Thursday, July 21, 2011

The 5 Best Sidekicks in a Film/TV Series

Sidekicks in a series can be an essential ingredient to a film or TV show. The best sidekicks will enhance the story and characters, whereas the not-so-good ones are fruitless, empty vessels just taking up space. Still others, through no fault of their own, may wind up stealing the spotlight from the person(s) intended as the star. The following is a list of sidekicks that my wife and I assembled. These so-called sidekicks are people (or furry things) with whom we wouldn’t mind sharing adventures -- which should explain the absence of Robin from the TV series, Batman, who can stay at Wayne Manor with Bruce... not that I’m verifying that Bruce Wayne is Batman...

1. Chewbacca (the Star Wars series) Chewbacca, affectionately dubbed Chewie, belongs to a species known as Wookiee, from the planet Kashyyyk. He was the sidekick to Han Solo in the Star Wars original trilogy (1977-83). Chewie’s presence is an amazing union of ferocity and geniality. He’s both lethal and lovable. It’s perfectly reasonable that stormtroopers might flee at the sight of Chewbecca, but as he’s one of the good guys, it would be difficult as part of the Rebel Alliance to not monopolize time on the battlefield giving Chewie sneak-attack hugs. Chewbacca’s euphonic and beloved growls are actually a language, Wookieespeak (or, more formally, Shyriiwook). Speakers of Galactic Basic (a common tongue in the Star Wars world and similar to English) can understand Wookieespeak but, due to anatomical distinction, cannot necessarily speak it, in the same way that Chewie comprehends Basic but cannot physically articulate the language. This is how Han Solo and Chewbacca can have arguments in their native tongues. The 7’3” Peter Mayhew portrayed Chewie in the original trilogy and appeared in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the infamous The Star Wars Holiday Special broadcast on TV in 1978. He also voiced Chewie for the animated series, The Clone Wars.

2. Daigoro (the Lone Wolf and Cub series) The Lone Wolf and Cub films (1972-74), based on a popular manga, detail the lives of Ogami Itto and his son, Daigoro. After his wife is killed and he is disgraced, Ogami offers Daigoro the choice of a sword or a ball: follow his father and wander as an assassin, or be with his mother. Daigoro, who is merely a year old, crawls to the sword. Ogami chauffeurs Daigoro (around three years of age when the series begins) in a wooden carriage that’s armed to the teeth. In an unforgettable scene from Baby Cart at the River Styx (the second of the series and a fan favorite), father and son are halted by a line of would-be assassins. Ogami pulls weapons from the cart and pushes it, with Daigoro, towards the samurai. Daigoro’s tiny foot triggers blades that protrude from the cart’s wheels and slice through a couple of ankles. In the same film, the little boy tends to his injured father by bringing him water and food. In one of the most endearing moments, Daigoro takes rice cakes from the foot of a Buddha statue, and drapes his vest over the Buddha as an exchange. Akihiro Tomikawa plays young Daigoro in all six films, made within three years. Shogun Assassin (1980), sometimes listed as a seventh entry, is actually a composite of mostly the second film and some of the first, and dubbed in English. Sequels to said movie were likewise reedits.

3. Dr. John Watson (Sherlock Holmes) One of the earliest examples of a sidekick, Dr. Watson almost acted as a sounding board for the brilliant mind of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. But Watson was more than a simple assistant
. He was also a moral compass for Holmes, an intelligent man of action, and a friend to the socially awkward detective. Nigel Bruce played Watson, with Basil Rathbone as Holmes, in the popular series of films beginning in 1939 with The Hound of the Baskervilles. Some fans, however, did not appreciate the interpretation, as Watson was little more than comic relief. Frequent Hammer Films star Andre Morell fared much better in his portrayal of the doctor in Hammer’s 1959 Baskervilles adaptation, with Peter Cushing as the detective. Audiences were likewise receptive to David Burke in the first British TV series featuring the renowned Jeremy Brett, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984-85). Burke stayed true to the nature of Watson’s literary roots, while Edward Hardwicke appeased fans with a winsome, affable Watson in three additional series that ran to the mid-90s, for a total of 28 episodes (and five of those feature length).

4. Fozzie Bear (The Muppets) Fozzie is, for all intents and purposes, a walking, talking teddy bear. He’s fuzzy and squeezable, and much like a teddy bear always by a child’s side (or an adult’s side, for those who weren’t so cruel as to neglect a faithful and cuddly companion), he often accompanies Kermit the Frog. They regularly appeared with one another on the TV series, The Muppet Show (1976-81), but perhaps their greatest pairing was in The Muppet Movie (1979), when Kermit, on his way to Hollywood, is picked up by Fozzie Bear. This leads to Fozzie’s now classic line: “A bear in his natural habitat -- a Studebaker!” Fozzie was a stand-up comedian, and though the Muppet audience was generally unappreciative, his honest nature and cheerful confidence put a smile on the faces of those watching at home. Created by Jim Henson, father of the Muppets, Fozzie was originally voiced by Frank Oz, who also voiced fellow Muppets, Miss Piggy and Animal, Cookie Monster in Sesame Street and Yoda in the Star Wars films. Oz moved on to directing humans, and Eric Jacobson is now the voice of Fozzie, as well as Miss Piggy and Animal.

