Follow TV Tropes


Sitcom Character Archetypes

Go To

Like the Five-Man Band, there are certain character archetypes who just seem to fit together, a sort of Universal-Adaptor Cast, if you will. In any given Sitcom (especially an ensemble), you are likely to find at least two of the archetypes listed below.

As an example of how these characters mesh, consider the following sample, from Commedia dell'Arte:

  • The Wisecracker: Arlecchino
  • The Bully/Charmer: Il Capitano
  • The Square: Columbina
  • The Dork: Il Dottore
  • The Goofball: Scaramuccia, sometimes Pulcinella

These archetypes generally work best when the characters have no familial relationships, as in a Dom Com; Dom Com characters, being family, tend to have a completely different dynamic to their relationships. On the other hand, nothing could (nor, really, should) prevent a Dom Com from utilizing any, or all, of these character types.

It is important to note that, unlike the Five-Man Band, it isn't strictly necessary for each show to have a representative member for each archetype. Keep in mind that, just as in Real Life, the world of Sit Coms is awash in many various and diverse personalities, of which this is hardly an exhaustive list; so there's no need to shoehorn characters into these categories. Some shows will utilize certain archetypes and leave out others, or may have characters who don't fit into any of the listed types.

And, of course, there's always plenty of room for overlap.

    open/close all folders 

The Square — Often the central protagonist, and usually The Everyman or the Only Sane Man. Essentially the Straight Man; this doesn't mean necessarily that The Square gets no funny lines, but a large portion of the comedy from such a character comes from his/her reactions to the situation or other characters. In a Dom Com, this role will usually be reserved for the Closer to Earth mother figure.

    Examples of "The Square" 
  • Yomi and Nyamo from Azumanga Daioh. Yomi is a level-headed and studious girl surrounded by considerably wackier friends.
  • Leonard and Penny of The Big Bang Theory. Leonard is a physicist like his friends but is a fairly normal guy who is constantly nonplussed by the eccentric and geeky antics of Sheldon and other characters. Penny, their neighbor and an aspiring actress, is even more foreign to their world, and the two strike up an odd friendship as the odd ones out in their geeky social circle.
  • Blackadder: The various Baldricks, starting with series 2, who are all loyal, kind-hearted and somewhat dim-witted servants to Blackadder. As Blackadder's accomplice, Baldrick reacts to Blackadder's scheming and abuse.
  • Sergeant Terry Jeffords in Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the 99th Precinct's Team Mom and is often the Only Sane Man in the other main characters' zany schemes. Compared to the others, he's rather well-adjusted and can actually hold his own in social situations.
  • Annie and Britta in Community. Annie is a kindhearted, former overachiever/Go-Getter Girl who is often the voice of reason amidst wackiness, though her own neuroses are also a source of comedy. In earlier seasons, Britta was amongst the most serious-minded of the study group, and she often has a contrarian take that goes against the rest of the group or plot.
  • Monica Geller in Friends is the group Team Mom who is always caring for the other main characters.
  • Kyon in Haruhi Suzumiya. The tolken normal guy amidst a cast full of people with supernatural powers, and the only one willing to stand up to Haruhi. He's a lazy slacker and the protagonist who nevertheless finds himself dragged into all sorts of situations due to Haruhi's Reality Warper powers and her unacknolwedged crush on him. Also overlaps with The Wisecracker a bit, as he's rather sarcastic.
  • Jeffrey Fairbrother in Hi-de-Hi!. A university professor taking a job as Entertainments Manager at a holiday camp, he is hopelessly out of touch with his job and useless at entertaining his guests. Most of the time he tries to get a laugh out of the campers, he fails miserably thanks to Simon Cadell's deadpan delivery (which only serves to make it funnier to the real-life viewers). He's not much better with his staff either; while he likes them all, finds himself frequently exasperated and dumbfounded by them, such as how he reacts to Ted's blue humour and money-making fiddles, Gladys' never-ending flirtation, or Mr. Partridge's drunken misbehaviour.
  • Simon in The Inbetweeners is the Straight Man of the group. A somewhat nervous and sensible normal guy, he generally gets bullied into doing whatever his friends' Zany Scheme of the episode, despite his reservations. Although Will is the narrator, Simon could be considered the true protagonist as many plots focus on his goals and issues.
  • The title character in Malcolm in the Middle. Malcolm is the put-upon protagonist who's constantly reacting to the antics of his annoying and wild brothers, terrifying mother, and various school bullies.
  • Ann Perkins in Parks and Recreation is the least quirky member of the main cast and generally acts as the Straight Man to some of the more eccentric characters on the show.
  • Marge in The Simpsons. An earnest, good-hearted housewife who has to deal with her oafish husband and misbehaving children.
  • Eric Forman in That '70s Show. The mildly nerdy protagonist, who is constantly put down by his father, exasperated by his wacky mother, and reacts to his wilder friends.

