Korra: Ugh, what does it take to impress this guy?
Mako: What? I said "not bad".
When someone refers to another as "Not Bad", it's used to show that the person of whom it is said has won the (albeit grudging) respect of a character who initially hadn't liked them.
A variant of this is when a character refers to another as "Not Bad For An X", which is usually said by a character who normally looks down on another group except for the other character. This variation is often what a supposed Superior Species would say to our plucky human hero whose proven themselves worthy in their eyes.
This is often used by people whose approval is hard to come by and expressed in terms that don't seem all that approving if you don't know them. Deadpan Snarkers are the most frequent abusers of this trope, because outright complimenting someone is out of the question for them. It's also a characteristic of The Stoic, The Spock (because his standards are just that high), people with a Stiff Upper Lip (a British person saying "not bad" may actually be an expression of unbridled approval).
By the way, saying "not bad" instead of just straight up "good" is one of many examples of what's called litotes.
- Multiple times while doing modified Navy Seal testing in Teal'c's Wish, Xander earns a comment of "Not bad" from the instructors, which he takes to mean he's doing better than they expect from a civilian. Of course, since their job is to make recruits feel like they barely pass even if they do perfectly, Xander's actually beating world records when they say that.
- In The Iron Giant, Dean, a junk yard owner who likes to make sculptures out of the junk, gets angry at the Giant for eating some of his art. The Giant, confused, puts together a bunch of half-chewed junk to try to appease Dean. Dean isn't too impressed, at first: "No, don't... that's not... that's... huh, that's not bad."
- In How to Train Your Dragon 2, Cloudjumper reacts this way to Toothless after Toothless defeats Drago's Bewilderbeast and becomes the Alpha.
- In Rise of the Guardians, Jack Frost says this to the Easter Bunny, who replies, "Not bad yourself".
- In Aliens, the android Bishop says Ripley was "Not bad, for a human.", just before he dies (or whatever it is that androids do). The point is that Ripley initially hadn't liked Bishop because he was an android; then he helped save her and the others and she admitted to him that he hadn't done badly for an android. Then the Alien Queen turned up, nearly fatally injuring Bishop and the line is an Ironic Echo of Ripley's earlier comment, she having defeated the Alien Queen.
- Boy Eats Girl: After Jessica kills over a dozen zombies in a Construction Vehicle Rampage, Cheryl snarkily says "Not bad for a virgin", which is still one of the nicest things she says to Jessica throughout the movie.
- Spaceballs has this example:
- In the 2010 True Grit, Mattie defies Rooster and the Texas Ranger and crosses the river on her horse to come with them. Rooster observes her crossing with an appraising eye, and then says "Good Horse", as she staggers ashore.
- In Independence Day the President says this to David. The two have years of animosity between them due to their Love Triangle, which David ultimately won.
- In Willow, Burglekutt (the village's jerkass, especially to the protagonist Willow) is actually noticeably impressed by Willow's disappearing pig trick, making it the closet thing he has to a Pet the Dog moment. Of course when the trick quickly goes sour he returns to his default jerkassery.
- The closest Granny Weatherwax (of Discworld fame) will come to commending someone is to say something neutral implying that they were barely adequate. More often she will only comment to the effect that the person didn't fail as abysmally as she expected.
- In The Titan's Curse, Artemis tells Percy he didn't do bad, for a man. Before then, she had always called him a boy, so it was probably one of the best and most respectful compliments he ever got out of a god that wasn't his dad Poseidon.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, when Jaime Lannister fights Brienne of Tarth, he uses this — when she successfully fends off his first attack, he concedes that she's "Not half bad, for a wench." As the duel goes on and he realizes her level of skill, it comes up again:
Jaime: Not bad at all!
Brienne: For a wench?
Jaime: For a squire, say. A green one.
- In one episode of Scrubs, Dr Cox says J.D. is "not a completely horrible doctor". J.D. recognises this as high praise.
- An episode of Titus has Titus and Dave made a triple play in a Little league baseball game. Ken responds with "not bad," to which Titus and Dave have an over-the-top victory celebration, including a "NOT BAD" banner that drops from the ceiling.
- In The West Wing, outgoing President Bartlet does grudgingly admit that Senator Vinick, the Republican presidential candidate, is an intelligent and ethical politician despite being from the opposing party.
