When you’re talking about bit characters (and I know this is something we all do with some frequency), it’s worth noting that not all bit characters play crucial roles in a series. They’re more like assistants, in some sense, advancing the plot by occasionally playing the part of a foil or delivering a key speech that you’d never hear from the main character or an extra. So, basically, these characters are to be defined on a case by case basis. Like that one judge once said about pornography, you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it.
Anyway, as they come to me, here are some of my favorite bit characters in all the pop cultural world.
The Lone Gunmen, The X-Files
Rarely is there a character on The X-Files that I don’t like at least a little, or enjoy hating, though I am told this might change when I meet Agent Reyes (Annabeth Gish). And while I wouldn’t necessarily call them my favorite characters, the Lone Gunmen are some of the ones I enjoy most. Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood), John Byers (Bruce Hardwood), and Richard Langly (Dean Haglund) are the best kind of conspiracy theorists. Though Frohike and Langly have their lecherous moments, and Byers may be a touch too sentimental, they play the worthwhile role of supporting Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) in any case, even when his ideas are so far fetched that Agent Dana Scully’s (Gillian Anderson) eyes almost fall out due to too much rolling. Their origin story, “Unusual Suspects,” is a favorite episode of mine, and some of their best work comes in the somewhat uneven first season.
Harley & Co., Boy Meets World
Again, Harvey Keiner (Danny McNulty), Griff Hawkins (Adam Scott), Joey Epstein (Blake Soper), and Frankie Stechino (Ethan Suplee) were by no means my favorite characters on Boy Meets World. But they were certainly the ones that made me laugh the most. The personalities of these particular guys–Harley the leader, Griff the worthy replacement, Joey the rat, and Frankie the surprisingly sensitive–meshed so well and came off so authentically that you almost forgot how ridiculous the “bullies in leather jackets” concept is. Almost.
Clem, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The only demon ever allowed to babysit Dawn Summers (Michelle Tratchenberg), Clem (James Charles Leary) provides some much needed lightness in Buffy’s final seasons. Clem, first introduced as a poker buddy of Spike’s (James Marsters), goes from faceless demon to a Scooby Gang ally and a source of some of Buffy’s better comic moments. Even his debut–playing poker for kittens–is a high point.
Grizz and Dotcom, 30 Rock
I’m not sure how accurate it is to describe Grizz (Grizz Chapman) and Dotcom (Kevin Brown) as “bit characters.” But since they’re not often the focal point of any given A-, B-, or C-plot, I think it’s fair. And even if it’s not, well, they’re still great characters on what is sometimes a great show. Both too bright for the profession of Tracy Jordan’s (Tracy Morgan) bodyguard, their asides and pleasant conversations with NBC/Kabletown employees make for some of the series’ better comic moments, especially recently.
Margaret, The West Wing
The West Wing is a show populated with fantastic characters, main, supporting, bit, and one-off alike. (Except for Mandy. No one likes Mandy.) There’s any number of bit characters I could point out as favorites, but I’m going to have to go with Margaret Hooper (Nicole Robinson), White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry’s (John Spencer) secretary. Whether she’s bogging down the email server with urgent messages about the carb content in bran muffins or simply listening to Leo’s conversations at the door, Margaret is always good for a laugh.