Replacement Flat Character

"I'm a teamster compared to you!"
Frasier (to the former Trope Namer, Niles), Frasier

When a character is known for one specific trait — like being nerdy, uptight, or an all-out antagonist — but evolves through Character Development to become far more well-rounded over time, the Replacement Flat Character is brought in to fill that void and emphasize how much the original character has grown. It's usually a plot point when the two characters cross paths for the first time; the original may see himself and wonder if he was that bad (the answer is often a resounding "YES!"). If enough time passes, the new character may develop in a different direction themselves in a sort of delayed Divergent Character Evolution, and another Replacement Flat Character might be brought in to contrast them. By this point however, the series will likely be close to ending, thus keeping this trope from continuing in perpetuity.

Compare Suspiciously Similar Substitute, where the original character leaves before being replaced by a similar one; Over and Under the Top, where two characters start out similar but are different in degree; and Cousin Oliver, when a new character is brought in to fill the role of the cute child once the previous one nears puberty.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics has Chery Blossom, who was introduced as a Ms. Fanservice-type, but also as a contrast to Veronica, who had undergone enough character development that there was some need for a new version of her. Cheryl is bitchier, richer and skankier than Veronica ever was. Veronica, although certainly being rich, bitchy, and seductive, was never outright skanky, but Cheryl clearly was.
  • Happened to Venom quite frequently:
    • Back in The '90s, after Eddie Brock was fleshed out into a Noble Demon, Marvel had him turn into an Anti-Hero for a while, and decided to fill his vacant villainy niche with a new character, Carnage, who essentially was like Venom except with none of the redeeming qualities and even more Axe-Crazy.
    • Both the second and third incarnations of Venom Angelo Fortuna and MacGargan were specifically portrayed as eviller than Brock for this reason.
    • Likewise, during the period where the Venom symbiote had bonded with Flash Thompson and become the heroic "Agent Venom" character, Marvel had Eddie Brock become the new Toxin to act as Thompson's enemy.

    Fan Fic 
  • In Marijuana Simpson Maggie replaces Lisa as the conscientious daughter, while Lisa focuses almost entirely on smoking pot.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Toy Story 2, Buzz was given one of these in the form of a newly unpackaged Buzz Lightyear toy. Like the first Buzz, he had no idea he was a toy. This only served to remind our Buzz how annoying and stuck up he acted right out of the box. "Tell me I wasn't this deluded..."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • After the conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back revealed that the seemingly irredeemable Darth Vader was actually a Tragic Villain who was corrupted by the Dark Side as a young man, Emperor Palpatine joined the cast of Return of the Jedi as the resident evil Sith Lord.
  • In The Santa Clause, the focus is on the relationship between the main character and his eight-year-old son, Charlie. In the sequels Charlie is a teenager, but don't worry, now he has a younger half-sister named Lucy to fit the "cute child" role.

  • In Warrior Cats, Darkstripe served as the Butt-Monkey until he died at the end of the first arc. When his spirit returned to seek vengeance along with the other villains in the fourth arc, Darkstripe had managed to grow stronger because of all the abuse he had suffered and he actually posed a credible threat. Because of this, another villain called Snowtuft was introduced to be the Butt-Monkey, and got pushed around and beaten up by the other characters in all but one of his appearances.
  • Minerva Paradiso in Artemis Fowl book five is a Child Prodigy attempting to capture a fairy — in this case not a police officer, but a demon. The similarities are all there between her and Artemis, down to the Greek and Roman God names. Word of God says that her book was actually a Dolled-Up Installment — he realized he was basically writing a book about Artemis and just decided to bring him back as the protagonist.
  • In the second book of The Pendragon Adventure, Spader, a new Traveler, spends the entire book on the same learning curve Bobby had in the first, letting Bobby show off his newfound confidence in comparison. His plot arc even follows some of the same points Bobby's did, down to Uncle Press dying for him the same way that Osa did for Bobby

