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Mandatory Line

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Ice-T earns his paycheque
Tutuola: You guys need anything?
Benson: Nope.
Tutuola: Okay.

When a character has a scene or bit of dialogue which is unnecessary and oddly out of place, it may be because the writers couldn't work them into the plot of the episode and have just given them a few token lines because the actor's contract requires it. Sometimes a character will get two or three moments like this in a single episode, to give the illusion that they're properly involved in the plot when they're really not.

This trope can be seen in ensemble shows where most of the characters are together (say, a starship bridge crew), but several (the doctor, the engineer) are not, and have no real role in the story.
(EX: Starship Enterprise, in the middle of a firefight)

Picard: Mr. LaForge, status report!
Geordi: The power grid is down 20%, and I have no more lines.

Alternatively, if we're having a Lower-Deck Episode, or a Mauve Shirt is getting a Day in the Limelight, the rest of the regular cast will get the Mandatory Line instead - either one by one through the episode, or providing some sort of framing device or fluff B plot.

With the growing trend of shows with large casts (such as Heroes and Lost) this is becoming less common, and it is typical for characters to be completely missing from episodes. Some shows, such as Law & Order: SVU will alternate pairs of detectives so that two episodes can be produced at one time. Frequently occurs with Poorly Disguised Pilots, where the main characters will have just enough screen time with the new characters to justifiably call it an episode of the parent show, then will dive headfirst into the spinoff characters, often never even referencing the main characters again.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Hayate the Combat Butler OAV, both Klaus and Tama (not a line in Tama's case) get these, which are then lampshaded by the narrator stating 'end of screentime'.
  • D4DJ: The voice actress for Rei Togetsu was replaced between seasons one and two, and it seems to have affected production. While all the characters had their screentime slashed in season two (to make way for the extra characters from the mobile game), Rei was affected particularly hard. In group discussions with her idol (or, sorry, "DJ") unit Happy Around!, she has at most a handful of lines of dry exposition, and very rarely are they intended to be funny or bring her character out. The other three members of Happy Around! get multiple opportunities to work with other units to coordinate Operation Beckoning Cat or forge emotional connections, but Rei doesn't. Even when Happy Around! use her mansion as a vacation spot with Peaky P-Key, the other seven girls banter freely amongst themselves while Rei has exactly three lines — a brief welcome, asking Maho to make dinner, and then telling Maho what she'd like for dinner. It's like the production team did the bare minimum to remind you Rei exists, while also minimizing the amount of dialogue they'd have to replace.
  • Kaguya appears in every single chapter of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War note , though chapters 43 and 65 only have her show up at the very last panel to deliver a single line (highlighting her loneliness in the former, and wondering where everyone is in the latter).
  • Many Pokémon movies (especially later ones) have the Team Rocket trio make token appearances where they bumble around, make airheaded plans to capture the Olympus Mon of the movie (which they very rarely act on), never meet or interact with the cast or title Pokémon, and generally make no serious impact on the plot. One could excise their scenes entirely and usually not miss anything vital to the story. Noticeably averted in the earlier movies (where they tended to at least get their own subplots) and Pokémon: Kyurem vs. The Sword of Justice (which has them make no appearance up until a brief scene in the credits).
  • In the Trigun episode "Little Arcadia," the main protagonist, Vash, appears in both major fight scenes for all of about a minute total of episode time. However, he did save the day, if only from hiding.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Happens once with Daichi/Bastion Misawa in Season 1 of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX and may have been a early sign of what was to come. Over the course of two episodes, he only had ONE LINE:
      Daichi/Bastion: Well, it is... sort of romantic...
    • Kotori in Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL shows up to deliver a line in every single episode (usually Yuma's name). It's particularly conspicuous because Kotori has very little relevance to the plot, which leads to her going to great lengths to tag along even when it makes no sense for her to tag along, delivering her line, and then doing nothing. One episode where Yuma was in another dimension featured the camera randomly cutting to Kotori for one scene to confirm that, yes, she was saying Yuma's name.
  • Parodied in Fullmetal Alchemist (2003). After Mustang gets Reassigned to Antarctica, Mustang's importance drops for a good stretch of time. So one episode, he calls up Hughes just to complain that "[he] hasn't made an appearance lately", with the shot widening to show his staff as well. Hughes immediately hangs up and Mustang isn't seen for the rest of the episode.