The Wisecracker — The domain of the Deadpan Snarker or the Pungeon Master. This character just lives to make fun of others (not usually mean-spirited, like The Bully) or to find the humor in any given situation. Is usually something of a thorn in the sides of the others, particularly in more serious situations. Expect this character to have an especially conflict-laden relationship with The Bully, though the two can be (and often are) good friends underneath. If the protagonist isn't a Square, s/he is most likely a Wisecracker (and the two can easily overlap, as the Deadpan Snarker and Only Sane Man often do).

    Examples of "The Wisecracker" 
  • Yukari from Azumanga Daioh. The sassy, easily-annoyed, immature teacher who butts in on the main ensemble from time to time.
  • The various Edmunds in Blackadder, whose Fatal Flaw that keeps them from advancing higher is their sharp tounge and smart mouth. In each series, the Edmunds serve a much dumber boss who they tolerate while attempting to exploit and outsmart, but get overconfident and over-snarky, usually preventing them from getting too much success.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Jake Peralta is the fun-loving Pungeon Master kind, while Rosa Diaz is the surly Deadpan Snarker kind. Jake Peralta is constantly making jokes and does not take his job too seriously, while Rosa is a rather sarcastic woman who nonetheless cares for others.
  • Jeff in Community is a sarcastic cynic with a heart of gold, who constantly makes quips. He starts off as the protagonist/POV character before the series shifted to more of an ensemble focus.
  • Chandler Bing in Friends is a sarcastic Deadpan Snarker who is constantly making jokes at his friends' expenses. Nevertheless, he is a good friend to them.
  • Kyon in Haruhi Suzumiya, also the Square. He's deeply sarcastic and the only one willing to stand up to Haruhi.
  • Ted Bovis in Hi-de-Hi!. The Camp Host at Maplins, Ted is always on the ball with his wisecracks and smart remarks. His most frequent targets are the snobby ballroom dancers, Barry and Yvonne, who look down on him with disdain, not only for his snappy comments but also for the blue humour he uses with the campers. As Barry puts it in "It's a Blue World", with Ted, it isn't even innuendo. He says it.
  • Will in The Inbetweeners, mixed with The Dork. He's the protagonist/narrator and is stubborn, has little tolerance for idiocy, and always has to have the last word. Has a smart mouth in the form of long rants and snarky comebacks that tends to get him into trouble, but he's much less of a jerk than Jay.
  • Roy in The IT Crowd is full of snark and sass. He gets very put-upon when asked to do his job as IT support ("Have you tried turning it off and on again?"), but is generally good-natured other than his predisposition towards sarcasm.
  • Francis on Malcolm in the Middle. Earlier on the show he's a prankster who is the only one willing to stand up to Lois; outsite of the home he engages in snark wars with various goofy authority figures, from the teachers at military school to his German cowboy boss on a ranch.
  • Tom Haverford and April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation. Tom is a campy aspiring mogul who often makes jokes at the expense of others, while April is a more outright belligerent Deadpan Snarker.
  • Bart from The Simpsons, a mischievious kid known for sassy catchphrases, getting in trouble, and general mayhem.

