Age of The Breakout


If you’re a movie star, you get the girl, you lose the girl, then you get her back. But if you’re a character like me, you lose the girl, then you get another one, and then you get another one, then you lose them all, then you lose your life. It’s all very different. And it’s fascinating for me.

Academy Award Winning Actor Michael Caine (npr.org)

Fall is on its way and I can’t wait to see some of my favorite characters again: Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, Community‘s Troy and Abed, and my favorite, New Girl‘s Schmidt. Take note: I didn’t mention any protagonists or main characters among this list of favorites. Not Jessica Day (New Girl), not Richard Castle (Castle), and definitely not that winey Ted Mosby (How I Met Your Mother). Great actors like Christoph Waltz, Olivia Spencer, and Michael Caine prefer roles like these, the supporting roles. Why? There are many reasons. I’ll name a few.

Memorability is one. When you see this familiar title card…Saved_By_the_Bell_Title_Card

Which character comes to mind first?

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Damn straight! Let’s have a word association exercise. I’ll give the title, and you say the first character who comes to mind. Full House, Family Matters, Grease, Midsummer Night’s Dream. On Friday nights, my parents would ask if I wanted to watch Urkel instead of Family Matters. Having been a part of several productions of Grease (regrettably) I have vivid memories of the audition line for Kinicky being MUCH longer than the line for Danny, and the line for Rizzo being the longest of them all.

When I was in my early teens, and had no knowledge of Orson Scott Card’s political dealings, Ender’s Shadow was way more entertaining to me than Ender’s Game. For those of you who happened to read the later but not the former, you’re missing out. Shadow is the companion novel to Game and follows the life of Bean, a supporting, but very memorable character in the award winning Game. It was such a good book that as Orson Scott Card wrote sequels to both, I abandoned the series that followed Ender, and read Bean’s series religiously. But why? Why is it that supporting characters so often steal the show?

There’s a fun factor that comes with playing the quirky, crazy, eccentric supporting character. It’s what Caine alluded to in the interview I quoted above. That’s because the modern archetype of the starring role has been criminally watered down. There’s a formula that’s been enforced both in Hollywood, and in New York (publishing) that now seems to permeate so many forms of entertainment. The modern protagonist is more defined by what he isn’t allowed to do than what he is allowed to do, even if he’s an anti-hero or trickster archetype.

Also if these supporting characters are so awesome, why aren’t we making them main characters? Well we are and it seems to be a crapshoot. Anyone remember the Friends spin-off failure Joey? Or on the other side of the spectrum the successful Cheers spin-off Frasier? To me the answer seems very straight forward. A spin-off can only work if the supporting character in the previous production is complete. Aside from a few beautiful moments Joey was always a lovable dope, but Frasier Crane was well rounded by the time Cheers came to an end.

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Last but not least, supporting roles have breakthrough potential for audiences and actors alike. Even if we omit Doogie Howser, Neil Patrick Harris has graced more magazine covers than the rest of the How I Met Your Mother cast combined. And yes, Buffy fanatics, I am considering Hannigan’s resume. Sheldon Cooper is not the main character of Big Bang Theory, but he’s got the most Emmy’s in his hands out of the entire cast. Last year Max Greenfield, who played Schmidt (or Barney Stinson 2.0) on New Girl, went up against all the men of Modern Family for an Emmy. And if none of this convinces you we’re in an age of the breakout supporting role, I have one name for you.

Jack Sparrow.

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Here are a few additional supporting characters I’m looking forward to in the Fall…

Mr. Gold in Once Upon A Time, and Nolan in Revenge – I watch these two on Hulu the morning after because I’m watching HBO and Showtime while they’re airing, but both Nolan and Mr. Gold are clever, and I like their guile.

Captain Tom Neville in Revolution – Tom seems to always make a way.

First Lady Mellie Grant in Scandal – I have a weakness for this conniving woman, given that her husband is America’s Henry VII and the show’s hero is his Anne Boleyn. I don’t care what you guys say! I’ll root for her all day!

Which supporting roles are you guys looking forward to this fall?

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