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The 35 most riveting actors who are not the main stars

Monday 24 November 2003, by Webmaster


1. Jason Bateman, "Arrested Development." Fox. This show needs to stay alive long enough to qualify for the Emmys so Bateman can get snubbed for the comedy award he so richly deserves from his phenomenal performances.

"Arrested Development" is an ensemble cast. You could argue that Bateman is the star, thus ruining our premise at No. 1. But we’re whistling and can’t hear you. What?

2. CCH Pounder, "The Shield." FX. Stunning. She’s forceful enough to cut out her own character in the wake of Michael Chiklis’ virtuoso performance. It’s time for her to get an Emmy.

3. John McGinley, "Scrubs." NBC. Have you seen this guy? Clearly the Emmy people haven’t. (Next year’s list candidate: "Top 7,367 Emmy snubs.’’) McGinley is a like a sharp stick to the gut with his snarky delivery. Tremendous.

4. Dominic West, "The Wire." HBO. Ensemble show — yes, but an argument could be made that West is the center of attention. For two seasons now, he’s been exceptionally great with a face full of mixed emotions.

5. Khandi Alexander, "CSI: Miami." CBS. Most of the best work done on this series is done by her. As a coroner with a heart who speaks to, and well of, the dead, she adds dimension to a part that could have been restrictive.

6. Robert Forster, "Karen Sisco.’’ ABC. This series is being retooled. Some advice — don’t mess with this character who’s the hippest actor on TV.

7. Nick Stahl, "Carnivale." HBO. True, we’ve been down on the muddled series. But Stahl has been outstanding from the get-go.

8. Larry Gilliard Jr., "The Wire." HBO. Arguably the best supporting actor of the past two seasons. Nuanced beyond belief as D’Angelo Barksdale, he should have toted home an Emmys already.

9. Tina Fey, "Saturday Night Live." NBC. Funny, smart and talented enough to lead this whole show. We like her best when she kills people without blinking.

10. Clarke Peters, "The Wire." HBO. His detective Freamonhas been a stand- out case of understated acting since the first season. Peters illustrates that casting supporting players so well is an art form.

11. Vincent D’Onofrio, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." NBC. Stop picking lead actors and ruining your premise! Oh, pipe down. It’s a list, not a bible. Besides, we plead "ensemble cast" yet again, no matter how feeble. Look, some people think D’Onofrio chews scenery, but from our vantage point, the guy is just ferociously good.

12. John Spencer, "The West Wing." NBC. The new producers can’t do enough damage to this show to make us stop watching Spencer. In a series that at least used to rely on rapid-fire dialogue, his long pauses said infinitely more. Also, we like cagey older guys (see Robert Forster, Clarke Peters).

13. James Marsters, "Angel." WB. As "Spike" he was so riveting on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" that they couldn’t get rid of him and now the ultimate compliment — shifting him to Joss Whedon’s other series.

14. Bryan Cranston, "Malcolm in the Middle." Fox. Panic as an art form. A show worth watching for many reasons, but he’s a good one.

15. Andy Dick, "Less Than Perfect." ABC. Dick is one of those guys you either love or loathe, mostly because he’s always on and always tries too hard.

But in this series, he’s a real surprise — like a discarded quarterback who lands on his eighth team and becomes the MVP. Nice comeback.

16. Peter Gallagher, "The O.C." Fox. To be taken seriously this show needed a strong adult character. Gallagher gets an untypical role and makes it the center of the show’s universe.

17. Justin Long, "Ed." NBC. This kid has been great from the first moment of this series. It’s as if he’s channeling Woody Allen and Keanu Reeves, which is just weird enough to watch each week.

18. Victor Garber, "Alias." ABC. The guy went from splashy Broadway roles to the tight-lipped father-spy on this action-packed bit of fun fluff.

19. Adam Brody, "The O.C." Fox. The series lucked out when they found this kid. He’s the only one not sure of himself, and his awkward, sweet moments allow the rest of the scenes to get as wild as is necessary on a prime- time soap.

20. Mark-Paul Gosselaar, "NYPD Blue." ABC. Previously stuck in light or cheesy roles that focused on his good looks, he gets to breathe some life into a series that needed it.

21. Jerry Orbach, "Law & Order." NBC. Come on. A classic. Almost too obvious to even list here.

22. Vanessa Lengies, "American Dreams." NBC. While Brittany Snow gets the ink, it’s Lengies’ sassy star turn that gives the series much of its spunk. She’s one of those young actors, like Brody and Long, who immediately catch your eye and make you certain they’re going places.

23. Rupert, "Survivor." CBS. Oh, come on. So he’s not an actor. He could be. And he’s one of the most watchable people on TV. Somebody give him a show.

24. Amber Tamblyn, "Joan of Arcadia." CBS. Yes, she probably should have been higher. But we’ve raved enough about her lately. Still, great work in a role that could have been disastrous. She’s the reason the series is a hit.

25. Tom Lennon, "Reno 911!" Comedy Central. As the short-shorts-wearing cop Jim Dangle, he’s just about perfect. Visually funny, sure, but once he opens his mouth, his place here is secured.

26. Golden Brooks, "Girlfriends." UPN. Good enough to make people forget she’s fall-on-the-ground hot, which takes some doing. Funny and smart.

27. Anthony Michael Hall, "The Dead Zone." USA. Um, yeah, he’s the lead. But not enough people know about him or this show. The transformation he’s made from skinny comic is stunning.

28. David McCallum, "Navy NCIS." CBS. A creatively cool role for one of the better character actors working in TV.

29. Chris Noth, John Corbett and Willie Garson, "Sex and the City." HBO. How did a series about four women spawn three great male roles? Mr. Big is Noth’s best work, and though Corbett was pure levitating brilliance in the now- canceled "Lucky" from FX, his work here was outstanding. And Garson — more. Just more.

30. Matthew MacFadyen, "MI-5." A&E. Not enough people got to see this sterling series, but those who did are still reeling about the last episode of season two. MacFadyen’s cool understatedness was always pitch-perfect.

31. Rob Morrow, "Street Time." Showtime. Morrow goes a long way toward making this series work and has a cult following. He’s also put "Northern Exposure" behind him.

32. Marsha Thomason, "Las Vegas." NBC. It’s a glittering cast and Thomason fits right in, but there’s something about what she keeps in reserve and how dangerous she seems that sets the hook.

33. Gregory Smith, "Everwood." WB. This list is populated with a shocking number of young actors, but it would be a shame to leave Smith off, if for nothing else because the series revolves around his moods. That’s no easy feat to pull off, regardless of age.

34. Martin Freeman, "The Office." BBC America. It’s tough to get noticed when Ricky Gervais is so magnificent, but Freeman gives his Tim character real dignity and depth and likeability.

35. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, "Late Night with Conan O’Brien." NBC. Vile, profane, outrageously funny.