Ask the Mary Sues: You Again! Our Favorite Recurring Bit Characters on TV
These minor characters make us laugh in a major way.
Television is a character’s medium. Unlike movies, which have to begin and end their heroes’ journeys in roughly 2 hours (give or take a Snyder cut), television allows hours and hours of character development to unfold, offering us nuanced, well rounded, and highly relatable protagonists. If movies are often one-person shows, then television relies on a reparatory ensemble of actors that flesh out the show’s universe. We have our supporting cast, namely the friends, family, and romantic interest of the protagonist. Then we have recurring characters, i.e. the parents visiting from out of town, or the boss’s boss.
And then we have those bit characters, often built around a single joke, that pop in throughout a show’s run. These characters poke fun at the world of the series, and often function as a yardstick to measure the show’s progress. Consider Rickety Cricket on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Brandi Maxxx on Parks and Rec, or Bob Vance in The Office. These day players consistently show up, make us laugh, only to disappear by the next commercial break.
We’re always happy to see them and delight in their references, like an inside joke the series shares with their viewers. In honor of these joke machines, we’ve rounded up our favorite bit characters from television.
During quarantine, I binged the first four seasons of Rick and Morty on HBO Max and quickly fell in love with the filthy and irreverent multiverse of Rick Sanchez and the Smith family. There’s so much here for genre nerds to geek out on, and plenty of rapid-ifre humor from Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland. The series features a deep bench of hilarious bit characters, like Birdperson, Gearhead, and Scary Terry. But only one character has truly captured my heart: Mr. Poopybutthole. This yellow tube with a top hat is himself a parody of wacky side characters, but I am nevertheless delighted by his every appearance. Over the course of the show he’s been shot, got married, had a baby, and became a professor studying the poetry of Maya Angelou. Has a bit character ever gone through so much? OooWee, indeed.
And while we’re on the subject of Dan Harmon and characters with recurring jokes, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the man, the myth, the legend: Magnitude from Community. POP POP!
Chester, aka Chester Drescher from The Nanny, was C.C. Babcock’s dog who seemed to like Fran Fine better than he did C.C. I always loved Chester because he was just so good at switching from in love with Fran to hating C.C, but then not causing a fuss. It was also funny to see such a tiny dog be filled with so much rage towards one Blonde woman. Even when he wasn’t on screen the jokes about C.C forgetting about him were hilarious.
It’s been years since I watched South Park, but in college it was a staple, and there are few more memorable side characters who continue to pop up than Towelie. Towelie is a genetically engineered talking towel who really, really wants you to go and get high with him, and he is followed around by the strains of the Popeye the Sailor Man theme. As Cartman says at one point, “You’re the worst character ever, Towelie.” To which Towelie replies: “I know.” But his popularity endures, and he even had a pair of Adidas shoes created in his likeness to celebrate 4/20. Do you—you wanna get high?
“Bobby Newport never had a real job in his life.” I challenge you to hear that sentence and not instantly do the voice that Ben, Jerry, and Tom did for the Bobby Newport smear commercial on Parks and Recreation. Played by Paul Rudd, Bobby Newport was a brilliant addition to the Parks and Rec roaster and I loved when he came back to the show in the final season!
Who is your favorite bit character on television? Let us know in the comments!
(image: Adult Swim)
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