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Jaded Washout

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Al Bundy at work. It gets worse for him.
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This is the guy (or sometimes, Gal) who never made anything with their life.

Sure, they had promise back in High School, when they were the popular captain of the football team, or the ruling Alpha Bitch, but they clearly never planned for what would happen after graduation. Now that those Glory Days are long gone, they're middle-aged nobodys, running on what little social inertia they can still muster.

They're cynical, jaded, world-weary, disrespected by family and friends, underpaid in a humiliating dead-end job and struggling to achieve basic goals and recognition.

May often be heard complaining about not getting justly rewarded for all their effort, though closer inspection will show them to be a profoundly uninspired if not outright lazy worker and angrily resentful of those who've matured beyond them.

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Compare with Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist; This Loser Is You; I Coulda Been a Contender!; Future Loser; Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight; Loser Protagonist; White-Dwarf Starlet; Former Child Star. Contrast Best Years of Your Life.

Contrast Small Name, Big Ego.


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • To some extent Peter Parker, Spider-Man falls into this. He has great skills and ambitions but he is not able to apply himself out of his responsibility as a superhero, as a family man and is often regarded skeptically by his friends for not always being there. He's one of the top scientific minds on the planet, yet even as an adult he normally ekes out a living selling photos to Jameson instead of pursuing a career that puts his genius to use.

    Comic Strips 
  • Peanuts: Charlie Brown has, time after time, been portrayed with at least some of the descriptions given by this trope. In fact, there are some who had speculated that he will grow up to become either Homer Simpson or former Trope Namer Al Bundy, who ended up marrying The Red-Haired Girl.
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    Films — Animation 
  • Bob Parr from The Incredibles, post Super Registration Act. No wonder he Jumps at the Call. His family life, while a bit shaky, is stable compared to the other examples of this trope.
  • Peter B. Parker from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Middle age and his split from MJ have not been kind to him, and his morale, physique, and career as a superhero are on the ropes. He's even described in-universe, and not inaccurately, as "the janky, old, broke Hobo-Spider-Man". Ouch.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Walt in Gran Torino, depending on the interpretation. In one, he's genuinely badass, and while his family doesn't pay him much attention or respect, the rest of his neighbourhood comes to like and respect him. Another interpretation is that everyone knows Walt is a Jaded Washout except himself: His wife asked their priest to watch after him after her death because she knows that he has no connection to his sons. Everyone thinks he is an old crazy man. Only after Walt realizes his racism is a flimsy excuse to feel better at the expense of others can he be a hero.
  • Sonny Koufax (Adam Sandler) in Big Daddy appears to be heading in this direction, as at the beginning of the movie he's a law-school graduate who never took his bar exam and leads a semi-slacker lifestyle thanks to a cash settlement he received when a taxicab ran over his foot. He eventually does get his act together and is admitted to the bar.
  • Female example: Mavis Gary in Young Adult is a former Alpha Bitch prom queen who's now in her thirties, divorced, and ghostwrites teen-lit novels in order to recreate her high school Glory Days.
  • The future Marty McFly in Back to the Future Part II is very miserable, having given up on his rock'n'roll dreams after injuring his hand in a serious auto accident in 1985 because he got called "chicken", and is in an unhappy marriage to his girlfriend Jennifer working a menial job, which he gets fired from after getting called "chicken" once again. In Back to the Future Part III, Marty avoids getting into the auto accident and learns to better control his temper, thereby erasing this Bad Future and putting a better future in play.
  • To hear her tell it, Ms. Hannigan from Annie (2014). She was apparently part of C+C Music Factory and almost part of Hootie & the Blowfish but they kicked her out before she could become a star.
  • Molly Ringwald satirizes herself as this in her cameo in Not Another Teen Movie. After her Glory Days, she's working as a flight attendant to get by.
  • Burn After Reading: Ozbourne Cox, the mid-level CIA analyst who quits in a rage when called on the carpet for his drinking. It's clear to everyone but him that his time in espionage wasn't half as significant as he remembers.
  • Sky High (2005): Coach Boomer. He, as the Commander puts it, "never made the big time" as a superhero, so now he works as a coach at the titular superhero school, passing judgment on the kids of other heroes by arbitrarily deciding if they are "hero" or "sidekick" material after a brief demonstration of their powers, and giving an earful to those who object.
  • By the start of Yes-Man, Carl has become one thanks to his wife leaving him and years of being passed over for promotion as a low level Loan Officer at the same bank. It's no wonder he tries to avoid his old college buddies who've made something of their lives.
  • At the start of Pokémon Detective Pikachu Tim seemed to be on the path to becoming this despite only being 21; he gave up on his dream of being a Pokémon Trainer after the death of his mother, worked a menial job as an insurance salesman, and was implied to still live with his grandmother while all of his friends left town to become Trainers. By the end of the film he's found his calling and decided to follow in his father's footsteps as a detective.