  • Ranma ½ Elsewhere Fic Boy Scouts ½ has a minor recurring character, Jim Anderson, whose only line of dialogue, repeated in each of his appearances, is, "The one with the red hair?" Each time, his question makes sense in the context of the discussion it is a part of, and the object of his inquiry is never the same person (or tribble!) twice.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Furious Five from the Kung Fu Panda franchise often get this treatment. It doesn't help that, with the narrative function they serve, there could easily be less than five of them, and yet the five of them are almost always together and need to have lines in every movie. Tigress is the most vocal of them, generally being the spokesperson for the Five, while Mantis and Crane cover the comic relief role, but Monkey and Viper... let's just say that viewers often complain that they can't recall either of them having any lines.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Harry Potter:
    • Ginny Weasley in The Film of the Book versions of Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. In Azkaban, she literally had one line. At least she still appears...
    • Draco Malfoy had only two lines in the fifth movie. His big role in the next movie made up for it, though.
    • Neville always gets to say something in every movie, regardless of whether anything else with him happens. They even added a line to the seventh movie so he'd have something to say. Doesn't mean his role is unimportant.
    • Averted with Wormtail, who appears in the sixth film, but doesn't have any lines in it. And Timothy Spall still gets credited as part of the main cast!
  • The Lord of the Rings: Arwen does not appear in The Two Towers book, yet she graces the film in a series of dream sequences and flashbacks. The writers were originally going to have her appear at the Battle of the Hornburg with the other elves as they believed you couldn't have your two major love interests not speak to each other for a whole film. Needless to say, they decided to go with the dream sequences.
  • Star Trek: First Contact: Although each main character gets at least one memorable scene in the movie, this trope is evident in the briefing-room scene at the beginning. Troi, Crusher and Geordi each get one line, which in Troi's case is just saying, "The Romulans?"

