The Office, season 3, episode 18: Roy arrives at the offices of Dunder Mifflin to attack Jim, whom he accuses of having kissed his fiancée Pam. At the time of coming to blows, Dwight Schrute intervenes and sprinkles Roy with a tear gas canister.
A few minutes later, Dwight addresses the camera and launches his tirade: “No, don’t call me a hero. Do you know who the real heroes are? The guys who get up every morning to go to work and get a call from the police station, and take off their glasses to put on a cape and fly against crime. They are the real heroes.”
Through these few words, Dwight Schrute, unwittingly, perfectly sums up his status: that of a so-called secondary character, a role simply supposed to serve as a breath between the different intrigues of the story.
Over the 201 episodes of The Officehe nevertheless established himself as one of the outstanding characters of the American series, to the point of finishing – spoiler warning! – regional director of Dunder Mifflin at the end of the ninth season.
His particuliarity? Transforming each of his lines into cult punchlines, concentrating all the characteristics of a supporting role into character traits as strange as they are touching and hilarious.
“Dwight is a bit like Neil Patrick Harris. [Barney Stinson dans How I Met Your Mother, ndlr] of The Office: a horrible, psychopathic character, who often acts contrary to any form of common sense or societal codes, but to whom we inevitably become attached, because he is more extreme than the others. You might think you’re a little crazy to like such characters, but that’s what makes him very funny – probably more so than most of the other characters in the series.
Mary Turcandeputy editor of Numerama, is telling the truth: Sawyer in LostRon Swanson in Parks and RecreationAri Gold in Surroundings or even Kramer in Seinfeldall these secondary characters often have an atypical, unique and extremely advanced character trait, something that would make any main character hateful.
To believe that the supporting roles have every right to misbehave, to be goofy or associative, to incarnate in some way what the main character would dream of being. Ron Swanson, for example, does not care royally about the team values advocated by the town hall of Pawnee, while Leslie Knope seems perfectly incapable of disobeying the rules.
“Barney Stinson, we put him forward as the funny character ofHow I Met Your Mother, but he’s not likeable, has a lot of personal issues to deal with, and couldn’t be the hero of his showcontinues Marie Turcan. This is what caused the problem with Joey Tribbiani, in Friends. He’s not a secondary character per se, but he’s less prominent than Rachel and Ross. Anyway, after stopping Friendshe had the right to his own series, Joey, and it didn’t work.”
Without wanting to defend Joey, a wobbly and not really funny series, it must be admitted that spin-offs centered on a secondary character from a mythical series generally do not work. And that, the studios ended up understanding – even if some examples, like Private Practice Where Better Call Saul, would say otherwise.
To believe that we love a character before loving his actor, forever attached to this significant role. It may not be for nothing if John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox in Scrubs), Jorge Garcia (Hurley in Lost) Where Michael K.Williams (Umar in TheWire) do not manage to extract themselves from the skin of the character who revealed them, even if they would have since won leading roles.
Over time, there are countless actors and actresses who have managed to make their character, not very present at the start of the series, an essential link in the various intrigues.
This is the case of Bryan Cranston, chosen two days before the shooting of Malcolm In The Middle does not begin to interpret Hal, but also Michael Emersonhired as a guest by the producers of Lost before establishing himself as one of the most intriguing characters (Ben Linus) in the series.
We could also cite Jeremy Pivenincluding the character of Ari Gold in Surroundings earned him three Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, while the four lead actors were never nominated.
“I don’t know if I’m stealing the show from anyone. All I know is that Ari only had one scene in the pilot, and the character took hold. For the rest, I just do my job. Ari is a great role, and I’m not surprised he’s come to be one of the show’s focal points.“, he explained.
It is not the only one: all the secondary characters mentioned so far have led to the creation of hundreds of gifs, have become memes and have given rise to a real phenomenon of identification, on the networks or on the forums.
A bit as if their flaws made them incredibly human, where the headliners have profiles that are sometimes so smooth that they probably become too heroic for us to project ourselves into them. It is probably no coincidence that the figure of the antihero – Walter White, Don Draper or Tony Soprano – has marked the serial landscape so much over the past two decades.
“It’s as if the supporting cast develops a trait so deep that it causes something cathartic in ussays Marie Turcan. They play a bit of a compass role, something that allows us to find our bearings within a constantly evolving series: the secondary character is there to reassure us. However, I would speak more readily of affection than of identification.”
Don’t touch my character
Producers and scriptwriters have obviously been aware of this phenomenon for several years, and some do not hesitate to rework their script according to the demands of the general public.
Like Chuck Lorre, the creator My uncle Charlie and The Big Bang Theorywho a few years ago admitted writing his series “by listening to the buzz, the reactions of the fans, the press, everything that is said around us, in the real world as on the web“.
No wonder from someone who, in a interview granted to Télérama in October 2017, compared sitcoms to theater, even going so far as to say that if The Big Bang Theory is filmed every week in front of 250 people, it is because it is necessary to “confront the work to its audience, without filter”.
Since the arrival of Netflix or other streaming platforms, however, we are entitled to think that this consideration of public reactions is now tending to decline. Marie Turcan confirms: “When Netflix dumps a whole season all at once, it inevitably makes changes to characters impossible, or at least slower. Ten years ago, comments from the general public were much more taken into account. But we must also recognize that it somehow forces the writers to deviate from their main idea and get lost in a plot, without necessarily realizing that their new formula does not work.
The journalist then cites as a reference the case of Barney and Robin in How I Met Your Mother: “Barney is clearly the most popular character on the show. We therefore sought to develop him, to put him in a relationship with Robin to give him even more screen time. The problem is that by doing that, the writers broke the image we had of Barney: it wasn’t really him anymore. To fully exploit a supporting role, you have to leave it in its place. Ultimately, one episode about them, and that’s it.
This has never prevented the scriptwriters from developing secondary characters of extreme depth.
This is Michael Richards having received three Emmy Awards for his nine years of doing cartoonish gestures as Kramer in Seinfield.
This is Bob Odenkirkincluding the character of Saul Goodman in breaking Bad a, according to series co-producer Peter Gould in an interview in Konbinioriginally created for “to solve some problems posed by the story, because Walter White needed some kind of adviser. That said, it quickly became apparent that Saul, thanks to Bob, had a far greater dramatic dimension. We couldn’t do without him.”.
It is, finally, Felicia Pearsonwhose character Snoop opens season 4 of TheWiredrops a cult line and immediately marks the spirits, to the point that Stephen King – a man who knows a little about narrative intrigue – possibly considers it as “the scariest female villain in television history”.
Like what, even limited to a few lines of dialogue or a few striking gimmicks, the secondary characters have everything to obtain glory and arouse the admiration of the spectators.
The fans of Game Of Thrones know something about it, with the character of Arya Stark. Those from Friends also, in particular through the recurring interventions of Paul Rudd (in the role of Mike) from the ninth season, which allow him to become much more than a simple guest star and to be quickly nicknamed by the fans of the series the “7e Friends».