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) became steadily more relaxed, funny, confident, modern and so on, so in time, Wesley (Alexis Denisof) was brought in to fill the role of wet, panicky, geeky, trapped in the past, obsessed with manners and decorum, uptight, and having no sense of humour. Interestingly, Wesley then underwent a similar transformation as he transitioned from Buffy to Angel, becoming a fully rounded character in time.
    • Similarly, Anya became this for Cordelia, who probably underwent the most amount of character development in the entire Buffyverse. Though in this case, most of Cordelia's character development occurred on Angel, so it was really a matter of her leaving the show and having Anya to fill in that place.
    • Andrew Wells was this to the Xander Harris of old.
    • Word of God states that Harmony was intended as "Cordelia without the life lessons", though Harmony wasn't technically a replacement for Cordelia until season 5 of Angel.
  • In the Stargate-verse:
    • Archeologist Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) becomes steadily more physical and cool as Stargate SG-1 goes on (and the writers run out of allergy and geek jokes). During the episode "Meridian", he is rendered unavailable/thought to be dead and is temporarily replaced by an anthropologist, Jonas Quinn who is essentially the big geek Daniel used to be, and remains an ongoing (intermittent) figure of fun.
    • In one episode Robert Rothman was a geekier archeologist when Daniel was temporarily unavailable.
    • Dr. McKay starts out as a recurring SG-1 character who shows up whenever there's a need for a scientist to jerkily disagree with the main characters. On Stargate Atlantis, he is one of the main characters, so he gets some character development and Dr. Kavanagh is introduced to take over the "recurring jerk scientist" role.
  • Sawyer on Lost started out a Jerk Ass and developed into a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. In season 4, he exhibits little (if any) jerky behavior at all, but then Miles was introduced and became the replacement jerk. This is lampshaded even before it becomes blatant:
    Miles: Where the hell did they go, tubby?
    Hurley: Oh, awesome, the ship sent us another Sawyer.
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show: When Mary's friend Rhoda got her own spinoff, she brought along her younger sister Brenda to take on the "less cool friend" role.
  • In Red Dwarf, Rimmer ends up being his own Replacement Flat Character, so to speak: in the TV series, the "original" Rimmer gradually becomes more fleshed out and — if not likeable — understandable. He even shows the occasional moment of bravery, before leaving in series VII to become "the next Ace Rimmer". Then in series VIII he's resurrected by nanobots as his old, pre-hologram self, and is back to being "you as you used to be" as a disgusted Lister puts it.
    • Meanwhile in the book (and less strongly in the episode "Me^2", the contrast is made between Rimmer and the copy of him that hasn't been "mellowed out" by Lister and co.
  • After the eponymous star of Chuck grew into a confident, competent and somewhat superpowered spy, his even-geekier best friend Morgan (who had been in the show since the beginning) was brought into the spy team, allowing him to be the same fish-out-of-water adventurer that Chuck used to be.
  • Frasier was introduced in Cheers as an uptight, prissy intellectual who was usually the butt of jokes. Over time, he developed and even had his days in the limelight; for example, the episode "Love Is a Lonely Snipe-Hunter"). Once he was given his own show, Frasier, and became the central character, he had to become more complex and well-rounded, and his prissyness and bluster were slightly toned down (though still a frequent subject of jokes at his expense). Cue the appearance of his brother Niles, who was everything Frasier used to be and more — geeky, neurotic, and the butt of (almost) every joke. David Hyde Pierce even described Niles as "what Frasier would be if he had never gone to Boston and never been exposed to the people at Cheers."
  • Part of Sidekick Sergeant Lewis' role in Inspector Morse was being more lighthearted than the title character. When he starred in the spinoff Lewis, he took on a more serious stance and was balanced by his own more optimistic sidekick in Sergeant Hathaway.
  • Friends: The originally spoiled, selfish Rachel undergoes character development to become more complex and likeable. In two separate episodes, we meet her two sisters who are still the spoiled, selfish people Rachel used to be. It's revealed that Rachel is the only daughter their father is proud of, precisely because of her development.
  • Glee often had to bring in new bully characters once the previous ones became too complex:
    • For the boys, Puck was the original Jerk Jock. After he joined the Glee Club, Karofsky and Azimio stepped in to fill the bully roles. When Karofsky underwent his own multi-season story arc surrounding his gayngst and Azimio was unceremoniously Demoted to Extra, Rick "The Stick" Nelson was brought in and basically served as a contrast to how far Puck and Karofsky had developed. And even he became less malicious over time and came to support the Glee Club at the end of season 3.
    • For the girls, the Unholy Trinity of Quinn, Santana, and Brittany started off as Alpha Bitches, but all three went through massive amounts of character development and were replaced by Kitty when they (well, Quinn and Santana) graduated. Kitty herself underwent a Heel–Face Turn by the end of season four, and her former role was filled by Bree in season five.
  • Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Recreation. Since the first season, Tom's character has deepened and he's been shown as sometimes being good at his government job, and very serious about Rent-a-Swag. So it's been important to hold onto Jean-Ralphio as the lazy, image-obsessed screwup.
  • In Empire, right after Lucious comes to accept Jamal's homosexuality and names him as heir to Empire Records, homophobic rapper Black Rambo makes a scene at the press conference and refuses to work for a "batty boy." It seemed his only purpose was to show how much Lucious had developed, though at the very least, it's Jamal who socially destroys him in a rap battle.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Peanuts: Before becoming the blanket-hugging, gospel-quoting weirdo we all know and love, Linus started out as a baby learning to cope with the world. Rerun was introduced to tell those sort of stories again; however Charles Schulz didn't actually embrace the character until well into the last decade of the strip.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • In Homestar Runner, Strong Sad has become much more strong and confident, losing a lot of his Wangst and occasionally getting his own back on Strong Bad. Therefore Coach Z and the King of Town have filled in as "pathetic losers" in his place.

