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Cousin Oliver

"Do? What does he do? Why, he's adorable! And people will love it!"
Dr. Forrester, MST3K

Meet the red-headed stepchild.

Cousin Oliver is that inexplicable kid added to the show's roster, usually in an attempt to liven up an aging cast with a character the younger demographics can (supposedly) relate to. However, such a character is likely to upset the dynamic of the show. And since their only character trait is to be cute and innocently wisecracking, it's far too easy for them to become overbearing and annoying to viewers, especially the ones who have followed the series for a while, making Cousin Olivers very susceptible to becoming The Scrappy (or worse).

Sometimes they're introduced at the end of a character's season-long pregnancy arc. Once the new baby hijinks are up, they are then afflicted with Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. This doesn't always make it better. Compare it to Kid-Appeal Character, who is generally there from the beginning. If the addition is a literal cousin, also Nephewism.

Often a form of Jumping the Shark.

If there's actually an in-series point to the character, compare Cain and Abel and Seth.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Subverted in Digimon Adventure. Despite Kari appearing much later than the other Digidestined there was already a younger child on the team with T.K. Digimon is good at avoiding this. The child character in a show about teens or young adults is often bound straight for Scrappydom from the word go, but the Digimon kids usually escape it.
  • To Love-Ru has Celine: Rito's giant carnivorous plant that apparently turns into a humanoid toddler as part of her life cycle. Thankfully, she doesn't throw off the cast dynamic much, as her presence is generally limited to wreaking havoc.

    Comic Books 
  • Danny Chase in the comic book version of Teen Titans. He was even designed to look like Cousin Oliver. Combine this with abrasive personality, lack of codename, costume, or original powers and he quickly became a Creator's Pet, as well. In other words, Danny Chase is to the Teen Titans what Zan, Jayna, Wendy and Marvin are to the Super Friends Justice League. At least they tried to be heroes; Chase tried to be holier-than-thou.
  • Damian Wayne in the Batman Comics, made Robin at age 10, just as Tim Drake was growing out of the tights. Lampshaded in Red Robin #14, where the oldest and youngest of the first three Robins refer to each other as Marcia and Cindy, and lock Damian out of a file with the password "cousinoliver".
  • Chris Kent when he was introduced in Superman's Comics. It didn't help that Kon-El had been killed off recently. Following the trope to the letter, he eventually caught a case of Plot-Relevant Age-Up.
  • Subverted with Kid-Loki who is just the normal Loki reincarnated as his kid self (with only his childhood memories and powers). He has avoided being The Scrappy by being just so much fun to read about (getting the best lines in any current Thor comic), and because he is perfectly aware that he's doing things most kids shouldn't do (but, being Loki, doesn't care because he wants to save Thor's life from The Serpent. D'awww). Plus he somehow gets the two best parts of being a Kid Hero- he has the youthful idealism (as much as anyone is is idealistic in Marvel, anyways), and the maturity to still actually get things done. He might be the best-liked Cousin Oliver ever for that.

     Fanfic 
  • A Cousin Oliver is common way of introducing a Mary Sue as a cousin, brother, nephew, even child a character never had.
  • There's something of a common appearance of 'the son he should have had'- a well-loved character dies with no possibility of leaving children (without being wildly out of character) and an unrelated couple remaining produce a child who turns out astonishingly like him (usually Dead Guy Junior), and sometimes end up using the above description.
  • In-Universe in The Calvin, Hobbes, and Paine Show — Paine, Calvin's baby daughter, came not long after the titular Show Within a Show got a retool post-Watterson.

