Late Additions, Best Friends

Posted by Maggie May 17th, 2010 at 09:00am In General

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lost. Who hasn’t? One thing that struck me, as I believe I’ve said in comments elsewhere on this site, is that if they touch a hair on Desmond’s head I will full on revolt, tossing the TV out the window (and it’s very heavy) and burning the place down. This made me think about the phenomenon of Desmond, a character added after the first season who I love as much (and often more) than the original crew.

Are there others out there, who were added late but gained full-cast love? A few. But it’s not easy. The most important metric I used was the Died/Disappeared rule. If the character seemed important but then Died/Disappeared suddenly and the show went on much as before, they were not, by definition, essential to the show. It’s tough, but I made these rules up, and I’m going to stick to them.

Desmond Hume and Ben Linus (Lost)

These two are the gold standard of essential late additions. One of the things that made Desmond so effective as a character was that he appeared and then abruptly vanished, so that when he came back we were pleasantly surprised and probably fooled into believing he’d been around a lot longer than he had. Ben Linus is a different sort of addition — the unplanned kind. He rocked the part so hard they basically had no choice but to write him in to the series. These are both great examples of characters evolving naturally, and the creators being responsive and observant enough to figure out that they’ve got something there.

Counter-example: Ana-Lucia. The argument could be made that she was supposed to be an unpleasant character and we weren’t supposed to like her, but I don’t care: I hated every second she was on screen and everything she did.

Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Spike shows up as a season 2 villain, and develops into one of the core Buffy gang in fits and starts, as one arc ended and the writers realized they had something great and needed new ways to bring him back. By the end of it you forget that he wasn’t in the short first season at all.

Counter-example: So many! Anya, Tara, Wesley, Faith, Riley, and the character who’s a meta-commentary on the whole process of introducing new people, Dawn. These characters were integrated into the main cast in varying degrees of success, but they never felt as essential as Spike.

Andy Bernard (The Office)

Andy is the only one from the Stamford branch to have made it through unscathed, and that’s only after an anger management class fundamentally changed the entire conception of his character. Now he’s at home in Scranton just as much as the others, which is to say, he’s a weirdo with personal issues who we love despite his bizarre tics.

Counter-example: Erin. I’m not saying she won’t feel essential in a year or two, but right now, she’s still standing out.

Will Bailey (The West Wing)

Josh Malina joined The West Wing in season four, making him the latest addition on this list. But he felt like an old-timer immediately. This one may be a strange case, in which an actor’s previous experience with related material (his awesome work on Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night) meant that the audience was primed to accept him as a member of the team.

Counter-example: I admit that my watching was spotty over the years, but I really disliked that blonde Southern Republican who’s now on CSI. This show also was a strange case of a first-season character finding herself completely unessential to anything — poor Moira Kelly all but disappeared eventually.

Many shows never managed to introduce new people successfully, not for lack of trying, and so only contain counter-examples:

Veronica Mars

Piz and Parker are two of the most energetically disliked characters on this show. Personally, I always liked Piz, and his poor pathetic Piz hair, and who knows what would’ve happened had the show stuck around for a few more years. But these late additions didn’t click with the fans and so didn’t do the struggling show any favors on its way out.

Gilmore Girls

The essential characters in this show (Lorelai, Rory, Luke, Emily) are SO essential that any addition is super distracting, even if it’s boyfriends (Max, Chris, Jason/Digger, Dean, Jess, Logan) and especially if it’s secret love-children (ugh, April).

The Cosby Show

As happy as I am that the phrase “That’s so Raven” has entered our collective ironic lexicon, I don’t think Raven Symone is anyone’s favorite Cosby, and certainly never reached the level of a Theo or Vanessa or Rudy.

House

I guess this one depends on if you liked 13 and Taub. I didn’t. I don’t watch any more (for many reasons, but the lack of connection to new characters is part of it).

This is all admittedly biased by my personal preferences and shows that I watch and characters I particularly liked, so I welcome additions to the additions list. Also, I feel like this was particularly hard to pull off before the current Golden Age of television, as shows were stricter in their scope and less amorphously serialized, and so less likely to try to introduce new beloved characters, way-back-when. But I could be wrong. What am I missing?

4 Comments

  • 1. sara  |  May 17th, 2010 at 9:53 am

    I think you’re the first person I’ve seen to express a fondness for Will Bailey. Replacing Rob Lowe is incredibly difficult, and I didn’t think he did it particularly well. Then again, I have never been the hugest Joshua Malina fan, although he’s doing some of the least twitchy work of his career in a small role on In Plain Sight. (You’re thinking of Ainsley Hayes. I agree. She was not essential. However, Kristin Chenoweth did some nice work late in the show’s run.)

    Ah, Piz. We knew ye…for awhile.

    Battlestar Galactica was quite successful at introducing new main characters and making them awesome. Anders was my favorite. And ER also did that well, but procedurals are way better at handling cast changes than the shows you discussed.

  • 2. Marisa  |  May 17th, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Listen, if anything goes down with Desmond, I’ll be with you looting in the streets.

    I’d also add Farraday to the list of newbies that I loved, but I guess the show didn’t find him so essential.

  • 3. jesse  |  May 17th, 2010 at 10:08 am

    Good calls. I think The Office has done an uncommonly decent job of shuffling characters in and out as needed, enhancing the world of the show rather than causing fan revolt. Many of their post-S1 characters weren’t ever regulars the way Ed Helms and now Ellie Kemper are, but Jan, Holly, and Karen were all a strong presence for different periods, and I love the guy from In the Loop who’s on the show now, representing Sabre. Sometimes I worry about Andy becoming too central, actually, like if Carell actually leaves at the end of next season, they’ll somehow make Andy the new incompetent-but-sort-of-well-meaning boss.

    I feel like they did a pretty good job with Anya on Buffy, considering I stopped thinking of her as a Cordelia replacement pretty quickly (although maybe that’s just because I watched the show more consistently and excitedly in the later seasons). But no, she’s not as essential as Spike.

  • 4. Maggie  |  May 17th, 2010 at 10:16 am

    I was a pretty spotty West Wing viewer: Watched seasons 1 and 2 obsessively, missed a couple years, came back for the final season. So I based the Will Bailey entry on the fact that when I came back he seemed completely integrated into whatever was currently happening. I skipped the transition entirely — maybe that would’ve spoiled the illusion.

    Zach Woods is Gabe on The Office/guy from In the Loop and he is the best!


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