"Ramirez! Use the Laser Designator!"
"Ramirez! Use the Grenade Launcher!"
"Ramirez! Get on the Minigun!"
"Ramirez! Get on that Sniper Rifle!"
"Ramirez! Take out the Enemy Vehicles!"
In Real Life, the various members of an organization have very well-defined jobs, which include a specific set of responsibilities and a limited amount of authority. Each member is restricted to performing only a specific set of activities. This system, called "departmentalization", allows the organization to train each member in one set of tasks, allows each member to focus on those tasks, and prevents members from stepping on each other's toes while doing their jobs. Departmentalization is a key aspect of many organizations (particularly large ones), including police, military, medical, governmental, educational and even commercial organizations.
In fiction, however, organizations are rarely depicted in this fashion, particularly when it comes to main characters who are members of said organization. Instead of having a restricted set of responsibilities and authority, The Main Characters Do Everything. They will often be seen doing whatever tasks are important to the story or interesting to watch, regardless of whether they would logically have the clearance, ability, or even the need to do those things themselves. Furthermore, any figures of authority in the organization will rarely show an interest in maintaining any departmentalized structure, often ordering our main characters to act outside conventional boundaries. In many cases, we'll see a lot of people milling about in the background doing nothing, because the Main Characters are already doing their job.
Whether the main characters have the skills necessary for the task is irrelevant. The point is that an organization described or even depicted as being departmentalized is showing no concern to maintain its own departments or hierarchy — allowing some of its members to do virtually anything they deem necessary — or even orders them to do so.
On some shows, the situation will be even more skewed: A main character is actually a figure of authority, but is frequently seen performing the jobs of his underlings — particularly putting himself into dangerous situations. Real-world Departmentalized organizations often go to extreme lengths to keep the higher-ups out of danger, letting expendables do the dirty work. In fact, superiors are often explicitly discouraged from taking a "hands-on" approach entirely (even when they are more qualified for a task than their underlings), whereas in fiction this notion seems to be almost non-existent.
This trope usually happens because writers are faced with a tough dilemma: If our main characters were realistically limited to the scope of their own jobs, things could get very boring very quickly. How interesting would it be to watch The Captain pushing papers and managing his crew all day? How many interesting stories can revolve around watching the doctor diagnosing patients in his little office? note
Of course, one solution would be to add Loads and Loads of Characters to follow around, each with his own little job. Some writers prefer this, and some even pull it off rather well — but the multitude of characters can still potentially confuse the audience. Another solution is to focus only on the most interesting jobs in the organization, and have everything else be done off-screen (as seen in the many Police Procedural aversions listed below) — but again requires very good writing skills and/or very interesting stories to fit this specific format.
Instead, most writers prefer increasing the scope of the Main Character's job far beyond realistic limits, or even impose no limits whatsoever. So now, the Captain goes out on dangerous away-missions, the general practitioner goes into surgery, and the forensic analyst does interrogations and arrests — whatever serves the drama. The break from realism is brushed under the carpet, in the hope that the resulting drama will be gripping enough to keep the viewers engaged.
It is important to note that this trope is only a tool, often being considered one of the many Acceptable Breaks from Reality. It helps reduce the introduction of Flat Characters that carry out the menial tasks, and keeps the main characters in focus throughout the episode.
A show can be said to use this trope if it fits one or more of the following definitions:
- In a realistic world, one or more of the main characters would not be allowed to do what they're doing, given the stated or implied definitions of their jobs.
Example: A police detective performs an official autopsy.
- The main characters are repeatedly seen performing a task that does not fit any of their stated job descriptions, when there is no reason that they couldn't (or shouldn't) acquire an additional team-member specifically to handle that task.
Example: A SWAT team keeps getting called for bomb-threat missions, but no one ever thinks of hiring a bomb specialist.
- The main characters perform tasks that should've been the job of other characters who are also present and able to perform those jobs.
Example: A SWAT team's sniper disarms a bomb, while the teammate known to be a bomb specialist watches him work.
- There are many secondary characters or Ghost Extras around who seem to have absolutely no job, since the main characters are doing everything on their own.
Example: We see the bomb squad arrive at the scene, but the hero detective is still the one who goes to disarm the bomb.
- None of the figures of authority on the show seem to have any problems with the lack of departmentalization, or repeatedly order the main characters to act outside that departmentalized structure.
