main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Kickstarter Message
TV Tropes Needs Your Help
Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
View Kickstarter Project
Dysfunction Junction: Live-Action TV
  • Soap operas ARE this trope.
  • Smallville:
    • The mothers of most main characters are dead before the series begins.
    • Clark Kent is the Last of His Kind (well... sort of...) after Krypton exploded. But You Should Know This Already.
    • Chloe Sullivan's mother ended up in a mental institution and both mother and daughter has psychosis-inducing meteor infection.
    • Lex Luthor probably has it worst. His mother murdered his younger brother. She soon died afterwards. And he is definitely not on friendly terms with his father. Both him and his father are Self Made Orphans.
    • Lana Lang's parents were killed by a meteor. And she never, ever stops Wangsting about it.
    • Lois Lane's mother died when she was six, and her army general father is not very nice. She also has a manipulative, backstabbing sister.
    • Jimmy Olsen's father is a huge drunk and he never met his mother.
    • And it extends to dysfunction relationships. And we mean, ALL of them, with the only completely healthy pairings being Jonathan and Martha.
      • Lionel and Lilian Luthor - just look at the Lex entry.
      • Clark and Lana is built on secrets and lies, plus a huge dose of wangsting. Lana's vain, self-absorbed personality did not help one bit.
  • Every character in Glee is somewhat misunderstood, or is a bullied minority in some ways who goes through a trauma conga-line at some point in the series. Look what happens to the original members of New Directions in just season 1 alone;
    • Rachel Berry never knew her mother, doesn't know which one of her fathers is her real dad, suffers tremendous bullying and has no friends whatsoever, finally meets her mother but finds out she wants nothing to do with her, and discovers her first boyfriend was only pretending to date her. He then goes on to egg her *she's a vegan, which makes it infinitely worse for her* in front of fifty other jerring show choir contestants.
    • Finn Hudson's father died in the Afghanistan war when he was just a baby, which resulted in his mother's inevitable depression, he grew up struggling at school and then his girlfriend cheated on him with his best friend, who impregnated her. She then lead him to believe it was his baby. He does not take it well when he finds out, and goes all "HULK SMASH" on the choir room chair.
    • Mercedes Jones was a victim of racist and sizist bullying ever since she was a little girl and developed a *brief* eating dissorder mid series, which cultivated in her fainting from starvation. She was also rejected by her best friend (who's gay).
    • Kurt Hummels mother died when he was eight, and Kurt was bullied horribly for his sexuallity in high school. *it gets a lot worse for him in season 2*
    • Tina Cohen Chang was so painfully shy that she faked a stutter to avoid having to talk to people. She only had two facebook friends (her parents), and though it was never mentioned on the show, was confirmed by Jenna Ushkowitz to be adopted.
    • Artie Abrams broke both his legs in a car crash when he was eight.
      • That's just the original six members. That's just season 1 angst. The show gets angstier by the season. Granted, there's still pop classics being sung on cafeteria tables, but for a show where every other scene is a journey song, it's pretty damn heavy.
  • Much of Joss Whedon's work - Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel, mainly. Those few characters without tragic pasts quickly get them within the course of the story, as you know any happy character will either be killed or have a loved one killed.
    • Even those who are relatively happy will always be revealed to have at least one parent (usually the father) who is either abusive or absent. Then they have a tragic event happen to them as well, anyway, to compound the matter.
      • In the commentary for A Hole in the World, he observes, "Oh, look at that, they're happy. Better have someone cough up some blood!"
    • Subverted in the "Fredless" episode of Angel. Fred's parents stop by looking for their daughter, and we are led to believe they may have bad intentions for her. Eventually it's revealed that they are loving people who want the best for their daughter. Ironically, this ends up reminding the rest of the cast what a sucky relationship they have/had with their own parents.
      • Echoed for laughs in Lineage:
        Wesley: If you're here to tell me about how you killed your parents... perhaps it could wait for another time.
        Fred: What? No. They're fine.
      • The next time they show up, Fred has been taken over by an Eldritch Abomination...
  • The Friends gang are living at this junction:
    • Phoebe's father ran off, her mother killed herself and she lived on the street, seeking refuge in Cloud Cuckoo Lander tendencies to deal with it.
    • The Geller's favored Ross over Monica, producing a Know-Nothing Know-It-All son and Control Freak daughter determined to be perfect at everything. Ross's wife revealed herself to be a lesbian after their marriage and divorced him turning him into a Crazy Jealous Guy with future girlfriends.
    • Chandler's parents had a horrible divorce and paid more attention to their sex games than him. Consequently he's terrified of committment and uses humour to hide his deep insecurity and self-loathing.
    • Rachel was extremely spoiled, and in early seasons incapable of coping in the real world.
    • Joey's parents had a poor marriage, with his mother enjoying her father cheating on her.
      • Interestingly as the series continued a lot of the story arcs are about them overcoming their issues. Phoebe reconnects with her family, becomes more grounded and builds a successful relationship rather than jumping from guy to guy. Monica and Chandler fall in love and find in each other the support their parents never gave them. Ross gradually get's over his divorces, Rachel learns how to be independent, and Joey starts considering committment.
