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What Show Has the Best Supporting Characters? Your Pressing TV Questions, Answered

Photo: Fox, Channel 4, America’s Test Kitchen

Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.

I’m currently both eagerly anticipating Justified coming back and dreading its end. At this point, I’m mostly hoping for a good ending for Boyd, much the same way I felt about Jesse in Breaking Bad. Between those shows and Hannibal, I think my favorite programs are those with great supporting performances. What are some shows you’d recommend watching for a great supporting turn? (Also, I’m saving The Shield for the summer when I’m in Walton Goggins withdrawal. Is he as good in that as he is in Justified?) — Jessica

The show with the best supporting characters is America’s Test Kitchen. ATK is a wonderfully informative, helpful cooking and food science show, but it’s also a simmering Edward Albee play if you like subtext. Host Chris Kimball is the star, certainly, but the “supporting” “characters” of Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin-Davison are what make the show shine. Here is the trick: Imagine that in every segment, Kimball and either Lancaster or Collin-Davison have just gotten divorced, but are putting on a Waspy happy face for some reason. Now all of their exchanges are extra-charged with passive aggression and resentment. “Here’s an easy job even you could do,” the women say to Chris, and everyone just laughs and laughs. Bridget or Julia will make a point of mentioning one of Chris’s dislikes, and he’ll reject that kindness with a petty correction. “I do so like that spice; I like it in a rub!” he spits. Perhaps they never really knew each other in the first place. This make-at-home General Tso’s chicken is surprisingly easy, but cooking it robs one of them of the chance to gain a brief respite by driving to get the takeout. You can see the intimacy-laced resentment radiating off of everyone. Then they each take a taste of the food and oooh and aaaah over it, even though their hearts are closed. Later, Chris will go to the tasting lab, and the caught-in-the-middle Jack will act as if everything is okay. This is my favorite drama.

If that’s not enough for you, American Horror Story is basically all supporting characters, and while this season is sort of eh, previous eh seasons have turned out pretty well. Game of Thrones’ best characters would probably be considered supporting, but don’t get too attached to them because many die. Sherlock’s characters beyond Sherlock and Watson are often terrific (though nothing is quite Boyd-level), and Masters of Sex’s non-Masters-and-Johnson folk are the best part of the show, especially in the first season. Is Mad Men too obvious? So be it; there’s no other show that cares that much about the interior lives of even one-off characters, except maybe The Good Wife. Finally, in a less prestigious vein, you should try Bones. The show has declined greatly in its latter years, and the first season or so is kind of a drag, but man, there was this sweet spot there for a while — seasons two, three, and maybe four — where the show finally admitted that Bones and Booth are kinda boring, but everyone else is fun. Those episodes are great.

Finally, Walton Goggins is absolutely as good on The Shield as he is on Justified, and arguably better, only because the role is a little more complicated. (I love both shows, but there’s only one Shield.) Perhaps after Justified, Goggins will play a genuine, 100 percent good guy in something warm and fuzzy, just so it seems less weird to be like “oh, I LOVE him.”

So Vulture and few other people I know told me to watch Black Mirror. I went in without any spoilers and I got through about 15 minutes of the first episode before I read the plot summary online and turned it off. I’ve never been so annoyed at a viewing experience. I was expecting Twilight Zone and it felt like Tales From the Crypt. Everyone else seems to love it, which I also find a little infuriating. In the future, should I spoil every show before I watch it? How can I stop this from happening again? —Lindsay

This email came in with the subject line “I couldn’t believe how much I hated it,” which should probably get a prize of some kind. Lindsay, I’m sorry you hated Black Mirror so much. I loved it, though I agree that the first episode — in which a terrorist kidnaps a British princess and demands that the prime minister of the U.K. have sex with a pig, on television, to ensure her return — is pretty disturbing. It’s not horror, though, so I’d dispute your Tales From the Crypt parallel.

But you didn’t like it. Fair enough. What should you do differently next time? Nothing. You can’t safeguard yourself against the possibility of not liking things, and spoiling shows for yourself just to avoid a possible misstep seems kind of extreme. We are all just joyous, sinewy monkeys swinging from tree to tree in the TV jungle, and when we find ourselves on an undesirable branch, we simply swing onward. Later, we groom each other and engage in displays of aggression to see who is in charge.

I just finished watching Gilmore Girls for the very first time and I am in deep mourning! Is there anything else out there like that show, that is even remotely as good?? —Rachel

Gilmore Girls is a singular pleasure, but if you like that, you will also like Veronica Mars, Greek, Being Erica, Life Unexpected, Privileged, Grosse Point, Ugly Betty, Everwood, and The O.C.

What TV Show Has the Best Supporting Characters?