    Film 
  • The addition of Howard Phillips (Jason Barry) to the third film in the Re-Animator series, replacing the lead character of the last two films, Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). Though not a kid, Phillips is significantly younger; producer/director Brian Yuzna admitted freely that Phillips' addition was due to Yuzna's desire not to make a film about "two middle-aged guys".
  • The generally unwanted followup to The Blues Brothers had many, many, many faults, and the fact that the new pseudo-Blues pseudo-Brothers band received a brand new member certainly did not alleviate the situation.
  • In 1993, audiences of RoboCop 3 were treated to the exciting revelation that, look, Robocop now has a little friend! She's nothing like RoboCop 2's murderous psychopath Hob, and, in fact, she is even a skilled hacker!
  • Fred Kelman from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie, who got nearly the same amount of screentime as the Rangers themselves, despite doing next to nothing and being all around useless until the very end of the movie.
  • Domesticating Nick and Nora Charles in sequels to The Thin Man by giving them a kid didn't work very well with the witty, urbane, martini-swilling vibe that made the series popular. In The Thin Man Goes Home, movie #5 in the series, Nick Jr. is not included when Nick and Nora go to visit Nick's parents. (Supposedly he's away at school.)

    Live Action TV 
  • The Trope Namer was added to The Brady Bunch toward the end and was the last gasp of the show. He's also cited as the definitive proof of the franchise having jumped the shark.
  • Robbie Rist (who played the original Cousin Oliver) became a Cousin Oliver again a couple of years later when he was Ted Baxter's adopted son in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
  • Parodied on Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Dawn. Buffy comes home at the end of an episode and suddenly has a little sister, when up to before she'd always been explicitly an only child. Everyone, including Buffy herself, acts like she'd had a sister all along, and no one notices anything strange - except crazy people. An episode passes like this. Then another. And another. Luckily, we soon learn that Dawn is there because of a magic spell which altered everyone's memories (including hers) and that she's actually a Cosmic Keystone in human form. A year later, Connor showed up on Angel.
  • The Cosby Show:
    • Cousin Pam, despite being much older than the examples listed here, she essentially served the same purpose for when the older kids were gradually moving out.
    • Denise gets married off-screen and comes back with a stepdaughter named Olivia right around the time that Rudy starts going through puberty. Is it possible this was a direct nod to Oliver? Olivia/Oliver?
  • Eight Is Enough had Cousin Jeremy (Ralph Macchio, who went on to become The Karate Kid).
  • The Facts of Life:
    • Kelly, the teen shoplifter, who was added after the girls moved out of the dorms. Thankfully her addition was short-lived.
    • There was also Pippa, the Australian foreign exchange student, added for what turned out to be the last season.
  • In Family Matters the Winslows adopted 3J, a streetwise little orphan. Since there already was a kid in the show, little Richie, they merged into a single split-personality Cousin Oliver ("Maybe we shouldn't do this." "Oh, come on, it'll be fun!").
  • Joey Lawrence for Gimme a Break!. The Lawrence kids made a cottage industry of being a Cousin Oliver.
  • Penny from Good Times. Introduced to give Willona someone to care for, since the Evans kids weren't really kids anymore.
  • Growing Pains had two: Chrissy, the youngest Seaver daughter, and then later Leonardo Dicaprio's homeless-kid character.
  • Little House on the Prairie:
    • The final seasons featured a hilarious number of random "adorable" orphans shoehorned into the Little House after the original kids left home. Albert (adopted off the streets of the Big City), James and his sister Cassandra (parents killed in a wagon crash), Jenny (left on Laura's doorstep by her dying brother-in-law), etc. This is despite the show already having two younger Ingalls sisters in Carrie and Grace. Oddly enough, as more than one fan has remarked in alarm, Pa Ingalls never did build an addition onto his two-room shanty.
