Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been superb on Veep this season. The same goes for T.J. Miller on Silicon Valley, Louis C.K. on Louie, Abbi Jacobson & Ilana Glazer on Broad City and Andre Braugher on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. This isn’t news. It’s worth remarking upon the fact that all of these actors are great and explicating the reasons why. But in the rush to praise the stars of these shows, it’s possible to do a disservice to the cast members with lower billing. Looking at the lower portions of the rosters and finding the gems separates the outstanding ensemble comedies from the ones that rest on the charms of their lead performer. Below, I’ve picked one cast member from each of the five comedies mentioned above who gives that show a subtle but welcome dose of comedy in an unexpected or underappreciated way.
Veep: Sam Richardson as Richard Splett
Richardson started appearing midway through last season, at the height of the campaign fervor for the eponymous Selina Kyle (Dreyfus). His specific brand of clueless bumbling, always served with a side of vacant eyes and a cheery smile, has blossomed this season, especially when paired with Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons, who probably would have won this award in previous seasons). Together, these two personify different areas of the corner of the world known as “the worst.” I’m waiting for an episode that details this character’s backstory, though I’m not sure it will ever happen.
You might know him from: Colin from The Office; TSA Agent in We’re the Millers
See him next in: Spy, in theaters this Friday
Broad City: The extras as gonzo New York City
Maybe this choice is a cop-out. I don’t know any of the extras’ names and can’t point to a specific one that makes them worthy of recognition. But everyone in the background of Comedy Central’s marvelous comedy series (whose second season had several of my favorite half-hours of TV all year) is contributing to the feeling you get while watching this show that New York City is a place full of weirdos and weirdies constantly threatening to pop into the frame and interrupt the action. The sequence that opens the season finale, in which Abbi and Ilana take a nonchalant stroll while wacky wonders unfold around them, showcases a vibrant, modern version of its title city. Plus, it places Abbi and Ilana in a world of people who would identify with their eccentricities.
Silicon Valley: Zach Woods as Jared Ross
Once again, this show offers lots of options for actors worthy of praise, from the stuttering of Thomas Middleditch to the simpering of Martin Starr. I’ll even throw a bone to periodic guest star Ben Feldman, whose ultra-sleazy lawyer is lightyears away from his turn as the nipple-slicing Ginsburg on Mad Men. But Woods deserves special mention for delivering absurd lines with balletic grace, contrasting his modest wardrobe and unassuming baby face from his verbal and physical idiosyncrasies (his love of Julia Roberts analogies was a particular highlight). Jared Ross is a smart, chronically well-intentioned young man who makes up in optimism and confidence what he lacks in social skills and tact. The writers’ decision to use Jared as one of the linchpins for a discussion of sexual inequality in the workplace yielded hysterical results that simultaneously signaled the show’s burgeoning awareness of social issues. In the first season, Jared started as a meek throwaway character. But right around the time he got stuck in Peter Gregory’s too-smart-for-its-own-good car, Jared and his slightly skewed perceptions of the world paid off.
You might know him as: Ed Webster on Veep; Gabe Lewis on The Office; Chad in In the Loop
See him next in: Spy as Man in Purple Tie
Louie: Ursula Parker as Jane
Praising young children for their acting prowess is tricky business. There’s value in noticing subtleties and highlighting memorable moments, but it’s not always productive to assume that child acting is coming from the same intellectual and emotional place as adult acting. They’re naturally different. Nonetheless, some children justify praise and consideration as equals to their adult counterparts, and the kids on Louie fit right in with that crowd. In particular, Parker’s high-pitched whine and beady eyes make her seem descended from her schlubby father even though we know she isn’t really. And this season on C.K.’s delightfully unpredictable mash-up of tones, styles and genres, Parker’s moments shined brighter than ever. From reacting with horror at the prospect of her dad defecating on the sidewalk to expressing existential fears in the doctors’ office, Parker alleviated any of the discomfort of watching a young actress tackling C.K.’s adult material.
You might know her as: Little Girl in We Need to Talk About Kevin; Jocelyn Kramer in 666 Park Avenue
See her next in: Slow Learners, starring Adam Pally
Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Stephanie Beatriz as Rosa Diaz
Particularly on an ensemble-driven show like this one, singling out one unsung hero is no easy task (especially when it’s possible to oversing the praises of Andre Braugher or Terry Crews, who both deserve the Emmy awards they’re unlikely to receive). But Beatriz is a solid choice because it’s clear that, unlike Chelsea Peretti and Joe LoTruglio, she hasn’t broken out into the mainstream yet. Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t want to be typecast as brusque and emotionally stunted. But she’s done a fine job of adhering to that characterization and moving beyond it this season. The writers’ decision to give her an unremarkable love interest (Nick Cannon) whose family history forces her to spend more time with Captain Holt (Braugher) allow her emotions to take center stage more often. And deploying Rosa’s imitation of perky people once or twice per season is a fine demonstration of a little going a long way.
You might know her as: Jessica in Short Term 12; Sonia on Modern Family
See her next in: nothing currently listed on IMDb. Fix that, Hollywood!