    Literature 
  • In Lucifer's Star by C.T. Phipps, Cassius Mass used to be an Ace Pilot and The White Prince but a Trauma Conga Line resulted in him becoming this. Notably, Cassius isn't actually that upset about it as he believes he deserves obscurity after serving as a soldier for The Empire and getting so many of his friends killed.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Robert Baratheon somehow manages to pull off this trope while being the king of seven kingdoms. He hates his job, is trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman he despises, constantly pines for the Glory Days and still hasn't gotten over his childhood sweetheart Lyanna. He almost entertains the notion of abdicating and running away to Essos to become a sellsword if it wouldn't mean putting his son on the throne.
    • Merrett Frey was, in his youth, a tough squire and contemporary of Jaime Lannister on his way to knighthood. Then he suffered a head injury which left him in constant pain and unable to fight.
    • Willas Tyrell is a subversion. After spending his childhood dreaming of becoming a knight, but losing the use of one of his legs in a tournament accident, Willas has re-invented himself as an intellectual, a political prodigy and one of Westeros' finest experts on falconry. It's quite telling that Willas is the only one of her grandchildren Olenna has any respect for.
  • Jeeter Lester in Tobacco Road was once a respectable cotton farmer, but gradually fell into squalid, shiftless poverty, with his house rotting apart and his family on the brink of starving to death.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Pete Hornberger from 30 Rock is implied to be this at home. However, 30 Rock is a Work Com, not a Dom Com, so we never actually see Pete at home, and don't see much of his wife, either.
  • Arrowverse: Malcolm Merlyn started out as the Big Bad of Arrow, able to best Oliver in physical combat, and even managing to manipulate his way up to being the new leader of the League of Assassins by the end of the third season. However, the fourth season showed his fortunes taking a major dive, losing his position as the League's leader thanks to Oliver (and losing his hand into the bargain after Oliver bested him in combat), losing any shred of love his daughter had left for him due to his self-serving ways, and even becoming a minion of Damien Dark. In the second season of Legends of Tomorrow, he is fully aware of how far he's fallen, having joined the Legion of Doom in hopes of changing his destiny. Eobard Thawne even refers to him as a "washout" at one point.
  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Walter White at the beginning of Breaking Bad. A brilliant chemist who once had a bright future ahead of him, he sold his shares in a company that would've made him millions, resulting in him watching his former best friend and college girlfriend become wealthy and successful while he's stuck as a disrespected high school teacher and part time car washer, struggling to support his wife and disabled son.
  • Buffyverse:
    • Angel: Happens to Wesley in slow motion. Wesley is basically the same guy from before the Watcher's Council fired him. On the other hand, he's not eager to rejoin those officious windbags, even when bribed. Over the course of years, he grows so detached from his old values that the demolition of the Council building doesn't even upset him.
    • Buffy herself has become one by the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, having resigned to the fact the responsibilities of being a Slayer have destroyed any chance of her own happiness.
  • Cobra Kai: A Sequel Series to Karate Kid, set 34 years later, the series follows Johnny Lawrence, who has fallen hard from his position as the leading Jerk Jock and star of John Kreese's dojo to a tired, vaguely alcoholic odd-jobs man.
    • Funnily enough, Daniel has shades of this too. In spite of having dragged himself up by his bootstraps and owning a chain of car dealerships and auto repair shops, and having a loving wife and daughter as well as a comfortable upper-class life, he still seems to consider his victories in two consecutive All-Valley karate tournaments to be his life's high point. He still prominently displays the trophies in home, plays up his karate champion status in his adverts, and from dialogue implications still discusses the tournaments in the breakroom at work.
