"You're the only man alive that can handle this mission, Kremmen."
— The introduction to every Captain Kremmen radio episode.
There's a crisis, and our beloved protagonists are the only people who can handle the problem.
Unfortunately, this is because all the other people who could take care of it are woefully incompetent.
If the series is about a local police force, the FBI are ivory-tower glory hounds. If the series is about an FBI agent, the local police are all uselessCorrupt Hick types. If the series is about the military, government higher-ups will only be interested in pleasing the voters. If the series is about the government or an anti-military type, then the military will be The Evil Army commanded by a General Ripper type who is just itching to Nuke 'em back to the stone age, never mind the asking questions part. If the series is about a rogue hero, all levels of government and law enforcement, plus the military, are either corrupt or clueless, with the possible exception of a Reasonable Authority Figure who will still be be unable to help because of mountains of red tape. And everyone else will just think that it isn't for them to deal with. In those cases where the people who are supposed to be handling the situation are not also bad guys, you can end up with a Red Shirt Army.
Sometimes this is actually warranted by the show's premise, notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dark Angel, Stargate SG-1... okay, any show featuring The Chosen One.
A variation that often occurs, particularly in shows or movies where there is a Race Against the Clock situation, is that those who are responsible for taking care of a particular situation (such as the bomb squad) will, for some reason, not be able to make it in time to resolve the problem that the protagonists are facing. In this scenario, the experts may be fully competent and on the side of the angels, but are prevented for some reason from taking care of the problem themselves, meaning that the untrained protagonists are forced to be the only ones who can take care of the problem. This often works to increasing tension; will the non-expert cut the right wire?
Compare the subtropes One Riot, One Ranger, where it is justified by a specific decision on the part of the authorities, and It's Up to You. Compare I Work Alone, where the hero chooses this voluntarily. Also compare The Main Characters Do Everything, where extras aren't shown to be competent nor incompetent, they just never get to do anything. Also also compare The One Guy with a Brain, where only one guy seems to be competent despite being surrounded by much more qualified experts on the subject. Contrast Hero of Another Story. See also Evil Only Has to Win Once, because inevitably the stakes are cataclysmic.
The anime adaptation of Valkyria Chronicles. The main characters amount to a single squad of civilian draftee militia. Much like in the game, the country's actual professional army is presented as a bunch of tactically incompetent blowhards who want to hog all the glory and use the Uriah Gambit on the protagonists. They never amount to anything useful and get blown to bits by the enemy.
At one point things got so bad for the Green Lantern Corps that the last Guardian teleported to Earth and threw a ring at a random person. Eventually they got better.
This happens to the Corps every so often. When Hal Jordan was still a rookie, the villain Legion had defeated the entire corps with its gigantic yellow suit of armor, but Hal figures out that if he covers Legion in mud, his ring will work on him. When cracking the armor open turns out not to have been the best idea, Hal flies into the central power battery and supercharges his ring, giving him the strength to defeat the villain on his own.
After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the GLC is reduced to the three Lanterns of Earth and a small handful of others spread around the universe. When the sole remaining Guardian is driven mad by solitude, it's pretty much up to Hal to save the day again.
Nova Corps: After a devastating interstellar war, the superpowers of a million-man-strong force were co-opted into one super suit, leading to several Heroic RROD situations.
In First Flight Sinestro has destroyed Green Lantern battery, all of the remaining Green Lanterns are left powerless. Only Hal was able to get green elements power working again and fight Sinestro one on one.
Rogue Trooper is the last living Genetic Infantryman, if you don't count his biochip buddies.
This is the very heart and core of the Super Hero concept - that only The Big Damn Hero can Save The Day. In fact, once Lois Lane asked her husband "Why does it have to be you?"; he replied, "Because no one else can."
Admittedly, the sheer number of superheroes existing in comics can counteract this at times.
Double Subverted in Bait and Switch (STO), where the USS Bajor is explicitly not the only ship available to respond to the distress signal from Dreon VII. Instead, Eleya's ship is just fifteen minutes closer than the Jadzia Dax and Amaterasu.
