The Barb Effect: 16 minor TV characters that became cult figures

After the premiere of Stranger Things, its extremely minor character Barb became a phenomenon, ultimately leading to many Barb doppelgängers featuring in the opening sketch for the Golden Globe Awards at the start of 2017. It’s a level of fame that only a few TV characters can aspire to – these 15 other minor parts were lucky enough to have the same to happen to them.

1. Stranger Things – Barbara ‘Barb’ Holland

Stranger Things' Barb

First appearance: S01E01 – The Vanishing of Will Byers
Who she is: The frumpy best friend of Nancy, a smart girl who’s gaining popularity.
Best moment: When she impressed Nancy’s friends by agreeing to down a can of beer – even though she didn’t want to.
Proof of cult status: Despite extremely minimal screen time, petitions were created to bring back Barb. ‘Justice for Barb’ became such a widely known expression that exec producer Shawn Levy used those words when describing what fans should expect in season 2. Barb also earned herself several spoof songs and memes, including Dr. Chorizo’s ‘R.I.P. Barb’ – and the aforementioned shout-out at the Golden Globes 2017.

2. Game of Thrones – Lyanna Mormont

Lyanna Mormont from Game of Thrones

First appeared: S06E07 – The Broken Man.
Who she is: The young but spirited leader of Bear Island.
Best moment: Lyanna isn’t even into her teens, but she’s still capable of being very blunt and just a little bit sassy. This picture of her holding her hand up to silence her assistant is just one example of her huge charisma.
Proof of cult status: Actress Bella Ramsay’s hilariously dour facial expressions became an internet hit, turning her into a widely shared meme. There are several videos like like this one, which sets her speeches over DMX’s ‘X Gon’ Give It To Ya’.

3. Scrubs – The Janitor

Scrubs' Janitor

First appeared: S01E01 – My First Day
Who he is: The quirky janitor at Sacred Heart Teaching Hospital, and a nemesis of Zach Braff’s young doctor, J.D.
Best moment: In one episode, the Janitor makes up a game called Jiggly Ball and gets everyone to talk about it in front of J.D.. J.D. tries to disguise his ignorance of the game by agreeing to a match, which results in him going to the car park and being pelted with tennis balls by the entire staff, because of course that’s what Jiggly Ball was all along.
Proof of cult status: The Janitor was only meant to be a bit-part character for the first season, but his relationship with J.D. was such a hit that he was elevated to regular status. The much-loved character kept his personal life so private that numerous theories exist about whether The Janitor is actually multiple people – or whether he’s even real.


4. Arrested Development – Bob Loblaw

Bob Loblaw of Arrested Development

First appearance: S03E03 – Forget-Me-Now
Who he is: The Bluth Family’s lawyer, who says stuff like: “Why should you go to jail for a crime someone else noticed?”
Best moment: Every mention of Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog.
Proof of cult status: His name is the joke that never gets old. Loblaw has entered the hearts of fans including Weird Al Yankovic, who once used Loblaw’s name as a hotel alias.

5. Parks & Recreation – Li’l Sebastian

Li'l Sebastian of Parks & Recreation

First appearance: S03E07 – Harvest Festival.
Who he is: Li’l Sebastian is a tiny horse, and the mascot of Parks & Recreation’s town, Pawnee.
Best moment: When he went missing, a huge search party formed to find him. This took up a whole episode, and irritated Ben – who has no idea why Li’l Seb is so popular.
Proof of cult status: After his passing, the song ‘Bye Bye Li’l Sebastian’ went down so well that actor Nick Offerman played it at his gigs, and eventually the whole Parks and Rec cast sang it live on Late Night on Seth Meyers. There’s also a frightening amount of actual Li’l Sebastian merch out there.

6. Parks & Recreation – Jean-Ralphio Saperstein

Jean-Ralphio Saperstein

First appearance: S02E13 – The Set-Up
Who he is: Tom Haverford’s idiotic friend.
Best moment: This long story, which ends with the line “Technically I’m homelesssss“. Jean-Ralphio is a terrible friend.
Proof of cult status: Jean-Ralphio’s outlandish behaviour had already made him a fan favourite – but things went up a notch upon the release of Stranger Things in 2016. Fans started to theorise that Steve from Stranger Things was Jean-Ralphio’s dad, and the pair of them were eventually united by James Corden.

7. 30 Rock – Kenneth Parcell

First appearance: S01E01 – Pilot
Who he is: A downtrodden NBC employee who is permanently cheerful and makes occasional passing references to his extreme age.
Best moment: Being so eccentric and unreadable that he beats NBC CEO Jack Donaghy at poker.
Proof of cult status: His Wikipedia page is weirdly long for a minor TV character – and a lot of fans have come up with mad theories about his murky origins. Underneath the facade of cheerfulness, Kenneth is really creepy.


8. Community – Troy and Abed

Community's Troy & Abed

First appeared: S01E01 Pilot
Who they are: Two of the zanier members of Community’s study group.
Best moment: The two best friends create their own breakfast talk show called ‘Troy and Abed in the Morning’, performing it to a pretend camera and audience. The sketch became a running gag on the show.
Proof of cult status: Their iconic rap scene became the inspiration for many tributes like this one. Eventually Donald Glover and Danny Pudi bowed to pressure and performed it live at Comic Con 2010.