    Live-Action TV 
  • American Housewife is structured so that two of the regular characters, Doris (Ali Wong) and Angela (Carly Hughes) have a Mandatory Line scene in each episode - generally appearing only in the obligatory "Second Breakfast" scene where main character Katie goes to Doris and Angela to discuss the episode's plot. Were it not for these scenes, the two characters would otherwise be recurrers who appear a few times a season.
  • Babylon 5, in general, averted this trope. However this aversion is actually responsible for Talia's actor leaving the show, as she is the person who would have gotten mandatory lines.
  • Battlestar Galactica (1978): The original intent was for Athena to be one of the three main characters alongside Starbuck and Apollo, but Maren Jensen didn't measure up as well as the producers had expected. Her role was progressively scaled back to mostly launching vipers. She had a single scene in "Greetings From Earth", then vanished altogether.
  • Buffyverse:
    • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
      • Angel fell victim to this in season two. After he became the season's Big Bad, it made sense for him to show up in the arc-relevant episodes, but they had to find excuses for him to appear in standalone eps where he wasn't actually causing any trouble, too. So there were several instances where he would randomly bump into Buffy in an alley someplace, say something mean to her, and then leave, adding nothing to the plot. Perhaps the worse example was in "Phases" — the episode was Oz-centric, and about werewolves, of all things. Angelus did nothing but pop up with a new coat of badass guyliner, turn some random girl into a vampire, and stir up a bunch of old tensions between Buffy and Xander. Later in the beginning of season three, after supposedly lost forever in a hell realm, Angel still appeared in a series of dream sequences until he returned.
      • Similarly, Spike, throughout season four, now had a place in the credits, so it seemed every episode from then on needed to have a scene randomly inserted where he showed up, complained about his ongoing emasculating Badass Decay and left.
      • In the BTVS Musical Number "Once More, with Feeling", Willow only has a handful of sung lines throughout the episode, including a single line in the big all-cast number at the end: "I think this line's mostly filler". In this case, it's because Alyson Hannigan is song-shy and asked Joss Whedon to leave her out of the singing as much as possible.
      • This about sums up Cordelia's role in the bulk of Season 1 and parts of 3, where in many episodes she just shows up to antagonize the other main characters and then walks off.
      • It is also why Seth Green left the series — he was tired of Oz just having his mandatory line appearances in most episodes.
    • Angel:
      • After Wesley became estranged from the rest of the group, several episodes had him appearing only to have a bunch of sex with Lilah and not do anything relevant to the plot. Which is a pretty good consolation prize.
      • When Andy Hallett was Promoted to Opening Titles in season four, this trope didn't really come into play. In season five, however, Lorne would usually make a brief cameo at the beginning of the episode with some funny lines about being the head of the entertainment division of an evil corporation and then leave. This makes a little sense, since, as Lorne himself put it in his Day in the Limelight episode, he's not a fighter like the rest of the team.
      • In the second half of season five, Harmony would have one, usually to highlight her total stupidity.
      • There are several episodes in s5 where Spike clearly has nothing to do and will just spend a few scenes talking incessantly.
  • Many times on Castle, both Martha and Alexis have been on camera for only their one line, though both have sometimes been left out of the script completely at times as well.
  • Some episodes of Frasier struggle to include series regular Roz, whose only connection to the other characters is that she works for Frasier. In the later seasons she becomes close to the family and more involved in the A-plots.
    • Another from this show would be Bulldog, who was originally intended as a series regular, but almost immediately began appearing in cameo roles because his only connection to anyone was that he had the timeslot after Roz and Frasier's show.
  • Nardole in series 10 of the revived Doctor Who, because it was only decided he'd become a regular in the middle of pre-production which led to him being included in only a few scenes that had nothing to do with the main plot in four episodes.
  • The writers of Farscape were so impressed by guest star Gigi Edgely's performance that they decided to make Chiana a regular character. The decision was made so late in production that there wasn't time to revise the script for the next episode to give her a larger role in the story. As a result Chiana only has two brief scenes before the opening credits of "A Human Reaction".
  • Ghosts (US): As Sass and Hetty are looking at Hetty's portrait in the basement, Nancy, one of the Cholera Ghosts walks by, looks at the painting, and says "Nice ankles, ya whore!" This is Nancy's entire appearance in the episode.
  • Glee:
    • Tina's role, due to her being an Advertised Extra.
    • Kurt in season 2. He was separated from the main cast and at a boarding school yet the show still managed to crowbar him in, having a character come visit him or him go back home briefly just so he could have a conversation with someone.
  • Vanessa on Gossip Girl in about half of the episodes she appears in.
