Follow TV Tropes

Following

Replacement Flat Character

Go To

"I'm a Teamster compared to you!"
Frasier (to Niles), Frasier

When a character is known for one specific trait — like being uptight, irresponsible, or an all-out antagonist — but evolves through Character Development to become far more well-rounded over time, the Replacement Flat Character is brought in to fill that void and emphasize how much the original character has grown. It's usually a plot point when the two characters cross paths for the first time; the original may see themselves in the new character and wonder if they were ever that bad (the answer is often a resounding "YES!"). If enough time passes, the new character may develop in a different direction themselves in a sort of delayed Divergent Character Evolution, and another Replacement Flat Character might be brought in to contrast them. By this point however, the series will likely be close to ending, thus keeping this trope from continuing in perpetuity.

Advertisement:

Compare Suspiciously Similar Substitute, where the original character leaves before being replaced by a similar one, and Cousin Oliver, when a new character is brought in to fill the role of the cute child once the previous one nears puberty.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bakuman。: Aoki Ko was initially a distant ice queen who did not take part in the friendly aspect of Friendly Rivalry as much as the other characters. After a good defrosting, she takes a level in kindness and becomes a friendlier and more sympathetic character. Then Iwase decides to get into manga, and takes Aoki's old role of the cold, distant Ice Queen rival, being maybe even harsher than Aoki was. It comes complete with a Lampshade Hanging when Iwase reacts to the idea of exchanging ideas with her rivals the same way Aoki did two years before.
  • The Nagatoro of Don't Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro, while still introduced as a Loving Bully as she was in the image sets she originated from, eventually grew out of it and became more overtly affectionate with her Senpai while still hiding it beneath shallow insults and teasing. To pick up the sadistic slack, her two unnamed friends became Senpai's main bullying problems, often being much more cruel to him (but not as cruel as Nagatoro
  • In Genshiken, Madarame is the resident Straw Otaku, uninterested in any friendships or interests outside of his otaku niche and utterly shameless about his obsessive fandom (in contrast with main character Sasahara, who is more balanced and unsure just how deep down the otaku rabbit hole he wants to go). Characterization Marches On, however, and as Madarame becomes a more well-rounded person, Kuchiki is introduced. Kuchiki takes Madarame's early difficulty socializing Up to Eleven, suffering from an Ambiguous Disorder and seemingly incapable of relating to anyone or anything except through the lens of otaku culture. was in her first image set appearances).
  • Raian "the Devil" Kure in Kengan Ashura is a Psycho for Hire who looks down to other fighters so much he refuses to use Kure Clan martial arts techniques in matches as they'd be wasted on worthless opponents and also end the fight too quickly to let him play with them, so instead he relies on Release, despite it being supposed to be secret. Even his own family finds him a pain to work with, as he disregards orders and cares only about indulging his cruelty. He is one of few fighters who go into every fight with an open desire to murder his opponents (as opposed to merely have it be an option on the table). In Kengan Omega it seems he has mellowed out a little bit after losing to Ohma and befriending him while helping Ohma recover from his injuries. He seems at least able to work with a team without openly antagonizing everyone all the time and willing to suppress his bloodlust to get Kengan's team a win in a tournament where killing is forbidden. His opponent is Alan "the King of Slaughter" Wu, a member of a renegade faction of the Chinese Wu family that Kure Clan also traces its roots to and also knows the secret of Release. Alan is everything Raian was two years prior ramped Up to Eleven, even bringing a knife to ensure his opponent won't be leaving alive, despite how that would cost his team a match. Their fight is used to highlight how much Raian has changed, especially once he notices Alan's brother, Edward. Raian drops his sadistic persona and offers Alan to live if he surrenders. When Alan refuses, Raian utterly overwhelms him with Kure techniques, kills him, and goes chasing after Edward. Edward Wu has become Kure Clan's enemy number one, and each family member has orders to hunt him at all costs, even if they have to botch a job they were hired for. Meaning Raian is actually following orders he'd once disregard.
  • Happened a couple of times in Pokémon:
    • May was brought in as a brand-new starting trainer, as main character Ash was becoming a bit more mature and experienced with two regions and the Orange Islands under his belt. This would later be repeated when May and her Suspiciously Similar Substitute Dawn meet in the same Pokémon contest in Sinnoh. However, May hasn't completely changed...
    • Cameron, one of Ash's rivals in the Unova Tournament could qualify as another Ash-focused example, as he took all of the Idiot Hero traits Ash had Up to Eleven. Downplayed in that Ash was effectively his own Replacement Flat Character during this arcnote  and didn't really notice.

