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Stephen Root Makes Everything Better. It's Science.

By Sarah Carlson | Lists | August 22, 2013 |

By Sarah Carlson | Lists | August 22, 2013 |

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.