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:
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.
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.
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?