Example: The police commissioner sees the bomb squad arriving, but still lets the hero detective disarm the bomb himself.
- One or more of the main characters is a figure of authority, but has no regards for departmentalization — often involving themselves in heavy micromanagement of every little detail.
Example: The bomb squad is disarming a bomb, but the police commissioner is giving them instructions on how to do so over the radio.
- One or more of the main characters is a figure of authority, but constantly places him/herself into dangerous situations, despite there being plenty of "expendables" around who should be doing so in his/her stead.
Example: The police commissioner dismantles a bomb while the entire police department watches (with fingers crossed).
Note that the trope can be (and sometimes is) justified simply by providing a logical reason why any of the above should occur. Several such examples are listed below. Unfortunately, many shows offer no such explanation.
Finally, note that this trope is rarely confined to a single main character. It's usually a group of characters who, between them, seem to carry out every possible task in the show. You'll never see the extras doing anything important, it's always one of the Main Characters who gets the task. Some shows make this even more complicated by having one main character doing the job of another main character, because that other main character is off doing some other job that isn't within their remit. In the worst case scenario, this cascades on and on until all of the main characters are doing something they aren't supposed to do.
It's Up to You is a specialized form of this trope, where the player character in a video game Does Everything.
This trope is closely related to Ghost Extras, since the two tropes are almost always played together. Expect the main character(s) to be an Omnidisciplinary Scientist, Super Doc, or Do-Anything Soldier (it's usually an excuse to let him Do Everything). One Riot, One Ranger is an extreme application of the trope. Also connected to Red Shirt; if you're in a series where The Main Characters Do Everything, and suddenly you see someone else participating in the main action, they might be there only for purposes of a sudden death.
Somewhat related to Composite Character, where after adaptation a single character has to carry out tasks that were originally carried out by two or more separate characters.
Compare with Einstein Sue and The Only One, where our main characters do everything because all other characters are either incompetent, or just never happen to be around when they're needed. Also compare Always on Duty and Economy Cast, where the main characters actually do stick to their specialties, but it seems that they're the only ones who do anything when there really should be others available.
Contrast Minimalist Cast, which is when the main characters do everything because there isn't anyone else. Also contrast with Lower-Deck Episode, where the show focuses on the people in the background — and in many cases has to temporarily suspend The Main Characters Do Everything to make it work.
- Happens in Phoenix, particularly with the two speaking-part forensic scientists.
- An odd case with Pokémon is the characters of Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny. In part they subvert this trope, since they are technically many characters despite being essentially identical. However, other police and nurses (who we see on occasion actually do exist) pretty much never get to do anything of consequence. Good luck advancing when your entire industry is dominated by one family.
- This is one of the oddities with the Gundam series being the progenitor of the Real Robot Genre - for all that it's supposed to have the Mobile Suits as just another set of armored vehicles to fight a war with, said war's outcome still tends to entirely hinge on the actions of one Super Prototype and its typically-untrained pilot.
- Zig-zagged in Yu-Gi-Oh!. The outcome of anyone but Yami Yugi dueling the main antagonist is usually a Foregone Conclusion, as is Yugi dueling almost anyone, though Yami Yugi sometimes needs a final push from his friends to deliver the final blow. Played straight against Yami Marik, as Mai, Yami Bakura, and Jonouchi failed to defeat him and Yami Yugi eventually defeated him without The Power of Friendship. Many of the other options employed to defeat Zorc in the final battle were also hopeless by design as the arc was leading up to Yami Yugi's true name being the weapon needed to defeat him.
- This trope is examined and deconstructed throughout Yu-Gi-Oh!: Capsule Monsters. As the hero, Yami Yugi is generally the most effective battler, but refuses to let his friends help out during a tough fight over fear that they'd be hurt. When Joey and Tristan point out that they don't want to see him hurt, he realizes he can't do everything by himself. Yami goes on to (mostly) save the day himself thanks to his Duel Armor, but the Big Bad tells him to sacrifice his friends to catch up to his power level, saying that he doesn't need them. Yugi's friends actually agree with this, though Yugi himself does not, and in the end it's his friends' power that ultimately saves the day, creating the Armor of of Unity and enabling him to win the fight.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX is very blatant about this in the first season when the Key Guardians are dueling the Seven Stars Assassins. Despite having the same number of members, Judai defeats five of them and defeats the Big Bad in the end.
