TV Shows Whose Lead Character is the Least Interesting

The A.V. Club posted a list of shows in which the lead protagonist is the least interesting of the main characters. It happens all the time, to all kinds of TV shows. The list includes current shows like The Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire as well as older shows like Barney Miller and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. I would add Seinfeld and Bewitched and Northern Exposure and …well, it's such a standard fact of TV that TV Tropes calls it the Designated Protagonist Syndrome, featuring the Standardized Leader. (Warning: following links from TV Tropes can cause you to lose the rest of the day.)

I first noticed the trend when The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended and spun off TV shows for all its other characters. Those wacky characters we all loved then became the main character, and they lost their quirkiness by having to corral a whole new cast of wacky characters. Happy Days, which is on the A.V. Club's list, revolved around the generic Richie Cunningham for the first half of its run. The more interesting character Fonzie was the real draw, but when Richie left the show, Fonzie lost his juvenile delinquent status and settled down with the Cunningham family. P.E. teacher Roger Phillips was brought in as the Standardized Leader, but few remember him as such.

When a lead character is played safe, it is because the viewer is expected to see the action through his/her eyes, so writers can't afford to take too many risks lest the viewer find they can no longer identify with the character. That is especially true if the show was built around the generic lead and the producers hope to make the series last a long time.

My guess is that the inspiration for this list is the success of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, two shows that defy the trope in a big way. Breaking Bad very deliberately introduced the main character Walter White as someone the audience could identify with, and then took him into frightening territory to make viewers consider how such a transformation could happen. And the show was always meant to be a story that ends. Game of Thrones is truly an ensemble show. Try to recall who was considered to be the lead character in the series' first season. Both shows prove that the audience can handle having the rug pulled out from under them.      

What other shows would you add to the list? Link


Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

Orange Is The New Black -- I almost dropped it after episode 1, but I stuck it out for a second one... when they started telling the backstories of the other inmates, that's when I was hooked. Piper herself is a drip, IMO.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
"Ed Flanders on St. Elsewhere" I thought of St. Elsewhere when I was writing this, and didn't even think of him. Totally forgot his character. And he was nominated for 4 Emmys for that show.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Well, the whole concept of the Lead Character being a stable center in a vortex of craziness goes back to the early 1960's sitcoms... Andy Griffith and Dick Van Dyke both had their comedy chops underutilized (Van Dyke less so), everyone in Green Acres left Eddie Albert in a purely reactive role (even Arnold the Pig got more yuks), and Buddy Ebsen played the least wacky of the Beverly Hillbillies. Wasn't Shirley Jones intended to be the capital-S Star of Partridge Family? She was upstaged by the 'kids' just like Gabe Kaplan in Welcome Back Kotter (but as they say in Hollywood, never work with kids or animals). Bob Newhart always played the 'dull guy surrounded by crazy, funny people'. More recently, Ray Romano on Everybody Loves Raymond (you don't get interesting by being loved), Jason Bateman as "the one son who had no choice to keep the family together" on Arrested Development, and Frankie Muniz as Malcolm IN THE Middle (the vortex of crazy).

In ensemble dramas, the 'boss' frequently got top billing but rarely had the best story arcs: Daniel J. Travanti in Hill Street Blues, Ed Flanders on St. Elsewhere... you could even argue it for Patrick Stewart on Star Trek: The Next Generation until Captain Picard got 'Borged' at the end of season 3.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Commenting is closed.





Email This Post to a Friend
"TV Shows Whose Lead Character is the Least Interesting"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.

 

Success! Your email has been sent!

close window