  • Robert Baratheon from Game of Thrones. He is stuck in a job he hates, trapped in a loveless marriage to a woman who wants him dead, still hasn't gotten over his high-school (or whatever the quasi-medieval equivalent is) sweetheart, is nostalgic for the Glory Days (considering that his glory days were in the middle of a civil war, he takes a lot of flak for this), and contemplates faking his death and abandoning his responsibilities. The only part of his character that doesn't quite fit is the fact that he rules the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
  • Former Trope Namer Al Bundy, from Married... with Children. Once Polk High's most notable player ("...scored four touchdowns in one game"), now a pathetic shoe salesman married to another Jaded Washout—a former mean girl and high school bicycle Peggy Wanker—with two hell-raising children and a shiftless dog. Although anyone who has worked in a degrading, low-paying, miserable, menial, service-industry job may find him less of an Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist than people who haven't. (Work a job where you are regularly abused by customers for a few years and Al Bundy will be your patron saint.) Although a chauvinist, a loud mouth, and a loser, Al Bundy himself isn't without his virtues. He genuinely loves his wife and family though he won't admit it outright, regularly sacrificed for his children and his wife, and would never cheat on his lazy, bonbon-eating, whiny, sex-starved wife Peg (though he does go to the nudie bar and reads porno mags like Playboy and Big Uns).
  • The Mighty Boosh: Howard Moon. Only without the "past glories" part. Any time he makes reference to any kind of former triumph, you get the distinct impression he's either wildly exaggerating, or just lying outright. This makes Howard a bizarre combination of the Jaded Washout and Small Name, Big Ego, since he varies between thinking he's a smooth-talking, artistic, dark, brooding genius, with understanding that he's utterly pathetic.
  • Jay Pritchett (no-so-incidentally played by Ed O'Neill) of Modern Family is an interesting subversion. He's very wealthy—and otherwise plays this trope straight-up. He often comes off as very jaded, constantly ignored and disrespected by his friends and family, or at least constantly worries about it , especially regarding his current wife, and in spite of his wealth feels he falls short of achieving his goals and recognition. He's also been shown on more than one occasion to overly rely on past glories or attempt to revel in current glories such as, again, his current wife. A lot of fans consider him either a more financially-successful Expy or Alternate Character Interpretation of Al Bundy.
  • Georg Bjarnfredarson from Naeturvaktin clings desperately to his memories of the happy young adult life he had in a Swedish leftist commune and routinely trots out his five university degrees as proof of his superiority. He is a sad middle-aged man with serious personality flaws that make him unemployable in anything above the most menial positions.
  • "Pistol" Pete Disellio from Parks and Recreation is an inversion. He's a former high school basketball star who won the Big Game with a last-second dunk, and the entire town adores him for it decades later. However, he is the only person who doesn't care anymore, and is sick of being considered a hero for something he did when he was seventeen and just wants to move on with his life.
  • Due to the complaints of parents groups and his marriage to Rita Repulsa, by the end of the second season of Power Rangers this has happened to Lord Zedd of all people. Right down to his father-in-law's evil empire stated to be conquering Zedd's former territories in a throwaway line. The Zedd of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers season three and Power Rangers Zeo was even called "Al Bundy Zedd" by the writing staff at the time.
  • The Ranch: Colt fits this to a tee. He's screwed up his football career and gone home to live on his dad's ranch.
  • Ted and Peter, the washed-up snooker players turned commentators on That Mitchell and Webb Look. They tend to spend most of their time drinking lots of pints of bitter, eating junk food and gossiping apathetically about the players they're watching rather than offer commentary on the games. While they do have some hints of Glory Days in their past, they don't appear to have been that glorious.
  • Jack Malloy, from the MWC-inspired sitcom Unhappily Ever After. A used car salesman divorced from his wife and living with a rabbit doll that talks to him.