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics has Cherry Blossom, who was introduced as a Ms. Fanservice-type, but also as a contrast to Veronica, who had undergone enough character development that there was some need for a new version of her. Cheryl is bitchier, richer and skankier than Veronica ever was. Veronica, although certainly being rich, bitchy, and seductive, was never outright skanky, but Cheryl clearly was.
  • Originally introduced as The Joker's abused girlfriend and partner-in-crime, Harley Quinn eventually underwent Character Development as more of an Anti-Hero and even got her own series after breaking away from him. DC later introduced a new character called Punchline, who, as an outright villain obsessed with the Joker, seems intended to appeal to fans who preferred Harley's original role and characterization.
  • In Usagi Yojimbo, after Usagi's cynical and mercenary Bounty Hunter friend Gen had been given a deep Jerk with a Heart of Gold characterization and a Dark and Troubled Past that explained his behavior, the minor character Inukai was introduced to take over Gen's original role as the foil to Usagi, being a ruthlessly amoral and greedy Bounty Hunter with far fewer scruples or sympathetic characteristics than Gen.
  • Happened to Venom quite frequently:
    • Back in The '90s, after Eddie Brock was fleshed out into a Noble Demon, Marvel had him turn into an Anti-Hero for a while, and decided to fill his vacant villainy niche with a new character, Carnage, who essentially was like Venom except with none of the redeeming qualities and even more Axe-Crazy.
    • Both the second and third incarnations of Venom, Angelo Fortunato and Mac Gargan, were specifically portrayed as eviller than Brock for this reason.
    • Likewise, during the period where the Venom symbiote had bonded with Flash Thompson and become the heroic "Agent Venom" character, Marvel had Eddie Brock become the new Toxin to act as Thompson's enemy.
Advertisement:

    Comic Strips 
  • Peanuts: Before becoming the blanket-hugging, gospel-quoting weirdo we all know and love, Linus started out as a baby learning to cope with the world. Rerun was introduced to tell those sort of stories again, however, Charles Schulz didn't actually embrace the character until well into the last decade of the strip.

    Fan Works 
  • In Marijuana Simpson Maggie replaces Lisa as the conscientious daughter, while Lisa focuses almost entirely on smoking pot.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Toy Story 2, Buzz was given one of these in the form of a newly unpackaged Buzz Lightyear toy. Like the first Buzz, he had no idea he was a toy. This only served to remind our Buzz how annoying and stuck up he acted right out of the box. "Tell me I wasn't this deluded..."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Santa Clause, the focus is on the relationship between the main character and his eight-year-old son, Charlie. In the sequels Charlie is a teenager, but don't worry, now he has a younger half-sister named Lucy to fit the "cute child" role.

    Literature 
  • Artemis Fowl
    • Minerva Paradiso in book five is a Child Prodigy attempting to capture a magical being — in this case a demon rather than an elf. The similarities are all there between her and Artemis, down to the mythological names. Word of God says that her book was actually a Dolled-Up Installment — he had originally written it with Minerva as the protagonist, but then realized that he was basically writing a book about Artemis and just decided to bring him back as the lead character, while also establishing demons as another subspecies of fairy.
    • Book six, being about Time Travel, pits the Anti-Hero Artemis has developed into against his own pre-Character Development past self. He doesn't like it one bit.
    • Doodah Day, introduced in book 5 is basically a second Mulch Diggums. A reformed fairy criminal who lost his magic and is now helping the heroes. The only difference is that he's a pixie rather than a dwarf.
  • In the second book of The Pendragon Adventure, Spader, a new Traveler, spends the entire book on the same learning curve Bobby had in the first, letting Bobby show off his newfound confidence in comparison. His plot arc even follows some of the same points Bobby's did, down to Uncle Press dying for him the same way that Osa did for Bobby.
  • In Warrior Cats, Darkstripe served as the Butt-Monkey until he died at the end of the first arc. When his spirit returned to seek vengeance along with the other villains in the fourth arc, Darkstripe had managed to grow stronger because of all the abuse he had suffered and he actually posed a credible threat. Because of this, another villain called Snowtuft was introduced to be the Butt-Monkey, and got pushed around and beaten up by the other characters in all but one of his appearances.
Advertisement:

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Giles became steadily more relaxed, funny, confident, modern and so on, so in time, Wesley was brought in with the intention of being worse than Giles ever was. (He was named after Wesley Crusher, for the record.) Interestingly, Wesley then underwent a similar transformation as he transitioned from Buffy to Angel, becoming a fully rounded character in time.
    • Similarly, Anya became this for Cordelia, who probably underwent the most amount of character development in the entire Buffyverse. Though in this case, most of Cordelia's character development occurred on Angel, so it was really a matter of her leaving the show and having Anya to fill in that place.
    • Andrew Wells was this to the Xander Harris of old.
    • Word of God states that Harmony was intended as "Cordelia without the life lessons", though Harmony wasn't technically a replacement for Cordelia until season 5 of Angel.
    • In a slightly meta sense Cordelia herself was this for Buffy in the earliest episodes. The shallow, fashion obsessed, airheaded (at least on the surface) Cordelia as first introduced closely resembles Buffy as she was in the movie and in a couple of flashbacks to her Hemry high days in the show proper.
      Buffy: Before I was the Slayer, I was... Well, I, I don't wanna say shallow, but... Let's say a certain person, who will remain nameless—we'll just call her Spordelia—looked like a classical philosopher next to me.
    • With Willow becoming more and more powerful, the writers realised that they couldn't put her in danger anymore, so Tara was introduced as the "new Willow" - shy, reserved, socially awkward and so lacking in confidence that she's afraid to speak up for herself.
    • With her blunt outspokenness, privileged background and overwhelming sense of entitlement, Kennedy is a lot like Cordelia and Anya in their early appearances, only minus any traits that made those characters likeable.
  • Charmed (1998) has a rare main character example with Paige, whose major traits—being the youngest, the most gung-ho about magic (usually), her earlier estrangement from her sisters and having a lot of casual relationships—puts her into the role that Phoebe had in earlier seasons. Given how much of a Base-Breaking Character Phoebe was during the show's second half, some would argue that Paige's lack of similar "growth" is a good thing.
  • Frasier Crane was introduced in Cheers as an uptight, prissy intellectual who was usually the butt of jokes. Over time, he developed and even had his days in the limelight; for example, the episode "Love Is a Lonely Snipe-Hunter". Once he was given his own show and became the central character, he had to become more complex and well-rounded, and his prissiness and bluster were slightly toned down (though still a frequent subject of jokes at his expense). Cue the appearance of his brother Niles, who was everything Frasier used to be and more — geeky, neurotic, and the butt of (almost) every joke. David Hyde Pierce even described Niles as "what Frasier would be if he had never gone to Boston and never been exposed to the people at Cheers."
    Sam: (meeting Niles) Wow...man, this is freaky. He looks just like you did when I met you. (nudges Frasier) What happened, huh?
    Frasier: (smiling) Wasn't exactly a health club you were running there, Sam.
  • After the eponymous star of Chuck grew into a confident, competent and somewhat superpowered spy, his even-geekier best friend Morgan (who had been in the show since the beginning) was brought into the spy team, allowing him to be the same fish-out-of-water adventurer that Chuck used to be.
  • In Empire, right after Lucious comes to accept Jamal's homosexuality and names him as heir to Empire Records, homophobic rapper Black Rambo makes a scene at the press conference and refuses to work for a "batty boy." It seemed his only purpose was to show how much Lucious had developed, though at the very least, it's Jamal who socially destroys him in a rap battle.
  • Friends: The originally spoiled, selfish Rachel undergoes character development to become more complex and likeable. In two separate episodes, we meet her two sisters who are still the spoiled, selfish people Rachel used to be. It's revealed that Rachel is the only daughter their father is proud of, precisely because of her development.
  • April Nardini is this to Rory Gilmore on Gilmore Girls. Rory started out as a shy, naive, booksmart girl and gradually evolved into a confident social butterfly, at which point April was introduced. In the revival, where Rory is over thirty and April is in college, she is still this.
  • Glee often had to bring in new bully characters once the previous ones became too complex:
    • For the boys, Puck was the original Jerk Jock. After he joined the Glee Club, Karofsky and Azimio stepped in to fill the bully roles. When Karofsky underwent his own multi-season story arc surrounding his gayngst and Azimio was unceremoniously Demoted to Extra, Rick "The Stick" Nelson was brought in and basically served as a contrast to how far Puck and Karofsky had developed. And even he became less malicious over time and came to support the Glee Club at the end of season 3.
    • For the girls, the Unholy Trinity of Quinn, Santana, and Brittany started off as Alpha Bitches, but all three went through massive amounts of character development and were replaced by Kitty when they (well, Quinn and Santana) graduated. Kitty herself underwent a Heel–Face Turn by the end of season four, and her former role was filled by Bree in season five.
  • Part of Sidekick Sergeant Lewis' role in Inspector Morse was being more lighthearted than the title character. When he starred in the spinoff Lewis, he took on a more serious stance and was balanced by his own more optimistic sidekick in Sergeant Hathaway.
  • Sawyer on Lost started out a Jerkass and developed into a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. In season 4, he exhibits little (if any) jerky behavior at all, but then Miles was introduced and became the replacement jerk. This is lampshaded even before it becomes blatant:
    Miles: Where the hell did they go, tubby?
    Hurley: Oh, awesome, the ship sent us another Sawyer.
  • Leverage: Redemption: Breanna, Hardison's foster sister who takes his place as the resident Playful Hacker, is a mild one. She's cocky and out of her depth, much like early seasons Hardison, as opposed to Hardison now, who runs charities in his spare time.
  • The producers of Married... with Children tried a Spin-Off starring yet another sleazy dad: Top Of The Heap, about Al and Peg's high school friend Charlie Verducci and his dimwitted 20-year-old son Vinnie. But for all of Al's faults, it's always made clear that he loves his family and will put their needs before his own. Vinnie, however, had none of Al's redeeming qualities (in the Poorly Disguised Pilot, he threatened to kill his son's cat if Vinnie didn't go along with his schemes) and the show bombed ratings-wise. It was eventually retooled, dropping Charlie in favor of the much-more-likable Vinnie, but this didn't fare much better since he was essentially just a male version of Kelly.
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show: When Mary's friend Rhoda got her own spinoff, she brought along her younger sister Brenda to take on the "less cool friend" role.
  • Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Recreation. Since the first season, Tom's character has deepened and he's been shown as sometimes being good at his government job, and very serious about Rent-a-Swag. So it's been important to hold onto Jean-Ralphio as the lazy, image-obsessed screwup.
  • In Red Dwarf, Rimmer ends up being his own Replacement Flat Character, so to speak: in the TV series, the "original" Rimmer gradually becomes more fleshed out and — if not likeable — understandable. He even shows the occasional moment of bravery, before leaving in series VII to become "the next Ace Rimmer". Then in series VIII he's resurrected by nanobots as his old, pre-hologram self, and is back to being "you as you used to be" as a disgusted Lister puts it.
    • Meanwhile in the book (and less strongly in the episode "Me^2", the contrast is made between Rimmer and the copy of him that hasn't been "mellowed out" by Lister and co.
  • In the Stargate-verse:
    • Archeologist Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) becomes steadily more physical and cool as Stargate SG-1 goes on (and the writers run out of allergy and geek jokes). During the episode "Meridian", he is rendered unavailable/thought to be dead and is temporarily replaced by an anthropologist, Jonas Quinn who is essentially the big geek Daniel used to be, and remains an ongoing (intermittent) figure of fun.
    • In one episode Robert Rothman was a geekier archeologist when Daniel was temporarily unavailable.
    • Dr. McKay starts out as a recurring SG-1 character who shows up whenever there's a need for a scientist to jerkily disagree with the main characters. On Stargate Atlantis, he is one of the main characters, so he gets some character development and Dr. Kavanagh is introduced to take over the "recurring jerk scientist" role.
    • On the villainous side, Colonel Harry Maybourne starts off as The Heavy of a traitorous rogue faction within the NID. But after a few seasons of character development and several Enemy Mine scenarios with the heroes, he'd become too sympathetic to fill this role anymore (instead transitioning into a recurring ally, albeit one that could never be fully trusted) and was replaced in the NID by Colonel Frank Simmons, who was just as dirty as Maybourne had been but lacking any of his charm.
  • Throughout Season 3 of Star Trek: Enterprise, the mission to stop the Xindi from destroying Earth turns Captain Archer into a grittier, more battle-hardened man who has to compromise his ethics more than once. The episode that celebrates our heroes' homecoming after saving the day introduces another captain, Erika Hernandez, who's an idealistic explorer like Archer used to be. He is not happy at seeing her and dwelling on what he's become.
  • In Victorious, Cat was largely the dumb one of the group. When she got her own show, Sam & Cat, she took a more central role. While she was still unintelligent, she was given more to do. As such, Goomer was introduced to take over her role as the dumb one.