In the first movie, the FBI agents blindly follow their standard anti-terrorist procedure, which allows the criminals to break into the vault. They also decide to launch an attack on the terrorists on top of the building, even though they expect 20-25% of the hostages to be killed. The Los Angeles deputy police chief is totally incompetent, and the SWAT team leader (a) has his team foolishly charge in and get slaughtered and (b) sends in an armored car which the criminals blow up with a missile.
In Die Hard 2, the terrorists are renegade U.S. troops, the military troops sent to take out the terrorists are in cahoots with them, and for most of the movie the airport security guards actively oppose McClane's heroic efforts.
McClane: Because there's nobody else to do it right now, that's why. Believe me, if there were somebody else to do it, I'd let them do it. But there's not, so we're doing it.
Farrell: Ah. That's what makes you that guy.
In Blue Thunder, the villains are part of a Government Conspiracy that has the local police department on its side. Frank Murphy is forced to hijack the titular Black Helicopter and fight an aerial battle against police and military forces in order to provide cover for the evidence he's collected to make it to a reporter. Averted at the end when the U.S. Justice Department does in fact start an investigation.
Subverted in Lethal Weapon 3, in which Riggs persuades Murtagh that they are the only ones present who can defuse a bomb because, of course, "the bomb squad never arrives on time!" Unfortunately, Riggs fails the Wire Dilemma, the bomb goes off, and the building collapses, causing millions of dollars worth of damage... and at that point, the bomb squad arrive, having made it in plenty of time to defuse the device had Riggs and Murtagh not interfered.
As the Batman franchise went on, the role of the police became diminished to the point of utter uselessness, meaning the city was defenceless without Batman. This is somewhat averted in The Dark Knight Saga, where Lieutenant/Commissioner Gordon plays a major role in saving the city too.
Also averted in the fact that though he is indeed the only one with the resources and resolve to see his One Man War On Crime through, any honest portrayal of Bruce Wayne character never has him desiring to REMAIN the only one. Parallels thus observable, with V for Vendetta.
Justified in the 2009 Star Trek movie. The cadets were placed as a support crew to help in the Vulcan support and the entire fleet sans the Enterprise were destroyed on arrival.
Not quite. The majority of the qualified fleet was tied up in the Laurentian System with the Klingons - one of the reasons Kirk and Spock start arguing partway through the movie. The ships destroyed on arrival were filled with cadets. So that Green-Skinned Space Babe that Kirk was about three minutes away from scoring with? Fridge Horror, she probably died.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture: it's not that any other vessel or crew is incompetent, but whoever is responsible for the disposition of Starfleet's resources needs a stern talking-to:
Kirk: Mr. Scott, an alien object of unbelievable destructive power is less than three days away from [Earth]. The only starship in interception range is the Enterprise. Ready or not, she launches in twelve hours. [emphasis mine]
In Star Trek: Generations, there's really no excuse. The Enterprise B is just being taken for a test stroll around Earth and doesn't even have most of its weapons or medical crew, and yet it's miraculously the only ship within range of the Negative Space Wedgie, even though it's still very close to Earth, which presumably has a lot of ships nearby.
The Enterprise is the only ship in range, but at / near to Earth in The Motion Picture (in drydock after a refit with a few teething problems) and the The Wrath of Khan (on a sub-warp training cruise for cadets) as well. So not only does Starfleet seem to have no other ship near to Earth other than the Enterprise in three movies (the first of which establishes that Starfleet Headquarters is on Earth), they're actually ready for front-line service.
"Scotty, there are lives at stake on Daran IV and there aren't any other starships out there."
Scott sighed. "Of course not. There never are, are there? Sir."
The novel also provides an explanation for the ludicrous situation of having only a single starship in Earth's solar system to protect the Federation capital. Apparently, losses in recent years have stretched Starfleet thin (Continuity Nod cluster ahoy), and there was great concern in some quarters precisely because of the limited defense. The V'Ger incident proved these critics right. Why the same situation crops up in later films still needs explaining, sadly, but that's not this novel's concern.
In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise against the Khan-controlled Reliant. Sulu actually refers to themselves as the only ship in the quadrant.
It should be noted that in pre-TNG, the terms "sector" and "quadrant" were used pretty loosely. It's likely that quadrant also refers to a sub-unit of a sector.
