Ten super sitcom sidekicks
Whew, after all that, here, in alphabetical order, are the ten I love -- within my own parameters! Feel free to comment with your choices, if your favorite isn't on my list.
Gallery: Sitcom Sidekicks
Artie, the producer on The Larry Sanders Show - Larry Sanders was such an asshole. A funny, brilliant and unforgettable impression of a talk show host, and Garry Shandling was wonderful in the role. But without Rip Torn as Artie, his producer and sidekick par excellance, he wouldn't have been as good. Yes, Jeffrey Tambor, 'Hey Now' Hank, was also a huge part of the mix, but Artie wasn't the butt of the joke. He was Larry's collaborator. He gets the nod from me. (BTW, I could not find a last name for Artie. Anyone out there know it?)
Robert Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond - This is a classic case of the perfect sidekick. Ray Romano was a stand-up comic and needed a great team around him to make Everybody Loves Raymond really take off. As the forever envious, disgruntled but lovable older brother, Brad Garrett hit all the right notes. He's much better as a supporting player, a sidekick, than he is a star (sorry, Brad, but 'Til Death is not to die for, it's deadly bad).
Niles Crane on Frasier - I'll never forget hearing that they were spinning off a series from Cheers about the character of Frasier Crane. I thought the producers were nuts. Well, they were smarter than I was, because sending Frasier to Seattle to care for his father and start a radio show was a savvy move. But if they had not created the reflective character of Niles, Frasier's prissy, intellectual little brother and partner in all things effete and snooty, the show would never have been as superb. And they struck gold when they cast David Hyde Pierce in the role.
Dan Fielding on Night Court - Okay, you can call this one grand theft acting. As D.A. Dan Fielding, comic twit and sleazy attorney, John Larroquette stole this show from Harry Anderson and every other performer in the cast. It wasn't just that the character was well-written and got the best jokes, it was Larroquette's over the top interpretation. He really made you despise lawyers -- more than you already had.
Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show - It was called The Andy Griffith Show, but it became the Don Knotts Comedy Half-Hour. His comic quirks, the bug-eyes and nervous energy are now well-known and even considered old-hat. It's not. The smartest thing Andy Griffith did was sit back and let Don do his thing. The Barney Fife bits are as funny now as they were then, and will be for years to come. He personified the term "sidekick."
Jeff Greene on Curb Your Enthusiasm - Jeff Garlin's playing a version of himself, just like Larry David is doing the same on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Their comic improvisations -- within the framework of the script -- are so natural and crude and funny that you can't help but cackle. Larry really needs a character like Jeff to play off of and Garlin is a good comic foil for him. The chemistry doesn't feel like chemistry; it feels like friendship (which is what it is).
Jackie Harris on Roseanne - In the years since Roseanne was the top show in the country, Laurie Metcalf has done dozens of shows and episodes (great on Desperate Housewives as a crazed woman with a gun). But remember how good she was on Roseanne? She really gave Roseanne some gravity and truth. Roseanne was a comic, not an actress. Laurie Metcalf was the actress and she kept the relationship with Roseanne grounded in reality. They could only stand each other because they were sisters, that was the impression. She was a sidekick with substance.
Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy - All praise Vivian Vance! Lucille Ball may be the Queen of Comedy (I think they even gave her a crown!), then it may be because she's standing on the shoulders of Vivian Vance. Ethel was the ultimate sidekick, Lucy's partner in every scheme, scam and hare-brained antic. You cannot laud Lucy without also acknowledging the sheer genius of Viv as her other other half (after Ricky naturally).
Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show - Here's a case where the entire cast is an ensemble. Every actor on that show, Gavin McLeod, Ted Knight, Ed Asner, Cloris Leachman, Betty White, Georgia Engle, they all were Mary's support. However, Valerie Harper stands out as Rhoda and she was a sidekick -- an almost equal half. The yin to Mary's yang. What made Rhoda and Mary so great together was that they were different types -- midwest vs. New York, classy vs. earthy -- and yet they were the same -- single, smart, funny. Mary was never really the same once Rhoda moved back home to New York and her own show. But at least Valerie found her own great sidekick, Julie Kavner as Rhoda's little sister, Brenda.
Ed Norton on The Honeymooners - This list cannot exclude Art Carney as Ed Norton. Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners cannot exist without Ed Norton. He was simply Gleason's equal in comedy. Just close your eyes and remember the scene, "Address the ball. ...Hello, ball." Art Carney was an actor who took the character of Ed Norton and found within him every ounce of eccentricity and goofy charm. His sidekick worthiness is unmatched.
Barney Rubble on The Flintstones - He may have only been two-dimensional, but Barney Rubble was a full-fledged, multi-dimensional comic sidekick to Fred Flintstone. They worked together, played together, hung together and in Fred's cockeyed universe, Barney -- yeah, Barney -- was the voice of reason. Of course, he usually shrugged his shoulders, laughed and went along with whatever Fred wanted to do, but at least he paused for a moment to think about it. With Mel Blanc voicing the role, there was a lot of real humanity to Barney. He was precisely what a sidekick needs to be.