Aram Fingal: It's ok, buddy. I can handle it.
Crow T. Robot: And just what is the 'it' which is to him 'up' and which he can perhaps 'handle'?
The lead has been captured by the bad guys and imprisoned, drugged or otherwise immobilized. The Sidekick and/or Plucky Comic Relief are forced to step up, apply what they learned from their hero, and pull his hiney out of the fire.
Don't worry, once the main character has been rescued, the sidekicks will return to their standard incompetent, moronic form, leaving you to wonder if perhaps the main character shouldn't trade up.
- There's an interesting example in D.N.Angel, where instead of the Sidekick having to save The Hero, a boy has to save his alter-ego. When Dark is trapped in a dream world by Satoshi, Daisuke (the mostly normal boy that just happens to turn into Dark) has to enter it and save him.
- Dragon Ball Z:
- Frequently, in trying to push Goku out of the hero position and give the spotlight to Gohan and later Goten and Trunks. Goku almost always needs to come and save everyone in the end anyway.
- When Goku is too injured from his fight against Vegeta to continue, it is up to Krillin, Gohan, and Yajirobe to stop the Saiyan.
Krillin: Holy crap! So this is what it feels like to be important!
- Later, Krillin and Gohan and Bulma have to go to Namek and look for the Dragon Balls while Goku is in the hospital recovering. It doesn't go very well.
- During the Cell Saga, Goku can't defeat Cell (and later ends up killing himself in a Heroic Sacrifice), thus forcing this trope on his son Gohan.
- When Goku comes back for the Buu Saga, he does the same thing again, giving up his chance to defeat Buu so that Goten and Trunks can do it instead. It doesn't work, and Goku has to come back to help yet again.
- Digimon: In the Dark Masters arc of season 01, Digimon Adventure. Everyone but 8-year-old Takeru and Hikari (or T.K. and Kari as they're known in the U.S.) along with Angemon are captured and turned into keychains. The last older kid standing, Sora, makes T.K. promise to protect Kari, and gives him the keychain of his brother, Yamato (Matt), in hopes of giving the little boy the strength he needed to fight Piedmon. (Naturally, it does) To be fair, this is Digimon, specially the digital world, where a person's beliefs can directly effect how great or weak a power they can manifest in that world. So having a symbolic link to his brother helped to give T.K. the emotional fortitude he needed to get Angemon to digivolve. And take on the villain.
- Happens so often to Dick Grayson's Robin that when he left to be Nightwing, Batman couldn't succeed without him (eventually necessitating Jason Todd and Tim Drake to step up).
- In the Marvel Transformers Generation 1 comic, at the end of the initial 4-issue intro, Shockwave arrived and killed all the Autobots, except for Ratchet who happened to be delivering Sparkplug to the hospital at the time. For several issues thereafter, Ratchet was entirely responsible for resisting the Decepticons, and even when he resurrected some of the other Autobots, he still served as leader until they could regain Optimus Prime's head.
- As One is a film about the North Korean and South Korean teams competing as a unified team for the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships. The North Korean head coach, a stern taskmaster, says this to the South Korean coach (who is #2 on the unified team, and much more the easygoing type) after the head coach gets ejected for protesting some dubious referee calls.
- In Constantine, Keanu Reeves' sidekick briefly takes a surprisingly heroic action, only to then be killed while he is monologing.
- In The Dark Knight, Batman was at the mercy of the Joker after the former refused to run down the latter, but then Commissioner Gordon (who was originally thought to have died by Taking the Bullet for the mayor) manages to save Batman from Joker and arrest him. This is later revealed to be all part of the plan..
- In Kingsman: The Secret Service, Merlin, Roxy and Eggsy ultimately decide to go at stopping Valentine by themselves upon finding out that Arthur had sided with Valentine. Justified in that they don't know who else among the Kingsmen have been compromised and that there's too little time to risk finding out.
- In The Mummy Returns, Evie and Jonathan stay on the high ground to provide cover fire while Rick and Alex try to get past the bad guys. When Evie tells her brother, the quintessential screw-up, "Jonathan, that's my husband and son, make me proud." He responds, "Today's the day," with an impressive gun-cock.
- Fortune, the hero of Dragoncharm finds himself unchaperoned occasionally. Given that he's a magicless dragon in a world with quite a lot of magic dragons, being unchaperoned by his Charmed companions was definitely not in the original plan. In particular, a maze, which turns out to be conscious, deliberately splits him up from Cumber. He also finds himself alone for a confrontation with Wraith.
- In Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy, prince Sameth is much more talented than anyone realizes, but has a self-deprecating view of his own abilities. However, when Lirael takes a couple of long-term journeys into Death, Sam has to protect her frozen, soulless body, giving him a whole chapter to come to terms with himself.
- Cassie from Animorphs has two books dedicated to this, The Departure and The Sickness. In the latter, Ax is taken out by an Andalite illness that will require brain surgery in the near future, and everyone but Cassie picks up a non-fatal version. Naturally, this happens at the exact same time as a vital mission. Cassie has to single-handedly infiltrate the Yeerk pool to rescue an anti-invasion Yeerk, escape, and then immediately perform brain surgery on Ax. Brought home by the last line of the book:
Jake: Sometimes we do win. This time? This time, Cassie, you won.
- Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter books, especially book 7, proves himself quite capable of holding down the fort at Hogwarts, even when it looks like everything's going to hell. "It's all up to you now, Ron."
- In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the hero's sidekick, Sam Gamegee, continually demonstrates bravery, insight and loyalty exceeding that of the hero, Frodo. It's often joked about that if Sam had been chosen to bear the ring, the story would only be about 20 pages long. Of course, it could have been even shorter.
- In one episode of Alias, Marshall, normally the Mission Control, was late to work, got locked out when the base went into lockdown, and consequently was the only one available to rescue Sydney, who had been exposed, captured, and Buried Alive. Because she'd been exposed, he had to finish her mission even after he rescued her, which involved accidentally shooting a bad guy, then having to gouge his eye out with a spork to use it in a retinal scanner.
Marshall: Oh, oh, it's oozing, it's oozing everywhere, sir!
Jack: That means you've punctured the sclera. That eye is useless; move on to the next one.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Several times, when Buffy is out of commission it is up to Xander Harris to save the day, despite having no special powers himself. Including but not limited to bringing Buffy back from the dead. Twice.
- The most egregious case is probably the episode "The Zeppo", where everybody is so busy preventing the return of the Sealed Evil in a Can, that they overlook the more immediate threat of four zombie jocks (It Makes Sense in Context) planning to blow up the school (incidentally killing the Scoobies and freeing said evil). Guess who's deemed too fragile to deal with the tentacled ancient evil, and ends up taking care of the bomb-making zombies, instead.
- Doctor Who:
- The effectiveness of Rose Tyler appears to be almost exactly inversely proportional to her proximity to the Doctor — especially notable when she near-singlehandedly saves the world at the end of season one... but in "The Christmas Invasion", which occurs less than twenty-four hours later, claims (and proves) to be completely useless on her own. This is, however, justified by the fact that at the end of series one, she absorbed the time vortex, rendering her immensely powerful, while in "The Christmas Invasion", that power is gone, she is completely on her own, and she doesn't really know what to do.
- Even more true in series 4 in that she A. warns the doctor of the impending end of the universe B. sends Donna to the main dimension and C. kicks some Dalek can with her BFG all while having been trapped in an alternate dimension leading to several Crowning Moments of Awesome.
- The episode "Blink" has the Doctor trapped in 1969, only being able to saved by ordinary girl Sally Sparrow. Indeed, the Doctor even tells her "It's all up to you. Good luck."
- It's mainly an ensemble show but a good 1/4 of all Power Rangers / Super Sentai episodes tend to be about how 4 members of the team are poisoned/brainwashed/eaten etc by the gimmick of the monster of the week with the one remaining member who is either conveniently not there when stuff goes down, or immune to it for whatever reason needing to save them.
- "Out of Time", the final episode of the sixth season of Red Dwarf sees each each of the main characters killed by their future selves until the only one left is the cowardly Rimmer, who must save the day all by himself... and remarkably, shows the cojones to do so.
- Somewhat parodied in the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Other Guys", in which a pair of scientists (Felger and Coombs) think it's up to them to save SG-1, but in reality the team had allowed themselves to be captured to meet up with a Tok'ra agent. Only to be really captured when said agent is caught.
- In one episode of The X-Files, the Lone Gunmen are required to go in the field to save Mulder.
- In Season 3 of Glee, Rachel Berry, who has been the "Lead Female" in every competition, is suspended and banned from the next competition. Thus leaving the next competition up to the back ups.
- Inverted on A Different World, when Jalessa goes into labor. The panicking gang turns to pre-med student Kim. . .who promptly passes out. The scene cuts there, but by the time it's returned, the baby has been delivered and all is calm. The paramedics are there as well. Presumably, they got there in time to take care of everything.
- The basic plot of both the Edutainment game Mario Is Missing and the more serious game Luigi's Mansion is that of Mario being captured, and having to be saved by Luigi.
- Subverted in Metal Gear Solid, in which a captured Solid Snake attempts to get Otacon to spring him from captivity. What he gets is...a pack of ketchup and some food, and Otacon adamantly refuses to take out the guard despite Snake's request. Played straight in that he brought you the pack of ketchup so Snake can fake death.
- Princess Peach, the historic Damsel in Distress of the Super Mario games, steps up in Super Princess Peach when Mario and Luigi are kidnapped.
- This actually can be averted in the multiplayer of Neverwinter Nights, especially the first chapter. When searching for the 4 reagents, if a player other than you finds a reagent and turns it in, Aribeth will tell you that someone else has already discovered it. In other words, it's quite possible to sit your lazy ass back and allow the other players to find the cure while you watch...and you'll still possibly advance.
- This happens in Sly 2: Band of Thieves for a while thanks to Neyla pulling a Face–Heel Turn and landing Sly and Murray in jail, forcing Bentley to strike out on his own for a while.