    Music 
  • Debbie, the protagonist of the song "1985" by SR-71 (later covered by Bowling for Soup), is a rare female example. She wanted to be Hollywood's next big star, but made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in a normal, boring suburban life. Now she's stuck in the 80s and refuses to move on, to the consternation of her own children.
  • The titular character of "Skipper Dan" by "Weird Al" Yankovic is a former up-and-coming Broadway star whose dreams of fame and fortune passed him by—he's now relegated to working at Disneyland as a skipper on the Jungle Cruise ride.
  • Multiple characters in Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days." The basic gist of the song is a guy visits a bunch of his old high school friends who have become The Alcoholic.

    Theatre 
  • Zero from The Adding Machine can't even boast of any past glories other than having worked twenty-five years at the same job without missing a single day. His ignorance, intolerance, and total lack of both imagination and achievement mark him as a failure of the first order.
  • Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman makes this Older Than They Think. Willy is a salesman who used to be better at his job (but never as good as he thought). Unfortunately, he's started to become undependable on the road and eventually is Driven to Suicide.
  • Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire, mostly because she is insecure about her Christmas Cake status.

    Video Games 
  • Michael from Grand Theft Auto V plays it straight, at least in the beginning of the game. His life of excitement is over after he sells out his gang and goes into witness protection, and he's stuck with a wife who cheats on him and two kids he can't connect with. Eventually he meets Franklin and gets his spark back when he realizes here is someone he can teach his skills to and pass on a legacy. Before then, he was a former high school football player whose chance to go pro was cut short due to an injury as well as anger issues, which led to him turning to crime.
  • Persona:
    • From Persona, Reiji Kidou and Yuka Ayase are less successful in their life after the event of the game. Reiji is seen in Persona 2 as a door-to-door knife salesman who scares away his costumers because his Persona that previously made him a major badass still exudes an intimidating aura. Yuka in her highschool was known to be a heartbreaker, lost her love rivalry against Maki for the Protagonist's heart, went on to marry a salaryman as a Gold Digger and never to be seen again despite the other characters appearing in their school reunion.
    • Tohru Adachi of Persona 4 is an uncharacteristically young version of this trope. Throughout his S. Link in Persona 4 Golden, he confides in the main character that life didn't turn out as well for him as he once imagined it would. At one time, he was at the top of his graduating class at the police academy, but got stuck in the boonies, where he struggles to prove himself. He talks about how lonely he is, having early on sacrificed personal relationships for the betterment of his career. Because of his early successes in life, he comes to believe he is owed things from society; namely, love. Later on, this entitlement complex becomes a motivating factor towards him kidnapping (and murdering) Mayumi Yamano and Saki Konishi.
    • Sae Niijima from Persona 5. While she initially possessed a strong sense of justice, she has been worn down by being Promoted to Parent in the wake of her father's death and being overshadowed by her male colleagues at the prosecutor's office; by the time of the game's beginning, she's nothing but a cynical, bitter, borderline Amoral Attorney who only cares about winning cases no matter what, and resents her younger sister Makoto, viewing her as a burden and being jealous that Makoto has the freedom to choose what to do with her life while Sae herself is stuck in a dead-end job where she's constantly overshadowed by her male colleagues. She grows out of it thanks to Character Development, rediscovering said sense of justice and deciding to become a defense attorney.note 
  • Star Wars Legends: Mical from Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is a Downplayed example. When the Exile meets him, he's doing a little "light" reading in some creature-infested ruins. He introduces himself as a historian working for the Republic Navy. This is only partly true, since it's obvious he knows way too much about Jedi, even for a historian. He was once a promising Jedi apprentice, but when the Mandalorian Wars hit, many of the younger Knights (including Exile) left to fight, meaning he had no one to train him and came of age without reaching Padawan rank, meaning he was kicked out and left to fend for himself. He's really a Republic Intelligence agent Carth (or Cede) has employed as a spy on the Exile's vessel. Depending on the Exile's path, and if Exile chooses to train him as a Jedi, he ends up as a Grandmaster of the rebuilt Jedi Order or a Republic Senator.