  • Firefly is better about having a cast with varied backgrounds. River and Simon, however, have a background as traumatic as they come, while Mal and Zoe were comrades on the losing side of a war. Still, the second pair doesn't treat their defeat as entirely traumatic, and focuses on finding little ways to get back at the Alliance (robbery, bar fights, etc.)
    • Spoofed in a Home on the Strange strip concerning a hypothetical Firefly MMORPG: "It's right in the Terms and Conditions: 'No relationship in the Whedonverse is allowed to end happily...'"
    • Dollhouse is certainly in this vein. There's a whole episode dedicated to proving that Sierra doesn't belong in the house until she has murdered her rapist!
  • Degrassi The Next Generation often has tragic, melodramatic, hard to believe tragedies happen to most of the cast. In a relatively upper-middle class school- in Canada, no less, two students are dead via violence in unrelated incidents, one is crippled, another raped, beaten in a hate crime, had their father die, sent to prison for killing someone in a drag race, contracted HIV, become addicted to cocaine, etc. - all within the same five years.
    • All Degrassi shows suffer from this, to various extents.
  • The Sallinger family on Party of Five. It really is a wonder that none of them picked up on being Cosmic Playthings to a Finagle's Law obsessed writer.
  • LOST. The majority of characters have issues with their fathers, stepfathers, fathers-in-law, or other father figures (the exceptions being Shannon and Ana Lucia, who hate their stepmother and mother, respectively). Plus various other dysfunctionalities. It's saying something when the former Iraqi torturer is the most level-headed person on the island. One of the earliest episodes is even titled "All the Best Cowboys have Daddy Issues."
    • Turns out to be an Invoked Trope as Jacob was looking for people who were missing something in their lives to succeed him in protecting the island.
  • In the HBO series Six Feet Under, every character is subjected to some horrific event at least once within the run of the series. While the show centers around death, most of the characters have lived or will live through situations seemingly worse than death - sometimes to teach them an Aesop and sometimes just to just have them go through horrible events for the sheer pleasure of it - and often leaves them with countless dysfunctions and irrational fears.
  • Two words: Battlestar Galactica. Anyone who wasn't depressed, delusional, suicidal, emotionally repressed, alcoholic, unlucky in love, and/or really really pissed off at both their parents and the world before the Cylons attacked... sure is now.
    • Sharon 'Athena' Agathon seems to be doing alright (misplaced Mama Bear moments aside). Even moreso, Helo. For all that he went through on Caprica and back again, he seems to be levelheaded and reasonable.
      • They have the Screwed Up Past: Athena was a spy ordered to con a human into getting her pregnant, only to fall for the guy and become a traitor to her own people, while Helo was the aforementioned con victim who discovered his love interest/flight partner was not only a spy, but not even the same individual he'd originally known, who was also a spy.
      • Said original individual forced them to work at staying happy during the last few episodes of the series.
      • The fact that Helo remains a level-headed family man in spite of all he has to deal with brings new meaning the phrase "Badass Normal."
  • In Malcolm in the Middle the entire family is dysfunctional. In one episode he discovers a "normal" family and starts spending all his time there as the kids' babysitter, enjoying the "normalcy". Until he discovers that they were using a video camera to spy on him (something that is actually considered ok by many when it comes to child care) and he decides that although his family is dysfunctional, they are honest with him.
  • Supernatural. While they might have started out darker than your average cutie, Sam and Dean have been broken into martyred, self-loathing, co-dependent, slightly suicidal basketcases, after Mary's death John was a suicidal, emotionally abusive jerkass who you can't help but pity, Mary might have started this whole mess anyway, Bela turned out to be a broken, sexually abused fourteen year old who made a Deal with the Devil, Jimmy (Castiel's vessel) has had to say goodbye to his wife and daughter forever in order to save their life, and Bobby had to kill his own wife. Twice. Even the angels have severe daddy-issues. And that's not even mentioning the show's Kill 'em All fetish. Need to go to your Happy Place yet?
  • Cold Case: Lilly Rush's father left her and her younger sister Christina in the 'care' of their alcoholic mother Ellen, who ended up drinking herself to death the same day her daughter got shot almost to death on the job. Christina grew up to be a seductress (even sleeping with Lilly's fiance) and a scam artist, who dated Lilly's partner Scotty Valens and then ran out the moment a police officer from NYC came to Philadelphia to arrest her. Plus what happened to her as a child...
  • The Vampire Diaries: There are a lot of interpersonal problems between the main characters.
  • This Is Wonderland, starting with the name. Unglamourous lawyers representing hideously dysfunctional people, many of whom are drug addicts, and just waiting for their nervous breakdown. Luckily, it's only a borderline example, as there were a few people who were moderately well adjusted.
  • In Farscape, everyone starts off with at least a little damage - except John Crichton, the human. Then as the series progresses eveyrone else manages to shore up each other's sanity...except John, who descends into madness.
    • While John did have a pretty nice life prior to the show, the whole getting lost far, far from home among aliens, some of whom are trying to capture/torture/kill you, definitely counts as trauma, even before the deliberate crazy-making business.