    Theater 
  • Gilbert and Sullivan manage quite a speedy one in H.M.S. Pinafore. Captain Corcoran's "I Am" Song firmly establishes him as a flat caricature—proud, formal, obsessed with good language, a bit susceptible to sea sickness—but rather than flanderizing those characteristics, the scene that follows gives him more depth and nuance. Ready to see what happens when he meets somebody who really is as pompous and pedantic as he initially seemed? Enter Sir Joseph Porter.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • In Homestar Runner, Strong Sad has become much more strong and confident, losing a lot of his Wangst and occasionally getting his own back on Strong Bad. Therefore Coach Z and the King of Town have filled in as "pathetic losers" in his place.
  • SMG4: The character of Desti was used as the rival character to Meggy during the 2018-19 episodes, as a sort of flat Alpha Bitch designed to just get in her way. This changes during the Anime Arc, which attempts to flesh her out before killing her off in "World War Mario". For Meggy's Destiny: An SMG4 Movie, her title as the arrogant rival is replaced by Team Killer Ink, a quartet of Inklings that don't even attempt to be actual characters and exist purely to hate humans because and pose as Meggy's final opponent during Splatfest. To say fans were upset that such shallow characters were the Final Boss of a two year character arc, to be instantly disposed of after the fact, would be an understatement.

