Friday, April 17, 2009

I Love You Kenneth the Page

I've always been a fan of the comic character actor. They always play the second banana, the sidekick, the best friend, the dumb friend, the mother-in-law, the nosey neighbor, the secretary - the list goes on and on. One part they never play, however is the lead. And who wants to be the lead anyway? - they never get the belly laughs.

It could be argued that Art Carney as Ed Norton was the first great character actor on television. Ed was the original goofball best friend and he made Ralph Kramden even funnier. Ethel and Fred Mertz weren't bad. They were a touch less crazy than the star of the show Lucy Ricardo, and thus created one of the staples of sitcom relationships: the star/lead is a nut and the surrounding cast is sane. (The opposite structure is also prevalent - the lead is reasonable but the rest of the cast is wacky. Think The Andy of Mayberry show as an example.)

As I was perusing our television DVD collection, I couldn't help but smile at so many of my old friends. There's George Costanza and Kramer. Frazier and Lillith. Frank Burns and Hot Lips Hoolihan. Mr. Burns is a character actor, but not Homer. How about Cartman or Towelie?

Currently, my vote goes to almost everyone on 30 Rock but especially Kenneth Ellen Parcel, an NBC page. Played by Jack McBrayer who has Chicago connections, Kenneth is a country bumpkin who refuses to allow the cynicism of New Yorkers tarnish his love of his job or his high opinion of mankind in general. I can not stop laughing at him.

I do have an all-time favorite t.v. sitcom character but I thought I'd open the floor to your votes before I reveal my own. For your consideration, may I suggest a few names, all of which you can see again in the DVD section of your local library:

Lou Grant
Phyllis Lindstrom
Rhoda Morgenstern
Ernest T. Bass
Hawkeye (he's probably a lead though)
Mr. Carlton
Larry and my other brother Larry
George Costanza
Cosmo Kramer
Lakta Gravas
Ted Baxter
Vinnie Barbarino

I've left my all-time favorite off the list, eager to hear your favorites instead. Here's a clue, however. Kenneth and he have a lot in common.


Anonymous said...

I'm guessing you have Woody from Cheers in mind? My new favorite is Better Off Ted, which has the classic Mayberry approach - Ted's a decent guy and his co-workers are a little nutty. The two scientists, Lem and Phil, are the funniest people on the show, and maybe even more so because they only get a few scenes each week. the show is really quotable; always a good sign. "I'm different from other women, Ted. And by different, I mean better."

Cheryl said...

I love Kenneth. He even got through his Coke addiction during his Wall Street days (Coke as in the Coca Cola beverage).

I'm also happy that I'm not the only person who has discovered Better Off Ted! I LOVE this show. Very funny, classic lines, and if you want to catch up on previous episodes you can watch them for free on ABC's website. I only hope they don't cancel it.

Anonymous said...

Kenneth has a little bit of that "Aw shucks" Gomer Pyle kind of thing going on, too. Not much of a TV watcher, but some of my favorite characters were also second banana-types: Niles on "Frasier" (if he wasn't a psychologist, he should have been a librarian!), the entire Barone family on "Everybody Loves Raymond," and the comedians/patients that visited with "Dr. Katz" every episode on Comedy Central.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and PS, you included Hawkeye but not Radar!

Linda K. said...

It's hard to choose my favorite second banana with so many ensemble casts out there these days, but I think have to go with Rainn Wilson as Dwight on The Office. I guess Jim and Pam and just about everyone else in the cast could be considered second bananas to Steve Carrell's "Boss" character, but Dwight is the one who's always "off the wall" crazy, goofy - even scary.
Another great second banana is Randy, of My Name is Earl. But then what younger sibling doesn't play the role of second banana?

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