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Stephen Root Makes Everything Better. It's Science.

By Sarah Carlson | Seriously Random Lists | August 22, 2013 | Comments ()

Stephen Colbert often touts that an appearance on “The Colbert Report” will only help an actor/writer/musician and whatever product they are promoting. He calls it the “Colbert Bump.” The inverse is true for another Stephen out there: The best part of this past Sunday’s episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom” was the appearance of the phenomenal Stephen Root in a guest role. The part isn’t big, and he may not recur much, but as guest host Ryan McGee said on the latest Station Agents podcast, Root’s presence automatically makes any series 32 percent better. It’s science. It’s the Root Bump.

You know Root — most everyone does — and surely his role as Milton Waddams in 1999’s Office Space plays a large part in his being familiar. But you may not know his name. Compiling the list below proved that searching for “Stephen Root + ” does not produce great results, especially considering most of his TV work of late is on shows highly protected by networks from having clips available online. (Thanks for nothing, FX.) A cool interactive Vanity Fair feature from 2012 touches on this fact, that Root is one of many great character actors many recognize but perhaps couldn’t name. That’s a shame, but at least Root’s career, especially on TV, is prolific.

Aside from more extensive work on series such as “News Radio” (1995-1999) and “King of the Hill” (1997-2010) — and this isn’t even touching his many film roles — Root pops up everywhere, especially on basic and premium cable. Do you need a smooth-talking Southerner to flesh out a scene or two? Call Root. Need someone more sketchy, or perhaps more creepy or socially inept? Root’s still your guy. He can be silly, or scary, or even — yep — sexy. He can even do Klingon, a la “Star Trek: The Next Generation”:

It’d be great to see him land a lead in a series, but the downside would be depriving so many other outlets from profiting off his chameleonic abilities.

This roundup of roles is by no means complete — why there isn’t a Stephen Root fansite dedicated to housing clips from his spots on shows such as “Quantum Leap” and “The West Wing” is beyond me — but it provides a taste. If you see his name in the opening credits of any show, keep watching. You won’t want to miss what he does next.


“Boardwalk Empire”

“The Newsroom”



“The Good Wife”

“Raising Hope”





“Pushing Daisies”

“True Blood”

Bonus clip:

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • e jerry powell

    Stephen Root kissing Nelsan Ellis was strangely hot and profoundly depressing at the same time.

  • John G.

    When does Boardwalk Empire come back?

  • Bothari

    "First bell, students. Time marches on."

  • Weret

    Love this guy. The funniest character in Dodgeball. I'll watch anything he's in, even if it's the smallest cameo. LOVE HIM.

  • Salieri2

    I know this makes me déclassé, round these here parts, but damn if he wasn't awesome in Dodgeball.

    "We're gonna get our taints handed to us, that's what."
    "What's a taint?"
    "Dunno. Sounds bad."

  • emmalita

    Him, Steve the Pirate, and Patches O'Houlihan. I guess that make me déclassé, too.

  • RilesSD

    That reminds me, I need to finish watching Californication.

  • stella

    Omg Eddie the Vampire? Ok Im off to cry for for like an hour...

  • Bert_McGurt

    Hell, sometimes I'm surprised when Stephen Root ISN'T in something. Like I could have sworn he was on Arrested Development, but he wasn't. But if he had been he would have been fantastic.

  • His voicework on King of the Hill is Emmy-worthy. He does...what, five or six voices, and all of them are distinctive and amazing and hilarious. No one screams like Bill Dauterive.

    Bonus! This is one of my favorite lines in all of TV history:


  • Margdelahunty

    "WHY DO YOU KEEP CALLING ME BEEEHHHL!". Love him, love to watch people who are great at their craft.

  • CMooreVerdad

    Also, apparently he has not aged.

  • Mrs. Julien

    One of the funniest things I have ever seen is when Stephen Root took off his shoe and started banging it on a table while screaming, "I WILL BURY YOU" to open contract negotiations with his employees on Newsradio. Does anyone else remember that? Anyone?

  • kushiro -

    That's what made him such a Macho Business Donkey Wrestler.

  • emmalita

    Yes!! I loved Jimmy James.

    Jimmy: So, you learned that mutual cooperation is better than competitive bickering.
    Dave: Yes, we did.
    Jimmy: That kind of stuff may work in the bedroom, but do me a favor and keep that crap out of my office.

