TV Sidekicks Who Made Their Friends Better

To wrap up this subset of examples of friendships in television, let me provide some snippets about other well-known sidekicks who made their friends better. Just as Andy Griffith needed Barney Fife and Oscar Madison needed Felix Unger, many of my previous examples in this subset needed a top-notch, second banana. Its why everyone needs a good sidekick among their friends.

At the start of this series titled, New Year; New Types of Friends I suggested that all men need to reevaluate their friendships from time to time. Everyone will eventually realize that some friends may no longer be helping them grow. In fact, sometimes a bad sidekick may even stunt your personal growth or derail it. That’s when you need to determine it’s time for a new, even better, sidekick.

Why a Sidekick

In my Introduction post to the subsets with examples of real-life friendships, I linked to my posts about The Philosophy, The HistoryThe Psychology, and The Physiology (physical aspects) of friendship to help you understand the barriers many men have to making close, intimate friendships with other guys. I then wrote about The Friendships Throughout a Man’s Life, I suggested some archetypes of friends that should be part of your “inner circle.” These included the Mentor, the Wingman/Bachelor, the Handyman, the Fitness Buff, the Work Pal, and my personal favorite, the GodBuddy. I then followed with How Much Time Men Need to Become Friends to show that good, quality friendships take time.

I then kicked off the subsets of examples of friendships in politics, in the movies, and in television. While some of those examples may not fit nicely into your “archetype list”, many of them demonstrate the Traits of a GodBuddy Relationship, which I believe is the most important of all archetypes to personal, professional, and spiritual growth. Any of those archetypes could become your sidekick but don’t force him into one of those types since friendship is not formulaic.

So here is my personal list of television sidekicks who helped make their friends better.

The “Unofficial” Best Sidekicks

The word “sidekick” is a late 19th-/early 20th-century slang term for the front side pocket of a pair of trousers, known as the pocket safest from theft. Therefore, by analogy, a “side-kick” is a person’s closest companion.

The Oxford Dictionary describes a sidekick as a person’s close associate or assistant, especially one who has less authority than that person. Now, friendships don’t necessarily have an authority structure so I prefer the Collins English Dictionary definition better: a close friend or follower who accompanies another on adventures, etc. 

Other synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for sidekick include assistant, friend, amigo, companion, partner, deputy, henchman, mate, pal, comrade, and intimate.

The following examples follow nicely with these descriptions.

Ed McMahon

Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson

This former carnival barker was Johnny Carson’s right-hand man from 1962-1992.  Many underestimated McMahon’s unique television skills. His ”Here’s Johnny!” became a catchphrase because he had a jazz musician’s timing of sensing exactly how long to stretch the ”Heeeeeere’s” until it met the abrupt slash of the ”Johnny!”

As a subtle straight man, McMahon was a master at keeping the conversational ball rolling. He highlighted Johnny’s great jokes with rich, genuine, infectious laughter. He also saved a lot of bad material with an ad-lib or loud guffaw. 

Ed McMahon is an example of a friend who makes someone look good even when they are a bit off. 

Robin

Robin (Burt Ward) and Batman (Adam West)

“The Boy Wonder” was the trusty sidekick of Batman. As Robin’s alter ego, Dıck Grayson was the epitome of a younger guy who looked up to Bruce Wayne when they were not donning their cape-and-tights crime-fighting outfits. He’s probably best known for his exclamations such as “holy interplanetary yardstick,” “holy ravioli” or “holy hole in a doughnut.”

Robin is the perfect No. 2 guy since he would let Batman, get all the glory. He was also a great young mentee; just as Timothy was the Apostle Paul’s Protege.  

Tonto

The Lone Ranger and Tonto

Tonto was a brave, loyal Native American who became the faithful sidekick of The Lone Ranger on a popular ABC television program that ran 221 episodes from 1949-57. The actor who made Tonto was a handsome, dark-haired, man named Jay Silverheels, but whose real name was Harry J. Smith (1912-1980),. Smith was born into a prominent Mohawk-Seneca family at Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario, 75 miles west of Buffalo. One of Tonto’s famous lines is  “You all alone now, you Lone Ranger.”