  • In Plain Sight: The lead character, Mary, is a US Marshal in the witness protection program. During the pilot, she narrates how good she is at solving other people's problems but not her own. Her father abandoned his family to evade the police when she was a child, and she's been taking care of her alcoholic mother and chronically irresponsible sister ever since. During the course of the series, the sister ends up involved in a drug deal gone bad. Even Mary's sorta-boyfriend is a minor-league baseball player who can't make it to the big leagues, and he's the most normal character in the immediate family. With the exception of Mary's coworkers, everyone else in the show is messed-up, even the witnesses under protection.
    • Justified - you would expect people in situations that would necessitate witness protection to have experienced some trauma.
  • Scrubs. For a comedy, most of the show's characters are pretty messed up whether it be in their backstory, personality, or both. Turk is probably the most normal and well-adjusted of the lot.
    • He has a couple of episodes where it's implied that his family is somewhat dysfunctional, although nothing compared to the other characters'.
      • "Let me share with you a typical Thanksgiving at the Turk household. It starts with my mother yelling at my sister for yelling at my grandmother who's yelling at the television screen, which happens to be the microwave. And then my militant brother Jabari, formerly Bob, gives my father attitude for using the word black, even though he's referring to the turkey, which, by the way, only got burnt because instead of turning the oven off, my bi-polar Aunt Leslie tried to shove her head in it!"
    • As Carla puts it:
      Carla: Me — dead mom. J.D. — dead dad. Elliot — emotionally abusive parents. Dr. Cox — emotionally and physically abusive dead parents which he may have killed; no one's sure.
  • Heroes is practically made of this. Anyone who doesn't have a tragic past gets a tragic present.
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles runs rampant with this. John Connor suffers from post-traumatic stress and the sheer weight of Because Destiny Says So, Sarah Connor has to deal with raising her son through the hardest time of his life, relationship issues, and fighting to save the world without killing anyone, Derek Reese is just plain sociopathic and suffers from enough PTSD for a battalion of Vietnam vets, and don't even get started on the mountain of psychological issues with Cameron....
  • Prison Break has a metric buttload of this. But then, it's kinda necessary to justify why all these people would be dumb/crazy enough to get caught up in the series' main story arc. Some of the kickers are child rapist and murderer T-Bag, who was sexually abused by his father and forced to memorise the thesaurus, or Mahone, who went insane while chasing a fugitive, got hooked on the meds he used to stay sane, caught and then murdered the fugitive in cold blood and was blackmailed by the villains into becoming their assassin.
    • This is not counting all the extra crap that gets piled on the characters over the course of the series, like the murder of Mahone's young son, which drives him even further off the deep end.
    • Revelations made during the series that actually make previous dysfunctions seem even worse, like Michael and Lincoln discovering not one, but both their parents worked for the villains, including their long-dead mother who isn't really dead.
  • Not one character on House escapes this trope, including most patients of the week. In between learning about the patients' tragic past, we get a look into the lives of the doctors who treat them.
    • The misanthropic, crippled, drug-addicted House and his fellow Chase have major parental issues. House goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid contact with his parents. The most extreme example of this is when his father dies and he refuses to go to the funeral despite his mother's wishes. He does end up attending but only because Cuddy drugged him so Wilson could get him in his car and escort him there. In the same episode it is revealed that his father is not actually his biological father. House worked this out as kid and didn't talk to his father for a whole summer after he found out.
    • Chase was left to care for his sister and alcoholic mother after his father abandoned them. His father turns up during the thirteenth episode and bridges start to mend, but little does Chase know that his father is dying of cancer. Chase finds out two months later in the eighth episode of the second season when he gets a phonecall saying his father died of terminal lung cancer. It gets even worse the seasons twenty-second episode in which House deduces that Chase was cut out of his father's will, a fact that is confirmed in Season 3.
    • Foreman, a former juvenile delinquent, has a mother with Alzheimer's who he can't stand seeing and a fundamentalist Christian father who is anything but supportive.
    • Cameron married a dying man when she was in her twenties and then fell for his best friend.
    • When we first meet Wilson he has been divorced two times and his third marriage is on the verge of complete collapse. In Season 1, he proclaims that, "[he's] only got two things that work for me: this job and this stupid, screwed-up friendship [with House]." Before season 2 is over, Wilson finds himself divorced again and homeless. In season 3 his assets get frozen while attempting to keep House out of jail and it's revealed (surprise, surprise) he's suffering from depression. In season 4, his his girlfriend, Amber, dies, and in season 5 it's revealed that his long-lost, homeless brother that is mentioned in Season 1 is also schizophrenic and that he blames himself for him running away. In Season 8, he has terminal cancer.
    • Cuddy has apparently failed every relationship she's ever tried to make work and angsts about not being able to start a family. In season 5, she adopts a baby, but has emotional issues bonding with her.
    • House's new fellows have problems too. Thirteen is dying from Huntington's. (Her mom died from it too.) And in season 7 it's revealed she had to euthanize her brother who suffered from the same disease Kutner's parents were killed in a robbery when he was six and in Season 5 he commits suicide, and nobody knows why, not even House can figure it out. Taub cheats on his wife to the point that it ruins their marriage in Season 7, and has financial problems in Season 5.
