The one-off. The television landscape is littered with them. Joyce DeWitt in “Three’s Company. Jerry Mathers from “Leave it to Beaver.” Half the cast of “Law & Order.” Fred Savage, Danica McKellar, Jason Hervy, and Josh Saviano in “The Wonder Years.” Jason Alexander and Michael Richards in “Seinfeld.” Mr. Cooper in “Hanging with Mr. Cooper.” Screech, Theo Huxtable, and Marshall Flinkman from “Alias.” Sometimes, you’re so good at a character that you’re stuck with the identity for the rest of your career because you’re not quite good enough to play another character.
Last night, during the Emmy Awards opening, I pumped my fist a little at the sight of Jorge Garcia (Hurley!) in the Glee-inspired opening number. And then I felt a sudden pang of sadness, knowing that it’s probably the last we’ll see of Hurley, at least in any sort of substantial role. He may show up in “Law & Order: Albuquerque,” in 20 years, but even then, the reaction will be, “Was that Hurley?!”
When a popular show ends, it’s not just the end of the show. For a lot of the actors on the show, it’s also more or less the end of a career. Those people who are most readily identified by their show character may go on to a decade or two of guest starring roles or, if they’re lucky, land in a movie like Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, that will so successfully play on your typecast that it will relaunch your career. But that’s rare. More often than not, the creator of the series that made you a star might stunt cast you in an episode or three of his next series, but otherwise, you’re living on handsome royalties for the rest of your life. It’s not a bad fate, mind you. But it is sad to know that it’s nearly impossible to follow some of your favorite actors onto other shows, which might give them an opportunity to create a new version of themselves.
I’m going to miss Hurley. I’m just as bummed that I won’t be seeing much of Jorge Garcia in the future, either.
Here are ten other current or future one-offs from recent or existing shows. I don’t think we’ll be seeing much of any of these people in the future, either, at least in meaningful roles.
Cobie Smulders: Robin Scherbatsky, “How I Met Your Mother.” Sorry, Cobie. But you’re the only actor on the show that hasn’t branched out, now that Josh Radnor has written and directed himself in the Sundance hit, Happythankyoumoreplease, due out later this year. He may be the next Zach Braff, but at least Braff has two signature roles that will haunt him the rest of his life. Ten years from now, the sight of Cobie will still elicit, “Let’s Go to the Mall … Today!”
Sonja Sohn: Det. Shakima ‘Kima’ Greggs, “The Wire.” My first instinct is to put Michael K. Williams (Omar) on this list, but he was great in Wonderful World and he’s set to be a featured role in “Boardwalk Empire,” so he might yet outlive Omar. Meanwhile, Sonja Sohn looks like Kima Greggs, and I’m not sure she’ll ever be able to fully get out from under it. She’s a great character actress, as long as that character is Kima.
Zach Gilford: Matt Saracen, “Friday Night Lights.” Bless his heart, he’s trying. He’s been in a few straight-to-DVD quality movies, but the vulnerable, stammering jock persona may only ever really work for Matty Saracen. He’s brilliant in the role, but I’m not so sure that the character is very far removed from his real-life personality. I don’t think he has enough range to pull off another character, at least not one that’s as memorable as Saracen.
Brian Baumgartner: Kevin Malone, “The Office.” Like Hurley, Baumgartner will likely fade into oblivion after “The Office,” ends its run. Those mannerisms befit only one character, and that character is Kevin Malone. I don’t see him parlaying that into a father-role in a laugh-track sitcom. You could probably say the same for most of the minor characters in “The Office,” including Stanely, Angela, Phylis, Meredith, and Creed, who will probably all go by their character names for the rest of their careers.
Percy Daggs III: Wallace Fennell, “Veronica Mars.” Awww. Poor Wallace didn’t even make it to the end of the show that gave him his signature role. Percy Daggs wasn’t a particular great actor, but he suited this role perfectly. I don’t think, however, that there’s another role that would suit his mediocre talents as well as well as Wallace. There are worst fates, I suppose, than to be forever considered the best friend of Veronica Mars.
Janel Maloney: Donna Moss, “The West Wing.” Donna! She was so perfect for this role: Nerdy but appealing. She was the ideal stand-in for another Sorkin more or less one-off, Sabrina Lloyd from “Sports Night.” Smart and cute, but not quite quirky enough to parlay it into best friend roles in Hollywood films, especially not when Judy Greer owns Maloney’s territory.
Jack McBrayer: Kenneth Parcel, “30 Rock.” Poor guy has virtually no shot at a career post-“30 Rock.” I’ve seen him in a few other things, and he’s basically a variation of Kenneth Parcel, and there’s not a lot of television shows that call for earnest, aw shucks country bumpkins working in the big city.
Danny Pudi: Abed Nadir, “Community.” Of all those on the list, I’m probably saddest about this one. I hope “Community,” lasts a decade because, when it’s over, so is Danny Pudi. Dan Harmon might cast him in a guest role on his next brilliant series, but — for better or worse — Danny Pudi will always be Abed.
John C. McGinley: Dr. Cox, “Scrubs.” I don’t want to believe this about McGinley, but I don’t think he’ll ever outlive his Dr. Cox character. McGinley, actually, had a very active career as a character actor until “Scrubs,” came along, and I’ve seen him in a lot of other bit roles (like Office Space), but nothing that McGinley has done can even come close to swallowing the dominating presence of Dr. Cox. Outside of Dr. Cox, he’s not a particularly great actor (either that or he’s been saddled with lousy roles most of his career). He’s going to be the angry, rant-y doctor with the kernel of heart for the rest of his life. Fortunately, he’s had a long enough career now to rest on his Hugh Jackman hating laurels.
Adrien Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Dillon & Jerry Ferrara: Vincent Chase, Eric Murphy, Johnny Drama & Turtle, “Entourage.” Do you ever see any of these guys in other movies? Grenier was the boyfriend in The Devil Wears Prada, but that’s about the extent of his career outside of Johnny Chase. Connolly may get the occasional smarmy boyfriend role, but Dillon and Ferrara are completely cooked post-“Entourage.” I’m not particularly upset about this development.