TV Sitcom Performances That Are Way Better Than They Have Any Right To Be

Over 1.9K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of TV Sitcom Performances That Are Way Better Than They Have Any Right To Be
Voting Rules
Vote up the performances that surpass what you expect from the average sitcom.

When you think about the best television performances, you probably don't consider the small recurring roles and guest spots that have stood out on sitcoms over the years. After all, sometimes guest roles are entirely forgettable or just storytelling devices to prop up the main cast. But sometimes, supremely talented actors get to shine in roles.

That includes A-list actors like Charlize Theron, Bruce Willis, and Burt Reynolds shining in limited screen time; and pre-breakout stars like Amy Adams, Idris Elba, and Paul Rudd making their mark on beloved sitcoms. Meanwhile, respected character actors like Jonathan Banks, John Carroll Lynch, and Kathryn Hahn add surprising pathos and craft to television comedy. 

  • Paul Rudd On 'Friends'
    Photo: NBC

    Paul Rudd may not look back on his time as a recurring Friends guest actor with much fondness, but his time on one of the most popular television shows in history offered a hint to his future stardom. His Friends stint came years before he would become a comedy icon and headline his own MCU franchise.

    The actor's portrayal of Phoebe's eventual third husband, Mike Hannigan, showcased his innate ability to portray comedic characters with a surprising amount of depth. A lovable doofus with a heart of gold, in a lot of ways, Mike portends Rudd's future roles as Scott Lang and I Love You, Man's Peter Klaven.

    1,050 votes
  • Bob Newhart On 'The Big Bang Theory'
    Photo: CBS

    The Big Bang Theory is probably the biggest sitcom of the post-Friends era of television, and there was no better way to solidify the show's standing in history than to bring on one of the legendary titans in comedy history: Bob Newhart. The Bob Newhart Show was one of the most beloved shows of the 1970s, and Newhart brought his mastery of the sitcom format to Big Bang with his Emmy Award-winning portrayal of Arthur Jeffries, AKA Professor Proton.

    Jeffries is the former star of a Mr. Wizard-like educational program starring his character. Newhart's ability to play a former children's television star past his prime is one of the genuine highlights of the entire series. They even brought Newhart back for Young SheldonThe Big Bang Theory's prequel.

    765 votes
  • On a series as bonkers and farcical as Arrested Development, one could be forgiven for assuming Charlize Theron's Season 3 recurring character Rita Leeds would be yet another in a long line of utterly ridiculous guest stars that includes Ben Stiller's Tony Wonder and Judy Greer's Kitty Sanchez. However, as if we needed more evidence about how great Theron is at her craft, Rita Leeds ended up as one of the most genuine characters in all five seasons of the show.

    Arrested Development is never meant to be taken seriously, and Theron's portrayal as a mentally challenged English woman could easily come off as mean-spirited or misguided. Nevertheless, Rita's short-lived and rapidly escalating romance ends up housing one of the show's most tender relationships. Leave it to an Academy Award winner to pull off an outrageous yet nuanced turn in just five episodes.

    529 votes
  • Idris Elba On 'The Office'
    Photo: NBC

    Idris Elba was not the household name he is now when he guest-starred as Charles Miner in seven 2009 episodes of The Office, but his world-renowned acting chops were certainly on display. Best known for dramatic series like The Wire and Luther, Elba got to showcase his considerable comedic talent as the no-nonsense Dunder Mifflin VP of Northeastern Sales. 

    The actually business-like Miner was something of a rarity for The Office's Scranton Branch: someone who took their job very seriously and expected others to do the same. The show garnered a lot of comedy out of his contentious relationship with John Krasinski's Jim Halpert, whom Miner sees as unrepentantly lazy, as well as Elba's dashing good looks. After all, he is "aware of the effect [he has] on women."

    781 votes
  • John Cleese On '3rd Rock from the Sun'
    Photo: NBC

    If you're looking to provide some gravitas and serious comedic talent to your sitcom, you could do far worse than casting famed English comedian John Cleese. And Cleese's four episodes as dastardly alien-in-disguise Dr. Liam Neesam earned him an Emmy Award nomination during 3rd Rock from the Sun's heyday in 1998.

    The undeniable comedic brilliance and timing honed for years while working with the legendary Monty Python comedy troupe were on full display during his limited time with the Solomon family. As one-note as you'd think the character would be - he is a nemesis to John Lithgow's Dick Solomon - there is no end to the laughs Cleese provides, a testament to his impeccable comedic talent.

    337 votes
  • Kathryn Hahn On 'Parks and Recreation'
    Photo: NBC

    When Kathryn Hahn first appeared in Season 4 of Parks and Recreation as political strategist Jennifer Barkley, viewers surely thought this character would never amount to more than a political nemesis to Leslie Knope. And though she definitely starts out as an antagonist to the lovable main character, Jennifer ends up being a real ally to both Leslie and her lovable beau, Ben Wyatt.

    By the time the show is over, Hahn's character has convinced Ben to run for Congress, which is not what you'd expect from a character who was hired to win an election against his wife a few years earlier. Barkley is a confident woman who knows what she wants, and Hahn shines bright in a role that lets her get to do things like have a one-night stand with Rob Lowe's character.

    533 votes