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While most of a viewer’s focus is often directed at the leads of a show, supporting characters can make or break a series, offering vital dynamics that uphold central narratives. Successful supporting characters in today’s television landscape must challenge protagonists when they cross boundaries, as well as strive to assert themselves through their own storylines.

An integral aspect of Zosia Mamet’s character Annie in HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant” is in that aforementioned setting of boundaries — in both her work at a white-shoe law firm and in her friendship with Cassie, the catastrophically messy protagonist played by Kaley Cuoco, whom Annie has to perpetually rescue.

“A big part of her main journey throughout the first season is essentially learning to find a way that she can love and protect her friend — which is obviously the gut desire we all have for people that we care for — without it drowning her at the same time,” says Mamet. This is “a super complicated thing to do, particularly with someone who has been a dysfunctional friend for so long.”

Storylines, and therefore the delicate dance supporting actors must do to find their own moments to shine while not taking the spotlight from the leading players, get more complicated when characters’ personal and professional lives intersect. Such is the case for Chris Redd’s Gary on NBC’s “Kenan,” who is both the titular character’s brother and manager. This is also true for Angel Bismark Curiel’s Papi on FX’s “Pose.” (Papi is in a romantic relationship with one of his model clients and they even get married in the final season.)

For Jeremy Swift, who plays Higgins in Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso,” subtly telegraphing themes of redemption, courage and confidence has to exist in the same moments he is outwardly appearing to just be Rebecca’s (Hannah Waddingham) henchman. While he starts the first season aligned with her attempts to sabotage the titular coach (Jason Sudeikis), he slowly begins to stand up for himself —and for Ted — as episodes unfold.

“Higgins was in a menial propping-up role with [his old boss] Rupert,” Swift says. “And Rebecca, still seething at the beginning of the first season, continues that relationship. It’s the empowering by Ted of Higgins that impacts on their relationship. Higgins becomes a more confident, empowered, warmer person and not just an obsequious treading-on-eggshells kind of guy.”

Moses Ingram felt it was crucial to play the whip-smart Jolene in Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” as independent, despite taking a backseat to the chess prodigy plot dominated by Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy).

“[I] fanned the flame of everything she was so that in the small moments that we do get with Jolene, we can hopefully see that she’s a full person with her own life,” Ingram says.

When viewers see Jolene return amid Beth’s crisis in the penultimate episode, she is more confident in her beauty and existence, able to stand on “two feet,” Ingram says. This more fully fleshes out her character and was an important evolution for Ingram to depict. But although it stands as a testament to the kind of friend Jolene is, the character has been criticized as falling into the Black savior trope.

“If Jolene was also white, I think people would just be able to accept the gift of the thing better, which is why I think it’s so precious for us to pay attention to all the dynamics of storytelling,” Ingram says. “When I step into a role, whether the character is written Black or not, by virtue of me being a Black woman, every other element of storytelling around it is informed by my Blackness, which I think is a beautiful thing.”