    Web Originals 
  • That Guy with the Glasses:
    • The Nostalgia Chick knows she's a waste of space deep down. When Dark Nella is about to end her pitiful, nerdy, judgmental, shut-in existence, she's only really upset at being called nerdy.
    • The Nostalgia Critic had a year-long Story Arc where he was getting more and more miserable about his job, involving bitching at other contributors for doing it better than him and trying to invade a country because he was desperate for some kind of power.
    • With Ask That Guy with the Glasses's ongoing Humiliation Conga, we get to watch the process of how someone can go from cool and collected to almost completely pitiful.

    Western Animation 
  • The Small Name, Big Ego page mentions a couple of high-school-jock types (Dash from Danny Phantom, the Bradster from American Dragon: Jake Long) who are actually prototypical Jaded Washouts—completely aware that, lacking any real redeeming features, these are their Glory Days, and they're keen to milk the time for all it's worth, before they flunk out of college and spend the rest of their lives pining for a time they spent making sure the unpopular kids would be too resentful to show up to the high school reunion.

  • Simon Trent, the typecast actor who played the Gray Ghost, years after the show was cancelled, in Batman: The Animated Series. It's a more sympathetic portrayal than most, however, and he eventually does get out of his slump.
  • The protagonist of Bojack Horseman, as described by the credits song, was in a very famous TV show in the 90's. Now he's simply a washed-up actor obsessed with his older success and stuck bumming around with his deadbeat roommate. However, throughout the series his career goes through a series of ups and downs as he gets cast in various films and TV shows.
  • One episode of the Dilbert animated series indicates that Wally used to be a talented and energetic programmer (in the original newspaper comic, there's no indication that he was ever anything but a lazy cynical time-server).
  • In some episodes of The Simpsons, Homer exhibits this trope—particularly in the spoof of the 49up series of documentaries, in which Homer was dissatisfied with his life in general. At other times, of course, Homer seems to invert this trope. This is occasionally played semi-sympathetically, as when flashbacks reveal Homer to have been an accomplished gymnast in high school and such, but that his father's cynical comments about him destroyed his confidence. Homer has plenty to regret in life, but is usually just too lighthearted to let it get him down. He always admits at the end that he also has a lot to be proud of.
  • Star Wars Resistance: Tam Ryvora was working her way up the racing circuit when she had to bet on her ship's value in the next race to pay for repairs, and then lost the race, leading to her working as a mechanic for Yeager to try and earn enough to either fix up the Fireball or buy a new ship. She has a very cynical attitude as a result, which informs a huge amount of her personality.
  • The Venture Bros.:
    • Rusty Venture was a Former Child Star, these days he's a bitter, cynical, pill-addicted has-been— thanks in no small part to his amazingly-traumatic childhood.
    • Most every adult character on The Venture Bros. qualifies to some degree. The creators have called the show their tribute to "glorious failure".


Alternative Title(s): Al Bundy, The Al Bundy, Washout, The Washout

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