  • John W

    Jimmy James!

  • mswas

    He'll always be Jimmy James to me.

  • e jerry powell

    And, I imagine, to Dave Foley as well.

  • John W

    What a cast that show had. Root, Foley, Khandi Alexander, Maura Tierney, Andy Dick, Joe Rogan (hey he was good in it), Vicki Lewis, and of course the late great Phil Hartman.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Indeed. Andy Dick can go f*ck a cactus both ways, though.

  • John W

    Doesn't he do that just for fun anyway? I mean that dude is crazy.

  • Batesian

    Yes indeed. I've been in the tank for Root ever since the first ep of NewsRadio.

  • I've described myself as having fancy plans and pants to match more times than I can count.

  • bbmcrae

    Btw, his co-star on that Fringe ep is his real-life wife, the equally talented and versatile Romy Rosemont (Finn's mom on Glee).

  • dizzylucy

    He's great in everything, but I especially like when he pops up as The Hammer on Justified.

  • LD

    I remember the first scene with him on Justified.
    Paramedics arrive to his house and find him in his bedroom with a woman on her knees sucking on him.
    The paramedic says:"Miss, stop sucking. Miss stop sucking and step aside". Only she was sucking the snake poison out of his tigh.

  • sal paradise

    That episode of Fringe was so heartbreaking. The premise was great, but he played the character of the devoted desperate husband quietly and perfectly.

  • Buellie413

    I'm watching Justified season two right now, and my husband and I both shouted with glee when his name popped up in the credits. He is just consistently remarkable in every role.

    Now I'm sad that Breaking Bad never found a reason to use him.

  • emmalita

    He would be perfect for Saul's spin-off.

  • Uriah_Creep

    As a future viewer of Saul's show, I cannot upvote this enough.

  • JJ

    Absolutely. His appearances as the gun-toting, Speedo-wearing Judge Mike "The Hammer" Reardon are so good.

  • TCH

    I was told was told there would be cake. Where is the cake?

  • VohaulsRevenge

    Just pass.

  • TCH

    You mean just a moment?

  • foolsage

    Check your local bakery, then check all bakeries spiraling outwards from there. I assure you, there is cake. Somewhere.

    Edit to add: I'm told the cake is both delicious and moist.

  • TCH

    There is no cake in the room!

  • e jerry powell

    Cake... or death?

  • emmalita

    You've got to love the scientific method.

  • foolsage

    Yes, I do. I'm required by court order to love the scientific method, though my attorney thinks he has a good argument to appeal the physical requirements the judge applied in my case. It's frankly inconvenient and embarrassing. Plus, it chafes.

  • emmalita

    Try buttercream for the chafing, but the good kind, not the one with all the powdered sugar. Also, as a baker I can assure you that cake is science.

  • Mrs. Julien

    As a baker I can assure you that I have no interest in cake.

  • emmalita

    But why? It's so fun to make and then people love you, for at least as long as the cake lasts.

  • foolsage

    Damn it all, now I can't stop thinking about the obvious intersection of cake and science.


    Aperture Science: we do what we must, because we can. For the good of all of us, except the ones who are dead.

  • emilya

    i could not get enough of him as the judge in justified. he was absolutely perfect for that role!

  • khaleesoy

    Wow, I would not have recognized him as THE Milton..

  • Samantha Klein

    Man, he's so great in Pushing Daisies. Still wish they'd explained that storyline, though...

  • Maguita NYC

    I cannot believe how versatile he is: I remembered and loved him on Boardwalk (in a stabby annoyed kind of way), but until that pic kissing Lafayette, I did not place him as the desperate love-hungry pathetic baby vamp! Root Bump indeed.

  • foolsage

    I also didn't recognize him as Eddie the vampire. What a great character actor.

  • Buellie413

    Oh Eddie. He broke my heart in True Blood.

  • foolsage

    I'd argue that Eddie was instrumental in Jason Stackhouse's character development. Eddie put the very first crack in Jason's Wall of Self-Absorbed Idiocy.

  • Maguita NYC

    As Eddie he was so desperate and hungry for love, he was just so very pitiful.

    But on Boardwalk, I just wanted to kill him because of that slow annoying snarky drawl and the smirk!!! Every time Nucky had to put money in the fish bowl (I believe), I just felt annoyance and wanted someone to finally kill Gaston Means by any means!

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