Help me pick TV's best supporting actors of 2009: From 'Chuck,' 'The Office,' 'Southland,' and more!

It’s that time of year to pass around praise to folks who don’t always receive enough attention over the course of the TV season. Here’s my list; when I’m done, I hope you’ll add yours:

Ellie Kemper in The Office As Erin, Pam’s replacement as receptionist as Dunder Mifflin, Kemper has steadily established a distinctive personality and comic rhythm. Kemper, who’s also written for The Onion and McSweeney’s, radiates a sly devilishness beneath a fine poker-face. At first, Ellie seemed a little dim and as skittish as a pony, but by now, she’s part of Michael Scott’s inner-circle of crazy. Ed Helms’ Andy has a crush on the perky-smiling, soulful-eyed Erin, and she’s proven crush-worthy in extracurricular activities such as this:

Adam Baldwin in Chuck Col. Casey could have been consigned to play the big doofus, the muscle-man straight-man to Chuck and Sarah. Instead, Adam Baldwin has grabbed the role, taken the writers’ clever cues, and made Casey a he-man with feelings, a sensitive guy who growls at the mere mention of sensitivity. And I can tell you that, having seen the opening episodes of Chuck‘s season three starting Jan. 10, Casey only gets better. Baldwin is providing much of the balance — the fulcrum, as it were — of the comedy and action in Chuck:

Regina King in Southland This terrific cop show benefits hugely from the presence of Regina King as Det. Lydia Adams. King plays her very tough — a total pro — but we also see her compassionate side. With a lesser actress, the role could have been female-cop-with-heart-of-gold stuff, but King kicks it to another level. Southland returns Jan. 12 on TNT with a re-airing of the series pilot featuring added new footage. After rerunning the first 13 episodes, TNT will air the new season starting Mar. 2 I’m really looking forward to the new episodes, aren’t you?

Julie Bowen on Modern Family Because she’s pretty and cast as a long-suffering wife to a peerless goofball (Merry Christmas to you, wonderful Ty Burrell), Bowen’s Claire could have been a blank blonde cipher. Far from it: Bowen’s wide array of silent gazes at the camera, her slow-burns at her clan’s bad behavior, and her ability to freak out without seeming nutso crazy makes her an essential, stand-out part of TV’s best freshman ensemble cast. Just look at the way she handles this family scene, her Claire matching Phil moment-for-moment in funniness:

Chris Pratt on Parks and Recreation Beloved by some of us for his work on Everwood, Pratt looked like a cameo character on the first season of Parks and Recreation. This season, however, Andy has found a permanent place running the shoeshine stand in Leslie Knope’s office building, the better to continue pining for Ann. Pratt’s ability to be both boyish, ridiculous, and bearishly charming make him a winner.

So there are some of my picks for Best Supporting Actors of 2009. Who are yours?

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  • Yes

    I totally agree with each of those! I was telling someone how Erin is a great addition because she is unlike any of the other women in the office. And Adam Baldwin hasn’t gotten a lot of attention but he is excellent. I love the rest too. Great list!!!

  • ilana

    aziz ansari on parks and rec is consistently funny and another of the best parts of that show

  • K

    I wouldn’t necessarily consider Julie Bowen “supporting”…I do agree that she’s fantastic on that show. Actually, I wouldn’t know who to call out because each and everyone one of them is amazing. And the kids! I wish there was a separate award for the child actors. I think a true supporting performance, an probably among the best on TV, was Christina Hendricks on Mad Men…she managed to do so much with so few episodes…not even episodes, moments. She managed to translate so much emotion with a single glance, and added so many layers to the character. Other nominees would be Michelle Forbes for playing so against type and not only saving True Blood from a sophmore slump, but making season 2 even better than season 1, and pretty much everyone on Battlestar, though in 2009 I would give it to Mary McDonnel.

  • kellen

    jayma mays on ‘glee’ for sure. for one, she’s adorable, with her big doe eyes. and she delivers a lot of funny lines, which, paired with her innocent stare, come off perfectly.

    i also think that danny (cheyenne jackson) on ’30 rock’ is a great addition to the cast. granted, he’s only been in two episodes, but he fits right in at studio 6H. and he’s pretty. :)

    • craig

      I agree with Jayma Mays
      and I would also go with Chevy Chase in “Community” who is brilliant in the Pathetic Geezer role
      also Ryan McPartland in “Chuck” just for the scene when he finds out that Chuck is a spy he runs the gambit of emotions from fear to pure glee!
      Matt Chzury in “The Good Wife” took a what could have been a total sleazeball and made him likable!
      and Marcia Cross in “Desperate Houswives” as a woman who knows she is going down the wrong path but can’t help herself!

