Some of the best characters on screen are never shown. Ugly Naked Guy, the conceptual nude man living in the apartment opposite the Friends flat, was recently discovered to be played by Jon Haugen in the two episodes where he needed a corporeal form – which gets us thinking, which other unseen characters have a proper significance in TV shows? Here’s our pick of the best.
1. Twin Peaks – Diane:
Mysterious cult classic Twin Peaks’ equally mysterious Diane is assumed to be Agent Dale Cooper’s secretary, and the recipient of all Cooper’s recorded tapes. However, she is also the subject of many a conspiracy theory: some suspect her to be the amnesiac protagonist’s alter ego, or his coping mechanism after his squeeze Caroline’s death.
2. Scrubs – Enid Kelso:
The unseen wife of Sacred Heart’s Chief of Medicine Bob Kelso, Enid “Bunny” Kelso is one the sitcom’s most beloved recurring jokes. Blind, obese (frequently attending fat camp with little result) and paraplegic, she resents her husband. It’s a mutual feeling on Bob’s part – he alleges her burps smell of pickles and milk.
3. Will & Grace – Stan Walker:
Will & Grace is home to another obese, unseen spouse – Karen Walker’s husband Stan. He’s rich and mysterious in equal measure, and undergoes two divorces and three reconciliations with her. He also spends a bit of time in prison for tax evasion, or his own feigned death. A key - but nonetheless absent - character.
4. How I Met Your Mother – The Mother:
You do actually get to meet this one, although as the show’s titular character, 'The Mother' remains a framing device for the whole series and only get to meet her in the penultimate season. Fans were drip-fed information about ‘The Girl With The Yellow Umbrella’ across eight seasons until her dramatic reveal, but her death from a terminal illness in the ninth season's finale proved a controversial climax.
5. Columbo – Mrs Columbo:
Despite her on-screen absence, Mrs Columbo captures the imagination and hearts of the audience merely through her husband’s dialogue. The protagonist proves the show’s unreliable narrator, so while detective Columbo paints a picture of a spirited and curious woman, his wife’s true nature is left for the viewer to decide...
6. Friends – Ugly Naked Guy:
It didn’t always used to be this way. According to Phoebe, ‘Ugly Naked Guy’ was ‘Cute Naked Guy’ not so long ago. His penchant for doing household chores in his birthday suit with the curtains wide open was a classic feature – and a recent in-depth investigation by HuffPost found out his two minor physical appearances showed the arse and sideboob of extra Jon Haugen.
7. Babylon 5 – Kosh Naranek:
At face value Kosh is shown on-screen in nearly every episode of the show’s first three seasons. But what was actually shown was known as an ‘encounter suit’, shielding his true form from dangerous threats.
8. Charlie's Angels – Charlie Townsend:
"Charlie, how will we ever know you really exist unless you come down here and have a coconut with us?" That's what Natalie says at one point to her enigmatic employer. But the retired detective isn't short of enemies, so his appearance is never revealed: all the access we get to him is his voice, assigning the Angels missions via Western Electric Speakerphone.
9. Doctor Who – The Terrible Zodin:
The third most wanted criminal in the galaxy. The Doctor reminisces about the infamous Zodin on several occasions: she's equipped with terrible talons and is a famed sword-swallower at the Grand Festival of Zymymys Midamor. The Doctor(s) describe her as a cunning megalomaniac: "they don’t make villains like her any more".
10. The Big Bang Theory – Howard’s Mum:
Loud, controlling, dominating and obnoxious, Howard’s Mum/Mom/”Ma” is a character held in deep affection by fans. She is a kind, caring and loving mother to both Howard and his friends, and her death proves a genuinely touching moment in the show. The gang’s toast to Mrs. Wolowitz doubled as a toast to the character’s late voice actor, Carol Ann Susi.
11. Frasier – Maris Crane:
“She distrusts anything that loves her unconditionally... Maris is like the sun, except without the warmth". Through Frasier’s character’s dialogue we get a chilling – but hilarious – picture of Niles’ first wife. Wealthy and dominating, she also suffers from a range of physical defects: allergies, a rigid spine, webbed hands. She's also unable to produce saliva.
12. Veep – The US President:
The show’s Vice-President protagonist Selina Meyer often asks if her boss has called for her – and he never has. Commonly referred to as ‘POTUS’, husband to ‘FLOTUS’ and owner of the canine ‘FDOTUS’, Veep’s US President is downplayed to the extent that he is entirely unseen, has no name, and no political party.