The Bully — Despite the name, The Bully is oftentimes not an actual bully per se, but is usually a Jerkass, or sometimes a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. Typically more outright beligerent than The Wisecracker, The Bully will have the least patience with The Wisecracker (who isn't afraid to stand up to him/her) or The Goofball (who is more often than not oblivious to the animosity); on the other hand, if written as a complete Jerkass, The Bully may actively dislike all the other characters. If female, this will be the Alpha Bitch or the Rich Bitch. In Work Coms, The Bully will be excessively driven to climb the corporate ladder and/or dominate the others, whether a Pointy-Haired Boss or a co-worker.

    Examples of "The Bully" 
  • Tomo from Azumanga Daioh. A hyper-energetic Genki Girl who's always trying to push her agenda and desires on all her friends. Coins Osaka's nickname through her relentless demands that Osaka behave like a stereotypical Osakan despite the reality.
  • Gina Linetti in Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a self-absorbed Alpha Bitch who outright berates her coworkers and is constantly teasing and pranking them, though it is suggested that deep down she does care for them.
  • Pierce from Community flip-flops back and forth between this and The Sage. As an old man he holds some politically incorrect views, and often throws fits or is transparently manipulative in order to get his own way. For example, in one episode he pretends to be dying and divides up the study group with final bequeathals to get back at them for ignoring him in previous episodes.
  • Everybody Loves Raymond:
    • Frank Barone, a loudmouth complainer.
    • Marie Barone is also a Bully, but is much more passive-aggressive in her tactics.
  • Haruhi in Haruhi Suzumiya pushes everone in the SOS club around and forces them to do her bidding. For example, she frequently forces Mikuru into humiliatingly sexy costumes to exploit her body for various ventures.
  • Jay in The Inbetweeners. A crude and somewhat sexist Casanova Wannabe, he's constantly making fun of his friends and frequently gives Simon a hard time. For example, Jay's actions led to Simon acquiring the humiliating nickname "Boner".
  • Series One of The IT Crowd has Denholm Renham, a Bad Boss who puts everyone on edge by constantly threatening to fire people for arbitrary reasons.
  • Reese and Lois from Malcolm in the Middle, the former also the Goofball. Reese is a trouble-maker who constantly bullies Malcolm and is a meance to everyone. Meanwhile Lois is a borderline-abusive mother who is constantly at the end of her rope and screams at everyone.
  • Seinfeld: George is this in terms of being the Jerkass. And there's Newman too, and Elaine in later seasons. Other than Kramer, Seinfeld's whole cast basically qualifies as they're all neurotic, complainy jerks.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Nelson and Jimbo are both school bullies who bother Bart.
    • Homer often fills this role as well, especially during his Jerkass period.

The Dork — A nerd. The Dork need not be stereotypically nerdy or geeky, at least not visually, but should be such relative to the other characters. In a cast full of such characters, The Dork will be the most obviously "dorky" of them. Often has No Social Skills. In shows with no obvious Goofball, The Dork may fulfill that role as well. And if a show needs a Butt-Monkey, who better than The Dork?

    Examples of "The Dork" 
  • Amy Santiago in Brooklyn Nine-Nine presents herself as a Go-Getter Girl, but in reality is a rather ineffectual woman who is also the outright dorkiest member of the main cast.
  • Abed from Community (who can also be a Goofball.) He's an exceptionally, almost robotically awkward guy who only understands anything through the lens of television.
  • Ross Geller from Friends is a rather neurotic Straw Loser who can get caught up in his own neurosis.
  • Will in The Inbetweeners, though he's also The Wisecracker. He's frequently called a "posh twat", with highbrow affectations that in a teenager just seem incredibly nerdy. He wears a suit and carries a briefcase to school, believes in the power of politeness, and approaches many social situations in an inappropriately formal manner. Overall this makes him seem like an nerd.
  • Moss in The IT Crowd is a dork even among the "standard nerds" of the IT department. He's very technically proficient but extremely bad at basic social interactions, with an inability to lie that causes him to overcommit to bizarre deceptions. He dresses meticulously in high-waisted pants and button downs, and seems physically incablable of swearing.
  • Milhouse from The Simpsons. Bart's nerdy, bespectacled, and constantly-bullied sidekick, with a father who's even more of a sad sack than him.

