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10 Supporting Characters Who Were Better Than The Leads (And 10 Who Were The Worst)

Entertainment
10 Supporting Characters Who Were Better Than The Leads (And 10 Who Were The Worst)

In 1979, Hanna-Barbera Productions decided to spark up their classic Scooby-Doo cartoons with a character meant to wow audiences. In came Scrappy-Doo, Scooby’s young cousin. While kids loved him at the time, today he stands as the epitome of one of the worst supporting characters in history. From his annoying voice to picking fights and acting foolish, Scrappy annoyed the hell out of people, yet was pushed hard by the writers. It happens constantly, a character meant to be a big deal in their supporting role is pushed too much, making their flaws worse. The Simpsons even parodied it in the classic “Poochie” episode that summed up how trying to sell someone as a big deal just makes it worse when they fail. Notable is how some characters actually came off okay at first, but as time wore on, became horrible.

But there is a flip side to this. Characters that were meant to be brief or forgettable sometimes suddenly transform into the best reason to watch the show. It’s mostly thanks to the actors behind them, who make them stand out and win fans over. There’s also how the writers can imbue them with good attributes that allow them to grow. For every character that steals the spotlight, there is someone who comes out of the background to shine wonderfully. There are slews of examples across TV, but some stand even bigger than others in both categories.

Here are 10 supporting characters who became the best reason to watch their shows and 10 that made you want to change the channel. We’ll show how a supporting player can help (or hurt) their series.

20. BEST: Cat Grant in Supergirl

The character of Cat Grant in the Supergirl comics was a reporter often known for rather flighty stuff and, at one point, a shill against Supergirl. The CBS series reimagined her as the “Queen of All Media” who had Kara as her assistant. Calista Flockhart was hardly the person you’d imagine as a cold and domineering boss, but she pulled it off brilliantly. With her icy demeanor and cold stares, Flockhart made Cat a presence so intimidating that Kara (a woman who regularly fights evil super-powered aliens) is terrified in her presence.

But Flockhart soon showed Cat to be a warmer figure who would give Kara good advice for her life, both in costume and out. Her one-liners were sharp, but her aid helped the show and was terrific. Indeed, the show suffered in season two when Cat took a long absence (Flockhart did not want to move to Vancouver). Thankfully, she returned in the final episodes of the season, as sharp as ever (proven when viewers discovered she’d known all along Kara was Supergirl) and ready to continue in season three.

19. WORST: Dawn Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

To be fair, it was a clever take on the “introduce a new character” bit. At the end of the first episode of Buffy’s fifth season, Buffy enters her room to find a young teenager on her bed. It was her little sister Dawn, whom everyone accepted as always having been around despite how audiences had never seen her before. It turned out Dawn was “The Key”, an otherworldly source of energy. To keep her safe, some monks gave her human form, sent her to Buffy for safety, and shifted everyone’s memories so that they accepted her being there. Eventually, the truth came out and it became important to keep Dawn safe from a killer goddess. Michelle Trachtenberg was good to look at and, at times, the character had some funny stuff.

Sadly, for most of her on-screen period, Dawn came off moody, whining, and often causing messes (like foolishly inviting a vampire into her home). It got worse when she found out who she was, moaning about “not being human” and snapping at the sister who was protecting her. Later seasons had her causing more trouble, even begging for powers herself and just coming off aggravating. A shame, as Trachtenberg has grown into a hottie. But Dawn was one role that dragged Buffy down.

18. BEST: Caroline Forbes in The Vampire Diaries

In the first season of Diaries, Caroline Forbes was an annoying blonde bimbo. She was the high school queen, head cheerleader, and into her own desires. She did mostly side stuff like being compelled and used by Damon and some funny lines, but nothing too special. However, in the second season premiere, she was turned into a vampire herself and, as if by magic, transformed into a fantastic character. Funny as hell, Candice Accola amped up the sexiness with some hot stuff but kept the character’s roots strong.

If anything, Caroline became more obsessed with being queen bee of the school, more concerned about a dance than the threats of evil around the town. She handled dramatic stuff like Caroline’s relationship with her vamp-hating mother and later, her battle with cancer. She stepped up to more of a lead when Nina Dobrev left the show, and her winning manner kept fans loving the series. It was fabulous seeing Caroline shine and a great character evolution.

17. WORST: Urkel in Family Matters

During its first season, Family Matters was a cookie-cutter sitcom about a cop and his family. It had some warm stuff here and there, some fun lines, but it was mostly straightforward. The character of Urkel appeared as their neighbor, a ridiculous geek pining for Laurel and going on a horrible date with her. That was all it was supposed to be but Jaleel White’s performance won over the audience and Urkel soon began appearing more and more. Which was fine for a bit with him entering, doing nutty antics and laugh lines. But then he began to dominate the show more and more and soon, transforming it into basically a live-action cartoon. Plotlines worked off his inventions like shrinking people, creating a clone, and more. The show became an “is this still on?” series that even jumped networks for its final season. It’s also sadly typecast White, who can never fully escape it. Urkel got way too annoying for his own good.