    Webcomics 
  • A variation on this happens in Narbonic with the protagonist, Dave, a computer geek employed by a Mad Scientist. Dave's early characterization revolved around his extreme geekiness and his Fish out of Water status. As the years went by, however, his personality became more rounded and he got more and more at ease around mad science. Towards the and of the comic, Helen creates a Dave clone who lacks the last few years of memories. Everybody else is shocked at how boring Dave used to be. (Although part of this was that the clone had a fully-functioning Weirdness Censor, which the real Dave never did.) It is telling that when the "real" Dave who just became a mad scientist himself meets his clone, he kills him without the least hesitation.
  • Minor example in Something*Positive: Mike originally represented all the worst aspects of a geek, like being whiny, misogynistic and annoying, but underwent a lot of character development over the years. In the 2016 and 2017 "Old Familiar Faces" weeks, the comic brought back a very minor character named Bloodthorn who acted the same way. The Alt Text even quipped that he was "doing [an] early Mike impression".
  • When his Ax-Crazy antics started to get him in trouble and after adopting a cat as his animal companion, Belkar Bitterleaf from The Order of the Stick was forced to undergo Character Development and become more likely to work with the rest of the party and show he actually cares about anything but killing. When the Order fought the Linear Guild again, Belkar's new Evil Counterpart (after he killed the previous two) was a Kobold named Yukyuk, who was a Kobold Ranger with all of Belkar's old sadistic and murderous tendencies (in fact, he also seems Suspiciously Similar Substitute of Linear Guild's first Kobold, whose personality was exactly like old Belkar's), riding a wolf, which was Belkar's original idea for an animal companion and tries to murder Belkar's cat out of sheer cruelty. Belkar's biggest show of growth comes when he decides to not kill Yukyuk, who ends mind-controlled by V, though he's made to Squick use his mouth as the cat's toilet as punishment for hurting him and later dies when V sends him to trigger some traps.