  • The whole point of Titus (and the stand-up it was based on) was Christopher's supremely dysfunctional family, especially his manic-depressive schizophrenic mother and his hard-drinking/chronic-marrying/wussy-hating father. "Hey, once you've driven your drunk father to mom's parole hearing, what else is there?"
  • All the Pushing Daisies regulars have to deal with some scarring stuff, but they tend to take it with a great deal of dignity. Ned, Lily and Vivian are the most messed up, but even they soldier on quite well.
    • Ned: Watched his mother die. Twice. Accidentally killed his childhood sweetheart's father. Got sent by his neglectful father to a boarding school. Upon solving his first "case", was mistaken for a murderer and sent to jail. When he was ten. Can't touch his girlfriend.
    • Chuck: Her father died when she was eight. She went to live with her aunts, one of which actually was her biological mother. Upon seeking liberty from her reclusion, got killed in a cruise.
    • Olive: Grew up as a Lonely Rich Kid. Was once accidentally kidnapped by two thieves who were very kind to her... and got sent to jail by the Snooks unjustly. Kept for years an oath about the murder of her jockey friend.
    • Emerson: Born Detective trained from infancy in the art of crook-catching by his own mother. Fell in love with - and was promptly swindled by - grifter Lila Robinson, who prevented him from seeing his own daughter for about nine years.
    • Lily and Vivian: Two quite different siblings who were prevented from pursuing a career in synchronized swimming by their social phobias. Lily fell in love with Vivian's fiance, Charles, and had a child with him. Upon finding out, Vivian was not exactly pleased.
  • The two main characters of Bones are a woman whose parents disappeared when she was a teen, and a man with an abusive and alcoholic father. Upon learning that Dr. Sweets had been whipped as a child:
    Booth: What are we, the island of Misfit Toys?
It was later revealed that Brennan also suffered abuse at the hands of her foster parents
  • Also, one of the newer interns, Finn Abernathy, had a stepfather so abusive he contemplated killing him...until he read a report on one of Booth and Brennan's investigations and realized that the FBI might easily send them after him.
  • Alias: There's dysfunctional and then there's the Bristow family. The dysfunctionality certainly extends past the Bristows though. Most of the characters lives are marred by the death and/or betrayal of loved ones. It certainly doesn't help when our heroes are forced to work with the bad guys and double-crossers or the people they thought were dead but actually weren't.
  • Burn Notice : This seems to be a common trope for spy shows. As Michael notes a bad childhood is a good preparation for a life as a spy. You don't miss home, you don't trust easily and you're used to violence.
  • ESPN's short-lived Playmakers series featured a football team where seemingly every player had at least one major dysfunction, including drug addiction, marital abusive, steroid abuse, closet homosexuality and inevitable rabid homobphobia, adultery all over the place, a player suffering near-debilitating guilt for having paralyzed an opponent and anything else you could think of to some extent. It's amazing they had time to play any football.
  • The Torchwood team. An immortal man obsessed with finding the only person who he thinks can remove his immortality. A hedonistic doctor who lost his lover to an alien and eventually half-dies. A woman whose love interests always seem to either not return her affection or are evil. A man hiding his crazed cyberchick girlfriend in the basement of their secret hideout while struggling with his bisexuality. A woman who cheats on her boyfriend with a coworker, while in love with her boss. And that's just to name a few of their issues.
    • And, as of the end of the Children of Earth miniseries, three of them are dead, one has run away to pick up men in outer-space bars after killing his own grandson and one is...happily married and pregnant with her first (human) child, though feels guilty for feeling so happy.
  • The West Wing is an unusual case; everyone on the cast has father issues, but very few mommy problems.
    • Jed Bartlet's father beat him for being smarter and Catholic.
    • Leo McGarry's father passed on his alcohalism gene before committing suicide.
    • Sam Seabourne's father is unfaithful to his wife.
    • Toby Ziegler's father was a convicted felon and member of the Jewish Mafia.
    • CJ Cregg's father is suffering from Alzheimer's and at times forgets who she is.
    • Charlie Young's father is conspicuously absent. Charlie's mother was killed in the line of duty.
    • And finally, Josh's father was actually very supportive of his son and by all accounts a good guy - until he died. Josh gets to substitute daddy issues for a literal dead little sister.
  • Stargate SG-1 Shall we make a list?
    • Jack O'Neill: Originally joined the SGC on a suicide mission because he was depressed after his son accidentally shot himself. Has an implied dark past working for Special Ops, but they never go into too much detail, However, whenever he meets someone from his past, he always has issues with them.
      • Not too much detail, other than noting that he had a parachute accident on the wrong side of the Iran/Iraq border during the First Gulf War, and he had to save himself by walking nine days with a fractured skull and broken leg. Also that he spent four months in an Iraqi prison after being left for dead by his friend, who he never forgave. None of this touches upon the myriad traumas suffered during the series, most notably the episode [1] Abyss.
    • Daniel Jackson: Saw his parents die when he was eight. Lived in foster care, failed at every romantic relationship, before joining the SGC because he had nowhere else to go. Stayed behind with his wife on an alien planet for a year before she was kidnapped and taken over by creepy evil aliens. And that's just his backstory.
