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

October 30, 2020 7.1k votes 1.4k voters 170.8k views14 items

List RulesVote 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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."

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  • Bruce Willis On 'Friends'
    Photo: NBC

    Bruce Willis's short stint on Friends as Paul Stevens begins much as you'd expect: his character comes off as a handsome jerk who is looking after his daughter's well-being as she begins a relationship with Ross, who is much older than she is. When Paul enters his own relationship with a wide age gap (with Jennifer Aniston's Rachel), things get a little more interesting.

    Willis was a big-screen star by the time he showed up on Friends, but he actually got the first break of his career in the cult classic television series Moonlighting, and he didn't lose his small-screen instincts. Maybe audiences never expected to see Bruce Willis breaking down and begging for a hug while in tears, but the television gods like to provide things you never knew you needed. 

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