    • The Olesons' adoption of street urchin Nancy, who just happens to look and act a lot like Nellie. This is a mild subversion, in that Nancy is added to be the Alpha Bitch as opposed to a beacon of cuteness. Even more interesting, this is an invoked example—Harriett Oleson deliberately adopted the brattiest, most misbehaved child in the local orphanage to replace Nellie.
    • Incidentally, Jenny, introduced a year after Nancy, may have been made the age she was in order to have a little girl around Nancy's age to butt heads with.
  • Married... with Children had Seven, who started as a Cousin Oliver (since both "children" were college-aged). The character proved so unpopular with viewers that after one season he became a Brother Chuck when he was removed with absolutely no explanation (though he had his Face on a Milk Carton for Lampshade Hanging effect). The main issue with Seven was less to do with the fact he was supposed to be cute, and more to do with how Married with Children relied on very sadistic jokes which just seemed creepy when directed towards a child.
  • MST3K sharply parodied the Trope with "Timmy Bobby Rusty", a lisping kid whom Dr. Forrester employed to help boost the show's sagging ratings. He lasted exactly one segment.
  • In My Three Sons they formally adopted Chip's orphan friend Ernie. Justified, sort of, by the need to maintain the accuracy of the show's title after Mike was chucked from the show. But then the show lasted so long that Ernie eventually became a teen and the producers decided to add step-sister Dodie.
  • Justin on Power Rangers Turbo for a lot of fans. The hate has depleted somewhat due to his actor being a pretty cool guy and interacting with fans.
  • Gosei Sentai Dairanger with Ko fits, except he is a bit of a pervert and relies on his Empathic Weapon to help him out. In all fairness, Cousin Olivers were not uncommon in the original series and were arguably a useful proxy for the younger fans.
  • The diner in the Supernatural episode "Jump the Shark" is called Cousin Oliver's... and the plot is about a possible younger brother turning up. Subverted though, when it turns out that the character in question (Adam) was actually their half-brother, emphasis on "was" because he was already dead before the start of the episode. In season 5, the angels bring Adam back for a few episodes, in which he was actually useful to the plot. For one of these episodes, Sam, Dean and Bobby play at the idea that he's family and act like they value him at least as much as (say) a close friend like Cas. Then they promptly forget about him. By the time season seven rolls around, nobody cares in the slightest that he's spent years being horrifically tortured by Lucifer and Michael (when given the chance to save him in season 6, Dean chooses Sam over him). Ultimately, this trope is subverted by laziness.
  • The Porters' foster child Declan in the last series of 2point4 Children. He also served as a Suspiciously Similar Substitute for the departing Jenny.
  • Played with in The X-Files in which one episode had a man who assumed this identity because he associated with the original Cousin Oliver. A person who is unloved.
  • Somewhat lampshaded in My Name Is Earl, when Earl has a dream that he is happily married, and he remembers when "all our kids stopped being cute and Cousin Wendel came to live with us."
  • Oliver replaced Jeff in Coupling. Considering how the Trope Namer is Cousin Oliver, it could be done as a parody. However, in one episodes after season 3, Jeff is actually removed from a clip of a dinner party.
  • April on Gilmore Girls. Even more annoying in that she is a science-and-math-oriented version of Rory in response to viewer complaints that they missed the younger Rory. Rory had great taste in music which kept her from being a total spaz, April was all nerd with very few (if any) redeemable traits. She caused a major tension in Lorelai and Luke's relationship.
  • Done in The Donna Reed Show when the family adopts a homeless child after their eldest daughter leaves for college.
  • In Blossom, when Carol moves in with Nick, we're introduced to her little daughter Kennedy. Blossom and her brothers had a good relationship with her, but fans of the show didn't.
  • Jamal's younger cousin Casey on Ghostwriter.
  • Gloria on Touched by an Angel. The Valerie Bertinelli character.
  • Little Nicky in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, though he's a bit of a subversion since he managed to avoid becoming the show's scrappy. Partly because his friendship with Will was amusing and he was not a spotlight stealer.