    Web Original 
  • Gap: Tom was originally somewhat uptight and nerdy, but eventually became the relaxed character of today, and had his role filled by David.
  • Initially, Chad of the Virgin vs. Chad memes was rude, obnoxious, and deliberately did everything the Virgin wasn't doing because cool people don't act like virgins. When his character was made more into a general Big Man on Campus and the memes posited him as unironically cool, Reddit quickly made a replacement: enter Brad, an even more obnoxious, rude bully that's never as cool as he thinks he is.

    Web Videos 
  • In the early SuperMarioLogan videos, Chef Pee Pee was a dimwitted chef who loved working for Bowser, but as the series went on, especially with the introduction of Bowser's son, Junior, Chef Pee Pee became smarter and grew to hate Bowser and Junior for treating him badly. Chef Poo Poo, a clone of Chef Pee Pee introduced in "Chef Pee Pee's Clone" is extremely dumb and loves to play with Junior.

    Western Animation 
  • On Futurama, Fry's ex-girlfriend Michelle wound up freezing herself after Fry himself was accidentally frozen and woke up in the year 3000, but unlike Fry, who adjusted to the future surprisingly well, she had a lot of trouble with it and eventually hooked up with an also recently-thawed Pauly Shore. Word of God says that one reason they did this episode was because they realized that the original concept of Fry being a Fish out of Temporal Water not only hadn't really worked out, because if anything, he functions better in the future than he did in the 20th century.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures:
  • Amity from The Owl House starts off as an Academic Alpha Bitch, but as the audience gets to see more of her hidden sweet side her Beta Bitch Boscha picks up the slack and proves to be an even more shallow bully than Amity was initially presented as. Amity lampshades this dynamic when Boscha starts expressing jealousy over Willow's rising popularity.
  • In South Park, Butters was originally the Butt-Monkey whom the other boys would abuse or manipulate for their own benefit. This continued even after Butters became their friend and an Ascended Extra, but it wouldn't have made sense to use him in this role for "Elementary School Musical," so Scott Malkinson was created instead. Scott is now used whenever we need a character even less cool than Butters.
  • In Thomas & Friends, Philip the Diesel Boxcab's naive and childish (and somewhat cheeky) attitude very much replicates how Thomas and Percy were initially, who by now act as Cool Big Bros to Philip.
  • Inverted in Total Drama: The series has a habit of Flanderizing contestants until they can't really work as characters anymore, then replacing them with a more rounded Suspiciously Similar Substitute. The most obvious examples are Justin ==> Alejandro (both use their looks to manipulate people, but Alejandro isn't obsessively vain) and Eva ==> Jo (both female jocks, but Jo isn't completely blinded by rage).
    • While less obvious, some also believe that Shawn was an attempt to redo Ezekiel, as both are scruffy Homeschooled Kids who wear a toque and struggle with Greed. If so, the difference is telling, since Shawn actually wins his season.
  • Superboy/Conner Kent in Young Justice started off as an aloof kid full of angst and anger issues with tremendous power, who was barely willing to socialize with others. Over the course of two seasons, he grew a lot as a person and became more focused, open and kind. Season 3 then introduces Geo-Force/Brion Markov, who is in many ways what Conner was when he started, and putting him next to Superboy highlights just how much Conner has grown over the years. Many characters point out that Brion is just like what Conner used to be, himself included, and he takes Brion under his wing specifically for that reason.

Alternative Title(s): The Niles

Top