The Goofball — This role is typically filled by The Ditz or the Cloudcuckoolander, but the character could also be generically zany or a Blithe Spirit rather than outright ditzy. Could also be a Pollyanna, with naivety serving as the defining trait; if so, expect this to be the youngest character (see also The Precocious) or a Naïve Newcomer. In Dom Coms this can be an air-headed child — typically a daughter — and a (sometimes) milder incarnation can take the form of a Bumbling Dad.

    Examples of "The Goofball" 
  • Osaka from Azumanga Daioh. A textbook Cloudcuckoolander who's constantly bringing up non-sequiteurs, has strange fantasies, and often seems out of touch with everything around her.
  • Jake Peralta and Charles Boyle in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Jake, also a Wisecracker, is a fun-loving, wisecracking cop, while Charles is a Creepy Good man with several odd interests.
  • Troy and Chang in Community. Troy is a lighthearted goofball who oscillates between ditziness and unexpected brilliance. He goes along with Abed's fantasy zaniness and has his own wacky tendencies, like his relationship with a monkey he named Annie's Boobs or inexplicable inferiority complex towards LeVar Burton. Meanwhile Chang is a darker version of this. He's a Consummate Liar who built an entire life as a Spanish instructor based on lies, and as the series went on progressed deeper into megalomaniac fantasies, such as a Noir Episode in his head that burned down the cafeteria.
  • Haruhi from Haruhi Suzumiya has very little interest in conventional people and spends her time coming up with Zany Schemes to force the S.O.S. club to do which usually involves making fiction come to life in some way. Unbeknownst to her she's also probably God
  • Neil in The Inbetweeners is a ditz who is rarely bothered by, and seems barely aware of the crazy things going on around him.
  • Douglas in The IT Crowd is a highly affable guy who is unintentionally the world's worst boss. Due to his incompetance, lust, and general ditziness, finds himself in weird siuations such as losing his hand or getting a woman he's interested in divorce his wife for him.
  • Reese and Dewey in Malcolm in the Middle, sometimes Hal as well. Reese and Dewey are both simple-minded kids whose schemes and pranks lead to trouble. Reese is legitimately stupid, while Dewey is more of a Ditzy Genius. Meanwhile Hal is a Bumbling Dad whose antics don't usually drive the plot, but sometimes causes strange situations with his unusual hobbies.

Since the above are basic archetypes, they can (and are often) supplemented with one or more of the following:

The Charmer — This character comes in two varieties: First, The Casanova, the lover, the player. Enough said. Second, a more classically refined character, someone who is a devout adherent to old-fashioned politeness, grace and decorum (but not nearly so uptight or demanding of others as The Stick).

    Examples of "The Charmer" 
  • Joey Tribbiani from Friends is definitely the Casanova version, as he's always hitting on women and easily has the most success with them out of the three male main characters.
  • Fez is a wannabe version of this in That '70s Show, though it seems to be pretty legitimate in the final season.
    • Randy is a more refined Charmer.
  • Charlie Harper in Two and a Half Men, a consummate ladies' man.

The Stick — Crank The Square up to eleven, and you have The Stick. This character is extremely uptight and stuffy, a stickler for the rules if you will, a stick in the mud as it were. Usually humorless, often humorously so. Not unlike The Square, the humor from The Stick generally results from his/her dismay or outright horror at the antics of the others, and s/he may frequently insist (usually to no avail) that everyone should adhere to his/her mile-high standards. Oftentimes The Stick can overlap with The Bully, or even The Dork. On those shows wherein The Stick co-exists with The Square, The Square is more likely to be the central character.

    Examples of "The Stick" 
  • Friends:
    • Ross.
    • Monica, on countless occasions, had outright stifled any fun being had by bombarding everyone else with rules.
  • Hank on King of the Hill, a stubbornly wholesome, honest, conservative man whose dogged adherence to principle contrasts with everyone else on the show.
  • Post-Flanderization Flanders in The Simpsons, an obnoxiously square religious conservative who raises his children in a comedically strict fashion.