    • Sam Carter: Her mother died when she was pretty young, and she and her brother both blamed her father for that. When Sam eventually got over it, her brother never forgave her, and her father was already distant and detached. Add to that the crazy and possibly abusive (ex)fiance, and you've got yourself a walking tragedy.
      • Almost all the men she's ever been involved with have croaked.
    • Teal'c: Bent on getting revenge for his father's murder. Also grew up in slavery to an evil guy. (Same evil guy who kidnapped Daniel's wife. He was a really evil guy). Abandoned the love of his life when she joined a temple, and had to leave his wife and son behind when he went off to start a revolution.
    • Jonas Quinn: Plagued with guilt after standing idly by while watching his predecessor take a lethal dose of radiation. Exiled from his home planet for trying to set things right.
    • Cameron Mitchell: Cam had to grow up watching his father cope with being a paraplegic, and later during service in the Air Force was the trigger man for a mistargeted air strike that resulted in friendly casualties.
    • Vala Mal Doran: Host to evil Goa'uld Qetesh, tortured by her own people, abandoned by her father, sold by her mother, innumerable failed marriages, tortured again, gave birth to the Big Bad's Dragon, left on a hostile planet for the better part of a year, spent decades trapped on a ship, and finally entered into a loving and supportive relationship which was immediately retconned. Ouch.
      • Stargate doesn't delve all that much into the dark sides of the character's pasts, though you know it's there.
  • Find me a main character on Criminal Minds that doesn't have some damage (this is just the gist, there's a lot more):
    • Hotch's marriage collapsed, he's been blown up, he's been stabbed, and there's evidence of an abusive childhood.
    • JJ was attacked by three vicious dogs that had already torn a woman apart, seems to have issues from her small-town childhood, was hit in the head with a shovel by a serial killer that she didn't know was a serial killer, and when JJ was eleven, her older sister commited suicide.
    • Reid was kidnapped, beaten, and drugged, was held hostage, got anthrax poisoning, had to deal with his schizophrenic mother, and his father left when he was ten.
    • Rossi lost a childhood friend to a drunk driver, was haunted by a murder involving children that he didn't solve until he joined the team, unintentionally got a friend killed, and unintentionally got a fan killed.
    • Morgan was a victim of a child molestor and watched his cop father get shot and killed when he was a kid.
    • Garcia's parents were killed by a drunk driver when she was eighteen and was shot by a man that she had gone on a date with.
    • Elle was shot in her house, and her cop father was killed when she was a child.
    • Gideon got a bunch of people killed, including his kinda-girlfriend and one or two coworkers before the series.
    • Emily has major issues stemming from her childhood as the daughter of a United States Ambassador, had an abortion at 15, and she had the Doyle arc.
  • Nip/Tuck: Christian Troy's mother was raped by his father and then given up for adoption. The adoptive father sexually abused Christian. Sean McNamara's father was abusive towards Sean because he had a cleft lip. Dad left the family when mom secretly paid to have Sean's lip fixed. Sean's ex-wife Julia slept with Christian on the eve of their wedding and became pregnant with Matt. Sean believed that Matt was his son until a DNA test revealed that Christian was his biological father. Julia's mother Erica was emotionally abusive and neglected Julia for all of her life. Sean and Julia's daughter Annie is ignored by both of her parents and eats her hair out of stress. Youngest son Conor has lobster claw hands, Matt married Christian's ex-fiancee, porn star Kimber and had a baby with her. Kimber and Matt got hooked on meth. Matt's done some really crazy shit, but most recently he turned to a life of crime while dressed as a mime and is now in prison, having just killed his prison husband. Liz Cruz seemed to be above all the crazy, but she married Christian at the end of season 5 and divorced in the first episode of season 6. Even Christian's adopted son Wilbur has some dysfunction. His mother Gina met Christian at a sexaholics meeting and his biologial father was part of an orgy that Gina hosted. It looks like Nurse Linda is the only same person at the asylum that is McNamara/Troy.
  • While the original Law & Order largely avoids this, both SVU and Criminal Intent slid into this trope over the years, to the point where one suspects that the detectives had been read their 'Nielsen Rights': "You have the right to Drama; if you waive this right, anything you don't say can and will be used against you in the Court of Public Opinion. You have the right to a dysfunctional family; if you have no family problems, one will be invented for you...". Prime examples in these series:
    • Robert Goren is the son of a troubled schizophrenic and a serial rapist. His older brother, a heroin addict, was murdered by an obsessed serial killer.
    • Olivia Benson is the daughter of an alcoholic who became pregnant with her after being raped.
    • Alexandra Eames' husband was a police officer who was murdered while on duty. Her father was a detective who was disgraced for corruption.
    • Elliot Stabler's daughter has the Hollywood Psychology version of bipolar disorder, inherited from Elliot's dangerously unstable mother. Elliot himself has violent tendencies that have gotten him in trouble more than once, and his workaholic obsessions have driven his wife away more than once.