- Dragon Ball Z's Son Goku will inevitably be the only one capable of defeating the Big Bad by the end of the story arc, primarily due to a bad case of Can't Catch Up for the rest of the cast.
- Cell averts this; he is ultimately killed by Gohan.
- In the Saiyan, Cell and Buu arcs, this trope is invoked due to the presence of the Gods and Kaios who, despite being the guardians of various realms and even the entire universe, rarely directly intervene and instead are outshone by the protagonists. In cases where they do, they're completely outmatched by the villains and leave it up to the main characters to sort things out.
- In Dragon Ball Super, the Final Boss of the Future Trunks arc also averts this; Fused Zamasu is bisected by Future Trunks and annihilated by Future Zen'o-sama.
- Happens on a larger scale in Super's Universal Survival arc; out of the first 36 eliminations, Universe 7 (that's us) gets 23, while the de facto Deuteragonist Universe 6 gets 10. Universe 9 gets one elimination, and gets bonus points for drawing first blood, while Universe 2 gets 2.
- Averted in Psycho-Pass where the ones who are gathering the evidence in the crime scenes are droids while the Inspectors and Enforcers do the detective work. However this is played straight with Shion Karanamori, who seemed the only person doing the lab analysis, being the Mission Control to the PSB units and hacking. Though Jyoji Saiga did joined the bureau as an analyst in Season 2, he’s only hired for a short time by Akane and the only job that he did is interrogate those involved in the Kamui case.
- Lampshaded in Heavy Object- Qwenser and Hevia are supposed to be maintenance team members and comment on this fact frequently when they're repeatedly assigned to combat roles.
- In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Kyubey is a pretty extreme example. He claims to be part of a vast civilization of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, but even when the plot escalates to the point of destroying Earth and rewriting the laws of reality, we never see a single other member of his species. This is somewhat averted in The Movie, where thousands of his fellow space-ferrets make an appearance; though they still don't actually do anything, they just observe the antics of the main characters from afar until they get obliterated all at once by a Rain of Arrows.
- Princess Principal: Supposedly there are other groups of spies on the same team as the heroes, but we never see any of them. An especially strange case is episode 7, where they need to find a rogue soldier, but can't infiltrate the barracks because everyone there is male—any member of their all-girl squad would be too conspicuous. No one suggests sending in a male spy, instead of one of the main characters. Then again, maybe there aren't any.
- In Scott Pilgrim, a disproportionate number of events of worldwide importance seem to involve the core cast of characters in some way. For example, apparently the reason why there's holes in the moon is because Todd Ingram punched them into it with his bare fits to impress Envy.
- In the Nick Fury:Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. stories, it is often forgotten that SHIELD is an organization of thousands of agents and operatives. Yet it is always Colonel Nick Fury, Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones, Val, and a handful of other high ranking S.H.I.E.L.D agents who do most or all of the infiltrating, shooting, fighting, spying, and interacting with all of the superheroes. Even despite the fact that these characters should be too aged for active field frontline duties. Also, these characters always operate under their real names, oddly enough. These agents are high ranking intelligence officers whose faces are also well known to longtime enemies like AIM and HYDRA as well as to the various circles of costumed superheroes, many of whom have secret identities. Wouldn't their espionage functions be better carried out by nobody characters? After all, a famous spy is a useless one. In any real spy organization Nick Fury, being the man at the top, would be a reclusive, shadowy character whom even his senior officers might only occasionally see in person. And those senior officers would be spymasters in their own right, presenting a similarly shadowy presence to their own subordinates. The activities and operatives of this organization would remain mostly a mystery even to (especially to) the superheroes. Most of the interactions with superheroes or notables like Tony Stark would be through plainclothes middlemen who would probably not immediately bring up S.H.I.E.L.D's name. The iconic Helicarrier would be a foolish expenditure; its intelligence functions would be carried out by a smaller, less conspicuous conventional aircraft. It wouldn't even need to be a carrier. Anyway, it would be foolish to have all of your senior intelligence officers together in the same place all the time. Instead, S.H.I.E.L.D would be a mostly invisible organization with no discernible headquarters. It would manipulate the more visible and publicly known conventional military or intelligence forces into supplying the hardware and doing most of the spying, fighting and dying.
- DMZ has the main character Matty Roth, a photojournalist, in the center of every single event concerning the DMZ. He eventually helps elect the new leader of the DMZ and becomes his right-hand man. Then he gets sent to acquire a nuke for the new government. Then he single-handedly brokers an end to the war and negotiates a peace deal with all of the factions of the DMZ.