    • Nate and Jenny too, though to a lesser extent. There problem was they usually had a major storyline in the first half of the season and then spend the next 9 episodes on the back burner. This was especially egregious with Jenny in season 2 where she did nothing but sit around and play boardgames.
    • Rufus once he married Lily, since this all about ended his major storyline. Now he usually has one scene an episode where he gives Dan advice or something.
  • Heroes generally averts this...except in season three, which has been criticized for (among many, many other things) shoving every major character into every episode whether they had something to do or not. While the show stopped this towards the end of volume four, for most of the run we had a surprising amount of scenes of people driving to a destination where something important would happen in a later episode that contributed nothing except getting everyone in briefly. Luckily averted in season four, where only about half the cast is in each episode.
  • Wilson on House has this from time to time. There are many episodes where he has a single scene with House (or one of the rest of the cast) that is, ultimately, pretty pointless and only serves to put him in the episode. The most blatant example of this is in the Season 6 premiere, in which he is the only regular cast member to appear (other than House himself) and his appearance consists of a single, 30 second, completely plot-irrelevant phone call.
  • Frank Lapidus on Lost in the sixth season. His only function in the plot is to fly them off the Island in the finale. He doesn't get any character development, isn't in the flash-sideways, and the only big arc about him (him being a candidate) turned out to not involve him at all. But he had to be included in the rest of the season, so all that was left for him to do was to pop in, give a cheesy one liner and then either vanish or stand around doing nothing for the rest of the episode.
  • In season 2 of Merlin (2008) the writers suddenly seemed allergic to the possibility of Morgana and Gwen (who were best friends in season 1) sharing any sort of dialogue with each other. With one notable exception ("Lancelot and Guinevere") the episodes will either focus on one female character or the other, requiring the superfluous one to voice her Mandatory Line before fading into the background.
  • Lampshaded in Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    • Terry Gilliam only makes one appearance in Episode 4, as a Horny Viking who says, "This is my only line."
    • Episodes 4 and 8 both have a sketch where Michael Palin is an art critic and Katya Wyeth comes on and makes a pun. When he complains about it, she wails, "But it's my only line!"
  • One Veterinarian's Hospital sketch on The Muppet Show (the Kenny Rogers episode) has Nurse Janice claim that the patient (Kermit) had been under sedation - a box of aspirin fell on his head. When Kermit pointed out that this wasn't what had happened, Janice says "I know, but it's my only joke."
  • NCIS: On a few unusual episodes (hostage situations, etc.) they have to shoehorn Ducky in, though he usually gets an entire scene. They fail at this only once (Legend, part 2). In recent years, however, there have been more and more episodes where Ducky never shows up (justified in-universe first by him going on sabbatical, then deciding to semi-retire into a part time position that isn't relevant for every case), largely because David McCallum has needed a reduced workload courtesy of his advancing age.
  • Obviously, Star Trek used this trope abundantly, but special credits go to Harry Kim of Voyager and Travis Mayweather of Enterprise, as most of their careers seem to be made of this.
    • Even the starring roles can get this from time to time. Captain Picard only gets one line in the very final scene of the Next Generation episode "Thine Own Self", and there are a few episodes of Deep Space Nine where Captain Sisko only gets a line or two as well. This usually involves The Captain authorizing somebody else's adventure, so it's not that out-of-place.
    • This was one of the sources of Hostility on the Set between William Shatner and the other actors on the original series: Shatner would do things like point out, "Uhura doesn't need to say this line, it's extraneous", when that would be Uhura's only line in the entire episode.
    • At the end of "Times Squared", Dr. Pulaski is paged to the shuttlebay. She shows up with O'Brien, for no other reason than so that Colm Meaney would have something to do that week. (Unless there was another reason they showed up together...)
    • Parodied, much like everything, in Galaxy Quest, where Gwen gripes about how the only thing she ever did in the show was repeat whatever the computer just said. One can easily imagine a lot of episodes where her character's only lines were this.
    • LeVar Burton gleefully admitted to this practice during a DragonCon panel. He said unless Geordi had a big part in that week's episode, he'd usually go over his scripts like "Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, my line, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, my line..."
  • Occasionally done with the FDNY characters in the later seasons of Third Watch, which by this time was mainly focused on the NYPD characters.
  • Chrissy Snow in Three's Company at the very end of Suzanne Somers' contract. After Somers was fired following her infamous backstage contract dispute, she was still obliged to appear on the show for the remaining episodes under her contract, so she was brought in to tape 60 second scenes with her character on the phone for the end of each episode.