SF Debris points out how the movie itself makes it much worse: The Enterprise is seen to take about 6 hours to reach the center of the galaxy from the Neutral Zone, at which speed any ship would've been close enough to assist on the Paradise Planet earlier - meaning that if the Enterprise was the Only One, then Starfleet apparently has only one ship.
Spoofed in The Hidden (1987) when the Chief says that is the cop protagonist is reassigned:
"My department will then crumble, crime will run rampart, the city will fall into ruin, rampaging hordes will control the streets and life as we know it will end!"
In The Fifth Element, Korben Dallas is the only man for the job who has the certifications for a (ridiculously) long list of weapons, and is still alive.
It's implied that General Munro could do it, but he's too old (and generals normally don't go in as regular operatives). It's made clear that he trained Korben.
Justified in Executive Decision after Sergeant Matheny, the squad's explosives expert, is critically injured and paralyzed, aviation engineer Dennis Cahill (who has been left behind to "keep an eye" on Matheny) is forced to try his hand at defusing the bomb. He does just that, in a manner that Matheny admits he never would have thought of.
Similarly Dr. Grant joins in the final assault on the terrorists because there are not enough commandos left to take out all the terrorists at once.
Jason asserts this about him and his friends in Mystery Team, claiming that they're the only ones capable of doing what the police can't.
Pick any Super Hero movie and chances are, that one hero will be the only character in that universe with the powers/gadgets to take down the many supervillains that pop up.
In the Spider-Man series, five super-powered villains show up throughout the series but Spidey is apparently the one and only superhero.
Superman is obviously the one and only superhero in his films to the point where the Earth seems screwed when a single super-powered menace shows up or natural disaster happens, requiring him to act. In fact, that universe can't even stop a single, non-powered mad scientist from nearly nuking the planet.
The original Batman movie series had Batman as the only hero of that universe for two and a half movies with Robin joining him about midway through Batman Forever and Batgirl later joining at the tail-end of the infamous Batman & Robin movie. Even then, that's only three superheroes and about eight supervillains throughout that series.
This trope is averted in Iron Man where Tony Stark believes he is the only superhero in that universe and seems annoyed when he gains allies. Obviously, these films are a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has set out to avert this trope in superhero movies.
Hot Fuzz lets us know that Sgt. Angel is far and away the most effective officer in London. Subverted in that this only makes his coworkers annoyed and gets him reassigned to a village out in the boondocks, at which point crime back in his original precinct immediately spikes upward.
Not the hero, and certainly others were fairly competent, but during his final campaign, we see that not even Captain Pellaeon, the second-in-command, knew what most of Grand Admiral Thrawn's plans were. This meant that when Joruus C'baoth used the Force to take control of the entire Imperial fleet, he couldn't piece together the plan from the hundreds or thousands who had some hint about those, but it also meant that when Thrawn was killed and Pellaeon stepped up, he had to call a retreat. A sketched-out five-year plan was found later, but, well, it was written with the assumption that the Empire would win that particular battle.
Len from Kamen Rider Dragon Knight not only starts out like this, he wants to keep it that way at first because he doesn't believe anyone from Earth can be trusted with the Kamen Rider Advent Decks, particularly Kit, who is the mirror twin of the Rider who betrayed the team. The fact that most of the Earth Riders actually tend to be bad guys (though a few are innocently duped or framed) doesn't help matters any. He gets better about it as the series goes on, and then it's revealed that he wasn't the last of the Ventaran Riders to escape being vented anyway.
In Kamen Rider Blade,BOARD gets ransacked in the first episode. We start the series with two members (one being our hero) and a mysterious, unaligned Rider who considers everyone his enemy as the only good guys who are alive and free, and a lot of questions as to what is really going on that they have to solve on their own. At least they got to salvage some of the lab equipment (most notably their monster detector.)
Nicely averted on Criminal Minds. While are heroes are always the best, the local cops are almost always helpful and competent. Jurisdiction Friction is played down—in fact, the characters make a point of respecting and aiding the locals.
In The X-Files, federal agents Mulder and Scully were often the only ones who could defeat the Monster of the Week - partly because of the astonishing amount of Corrupt Hick law enforcers they encountered, and partly because they were usually the only ones who believed or accepted that the threat actually existed in the first place.
The Doctor is often the Only One who can save the day, because he's a Sufficiently Advanced Alien who's way above everyone else. It's long been suggested in the Fandom and the Expanded Universe that the TARDIS is deliberately putting the Doctor into these situations. The Eleventh Doctor episode ''The Doctor's Wife'' expressed it more or less thus:
The Doctor: You never went where I wanted to go!
The TARDIS: But I always took you where you needed to be.
The local police force vs. FBI variant is the central plot of an In the Heat of the Night episode, in which the Sparta DA's daughter is kidnaped and Gillespie's force - using their small-town savvy - competes (almost literally) with by-the-book FBI agents to locate her.
The starship Enterprise seems to be the only ship in the sector when a crisis goes down a lot of the time. Most egregiously in Star Trek: Generations, in which the crisis takes place near Earth, the capital of the Federation, and the Enterprise, whose best Applied Phlebotinum won't be in until Tuesday, is still the only ship close enough. Apparently, if the Romulans ever decide to bring the fight to our heroes, they'll only have to get past one ship...
But fully justified in the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise, as the NX-01 Enterprise is the only Warp 5 spacecraft available until the NX-02 Columbia is completed mid-way through the fourth season.
The lack of sufficient defenses is made painfully obvious when a Xindi probe carves a large swath through the Western hemisphere with its prototype planet-destroying beam. The probe is intercepted and destroyed, but too late for the millions of casualties. When the Enterprise arrives back to the Solar System, pursued by Duras, Archer is surprised to see system defense ships quickly react to the invader. They might not be equipped with Warp 5 drives, but you can do with Warp 3 when you don't have to leave the system.
Likewise justified in the series Voyager. Since the entire premise is that Voyager is stranded halfway across the galaxy from home, there will obviously be no other Starfleet authorities or reinforcements around for them to fall back on.
Also finally averted in the Grand Finale as the Dominion War has apparently made Starfleet Genre Savvy enough to keep a sizable fleet near Earth, allowing 18 ships to immediately converge on a Borg transwarp aperture which Voyager opens less than a light-year away.
Downplayed in TOS, as while the Enterprise was the only ship in the sector more than once, mostly it was in relatively remote sectors (several other times they weren't the only ship in the sector, just the only surviving ship). Then promptly taken to the cliched extreme in The Motion Picture, when the Enterprise is the only available ship at Earth.
Believe it or not, CSI: Miami actually does this. The Crime Scene investigators are the only law enforcement personnel who care about getting the criminals. The DA's only care about getting convictions, even if it is a wrongful one. Judges are at best unhelpful or helpless, at worst are corrupt and seek to hinder the CSI in any way possible. Other cops just don't care. Parole Boards are more focused on bureaucracy than on doing their job of making sure bad people stay in jail.
Similarly, cops are unable to do anything without Horatio - a CSI. Down to the point where SWAT teams, in full gear, will wait for Horatio to show up - wearing a suit and using a handgun - before entering a location. Of course Horatio enters first. Most evident in an episode where gunfire was heard in a house,— the cops surround the house, then wait for Horatio before going in to check what happens. One has to wonder what happens if there are two crimes in Miami at the same time. Another episode has Horatio personally escorting a truck filled with confiscated drugs that are to be incinerated.
The trope is also present to a large extent in CSI: New York, with Mac, Flack and Danny (the more cop-like CSIs) often going in first ahead of the SWAT teams.
Used to the extreme in Heroes where more or less every character has once been declared "the only one who can stop" the bad guys (Sylar, usually.)
In 24, Jack Bauer is the only one allowed to save the day. He is one of usually five people in CTU that isn't a mole, as well.
It's not just Jack. Often someone(usually Chloe) will be fired from CTU, only to be brought back later in the day because (presumably) no one else there knows how to use a computer. In fact, operatives have broken the law and still been brought back because they're the only ones who can do whatever it is they do.
Especially Tony. After he did a 2-3 episode stint as The Mole because of an I Have Your Wife situation, he was told that he could be charged with treason and given death, but if he was very cooperative and very lucky, he'd "merely" do 20 years in a federal prison. Not only is he allowed to stick around for the duration of the current crisis, he came back the next season because CTU needed him just that much.
Justified in Stargate SG-1 as the public (and, therefore, any help outside of the SGC) don't know about the Stargate program. Unjustified in instances when this isn't the case.