16. BEST: Chloe O’Brian in 24

She was a very unlikely choice to be a fan favorite. Appearing in the third season of the long-running Fox hit, Chloe was a snarky, arrogant techie, a hacker boasting of her smarts and putting down others. With respect, Mary Lynn Rajskub isn’t exactly a sexy knockout, and she really should have just been forgettable. But fans clicked onto her, thanks to how Chloe was brilliant at her job as a hacker and quite often the one who saved the day. She was soon made more of a regular in the next few seasons and proved herself more capable with fighting in addition to her hacking and sardonic humor. A much-needed dose of levity. She even became a mom as she continued to put herself on the line for Jack. The “Live Another Day” series had Chloe as a harder hacker with a fun style and showed that, for all her changes, she was a character fans loved just behind Jack to make the show so awesome.

15. WORST: Lana Lang in Smallville

There is no denying that Kristen Kreuk is a very attractive lady. And in the early days of this “young Superman” series, she had her charms as Lana Lang. But soon it became clear that the character just wasn’t working for fans. She came off selfish, petty, constantly needing to be rescued, and quite a few times the crises hitting the town were her own fault. Yet the characters constantly praised her as a great woman who everyone (even the bad guys) respected and loved. Every guy had to be with her and girls wanting to be like her. It got worse when the creators gave her “SEAL training”, yet she still came off as a lousy fighter and the fans turning on her push big time. Even Kreuk seemed to get the hint as she left the show for a time, but was brought back with returns as they continued to push her hard. But fans just didn’t take to it and while Lana may be a big deal in the Superman mythos, the TV version of her was the worst part of a good show.

14. BEST: Joan Holloway in Mad Men

The genius of AMC’s series is how it showed how the “good old days” of the 1960s were a mess filled with racism and sexism. That particularly came up with the character of Joan. Casting Christina Hendricks guaranteed they had a stunningly sexy woman and that amazing body looked like it was poured into the tight dresses — a hilarious scene had some Japanese investors looking her over and one asking “how does she not fall over?” But Joan was more than just a pretty face, she had a steely spine and clearly wanted more for herself, but was held back by the times. She sadly knew her place, which meant putting up with an assault and even having to sleep with a client to land a major account. But her sharp voice and tone showed her brilliance, and the rest of the firm was honest about how, without Joan, they were lost. That red hair showed her spirit, and Joan was a woman who would have dominated as a CEO in another time. But even in this one, she was a force to be reckoned with. While fans loved taking in that body, it was Joan’s spirit that made this woman a leader among the Men.

13. WORST: Kim Bauer in 24

There’s no denying that Elisha Cuthbert is amazingly hot. She’s proven that in movies, shows, and various magazine spreads. But her role as Jack Bauer’s daughter on 24 had fans rolling their eyes far too often to enjoy. In season one, Kim is abducted as part of a complex plot, and while having Cuthbert run around in a cheerleading outfit sounds good, it dragged on and fans saw it as a distraction. Season two just made it worse. Kim was again dragged into a terrorist bit and on the run, leading to the now infamous scene of her facing a cougar in the woods. Season three tried to make her better by having her as a CTU agent, but still causing messes. Her appearances later were much smaller and brief to the relief of fans. While Cuthbert was nice to look at, having to see a Kim subplot drag out the show made the early hours of 24 ones to skip over.

12. BEST: Santana in Glee

When Glee began, the various characters in their New Directions club took a back seat to Rachel, Quinn, Finn, and Kurt. At first, Santana was just one of Quinn’s cheerleading buddies who joined her in scheming. A wicked presence, Naya Rivera looked hot in that uniform. She soon started showing off more with some wicked funny lines delivered in a sardonic manner. Things took a major turn when it was revealed Santana and Brittany were a couple, which got a lot of attention. As the show continued, Santana was deepened with big scenes, such as when she’s outed and her religious grandmother disowns her. She took more of a role thanks to Rivera’s wonderful singing and dancing in some fantastic numbers. She also got great bits that even took shots at the show’s attitude, and she was proud of being a “rhymes with witch”. The character got more spotlight, though she was absent for a while with rumors of Rivera clashing with Lea Michele and others. Thankfully, she returned for the final season which had Santana and Brittany finally getting married, giving this wicked gal get her happy ending.