      • Let's start with McCoy: A lapsed catholic that attributes his legal prowess to having been abused by his father. He can't stop living and dying on every case he has, and has been shown to be willing to bend the law to a very high degree to get a conviction. He also carried through with convicting a priest that confessed to cover for the real criminal (or so McCoy thinks). He's also had affairs with every female ADA he's had up through Kincaid, and the only reason he stopped is because she dies. It really says something that there's more to be listed (that are considered to be enough in themselves to list a character dysfunctional), but they're mild compared to the rest. He's dysfunctional enough for the entire cast, but they have their own stuff they're dealing with.
      • Ah, Detective Briscoe, where to begin with you? Well, your daughters hate you. In fact, one of those daughters is a meth addict who's killed after testifying against a dealer. You're a recovering alcoholic, and one slip causes the current ADA, Kincaid, to drive you home. While she's driving you home, you confess to her that you wish she was your daughter. Five seconds later, the car is struck by a drunk driver and she dies. You blame yourself. You were also accused by your partner and your boss of falsifying a confession, based solely on the fact that the criminal said he didn't confess.
      • Detective Curtis' wife is dying more recently, has died of MS, which is why he leaves the force. He thinks that his wife's MS is a result of his cheating on her, and is later accused of falsifying evidence to help a woman he is accused of sleeping with.
      • DA Schiff has many friends in high places. They're all absurdly corrupt. He also pulled the plug on his wife after she suffered a stroke.
      • ADA Carmicheal was raped in law school, and a very good friend of hers (a fellow ADA) gets murdered by mobsters she is helping to convict.
      • Lieutenant Van Buren injured a mugger and killed his partner... who turned out to be a mentally retarded teenager. Her title is grounds for dysfunction as well, as it's discovered that the case that caused her to be promoted was based on evidence that a forensic scientist falsified. More recently, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer as a result of a STD that she received because her husband had been cheating on her.
      • Admittedly, most of L&O tends to focus on the cases, rather than the characters, but nearly any time part of a character's backstory is revealed, it's something really bad.
  • The Secret Life of the American Teenager
  • In ER, a lot of the patients are this and most of the doctors/nurses too.
    • Sam came from a family of alcoholics and druggies and she was pregnant at fifteen.
    • Abby's father left when she was very young and both her mother and brother have bipolar disease, which caused difficulties on Abby, as she had to raise her brother on her own.
    • Pratt's father left him and his mother when he was very young. Turns out his father tried to get back with them, but Pratt's mother kept blocking him out. Had a stepbrother mentally handicapped after receiving a gunshot to the head.
    • Lewis' parents are extremely hard to talk to and are never around. Her older sister has several problems with drugs, alcohol and men.
    • Carter is distant with his mother and she became colder towards him after the death of his brother. His grandfather is disappointed in Carter's career choice.
    • Corday has a strained relationship with her mother, who apparently didn't spend a lot of time with her.
    • Mark Greene has a strained relationship with his father, who he purposely tries to upset and does the opposite of what his father wants.
      • Like father, like daughter. This troper always found it sad (if not ironic) that Rachel would be to Mark what Mark was to his father.
    • Kovac saw his wife and children being murdered in Croatia
  • No one from Oz escapes this trope, not even the people who aren't prisoners.
  • Rescue Me is a show about some seriously flawed individuals.
  • Everyone in Mad Men. Or at least, all of the characters who are married.
  • The SRU team in Flashpoint has varying degrees of this.
    • Greg Parker was divorced from his wife because of his problems with alcoholism and hadn't seen his estranged son in years. And that's not mentioning how he survived a hard life under his strict father by learning to negotiate.
    • Ed Lane had been having problems with his relationship with his wife and son, being more attached to his job than them.
    • Sam Braddock revealed in "Acceptable Risk" that he saw his younger sister being hit by a car and killed instantly when he was nine years old.
    • Kevin "Wordy" Wordsmith appears to be the most normal of the team, Happily Married and loving to his three daughters.
  • Let's face it, every single character on Blake's 7 has SERIOUS issues. In the original crew alone, we have the delusional revolutionist, the violent smuggler, the guerilla soldier, the Deadpan Snarker who verges on psychopathic, the compulsive thief (who's also an alcoholic and a coward), the computer who is obviously hiding something from the crew, and the Gentle Giant who's only a Gentle Giant because he had a limiter put in his head to stop him from murdering anyone else. For bonus points, it's heavily implied that they ALL have tragic pasts. This crew is just one big happy family...
  • I Love Money a VH 1 reality game show starring contestants from Flavor of Love, I Love New York, Rock Of Love, Real Chance of Love, For the Love of Ray J, Daisy of Love and Megan Wants a Millionaire, who all immediately proceed to have sex with each other.
  • In Community's group, everyone's banged up emotionally, resulting in the Spanish study group being a substitute family for most of them. (Britta says as much early on)
    • Jeff is on the verge of disbarment, and estranged from his father. Also, in season 3 he's in therapy for (presumably) anxiety issues.
    • Britta's past involves having dropped out of high school, and small crimes like vandalism, not to mention an incident in her childhood when she was molested by a man in a dinosaur costume. Her use of recreational drugs has also been hinted at several times.
    • Shirley's divorced, and her genuine kindness and sweetness duel with some serious rage issues.
    • Abed's parents are divorced, and his relationship with his dad had suffered because of it. He also has an Ambiguous Disorder which on occasion impedes his ability to function normally.