- Batman: Sort of kind of justified with the Gotham Police Department, which any casual reader would think consisted of about five people (one commissioner, a few detectives and the odd nervous rookie) doing all the jobs of a major metropolitan police force. Of course, the GPD is usually depicted as massively corrupt and/or incompetent, so the members of the Major Crimes Unit (the commissioner's pet project), being the few non-corrupt officers, are usually the ones who have to deal with Batman and the supervillains.
- Justified in Peace Forged in Fire. Morgan and D'trel, both Romulan Republican Force officers, take over critical negotiations from the trained Republic diplomats because the Romulan Star Empire's Praetor Velal, previously career military, doesn't respect the politicos.
- Broken Legends picks this apart: Kiera comes to resent how everyone in Hoenn seems to keep shunting all the reponsibility of saving the world onto her shoulders. After the traumatic events at the Seafloor Cavern, Steven triggers her Rage Breaking Point and gets himself used as a human battering ram for his troubles. And all of this comes before she discovers that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished in Hoenn.
- The four openly reject this trope in The Keys Stand Alone. During the book they're expected to be spies, healers, rescuers, detectives, delivery boys, warriors... none of which they're prepared to do. George and John in particular make a point of asking “Why do we have to do this when there are guards around, or other outworlders around, who could do it?”
- Soul Clef XI: Dr. Emily Grey is the one giving Locus his physical examination on behalf of the Federal Army. This would be justified since she's insanely overqualified for most jobs. However, the very angry medical examiner who was supposed to be giving Locus the exam tells her to leave and stop taking everyone's jobs. The examiner does admit that she did everything excellently so he didn't need to do it again, but he's still not happy about it.
- Star Wars both averts and justifies this. This is helped by having Loads and Loads of Characters. For the Imperials, you never see any command officer fighting in combat, except for Vader, who wants to challenge himself and is the only one capable of fighting Jedi. With the Rebels, slightly more is done by high level people, though again only in situations where it would be likely and many of those earned those ranks in earlier battles (Han and Lando promoted to General). For the most part, on both sides, you see admirals, generals, moffs, and even the Emperor only giving orders.
- At the beginning of Attack of the Clones, Anakin and Obi-Wan are assigned to protect Padme after an assassination attempt. When evidence of a greater conspiracy begins to surface, the Jedi Council decides to pull Obi-Wan off guard duty and send him to investigate. No reason is given as to why Obi-Wan specifically needs to do this when there are dozens of other Jedi the council could send and, so far as they know, Padme's life is still in danger and it's probably not wise to weaken her escort.
- Although mostly played straight in Galaxy Quest, at one point it's averted and lampshaded, when it's pointed out that the only thing "Lt. Tawny Madison" does is repeat everything the computer says.
Look, I have one job on this lousy ship. It's stupid, but I'm going to do it. Okay?
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail has King Arthur personally recruiting a small group of knights, then diving head-first into every kind of danger, without gathering the rest of his army until the very end.
- In Prometheus, the mission's two archaeologists are the same ones who discovered the initial clues pointing to their destination; both exhibit inexperience with space travel.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan continues the original series' tradition: The starship Reliant arrives at Ceti Alpha 5, now an inhospitable and deadly planet, to check it for life forms. Who beams down to perform reconnaissance in full hazard gear? Why, the captain and first officer, of course!
- Star Trek: Generations starts with the Enterprise B facing an emergency during a maiden voyage where Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov are guests of honor. Kirk modifies the ship's deflector, Scotty beams up the refugees, and Chekov is the temporary doctor.
- In Star Trek, the main cast does nearly everything because everyone else either doesn't show up, dies, or is incompetent. Bones is made Chief Medical Officer when his superior dies in Nero's first attack on the Enterprise. "Helmsman McKenna" never shows up, thus Sulu becomes the pilot. A linguistics officer proves incapable of distinguishing Romulan and Vulcan, thus xenolinguistics expert Uhura quickly earns his job. Then, the transporter room staff prove similarly incapable of locking on to Kirk and Sulu when they're falling without a chute, and Chekhov quickly runs to the transporter room, shoves them out of the way and does their job for them. Kirk and Sulu are in that situation because they and the Chief Engineer were all chosen for a combat mission instead of Enterprise security, even though they're all bridge crew and Sulu is already the backup pilot. When Chief Engineer Olsen proves to be a Red Shirt, Scotty, who came aboard mid-voyage, ends up taking his place. Finally, Kirk winds up becoming Acting Captain despite having never been meant to be on board in the first place, due to Pike being captured and Spock becoming emotionally compromised.
