Main characters can be overrated. There, I said it.
The problem with main characters is that there’s so much pressure placed on them to be likable.
Sometimes the added pressure works in a character's favor, but other times, the extra attention turns what could have been an admirable lead into one that either falls flat or appears too overdeveloped.
That's rarely the case with sidekicks as they are quite literally created with the intention of propping up said main character
Now, that isn't to say the role of a sidekick is easy; their job is especially difficult as they bear a handful of responsibilities. They’re known as supporting and secondary characters that assist the main character, break the ice in tense situations using comedic relief, give advice, and clean up messes.
They also have the ability to raise the stakes of a show without outshining the lead.
Except here’s the thing -- many of the sidekicks listed here do just that.
Actors who portray sidekicks have the ability to play with a role and make it their own often leading to a character that resonates with audiences in more significant ways than the main character.
More often than not, the secondary characters become much more than just "sidekicks."
Gone are the days when they weren't supposed to have a life outside of the protagonist’s plot. Now, they take on lives of their own with backstories, flaws, conflicts, and successes.
They are so vital to the success of a show, in fact, that there’s a whole award show category dedicated to “supporting actors.”
The truth is, without the sidekick, the main character -- no matter how great -- is incomplete.
And every true TV fan knows that main characters are only as great as the sidekicks that they surround themselves with.
We’re taking a look at some memorable sidekicks who have etched their way into our hearts and inevitably, and sometimes unintentionally, elevated the show to greater heights.
There are so many different types of sidekicks, but one of the most common ones is the brains behind the operation.
These sidekicks act as a foil by being filling a void left behind by the main character and possessing characteristics that the lead lacks.
One of my personal favorite sidekicks and admittedly, the one that inspired this piece, is Susie on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
There would be no Mrs. Maisel without Susie Meyerson (Alex Borstein).
She helped discover Midge’s talent, she held her hand throughout the whole process, she groomed her from dinky club act to main stage performer, she vouched for her and stuck her neck out for her, and she continues to champion her in a male-dominated industry.
Their friendship and partnership carries the series, and while Midge may be the talent, she likely wouldn’t have gotten this far without the perseverance of her manager.
Revenge’s Nolan (Gabriel Mann) completes Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke and is the reason why her intricate revenge plot never fell apart.
Emily/ Amanda wouldn’t have been able to accomplish half of what she did without his hacker expertise.
Nolan was eager and willing to help, he had no problem breaking the rules, and he did whatever Emily/Amanda wanted without question. And when he did ask questions, she trusted him enough to tell him the truth.
Nolan promised Emily/Amanda’s father that he would protect her no matter what, and not once did he stray from that promise.
Their bond was unbreakable; Nolan would risk his life for that girl in a heartbeat.
Sidekicks are oftentimes loyal to a fault because of the friendships that they’ve built up with the lead.
Another example is Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) on Homeland, who remained loyal and true to Carrie until the very end.
In cliche terms, he was quite literally her “ride or die.” He was equally as compelling, and some would say, far more likable than Carrie as he radiated a quiet, stoic, strong presence.
There are times where sidekicks may be responsible for choices that put the main character on the right path.
This happens with Evan Lawson (Paulo Costanzo) from Royal Pains. Without Evan, the lead character, Hank, wouldn't have become a concierge doctor in the Hamptons. He is directly responsible for helping kickstart the business and finding the clients.
Many sidekicks complete and even complement the main character while also carving their own path.
Mo (Alex Newell) from Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is Zoey’s neighbor and a fan-favorite that, dare I say, is liked more than Zoey at times.
On the surface, the gender nonconforming sidekick is witty and fun and gives magical advice, but the character's strengths lie in the moments when the series embraces deeper issues of faith and sexuality.
Not all sidekicks take themselves seriously. One of the most common secondary characters is the jokester that provides comedic relief with witty one-liners and zingers.
However, even a “funny” sidekick can steal the spotlight if done right.
Niles (Daniel Davis) from The Nanny was a butler who worked for the Sheffield family, but he’s revered for his snarky (and sometimes borderline cruel) comments towards C.C. Babcock.
His motivations come from a place of loyalty to not only the family but to the nanny named Fran.
It’s that protective and kind attitude that morphs him into one of the best characters on the series, though, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t also fans of the manipulative and diabolical attitude.