    • Annie's past involves bad self-esteem, many many pills and her family disowning her.
    • Troy threw away a bright athletic career. He is also highly insecure about his level of intelligence.
    • Pierce has been divorced 7 times ... not the most social chap in the world. (Read: a lonely inept old man desperate to be taken seriously). He also develops an addiction to painkillers in season 2.
    "This is a show about broken people. All of them are quite alone, some involuntarily, some by their own hand, some without realizing it, but none of them come to the study room table with the emotional advantages held by that mythical creature known as ‘a normal person.’ There are no normal people, there are just different kinds of weird, all of it is human and all humanity is better than everything inhuman."
  • Leverage features this for most of the main characters:
    • Nate was an honest man before the insurance company he worked for as an investigator rejected the policy on his son's health coverage causing him to die. As a result of this, he becomes a functioning (most of the time) alcoholic who lives Just Like Robin Hood.
    • No one actually knows who Sophie really is, as she is a grifter who is constantly living in new identities.
    • As the only member of the team to have physically hurt people in the past, Eliot is The Atoner and was probably abused as a child.
    • Parker is the most broken of the main cast. She grew up in the foster care system without ever knowing her family, apart from her brother who died at a young age. After being caught for car theft when she was 12, she trained under the greatest thief in the world as a teenager who kept her away from his real family. To top it off, Word of God indicates that she also has Asperger Syndrome, meaning that she never really fits in in social situations. She also may have killed her last foster parents (the episode doesn't show if they were inside their house when she blew it up), but it's clear that the father in that household was abusive.
    • Hardison is the only member of the main cast that seems to be relatively normal as the Playful Hacker. Like Parker, he was raised in the foster system, but his "Nana" was good to him and he speaks fondly of her. Hardison lampshades the contrast between his upbringing and Parker's in one episode.
  • NCIS
    • Gibbs lost his wife and daughter in the early nineties and has had three divorces since. He and his father don't get along, and he avoids going home at all costs.
    • Tony lost his mother at a young age. His father has been married several times since, and up until season seven, they appear to have been estranged.
    • Ziva lost her younger sister as a teenager. Her father raised her to be an assassin, ordered her to kill her half-brother, left her to die in Somalia, and tried to pin a murder on her. Her boyfriend also turned out to be a terrorist.
    • McGee can't seem to sustain a relationship to save his life, but whether this is due to his relationship abilities or just the women he chooses is kind of up for grabs. They've also given him Daddy issues as of Season 9.
    • Abby discovers she's been adopted and her (dead) parents never told her. She, and the team in general, can't have functional out-of-work friendships or romantic relationships, and tends to seek a subsitute family in their coworkers. Congratulations, NCIS writers. You've officially given the field team, and now Abby too, issues with their parents.
    • After her father's suicide, Jenny Shepard had a decade-long obsession with the arms dealer she suspected of killing him.
  • The relaunch of Doctor Who often veers towards this. It was more overt during the tenure of the first producer, Russell T. Davies, but Steven Moffat has also made reference to it.
    • The Doctor is the sole surviving member of his race and so he has pretty obvious survivor guilt and a self-destructive streak when left to his own devices. Later on we find out that he was directly responsible for the death of his own people, for the greater good of the rest of the universe. "The Doctor's Wife" had him obsessively chasing down clues that suggested another Time Lord might have survived because he wants forgiveness. "Let's Kill Hitler" showed him activating a voice interface for the TARDIS so he could give it verbal commands and when it generated a hologram of himself as the interface he immediately changed it to "someone I like" instead. He also feels extreme amounts of guilt for the irrevocable way he changes the lives of his companions, and not always for the better.
    • The Doctor's companions often have less-than-ideal backgrounds too, and yet their time with the Doctor in many ways leaves them more screwed up than they were before they met him. It's hinted at in some of the Expanded Universe books but pretty much stated outright in the new series that this is because the Doctor turns people into "living weapons" who are unable to return to a quiet ordinary life after leaving him and are then primed to catalyse important events and fight crime, evil and injustice instead.
  • The entire cast of Weeds are constantly screwing themselves and each other over, typically in an attempt to escape the consequences of completely different problems, which they usually brought upon themselves in the first place.
  • The It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia gang is messed up to the point of absurdity, giving the show much of its hilarity.
  • My Name Is Earl: Every resident of Camden County
  • The Mentalist. Every single member of the team has a Dark and Troubled Past, and Jane is also, frankly, mentally unstable.
  • 30 Rock: Almost every NBC employee, but especially the cast and crew of TGS. Also Invoked when Jack is putting together a reality show for Tracy's wife, Angie.
  • The cast of Higher Ground, which is set in a therapeutic boarding school.
  • The press release for BBC's upcoming comedy series Blandings humorously described Blandings Castle with the trope name. If the original series by P. G. Wodehouse is anything to go by, it will be much, much more lighthearted in tone than the rest of the examples on this page. The general idea could still apply, though; Lord Emsworth is alarmingly forgetful and constantly in his own world, his son Freddie is very much The Unfavorite, his secretary Baxter is severely (though not unjustifiably) paranoid, and their butler is a hypochondriac. All of this is Played for Laughs.
