Created By: dogwolfman on May 30, 2012 Last Edited By: Shrikesnest on June 29, 2012

Exclusively Extreme Competence

you ever noticed how everybody on TV is really good at ther job unless part of the story is about them being bad at it?

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Exclusively Extreme Competence

Where levels of skill are involved in works of fiction, it is often true that only two areas on the continuum are explored: the best of the best, and the worst of the worst. The main character will never be a "pretty decent" soldier, adventurer, marksman or what have you. He'll either be the greatest there is, besting others in his chosen field who have been at it a lot longer than he has, or a total incompetent, absolutely ill-matched for the position.

This extends out in circles, eventually encompassing the entire fictional world: the villain is on the protagonist's level in some facet to provide an interesting foil; the company or unit the protagonist works for is the best detective agency or elite military team of all time, since the best tend to gravitate toward the top. Likewise, in humorous situations that involve an incompetent protagonist, he's always among the worst workers at the most awful company ever.

This happens for a couple of reasons. First of all, because it tends to make a good story. The audience wants to hear thrilling tales about bands of heroes wearing medals for bravery, not average cops filling out paperwork; even (perhaps especially) cops who know how unrealistic the former is. Second of all, audiences tend to love a winner, even while paradoxically rooting for the underdog - having everyone in the setting be exceptional fulfills both desires. Thirdly, perhaps most relevant to comedic fiction, characters who do have mild traits of any kind tend to have them exaggerated for comedic effect sooner or later, eventually becoming parodies of their original selves. This is inevitable as a series goes on longer.
Community Feedback Replies: 14
  • May 30, 2012
    eddddd
    hmm... the name is odd, but i like the idea. i think that you often do see people of mid level ability, but they are never plot-important: so, the more important the character, the more extreme their abilities (high or low)

    since this is so common you might want to consider either an exeptions only example section, or have each example include several characters in comparison
  • May 30, 2012
    Earnest
    See also The Krillin and Crapsack Only By Comparison.

    • The remake of The Invisible Man with Kevin Bacon has an aversion. While Bacon is brilliant, he can't figure out how to reverse his invisibility. His colleague however, who can't jump from a to z, manages to engineer a cure by working through b to y.
    • In Daybreakers the protagonist is a top scientist believed the best able to create cloned blood to feed the vampire nation. His less talented partner is actually the one to make the breakthrough.
      • However, played straight in that the protagonist discovers a cure for vampirism.
  • May 31, 2012
    Arivne
    ^^ eddddd: The trope that only plot-important details are portrayed is The Law Of Conservation Of Detail.

    You are correct, this trope is an aspect of it. And I agree that this trope should only cover Playing With A Trope examples (aversions, subversions etc.).
  • May 31, 2012
    Alvin
    This is probably just me being chatty, but for some time it's seemed to me that any show involving profilers has one of the characters be the best profiler in the world. That doesn't quite fit this though.
  • May 31, 2012
    Ryusui
  • May 31, 2012
    DracMonster
    Ooh, nice and concise!
  • May 31, 2012
    OmarKarindu
    I once had a failed YKTTW called "Uniquely Mundane Present" about the way the emphasis on cool ancient artifacts, precursors from the past and future tech and time travelers on the other tends to make "the present day" the least powerful, most mundane-filled period in many fantastic and shared-universe settings.

    This seems related, but works better because it's an affirmative principle rather than an example of the negative space that sometimes exists around actual tropes. Like that idea, though, it's only apparent when it's not in force somewhere.
  • May 31, 2012
    Shrikesnest
    Would the original poster have any objections to me writing up a description?
  • May 31, 2012
    Dacilriel
    Live Action TV:

    On MASH most of the doctors excelled to the point that the 4077th became known for its impressive rate of success. The only doctor who wasn't great was Major Burns who was notoriously bad.

    Largely averted on Scrubs which covers the whole range from doctors who were amazing to doctors who were incompetent. Most of the cast were realistically portrayed as being good at their jobs, but prone to mistakes and occasional bad judgement.
  • June 1, 2012
    TBeholder
    Can or can't, there's no middling

    (obviously punning Star Wars pearl "...there is no trying") :]
  • June 1, 2012
    dogwolfman
    @Shrikesnest post it in comment section and if I like it (which is more then likely) I'll replace mine with it
  • June 2, 2012
    Shrikesnest
    Possible names: Bipolar Capability, Exclusively Extreme Competence, and I'm also a fan of Ryusui's Only Experts Or Incompetents.

    Where levels of skill are involved in works of fiction, it is often true that only two areas on the continuum are explored: the best of the best, and the worst of the worst. The main character will never be a "pretty decent" soldier, adventurer, marksman or what have you. He'll either be the best there is, besting others in his chosen field who have been at it a lot longer than he has, or a total incompetent, totally unmatched for the position.

    This extends out in circles, eventually encompassing the entire fictional world: the villain is on the protagonist's level in some facet to provide an interesting foil; the company or unit the protagonist works for is the best detective agency or elite military team of all time, since the best tend to gravitate toward the top. Likewise, in humorous situations that involve an incompetent protagonist, he's always among the worst workers at the most awful company ever.

    This happens for a couple of reasons. First of all, because it tends to make a good story. The audience wants to hear thrilling tales about bands of heroes wearing medals for bravery, not average cops filling out paperwork; even (perhaps especially) cops who know how unrealistic the former is. Second of all, audiences tend to love a winner, even while paradoxically rooting for the underdog - having everyone in the setting be exceptional fulfills both desires. Thirdly, perhaps most relevant to comedic fiction, characters who do have mild traits of any kind tend to have them exaggerated for comedic effect sooner or later, eventually becoming parodies of their original selves. This is inevitable as a series goes on longer.
  • June 28, 2012
    HollyDash
    I like Bipolar Capability for a name.
  • June 29, 2012
    Triterope
    I think Idiot Ball adequately covers this ground.
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