Entourage
The show itself often bugs me — it’s too much like something I’d imagine two especially horny fifteen year old guys would write. And Ari’s way over-the-top. But Piven does it like few others have, and with so much more gusto. So I have to give the guy credit, I suppose.
19. Phil Dunphey (Ty Burrell), Modern Family
A glorious man-child, and even better when Luke’s in tow, Phil is a great addition to my television screen. Burrell manages such sincerity in everything, as though he’s not even aware of how dumb his character is.
18. Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Mad Men
Sterling oozes charisma, and is responsible for a great deal of the show’s comic relief (given its pacing, moreover, it often really needs it). But he’s also a monumental asshole at times. This produces a neat dynamic, and makes him fascinating. Plus, I’m just sayin’, but while I never really care about being bald, Slattery always makes me wish I could’ve gone grey fox instead, cause he just looks so cool.
17. James “Sawyer” Ford (Josh Holloway), Lost
I really didn’t like Sawyer when the show began, but by the end I found him one of its best characters. Not just for the nicknames and the attitude, but because he was actually unpredictable in a rational, character-appropriate way, versus many of the original crash victims who were wholly predictable (even if in a good way) or a little inconsistent.
16. Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman), Heroes
Heroes had so much wrong with it, especially towards the end. But Horned-Rim Glasses kept me tuning back in long past I should have been. I loved the moral ambiguity of the guy, kinda like Spike from Buffy mixed with Walter Skinner from X-Files.
15. Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick), Lost
With one of the best intros a character’s ever had, Desmond quickly became one of the more fascinating characters on The Island. In assessing his performance, it’s important to realize that he was often at the center of some of the more bizarre and unbelievable story lines, yet he sold them. Witness “The Constant.”
14. Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), The West Wing
Few characters manage to worry so well on screen. So much of Toby happened without words (and instead with a bouncy ball), a testament to Schiff’s acting, since Aaron Sorkin is way more fond of dialogue-developed character and plot. The whole leak storyline was especially well done. I miss Toby.
13. Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris), How I Met Your Mother
Barney is so utterly outrageous that Harris’ performance is a really interesting camp hypermasculinity, so I’m interested in the role for representational reasons. But he also sells almost all of his lines, even / especially the cheesy ones, becoming such a force of energy in the show. The writing’s been a bit inconsistent, but Barney’s still fun to watch.
12. Manny Delgado (Rico Rodriguez), Modern Family
The old man soulfulness of Manny is charming. He doesn’t get much screen time, but does a lot with what he’s given. I struggle to think of any other kid in a sitcom who has been anything better than okay, especially if robbed of the ability to wisecrack or simply look cute. Plus his cup of espresso is the best objective correlative.
11. John Casey (Adam Baldwin), Chuck
Casey’s growl is classic. But so much else about him is winning, too, from his fondness for hiding out in walls for weeks on end to his chemistry with almost everyone else on the show (Jeffster, Morgan, Chuck, etc.).
10. Niles Crane (David Hyde Piece), Frazier
Kelsey Grammer’s alright, but overrated. It’s Frazier’s brother who steals the show and any scene with the two of them. The stuttery Brit or wealthy Northeasterner is a boring archetype, but he gives it a lot of life.
9. Randy Hickey (Ethan Suplee), My Name is Earl
Few do stupid as well as Randy. As good as sidekicks get in television, and so very likeable. If Homer Simpson lived and breathed, he’d be Randy Hickey, or something like him.
8. George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Seinfeld
Larry David does Larry David better, but Alexander introduced us to the character, and was one of the first really awesome unlikeable people in television, before Cartman, before Always Sunny, and before many other wannabes. The moment of anticipation as one sees George squint disapprovingly and get ready to unleash in the wrong place and at the wrong time is still good fun.
7. Omar Little (Michael K. Williams), The Wire
Given all the wrong that occurs to people in The Wire, the show needs an avenging force like Omar to give at least a little sense of justice. Make him the essence of bad assness while also being gay and out, and we have a wonderfully interesting character.
6. John Locke (Terry O’Quinn), Lost
O’Quinn did so much for Lost, not just as Locke of course, but as Locke he was often the rock of brilliant acting when some of the other characters (cough, Shannon and Booth, cough) were stinking it up. Nobody created such a stark contrast between their pre- and post-Island lives as much as did O’Quinn, which was single-handedly responsible for so much of the mystery and intrigue of the Island. O’Quinn was always brilliant, as was Locke.
5. Russell “Stringer” Bell (Idris Elba), The Wire
What’s not to love about a gangster with Adam Smith and Roger’s Rules of Order? The quiet menace of Stringer, mixed with his remarkable charisma, makes for one of television’s best characters. Elba makes every scene better, which is saying a lot when those scenes are in The Wire, and hence already pretty awesome.
4. President Josiah Edward “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen), The West Wing
I was in love with this president from his first grand entrance in the pilot. Sure, he was often just a mouthpiece for Sorkin’s rants, but he did them so well, and I love so many of those rants anyways. To be fair, though, Sheen did so much more with Bartlet, too, from his firey raging at God in “Two Cathedrals” to playful moments with the First Lady, and from being a concerned dad to Zoe to owning a podium. Most of all, though, he was a small antidote to Bush when I really needed that. What’s next?
3. Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins (Andre Royo), The Wire
Bubs quickly became the guy to care about and to hope for. The Wire doesn’t allow much optimism or hope, and it’s usually at a very small level, but Bubs grabbed me. He was also the only character who really seemed aware of loss, and who marked loss, while everyone else lost so much around them. So he quite easily became this viewer’s surrogate, getting pinioned around by the city yet still picking himself up and stumbling on. Plus, the monologue in “Late Editions” was masterfully delivered. Up the stairs with you, my friend.
2. Spike (James Marsters), Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Spike could be such great fun, gifted with so many of Whedon & co.’s best lines and wit. But he was also such an interesting character — as opposed to Angel, the vampire with a soul, Spike was the vampire who wanted a soul, which made him, for me, key to the show’s spiritual vision. It’s hard to imagine a cooler character too.
1. Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson), Lost
And yet pride of place must go to television’s best bad guy ever. Michael Emerson was nothing but spectacular. The writers didn’t give him enough in the final season, but both Emerson and Linus were aces at doing so very much with so very little. Ben was so impossible to figure out, seemingly so evil, yet always much more. And as fantastic a performance as many of the actors on this list delivered, Emerson really is in a category of his own. You’re deputy to no one, Ben.Ari Gold, Barney Stinson, Benjamin Linus, Bubbles, Desmond Hume, George Costanza, Jed Bartlet, John Casey, John Locke, Manny Delgado, Niles Crane, Noah Bennet, Omar Little, Phil Dunphey, Randy Hickey, Roger Sterling, Russel Bell, Sawyer, Spike, supporting actors, Toby Ziegler