  • Ricky, the kid next door who liked to sing with The Partridge Family (often seen as a Dueling Show to The Brady Bunch).
  • Arthur McArthur, also known as "the little fat kid", from Hey Dad..!.
  • Billie Jenkins was an extra witch added onto Charmed who came out of nowhere and became like a sister to the Halliwells.
  • Guppy in iCarly, although another example of Tropes Are Not Bad, plus averts elements of the trope in that the series is not on its last legs by any means at the time of Guppy's introduction, the addition of Guppy was necessary to replace elements of older brother Gibby's character as Gibby matured, and Guppy has proven to be just as popular as Gibby. He wasn't shoved down our throats like some of the other aforementioned examples of this trope, having been in only five episodes. However, they were all in the same year and that could be proof that the writers stopped before he got a chance to become a scrappy.
  • Nicky and Alex in Full House.
  • Dale from Law & Order: SVU. Subverted in his final appearance in which he turns out to be a psychotic killer pushed to breaking point by a season of being treated like a screw up and a kid. Though in their defense, he was a screw up and a Man Child.
  • Sky, a late addition to the cast of The Sarah Jane Adventures, who appeared in the final three stories of the series as a regular before it was cancelled due to the death of its lead actress. Played straight and Sky is not necessarily a Cousin Oliver in the case of being an annoying addition, but she does qualify as far as being a young character added to a well-established cast that was growing older than their target demographic.
  • On Degrassi, Snake's never-before-mentioned godson, Connor, comes to live with him conveniently right after his daughter goes away to college.
  • Adric in Doctor Who, although elements of the trope are averted in that the character was simply one of a long line of transient companions, and the series itself continued for a number of years afterwards. Plus Adric's final episode was one of the most dramatic send offs for a character in the history of the series. He is definitely the series' number one Scrappy, but it was due to his holier-than-thou attitude and not his age... and his death changed a few minds about his Scrappydom.
  • Rose from Downton Abbey is a little older than the trope usually implies, but otherwise fits. Introduced out of nowhere in the final episode of series 3, she ends up being a Bratty Teenage Daughter who runs away from her chaperones, takes up with a married man, throws a tantrum when she gets caught, and generally makes a complete nuisance of herself. Perhaps meant to be the embodiment of The Roaring Twenties, she instead went down like a cup of cold tea (as the Dowager Countess might say).
  • For ER's fifth season, new medical student Lucy Knight joined the hospital staff, cast in the same Nave Newcomer role that Carter had filled when the show premiered. Although her appearance didn't tank the show, she's still a very good example of this trope in that her appearance coincided with the show's first critically weak season and her failure to catch on led to her being killed off a mere year and a half into her tenure. ER made frequent use of this trope, given it's long running status, frequently bringing in new medical students/interns — Gallant, Neela, etc., as others advanced academically and graduated. Even its final episode was the first day for a new doctor.
  • Ally McBeal: Ally's biological daughter appeared out of nowhere in season 5. You ask how a single female lawyer got herself an eleven-year-old kid? Why, from her donated ova.
  • Remington Steele introduced a rare adult version in the final season in the form of Jack Scalia, who joined the series at the 11th hour as an Indiana Jones-esque adventurer who becomes a romantic rival for Laura's affections. Although on the surface he doesn't seem to meet the criteria, the character had much of the same impact in terms of alienating the audience who were already upset that series star Pierce Brosnan had lost out on playing James Bond thanks to NBC unexpectedly renewing the series for a short six-episode season, adding insult to injury by adding the Scalia character.
  • Step by Step pulled a triple whammy. First they commit the act of Chuck Cunningham Syndrome with the disappearance of Brendan Lambert, followed by pulling a Cousin Oliver with the introduction of baby Lilly. They then Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome baby Lilly to age 5 in the sixth season.

