There are two kinds of great guest stars, people that show up once or twice, and make a lasting impression, and those who sign on for an entire recurring or guest arc, becoming intertwined into the plot of our favorite stories. It’s the right mix of a great character and perfect casting that makes certain guest stars unforgettable. A great guest spot can reignite a career (Shatner on the Practice) and sometimes even and gets ’em hired on full time (like Esposito and Huston). For the list below I have the Top 5 One Shots (one or two sporadic appearances) and the Top 5 Guest Arcs, I didn’t include anyone that got hired on full time – they got the reward of a regular gig in this economy. I also threw in my Top 5 WORST Guest Stars; banal and mundane characters or stunt casting make up that list of epic fails, but firstly; the tops.
Top 5 One-Shot Guest Stars
5. Lennie James as Morgan Jones on The Walking Dead “Days Gone Bye”
Lennie James had a trio of guest roles; he was great as the Chance’s arch-nemesis Baptiste on Human Target and stole his scenes of HBO’s Hung as Charlie, Tanya’s pimp mentor but it was the role of Morgan Jones that stuck in my mind. Without Morgan, Rick (star, Andrew Lincoln) surely would have been a quick casualty of the zombie apocalypse. Asides from being a mentor to Rick and a good father to Duane, Morgan’s got his own baggage in the form of his recently zombified wife who he can’t bring himself to kill. James was brilliant; one part teacher, one part grieving widower and one part bad ass zombie killer.
4. Steve Guttenberg as Himself on Party Down “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday Party”
It was only a matter of time before Veronica Mars vet Steve Guttenberg guested on Party Down (P Down is created by V Mars creator Rob Thomas). Instead of a regular catering gig, the Gang find themselves the guests at the party the Gute forgot to cancel. What stood out about Steve Guttenberg was how great of a guy he is; he told them to invite their friends, he helps Roman and with his screenplay hell – he even inadvertently gets Henry and Casey back together. It’s the best I’ve seen Guttenberg since Cocoon.
3. James Franco as Himself on 30 Rock “Klaus & Greta”
If you’ve seen the episode and recognize the picture above, you know why soap star/oscar host/potential nominee James Franco’s portrayal of himself – the James Franco who loves Kimiko (above right)
2. Mamie Gummer and Dylan Baker as Nancy Crozier and Colin Sweeney on The Good Wife “Bad”
Two great one shot performances in one episode! Dylan Baker was at his absolute creepy best as Sweeney who was being charged with the murder of his wife by his step-daughter in a civil suit and he’s a riot; constantly makes jokes about killing his wife to Alicia and acting cavalier about the entire situation. And Mamie Gummer? (soon starring on Shonda Rhimes new series Off The Map) is even more brilliant as Nancy Crozier, a rookie lawyer taking her friend Charlotte’s defense. Precocious, naive, and lucky? Hah! More like the charade of a shrewd attorney. With every hesitation and stutter, Gummer shined – not really a surprise seeing as she’s Meryl Streep’s daughter.
1. Gwyneth Paltrow as Holly Holliday on Glee “The Substitute”
I may hate what Glee has become; the saccharine, the off base song selection – but even a total hater like me can’t deny Gwyneth her dues. Holly Holliday was the perfect role for Gwyneth, hip, cool, bad without crossing the line (unlike April Rhodes) and they gave her good songs to sing (Forget You and Conjunction Junction). In 42 minutes Gwyneth gave us the complete picture of a flawed person and the closest thing Glee has come to a realistic character in a long time. Interesting Fact: Gwyneth was a term for “Cool” used by the girls in the titular crew on Ryan Murphy’s (creator) first series; Popular.
Top 5 Guest Arcs
The Event is absolutely ridiculous, I feel like even mentioning it in a positive way is somehow enabling it to continue to be insane, but I have to give mad props to the super-hot, Ex-Mrs. Dawson (as in Leery) Heather McComb. Her Agent Collier is bad ass; she fights, she shoots, she aids Sean Walker on his quest to answer the question; Huh?
Raymond J. Barry oozed southern creepy charm as Arlo Givens, the crook father of of a cop son. Mentioned in every episode prior to his arrival in “The Lord of War & Thunder”, Arlo was a shadow hanging over Raylan’s head long before he showed his face – and once he did we weren’t disappointed. Barry proved a formidable sparring partner for his son Raylan(Timothy Olyphant) and his thick as molasses drawl made me love him even when he was about to betray his son to the Miami Cartel. Best cast parent of the year.
