Like just about everyone else who has seen it, we loved Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work for its empathetic portrait of a controversial grand dame of comedy. Watching it, we couldn’t help imagining what life must be like for Jocelyn Pickett, Rivers’ assistant of 15 years. In the film, she’s more than just the lady who runs errands and keeps a schedule: She’s her boss’s constant companion, the one who soothes her frayed nerves and helps her make tough decisions. It was our admiration of Pickett that inspired us to celebrate our 10 favorite assistants in movies and TV.
Paula Deen’s assistant, Brandon Branch Kathy Griffin has some wonderful assistants (and we still miss Jessica Zajicek), but they completely faded into the background when Paula Deen and her beloved sidekick Brandon appeared on My Life on the D-List. All the Baroness of Butter’s head gay needed to become the most riveting character in the history of the show was some hard alcohol.
Shannon, Velvet Goldmine Initially hired as the “wardrobe mistress” for Bowie stand-in Brian Slade and his entourage, Emily Woof’s Shannon is initially a shrinking violet among glamorous glitter kids. But it quickly becomes clear that she’s fallen in love with Slade, and she gets with the feathery, makeup-streaked program soon enough. By the time Slade’s estranged wife, Mandy, comes by to get the divorce papers signed, Shannon is a steely, suit-wearing gatekeeper. The best part? She’s clearly based on Bowie’s real, longtime assistant Coco Schwab.
Smithers, The Simpsons Sometimes that assistant-boss relationship can be reminiscent of an entirely one-sided BDSM love affair. Mr. Burns may be the cruelest, ugliest employer of all time, but that won’t stop Smithers from attending to his every need and desire — and loving every minute of it.
Lee Holloway, Secretary Then there are the BDSM assistant-boss relationships that turn out to be two-sided. In a dirty Mary Gaitskill story that became a dirty Maggie Gyllenhaal/James Spader movie, two warped people found each other. Spanking, cutting, and other displays of joyful self-flagellation ensued.
Andrew Mukamal, Kell on Earth Kelly Cutrone adores her assistant, and we like just about everything she does. We admire his bravery in attempting to bring goth style in the world of haute couture. And anyone who can hold his own in an office that includes a lady who wrote an entire booking advising us to cry elsewhere surely has a bright future ahead of him.
Pam, True Blood She may not take memos, but Pam (Kristin Bauer) is most definitely Eric’s assistant. She takes her girl-Friday role seriously, betraying more confidence and pride than servility. And are we the only ones who noticed she has a little Catherine-Deneuve-in-The Hunger look going?
Gareth Keenan, The Office (UK) Rainn Wilson’s Dwight, from the American version, is a wonderful character. But it’s Mackenzie Crook’s Gareth, from the original BBC show, who we love the most. He’s obsessed with the military and is smarmy and nasty where Dwight can’t help being plain, old goofy. And despite his protests, he will always be the Assistant to the Regional Manager.
Arthur Martin, Six Feet Under But we can’t leave Rainn Wilson out entirely. Those who assume he can only do light comedy are in for a surprise. We first spotted him as the Fishers’ unspeakably freaky apprentice on Six Feet Under, with whom Ruth has an increasingly strange, romantic relationship soon before marrying George Sibley (who, if you remember, has a host of his own issues).
Emily Charlton, The Devil Wears Prada Emily Blunt was born to play the stuck-up assistant to Meryl Streep’s devastatingly evil Miranda Priestly. Her scapegoat Andrea (Anne Hathaway) may be the film’s protagonist, but it’s Blunt we can’t stop watching.
Betty Suarez, Ugly Betty Her co-worker Michael Urie’s Marc is like Emily Charlton in a suit. And while we are generally drawn to snarky divas, even we can’t choose him over Betty Suarez herself. America Ferrera is just too damn likable. Any bigwig would be lucky to have such an intelligent, earnest, hard-working assistant.