For nearly 30 years, DJ Tanner’s sidekick has been Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber), the outlandish and wacky neighbor whose spirit perfectly compliments the straight-laced eldest Tanner daughter.
Through her eccentric personality, Kimmy has given more than just laughs, she’s provided the assurance that it’s okay to be different; she’s become the spirit animal of so many fans.
While she may be the butt of the joke, she’s also kindhearted, a good friend, and loyal to a fault. The Tanner family couldn’t live without her and neither could audiences.
In fact, she weaseled her way into fans’ hearts and became such a staple in the series that when Netflix rebooted the series, she secured a leading lady spot next to DJ and youngest sister, Stephanie Tanner.
Eric from Sex Education is hilarious, relatable, and comfortable in his own skin for the most part, which has made him a fan-favorite since the beginning.
A role that could have easily been one-dimensional became larger than, life thanks to Ncuti Gatwa’s portrayal and nuances.
Instead of being just comic relief, we see him struggle with many aspects of his life, including his identity as it intersects with his religion, his strict upbringing, and his heritage.
Stevie (Emily Hampshire) on Schitt's Creek started off as a snarky, can’t-be-bothered motel front-desk receptionist, but as the show progresses, she often brings more to the table than either of the Rose siblings.
While she’s still as blunt and sarcastic as ever, she’s become family as she looks out for the Rose's and takes them under her wing.
She’s given the opportunity to shine on her own, which Hampshire utilizes to the fullest, giving audiences a deeper exploration of her character arc.
There are some sidekicks that are polar opposites of the main character, thus allowing for different perspectives and experiences the lead wouldn't otherwise have.
Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong) on Boy Meets World was Cory’s best friend, but he couldn’t be more different than Cory; they were from two different sides of the track.
And yet, many fans loved and related to Shawn significantly more than they did to Cory.
Without Shawn and his antics, his angst, his popularity, and his bad boy with a heart of gold vibe, Cory wouldn't have experienced all of life's adventures or learned necessary lessons.
On Gilmore Girls, Paris Gellar (Liza Weil) is so smart that she's overbearing and intimidating most of the time, which tends to scare people away.
However, Rory stuck around even though the friendship was highly competitive at first, and eventually, their dynamic settled into a real friendship.
Though their personalities contrasted -- Rory was sweet, genuinely nice, and introverted while Paris was an overachiever and a little neurotic -- they were a good balance for each other.
Paris even admitted that Rory is the only one who always listens to her and challenges her.
Maria DeLuca (Majandra Delfino) on the original Roswell was a lovable, quirky, and funny contrast to Liz. While she balanced her out well, she often stole the spotlight when she was in scenes.
It’s hard to imagine scenes without her, and the friendship they developed was a pivotal aspect of the series that carried it sometimes more than any of the romantic relationships.
Some sidekicks can’t help but steal the spotlight anytime they’re on-screen like Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) on Friday Night Lights.
It was obvious that Jason was supposed to be more of the lead in the first season while Riggins was set up as the stock lovable screw-up best friend. However, Riggins was often more compelling and overshadowed Jason right down to his chemistry with Jason's girlfriend.
When you think of “scene-stealers,” Rogelio de la Vega on Jane the Virgin always comes to mind. Debates about whether or not Jane was a worthy protagonist are aplenty, but the one thing everyone always agrees on is that Rogelio was the star of the show.
Why? Because he did such a great job convincing you of it.
He infused every scene with passion, drama, narcissism, and charm that became synonymous with his character. Jaime Camil didn’t just create a character, he created a world for his character to exist in that other characters, including the lead, visited occasionally.
He even offered a new vision of manhood as he tore down toxic masculinity and got in touch with his feminine and vulnerable side.
Petra Solano (Yael Groblas) would be a close second simply for giving her character so much range and depth. Despite her flaws and misdeeds, which at times were ridiculously over the top, you connected with her and wanted to like her.
Even smaller sidekicks can make a big impact.
Andrew (Adam Capriolo) is the unsung hero on The Bold Type despite being a minor character.
In fact, fans love him so much that his presence on The Bold Type Season 4 has been increased, and his character has been given a subplot that takes him from Jacqueline’s nervewracking assistant by day to confident drag performer by night.
