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Critic's Picks: The 8 Most Underappreciated Supporting Actors (and Characters!) on TV

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire December 6, 2013 at 11:08AM

We're kicking off our look back at the year in television by taking some time to salute some of its unsung (or at least less appreciated) heroes, the characters who've stolen the spotlight or emerged as far more compelling than anyone might have guessed from their starts.
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Ryan Lee, Albert Tsai and Bailee Madison in 'Trophy Wife'
Ron Batzdorff/ABC Ryan Lee, Albert Tsai and Bailee Madison in 'Trophy Wife'

Albert Tsai as Bert Harrison, "Trophy Wife"

"Trophy Wife" deserves credit for having some usually odd and interesting child characters -- for letting Bailee Madison's initially sulky high schooler Hillary turn out to be a compulsive goody-goody, and for allowing the charmingly bucktoothed Warren (Ryan Lee) to hover between childhood and teenagerdom. But it's Albert Tsai's unpredictable Bert who's the most memorable, as chipper and strange as any kid raised by the flaky Jackie (Michaela Watkins) was bound to be. The unflappable Bert sometimes seems like a real life version of Russell from "Up," whether terrorizing his class by doing "Bert-wheels" or proving impossible to get to sleep. That episode, in which Bert defied all attempts by Kate (Malin Åkerman) to be lured to bed, was an especially nice showcase for Tsai's comic timing, from his perky smile as he declared again and again to his stepmother that he was still awake to his limp noodle attempts at playing goalie, exhausted after having spent a night fretting over something he saw on TV.

Masters of Sex

Caitlin FitzGerald as Libby Masters, "Masters of Sex"

Another "other woman" who's the wife of a straying main character, Libby Masters is a character who could easily have come across as insipid instead of likable and poignant. As the wife of the closed off William H. Masters (Michael Sheen), Libby doesn't doubt her love for her husband or his for her, but understands she'll never be a part of the world of his work, a realm that will always have more of a hold on him than his home. Caitlin FitzGerald fully conveys Libby's willowy fragility, her fairly sheltered outlook and girlishness -- she sometimes calls her husband "Daddy" -- while making it clear she isn't a simple stand-in for conservative values or cluelessness. Instead, Libby understands William all too well, and in a grounded way sees having a baby as the only means to hold on to their marriage, despite their troubles conceiving. FitzGerald makes Libby's perceptiveness and her transparency clear -- in a show filled with women who defy social conventions, she's the main representative of a traditional female path at the time, and yet there's nothing easy or cliched about her.

The Mindy Project

Chris Messina as Dr. Danny Castellano, "The Mindy Project"

The love-hate banter between Danny and Mindy (Mindy Kaling) doesn't always work -- it's always a bit off from the romantic comedies Mindy adores, with Danny tending to be too mean and Mindy too obnoxious. But the pair's growing friendship has been increasingly sweet in its off-beat way over this season, and that's mainly due to Messina's efforts, as Danny's become more and more of a grouchy old man in a thirtysomething's body. Danny's now just one of many potential love interests in Mindy's world, and the show's better for his not having to bear all the pressure of being the obvious Mr. Right for its protagonist, making their bickering funnier and more prickly. Danny's essentially the grumbly office straight man, but Messina shines when he's given opportunities to break away from just reacting to the madness around him, from his agony at seeing an art show put up by his ex-wife consisting of nude photos of him to the hilarious and not unskillful dance he did to Aaliyah in this week's episode.

Game of Thrones

Aidan Gillen as Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, "Game of Thrones"

The sprawling cast of "Game of Thrones" is packed with so many fan favorites it's hard to call any character underappreciated, but the smarmy, calculating Littlefinger has certainly been one of the less obvious crowdpleasers in earlier seasons, as fun as it can be to watch him snipe with Lord Varys (Conleth Hill). This year, however, Littlefinger proved himself to be as formidable a foe as anyone else in the series, and that's no small feat when that includes the likes of the massive, scarred Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) and the imaginatively psychopathic Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon). Aidan Gillen has continued to play Littlefinger's polished courtliness, even as his character has gotten darker and grimmer, as he had someone brutally murdered simply to prove a point and as Varys declared of him that he "would see the Seven Kingdoms burn, if he could be king over the ashes." It takes an actor with presence to turn a character from snaky to chilling, and Gillen's pulled it off admirably -- his monologue about chaos being a ladder was one of the highlights of a very strong season.

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, Annet Mahendru, Albert Tsai, Aiden Gillen, Shea Whigham, Joe Lo Truglio, Bellamy Young, Caitlin FitzGerald, Chris Messina






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