You know them. Some are seen in silhouette. Some are seen in pieces, like the top of Wilson’s (Earl Hindman) head in Home Improvement or the arm of Seinfeld’s Bubble Boy (Jon Hayman). Some you only hear the voice, and some you never hear or see at all, their appearance dictated by the sometimes-outrageous descriptions given by the characters on screen (seriously, just how ugly and naked is Friends‘ Ugly Naked Guy (Jon Haugen)?). They are the iconic characters of TV you’ve never fully seen.
Whether they’re a running joke throughout a series’ run or a truly memorable one-off character, these offscreen superstars leave an indelible mark on TV – nay, pop – culture.
Maris Crane (Frasier, 1993 – 2004)
Maris Crane is Niles Crane’s (David Hyde Pierce) first wife, an unseen character referenced comically throughout the series. Maris is described as thin, frail, pale (with little to no pigmentation), and short. According to Niles, Maris has slight webbing on her fingers and looks like Niles’ whippet, Lady, while Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) describes her as being, “Like the sun, except without the warmth.” Her interests include surgery, fencing, and long periods of time in a personal sensory deprivation chamber.
Cousin Jeffrey (Seinfeld, 1989 – 1998)
Jeffrey is the unseen, beloved son of Uncle Leo (Len Lesser). His work for the Parks Department is a great source of pride for Leo. And it should be: the man has received a citation from the Parks commissioner himself, for his “Edible Foliage Tour” guide work in Central Park. While there’s no definitive guidance on what Jeffrey looks like, a horse apparently looks similar.
Donald, the Bubble Boy (Seinfeld, “The Bubble Boy”, Season 4, Episode 7)
The gang go to meet Donald, a youth who is quarantined in a ‘bubble’ due to immune deficiencies, at the request of his father (Brian Doyle-Murray). Donald is, apparently, a big fan of Jerry’s. We only ever see his arm, but it’s very evident that he’s bossy and angry. Especially when moors is misspelled as moops on the Trivial Pursuit card.
Mrs. (Debbie) Wolowitz (The Big Bang Theory, 2007 – 2019)
She’s loud. She’s obnoxious. Her voice has a New Jersey accent. She’s cartoonishly overweight and sports a mustache. And she was hilarious. Carol Ann Susi voiced Mrs. Wolowitz, an overprotective Jewish mother, and what she was able to do with the unseen character is amazing, often quipping the funniest lines in an episode. The character passed away with the untimely death of Susi in 2014.
Charlie Townsend (Charlie’s Angels, 1976 – 1981)
Charlie (John Forsythe) is a retired detective and founder of the Townsend Agency. He directs the operation of the private detective firm via speakerphone, sending his ‘Angels’ – Jill (Farrah Fawcett), Sabrina (Kate Jackson), and Kelly (Jaclyn Smith) – out on cases weekly. His voice is all we know of him, but he is an integral character throughout the series and its various other reboots.
Ugly Naked Guy (Friends, 1994 – 2004)
A running gag throughout the show, Ugly Naked Guy is an ugly, obese nudist who can be seen in his apartment from Monica’s (Courtney Cox). Never seen except once from behind, the friends often take note of what’s happening with UNG, from using a new ThighMaster, a visit with Ugly Naked Girl, to possibly being dead (giant poking device confirmed he wasn’t). In a flashback episode, he was first known as ‘Cute Naked Guy’.
Dr. Claw (Inspector Gadget, 1983 – 1986)
The criminal mastermind behind M.A.D. with a mechanical claw for a hand, the only piece of him we ever see. Dr. Claw’s (Frank Welker) evil plans are constantly thwarted by Inspector Gadget’s (Don Adams) fortuitous ineptitude (and a little… err, a lot of help from his niece and her dog). But he’ll get Gadget next time. NEXT TIME!! (Fun fact: At no point in time has Claw ever gotten Gadget)
Stanley Walker (Will & Grace, 1998 – 2006)
Stanley is the oft-mentioned, but never seen, multi-billionaire husband of socialite Karen (Megan Mullally). Another cartoonishly obese character (his cremation upon passing took four days, his ashes held in two 5-gallon tins), with little legs, psoriasis, a ratty toupee, and a high-pitched voice. Despite the frequent digs Karen would dole out regularly, she did truly love Stan. Until he cheated on her, then not so much.
Wilson W. Wilson Jr. (Home Improvement, 1991 – 1999)
Not unseen so much as only partly seen, with only his eyes and up visible over the fence, neighbor Wilson is an integral part of Home Improvement. He would repeatedly offer sage advice to members of the Taylor household (which Tim (Tim Allen) would, as a running gag throughout the series, butcher to the point of nonsense). Wilson’s fictional life journey is astounding, having traveled the globe, learning from every culture, gathering artifacts, and earning a Ph.D. in Forgotten Languages and Cultures. At points in time, he has been a spy, a pilot, a park ranger, and a Celtic Mythology professor.
Envelope Assistant (America’s Funniest Home Videos, 1989 – Present)
The Bob Saget years on AFV, where the late comedian acted as host from 1989 to 1997, were arguably the series’ best. Saget had a great talent for voice-overs on the submitted videos and a quick wit on stage. One recurring gag during his time on the show would come at the end when Bob would get the envelope containing the name of the winner from an unseen envelope assistant. Saget would take the envelope and then
talk to poke fun at the assistant. “We really have to double-date over the summer.” “There’s something different about you. Your ear… it’s off. Those art classes really made an impression on you.” “I guess you know your belly button’s showing.” Every week was something different and outlandish, a testament to the skill of Saget.
Thing (The Addams Family, 1964-1966)
Technically, yes – we see Thing (Itself). Silent, helpful, five healthy fingers. You know what we don’t see? The rest of his body. What does that look like? Was Thing born a disembodied hand, or is his origin much darker? Is it an unseen character in the basement of the Addams’ home, maybe a zombie left perpetually pondering the Zen paradox of the sound of one hand clapping?