Monday, August 24, 2015

Ask JKM a Question: Classic Series with the Best Supporting Characters?

A reader, David, writes:

“As a classic TV buff, I have a question for you. What classic series do you think features the best cast of supporting characters?”

David, that’s an intriguing question. 

My immediate temptation would be to pick out Star Trek (1966-1969), since diverse supporting characters such as Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty and Rand are so beloved, and by more than one generation of viewers at that.

But the more I thought about your question, the more my mind went in another direction….to The Simpsons (1990-present).

That series began as a close-up look at a dysfunctional family -- just five characters -- but quickly cast a wider net. Before long, we came to know virtually every element of the Simpsons’ city, Springfield.

We came to meet Bart and Lisa’s friends in elementary school (Ralph Wiggum, Milhouse, Nelson), local celebrities or media figures (Krusty, Kent Brockman, Duff Man), town fixtures like Reverend Lovejoy, Moe, Mayor Quimby, Cookie Kwan, Chief Wiggum, Dr. Hibbert, Comic Book Guy, Principal Skinner, Apu, Professor Frink, Disco Stu, Gus, The Crazy Cat Lady, Snake, Fat Tony, and so on. 

We’ve met neighbors (Ned Flanders), relatives (Patty, Selma, Grandpa), and so on. We’ve even had a handful of episodes featuring the characters in the “future,” several years from current chronology. There, Bart is divorced, lives in the elementary school, and has two sons.

We also have the unforgettable Itchy and Scratchy (and -- don't forget -- Poochie!)

The more I ponder The Simpsons, the more characters I can tally up -- Smithers and Mr. Burns are two more worth mentioning -- and each one is unique and funny.  

Lenny and Carl too.  I can’t forget them. The list goes on and on.

I would really have to research it further, but I don’t believe there has ever been such a wide-variety of well-developed characters on a TV series.  

Sure, we met the denizens of Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show, but not to the degree (and complexity) showcased by The Simpsons.  

Futurama also lasted a good long time (1999 – 2013) and features a strong supporting cast (my favorite is Zoidberg…) but The Simpsons takes the cake, in my opinion.  

I was highly disturbed that Harry Shearer had not signed for forthcoming seasons, since he is an absolutely key element of this cast of characters (Ned, Mr. Burns, Principal Skinner, Smithers, etc.), and then quite relieved when he came back.  

Why else did I pick The Simpsons? There’s a whopping 26 year canon with which to examine this town-wide “family,” and The Simpsons has often done just that.

My son’s favorite supporting character is Professor Frink, and I must confess that mine is Chief Wiggum.  

I haven’t dissected the exact reason why, but Wiggum cracks me up in virtually every scene.  

I love the Treehouse of Horror episode in which a paralyzed Homer (who can only speak in farts…) gets bitten by a radioactive spider and swings around Springfield shooting webs out of his ass.  

Along comes Chief Wiggum, who dutifully observes, upon seeing a web, that each such “ass web is unique.” 

I don’t know why, but that just gets me every time I watch the episode.

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at

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