11. WORST: Billie in Charmed

It looked like Charmed was ending with its seventh season finale, having the sisters faking their deaths to live normal lives. But the WB gave it an unexpected renewal, forcing the writers to bring the witches back. In hopes of sparking new life, they decided to add a new character to become a protégé of the witches. Billie was a young witch showing up in a leather outfit fighting demons on her own. She soon fell in with the sisters and worked with them to find her missing sister. Kaley Cuoco was hot in the part, especially with plotlines involving her in sexy costumes, but the character was not a winner with fans, coming off as grating, whining, and frankly annoying as hell. It wasn’t helped by her stupidity when trusting her obviously evil sister, which nearly led to a huge disaster. Supposedly, the network really wanted Billie to star in her own spin-off, but the merger with the CW ended that.

Cuoco would go on to land the role of Penny in The Big Bang Theory, so she turned out okay, but her Charmed role wasn’t quite viewer magic.

10. BEST: Chloe Sullivan in Smallville

When Smallville began, fans expected the characters of the classic Superman comics: Clark Kent, his parents, Lex Luthor, Lana Lang, Pete Ross, and others. But Chloe Sullivan was a brand new character, a quirky reporter who soon realized the town was filling up with some weird super-powered people. Allison Mack stood out with her short blonde hair and spunky manner. She was Clark’s best friend, and the chemistry between them was actually much better than Clark and Lana. Fans loved Chloe’s humor, her tough spirit, and unending loyalty to her friend. Eventually, Chloe discovered Clark’s secret and became a better ally, helping him in his adventures. More than once, fans worried Chloe would be killed off, but Mack’s wonderful charm kept her on as the producers knew she was too much of a favorite to get rid of. She continued on, becoming a super-hacker and helping the various new heroes Clark allied himself with.

Surprisingly, Mack hasn’t really acted much since the show ended given her great talent, but that just makes her role better as Chloe, who really helped Smallville fly high.

9. WORST: Felicity Smoak in Arrow

The sad thing is that if you had asked Arrow fans over the first two and a half seasons, they easily would have said Felicity was the best part of the show. Originally, she was meant for just one or two small scenes as a tech girl Oliver goes to for info. However, Emily Bett Rickards’ performance won fans over and so the showrunners added her as a regular. Soon, she was standing out with her fantastic sense of humor, one-liners, and more to shine brilliantly. Fans loved her spirit and how she helped the team with her hacking and a bright light in the dark show.

But midway through the third season, things changed as Felicity started to become way too prominent. She and Oliver got together, but Felicity came off controlling and too dominant in many ways. It reached a height in season four when she reacted badly to Oliver having a son, acting angry and judgmental. Fans were not happy with Katie Cassidy’s character being killed off while Felicity stepped more into the limelight, even taking a leadership role. It’s increased in season five with more judgmental stuff and being too easily forgiven for working with a terrorist group. Rickards is still charming, but her character is not able to help the material. It’s sad as she was once the best part of the series, but now fans wish she would just go away.

8. BEST: River Tam in Firefly

It only ran for 13 episodes, but Joss Whedon’s space western became one of the biggest cult hits ever. Many believe the show suffered because Fox didn’t air the original two-hour pilot first, thus audiences didn’t grasp the importance of River. She shows up as a girl in a box from Dr. Simon, who explains she’s his sister and a genius of the highest order. That got her recruited to a shadowy agency who performed surgeries that gave her psychic abilities, but also drove her insane. Summer Glau was young in the role but a breakout, her manner was nutty with funny lines, but there were also moments that hinted River was far stronger than she seemed. The show never got to see its full potential, but thankfully Whedon was able to reunite the cast for the movie Serenity. There, Glau really cut loose with a fantastic fight scene to reward fans of the show and make this sci-fi series so loved.

7. WORST: April in Gilmore Girls

For six seasons, fans of the WB series adored its quirky style, amazing humor, and heartfelt characters. They loved the chemistry between Lorelai and diner owner Luke, and overjoyed when the duo finally got together. Which was why they were outraged when creator Amy Sherman-Palladino made a creative move that, to many, ruined the series. While working in the diner, Luke meets a young girl named April in glasses, braces, and a weird helmet. Babbling in a motormouth manner, April drops in that she wants one of Luke’s hairs as part of a science project to find her birth father. She leaves before he can react, but returns to confirm she is the product of a past love affair of Luke’s. This threw a wrench into his relationship with Lorelai, leading to a long breakup.

Because of that, fans loathed April badly despite Vanessa Marano’s attempts to make her an adorkable girl just wanting to know her dad. The character had some charm, but what she represented made her loathed by the fandom. Marano would achieve success starring in the hit Switched At Birth. She later reprised April in the 2016 Netflix revival, now in college, but fans still weren’t ready to forgive the gal who ruined one of TV’s best romances.

