Jean Smart’s Best TV Roles, From Watchmen To Frasier


Jean has been a small screen staple since the ’80s and is best known for never repeating roles in her filmography.

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Sometimes she is a sociopathic matriarch leading a crime family and sometimes she is a goofy whacky mom. A three-time Emmy winner and acclaimed theatre actress she has been associated with highly regarded TV series.

If you are looking to feast upon more roles of this talented thespian then here’s the list that you should first exhaust.



Jake Giles Netter / HBO Max

This hotly baked comedy from the HBO oven seems to have been made just so that we can enjoy a buffet of Jean Smart’s various talents. She plays the role of Deborah Vance, an ageing stand up comedian, a living legend (like the actress portraying her) working for a Las Vegas casino who is trying to rejuvenate her performance to make it appealing to a younger audience. To help her do this, is a young stand-up comedian, freshly out of job (thanks to a bad tweet) trying to bring her career back on track but is also totally disinterested in writing jokes for someone she considers a has been. In the garb of Deborah Vance, Smart is tart, manipulative, moody, nonchalant, luxurious and radiant. When it comes to comedy Smart and her on screen persona are the boss and she rubs it in. 


Mare of Easttown


Just last month Jean Smart regaled us with her fantastic, touching, and sometimes goofy performance in HBO’s mystery drama, Mare of Easttown. She played the role of Helen Fahey, the mother of the protagonist (played by Kate Winslet). Her role was that of a woman who has been through lots of emotional trauma but who still remembers to laugh and enjoy whatever she has got. She used to light up the scene with her childish tantrums, cheeky quips, and emotional outbursts. In the series, her character is usually seen sparring with her daughter or enjoying a game of Fruit Ninja when the drama in her life tends to get out of hand. 




This was Jean Smart’s HBO debut and most likely what got HBO hooked on to her. Watchmen is a limited series based on the DC comics graphic novel of the same name. Smart played the role of Agent Laurie Blake, a former superhero known as Silk Spectre, who has now joined forces with the FBI to hunt down other superheroes. Smart got an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series for her role. Recently Smart expressed her gratitude towards Sigourney Weaver as this role was first offered to her and she turned it down. Smart was brought onboard only two days before the shooting started. 



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Smart joined the cast of the acclaimed black comedy crime drama Fargo for its second season. She played the role of a stern matriarch leading a crime family that is the most powerful syndicate in Fargo, North Dakota. She finds herself in a difficult position as her husband becomes crippled due to stroke. She has to not only maintain the dominant position of her family but also keep it from falling apart under the weight of rivalry of her two surviving sons. And yeah, also find out what happened to her third son and track down his killers. Smart was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series.


Samantha Who?

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Though this 2007 ABC sitcom failed to flourish beyond two seasons, it did win Jean Smart an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. The series was about a woman who wakes up as an amnesiac from a hit and run induced coma and tries to restart her life as a much better person. Smart plays the idiosyncratic mother of this woman. In fact it was this idiosyncrasy that sold her on the role of the mother, Regina Newly. In the pilot itself we see the mother asking her newly recovered daughter, Samantha (Christina Applegate), to re-enact waking up from a coma because she missed videotaping it. And the reason is not some tender mother daughter reunion — she wants to submit the video to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.



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Even though she appeared for just seven episodes, Smart won Emmy twice for her guest appearance in this hit sitcom. She played Lana Gardner, a former classmate and old crush of the title character (Kelsey Grammer) who used to turn the smart doctor into a doting schoolboy. She recalls, “The way he reacted to me made it very hard to keep a straight face.” Smart also revealed an interesting nugget about her role,” Apparently Mark Reisman, who wrote that episode, had written it about a gal he went to school with. He’d even told her, and she was flattered he’d written her into the show, until she saw the episode. And then I guess she didn’t think it was so funny. So they changed the name when [the character] came back and no one talked about it.”



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Smart played the role of Martha Logan, the whistle-blowing wife of President Charles Logan, in the action thriller series 24. Since she was totally unfamiliar with the hit TV series, she was given a huge box of videotapes. She recounts, “I sat down to watch with my son and husband and I was instantly hooked — we started watching a few every night”. She made a request to the producers as well. She told EW, “I remember partway through the season, I said to the producers, ‘Since she’s back on her meds she’s kind of boring and preachy, can we get her off her meds again?’ And they went, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ So she got a lot more unstable again and it was a lot more fun, a lot more interesting.” She was nominated twice for the Emmy and counts this role as one of her all-time favorites.



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Smart reunited with her Fargo producer to star in another critically acclaimed series, Legion. Actually it was at a publicity event for Fargo that Noah Hawley pitched the role to her. Smart plays the role of Melanie Bird, “the leader of a group of superpowered mutants who are being hunted down by the government”. The series itself is loosely based on the X-Men comics published by Marvel Comics. She used to bake cupcakes and cookies for her fellow cast members while the shooting was going on. 


Designing Women

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In one of her pathbreaking roles, Smart wowed the CBS viewers as Charlene Frazier in this ’80s sitcom. She played the role of an affable and usually naïve office manager who worked for Sugarbaker interior-design firm in Atlanta. She met her husband, late actor Richard Gilliland — who played the love interest of one of the leads characters — while working on the series.  While on the show she had another important life event. She revealed, “I was sitting in my dressing room strapped into this gorgeous wedding dress. And I’m sitting there, looking at myself in the mirror and smoking a cigarette, and suddenly I just knew I was pregnant — I’d suspected for about a week. I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘You are pregnant.’ I put out my cigarette, and it was the last one I ever had.”   

What’s your favorite Jean Smart role? Let us know in the comments.

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