  • The first two adventures in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe AudioGo series Demon Quest just feature the Doctor and Mrs Wibbsey, with Captain Yates leaving an answering machine message in "The Relics of Time" and arriving at Nest Cottage at the very end of "The Demon of Paris". In the third story, "A Shard of Ice", it's Mrs Wibbsey who gets left out, so it ends with her leaving a message on the answering machine.

    Video Games 

    Web Original 
  • Two terrific examples from Channel Awesome, in their two Massive Multiplayer Crossover events. In the first one, the Epic Brawl, everyone was reduced to this except for the Nostalgia Critic and The Angry Video Game Nerd. The second one, Kickassia, was a little better about fleshing out the characters, but over half of the contributors (including fairly popular ones like Angry Joe and Benzaie) were still stuck in this mode.
    • "This is a sad day for Handsome Tom..."
    • "And 8-Bit Micky".
      • The later films were a bit better, if only because that, due to their rather long length, almost every character gets at least one decent scene, or running gag per film. Especially in To Boldly Flee, which clocks over 3 hours. Lupa and Jewwario are just kind of there for most of the early film, but later save the day. Angry Joe and Marzgurl just kind of stand around snarking at people initially, but later get an action scene where they raid the ship. C.R. never really gets his own scene, but gets tons of technobabble lines, JO gets to be Ed and pick on Paw etc. And while Linkara and Spoony are barely in it, they play other characters in the film as well. Of all the recurring characters only the above mentioned Handsome Tom really doesn't do anything in any of the films having only had a few lines in the early ones, and not being in To Boldly Flee at all.
      • Justified for Handsome Tom in that he doesn't really enjoy acting and prefers to have the minor parts he was given, even turning down a role in To Boldly Flee in favor for a minor cameo.
  • Parodied in Homestar Runner with the Show Within a Show Sweet Cuppin' Cakes. No matter what the plot of the episode is about, sooner or later Eh! Steve! — stated to be an in-universe Ensemble Dark Horse — has to show up to deliver his catchphrase ("Eh! Steve!"), even if he's otherwise incidental to the plot.
  • Discussed in The Nostalgia Chick's "Least Awful Disney Sequels" list — one flaw with these movies is that they bring back all the main characters from the first movie, but don't have much for them to do. The worst case, in her estimation, was the Genie in the Aladdin sequels.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series:
    • Lampshaded in The Other Abridged Movie:
      Tea: I'm just here to look pretty!
    • Parodied in the first "Marik's Evil Council of Doom" video, where Sid is the only villain to not get any notable dialogue. He proceeds to complain about this at the end of the video, causing Marik to tell him maybe he'll get more next time.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!:
    • Lampshaded in one episode which focuses solely on Steve and his friends. The rest of the family is not seen at all for half the episode, and when they do show up, they're all sitting together in the living room as Steve walks by and says one brief line to them. Stan says, "It sure was nice of Steve to acknowledge us this week, even if it was just this once." Other than that (and a quick, silent scene with Francine at the end) they don't appear for the rest of the episode.
    • Klaus has been reduced to this. Lampshaded at least once, in "Ricky Spanish", where he snuck in the shot when the camera lingered and proudly stated he managed to get a line in. And so did Hayley.
      Klaus: Ahaha! I made it into the episode! Pay me, bitches!
      Hayley: Haha, me too!
  • In Animaniacs, several episodes feature Wakko with very few lines compared to his two more talkative siblings. In the Michelangelo episode, he only has two lines; one is only a single word. The Midsummer Night's Dream segment gives him only line: "Hello Pixie"
  • In The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, this happened to Sue Storm after being unconscious for most of the episode "Prisoner of War".
    Sue Storm: Hi, Cap. I'm gonna sleep now.
  • In Season 3 of Bob's Burgers, Teddy's voice actor, Larry Murphy, was promoted to main cast. As a result of this promotion, Teddy is now written into almost every episode, although usually for just one or two scenes. Most often, he will be seen near the beginning of the episode in the restaurant as Bob and Linda explain to him the family's plans for the day and he does not appear again for the rest of the episode. If this isn't the case, he usually ends up appearing as a result of the Belchers needing his help with something. In the few episodes where Teddy doesn't appear at all, Murphy usually voices someone else instead. This trope is best exemplified in the episode "Li'l Hard Dad", where the subplot involves Tina needing to give a presentation at school. Louise borrows Teddy's wheelbarrow for Tina to use in the project and tells her that he wants to be in it. During the last five seconds of the episode, after Tina has given her presentation, Teddy appears outside the classroom window looking for Tina and asking if he missed it.
  • In Captain Planet and the Planeteers, LeVar Burton's character, Kwame, delivers only one line in most later episodes. The same exact line. Actually a voice-only Stock Footage.
    • He apparently stopped showing up to recording sessions, so the writers never had his character speak, except for the previously-recorded intro line on the eponymous Super-Granola-Man's summoning sequence.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Chowder where Chowder calls out for Mung and Truffles' help, despite not appearing in the episode. Then they both appear, commenting that they don't have very many lines in the episode.
    • Played straight in "Tofu Town Showdown", where Mung only has one line of dialogue at the very end.