- In Star Trek Into Darkness, Scotty argues with Kirk and resigns. Instead of choosing someone from the engineering department to become the new chief engineer, Kirk chooses Chekov.
- Likewise, at the beginning of the film, a mission to stop a volcano exploding apparently requires the captain, the second officer and science officer, the communications officer, and the ship's chief medical officer. And the communications office is only there because aforementioned science officer is her boyfriend. What exactly the chief medical officer is meant to bring to the mission is never stated.
- And again, on a mission to find and capture a dangerous fugitive, the captain brings his science officer, his communications officer, and two redshirts who disappear without comment.
- Impressively accomplished in a film with only two characters: Gravity features Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer and "mission specialist" astronaut who is upgrading the Hubble telescope with a special piece of technology that she helped to invent. When things start going haywire, it becomes clear that Stone doesn't have the training against panic that most astronauts must go through, leading one to wonder why, perhaps, NASA didn't choose to train another astronaut in how to install the tech, rather than train an engineer to go into space.
- Mission Commanders rarely leave their ship, but Kowalski is out on a spacewalk when the film opens. Justified, as this is his last mission and he's indulging himself.
- In The Hunt for Red October, for some reason the Dallas' sonar operator Jonesy goes with the Captain and Ryan to the Russian submarine. A few scenes later, we see him operating the sonar station of that submarine, with the Russian sonar operator standing over his shoulder.
- In The Giant Behemoth, American scientist Steve Karnes goes inside the British mini-sub on the mission to kill the Paleosaurus, operating the vessel's firing controls, as opposed to a Royal Navy officer.
- In Them!, New Mexico State Trooper Ben Peterson hangs around long after it's ceased to make sense for a New Mexico State Trooper to do so, assisting the FBI and the Army in battling the giant ants, even leading squads of soldiers! He even lampshades this somewhat, commenting, "This is the first time I've ever given orders to a general!" when using a bazooka with a general as his firing partner.
- This could be justified in terms of security, since the government, at that point, would want to keep news about the giant mutant ants confined to as few people as possible. So, since Peterson was already familiar with the situation, it would make sense to keep him around to assist in the operation.
- Island of Terror: Brian Stanley and David West basically take over the island from the actual guy in charge, and even appoint the inexperienced and frankly unreliable Toni Merrill (who is only there because she let them use her father's helicopter) as leader when they're not around, instead of an actual Irishman (or Irishwoman).
- In Ivan's Childhood, one of Capt. Gholin's duties is spymaster to Ivan, the titular teenage boy who uses his youth as a cover while spying behind German lines. Oddly, Capt. Gholin takes it upon himself to accompany Ivan on a very dangerous crossing of the river into German territory, rather than delegating the responsibility.
- A common criticism of Armageddon points out that it makes no sense to train a bunch of out-of-shape professional oil-rig operators to become astronauts when you can instead train the existing professional astronauts to drill. In the DVD Commentary, Ben Affleck notes that he pointed this out to Michael Bay during filming, to which Bay replied "shut the fuck up."
- Books generally suffer from this less because they can handle large numbers of minor characters better, but the villains in the Left Behind series seem to have an HR problem: Nicolae Carpathia rules the world with only a former flight attendant, a botanist, a disgraced ex-seminarian, and a newspaper editor to help him. But then again, Carpathia is literally Satan, Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies and the Prince of darkness, it's not as if he needed the human underlings. It doesn't help that his personal pilot and publicist are the leaders of the other side.
- Discussed in A Brother's Price, where the princesses are Royals Who Actually Do Something, and are quite keen on doing the dangerous adventuring tasks themselves. They usually find a compromise that consists of their bodyguard accompanying one or two of them, while the other ones (there are five who are of age) stay at the palace and do the less interesting office work. As the Whistler family is at one point recruited into helping the princesses, this trope is still somewhat in power - while we do not know much about most of them, they are the main protagonist's family.