The shade he throws in his calculated and perfectly-timed one-liners is unmatched and easily provides some of the best moments in an episode.
Occasionally, sidekicks start off as an enemy but gain a protagonist’s trust by building up loyalty, much like Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner) on Ozark.
The foul-mouthed and trash-talking teen is incredibly perceptive. Her character is intimidating, strong, and resourceful, but it’s the vulnerability that she’s weaved in under all of that which makes her performance explosive and suspenseful.
Marty draws praise for his ability to navigate any situation swiftly and calmly, sure, but Ruth has proven that she can keep up without skipping a beat due to survival instinct, and that spontaneity keeps catching you off guard even when you think you’ve got her figured out.
And finally, we get to the ensemble sidekicks, usually found in superhero shows or thriller dramas.
In fact, when I first said the term “sidekick,” I bet your brain immediately darted to the CW shows.
And for good reason. Supergirl relies on a whole team of intelligent beings to help her defeat the bad guys and protect the city.
She may be the woman of steel, but she needs the help of her super squad to mitigate destruction at every turn.
The team rushes into action to fight alongside her for the greater good even taking on their own superhero personas, including James Olsen’s “The Guardian” and Nia Nal’s “Dreamer.”
However, Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) stands out from the crop of characters because he’s the original sidekick.
His character development took him from the geeky co-worker in love with Kara to the tech-whiz who made her first suit at the DEO to the one who embraces his inner-superhero and travels to the future to save Earth.
He’s overcome so much and gained confidence thanks to the support of his friends, which made him a fan-favorite even long after he left the show.
You would think Batwoman would have been the star of her own show, but fans didn’t gravitate towards Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) as much as they did to her posse.
Instead, Batwoman Season 1 found its saving grace in her sidekicks, Luke (Camrus Johnson) and Mary (Nicole Kang), with the latter winning over the hearts of audiences.
Mary is multifaceted compared to Kate. On the surface, she’s a vain and bubbly socialite, but the more you get to know her, the more you realize she’s also hiding under a mask.
The writers flipped the classic “social media influencer” trope making Mary not only a loyal and good sister (even when Kate doesn’t deserve it), but also a selfless medical student who helps those who are turned away by a corrupt system created by her own family.
The subtlety in Kang’s performance is the show’s sweet spot and the glue keeping audiences tuning in every week.
On Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 4 Episode 4, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) said what we were all thinking: “I’m not your sidekick.”
Technically, Willow was Buffy’s right-hand gal, but she evolved into her own character that took her from a nerdy introvert to a powerful witch.
While Buffy needed the whole Scooby Gang to battle all the supernatural forces of evil in Sunnydale, the series became about the group's journey just as much as it was about hers. And Willow’s skills made her stand out as an integral part of the team and one who later battled her own demons.
On Scandal, Olivia Pope was the boss, but when she slipped up and forgot to put on her white hat, her Gladiators kept her accountable and stepped in to “handle it.”
While Abby (Darby Stanchfield) was the most loyal and consistent sidekick, everyone on the team brought something unique to the table that was needed to help spin stories, rig elections, and clean dirty political messes.
On Money Heist, the merry band of robbers need the Professor as much as he needs them. They've established an unspoken agreement -- they risk their lives for him, and he does everything in his power to protect them and help them escape safely.
Berlin (Pedro Alonso) stands out amid the gang as the Professor’s half-brother, who takes on a leadership role throughout the first two seasons and dedicates himself wholeheartedly to the plan.
The Professor is the mastermind, but the plan would never come to fruition or end successfully without Berlin’s sacrifice, which is made by putting his team first and acknowledging his faults and demons.
Berlin manages to do something almost impossible on the Spanish-language series; he’s both the most-hated and most-loved character at the same time.
And that’s what makes a good sidekick -- a character that supports the main character while never losing their own sense of identity and purpose.
If done right, the sidekick may unintentionally steal the spotlight and viewer’s hearts.
This list isn’t all-encompassing as there are too many good sidekicks to include! I could go on and on about all those who redefined the role of sidekicks on television, but that would require a much deeper character dive.
That being said, we’d love to hear who you would add to the list, TV Fanatics! Let us know in the comments below!
Lizzy Buczak was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in June 2021..