When we recall our favourite TV shows, there’s a tendency to hone in on the big name, face-on-a-T-shirt stars, and that’s completely logical.
You watch Breaking Bad for Walter White’s journey from hero to anti-hero and his interactions with the various Big Bads of its five seasons, while much of the appeal of The Sopranos surrounds patriarch Tony’s relationships with those both inside and outside his inner circle.
Similarly, the appeal of The Simpsons was lost to many when its lead characters began behaving inconsistently, and a desire not to succumb to this is what has allowed It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to remain popular throughout its 13-season run.
However, some of the best-written shows are those which can successfully drop a character into the mix for one episode and have them make an impact which is both significant and natural.
For shows with less progression from one episode to the next, it’s crucial for the character in question to be more than just a cameo from a celebrity: they need to add a certain quality and behaviour that couldn’t be provided by another character, even if they are never spoken of again after that one appearance.
When it comes to series with a greater continuity, however, the task is even more substantial: they need those qualities too, but their interaction with the show’s regular characters needs to both stand alone and move the plot forward. A fantastic performance can seem compelling, of course, but it loses some of its impact if it feels like it is there only to introduce some star power.
We’ve gone back through time and picked out some of the one-off characters who were not only the most memorable, but also among the most influential to the shows in which they appear.
To qualify for this list, a character must either:
- Appear in just one episode in a speaking or otherwise significant role, or
- Appear in two consecutive episodes as part of one uninterrupted storyline
That’s it. That’s the only qualifier. Some spoilers (of sorts) follow.
'Friends' – Tommy
'Arrested Development' - Beth Baerly
'The Sopranos' – Valery
'Peep Show' – Daryl
'Breaking Bad' - Drew Sharp
'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' - Country Mac
'I'm Alan Partridge' - Dan Moody
'The Simpsons' – Frank Grimes
'BoJack Horseman' - Eddie the Fly
'The Office' - The IT guy
'Futurama' – 80s Guy
(Main image: Rex/Wikia/Netflix)