- This trope is somewhat built into the very premise of the Ender's Game series, where a good number of the major characters are a bunch of super-prodigies who, in the first novel, were drafted as children (or at least strongly considered) by the military to be trained into tactical geniuses. The three Wiggin siblings, between them, go on to command an international space fleet, unite humanity under one government, found a major religion, destroy an alien race, save 3 alien races, become the most hated person in history, become the most loved person in history, make faster-than-light travel possible, and manage to do much this without their true identities being revealed to more than half a dozen people.
- Novels featuring the Ankh-Morpork Times, to an extent. William de Word still acts like an Intrepid Reporter in Monstrous Regiment, even though he's supposed to be the managing editor. In Unseen Academicals, he insists on reporting on the football match, although he assigned a sports reporter at the end of The Truth. If it's not him, it's his wife, Sacharissa, as seen in the Moist von Lipwig books. Justified since William invented newspapers on the Disc, and therefore his job works however he says it does.
- Sam Vimes also finds himself doing a lot more work on the streets than his position as Commander of the Watch in the biggest city on the Disc should allow. However, this is often lampshaded and justified - Sam thoroughly dislikes the official side of his job and always looks for excuses to get out and do some real policing. And as he's only answerable to the Patrician (and his wife), he can get away with it.
- In Therin Knite's Echoes, Adem and the rest of Night Team One are the "premier" team at EDPA, meaning they get called in to work any cases deemed high priority by the organization. Since the books revolve around a series of escalating "high priority" cases, Night Team One ends up doing everything, all the time, from things far beyond their collective skill sets to the marginally important tasks that would usually be relegated to lower-ranked agents.
- The Sword of Truth series: If Richard didn't do it, and Kahlan didn't do it, then the action in question is by definition evil, because no one else on the side of good has any agency whatsoever. Becomes slightly ridiculous when an ancient wizard ancestor of Richard who was so powerful and dangerous that there was an entire civilization founded on keeping him and his flawless future-vision locked up, and a second civilization based on exploiting the technology invented to keep him that way escapes dramatically from confinement to... kind of faff around in the background aimlessly for a couple books, and maybe make a pass at an old woman or two. Little help with the oncoming super-evil empire of doom would have been nice, granddad.
- Horatio Hornblower justified this. Most of the time when Hornblower is doing something, he's of a rank lower than captain. Once he becomes a captain and higher, he's less likely to get involved himself. On one occasion, he's forced to go on a mission because one of the Lieutenants on it would out-seniority his preferred choice, his own Lt. Bush. Bush himself is decidedly unhappy about his beloved boss risking his life. And at least once, after reaching higher than Captain, he admits to himself that he simply wants to and there's no one there to stop him.
- This was present in LARP: The Battle For Verona, where the main characters, a group of LARPers, instruct the US Army on how to repel Mongolian invaders using Medieval technology. The fact that these are young people who get together on weekends to play games instructing dedicated military personnel breaks the suspension of disbelief quite quickly.
- Justified in The Lost Fleet series; having managed to get home from a disastrous raid on the enemy rear with a high percentage of his fleet intact, recently recovered Human Popsicle and very reluctant legendary war hero John Geary is immediately sent off on another mission as far from his home nation -much to his own considerable displeasure- as possible because he scares the living daylights out of his political leadership; relations between the military and the government have become exceedingly strained thanks to a century of brutal and bloody warfare, and there was already a serious threat of a coup before a man who is Famed In-Story as some hybrid of Admiral Nelson and Captain America came back from the dead. It also doesn't hurt that he's just about the only really competent fleet commander they have left at this point, because casualties have been so appalling that training and experience are in short supply.
- Perry Rhodan suffers from this to varying degrees over time. The title character in particular kind of naturally has to appear and take center stage at least every so often, so even in his various capacities as head of state or other VIP over time he gets involved in a lot of things that his position would indicate he should normally only hear reports of while staying safely on Earth himself.
- The Clone: For some reason, junior pathologist Mark Kenniston sits in on important meetings about how to deal with the titular amorphous organism, and later directs fire and rescue efforts and even personally leads a squad of scuba divers to combat the thing inside the flooded subway. All things you wouldn't think a pathologist would do. Likewise, supporting characters nurse Edie Hempstead and dishwasher Harry Schwartz hang around and do loads of stuff in place of other characters.