  • Pick any of the CSI series, and you'll find this trope all over the place. I don't think there's a single character that hasn't had a whole string of bad things happen between their backstory and their time onscreen.
  • The Harpers of My Family are a pretty messed-up bunch. Ben is a seriously emotionally distant, snarky and abrasive parent; Susan is a Control Freak of the first order; Janey is a narcissistic and shallow Dumb Blonde; Michael is the Only Sane Man; and Nick is...Nick. Their relatives and friends tend to be equally messed up.
  • House of Anubis. Nina has no parents and her Gran was nearly killed by an evil ghost. Amber's father is cold and strict, Alfie's parents are overbearing, Jerome's mother doesn't care for him and his sister and his dad was in jail for theft, Eddie's father is one of the villains, Joy's father kidnapped her for reasons related to the mystery, Patricia's parents seem to favor her twin, Mick and Mara's parents are both rather pushy, KT is an orphan and her great-grand father is the big bad of season 3. And that's just the families.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street, anyone? All of the characters (with the exception of Ballard and Falsone, of course) are pretty damaged in their own right. Munch is a Stepford Snarker whose father committed suicide in his youth and can’t keep a marriage together. Pembleton’s either-or attitude, aloofness and lack of faith cause trouble in all of his relationships, including the one with his wife. Bayliss is traumatized from being sexually abused as a child, bungling his first homicide in which a little girl was killed and is looked at by his fellow detectives as too emotional for the job. Felton is an alcoholic and a suspected racist in a bad marriage and whose increasing incompetency eventually gets him fired.Bolander is world-weary, has a troubled marriage and is saddled with a partner he barely tolerates. Crosetti is mentally unstable and a compulsive gambler. Howard, in addition to originally being the only woman, cannot keep a man and is in love with her partner who’s too damaged for her own good. Russert struggles to raise her daughter as a widow and finds herself in a damaging relationship with the aforementioned Felton. Lewis was initially decent, but over time devolved into a narcissistic Jerk Ass. Kellerman was surrounded by too many bad influences in his professional and personal life and eventually became the dirty detective he was always paranoid about being seen as. Gee was and continues to be oppressed by racist jerkasses and corrupt bosses and has never gotten over his wife’s death, leading him to bitterness, which has affected his relationship with his children, especially his only son, Mike Giardello, who is pretty bitter himself and has an attiutude where he cannot see or take in anything good in his life, including becoming a father. Cox’s father was murdered and she’s surrounded by corrupt superiors who eventually drive her to quit her job. Gharty is a coward and a racist who very few people in the squad trust. Sheppard proved herself to be all looks and no skill by almost getting her partner killed through her own incomptency. Stivers is guilty by association through a cover-up which should have gotten her fired, but didn’t.
  • Just about every major character in the Scottish/Canadian kids' show Shoebox Zoo had this trope. The heroine was an angst-ridden eleven-year old who lost her mother to cancer and then had the fate of the world dumped on her shoulders, four living toys who suffer from A Fate Worse Than Death for 1100 years, Wolfgang hates his father for denying him his rightful heritage and then turning him into a toy for trying to save him from his own dark magic, Michael Scot's servant McTaggart was tortured and then made immortal as punishment for stealing his spellbook which Wolfgang also tried to dispose of, and the badguy Toledo is an Artificial Human made by Michael, abused, and turned evil to prove his worth.
  • Arrow:
    • Oliver: Witnessed his father kill himself, trapped on a hellish island for five years, forced to watch his mentor receive a fatal Boom, Headshot, had to throw away all his previous morals to survive, his island girlfriend and second mentor killed by Ivo For the Evulz, targeted by Slade after finding out he inadvertently caused Shado's death, then in present day, his girlfriend is [non-fatally] shot, he fails to stop the Undertaking, which kills Tommy, and then, Slade turns out to be Not Quite Dead.
    • Diggle: His sense of morality was shaken after fatally shooting a child soldier in Afghanistan, his brother was killed by Deadshot, he divorced Lyla after things went to crap, and his best friend from the military turns out to be evil.
    • Laurel: Sister is supposedly killed in a boat crash which she was only on because she was tapping Oliver, Oliver is revealed to be alive, but Sara isn't, she loses Tommy to the Undertaking, and she currently struggles with alcoholism and painkiller addiction.
    • Quentin: Daughter killed in boat crash, turned to alcoholism to cope, divorced his wife because of differences as a result of Sara's death, and he slowly drives away Laurel with his desire to catch Green Arrow.
    • Slade: Marooned on Lian Yu, betrayed by Billy Wintergreen, becomes his own antithesis thanks to Mirakuru, and has been on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Oliver for the past six years because of Shado's death.
    • Thea: Brother marooned on an island for five years, father dead, family torn apart by her mother's part in the Undertaking, and then she turns out to be the bastard child of Malcolm Merlyn.
    • Tommy: Mother killed, his father a psychopathic Visionary Villain, cut off from his family's fund, Did Not Get the Girl with Laurel, dies by the Undertaking.
  • The heroes of Scorpion are a group of brilliant but maladjusted geniuses with No Social Skills.

Anime and MangaDysfunction JunctionVideo Games

TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy