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The 10 Best Television Sidekicks of All Time

Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston / Photo courtesy AMC

We may have mad love for Mike (Jonathan Banks) on Breaking Bad, but let’s not kid ourselves: Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) is the oven that bakes the meth, one of the most absurdly appealing characters on television right now. He is also one of the all-time great television sidekicks. His loyalty in unswerving — last week, Mike’s alarms were going off all over the place about Walt (Bryan Cranston), but Jesse’s were not, and he has become the show’s unlikely moral center. The sidekick (a.k.a. the partner, the best friend, the second banana) is a crucial job, and a tough one. A good sidekick can elevate a series, a bad one is an annoying distraction. Here are the 10 best sidekicks who aren’t Spock, because we just talked about him here.

10. Bronn in Game of Thrones
Bronn (Jerome Flynn) is Tyrion Lannister’s bodygaurd/assassin/all-around fixer, a sellsword who takes up with Tyrion seemingly for the hell of it. He is also really, really cool: When another character smack talks him by saying, “You don’t fight with honor,” it rolls right off: “No, he did,” Bronn replies, gesturing to the dude he just killed. But you always get the sense his loyalty is fleeting, which means he is the sidekick Tyrion both needs and deserves.

9. Landry Clarke on Friday Night Lights
How do we love Landry (portrayed in a career-making turn by Jesse Plemons)? Let us count the ways. From his Christian metal band, the brilliantly-named Crucifictorious, to his almost jazz-like comic timing, Landry is Matt Saracen’s goofy reflection. While Matt broods, Landry crushes on the pretty girl (and gets saddled with one of the shittiest plotlines in modern TV history, which we’ll never speak of again), makes it work, and generally becomes an emotional center in a show that sometimes seemed full of them. Landry was the rocker in a class of jocks, the book-smart brain in a class of kids who don’t seem to care all that much about school, the one who really needs to get out of town in a class of kids who are trying to have the best years of their lives. Which is why we say “Landry forever.”

8. E.B. Farnum from Deadwood
So what is William Sanderson’s most iconic role? Is it as the doomed inventor J.F Sebastian in Blade Runner? Is it as Larry on Newhart? Or is it as E.B. Farnum, pathetic owner of the Grand Central Hotel and the first mayor of Deadwood? As Farnum, Sanderson broke new ground in bowing and scraping before Al Swearengen. Creator David Milch thought enough of Sanderson (one supposes, and as he should have) to give him some truly epic Milchian lines (“August commencement to my administration, standing stymied outside a saloon next to a degenerate tit-licker”), and to grant him his own E.B to kick around, the simpleton cook Richardson. (“Could you have been born, Richardson? And not egg-hatched as I’ve always assumed? Did your mother hover over you, snaggle-toothed and doting as you now hover over me?”) Just awesome.

7. Watson from various Sherlock Holmes incarnations
John Watson is, of course, one of genre fiction’s first and best sidekicks, the chronicler of his friend’s exploits. In the BBC’s excellent series Sherlock, Watson (Martin Freeman) is a somewhat damaged Gulf War vet who gets thrust into Holmes’ life, only to start blogging about his new pal’s cases out of curiosity. The duo is so tight that Watson often finds himself clearing up misunderstanding about the nature of their relationship.

6. Silvio Dante from The Sopranos
As Tony Soprano’s right hand, Steven Van Zandt slicked back his hair, got rid of the headband and affixed a perma-frown that radiated “I get things done.” And boy, did he: Silvio ran the Ba Da Bing with an iron fist, executed three of the family’s allies (Jimmy Altieri, Big Pussy and Adriana). As the Soprano family disintegrated, he was loyal to the very end, exiting the series in a coma from which he was unlikely to awake.

5. Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
These two represented the two halves of Buffy Summers: the magical (Willow) and the human (Xander). Within six seasons, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) turns from a computer-hacker wallflower to a lesbian Dark Phoenix. As for Xander (Nicholas Brendon), well, as the first believer in Buffy, he all but embodies the line from Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion”: “This unrequited love / to me it’s nothing / but a one-man cult.” As the only member of the core Scoobies without any powers, Xander was almost the bravest member of the team. For his trouble, he eventually loses his betrothed (Anya, we’ll never forget you) and his eye. Bummer.

4.Rayanne Graff from My So-Called Life
Sidekicks are often around to be the somewhat larger-than-life figures in the ensemble, to do and say what the protagonist can’t or won’t by pushing them in interesting directions. Rayanne Graff, played with almost feral energy by A.J. Langer, did exactly this for Angela Chase. With her braids and her scrunchies and her bad influence, she was the id to Angela’s superego. By the end of the program, their friendship was in jeopardy after Rayanne slept with Jordan Catalano. To this day, people are still upset about this.

3. Waylon Smithers from The Simpsons
As Montgomery Burns’ gay assistant/valet/bodyman/ food chewer/etc., Smithers transcends mere obsequiousness and has become as critical a part of what made (yes, PAST TENSE) The Simpsons great as Homer or Bart. In a sharp, only-Nixon-can-go-to-China move, Smithers utters one of the all-time most memorable lines in the show’s canon after Mr. Burns attempts to block out the sun: “He crossed that line between everyday villainy and cartoonish super-villainy.” It is depressing how useful that line has become over then next 15 years.

2. Rhoda Mogenstern from Mary Tyler Moore
Valerie Harper did such a brilliant job as Mary Richard’s wisecracking, fashion-forward Jewish best friend that she got her own show, where she was promptly and routinely upstaged by her own sidekicks, her sister Brenda (Julie Kavner), who was essentially now the Rhoda to Rhoda’s Mary, and her mother, Ida (Nancy Walker).

1. Kato from The Green Hornet
We all know that Robin is the Ultimate Sidekick, but Kato’s status is the baddest. Played by young Bruce Lee, Kato single-handedly exposed the U.S. to martial arts on a mass scale and made a chauffeur’s hat look cool. According to legend, Lee flat out refused to let Kato’s ass be kicked by Robin in the two-part Batman/Hornet crossover. And, of course, he went on to be BRUCE FREAKIN’ LEE. Kato later had his legacy of awesome tarnished by two things: Kato Kaelin (surely on a shortlist of Worst Sidekicks of All Time) and the atrocious 2011 movie, The Green Hornet, in which Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou looked like he would rather be anywhere else.