- In the final stage of Ni GHTS Into Dreams, NiGHTS is captured and it's up to Elliot or Claris to clear the stage and rescue the title character.
- Happens twice near the finale of the Chorus Arc in Red vs. Blue. First, Carolina tells Tucker that since he has the key to activate the communication tower, it's up to him to end the war. Then, right before they do that, they're attacked by Felix who crashes into the tower and when they ask Wash for help, he can only state that he believes in them.
- In one story arc of Avatar Adventures, Air, one of the Elemental Dragons, sucks all the air out of an area, causing most of the heroes to suffocate; the exception being Death, a skinny immortal teenager, who promptly Takes A Level In Badass and mauls the dragon with a gunblade.
- From the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, at one point the Global Guardians were all captured by the Big Bad Eldritch Abomination Dagon... leaving the job of stopping the super-villain to a squad of B- and C-list heroes who had previously been operating in the Guardians' collective shadow.
- Danny Phantom episode "King Tuck" where only the Plucky Comic Relief Tucker can commend the giant sphinx that's beating up the main hero. He later sics the creature on the main villain.
- The Justice League Unlimited episode "Divided We Fall" has the entire original core seven completely trounced by Brainthor... except for The Flash who then proceeds to circle the globe in a matter of seconds in order to build up the momentum to beat the everloving crap out of him.
- Happens frequently on Kim Possible. It seems that as often as Kim saves the world from devastation, her sidekick, her sidekick's pet rodent, her brothers, grandmother, parents, homeroom teacher, or cheerleading squad-mates must pull her cookies out of the oven just as often. Usually, this teaches Kim a lesson about everyone having hidden talents and skills, and adds a bit of believability to the show's premise (no one person, no matter how talented, can do it all alone), albeit at the expense of robbing the protagonist of everything that gives her the right to be the protagonist.
- The worst offender of this trope in the show is the episode with Felix, where Kim, due to the Compressed Vice of the episode, spends the entire episode giving Felix special treatment because he sits in a wheelchair. But when the mission is on, Kim spends the entire fight needing rescue while Felix somehow shows that he'd be more competent at saving the world with his wheelchair than Kim. That's actually pretty justified considering . . . well, have you SEEN THIS THING?! It's like Dr. Octopus ON WHEELS!
- In Static Shock, Richie officially broke the Sidekick Glass Ceiling and became the superhero Gear when he had to rescue Static, who couldn't bust out himself without exposing his Secret Identity, from Ebon and his gang.
- Children's cartoons (such as Superfriends) often use this device to show that kids can be heroes too.
- In the final episode before the series finale of Teen Titans, Beast Boy is the last member of the original team not to have been captured by the Brotherhood of Evil. He and a group of second-stringers have to rescue the rest of the teen heroes.
- Turns out the trope was played with. Every Titan except Robin survived, assembled small team and rushed to a Legion of Doom HQ on their own thinking it was all up to them. Kind of was to be expected after Robin destroyed all means of communication they used.
- ThunderCats (1985): Mumm-Ra once captures all of them and it is up to Snarf to do the needful. He steps up to the plate, and as the trope explains, then goes back to being his irritating self.
- In the Danger Mouse episode "Beware Of Mexicans Delivering Milk," Colonel K puts the burden of the assignment on Penfold after DM's energy is sapped from spiked milk.
- Episode 14 of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated has Scooby and the mascots from Jabberjaw, Speed Buggy, Captain Caveman and The Funky Phantom teaming up to find their kidnapped teenage pals. Episode 26 has Scooby vowing to get the gang back together and hunt down Professor Pericles after revelations about Fred's past and the two parts of the Planispheric Disc are brought up and cause the gang to break up acrimoniously. Episode 33 has Velma and Scooby taking on the mystery when Shaggy, Fred and Daphne are otherwise pre-occupied.
- In Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, XR has at least 2 instances of this:
- The episode "Enemy Without A Face", where the entire Star Command base is infected with parasites that make whoever they attach to violently hot-tempered towards others; as a robot, he is the only one unaffected and has to find the cure.
- The episode "Devolutionaries", where his entire team is exposed to a gas that makes them devolve into their respective species primitive forms (Buzz a caveman, Booster a giant Triceratops and Mira a slime...thing); again, he is unaffected due to being a robot, and has to defeat Warp (the villain responsible for all this) and get the antidote.
- The Powerpuff Girls episode "Three Girls And A Monster" has Bubbles stepping up to the plate to defeat a monster (asking it politely to leave, and it complies) because Blossom and Buttercup are too busy arguing with each other.
- Clue Club: "The Walking House Caper" had Larry, Pepper and D.D. locked in a house by a creature (a perp in a costume, natch), so Larry contacts junior member Dotty at home via his wrist communicator in hopes she'll call the police. Dotty and the two canine mascots Woofer and Wimper instead go to the scene of the crime to distract the creature and rescue the team. And Dotty does have the foresight to call the police as well.