A Brief Survey of TV Kids Who Are Basically Props

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Last night, on The Walking Dead‘s supersize Season 2 premiere, little Carl Grimes (played by Chandler Riggs) finally wrenched the spotlight away from the adults on the show, for a few minutes. But now that his future is uncertain, to say the least, we got to thinking about how little we actually know about Carl — which reminded us of how many kids on TV are not characters so much as props. They’re there to look cute or give the illusion of a well-rounded family or provide a focal point for their parents’ anxieties.

Since there are tons of minor kid characters on TV, we made two rules for this list: 1. The child in question can’t be a baby, because a person who can neither walk nor talk can’t be expected to hold down his own story line. 2. The kid has to be the sibling or offspring of one of the show’s main characters. Peruse our picks for TV children who might as well be props after the jump, and add your suggestions in the comments.

Carl Grimes, The Walking Dead

What makes Carl Grimes fairly useless is that (at least until last night’s episode) he’s the sum total of the emotions and obligations adults project onto him. He’s the reason Rick feels the need to be such a righteous role model, he’s the physical embodiment of Lori’s guilt over shacking up with Shane, and he’s the primary inspiration they both have to keep moving. He’s also the one who’s most hurt and confused by Shane’s brusque behavior after Lori puts a definitive end to their tryst. But besides being generally innocent and sweet and justifiably fearful, there’s really no character there.

Bobby Draper, Mad Men

Here’s how inconsequential Bobby Draper is: The role was recently recast for the fourth time, and we didn’t even notice that there had already been three different Bobbys. While his angsty, unconventional sister, Sally, has taken an increasingly central role in the Draper family’s story, Bobby is just sort of… that other kid who’s there to remind you that Don and Betty should have had that picture-perfect suburban family of four that everyone seemed to want in the ’60s.

Judy Winslow, Family Matters

But at least Mad Men bothers to recast Bobby every time the kid who plays him leaves the show. Judy Winslow, the youngest daughter on Family Matters, simply disappeared from the show after four seasons of getting lost amid her siblings, parents, and that scene-stealing Steve Urkel. According to Jaleel White, the producers just got sick of paying the actress, Jaimee Foxworth. “Her momma asked for too much and they sent her upstairs,” he said. “That was it.” Eventually, she turned up in porn, and in 2008 did a stint on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.

Most of the kids on Big Love

Oh sure, there’s Sarah, who gets married and has a baby and leaves polygamy behind. There’s Ben, who can’t decide between sweet Heather and creepy Rhonda. And there’s Teenie, the awkward tween, who isn’t in the picture above because she disappeared for a while and was eventually replaced by a different actress. But, uh, what about the other five kids in the Henrickson family photo above? They apparently have names like Keegan and Garrett, and yet we’re not positive we’ve ever heard any of them speak.

Danielle Chase, My So-Called Life

Poor Danielle Chase. She was smart and funny, but her parents were so busy freaking out over her big sister Angela’s rebellious teenage phase that they often seemed to forget she existed. In fact, it was so obvious that she was window dressing on the show that the lack of attention paid to her actually became her only defining story line. Although it seemed My So-Called Life‘s writers were making more of an effort to turn Danielle into a real character toward the end of the first season — she even narrated one of the last episodes — the show was canceled before we got to see any substantial development.

Tracy Jordan Jr. and George Foreman Jordan, 30 Rock

Tracy Jordan may be essential to 30 Rock, and his wife, Angie, is one of the series’s funniest recurring characters, but we almost never see his kids. Yes, once in a while Tracy Jr. will pop in to dispense some witty lines or Tracy Sr. will become convinced that the boys are trying to kill him for his fortune. And it’s not really fair to complain that his daughter is a nonentity, because she’s just a baby. But what’s really noteworthy is that all of these relationships pale in comparison with his connection to Donald, the guy who insists he’s Tracy’s son… despite the fact that he’s two years older than Tracy.

Andrew Keaton, Family Ties

Like many other sitcoms (Roseanne, Step by Step), Family Ties attempted to fend off staleness by throwing another baby into the mix, just as Mom and Dad’s oldest kids were starting to go on to college or get married and start families of their own. While most of these series wrapped by the time the youngster was old enough that we could reasonably expect to see the beginnings of a personality, Andy Keaton was a fixture on the show for several seasons (and we’re also pretty sure he magically skipped a few years at some point). Sadly, his function never really went beyond saying and doing adorable things — and 20 years after the show wrapped, Brian Bonsall, the actor who played Andy, was arrested for assault. In his mug shot, he had fake fangs and a butterfly neck tattoo. Showrunners, these are the dangers of failing to fully develop your child characters.

Randall and Alcide Batiste, Treme

LaDonna Batiste-Williams and her ex-husband, Antoine Batiste, have two sons — but they live with her new husband in Baton Rouge while LaDonna holds down the bar in New Orleans. Although we see them fairly often on the show, they never have their own story lines. In fact, they’re so extraneous to the show’s plot that we had to dig through IMDb to even figure out their names.