- In Mikhail Akhmanov's Retaliation, the main character, Captain Paul Richard Corcoran, is the commanding officer of a Space Navy frigate. He spends about half the novel actually commanding the ship, and the other half boarding a suspicious alien ship or making a secret landing onto a hostile alien planet. The novel tries to justify this by his unique nature: he's a Half-Human Hybrid with Psychic Powers, who is uniquely qualified to sense and contact alien races. Additionally, while infiltrating the alien planet, he pilots one of their small ships, something only he can do due to his alien parentage. He's also a trained Space Marine, having started out as one (he also used to be a Space Fighter pilot, although, at least, the novel doesn't show him doing that outside of a Flashback). Apparently, it's quite common in this 'verse to start out as a Space Marine, only to end up eventually commanding a ship and then an entire fleet. In the sequel, Fighters of Danwait, his descendant Sergey Valdez, is a retired Space Navy commander, whose last posting in the fleet was that of a heavy cruiser's second pilot (a fairly prestigious posting, since this 'verse's heavy cruisers are what battleships are in American sci-fi). Valdez now serves as a mercenary, commanding a three-man patrol ship for a Higher-Tech Species of Technical Pacifists. He is both The Captain and the pilot of the ship, while the other two crewmembers are the gunners (which is what their postings used to be in the Space Navy before the peacetime cutbacks). And yet, when it's time to board enemy ships, all three grab weapons and rush in like true Space Marines.
- Lampshaded in Redshirts, where a newly-arrived ensign wonders why a bridge officer whose position is that of an astro-navigator would be sent on an away mission to collect bio-samples of a plague. In fact, it's stated that he always seems to have something bad happen to him only to get better shortly after, while some poor ensign gets eaten/vaporized/spaced/suffocated/etc.
- In Stingray, the title craft is supposedly the fastest, deadliest, most advanced submarine in the world, crewed by the two most elite aquanauts. Despite the many hostile underwater races and other threats from the world's oceans, Stingray is nevertheless always available to go on treasure hunts, to investigate wild rumours and to patrol oyster beds.
- Thunderbirds: Officially, International Rescue has agents all over the world, and Lady Penelope is strictly the London Agent. Yet, she's the only agent shown to have a direct video connection to IR headquarters, and whenever IR needs something investigated, no matter where in the world, she and her butler Parker are always the ones they call upon.
- The Men from the Ministry, Yes, Minister's spiritual predecessor (though it featured only civil servants), was set at the even less realistic General Assistance Department, with the remit that they were there to 'just help out' any other department which was overloaded (in fact it had only 3 civil servants working there, two of whom would get involved with absurdly small detail of the tasks in hand.)
- Destroy the Godmodder: Literally everything that happens happens because of entities and players mentioned in the main plot. Despite there being billions of other beings on the field, everything has to be done by the players.
- Space 1889 mostly justified. Most adventures take place far away from human civilization and the player characters find themselves needing to do a bit of everything. Also even in the most advanced, urban, human civilizations of 1889 people are a lot less specialized and trained in a speciality than they are today. It is not too difficult for an amateur detective to have useful knowledge a professional police investigator does not, not to mention a regular beat cop. Furthermore social status is greatly respected and can allow you to push professionals around. If Lord X wants to demonstrate to a professional teacher how teaching should be done, the teacher is very likely to put up with it and keep his groaning silent.
- Rogue Trader takes this trope and runs with it- the smallest ship available has a crew of 7500, while average crew size is around 30-45 thousand. Whether it's negotiating trade deals, exploring alien ruins, commanding landing parties or picking up the mail, generally the only people who typically get their hands dirty and get stuff done? The Player Characters...
- Happens to a near ridiculous degree in Alundra, in which the title character of ambiguous age journeys to an abandoned manor for the first real puzzle level in order to retrieve a book. He is attacked by the White Monkeys among other things. He later goes into a potentially collapsing mine alone, while another character that is said to be a hunter does nothing. It's also pretty noticeable that Alundra is implied to be much younger than the adults who do very little. This is somewhat lampshaded when the other villagers acknowledge how helpless they are.
- Early Final Fantasy games used this quite a bit. No matter what job the main characters typically held, the second the Call to Adventure rang, they answered.
- A prominent example is Final Fantasy V, in which four of the five player characters are royalty, and the second anything goes awry, they strike out on a quest to figure out what's going on. Alone. Even when they have entire armies, platoons, and teams of scholars at their command. No wonder one of them ends up dead.
- Final Fantasy VI does this with both the heroes and the villians. The good guys have King Edgar leave his kingdom to fight himself pretty early in the game. You recruit his brother, Sabin, pretty early, too (although he abdicated the throne before the game started). On the villians' side, Kefka personally fights you several times throughout the game, even though he's shown commanding soldiers.