James Frain has never been better than here as Franklin, the psychopath private detective OBSESSED with Tara. Set on Sookie’s path by Russell (Denis O’Hare) he became infatuated with Rutina Wesley’s foulmouthed bartender – and once he did, he tied her up and MADE her love him – literally DEATH did them part, and the whole time Frain had us riveted the whole time.
2. Gretchen Mol as Gillian Darmody on Boardwalk Empire
A decade ago Mol was touted as the new It girl but for some reason or another she never quite took off. With Gillian, Mol is able to flex her wings playing the dedicated friend, the protective mother and grandmother (at 38!), the showgirl, and the gun moll (pun INtended!) and she does it all with a delicate softness that hides a fierce Momma Grizzly. Mol makes sure Gillian is a rich character, an unapologetic harlot, and a strong woman.
On a show as original as The Good Wife, it makes sense the a character as complex as Kalinda Sharma would need a formidable rival to spar with, and coming off a year of giving her Emmy material, they didn’t disappoint in Blake Calamar, an investigator brought into the firm with new partner Derrick Bond (Michael Ealy, who also deserves notice for his great job) has attempted to mess with Kalinda since day one causing mayhem in a sadistic game of one-upmanship (which Blake started, he called her Leela first – check the interview clip below) Porter has established Blake as a force to be reckoned with; he’s good looking, charming, smart, creative and violent – I’d pray for him to get a contract and stick around, but I get the feeling that Chicago isn’t big for both him and Kalinda.
And before we get to the worst, I wanna give serious honorable mentions to David Costabile as Walter’s cooking assistant Gale Boetticher on Breaking Bad, Jan Hooks as Verna on 30 Rock, Martha Plimptoni n Fringe and as Edie in How To Make It In America, Timothy Olyphant for The Office and Katie Cassidy as Juliet Sharpe on Gossip Girl.
The 5 Worst Guest Stars of 2010
The 5 people below had no business going anywhere near these roles, which in most cases were probably terrible to begin worth. A worst guest stars embrace the unholy trinity of bad casting, obnoxious character and parasitic quality (how much they invade on our favorite series like a parasite), and the 5 guest stars below still have me wishing they’d just not bothered.
5. Britney Spears as various drug induced hallucinations of herself Glee “Britney/Brittany I was so disappointed in how Ryan Murphy and Co. wasted Ms. Spears’ guest spot. Save for one hilarious fantasy where she was a student, the guest with the most promise, potential for biting commentary or wacky comedy fell entirely flat.
4. Michael Benjamin Washington as Donald Jordan in 30 Rock “Chain of Mental Anguish” 30 Rock may be one of the most consistent comedies on TV but this everything is wrong with this character, including Washington’s pouty, whiny performance of Tracy’s fake son who’s two years older than him.
3. Leven Rambin as Sloane Riley on Grey’s Anatomy Talk about terrible children – If Rambin accomplished anything in her arc as Mark Sloan’s daughter, she really made us feel for the poor guy – all he wants is a family and he’s stuck with a selfish, childish parasite who teases him with the prospect of family, like it’s leverage to get stuff from her father. Part of me would like to hope it was just bad writing, but I watched Scoundrels this summer on ABC and Rambin was dreadful there as a selfish teen too. Its just terrible casting; she kicked ass on Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles as a time-traveling freedom fighter.
2. Betty White as June Bauer on Community “Anthropology 101” I’m all for the Betty White craze; I was there when David E. Kelley figured it out with Practice and Boston Legal character, murderer Catherine Piper, but this is too unfunny, too late. As a wacky urine drinking anthropology professor, White wields a crossbow and contributes to her own overexposure.
1. Hiroyuki Sanada and John Hawkes as Dogen and Lennon on Lost No single aspect of Lost’s final season frustrated me more than these two characters. In the last season, what could have been an opportunity to give us some final time to explore The Others at their true base was wasted on a cryptic Japanese mystic and his mouth piece. I would gladly give them the top two spots, but that would dignify their performances as separate – which they are most certainly not. Sanada’s Dogen was nothing more than a cartoon, stroking his beard and making big eyes and Hawkes – who nailed it in my fave Deadwood and a guest spot in the Eastbound and Down finale – dressed in a five dollar hippie costume and acted as Sanada’s translator because Dogen doesn’t like the way english tastes on his tongue (SO STUPID). As bad as Nikki and Paolo in my opinion.
Well that it for guest star list in 2010, anyone that stick out in your memory that evaded mine?
If you’re feeling in the mood for more best of 2010 coverage check out: