On the video commentary for the episode "Errand of Mercy" on the Star Trek: The Original Series Season 1 Blu-Ray, the Worf Effect is very clearly referred to by VFX designer David Rossi. He notes that the production staff consciously used Worf as the "measuring stick" by which the strength and Badass-ery of villains was determined. This was obviously not true for the Original Series itself, however, which predates Worf's creation by twenty years, making it peculiar that he would choose to bring up Worf in that context.
Although at times Spock would serve as a proto-Worf (however, unlike the Klingon the half-Vulcan usually wasn't KO'd, allowing him to strike back).
While Worf suffered enough to be the Trope Namer, it should be noted that his getting beaten up served a purpose at first: It was usually used to show that the threat could not be resolved by sheer force, but needed either diplomacy or technology to defeat or pacify. (Later, it became a matter of sheer habit on the part of the writers, though.)
Interestingly, Worf's predecessor as head of security, Tasha Yar, was killed by a monster purely as a demonstration of power. Seems Worf inherited it. If she'd stuck around longer, this trope might've have been called the Yar Effect. (One of Denise Crosby's reasons for leaving the show was not seeing enough action; seems the writers weren't comfortable with smacking a woman around each week).
In "Conspiracy", an adversary casually tosses around Riker, LaForge and Worf before Dr. Crusher calmly walks in and phasers his ass. Multiple shots at high setting were required, though, one lasting as long as three to four seconds.
In one episode of Deep Space Nine, Worf himself deliberately utilizes this trope by letting Martok defeat him in a duel so as to restore the crew's confidence in Martok. This scene echos the TNG episode A Matter of Honor, in which Commander Riker, on detached duty to the Klingon warship Pagh, intentionally provokes the Pagh's captain into backhanding him so the man could take back his command with honor. The episode also proves that a Klingon Promotion isn't always fatal.
In Deep Space 9, the Jem'Hadar were first introduced in a season finale that culminated in the destruction of the Odyssey, a Galaxy class starship and The Big Guy of Starfleet ships, sister to the USS Enterprise-D - also having a balding captain, interestingly enough - with the only Jem'Hadar ship lost in the engagement being the one that intentionally rammed it. One of the writers later admitted that he had drawn this parallel between the two ships to showcase the Dominion as a credible threat. Later episodes would have the Federation come up with successful countermeasures, though there is a period in which the Dominion ships are looked at with some apprehension.
The Defiant herself suffered this, in her first outing no less. While going through the Gamma Quadrant to meet the Founders, the Defiant was attacked and quickly captured by the Jem'Hadar, showing that they still had a ways to go before countering the Dominion. And she suffered this again, this time fatally, in Season 7. In the first major battle with the Breen, the Defiant and over 300 other ships were destroyed to show how deadly the Dominion's new allies were.
Worf getting his butt kicked on the phaser range by Guinan who mentions she was using her other hand. Though at least he had a couple good excuses— he was distracted by his personal problems, number one, and number two—
Interestingly, in Enterprise's first encounter with The Borg, Picard orders Worf to stop a drone from interfering with the ship's systems, and Worf delegates the task to a subordinate...who the drone effortlessly throws across Engineering.
Worf is rarely a victim of this trope in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as he went from tactical to command, but after he is captured by Jem'Hadar and forced to fight one after another, we see an interesting twist when their commander steps in as his final opponent: The commander is shown to be pretty badass when he beats Worf after all his subordinates have failed. But the real badass is Worf himself, who despite getting beaten to a pulp refuses to stop fighting. Leave it to the Trope Namer to use the Worf Effect to cement his place as a warrior of legend.
"I yield! I cannot defeat this Klingon. All I can do is kill him, and that no longer holds my interest."
This is a staple in Power Rangers and its original Japanese counterpart Super Sentai. Basically, whenever the show needs to introduce a new ranger, weapon, upgrade or robot, the rangers will face an insanely strong monster who wipes the floor with them, until one of the aforementioned things is introduced, after which the monster will be easily defeated.
In Power Rangers Mystic Force, Daggeron was unstoppable in his first two or three appearances, but after that, he suffered The Worf Effect often. Mystic Forcedid have tougher monsters than other seasons, and anyone who could beat on Daggeron could maul the main five, but he was always the first one in and the first one down.
This "Sixth Ranger Syndrome" can be seen in almost every season of Power Rangers — the new, super powerful extra Ranger debuts, defeats the enemy in a few hits, and two episodes later is jobbing out to anything thrown his way.
It tends to be more of a case of Can't Catch Up. The villains gradually get more powerful over the course of the show, and the team gets upgrades to compensate for their ever more threatening foes. The main team, that is. Sixth Rangers generally aren't given Super Modes or extra mecha to stay competitive, so they fall behind.
It's demonstrated especially well with poor Daggeron: he can only stand by and watch the Rangers in their new Legend Mode easily take out the guys who beat him up. Then we take it to mecha level, and the new Megazord that comes with it does the same to the machine that Daggeron's own couldn't stand up to.
From their third battle onwards, Sixth Ranger mecha are pretty useless unless they can combine with the primary gattai robo into a super gattai robo (which has no equivalent Power Rangers term) - fortunately for Sixth Rangers, that's common. However, the really dangerous enemies usually prove themselves by defeating a super gattai robo.
Another recurring thing is that often a monster will show and effortlessly defeat the team, then the team gets some powerup and beats the shit out of it in round two. The same applies to the Zords. These new toys easily take out the monster that the old ones were nothing against. Three episodes later, the new weapon/mech is no tougher than the one it replaced at best, constantly getting thrashed at worst. Especially once something badder replaces it. At that point, it will only exist to get hit once so the Rangers can say "Whoa! Even the Super Megazord isn't enough! We need the Super Duper Megazord!"
Even this is experienced by you-know-who. Daggeron can take on a non-Ranger morphed form, previously seen only in flashbacks until one day he just starts using it in the present. It is quite powerful, so his Ranger suit serves the same purpose as the Megazord before last: morphed Daggeron gets Worf'd, oh noes, and then out of the flames bursts Ancient Mystic Daggeron! You start to wonder why he ever bothered with the spande...uh, tights.
This is also subverted as well. Most obviously in Power Rangers S.P.D. with the Shadow Ranger. He rarely fights (as he doesn't want the Rangers to rely on him) and when he does, he normally completely mops the floor with his opponents.
It wasn't even just being the Green Ranger; after becoming the White Ranger and the team's leader he usually managed to get taken out by the monster of the week fairly early in constant season 2 episodes, and in damn near every season 3 episode.
How's this for irony? In the first series, Rita's brother Rito Revolto likely handed the Rangers their worst defeat to date when he destroyed both the Thunder Megazord and the Tigerzord. Unfortunately for him, when they came back with the Ninja Megazord and challenged him again, he got his ass handed to him. In other words, the Rangers were Worfed by him, and then he, in turn, was Worfed by them.
Happens in Samurai Sentai Shinkenger and Power Rangers Samurai when the Big Bad decides to take action. Even the rangers' most powerful BFG couldnt even dent the guy. To add insult to injury; this happened past the point in the show where the rangers would normally receive more gadgets, which meant shit just got real...
Bobby Flay invokes this in his Food Network show Throwdown, where he finds a chef, trains in their specialty, and then challenges them to a cook-off. Despite being an Iron Chef, Flay loses most of the time; however, he's said that he wants to lose, since the whole point of the show is to give props to all the awesome chefs out there (he's trying to do something after a week of training that they've been doing for years). On Iron Chef America, though, he plays to win. And he still does win throwdowns on occasion.
This is featured to some extent with Illyria. After a few episodes of her beating the everloving snot out of everyone and being nigh indestructible (although she does get toned down a bit right before this incident), Marcus Hamilton shows up and beats her to a bloody pulp, with as little effort as Neo put into defeating Smith at the end of The Matrix.
Marginally justified, in that Hamilton was sent in after Illyria had been depowered; in fact, he helps arrange for her depowering, and deliberately doesn't go anywhere near her until she is.
However, the writers did make a point of showing she remained extremely powerful. She went with Spike near the episode's beginning to fight a demon. Spike tried and failed to hurt the demon, getting hit hard himself (though the sense was Spike could have eventually prevailed), but then Illyria went after the same demon and killed it extremely easily with one blow.
The comics have a powerful demon easily rip off Angel's hands and feet with his bare hands. And Whistler rips Angel's stomach out.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: This happens many times in general to Buffy and Angel. Although you occasionally have smart or crafty villains, it seems the writers' first choice is go with with someone who can smack these two around.
Buffy first meets Glory in Season 5's "No Place Like Home". The episode opens with Buffy defeating a large vampire with her usual Casual Danger Dialogue. When Buffy first confronts Glory, it's the latter who's making the quips while Buffy is punching her in the face. Buffy only gets out alive because Glory accidentally knocks down the building in a fit of petulance. For the first time, Buffy expresses doubt that she can beat an enemy.
Also used to emphasize Willow's newfound magical strength. Glory effortlessly knocks Buffy, the resident badass, around week after week; until the finale only Willow manages to make her feel pain.
Caleb: So, you're the Slayer. The Slayer. The strongest, the fastest, the most aflame with that most precious invention of all mankind - the notion of goodness. The Slayer must indeed be powerful. [Knocks Buffy out with one punch] So, what else you got?
Adam is another villain to casually see off Buffy at their first encounter.
The first time Buffy tries to take down a Turok-Han, it beats her unconscious.
That was mostly because she was sleep deprived though, once she finally slept (like her premonition told her to do) she beat it rather easily.
Depends upon your definition of "easy". She gets her butt handed to her the first 90% of the fight before somehow turning the fight around and killing the guy (with help).
Spike is semi-vulnerable to this. His fights tend to start with him being beaten almost unconscious by whatever man/woman/fluffy rabbit he's fighting, then proceeding to destroy his opponent in the span of a few seconds. Of course, he likes fighting, so it's possible he doesn't go all out at first to avoid the fight ending too quickly.
Angel suffered this in seasons 2 (prior to his Face-Heel Turn) and 3, regularly getting his ass kicked or being the first member of the good guys' side to get taken out. He received much less of this treatment after moving to his own series.
We've never seen Whistler fight in the series, but when he meets up with Angel again in Season 9, he is able to literally punch out Angel's stomach without breaking a sweat. He decides to spare him, though.
Ka D'argo is the Worf of Farscape, in this aspect as well. The Alien of the week usually manhandles him, and D'argo ends up choking up black, poisonous blood, leaving it up to Crichton or Aeryn to save his life. This appears to have been mitigated by the writers by late season 2, however, as D'argo seems to win EVERY fight with relative ease, even with multiple, credible non-mook opponents.
A bit of Fridge Brilliance here. D'Argo had been chained to a wall for many years at the start and would not be nearly as strong or able as when he was originally a warrior. However, after a year and a half of being on the run and facing monsters on a weekly basis, it's not surprising he got back in shape.
Kamen Rider Decade gets this accusation in spades; check its individual page for details. In short, Decade's A Wizard Did It attitude with power levels - beyond even the norm for Toku - results in characters who should rightfully kick much ass go down in a hit or two to make their opponent look good. Decade is on the giving end of many of these, but that only makes it worse when someone he should be able to beat starts bashing him around. Also, the alternate version of Kamen Rider Kuuga who appears in this series rarely transforms and when he does, he usually gets smacked around, which does not make "Yuuseless," already a point of contention, any more palatable to the fans of the original Kuuga.
Want to prove yourself as a real tough guy in The A-Team? Knock out living wall of muscle B.A. Baracus. Ironically, this happened in the series pilot.
Sayid, as the toughest of the crash survivors, suffers from this to some extent in LOST, and has been taken down by Rousseau, Mikhail Bakunin and Keamy, the first two in their introductory episodes. He usually puts up a creditable fight, though.
He does manage to take Mikhail down later in the same episode.
Luckily, for many this doesn't threaten Sayid's legitimacy as a badass because Lost is often less about combat prowess and more about overall competence. Furthermore, there will usually be moments of awesome sprinkled around with regards to this character; many people pointed out that "only Sayid would put his forks and knives pointy-side up in the dishwasher, just in case" after an awesome fight in which Sayid kills some assailants by opening up the dishwasher and throwing them on the deadly silverware.
Derek Morgan is the "tough guy" in the series, however, while in earlier seasons you see him winning his fights, in later seasons he's often the beaten party. It leads to Reid joking in the season finale of season six (where Morgan was tackled by a member of the Un-Sub's team) that he needed to work out more.
Garcia, in a sense. Although she's not known for her physical skills, she's known- and renowned- for her computer hacking skills and wizardry. However, more often that not, when Garcia is actually tasked to outsmart a tech-savvy Un-Sub, the Un-Sub trips her up, usually by way of "one million proxy servers", forcing the team to locate the Un-Sub the old fashioned way.
Subverted in "The Internet Is Forever", where Garcia does manage to outsmart an Un-Sub (for once). Since the Un-Sub routes his connection through the same order of proxy servers, it became an easy trace, leading to Garcia terminating the transmission before the Un-Sub can kill his latest victim, becoming a Moment Of Awesome for Garcia.
Castiel in Supernatural. Despite being an angel, he's usually the one getting his head kicked in.
Ironically, Castiel actually got more effective in combat as he got weaker. In season 5 he gradually loses his angelic powers as a result of being cut off from Heaven. Despite this, he still mows down angel mooks by the truckload, when the best Sam and Dean can ever manage is to temporarily banish them. Even after becoming completely human, he still defeats the Horseman Pestilence and manages to sucker punch Michael, who was pretty much untouchable up until that point. Compare this to season 4, where he's at full strength but still manages to lose just about every fight he gets in to onscreen.
Used to rather shocking effect in Stargate SG-1. The episode "Camelot" has the humans, Free Jaffa, and Asgard, the three most advanced races in the Milky Way, try to stop the Ori from invading through the Supergate. There are about sixteen ships there, later bolstered by reinforcements from the Lucian Alliance (procured by Teal'c by holding Netan at gunpoint). This still doesn't help, as while the Asgard ship is able to survive, a ha'tak can't survive even one hit from the Ori ship's main weapon, and a human 304 is only able to take two. Until "Unending" only one Ori ship had been destroyed, and that was by a clever trick. This gets better at the season finale when they get Asgard beam weaponry, but it still takes the Big Damn Movie for the war to finally be won.
SG-1 used this trope constantly throughout the series whenever a new force was introduced. The Goa'uld, the original antagonists for example were seen as all powerful...until the Asgard show up and can utterly dominate them. Then the Replicators appear, and can manhandle Asgard ships with ease. The Tolan also first appear to easily dispatch Goa'uld ships. Then Anubis comes onto the scene and obliterates them and is a credible threat to the Asgard who in turn get better ships and scare *him* off and then finally Ancient tech is revealed to be able to crush Anubis easily. About the only ones who haven't been Worf Effected in this manner are the Replicators, where their every defeat comes down to tricks, luck and Deus ex Machina.
Teal'c could be said to be SG-1's Worf. However he usually prevailed, and his defeats were mostly non-gratuitous serving to better develop his character.
Amped to ridiculous levels in the Stargate Atlantis finale where the human 304s armed with the same Asgard beam weapons that could destroy Ori ships in one shot cannot even scratch a Wraith ZPM powered hive ship and it only ends up being destroyed by a bomb in it's fighter bay, because apparently internal security is an alien concept to the Wraith.
There's a whole crossover episode subverting this with Teal'c and Ronon teaming up to stop a Wraith invasion of Earth.
In Law & Order: SVU, Det. Stabler's a pretty tough guy who's known for working over perps in the interview room. Frequently he gets knocked around, racked in the nuts, etc.
This becomes a plot point on Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon with regards to Sailor Venus. In the episode that she debuted, she was able to effortlessly defeat Zoisite with her standard attack. This made sense as she had the most experience as a Sailor Soldier compared to the other girls. Later on, though, as the rest of the girls awakened their full power, it became clear that Venus hadn't awakened hers yet since she was regularly getting overpowered by the standard Mooks. Sailor Mars even calls her out on it. Venus finally receives her Mid-Season Upgrade towards the end of the series, but she died of a terminal illness the next episode.
Several episodes of the BBC's Walking With... series follow the same pattern. As an opening a bad-ass dinosaur/scorpion/shark is shown hunting down some poor critter only for the real star of the episode to suddenly appear and bite them in half.
The episode that showed a massively oversized Liopleurodon jump out of the water and drag down an Eustreptospondylus (a European relative of Allosaurus) invoked this trope in hopes of trying to avert Atlantis Is Boring, since it focused on prehistoric sea creatures.
The first time a "future predator" appeared on Primeval, it broke into an enclosure at a zoo to kill and eat a full-grown lion.
And in subsequent episodes, the future predator itself would fall victim to this trope as it was killed by various other animals.
On Castle, Esposito occasionally suffers from this. As a former special forces soldier he should be the most tactically effective member of the team. As a result while he often is shown as the most effective in this regard, he is still fairly often defeated by tougher opponents. In one notable case Action Girl Beckett is much more successful in unarmed combat than he was. Though in general, it is often justified in that he is the first target because he is a bigger threat.
In Teen Wolf, the quickest way to show that a bad guy/antagonist means trouble is to have them beat up or harass Derek. Poor guy...
Derek spent the whole first season being outclassed by the alpha and harassed by hunters that he couldn't harm for fear they would declare all out war on him. Even after he became alpha, the kanima easily disabled him. He can barely control his own pack. He once got taken out by Lydia. He was never pitched as the best or most trained, it's just the newly bitten wolves and most humans that can't match him. Worf could totally take Derek.
Episode ''Pusher'' of The X-Files: We realize that Pusher's Compelling Voice is very, very dangerous when he gets Skinner. It's double-subverted in Skinner's case. Pusher already killed a sheriff deputy and one FBI agent by Psychic-Assisted Suicide. Skinner was the only one who could resist him, but he ended beaten up anyway, and by Holly the tiny secretary on top of that.
An interesting example from Firefly. In Out of Gas, Mal has to rough up his pilot to get him on the bridge (It Makes Sense in Context), and Jayne, resident tough guy, is shown being visibly scared of Mal.
Jayne is also easily knocked out by River during her rampage in the Maidenhead bar in Serenity. Though to his credit, he did at least manage to get her in an arm-lock for a few seconds, which is better than anyone else in that fight did.
Wash: Start with the part where Jayne gets knocked out by a 90-pound girl 'cause... I don't think that's ever getting old.
Magnificent Bastard Klaus from The Vampire Diaries has been constantly hailed (by himself as much as anyone) as the most powerful and deadly being in the world, given that he's a thousand-year-old vampire/werewolf hybrid with the kind of strength and ability others could only dream of. Pretty much everyone is terrified of him, and his power is matched only by his arrogance. But with the introduction of Silas in season 4, we see Klaus subjected to an unprecedented Humiliation Conga in which he is pulverized in combat, brutally Mind Raped into submission, and forced to dig into his own back with a pair of pliers. When Caroline sees what a quivering wreck he has been reduced to, she is both gratified that someone has finally managed to Break the Haughty, and terrified at the prospect of Silas and his obviously formidable powers.
Played for laughs in Jekyll, where one episode starts with an introduction to the world's best mercenary, who's capable of breaking necks one handed while blindfolded and taking out a room of armed men bare handed, and spends years training himself and his team to be able to defeat Hyde. Hyde throws him off a roof before he finishes introducing himself. Turns out it doesn't matter how well trained a human you are, trying to fist fight someone who can Flash Step and toss a fully grown lion thirty feet isn't going to go well. Ironically a much less badass team of mercenaries does kill Hyde, by the Boring but Practical method of getting him into a long exposed hallway and shooting him a lot.
Quite a few Worfings happen in Kamen Rider Dragon Knight. When Kit becomes Dragon Knight for the first time, Wing Knight is in the process of getting Worfed by a Spider monster so Dragon Knight can defeat the monster and show off his powers. The very next episode Kit is training with Wing Knight and gets curb-stomped.
Wing Knight gets Worfed again when Thrust is introduced, then Thrust and Torque get Worfed in the same episode when Strike (the Big Bad's dragon) makes his debut.
Strike himself gets a solid Worfing late-series to demonstrate how powerful Survive Mode Wing Knight is.
Interesting variation in Parks and Recreation: Made of Iron Ron has a man-eater second ex-wife whom everyone learns to fear and loathe, especially Ron himself. When she as much as catches a glimpse of his first ex-wife - who is not even revealed to the audience that episode - she bolts and runs.