In effect, Tonto gave the main character of the show his name, which is a great metaphor for why men need a good sidekick to help them fight the battles of life together; not alone.

Ethel Mertz

Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance) and Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball)

Lucy Ricardo’s best friend in the I Love Lucy show is Ethel. Even though she knows better, Ethel usually gets sucked into helping Lucy with some crazy caper that’s bound to go wrong — or at the least, be the cause for comedic embarrassment. Ethel remained devotedly loyal to Lucy; making them perhaps the best comedic female best-friend duo in TV history. She also had some of the best one-liners in show history, such as “Oh, Lucy, I know you’re not going to move, but if you ever do move, don’t move.” and “Common sense has nothing to do with it. When I say he’s wrong, he’s wrong.”

Ethel is the perfect partner in crime who gives Lucy just the encouragement to make a fool out of herself without letting Lucy go too far.

Al Borland

Tim Taylor and Al Borland (played by Richard Karn)

Borland is his best friend and co-host of Tool Time, the fictional “show-within-a-show” on Home Improvement.  He’s a little less hip than Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor (Tim Allen), but he’s also the more responsible of the two. Al doesn’t come off as cool as Tim thinks of himself to be. Between the two, Al Borland actually has more common sense and is probably a better handyman than his buddy. Plus, nobody on television during the 1990s could rock a flannel shirt better than Al.

It’s always good to have a sidekick who is handy and has all the tools you ever need.

Laverne and Shirley

Laverne DeFazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams)

OK, this is more of a best friend than a sidekick but Laverne & Shirley is an excellent example of a friendship with a long history together. They were single roommates who worked as bottle cappers in a fictitious Milwaukee brewery called Shotz Brewery. This example showcases the comic adventures of two spunky heroines with a deep and abiding friendship. They first graced America’s televisions screens as Richie and Fonzie’s cheap and easy dates on an episode of Happy Days. The two frequently help each other, often where it concerns dates. In one episode, Laverne asks Shirley to pretend she is dying so she can get to know a mortician. But Shirley balks until Laverne sings to her “Friendship” (“If you’re ever in a jam, here I am…”).

These two friends are very different personalities. Laverne is brassy, loud, and adventurous, while Shirley is more cautious and thoughtful. It’s good to have a friend who is much different than you.

Is It Better to Be a Sidekick or the Lead?

Sidekicks are more than companions and assistants. In television, they are friends who cover for the lead characters’ weaknesses and make them better. A good sidekick can be almost anyone who plays a secondary role, observes their actions, or provides some comic relief. Sometimes, a sidekick is all three.

Sidekicks are almost never older than the protagonist. Typically, they are a foil to them since sidekicks are often calm and pragmatic in order to offset the hot-headed man. They do not necessarily need to be on opposite ends of the moral spectrum but oftentimes are one counter-balances the other’s wild side. While a sidekick may get themselves into trouble at times, they may also be the conventionally-brave hero who drags their coward friend toward greater risks that help him reach new heights.

Most sidekicks often show a greater depth than you expect of them. But the sidekick shows his loyalty and deep friendship by complementing and not competing with his friend.

Every guy needs a sidekick who does not drag them down but makes them better.

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GodBuddy Focus

Whether it’s in television and in literature, sidekicks typically play an essential role in a story. Sometimes, a sidekick is a well-developed character who is often more relatable and supporting. Sometimes, a sidekick can steal the spotlight due to his humor and wit. (If that is you as a friend’s sidekick, just Don’t Be “That Guy” as I wrote about the friends you should try to avoid).

Regardless, every man needs a sidekick who challenges his viewpoints. Your sidekick may add humor when you become too serious. Your sidekick may keep you from going too far with your cockamamie ideas. He can ride alongside you so you do not become a “lone ranger” who falls into loneliness, which is a huge threat to our health.

For all these reasons, I’d suggest that your sidekick be a GodBuddy who helps you become not just a good man, but a more godly man.


My next post begins with a subset of examples in literature, starting with “The Inklings.” (Don’t recognize that one? Then make sure you read the next post!)

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