      • Jess

        Jayma and Chevy, most definitely!! Add Abed to that from Community and I’m happy :D

    • craig

      oh and also Portia Di Rossi in “Better Off Ted” a coic Tour De Force!

      • craig

        *comic Tour De Force

      • Togtoh

        I have never spent more time looking a dmueocntation then the time I tried to use smarty on a project a few years ago. I applaud them for trying to solve a problem that really can just be fixed by only allowing people who know what they’re doing near your code.Really if you can’t trust your developers/designers/integration person to not put stupid crap in your templates for your project, you’ve hired the wrong person.

  • Nicole

    Julie Bowen!

  • Justin

    I agree with all your picks.

  • Heather

    Jim Parsons for big bang..he could be a main person, but for the sake of argument since it is an ensemble show he is supporting and he is fabulous!! He never fails to bring the funny and is so dedicated to the character. Also John Noble on Fringe, he is hilariously quirky and then on the flip of a dime he can make you cry (when he was lost sitting on that bench!!). Last, but not least NPH for always delivering on HIMYM. This year has been a challenge trying to play Barney in a relationship, but he was awesome.

  • Vetinari

    I agree with Chris Pratt, and I’d add:
    The girl who plays Don’s daughter on Mad Men.
    The actor who plays Raj on Big Bang Theory.
    John Noble, Fringe
    The actor who plays Ron on Parks and Rec

  • Aaron

    My favorites include Brie Larson on United States of Tara (she comes off as a real rebellious teenager as opposed to a TV rebellious teenager), Anna Gunn on Breaking Bad (no one can do strength and brokenness at the same time like she can), and Brad Leland on FNL (although I could really pick anyone in that cast).

    • Hannah

      I totally agree about Brie Larson in US of Tara.

      • Miss Jackson

        I have to agree with this too. At first,I hated her character and then I warmed up to her helafway through the season because I finally got it! It’s exactly what Aaron said she comes across as a real rebel not a tv rebel. (also love the guy who plays her brother marshall)

    • dee dee

      Brie Larsen’s character is SO scripted, she cannot be taken seriously. Just the way Juno was written; teens do no talk that way….sorry!

  • GoMe!

    Definitely Simon Helberg (Howard) from Big Bang Theory. He’s probably the second funniest person on the show (behind Jon). And he delivers his lines with such exuberance. I think he is overlooked and so underrated.
    Also Diane Agronn (Quin) from Glee. I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, but I think her character is so interesting and has had the biggest transformation. And Dianne does such a great job. (And her voice isn’t too shabby either!)

    • madduxfan

      Totally agree with Simon Helberg. No one else could play Howard as well.

    • Mark S

      I am with you on Quinn. A lot of people hate her, but I think she has shown a lot. The guy who plays Kurt should get a lot of respect as well. His scenes that dealt with his sexuality has been moving.

      • Halcim

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    • elena

      I’m loving Quinn, too. Girl can cry-act like no other. And Kurt! Adore him & his dad.

  • Heather

    I have to say Jim Beaver on Supernatural. Gotta give my man some love!

  • Mel

    John Noble, Fringe
    Donald Glover, Community
    Jane Lynch, Glee
    Kaitlin Olson, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
    Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family

    • queensgirl

      Completely agree with the choice of Eric Stonestreet!

  • Vetinari

    Somehow I forgot Danny Pudi (Abed on Community), my favorite supporting actor on any show this year.

  • j2tiger

    While I often value your opinion Ken, it really pains me how many times there is information in your reviews, references or statements that is in error. TNT is airing the original six episodes of ‘Southland’ followed by the seven completed this season, for a total of 13. This doesn’t so much disappoint me in you Ken, moreso that there isn’t someone at EW who catches the frequent slip ups.

  • darclyte

    Adam Baldwin of Chuck FTW!

    • Mukarram

      Mary January 18, 2011 Wow, love the picture wish the frogs next to the BART train tcraks would come to my yard love your pictures I too have a farm here in Richmond, for the past few summers I’ve grown fresh vegetables and fruit to enjoy can’t wait to share your blog with others to encourage them to grow vegetables and raise their own farm animals.Mary

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