5. Kato (the 1966-67 The Green Hornet) Before his rise to stardom in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee earned a starring role in a U.S. TV show, The Green Hornet. In the show, wealthy American newspaper publisher Britt Reid decides to become a vigilante for justice, and, like most people with money and power, has someone else do the majority of the work. Kato, a skilled mechanic, was Reid’s driver and, in essence, his muscle. The series only lasted a season, but Lee’s portrayal of Kato was so popular in Hong Kong that The Green Hornet was aired as The Kato Show. Retrospectively, of course, one can clearly see Lee’s charisma shine through the supporting character, even with Kato in disguise. But Hong Kong saw it first, and Lee made a trio of hugely successful films in said country. He only achieved fame in America with Enter the Dragon (1973), which had been released after his untimely death. With Lee a household name, episodes were edited together and released as feature films, The Green Hornet (1974) and Fury of the Dragon (1976), both movies focusing on Lee’s fight sequences. In the serials, The Green Hornet (1940) and The Green Hornet Strikes Again! (1941), Kato was portrayed by Keye Luke, who also played Charlie Chan’s “Number One Son” in numerous films, dubbed Mr. Han’s (Kien Shih) voice in Enter the Dragon, was a regular on the TV series, Kung Fu (Lee was considered for the lead but lost to David Carradine), and was Mr. Wong in the Gremlins films (1984/1990), unfortunately selling a Mogwai to irresponsible owners. Taiwanese musician/actor Jay Chou was Kato in the Green Hornet feature film in 2011.

Honorable mention: Q (the James Bond series) -- Though he was rarely in the field with 007 (1989’s Licence to Kill is an exception), Q (Demond Llewelyn, who was in nearly every Bond film) provided the MI6 agent with all of his gadgets and weapons. Perpetually exasperated by Bond, Q’s blasé attitude towards the spy is always a welcome sight.; KITT (Knight Rider) -- KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand), a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with artificial intelligence, was so capable that one can’t help but wonder why Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff) was even necessary. Had KITT any arms or desire to bed women, Michael may very well have been unemployed.

9 comments:

  1. Good sidekick collection -- Chewbacca was a great foil to Han Solo's ultra-cool character. Watson is my favorite, and it was interesting to see your take on the different interpretations. Nigel Bruce was very different from Conan Doyles stories, but he is jut so lovable. I agree about the Jeremy Brett Watsons. But I think my favorite Watson was in the fairly recent Hound of the Baskervilles with Richard Roxburgh as Holmes. I can't think of Watson's name, darn it, but he was younger, very sharp and more critical of Holmes, just as in the stories. (Roxburgh was a wonderful Holmes, by the way). And Fozzie Bear -- who could not love him!

    I can't really speak to Lone Wolf and Green Hornet because I never saw them, but your little reviews were very interesting. I like your runners-up too. My own personal favorite, although perhaps he doesn't fit as a mere sidekick, is Morey Amsterdam in Dick Van Dyke show. He is kind of like a sidekick anyway. Now Mel -- he was a definite sidekick to Alan Brady!

    Good job, Team Sark!

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  2. I never realized Bruce Lee did TV. That's crazy!

    Great list! And, although he wasn't a true sidekick, I will never complain about a good ole Q mention.

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  3. Interesting choices and I may not agree with them - but it is fun never the less.

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  4. I agree that David Burke was a superior Watson to Jeremy Brett's (marvelous) Holmes. He came across as Holmes' equal and was closer to the tougher Watson of the stories. Whereas Edward Hardwicke, while very good, was, as you point out, just too winsome and adorable.

    Alan Hale was a great sidekick to Errol Flynn in countless movies, including Robin Hood, Sea Hawk, Gentleman Jim, Desperate Journey, etc. Somehow a Flynn film wasn't complete unless Hale showed up!

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  5. Sark,
    Very interesting choices! I got a laugh out of seeing Fozzy Bear. Who doesn't love Fozzy? Daigoro just might be the cutest sidekick in history.

    I would have to say Dr. Watson would be might favorite sidekick of the ones you've listed.
    Page

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  6. I didn't realize how much I liked Chewie until he showed up, as his younger self, in "The Clone Wars" (my daughter makes me watch) and I got verklempt.

    Even Nigel Bruce was put out when it was insisted he play up the comedy as Dr. Watson. Somebody must have liked it!

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  7. Sark, this may be my favorite of our "5 Best" series! I never would have thought of Daigoro (my nephew can say his name just like Ogami Itto), but he's an awesome pick. I love the scene you described to which he nurses his father. During one part, he tries to cup his hands to get water from a pond for his injured father--but the water slips through his fingers as he travels back to his father's resting place. He thinks for a moment and then puts the water in his mouth, run backs to Dad, and transfers the water from mouth to mouth. Daigoro is a very clever lad! I'm glad you mentioned Andre Morrell, who I think was one of the finest Watsons. Kato is a great pick, too--though, in the TV series, he overshadowed the hero. Is that bad for a sidekick? Guess it just depends on the job description. Another great Cato (albeit spelled differently) is Inspector Colouseau's sidekick in THE PINK PANTHER movies. Chewie is my favorite SW character and KITT is a fun pick as a non-human sidekick. Loved this one!

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  8. Sark, this was one of the most fun of the five best films list this summer! I love that the wee lad Daigoro holds his own against the hairy Chewie and fuzzy Fozzy, clever Kato, and well-educated Dr. Watson. I notice that loyalty is key to each one of your choices and that certainly would make for a good second. I could see where each of your choices would make for an excellent companion in a variety of situations. Clever post!

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  9. Sark, Chewbacca absolutely rules as the greatest sideick in any galaxy!! What would have Han, Luke, Leia, and Obi-Wan done without him to help them destroy the Death Star!? Chewie was in the last eipsode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode on the Toon Channel this year. It was an awesome episode too! Yes, I admit I watch the Clone Wars cartoons...love them too! Bruce Lee would be a great beside anybody's side. Love Dr. Watson in any Sherlock Holmes film. He was quite different in the books and short stories by A. C. Doyle but a great sidekick too. Great choices and I enjoyed them all!

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