15 terrible guest stars that almost ruined great TV series

Louis Chilton looks at 15 additions to TV series that backfired

Friday 10 May 2024 06:00
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Throne to the wolves: Ed Sheeran in ‘Game of Thrones'
Throne to the wolves: Ed Sheeran in ‘Game of Thrones' (HBO)

A great guest star can really elevate a TV show.

There are countless examples of TV series bringing in brilliant ringers, famous or otherwise, for short arcs – think Dustin Hoffman in The Simpsons or Matt Damon in 30 Rock.

The best actors need only a scene to prove their worth to viewers. But what about those guest stars who aren’t so great? Things can sometimes go wrong just as quickly.

Often, it’s a matter of a celebrity looking to use a popular series to boost their profile – or, as in the case of Donald Trump appearing on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, to simply stroke their ego. Other times the problem has more to do with the writing, or a wayward bit of casting.

Here’s a list of 15 of the worst guest stars on great TV series.

The Simpsons – Elon Musk as “Elon Musk”

Over the course of 35 years, you would expect The Simpsons to have its fair share of bad guest stars – and indeed it has. But none have been quite so dismal as Tesla billionaire Elon Musk, who played a version of himself in the strange, fawning “The Musk Who Came to Earth”. The writing and characterisation alone would be enough for this to make the list, but Musk’s stilted, utterly laughless line readings seal the deal.

Terrible: Elon Musk meets Homer Simpson in ‘The Simpsons' (Fox)

Lost – Bai Ling as Achara

Chinese-American actor Bai Ling shouldn’t shoulder too much of the blame for the hatred directed towards her character in Lost. Ling’s terribly written character, tattoo artist Achara, is seen in flashbacks in “Stranger in a Strange Land” – widely regarded among the fanbase as the worst episode in the series’ entire run.

Frasier Anthony LaPaglia as Simon Moon

Real talk: Frasier may have been one of the best sitcoms ever, but its depiction of the English left a lot to be desired. Daphne Moon’s (Jane Leeves) Mancunian accent was always on the broad side, but her relatives were another thing altogether. Worst of the bunch was Anthony LaPaglia, playing her loutish, philandering, binge-drinking brother Simon – a drastically oversized performance, complete with terrible accent work from the Aussie actor. Never has the gulf between England and the US felt so wide as when LaPaglia took home an Emmy for the role.

Game of Thrones – Ed Sheeran as “Lannister soldier”

Described by The Telegraph as “the moment Game of Thrones started to unravel”, Ed Sheeran’s ignominious appearance in the seventh season episode “Dragonstone” drew the ire of many a Westeros enthusiast. He’s not that bad, all things considered – and is in fact barely on screen – but the “Galway Girl” singer’s inclusion in the dark fantasy epic was nonetheless a regrettable chapter for Thrones.

Ed Sheeran and Maisie Williams in ‘Game of Thrones’ (HBO)

Broad City – Hilary Clinton as “Hilary Clinton”

Never has a cameo had quite so cataclysmic effect as the time Hilary Clinton appeared on Broad City. In an instant, the fun, subversive New York-set comedy became tarred with the brush of Clinton’s deeply un-hip neoliberalism. While Broad City would continue to be a perfectly good show – with a final season that represented a resounding return to form – it never recovered its place in the zeitgeist.

Fresh Prince of Bel AirDonald Trump as “Donald Trump”

The future US president got a jarringly sycophantic reception when he met the Banks family in the hit 1990s comedy Fresh Prince. Trump, never one to turn down a pop culture cameo, cannot act for the life of him, and his presence brings the show’s comic energy to a sharp halt.

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Entourage – Domenick Lombardozzi as Dom

Four may be an entourage, but five is a crowd. When Vinnie Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his hangers-on arrived home to find old schoolmate and recent parolee Dom at his house, it marked the start of what may be Entourage’s most infamous story arc. The obnoxious Dom briefly joins the tight-knit gang before recidivist tendencies sees him jettisoned. For many fans, though, even this short stint as part of the entourage was far too much.

The exhausting Dom (Dominick Lombardozzi, second from left) pals around with the ‘Entourage’ gang (HBO)

The Thick of It – Tom Hollander as Cal “The F***er” Richards

Introduced at the very end of The Thick of It’s third season, Hollander’s angry and abusive political enforcer is one of the very few characters in this series to hit a bum note. Whether the show had already had its fill of better-written powder-kegs – Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker first and foremost – or simply miscast Hollander in the role, is unclear. But when the series returned for season four, “The F***er” was nowhere to be seen.

Deadwood – Gordon Clapp as Gustave

One of the very best and most literarily sophisticated TV series ever made, David Milch’s gritty Western Deadwood barely put a foot wrong throughout the three seasons it was on the air. However, the one-episode appearance of Gordon Clapp – a longtime collaborator of Milch from his days as NYPD Blue’s Greg Medavoy – is a glaring exception. For whatever reason, Clapp is completely outsized here, playing a cartoonishly flamboyant tailor with a dodgy accent. Deadwood can make you gasp, or laugh, or cry; only when Clapp appears does it ever make you cringe.

Friends – Robin Williams and Billy Crystal as Tim and Tomas

There were plenty of bad guest stars in Friends over the years, from Jon Favreau to Jean-Claude Van Damme. But none were quite so baffling as when Robin Williams and Billy Crystal reared their heads in 1997’s “The One With The Ultimate Fighting Champion”. The pair show up and engage in a bit of ad-libbed banter that has nothing to do with the rest of the episode. It is one of the more bizarre and distracting moments in Friends’ entire run.

Billy Crystal and Robin Williams in ‘Friends' (NBC)

Gossip Girl – Hilary Duff as Olivia Burke

Lizzie McGuire star Duff was a high-profile addition to Gossip Girl when she joined in its third season. However, Duff’s character – Olivia Burke, a famous actor looking to mix it up with civvies at NYU – never clicked with the show’s fanbase, and remains for many one of the biggest grievances with the hit teen show.

Sex and the City – Geri Halliwell as Phoebe

Former Spice Girl Halliwell made an infamous and random appearance on the sixth season of HBO’s Sex and the City, playing Samantha’s friend Phoebe. Mostly, this is just a case of a non-actor showing their inexperience. As one YouTube commenter puts it: “The sheer number of ways Geri mangles her scant lines in such a small amount of time is breathtaking.”

Dexter – Josh Cooke as Louis Greene

For a couple of seasons, Dexter was truly good television, a dark crime drama with wit and tension and a terrific central performance from Michael C Hall. As it went on, though, it declined sharply, introducing a number of weak supporting characters and villains. Few, however, were quite as ardently disliked as Josh Cooke’s creepy software intern Louis, who crosses Dexter’s path in season six. He was written out of the series quite abruptly the following year – for many viewers, it couldn’t come soon enough.

Josh Cooke as Louis Greene in ‘Dexter' (Showtime)

EastEnders – Boris Johnson as “Boris Johnson”

The long-running British soap opera hit a nadir in 2009 when it allowed Johnson, future PM and then mayor of London, into the hallowed grounds of Albert Square. Johnson’s line delivery is, as you might expect, awful, and the whole scene has the feel of joke without a punchline. If there’s one thing to glean from this list, it’s that politicians and scripted TV seldom seem to mix.

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