Collage by Minna.

On television, you’re supposed to keep your eyes on the heroine. She’s the one breaking rules and beating odds, the one falling in and out of love, the one with the affectations that are swallowed up and internalized by millions of enamored viewers, who tuck their hair behind their ears and bite their lips just so for years in her honor, sometimes without even knowing it. She is the twisted mirror, and you are supposed to see in her all of the things you see in yourself, or all of the things you hope are within you, somewhere under a layer of apprehension. She is supposed to be everyone. And she always has at least one great friend.

I am going to ask you a favor: will you do this for me? The next time you watch a show with a female lead, keep an eye out for her sidekicks. Watch the way she treats them, and how they treat her. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat their friends. And you can learn a lot about heroics by watching more than the heroine of the story. The best friend, the sidekick, has heart, wisdom and kindness. It is important, I think, to remember that just as much as you are the hero of your own story, you are also, at times, the supporting cast. Not that I’m telling you to take a backseat, you superstar, you: I am telling you that you have many roles in your life, and any real heroine can recognize the importance of learning how to be a good friend.

Watch the way that Jane Lane checks Daria Morgendorffer on her cynicism, making little jokes to lighten the mood and to remind Daria that her bleak outlook is sometimes as silly as the stuff she’s mocking. In Jane, Daria has both a kindred spirit and a reason not to be as wary of the world—she’s not the only one who feels out of place. Jane and Daria help each other deal with the depressing reality they face on a regular basis. It is always easier to deal with a Sick, Sad World when you have someone to laugh about it with.

And keep an eye on Rory Gilmore’s best friend on Gilmore Girls, Lane Kim, who often takes a backseat to Rory’s prep school adventures and various boyfriends. Though the two are separated during the school day, they make an effort to stay close, with Lane keeping Rory filled in on all the town gossip, and Rory helping Lane sneak music, food and boys past her strict mother. In the episode “Love and War and Snow,” Lane feels the two drifting apart, as Rory always seems distracted by her schoolwork, or her boyfriend, and is never there for Lane, even when Lane gets herself into a particularly embarrassing situation featuring another member of the marching band’s hair. When Lane finally calls Rory on it, and Rory apologizes, Lane gives her a line that I think of all the time: “Don’t be sorry, be here.”

The best friend doesn’t always make the right moves, however. Millie Kentner, Lindsay Weir’s former best friend on Freaks and Geeks, attempts to “save” Lindsay by scolding her and frowning upon her new friends, who, drink, smoke, have sex and, unlike Millie, aren’t afraid of breaking the rules. Millie is often square and judgmental, but her heart is always in the right place; she’s worried about her old friend, and sad about losing her. It’s hard, when you are hurting that much, to recognize that the reason people leave you behind isn’t usually that you’re not a good person, or that you did something wrong, but that your paths are just moving in opposite directions, and your time together has come to an end.

Kim Kelly, on the other hand, provides Lindsay with a sense of excitement and danger. In turn, Lindsay gives Kim a sense of stability and normalcy. Their relationship is a lot like the one between Angela Chase and Rayanne Graff on My So-Called Life: two opposites drawn together in order to balance each other out.

Friendship is an unending series of lessons; if you watch these sidekicks and the way the main characters interact with them, you’ll begin to recognize the mistakes, the triumphs, the little things that make something big and lovely. Sometimes you don’t see them until you’re older and further away. But you can also watch for them before they happen, see them on the screen and live them in another world. Think of your own best friend, and the type of best friend you want to be.

The girls on the side have their own stories to tell. Think of Jane and laugh. Think of Lane and listen. Think of Millie and learn to let go. Think of Kim Kelly and make out with James Franco all day before driving like a maniac in your badass piece-of-shit car. ♦