6. BEST: Mona Vanderwaal in Pretty Little Liars

The long-running ABC Family/Freeform series loved to twist fan expectations, but few twists were as huge as what happened to Mona Vanderwaal. In the first few seasons of the show she appeared to be a bit of a ditz, a former nerd transformed into a hot girl in school, more into shopping than other things. But then it was revealed she was the first “A”, the wicked person tormenting the main characters. She was also a genius able to wrap people around her finger. Sent to the nuthouse, she returned and proved herself an awesome aide. While the other Liars bumbled around, Mona would just march in and solve things fast. Janel Parrish’s performance was great for selling her arrogance, and she backed it up with her skills and some fun lines. She was easily a high point of the series and it’s no wonder the network is planning to give her a spin-off. It’s no lie to say that Mona was easily a reason PLL was such a hit.

5. WORST: Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: the Next Generation

Most fans of this acclaimed continuation of the iconic franchise will agree: the first season is terrible. It was hamstrung by a limited budget and bad writing, they were not allowed to let loose and the actors were still getting into the roles. Not helping was how the writers had come up with the idea of Wesley Crusher as the “boy genius”, always saving the day. Having a barely teenaged kid as the helmsman of a starship was bad enough, but everyone pushed Wesley into making the save and doing the big moves that these supposedly smart adults couldn’t. It’s not even the fans, either. Wil Wheaton himself writes recaps of the first season, openly acknowledging how he wanted to give Wesley a good punch in the face. Thankfully, as the show matured, Wesley was toned down, a tad annoying still but at least becoming a Starfleet officer and growing up. Wheaton is still haunted by fan hate, but the fact that he’s right there agreeing with Wesley being so bad lets you appreciate him more.

4. BEST: Kenzi in Lost Girl

This cult Canadian series focused on Bo (Anna Silk), a succubus handling cases as a makeshift private eye. Silk was hot in her outfits and great with her work. But from day one, the real joy of the series was her friendship with Kenzi. An eccentric thief and con artist, Kenzi was saved by Bo from a creep and intrigued by the woman and her supernatural world. They soon forged a bond as partners and roommates to help each other out. With her shifting hair color, wild outfits, and goth look, Kenzi was fun already. But her sheer joy at the world around her led to some hysterical one-liners that had viewers laughing hard. Kenzie would have the occasional good fight scene, but it was her aid to Bo that made her so important. She brought a great levity to the series and helped push its humor. The show felt it badly when Ksenia Solo left at the start of season five and her return for the final episodes was welcomed to close the series out. To many, Kenzi was the real reason for watching this show.

3. WORST: Debra Morgan in Dexter

Showtime’s serial killer drama is famous for being terrific in its first seasons but then soon collapsing into utter garbage. At first, Jennifer Carpenter was good as Debra, the foster sister of the main character, a tough cop handling cases. However, as the show went on, Debra soon became the source of a lot of fan hate. From her selfish behavior to her arrogance, her constant whining about not being appreciated, it grated massively. It wasn’t helped by how Carpenter and Michael C. Hall’s real-life relationship (they were married and divorced over the show’s run) led to the creepy idea of Debra having feelings for her foster brother. It just got worse when she discovered the truth of Dexter as a serial killer — so judgmental even as she covered it up, and how she acted like every woman close to Dexter was “stealing” him away was annoying. The horrible finale gave her a bad fate, but most fans thought getting rid of Deb a lot earlier could have improved the show nicely.

2. BEST: Abby Sciuto in NCIS

It took a bit for the long-running CBS series to find its groove. In the first episodes, Abby was just a little quirky with her goth style which wasn’t even that huge. But as the show became a monster hit, Pauley Perrette amped up her appeal big time. Abby was soon known for her nutty behavior; always excitable and loving the wild crime scenes they covered. A genius hacker and wiz in the lab, Abby was the one coming up with the important clues to solve the cases. Her style was great and while she didn’t flaunt it, she had a fun sexy vibe to her. A classic episode has her dressing up like Marilyn Monroe for Halloween and oblivious to how men ogle her. But Abby had heart, always looking for the best in people and a strong soul to the team. Her loyalty was bright as fans adored how she’d bounce into a scene, eagerly asking for Gibbs. When Perrette leaves the show after this season, it won’t be the same. Abby was the heart of the series.

1. WORST: Cousin Oliver in The Brady Bunch

He is the poster-child for “new character that sinks a show”. After years of running as a hit, The Brady Bunch struck the same problem as any show revolving around a bunch of adorable kids: they grew up. With ratings going down, the show-runners tried to fire things up by adding in Oliver, a cousin who came to live with the family. A mischievous little kid, he was meant to be a cute urchin to get fans interested. Instead, he was a chubby, glasses-wearing goof whose behavior often came off as jerkish. Robbie Rist just never had a chance, as the writers clearly pushed him too far to make himself “loveable” and that just turned fans on him big time. The show was canceled, with fans immediately hooked onto the idea that he’d killed it (in reality, the network had already decided not to renew it). However, it was obvious that adding in Oliver was a move that just pushed Bunch down and created an infamous trope of television.

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