Saturday, July 15, 2006

Greatest Side-Kicks of All Time

Entertainment Weekly made a list of the 50 greatest side-kicks of all time. Here is their top ten:

1. Ed McMahon (sidekick to Johnny Carson)
To say it's fitting that a former carnival barker would become the guy who hawked Johnny Carson and his guests at the top of The Tonight Show is to underestimate McMahon's unique television skills. ''Here's Johnny!'' became a catchphrase entirely because McMahon had a jazz musician's timing, sensing exactly how long to stretch the ''Heeeeeere's'' until it met the abrupt slash of the ''Johnny!'' Sure, he roared at the boss' jokes, risking ridicule as a lackey (John Candy on SCTV and Jeffrey Tambor on The Larry Sanders Show simultaneously eviscerated and enhanced Ed's pop prominence). But if you watched him closely, you saw that McMahon was a master at keeping the conversational ball rolling, a subtle straight man. He saved a lot of crap material with an ad-lib or a prodding guffaw; he highlighted Johnny's great jokes by rolling out rich, genuine, infectious laughter. That's what friends — and sidekicks — are for.

2. Robin (sidekick to Batman)
The Boy Wonder is the most iconic comic-book No. 2 of all time — and the source of all cape-and-tights homoeroticism. (Imagine the ad: Older male crime fighter, lacking female companionship, seeks pubescent male acrobat for nocturnal patrols.) Armchair analysis aside, he's a perfect No. 2 template: helping No. 1 thwack! pow! the bad guys, getting captured (or killed) when it suits No. 1's story line, and, most importantly, letting No. 1 get all the glory.

3. George Costanza (sidekick to Jerry Seinfeld)
Loyal. Dependable. Generous. These words describe the finest sidekicks. They do not describe George Costanza. Jerry's pal was known to lie, cheat, and steal (not really, but he once smuggled a book into a restroom). So what was it that kept him on Jerry's speed dial? The comic's understanding that his own complicated, annoyance-ridden existence was that much better when compared with his short, bald buddy's. That's better than nothing.

4. Chewbacca (sidekick to Han Solo)
With a gentle growl questioning Han's decision to abandon the Rebels in Star Wars' Episode IV, he spoke volumes about loyalty. In rescuing Yoda from clone assassins in Episode III, this ''walking carpet'' did more to save the galaxy than anyone's ever given him credit for. Protector of princesses, crack hyper-drive repairman, and unranked amateur chess player, Chewie's biggest role may be that of the Millennium Falcon's furry conscience.

5. Ethel Mertz (sidekick to Lucy Ricardo)
Without Ethel to bail her out of trouble each week on I Love Lucy, original desperate housewife Lucy would have been nothing more than an overbearing harpy. But as cannily played by Vivian Vance, Mrs. Mertz — whose spats with hubby Fred hinted at dysfunction when TV rarely even acknowledged marital discord — was a perfectly exasperated partner in crime: happy to play along, even happier to put the kibosh on her pickle-prone friend's worst impulses.

6. Dr. Watson (sidekick to sherlock Holmes)
Who can ignore the good doctor's contributions to the sidekick community? Would Holmes' thunderclap insights resonate without that sturdy Watsonian sounding board? More to the point: Who'd tell the story in the first place? Watson is more than Holmes' friend: He's his humanity. The great detective is a bit of a calculating machine; Watson's his link to our species. Holmes may deduce the Who, What, and Where, but Watson gives us the Why.

7. Samwise Gamgee (sidekick to Frodo Baggins)
Why is good ol' Sam so indispensable? Because Mr. Frodo's hairy hobbit heinie wasn't going to get to Mordor all by itself, was it? As Frodo's stouthearted servant, Sam of the Shire is the archetypal companion: He's devoted (see J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and Peter Jackson's 681 minutes of film), selfless (two words: ''Bye-bye, Bill''), and honest (suddenly consumed with a desire to rule the world? Sam will call you on it). Despite constantly rising to the orc-chasing, giant-spider-battling, Middle-earth-saving occasion, Sam still ends up second fiddle. And the humble halfling gardener wouldn't have it any other way.

8. Ed Norton (sidekick to Ralph Kramden)
The Honeymooners' happy-go-lucky sewer worker serves as a scrawny omega to his rotund, irascible alpha-dog neighbor — and a co-conspirator in his crackpot schemes. Ed's spastic, loose-limbed antics also make him the target of his buddy's sputtering effusions of ''G-e-e-e-e-t OUT!'' And while Norton occasionally one-ups Ralph with a sly zinger — ''When you come down the street, there ain't no other side'' — he never loses his space-cadet charm.

9. Tattoo (sidekick to Mr. Roarke)
We never understood the relationship between Mr. Roarke and Tattoo. Yes, they obviously shared the same amazing tailor — but there was something vaguely menacing about the way Roarke referred to his diminutive companion as ''my leettle friend.'' Whatever his role, Tattoo gave Fantasy Island yet another layer of mystery. Still, was that excitement — or the longing for a better life — we heard in his voice when he exclaimed, ''Da plane! Da plane!''?

10. Dwight Schrute (sidekick to Michael Scott)
Part sycophant, part disciplinarian, all pain in the arss, The Office's Dwight is so eager to serve his boss that once, while racing to Michael's aid, he crashed his Trans Am into a pole (and vomited all over the car). His creepy devotion is best described by the man-child himself: ''He's like Mozart and I'm like Mozart's friend. No, I'm like Butch Cassidy and Michael is like Mozart. You try and hurt Mozart, you're gonna get a bullet in your head, courtesy of Butch Cassidy.''

To see the rest of the list click HERE

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