  • Played with in the Cubix: Robots for Everyone episode "Hurricane Havoc". Dr. K and his robots do not appear until the very last scene. Dr. K gets five lines in total, one of which lampshades this trope.
    "Kolossal, get that leak over there! Kannon, you missed a spot! Why does this always happen? I didn't even do anything evil this week! Fix that leak!"
  • The Daria episode "Jane's Addition" focuses entirely on the relationship between Daria, Jane, Trent and the newly-introduced Tom; as such it's the only episode where Daria's family do not appear onscreen at all. About three minutes before the end of the episode, however, we see Daria watching TV as the three each yell a simplistic explanation for why they're too busy to show up.
    Helen: Meeting!
    Jake: Golf!
    Quinn: Date!
    Daria: Sarcasm.
    • It's pretty common for them to get this in school-centric plots, while Jane gets this in a lot of episodes that focus on the Morgendorffer family (particularly in the first two seasons; after that she would usually get a subplot). Also, in "Art Burn", Jake's only "line" is to snore loudly.
  • In Dexter's Laboratory: Ego Trip Dee Dee only has a few minutes of screentime, and only one spoken line, her catchphrase "Ooh, what does this button, do?" Subverted, as she says this right before pressing the button that saves the world.
  • At the beginning of the third season of Drawn Together, Adam Carolla (who voices Spanky) had to miss two consecutive episodes due to scheduling conflicts. However, the producers made sure Spanky had dialogue in each episode by taking a couple of random lines recorded at other recording sessions and shoehorning them into the two episodes.
    • Lampshaded in "Captain Hero's Marriage Pact" when Toot and Clara show up out of nowhere at the end of the episode to comment on how they haven't been getting any screen time that week. This had nothing to do with ensuring that the actor got screen time, though, as Tara Strong, who voices both characters, would have been heavily featured in the episode anyway, as the voice of guest character Unusually Flexible Girl.
  • Lampshaded in Duckman episode "Sperms of Endearment". After it was discovered that Bernice may be pregnant with Duckman's baby (due to getting a donation of his sperm), Cornfed suddenly appears at the door. Duckman says it's a bad time, but Cornfed states that his contract requires him to appear for at least 10 seconds in every episode.
  • In the first season of DuckTales (2017), most of Donald Duck's appearances can be summed up as this, only showing up for a less than a minute to say something, and then never appear again for the rest of the episode; a few of them even being off-screen. He fared a little better in Season 2, although still occasionally falls into this. Likewise, the majority of Mrs. Beakley's appearances in the series are to show up for one scene and then otherwise be forgotten about.
    • Webby also falls into this on occasion. In the second season finale, she has a total of five lines and doesn't directly contribute anything to the plot.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Family Guy. "If you want Cleveland to say his first line in the episode, text FAMGUY3!"
  • The Futurama episode "Kif Gets Knocked Up a Notch" revolves around Kif, Amy, and Leela. Although Fry is present through most of the episode, he only gets a throwaway line here and there, which actually makes his lack of lines more noticeable (the episode commentary addresses this). Zapp Brannigan, who is played by Billy West as well, gets quite a few more lines.
  • Invader Zim actually does have some episodes without Zim or GIRnote , but in "Gaz, Taster of Pork" they show up for one scene just to fulfill this trope. (GIR also had a silent cameo earlier.) In the commentary, GIR's actor expresses joy that he got paid a whole episode's salary just to say "I got monkeys in me!"
  • Kaeloo: The main four appear in every episode for at least a few seconds. A few episodes from later seasons have Mr. Cat be absent for most of the plot, and suddenly show up at the end and tell everybody to shut up and stop making noise since he has a hangover. In one episode, this is lampshaded hilariously with the mandatory line being "How dare you make an episode without me?!".
  • In several later episodes of King of the Hill, Bobby, Luanne, and Boomhauer often had very little to do and either had one line of dialogue or never said anything. Given Boomhauer's role as The Unintelligible, nearly all his lines were bizarre or non sequitur.
  • Mummies Alive!: In episode 22 "Loss of Face" Presley doesn't show up until the very last scene. This is because Scarab didn't go after him, finding an alternative method for eternal youth. In total, Presley, who is usually the main character, gets a grand total of two lines in this episode.
    "Mom uses this stuff to take off her makeup. Rath added a little something extra."
  • The Patrick Star Show: Patrick isn't really involved in the plot of "Backpay Payback". He does show up for two jokes, one midway through and another at the ending, and he has a total of two lines in it.
  • Tommy and Dinko are the only characters to appear in every episode of Pet Alien. However, Dinko's sole appearance in "Scout's Horror" boils down to him seeing Tommy and Gumpers off on their trip, at which point he vanishes from the episode altogether. Similarly, in "Master Bakers!", Dinko doesn't appear until the last scene of the episode, as the bulk of it is focused on Gumpers.
  • Generally Ferb from Phineas and Ferb will speak no more than two to three times per episode. ("He's more a man of action.") His lines are made all the funnier by how rare they are.
  • Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does this to the ninja turtles themselves in some episodes, depending on which of them or other characters get focus. In particular, "Hidden City Job" only has Donatello show up at the very end for the sake of a background B-plot resolution in relation to Leonardo.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Lisa tends to be reduced to a mandatory line when the plot isn't focused on her. For example, in "Homer's Enemy" she has three lines, two of which are single words. One episode had Lisa's only line be an utterance of "Santa?" from offscreen — the commentary mentioned that it was added in upon the realization that Lisa had no speaking lines otherwise in that episode. In "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase", this is lampshaded multiple times in the commentary, but there is actually a reason In-Universe: the third spin-off (the one featuring the Simpson family) includes a joke where Lisa is replaced. Lisa's only line, as a result, is during the first spin-off, which focuses on Chief Wiggum. A large part of this is because unlike most cast members, Yeardley Smith only voices one regular character, who is Lisa, giving less room to plug her into an episode plot.
    • "Simpson Safari" plays with this in the scene where it's revealed that Doctor Bushwell is using the monkeys to run a diamond mine:
      Bart: I think we should look at her research before we condemn her completely.
      (everyone stares at Bart, shocked)
      Bart: I haven't said anything for a while.
    • Kang and Kodos appear in every "Treehouse of Horror." While sometimes they're the focus of a segment, oftentimes they're just a shoehorned cameo, and at other times they're just the focus of the opening or end credits. In one of the latter cases they're actually complaining about not being in the episode.
    • In one "Treehouse of Horror" episode, involving the ghosts of the past versions of The Simpsons cast, Past Lisa is probably this (or The Voiceless if present Lisa was the one who spoke "Yeah, Bart.") as she only has one line out of the other past Simpsons members near the end of the final segment.
    • "The Road to Cincinnati" has only one line for Homer in The Stinger. Worth noting that Homer is the only character of the series to appear in every single episode.
    • Lampshaded on the crossover episode with Futurama.
      Zoidberg: Hello, robot! Looks like everyone gets a turn to say something. This concludes my turn.
  • South Park:
    • The episode "Red Man's Greed" featured one new character who was hanging out with the regulars, and who kept inserting random lines of dialogue that could easily have been cut without changing the main plot line at all. At the end, Stan and Kyle lampshade this by saying "Who the hell are you?" and telling him to get out, only for him to explain that he got to be in the episode due to a Real Life auction the network held. The boys tell him to go away. Rule of Funny, obviously.
    • The main Boys also make brief appearances in other characters' Days In the Limelight, usually with at least one scene or gag involving Cartman. It's worth noting that two of the least popular episodesnote  are the only episodes to feature none of the main characters.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: SpongeBob himself usually has a major role in every single episode, but even in later episodes that otherwise don't involve him, he shows up for a single line or two.
    • He has a couple silent background appearances before showing up near the end to deliver a one-liner in "Mall Girl Pearl".
    • In "Whale Watching" he only laughs and doesn't speak in his two scenes.
    • "Lockdown for Love" gives him his smallest role yet as he only briefly appears in one scene where he makes panting noises and doesn't speak.
    • SpongeBob only appears towards the end of "The Ghost of Plankton", trying to give Plankton a eulogy before breaking down crying, and later cheering when he comes back to life.
    • SpongeBob's brief appearance in "Karen's Baby", where he shows up to congratulate Karen and Plankton and coo at Chip, comes out of nowhere and is never mentioned again.
    • In "Shell Games", he has one line for a throwaway gag that isn't relevant to the plot.
    • In "Captain Pipsqueak", SpongeBob only gets two lines near the end of the episode, and one of them is just "Mr. Krabs!"
    • Would finally be averted in "Bassward", the first and so far only episode in the series not to feature SpongeBob or some variant of him in any way, shape or form.
  • Terra appeared at the end of the Teen Titans (2003) episode "Winner Take All" just to prove she exists; she doesn't even talk though. It's especially noticeable because this was the middle of her arc. She joined the Titans the episode before, the next episode they don't try to mention why she isn't present, and the next episode she betrays everyone.
  • Subverted on the Total Drama series, where by the third episode, expect half the cast to not speak at all, however justified, in that it was notably done to avoid this trope.
    • Played straight with Courtney, though, being the only cast member to be able to speak in all her appearances, that does end up in this trope.
  • T.U.F.F. Puppy: Whenever The Chameleon isn't the focus of an episode right off the bat, he'll either be the Hidden Villain, one of several villains with a shared/secondary role, not actually do anything villainous, or show up for a cameo. In regards to this trope, some episodes only have him around for a quick gag and a couple of lines at the end, with no other relation to the plot.
  • X-Men: The Animated Series:
    • In the first season, Beast is arrested in the second episode. He spends the rest of the season making obligatory appearances where the rest of the X-Men visit him in jail in the episode, but otherwise has zero relevancy to the plot. Season two onward would give him a bigger role.
    • In the second season, there's a subplot where Professor Xavier and Magneto are lured into a trap by Mr. Sinister and trapped in the Savage Land. For the rest of the season, each episode would cut to a scene that showed the two still wandering around the Savage Land before cutting back to the real story.


Video Example(s):


Obligatory Cornfed

Doesn't matter if it's a good or a bad time, Cornfed MUST appear in every episode.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / MandatoryLine

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