    Video Games 
  • Robots don't age, but Capcom added the rookie Axl, who acted all of 13 to the cast of Mega Man X 7 to contrast with veterans X and Zero.
  • Joey MacAdoo, Samantha Pearce, and Arthur Chen in the Backyard Sports series, replacing the much more mature Jocinda Smith, Sally Dobbs, Kenny Kawaguchi, and Billy Jean Blackwood. Joey is easily becoming a Creator's Pet now.

    Web Comics 
  • Every once in a while an example comes along that defies the precedent, that's exactly what happened in Coming Up Violet. As many readers know, the primary schick with Fur Will Fly was that Brad was the only human living a world filled with furries. (Well, at least until Brad sets a whole mess of pandimensional aliens [like himself] free from a detention facility, but that's neither here nor there.) The comic's sequel changes this dynamic by introducing Dawn, a young — incredibly normal — teenaged girl to the mix. However, rather then being resigned to the Scrappy Heap, the fans love her and she adds quite a bit of character to the cast — indeed, being an even bigger Fish out of Water than Brad ever was. (May overlap with the Suspiciously Similar Substitute.)

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Scrappy-Doo, from Scooby-Doo .
    • Parodied in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, where when Daphne noticed his statue, Fred was quick to cut her off and mention that they promised that they would never speak about the incident ever again.
    • There's also Flim-Flam, the ethnic kid from The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, though it's possible he may have been added as some sort of company bet to see if they could actually create something more obnoxious than Scrappy Doo.
    • As well as Scooby-Dum, who made appearances in The Scooby-Doo Show and The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour.
  • The Simpsons:
    • They spoofed the idea by adding a teen named Roy for only one episode ("The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show"). This was based on a real suggestion given to the writers by an executive who wanted to add a new kid who had "the genius of Lisa but the attitude of Bart." Marge even lampshaded the aspect of adding a character for no reason to a show just before greeting Roy for the first time.
    • Poochie himself was a Cousin Oliver to Itchy and Scratchy. Created indifferently, hated and abruptly removed ("I have to go. My planet needs me.") followed by a notice that he died on the way home.
  • Sharko, from the final season of Sealab 2021, is a spoof of this character type.
  • Lola Bunny, although not a kid, was shoehorned into the Looney Tunes lineage the same way a Cousin Oliver often is. Even to the point of her being a baby in Baby Looney Tunes... even though the gang didn't know her in Space Jam.
  • Spoofed in Drawn Together with Strawberry Sweetcake.
  • Spoofed in the Pinky and the Brain episode "Pinky and the Brain and Larry" before Executive Meddling retooled the show into Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain.
  • The animated version of Godzilla (not that one) added a baby called "Godzooky".
  • Hana in Season 4 of Kim Possible. Fortunately, she played an extremely small role (when she even appeared) outside of two episodes, so her existence did not significantly impact the tone of the show.
  • The Critic parodied this Trope when Duke Phillips attempted to add a cute kid with an endearing speech impediment to Jay Sherman's show to try to boost his ratings.
    Jay: Well I find you "wepulsive" and "wepugnant"!
    Kid: (suddenly normal-voiced) Hey, that speech impediment shtick is copyrighted. You'll be hearing from my lawyers! (cute voiced) I mean, wawyers.
  • Parodied / referenced in Batman: The Animated Series, where "Little Cousin Spunky", the new child star added for the last season of Baby Doll's sitcom was also designed to resemble Cousin Oliver. (They even had Robbie Rist voicing him.) Also subverted in this episode — Robin watches the entire series trying to find clues; Spunky turns out to be the only enjoyable thing in the show... well, the only thing Robin liked.
  • Dil, and later Kimi, in Rugrats. Kimi got it even worse than Dil did, since most fans regarded the seasons after the second movie as the worst in quality by dumbing down the babies (even though they were already dumbed down after the hiatus return in 1997). Both of these characters were Cousin Olivers when the show was on, but now many fans accept the characters & like them equally as other characters.
  • Poof, Cosmo and Wanda's son on The Fairly Oddparents. Done again in season 9 (2013), with the addition of a fairy dog named "Sparky".