Similarly, the number of times it's SG-1 offworld when a crisis erupts, or that they can't contact the base, or that the endangered aliens specifically ask for that particular team makes you wonder what all the other teams are doing wrong... or right.
Ask yourself, knowing people often number things according to quality (and SG-1 are said to be the point team because they are the best - aiding the assumption), would you want SG-24 helping you or SG-12?
They're the point team because they have lot of experience and specialized knowledge which makes them perfect for first-contact or other unsettled situations where assessing what's going on in a timely manner is critical. Most teams aren't going to have an anthropologist/linguistic expert or an expert on Gate physics/Goa'uld technology. Who can defend themselves and are willing to deal with what SG-1 does on a daily basis...
It was also said that some teams are specialists of their own. SG-9 was the lawyers and diplomat team specializing in dealing with legal issues, like when SG-1 was put on a prison planet in S2-E3 Prisoners. SG-3 came back to the SGC and Hammond told them they did the right thing in coming back. Meanwhile several teams (SG-3, -5, -18, and -25) are mainly combat support.
Somewhat less justified with the various one-shot or recurring scientists. In "The Crystal Skull", the (presumably) second-best archaeology expert can't make heads or tails of the crystal skull and help Daniel. In later episodes, Dr. Lee is often called upon for scientific expertise; he usually just makes things worse. The impression given is that the SGC does try to hire experts other than the members of SG-1, but no one else is as good as they are.
"In every generation, there is a Chosen One. She alone can stop the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer."
Later inverted by the appearances of Kendra, Faith, and eventually, the entire Slayer Army.
Xander: I knew all that "I'm the only one" business was just an attention-getter!
The FBI agent characters in NUMB3RS, especially Don, are not exactly incompetent, but it often tends to look like they need Charlie before they can solve cases. Granted, he's one of the main characters, so cases where they didn't need him wouldn't take up whole episodes, but still, there's got to be someone in that office who can catch a criminal without calling in a mathematician.
Taken to extremes in Las Vegas. The hotel security team is a veritable crime fighter unit that hunts down (and sometimes judges and punishes) suspects all on its own. LVPD is mostly content with picking up the criminals at the end of the show. Moreover, said hotel security team only consists of Ed, Danny, and Mike. Literally every bad guy is personally captured by Danny, never mind there being dozens of other guards in the hotel.
Pierce: "Is Jeff out there? He is the only one that can help!"
The titular Merlin is the last Dragonlord. It is revealed when Merlin's dad dies that there can be only one and the power passes from one individual to another father-to-son upon death.
This is usually averted on Grimm. As a Grimm, Nick has special abilities that make allow him to deal really well with Wesen related crimes. However, the other main characters are no slouches themselves and are often quite capable of resolving the situation on their own. Renard tends to neutralize threats that Nick is not even aware of. Monroe protected Aunt Helen from an attack and later saves Hank when Nick is injured.
The Living City campaign featured the most incompetent 15th level fighters imaginable as its local police, called the "City Watch". It was claimed that the police weren't incompetent, just portrayed that way so that the players could be the main heroes and not just call the cops to handle problems. Of course, many players believe that by that point, even if they weren't incompetent, they wouldn't be able to do much against high-level threats anyway.
Justified in the D&D setting of Eberron. Elite City guards are level 2 or 3 warriors. Warriors is an NPC class weaker than a fighter. This means that effectively the PCs are the city's only hope against anything, as all but the lowest level of players severely overpower guards (and mid level players can wipe the floor of an entire precinct).
The setting has a few higher-level characters, but they often come into play only at a time where the PCs already out-level them.
Also, this justifies the inclusion of the Warforged, hideously expensive sentient golems used in the latter stages of the Last War (which happened to last about 100 years). They were worth their price because of the unorthodox strategies they allowed (try besieging someone who has no need of food or water. Also, consider the ease of logistics when operating somewhere gettings supplies to would be difficult) and because they came out of their Creation Forges classed as fighter 2. PC classes represent an enormous potential in this setting, so for many jobs they were indeed The Only Ones capable of doing them. After the war, they also were The Only Ones capable of handling jobs like salvaging sunken ships or working in other hazardous conditions.