- They Might Be Giants, "Pet Name"
You say I'm "okay, for a guy"
But I can tell that you are lying
And we've almost figured out how we'll get along
- After Adam Cole's successful ROH Television Title defense against Mike Mondo, Matt Hardy stood up from the commentary table to congratulate him, saying he just saw why the two were compared to each other, Cole almost being as good as Matt Hardy used to be, though nowhere near as good as he currently was.
- What Austin Aries has to say after Jeff Hardy beats him for the TNA World Heavyweight Title Belt, saying Jeff briefly raised himself to Aries's level.
- Though surprised it happened, Kacee Carlisle gave La Rosa Negra a contemptuous congratulation after learning she earned a second shot at her NWA World Women's Title Belt.
- At the end of Indiana Jones Adventure at the Disney Theme Parks, Indy says, "Not bad...for tourists."
- At Universal Studios:
- Sonic the Hedgehog:
- In Sonic Generations, this is Dr. Eggman's reaction to if you hit him in the Egg Dragoon. This is, like most things, mocked in pokecapn's Let's Play of the game. Also at the end of the story, Knuckles says this to Sonic who defeated The Time Eater along with his Classic self. Amy hits Knuckles for that half-hearted compliment, and said that Sonic was all great.
- In the first Sonic/Shadow boss battle in Sonic Adventure 2, Shadow will say this after you defeat him with Sonic:
Shadow: Not bad for an impostor.
- Shadow says this to Sonic at the end of Rise of Lyric, after seeing the titular villain hogtied by the group.
Shadow: Hmph. Looks like you and your friends got the job done. (turns and walks away) Not bad.
- In Sabres of Infinity, If Cazarosta respects you enough to let you command the boarding party in his place, he has this to say:
Cazarosta: You are tolerable company, try to avoid dying.
- Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun: When Michael McNeil saves the day, stops Kane, and gets the girl, Umagon concedes "Not bad for a blunt" before kissing him.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Rito warrior Teba is initially dismissive of Link's offer to help him board and disable the aerial Divine Beast Vah Medoh given the latter is a flightless Hylian. But when Link uses a paraglider to ace a tricky archery course at the Flight Range at Teba's request, Teba says "Not bad" in response and acknowledges that Link might be more helpful than assumed.
- Occurs late-game in Cyberpunk 2077 when V and Johnny come across the Cool Car owned by Johnny's former bandmate, Kerry Eurodyne. Even Johnny, who until that point was nothing but critical of Kerry's post-Samurai lifestyle, is forced to "give him that one."
- Friday Night Funkin': Before Tankman's second song in Week 7, he begrudgingly gives Boyfriend his due for entertaining him and singing well enough. However, he's incapable of doing it without being an ass:
- Tankman: Pretty tight bars for a little dude simping for a dumb, boring teenager wearing her mom's clothes!
[Girlfriend is crying in the background]
- In Girl Genius, Zeetha has this reaction to Violetta replacing a hostage held by an antagonist with a dummy.
- In How I Killed Your Master, the protagonist (as a boy) reflexively blocks the strike of his abusive foster parent. He (and the reader) expect him to be in serious trouble, since he wasn't supposed to be learning his martial arts style but instead he gets a "Barely competent" and his "punishment" is to run to the forest and back every day.
- On JonTron, after spending a good 20 minutes ripping on Dan Aykroyd's vodka, laughing at how over-the-top the videos describing it are, and poking fun at a video of Larry King where it's clear Mr. King is reluctant to actually drink the stuff, Jon admits that the vodka actually is pretty good.
- The Angry Video Game Nerd has begrudgingly admitted that some games he expected to be terrible ended up being decent or even actually quite good, such as the NES adaptation of Alien³, Bible Buffet, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Get A Clue. It even returns as a Brick Joke much later when reviewing the PSX adaptation of Planet of the Apes, which begins with him gathering up and discarding all of his shitty games: Castlevania II: Simon's Quest gets thrown out but he hesitantly lets Bible Buffet stay.
- In The Legend of Korra "A Leaf in the Wind", The Stoic Mako sincerely offers this compliment when Korra successfully follows Bolin's pro-bending advice. It backfires, as she assumes she's been Damned by Faint Praise, to Mako's confusion.
Mako: What? I said "Not bad."
- Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. The Joker's response to seeing Terry swooping in as the new Batman (though he calls him "Batfake" moments latter).
Joker: Ah, the new boy! Ears are too long and I miss the cape, but not too shabby, not too shabby at all.