  • This trope can be a variation on having a Kid Sidekick and is very prone to happen when a live-action series is turned into an animated one; this is usually done for Saturday morning TV or the local equivalent, so the thinking is that kids want to watch other kids involved with the heroes. A classic example is Emergency +4, in which the paramedics and fire-fighters from the show Emergency! were saddled with a bunch of 4 kids who got to chase the grown-ups around in a van labelled "+4". The network that commissioned the Star Trek animated series was reported to want to introduce a similar bunch of young "cadets" on the Enterprise. Thank Finagle Roddenberry said no... at least until TNG and the Creator's Pet Wesley.
  • In the season 2 episodes of Action League Now (actually KaBlam!'s second season), the creators added in Quarky, a doll who was said to be Bill the Lab Guy's daughter. However, fans found her quite annoying (the creators answered this by taking her out during season 3).
  • Spike Witwicky and Carly were teenagers in the first two seasons of The Transformers. Then, in the movie taking place 20 years later, we're introduced to their young son Daniel.
    • Every Transformers series {With the exception of Beast Wars and Beast Machines.} has kids who tag along with the 'bots just because network people don't think like humans and believe kids would truly rather see some kid try to impress some girl with racing than Autobots vs. Megatron and his robo-zombie horde. Daniel is generally considered the worst (with Kicker from Transformers Energon a close runner-up) and Sari from Transformers Animated was actually liked. The Transformers Armada kids and the Bayformers kids are considered mostly harmless if not for the screentime-hogging. The current batch... we'll see. However, it quickly became clear that Miko's being a Running Gag of "Everything's going fine for the Autobots, but oh no! Miko's snuck along and we have to go save her again!" moments are something the creators are having a lot more fun with than the audience. Over the first season, though, her doing this diminished from "thrice per episodes" to "once every few episodes." In general, though, Transformers fans are Just Here for Godzilla, so every TF human begins life in Scrappy status and must pull himself/herself out.
  • Nibbles the grey mouse from Tom and Jerry is essentially this, though he doesn't seem to be widely hated for it. The fact that he only shows up in the occasional short may help.
  • Sam & Max: Freelance Police added a Gadgeteer Genius character, who was also a little girl, due to Executive Meddling insisting that they added a recurring female character to the show. Steve Purcell liked her, but wanted her kept out of the series as much as possible due to fear of her messing up the dynamic between the two main characters, so while the fandom's feelings towards her are mixed, she's generally considered not to harm the show too much.
  • Corporal Capeman from Inspector Gadget. He added nothing to the series when he was added and his chemistry with the others is zilch.
  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Bat-Mite calls the trope by name when summoning Ace the Bat Hound during his attempt to make the show jump the shark and get cancelled in favor of something Darker and Edgier. Ambush Bug tells him that Ace is an accepted part of the mythos - only for Bat-Mite to explain he was talking about Ace's new sidekick, who is Scrappy Doo in a mask.
    Ambush Bug: You fiend!
  • Bat-Mite himself in The New Adventures of Batman, to the extent that he wrecks the series by spoiling the Batman/Robin dynamic and taking screen time away from the more worthy third wheel, Batgirl. Batman and Robin view his as The Scrappy in universe.
  • In the kid's show Super Why!, Whyatt's puppy is added as a new character. He's tacked on hastily to every scene, has no discernible personality, and doesn't seem to have a point in the series. Is he meant to appeal to that valuable dog demographic? Or does he prepare pre-k kids to love Jar-Jar?
  • Referenced in the Family Guy episode "Emission Impossible", when Stewie fears that a potential new baby means he will be replaced, which results in a Brady Bunch-themed Cutaway Gag where Oliver amuses the family while Bobby is forced to stay in the garage.
  • Spildit of The Dreamstone qualifies to some degree. She has most of the traits, younger, mischievous and rather obnoxious. She avoids disturbing the dynamic too much by only making the occasional appearance however, and gains at least some positive cred for being about the only character to Throw the Dog a Bone for Sgt Blob and his men.
  • The fifth season of Doug (And first season of the Disney incarnation) introduced Doug's new baby sister, Cleopatra "Dirtbike" Funnie, who was born in the second Christmas Episode. Unlike most examples, only a few episodes revolved around her.

Convenient Replacement CharacterCharacters and CastingCross-Dressing Voices
Continuity PornSturgeon's TropesCrosses the Line Twice
Constantly CuriousYoungstersCreepy Child
Creator's PetScrappy IndexCultural Posturing
CourierCharacters as DeviceCowardly Lion

alternative title(s): Cousin Oliver Syndrome
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