Somewhat averted in the Shadowrun RPG where the police (Lone Star) are a dangerous paramilitary unit that all player characters should try to avoid. Although, in some campaigns (fortunately, not in any of the official campaigns) they still become bunglers when the player characters are around
Of course, Lone Star is also portrayed as something of a compromise between competence and budget. Knight Errant, which isn't the official police but does significant security business, is the big player. I think the whole point of the game averts this, though, as the basic outline of a run is your shadowrunning team facing security/police. Yes, the point is to win, but the point is also to have it not be a cakewalk.
In World of Warcraft, the current player is always the only one who can solve whatever problem a questgiver has, whether it be retrieving a MacGuffin from twenty feet away or slaughtering a horde of invading Mooks. This despite the presence of armed guards nearby who (for Player Versus Player balance reasons) could often singlehandedly defeat every creature in the zone, and faction leaders stronger than anything else in the game except raid bosses.
In Megaman Battle Network, NetBattling is a skill so well known that there are classes about it in elementary school and there are people who do it professionally as a living. Despite that, the only people who appear to be competent at it are Lan and his rival Chaud, who are ten years old. The Spiritual SequelMegaman Star Force had a somewhat plausible explanation for why the ten year old hero was the only person capable of saving the day - there were probably less than a hundred people around the world who could Wave Change, including the villains, none of whom had more than a year or so of experience. Given that, there's no real reason why a kid couldn't be more talented than everyone else in the field.
In Megaman Battle Network games it is HandWaved by Rockman.EXE/Megaman.EXE and Blues.EXE/Protoman.EXE being specially made, and thus being inherently more powerful than any other navis. And they would be more powerful from the start after the first game (in which they only save people because they happen to be in best position to do it out of people who can try) if not for Bag of Spilling taking effect. Though there really isn't anything that stops people responsible for the aforementioned navis' creation from making more navis capable of dealing with the danger, so the point stands.
In most of The Legend of Zelda games, Link is the only one who can liberate Hyrule and or save Zelda. If any other characters attempt to save Hyrule, they will usually either end up being killed or captured.
Perhaps the most egregious example is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword where Link actually lives in a Knight Academy, yet none of the other knights (with the exception of Groose) ever help him in his quest. Somewhat justified by Link still being The Chosen One and Zelda's father keeping everything except that Zelda is missing from the rest of the (small) population.
Particularly frustrating in Star Lancer, where you're part of a large squadron, and the briefings will usually break up a mission into several parts each to be handled by a different part of your squad. But your squadmates are so incompetent that you can expect to have to do every part of it yourself, even if that means constantly afterburning through the whole mission to try to be in two places at once. Even worse, even if you handle your part of the operation flawlessly, if you didn't also cover the parts other pilots were supposed to do, you will get raked over the coals by your superiors for "your" failure. This is so bad that there are actually missions where you get reprimanded for failing to accomplish things (Like torpedoing an enemy ship) that you cannot possibly do since your ship doesn't carry torpedoes. In one mission, if you try, your copilot will take over and force you to go home, and you get reprimanded for it.
Dragon Age: Inquisition seems to have this as a driving force of the plot. The world is in crisis after a particularly gigantic tear in the Veil opens, releasing demons and untold horrors upon Thedas. Due to what is implied to be the manipulation of a Hidden Villain, every major faction is at each other's throat instead of focusing on the demons. The two people most capable of reuniting them, the Warden and Hawke, have mysteriously disappeared. This leaves you, the Inquisitor, to reinstate the eponymous Inquisition and bring the factions to heel to combat the tear in the Veil.
There is a villainous example in Our Little Adventure. The Evil Empire wants to have an anthem created for it and Umbria/Zaedalkaah is the only bard in the entire empire. Even though as a bard she's not all that great, she completes the song anyway. Her orchestra is a better fit for the trope though as they have no experience whatsoever with music.
Kim Possible discovers that this week's MacGuffin was stolen a week ago, and sounds peeved that the world thought it could get along without her:
Kim: Why am I just finding out about this now?
Wade: Um, local, federal and international law enforcement are on the case. They thought they didn't need you.
The Simpsons do it all the time, whenever a problem or commotion happens in Springfield(which may or not have been caused by the Simpsons), one or two of Simpsons take the initiative to solve it or get other people in Springfield to help in doing something about it.