9. Broad City – Bevers

Broad City's Bevers

First appearance: S01E01 – What a Wonderful World
Who he is: Matt Bevers, Abbi’s housemate’s boyfriend, is a slob who always seems to be at home.
Best moment: Picking up a far-off milkshake from a mini-fridge with a litter-picker, then dropping it all over Abbi’s floor.
Proof of cult status: Because we’ve never seen Bevers’ girlfriend Melody, fans have posted several theories that she doesn’t exist. There’s also the fact that people seemed to miss Bevers when he was absent for much of season 3 – despite him generally being an annoying, inconsiderate bellend.

10. BoJack Horseman – Vincent Adultman

BoJack Horseman's Vincent Adultman

First appearance: S01E09 – Horse Majeure.
Who he is: Princess Carolyn’s boyfriend, who may or may not be three small children stacked on top of each other in a trench coat.
Best moment: His constant references to “doing a business”.
Proof of cult status: Presumably because he’s so weird and recognisable, several different people dressed as Vincent for Halloween this year. And Redditors are still interested in who he actually is: people threads are still debating opposing theories about him: is he three children in a trench-coat, or just a really unsophisticated man?

11. Friends – Gunther

Friends' Gunther

First Appeared: S01E02 – The One with the Sonogram at the End
Who he is: The ‘coffee guy’ at Central Perk. He’s in love with Rachel Green.
Best Moment: After he sees Phoebe’s shorts-wearing boyfriend going commando, he tells him to “put the mouse back in the house”.
Proof of cult status: Outside of the main six cast members, Gunther notched up more episodes in the show than anyone else (185 to be precise). That’s pretty incredible considering actor James Michael Tyler was originally just cast as an extra.


12. Friends – Ugly Naked Guy

Friends' Ugly Naked Guy

First Appeared: S03E06 – The One With The Flashback
Who he is: Initially called ‘Cute Naked Guy’, this nameless character eventually put on enough weight to morph into ‘Ugly Naked Guy’. The friends often look at what he’s doing in the apartment opposite Monica’s flat, and in one episode they make a long ‘poking device’ to make sure he’s not dead.
Best Moment: Eating mini-muffins naked with Ross, who wants to rent his apartment.
Proof of cult status: The fact that you never see the actor’s face created a hype around the role, and in 2016 Todd van Luling wrote a piece uncovering the mystery. It was called: “My Year-Long Quest To Uncover The Identity of Ugly Naked Guy”. The actor’s name – if you want to know – was Jon Haugen.

13. New Girl – Coach

Coach from New Girl

First Appeared: S01E01 – Pilot
Who he is: A personal trainer with anger issues.
Best Moment: Every time he yells at his clients – and also this rendition of Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’.
Proof of cult status: New Girl premiered in 2011 and Coach was in the pilot episode. But Damon Wayans Jr, who plays Coach, had only taken the role after being told that his other show, Happy Endings, was to be cancelled. When that show was renewed for a second series, Wayans was forced to leave New Girl, and was never re-cast. He’d made such a strong impression in the pilot, though, that when Happy Endings was cancelled, Coach was brought back in season 3 of New Girl.

14. Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Gina Linetti

Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Gina LInetti

First Appeared: S01E01 – PIlot
Who she is: Assistant to Captain Holt, police chief in Brooklyn’s 99 precinct. She loves emojis, and her dance troupe.
Best Moment: Getting the grumpy Captain Holt hooked on a ridiculous Candy Crush-alike game called Kwazy Cupcakes.
Proof of cult status: Chelsea Peretti originally auditioned for the character that would become the precinct’s resident badass, Rosa. The writers loved her so much that they wrote a part specifically for her. Because Gina is such a quotable, meme-focussed character, there’s plenty of Gina merch on offer, including, erm, this ‘Human form of the 100 emoji’ throw pillow.

15. Happy Days – The Fonz

The Fonz from Happy Days

First Appeared: S01E01 – Pilot
Who he is: He’s The Fonz!
Best Moment: Punching the jukebox. He also was responsible for the phrase ‘jumping the shark’, although that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Proof of Cult Status: Fonzie was originally written as a secondary character. He was so popular that he was promoted to a lead role in Happy Days, becoming the king of cool. The character popularised the thumbs-up sign, said “Ey!” a lot, and a statue of Fonzie was eventually built in Milwaukee in his famous pose. The ‘Fonzie’ craze was referenced in Friends – when Phoebe’s midwife bemused the gang with his constant references to Fonzie – and also through the very similar, womanizing, Italian-American character of Joey.

16. Family Matters – Steve Urkel

Steve Urkel of Family Matters

First Appeared: S01E04 – Laura’s First Date
Who he is: A geeky, clumsy guy who’s in love with Laura.
Best Moment: “Did Iyye do that?”
Proof of cult status: Originally destined for a one-off appearance in the ‘Laura’s First Date’ episode, Urkel became a hit with the show’s studio audience and its home-viewing audience, and was later given a much larger part. His catchphrases, like “Did I do that?”, are still referenced in current TV series such as New Girl – and at the height of his popularity, his image was even used to sell a cereal called Urkel-Os.