13. My So-Called Life – Tino:
Lead singer of Jordan’s band Residue (formerly Frozen Embryos), Tino is the guy everyone wants to know, but remains entirely absent from the show. Too cool for school – literally. It’s unknown if he even attends Liberty High. He’s the guy spreading word of a Buffalo Tom concert or organising parties everyone hears of – but no one attends.
14. Seinfeld – Bob Sacamano:
Supposedly the real-life friend of Seinfeld writer Larry Charles – until he put him in the show, that is – Bob Sacamano is the subject of many a bizarre, comical anecdote. He has also suffered from rabies, apparently.
15. The Office (US) – The Scranton Strangler:
For a jovial sitcom like The Office, the mystery of ‘The Scranton Strangler’ has proven a compelling mystery for the show’s fans; many a reddit thread is dedicated to solving the case of Scranton’s killer-at-large. Fan faves include Toby, Dwight and Kevin – but the killer remains on the loose.
16. Cheers – Vera Peterson:
The formidable wife to Norm, Vera Peterson comes within an inch of reveal in the infamous Thanksgiving episode – but then gets hit in the face with a pie. We do hear her off screen, and George Wendt (Norm) said of his Cheers wife ”I never thought, ‘I wonder what she looks like’" – because she’s voiced by his real-life spouse, Bernadette Birkett.
17. The Sopranos – Eckley DiMeo:
Aka “Old Man”, the notorious Ercole ‘Eckley’ DiMeo looms large as the unseen boss of the DiMeo family. Mentor to Tony Soprano and a force to be reckoned with in his peak, DiMeo spends the whole show incarcerated, suffering old age and receiving round-the-clock medical attention. He was inspired by the real-life aging mobster Giovanni Riggi.
18. Diff’rent Strokes – The Gooch:
The infamous bully “The Gooch” was mentioned throughout the sitcom's run, but never seen. Described as a formidable, physically imposing, troublesome brute, he is also (unsurprisingly) not famed for his intelligence or wit. But his vendetta against Arnold forms the basis of several episode plots at school, and the reason for Arnold’s training in karate.
19. Magnum P.I. – Robin Masters:
27 years on, fans still speculate over the true identity of Magnum P.I.’s enigmatic millionaire novelist, Robin Masters. Masters, for whom Magnum was a security expert, was originally voiced by Orson Welles. Welles passed away during the series, so the writers decided to tease the idea that the caretaker of Masters' property and Magnum's colleague, Jonathan Higgins, was in fact Masters himself. They never resolved the issue – on purpose – so no one knows if it was him or not.
20. SNL – Bill Brasky:
The discussion always begins: "Bill Brasky is a son of a bitch,". SNL’s legendary sketches saw comedians improv-ing tales of Brasky’s superhuman feats: amazing stomach for narcotics, disregard for human life, celebrity mates and huge size, all over cigars and scotch. Some sketches ended on indistinguishable shots of Brasky, who was made to look like a giant.
21. Mork and Mindy – Orson:
Mork is an alien sent to observe human behaviour in this sitcom. His otherworldly supervisor, Orson, is unable to understand – and is against the idea of – love, laughter and friendship. But through audio communication with Robin Williams’ Mork, he intends to learn more about the human penchant for pleasure; things his own kind outlawed and punish by arrest.
22. Drop The Dead Donkey – Sir Royston Merchant:
Allegedly a hybrid based on Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch, Sir Merchant is a terrifying figure and ruthless businessman with a formidable empire in this sitcom based in a fictional news studio. Buying out GlobeLink News in the show’s first episode, he spends the next six series involved in nefarious activities, and when he makes a brief appearance in the final episode, he doesn't recognise Gus, the man he's put in charge.
23. Father Ted – Father Bigley:
Like Seinfeld's Bob Sacamano, Bigley is a character people tell strange stories about. He's got "big puffy fish lips bigger than the rest of his face" after an incident with an exploding kettle. He loves Irish singer Dana, performed at OJ Simpson’s wedding, wears perfume, and was once involved in arms dealing with Iraq. What a life.
24. Only Fools and Horses – “Monkey” Harris:
One of Del Boy Trotter’s business associates, Monkey is frequently mentioned as a purveyor of dubious goods for the Trotters. A “famed” left-back and member of the “infamous” ‘Class of ‘62’ alongside Del, Trigger, Boycie, Denzil and Roy Slater, Harris makes for a suitably elusive, shady presence.
25. Dad’s Army – Elizabeth Mainwaring:
The highly strung and reclusive wife of Captain Mainwaring, the nick-named “little woman” sounded anything but – she's large in size and dominating in her marriage, try as the Captain might to convince otherwise. A sheltered woman, she allegedly hadn’t tried even tomato sauce until she met her bumbling husband – and she's even implied to be slightly homicidal.