The Sage — Usually an older character, this person acts as a sort of Mentor to the main characters, dispensing advice and An Aesop or two. Though close to the main group, The Sage generally exists outside that group, for example a neighbor, or an authority figure such as a teacher. In Sit Coms of old this position was typically filled by a wise, calm-voiced father figure, but that character type has been largely supplanted by the Bumbling Dad. Indeed, The Sage himself is becoming a forgotten character type these days, as the main characters tend to share the Aesop-dispensing chores rather than get them from a singular source.

    Examples of "The Sage" 
  • Sakaki from Azumanga Daioh often fulfills this role. She's not actually older, just taller, but her quietness and serious personality causes all the other girls to respect her.
  • Captain Raymond Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The oldest member of the main cast, Holt has been on the force longer than anyone else and often has wisdom to dispense when referring to the job.
  • Pierce Hawthorne in Community flipflops between this and The Bully. He likes to view himself as a mentor to the study group, and often has quiet moments where he dispenses wisdom, particularly to Annie and Jeff.
  • Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation. The cyncical, libertarian head of the Parks Department, Ron Swanson is nevertheless a noble patriarchal figure for the rest of his co-workers who puts a great emphasis on self-reliance.

The Bigmouth — A (sometimes) softer, less-hateful alternative to The Bully, The Bigmouth is an annoying, um, bigmouth. Whether s/he is a Know-Nothing Know-It-All; an overbearing egotist like the Small Name, Big Ego; or an intrusive Nosy Neighbor, The Bigmouth just has a knack for getting on everyone's nerves (with the possible inclusion of the audience!). Much much humor is milked from the fact that The Bigmouth isn't nearly as smart as s/he presumes to be. In shows with an Ensemble Cast they will often be The Friend Nobody Likes. Oftentimes crosses over with The Dork (and if The Dork isn't a Butt-Monkey, the Bigmouth most definitely is).

    Examples of "The Bigmouth" 
  • Britta in Community constantly and ineffectually lectures the other members of the study group about whatever cause she's stumbled onto that week. Other characters use her name as a verb meaning "ruined."
  • Pheobe and sometimes Ross in Friends. Phoebe's Cloudcuckoolander antics can occasionally be grating for her friends, and she can sometimes be preachy about them, while Ross can sometimes be an overbearing know-it-all, especially towards his main love interest Rachel.
  • Jean-Ralphio Saperstein in Parks and Recreation is an obnoxious, slimy millionaire with several rather annoying habits such as breaking into song unprompted and hitting on every woman he meets. He's at best tolerated and at most loathed by everyone he meets with the exception of Tom Haverford.

The Precocious — The (usually) youngest, cutest member of the cast (this character really flourishes in Dom Coms), this sweet, adorable little angel's principal reason for existence is to make the audience go "awwwww" (not to imply the tyke doesn't deserve it, natch). Usually fulfills the Pollyanna, Kawaiiko or Moe role, but can get in a few sharp quips as well. Also, this kid's pure innocence can bust through the toughest Aesops imaginable.

    Examples of "The Precocious" 
  • Ben and later on Emma in Friends, both of whom are children of various main characters. Ben, later on in the series, becomes a Mouthy Kid, while Emma remains a simple baby.
  • Mikuru in Haruhi Suzumiya, resident Moe Blob and ironically oldest member of the cast. Kyon's little sister is another example from the same series.
  • Dewey in Malcolm in the Middle. The youngest and cutest family member. As the show progressed and his charcater got older, he moved out of this somewhat, especially after baby Jamie is born.
  • Maggie in The Simpsons. The baby of the family, with no lines. In later seasons her Troubling Unchildlike Behavior becomes a source of comedy.
  • Dominic, Logan and Sammy in Yes, Dear; most especially Dominic, the only one of the three old enough to handle dialogue with the adults.