TELEVISION

Notable new scene stealers keep viewers interested

11/19/2012
BY JEREMY EGNER
NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Start­ing a se­ries is hard. Just ask the pro­duc­ers of Made in Jer­sey. So it helps to have an in­del­i­ble char­ac­ter to keep view­ers en­ter­tained long enough to get them in­vested in sto­ries they don’t know and ac­tors they’ve of­ten never seen.

The most mem­o­ra­ble scene steal­ers in this fall’s new se­ries largely carry on the no­ble tra­di­tion of Kramer (Sein­feld), Carla (Cheers) or, more cur­rently, Sch­midt (New Girl), Ron Swan­son (Parks and Recre­ation), and Roger Ster­ling (Mad Men) — fir­ing off the best lines from the side while the leads carry the story for­ward. The screen time may be lim­ited, but it comes with the “free­dom to just go in and do my job as an ac­tor,” said Sara Rue, who ap­pears on the new Mal­ibu Coun­try and knows what it’s like to be the lead from her time on the mid-’00s sit­com Less Than Per­fect.

This time around “I get to just show up, wear my fake nails and my fake eye­lashes, flounce around and say my funny lines and go home,” she said. “It’s kind of great.”


BRETT GELMAN

Go On(NBC)

Role: Mr. K, one of the group-ther­apy pa­tients who charm and tor­ment Mat­thew Perry’s Ryan King.

De­fin­ing Qual­ity: Slack-jawed odd­ness.

Spe­cial­ties: Non se­qui­turs; dead-eyed stares; beard fon­dling.

You Might Have Seen Him: As Chris El­li­ott’s side­kick in Eagle­heart or one of the un­set­tling Lit­tle Bit of Luck char­ac­ters in New York Lot­tery ads.

Go On has diz­zy­ing quirks per ca­pita even with­out Mr. K, a man Gel­man de­scribes as “a pos­i­tive Han­ni­bal Lecter.” But the char­ac­ter’s pe­cu­liar­ity stands out even from the other goof­balls. The Lecter com­par­i­son stems from Mr. K’s in­tense ob­ser­va­tion of his sur­round­ings, Gel­man said, as he hov­ers — watch­ing, al­ways watch­ing — on the fringe of group ac­tiv­i­ties. When Mr. K does act out, he’s equally likely to share a con­vinc­ing Gene Kelly im­per­son­ation, a sa­vant­like un­der­stand­ing of real es­tate law or an en­thu­si­asm for streak­ing.

“He doesn’t have a knowl­edge of how peo­ple op­er­ate so­cially,” said Gel­man, a long­time Upright Citi­zens Bri­gade reg­u­lar, “but he loves peo­ple.” He cred­its the show’s writ­ers, but the Gel­man oeu­vre — in­clud­ing his Gel­ma­nia pod­cast and Funny or Die vid­eos — sug­gests a flair for the bi­zarre. “I com­mit hard to the weird­ness ev­ery time,” he said.


Lucy Punch plays BJ, a co-worker and sidekick of Kate in the new Fox show 'Ben and Kate.'
Lucy Punch plays BJ, a co-worker and sidekick of Kate in the new Fox show 'Ben and Kate.'

LUCY PUNCH

Ben and Kate (Fox)

Role: BJ, a co-worker and side­kick to the tit­u­lar Kate.

De­fin­ing Qual­ity: A Ger­vai­sian mix of clue­less­ness and self-re­gard.

Spe­cial­ties: Brassy quips; bad de­ci­sions.

You Might Have Seen Her: Cuck­old­ing An­thony Hop­kins in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, an­tag­o­niz­ing Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher, lick­ing Steve Carell in Din­ner for Schmucks.

In this sit­com about mis­matched but lov­ing sib­lings shar­ing a roof, BJ is a saucy con­niver who keeps the show’s sweet­ness in check. “She’s com­ing from some­where darker and cor­rupt,” said Punch.

Early ep­i­sodes found her help­ing Ben steal a tree from an ex-girl­friend’s back­yard and fak­ing her own death to get out of a re­la­tion­ship. Punch finds laughs in the gap be­tween re­al­ity and her char­ac­ter’s obliv­i­ous ego.

“I kind of like char­ac­ters who are blindly con­fi­dent and deeply self­ish,” she said. “She’s bad, but she doesn’t re­al­ize it.”


SARA RUE

Mal­ibu Coun­try (ABC)

Role: Kim, nosy neigh­bor to a fish-out-of-wa­ter Ten­nes­see fam­ily headed by Reba (Reba McEntire) and her mother, Lil­lie Mae (Lily Tom­lin).

De­fin­ing Qual­ity: Cal­i­for­nia shal­low.

Spe­cialty: Per­sonal space vi­o­la­tions.

You Might Have Seen Her: In Less Than Per­fect or in re­cur­ring roles on Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang The­ory, and Rules of En­gage­ment.

Ac­torly in­se­cu­rity al­most pre­vented Rue from join­ing Mal­ibu Coun­try. She re­jected early over­tures from the pro­duc­ers be­cause “I just felt like they weren’t go­ing to give me the job,” Rue said, laugh­ing. “I wrote my­self off.”

Her re­luc­tance was be­cause Kim, an over­shar­ing so­cial­ite with verve, runs counter to Rue’s typ­i­cal “un­com­fort­able-in-my-own-skin awk­ward girl” roles. But she found a se­cret weapon in her ca­ble box. “I’ve watched a lot of Real House­wives of Orange County and Bev­erly Hills,” she said. “Both of those shows re­ally in­form the char­ac­ter.”


JD SOUTHER

Nash­ville (ABC)

Role: Watty White, a coun­try mu­sic guru.

De­fin­ing Qual­ity: Griz­zled wis­dom.

Spe­cialty: Sage, plot-goos­ing ideas.

You Might Have Seen Him: Act­ing in Thir­ty­s­ome­thing, per­form­ing at Jazz at Lin­coln Center, par­ty­ing with the Eagles at the Trou­ba­dour in the ‘70s.

A Nash­ville Yoda who, as one char­ac­ter notes, has “dis­cov­ered half the peo­ple in this town,” Watty White links the var­i­ous sub­plots and frames the big-pic­ture nar­ra­tive about a town full of flawed striv­ers (like Con­nie Brit­ton’s Rayna Jay­mes). “He kind of shows up oc­ca­sion­ally and pro­vides some per­spec­tive and some clar­ity,” said Souther

Souther’s easy au­then­tic­ity as a seen-it-all mu­sic busi­ness Zelig prob­a­bly springs from his hav­ing seen plenty him­self. A fix­ture in the Los An­ge­les coun­try-rock scene in the 1970s, he was a writer of sev­eral of the Eagles’ hits (“Heart­ache To­night,” “New Kid in Town”) and per­formed with (and dated) Linda Ron­stadt. Other hits fol­lowed, but he dropped out of the re­cord­ing busi­ness in the mid-’80s, af­ter the rise of MTV. “People I knew were think­ing about the vid­eos while they were writ­ing the songs, and it didn’t ap­peal to me,” he said.

Souther, who moved to Nash­ville a de­cade ago, con­tin­ued writ­ing songs for Bon­nie Raitt and the Dixie Chicks, among oth­ers; when he started put­ting out his own records again in 2008, they were jazz­ier af­fairs. He even con­trib­uted a song to Nash­ville, though he’s not sure view­ers will ever hear it.