I think it’s fair to say that all (scripted) TV shows can be broken down into two categories: Ensemble and Star Vehicles. “House” being a clear example of a Star Vehicle (every other character serves Hugh Laurie’s performance and story line) and, say, “Happy Endings” being a solid example of an Ensemble (where there is no clear lead and the story lines, overall, share equal time and importance). I apologize for that brief Storytelling 101 lesson, but it’s paramount that the entire class understand the norms before we talk about the deviants. That would be this group of characters below. For every solidly charismatic crew (“Cougartown”) or unflappably strong lead (not even Tim Riggins could take down the Taylors on “Friday Night Lights”) there’s an aberration. Actors hired to be second fiddle who proved themselves to be virtuosos. So here they are (in no particular order, so don’t get huffy) 10 TV Characters Who Have Walked Away With Someone Else’s Show.
10. Ron Swanson — “Parks and Recreation”: Though “Parks and Recreation” has a very strong ensemble and Amy Poehler retains her position as nominal lead, Nick Offerman has walked off with much of the acclaim. Initially a sort of background, Lou Grant character to Poehler’s chipper Mary Tyler Moore, Swanson has become the highlight for most. I’m not sure exactly when the changeover happened for you, but he had me at meat tornado.
9. Dr. Walter Bishop — “Fringe”: I stopped watching “Fringe” this season, but when intelligent folks are asked why they stick with the show despite all its problems, the answer, inevitably, is Walter. It’s not handsome Pacey or the rather wooden Anna Torv (and her embarrassing Leonard Nimoy impression), it’s John Noble’s eccentric and admittedly brilliant performance.
8. Damon Salvatore — “The Vampire Diaries”: It’s so hard to capture Damon Salvatore’s charms in a still image. When he’s not moving, Ian Somerhalder looks for all the world like a mentally deficient Rob Lowe. But the man possess a rubber face and has used his smirks, sneers and snarls to steal this cheesy and addictive supernatural soap away from its comely leads. Rejoice! The Bella and Edward counterparts are no longer the focus. This scenario may seem familiar (see Marsters, James), but it’s no less fun.
7. Dr. Sheldon Cooper — “The Big Bang Theory”: I know I’m not supposed to talk about this show. According to Pajiban lore, real nerds watch “Community.” But every time awards season rolls around and Jim Parsons racks up another statue I can practically see the steam pouring out of Johnny Galecki’s ears. This was supposed to be his show, no? (“Community,” by the way, would have made this list if one single character had stolen it away from Joel McHale. I would argue that honor belongs equally to Troy, Abed and Annie’s Boobs.)
6. Jack Donaghy — “30 Rock”: Much like Ron Swanson, Baldwin’s boss character was supposed to take a back seat to Fey’s strong female lead. But as Liz Lemon has grown increasingly caricatured and inept, Jack Donaghy’s role has grown in prominence. It’s not that Fey is no longer a star, but she’s no longer the star.
5. Schmidt — “New Girl”: When this show started the season, Zooey Deschanel’s “adorkable” (ugh) character was the undeniable lead. She was a veritable quirk monster, bursting into song, accents and lacking in any and all social cues. Once the writers grew hip to the notion that she was more obnoxious than endearing, they toned down both her eccentricities and her airtime and broadened the focus of the show. While you can argue that “New Girl” now qualifies as an ensemble, I’d say Max Greenfield is pulling the majority of the focus. (Though, with last week’s “Wicked” sing-a-long and this week’s Color Purple homage, Lamorne Morris’s Winston is quickly becoming a personal favorite.) But, at the end of the day, it’s Schmidt who’s got the best plots and lines and Greenfield is absolutely nailing it.
4. Boyd Crowder — “Justified”: I think those of us who watch this show all know by now that Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder was not supposed to survive the first episode. But Goggins is a genius and the show runners intelligently kept him in the game. Is this still Timothy Olyphant’s show? Maybe. But not by much.
3. Tyrion Lannister — “Game Of Thrones”: One might argue that “Game of Thrones” falls into the ensemble category, that you’re equally invested in several characters and that there’s no true lead. And while I would agree that’s true of the books, I think Peter Dinklage has the TV series wrapped around his littlest finger. In the absence of, um, another character from last season, Dinklage has now garnered top billing, a mantle of awards and a devoted following. As well he should.
1-2. Joan Holloway’s Assets: You know what? YOU KNOW WHAT? I couldn’t think of a single female. I don’t mean that in a degrading or sexist way. In fact, it really pisses me off. Maybe this is my oversight. Perhaps you can enlighten me. But, despite the fact that we’re evidently living through a labial renaissance, I couldn’t think of a single one. So here, alas, is the best I can do. Shower me with outrage if you must, but you cannot argue with their ability to grab your attention.