  • A variation on this happens in Narbonic with the protagonist, Dave, a computer geek employed by a Mad Scientist. Dave's early characterization revolved around his extreme geekiness and his Fish out of Water status; as the years went by, however, his personality became more rounded and he got more and more at ease around mad science. Towards the and of the comic, Helen creates a Dave clone who lacks the last few years of memories; everybody else is shocked at how boring Dave used to be. It is telling that when the "real" Dave who just became a mad scientist himself meets his clone, he kills him without the least hesitation.
  • Minor example in Something*Positive: Mike originally represented all the worst aspects of a geek, like being whiny, misogynistic and annoying, but underwent a lot of character development over the years. In the 2016 and 2017 "Old Familiar Faces" weeks, the comic brought back a very minor character named Bloodthorn who acted the same way; the Alt Text even quipped that he's "doing [an] early Mike impression."

    Web Original 
  • Gap: Tom was originally somewhat uptight and nerdy, but eventually became the relaxed character of today, and had his role filled by David.
  • In the early SuperMarioLogan videos, Chef Pee Pee was a dimwitted chef who loved working for Bowser, but as the series went on, especially with the introduction of Bowser's son, Junior, Chef Pee Pee became smarter and grew to hate Bowser and Junior for treating him badly. Chef Poo Poo, a clone of Chef Pee Pee introduced in "Chef Pee Pee's Clone" is extremely dumb and loves to play with Junior.

    Western Animation 
  • On Futurama, Fry's ex-girlfriend Michelle wound up freezing herself after Fry himself was accidentally frozen and woke up in the year 3000, but unlike Fry, who adjusted to the future surprisingly well, she had a lot of trouble with it and eventually hooked up with an also recently-thawed Pauly Shore. Word of God says that one reason they did this episode was because they realized that the original concept of Fry being a Fish out of Temporal Water not only hadn't really worked out but if anything he functions better in the future than in the 20th century.
  • In Thomas the Tank Engine, Philip the Diesel Boxcab's naive and childish (and somewhat cheeky) attitude very much replicates how Thomas and Percy were initially, who by now act as Cool Big Bros to Philip.
  • In South Park, Butters was originally the Butt-Monkey whom the other boys would abuse or manipulate for their own benefit. This continued even after Butters became their friend and an Ascended Extra, but it wouldn't have made sense to use him in this role for "Elementary School Musical," so Scott Malkinson was created instead. Scott is now used whenever we need a character even less cool than Butters.

Alternative Title(s): The Niles