What better drives a TV show’s subtle, secondary plot-qualifying conflict than the mystery of the unknown? Certain TV characters share something strange in common: Their likeness remained ever concealed. Mostly to humorous effect, but occasionally by necessity. Whether intentional or not, such circumstances provided a luxury for writers’ rooms.
If they were struggling for pages, the story possibility stemming from their deliberately obscured, off-screen, or undrawn characters could bail them out. Before getting started; an honorable mention shout-out to The Proud Family‘s supertall, Magic Johnson-inspired antagonist Wizard Kelly – whose typically-obscured face was actually seen a couple of times.
Wilson (Home Improvement)
In films, sage advice often comes from a character before the act-II changeover into act-III. On TV, such words of wisdom can arrive each and every episode. Even from characters whose mouths are never seen moving, as was the case with Home Improvement‘s beloved Wilson.
According to series lead Tim Allen, who likened Harold Ramis’ unmade version of Galaxy Quest to Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, Wilson was based on a neighbor of his from childhood whom he could not see over the fence. A relationship that stuck enough with the actor to repurpose memorably for his hit ’90s show.
Dr. Claw (Inspector Gadget)
Shadow appearances (and the live-action 1999 film, plus another on the way) aside, the iconic villain across various animated franchise installments either had a face for radio – or as many have argued – no face at all.
Perhaps done to emphasize his name, Dr. Claw and his mighty-as-indicated hand terrorized the eponymous Inspector Gadget and fans alike without the slightest hint to what his profile looked like. That lasted until 1992 when an action figure line gave fans a face to the likeness they had been craving.
Mrs. Wolowitz (The Big Bang Theory)
Fans of The Big Bang Theory did not have to wonder for long why Howard’s mother was never featured on-screen. Over time, it was established as a deliberate effort to humorously drive up the torment Howard faced in his personal life.
Seen occasionally from the side and in family photos, Mrs. Wolowitz was eventually written out of the show altogether following the death of Carol Ann Susi, the actress who provided the character’s voice, at the age of 62 in 2014.
Nanny (Muppet Babies)
While Charlie Brown specials and Cartoon Network’s Ed, Edd n Eddy also featured headless parents in small doses, The Muppet Babies‘ sitter features prominently enough to earn her place in the current ranking.
The nursery caretaker is always seen from the squirt-sized babies’ perspective. Thus, everything from the shoulders upward is always cut off and/or obscured. Despite her contributions being relegated to a faceless capacity, the character has been voiced by instantly recognizable actresses like Barbara Billingsley (Leave it to Beaver, Airplane!) and Jenny Slate (House of Lies, Big Mouth, Saturday Night Live).
Enid Kelso (Scrubs)
Sacred Heart’s dysfunctional Chief of Medicine, Dr. Bob Kelso repeatedly stepped out on his handicapped wife in NBC’s shows early seasons. Yet, audiences could not help but laugh at all the times Kelso found himself scrambling over the phone with the never-seen Enid.
By the time Scrubs founds its groove within the cultural zeitgeist, Kelso had evolved beyond a sheer force of evil into an oversight-prone, cupcake-addicted King of one-liners. This also led to him having a renewed appreciation for Enid, whose off-screen antics only grew in scale as the Doc’s Tuscaloosa Heart did as well.
Mr. Smith (Hey Arnold!)
Named for Alfred Hitchock’s 1941 film Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the trenchcoat-concealed, presumed government agent became a legend-inspiring talking point within a show chock-full of them.
At the boarding house, Smith had his own bathroom, paid his rent through a vault hidden in the floor, and received his dinner through a dumbwaiter without lending even the simplest “Thank You.” The Social-Distancing King of Yesteryear.
Vera Peterson (Cheers)
The patron whose name Cheers fans would surely never forget had an oft-mentioned wife who, for a long time, only ever appeared in the foreground (if at all). Then, as the recipient of a holiday pie to the face thrown by Diane (Shelley Long) in “Thanksgiving Orphans,” Vera Peterson’s face remained cheekily concealed.
While played on-screen by Rebecca Soladay (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock), Norm’s better half was voiced by Bernadette Birkett, real-life wife of Norm actor George Wendt.
Charlie (Charlie’s Angels)
As the 1976-1981 show was about the exploits of his “Angels” rather than himself, it made sense the titular character would never be seen.
Via a speakerphone, Charlie directed the powerful trio who operated out of his private detective agency. He was voiced by Dynasty‘s John Forsythe in an uncredited capacity to maintain the character’s mystery, according to series creator Aaron Spelling. Forsythe returned for McG’s two franchise-rebooting films in 2000 and 2003, respectively, while Robert Clotworthy provided Charlie’s voice in Elizabeth Banks’ 2019 update.
George Steinbrenner (Seinfeld)
Depicted as a Kalzone-loving motormouth, Seinfeld‘s exaggerated version of the New York Yankees owner was all-in-good fun. To return the favor for the show providing exposure to his then-rejuvenated mid-’90s ballclub, Steinbrenner himself would eventually appear in a cut-for-time scene now available on YouTube.
Voiced by series co-creator and pre-Curb Larry David, “The Boss” was mostly shot from behind his desk whilst engaging in hilarious back-and-forths with the Yankees’ assistant traveling security, George Costanza (Jason Alexander).
The Mandalorian (The Mandalorian)
As one of Disney Plus’ flagship original shows upon its 2019 launch, the Western-influenced series set in the Star Wars universe features an instantly iconic lead (and even more beloved supporting character, viva Baby Yoda).
Played by Game of Thrones‘ Pedro Pascal, the bounty hunter sports a helmet he has only taken off once – in season 1’s fourth episode. The eponymous guardian to the meme sensation has yet to reveal his face to audiences, meaning he can potentially spend the next couple of seasons teasing fans obsessed with the most revered badass in the galaxy far far away since the pilot who did not shoot first.