Three Times Stephen Root Showed Up and Made Things Better — Last Night
In all of television, there is no single audience exclamation that’s a better indicator of quality than, “Oh, wow, Stephen Root is in this!”
Since the Sarasota, Florida native cut his comedic teeth on sitcoms like NewsRadio and in classic films like Office Space and Dodgeball, Root has been blessing everything from Coen Brothers films to prestige TV with his immense, unmatchable gift for character acting. Root’s range stretches from the divorced, depressed dope Bill Dauterive in King of the Hill all the way to the megalomaniacal district attorney Maynard Barnes on Perry Mason, but all the characters in between have been exactly as detailed and delightful as we’ve come to expect from a Root performance.
In celebration of Root’s return to the HBO flagship dark comedy Succession last night and the season premiere of Barry, here are three times (last night - we included his ‘Frasier’ rerun) Stephen Root gave a series his Midas touch, starting with the Brian Cox classic.
Succession – Ron Petkus
Petkus is a character that Rootheads should find decidedly familiar – he’s a vaguely southern, gleefully sinister string-puller who hosts the Future Freedom Summit, a fictional neo-conservative conference where ultra-wealthy political donors covertly choose the GOP’s nominee for the presidential election. Though Petkus plays the event’s master-of-ceremonies, the real power in the room resides with Logan Roy and his massive conservative media empire – the season 3 episode “What it Takes,” which introduced Petkus, revolves around the Roy royalty deciding whom they will support in the upcoming race.
Petkus’ best moments in his introductory episode feature presidential (foolishly) hopeful Connor Roy and his for-hire better half Willa schmoozing Petkus as he unleashes a series of stupid “you can’t say anything nowadays” cancel-culture jokes that would be right at home on a Fox Nation stand-up special.
Frasier – Harbin
In the fourth-to-final episode of Frasier’s eleventh and (at the time) final season, Frasier and Charlotte find themselves stuck in an uncomfortable conversation that leads to an even less comfortable car breakdown when Frasier attempts to drive Charlotte to the train station, only for the trip to be derailed by Charlotte’s admission that she will be moving back home to Chicago. Distracted by the tense discussion, Frasier causes Charlotte to miss her train – then, when he tries to drive her to the next station, they miss it again. And again.
Eventually, Frasier’s BMW breaks down in the middle of nowhere, where the pair are saved by an eccentric mechanic (Root’s Harbin) who saves both the Beemer and the episode with his wonderful weirdness.
Barry – Fuches
Finally, Roots’ most lauded role continues to be his portrayal of Monroe Fuches, the conniving, childish and insidious handler of Barry’s titular character. The friend-turned-frienemy-turned-enemy can be seen as the series’ greatest antagonist, as he has consistently served as the instrument through which Barry’s dark double life drags him back into shadows, but it’s during the occasional moments of levity when Roots really gets to show his talents – such as playing about a half dozen different alibis on burner phones when detectives do some digging into Barry’s evening on the night of a murder that Barry (almost) committed.
Root received a Primetime Emmy nomination for his performance as Fuches in the show’s first season, and, with the final installment underway as of last night’s season four premiere, perhaps Fuches will finally take Root across the finish line.