- Played straight in Battlefield 3 when Sgt. Miller (tank driver) blows a road block and takes out an IED under gunfire, because the bomb squad guy is too cowardly to do it. His partner lampshades it by saying "you ought to collect that guy's salary, dude. You just did his job". Not to mention, as well, that while Miller is supposed to just be the driver, he's also controlling the cannon at the same time. Averted, however, by switching to Miller, Lt. Hawkins (weapon systems officer for a Super Hornet) or Dima (Russian GRU) for scenes the primary protagonist, Sgt. Blackburn (Marine Recon), was not at or could not feasibly do.
- 7 Days a Skeptic and 6 Days a Sacrifice have been accused of this. In the former, the ship's counselor is forced to do things like machinery maintenance and going EVA to investigate the comm array, while the engineer who's supposed to do these things loiter in the mess hall. In the latter, the protagonist has fallen down an elevator shaft, and has so many fractures and concussions that a wrong movement could kill him. Yet he's forced to hobble around the area carrying out fetch quests and interrogating prisoners while his uninjured allies hide in their rooms. The game maker has admitted to this, but saw no other option.
- Valkyria Chronicles, especially in the anime version, would have you believe only Squad 7 actually did anything that moved the war forward and that the Gallian Regulars only existed so we could watch guys in the underdog army die. This gets even more hilarious when you consider the absurdly small size of Squad 7 and the massive size of the Imperial Army by comparison.
- Which makes their enemies even worse for not bombing, zerg rushing, firing artillery at, flanking, or really doing anything about Squad 7, or simply going around them.
- The Call of Duty series repeatedly has soldiers who are not only capable of using every piece of military equipment imaginable, but repeatedly ordered to use weapons that, by their military rank, they should not be let anywhere near. Of course, this is almost inevitably in some sort of highly-critical emergency with no one else available - there is at least one occasion where someone else actually is tasked to do something (such as destroying some tanks with a Javelin in an early CoD4 level) only to immediately take a bullet to the face, leaving the player to do it instead.
- This becomes more apparent in the Modern Warfare games. Private Ramirez in the second game is ordered to use anything from sophisticated Predator drones to rocket launchers to plastic explosives like C4, and Private Allen is tasked with being a Deep Cover Agent in a Russian terrorist cell. Allen at least possibly has the excuse, flimsy as it may be, that he's drafted into Task Force 141 because he does really well in "The Pit", and that he's not really meant to accomplish anything other than get killed and implicate America in a massacre. Ramirez really doesn't. This went to the point that "Ramirez! Do everything!" became a meme.
- Soap even Lampshades this in the second mission of Modern Warfare 2, in the section where the player sneaks through an airfield under the cover of a blizzard while he supports you with a thermal-scoped sniper rifle. If you leave him to kill patrolling enemies by alerting them or just getting close enough, without killing them yourself, he'll eventually complain "I guess I have to do everything?", referring to his status as a player character in the first Modern Warfare.
- Deconstructed in Call Of Duty Infinite Warfare. The player character Nick Reyes's inability to delegate, despite being a starship captain, is actually pointed out and treated as a character flaw rather than a gameplay mechanic — and it repeatedly bites him in the ass.
- The Ace Combat games serve as sort of an aerial counterpart to Call of Duty: The player (and, in some games, his wingmen) literally do the work of several squadrons, from combat air patrols to close support missions to counter-naval interdiction, and have access to a wide variety of planes to do so, regardless of whether it makes sense for their country to use them (e.g. allied NPCs only ever using American jets, while the player gets MiGs and Mirages). The arcade mode in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War acknowledges this, with its story stating that the higher-ups deliberately sent Mobius 1 and his AWACS support in to deal with the situation alone because they have been repeatedly shown during the last war to be more effective than an entire squadron.
- Ace Combat at least provides some justification for this, in that air power is always the most important aspect of the wars that take place in the series - the player characters just happen to be the single most skilled pilots of those wars. AC04 in particular has its plot kicked off simply because the bad guys stole a weapon system that could destroy any plane over most of the continent the game takes place in, thus allowing them to steamroll the good guys until the player steps in.
- Mass Effect:
- This is mentioned as one of the reasons why the batarians have failed to advance as far as the other species. Apparently, batarian commanders and other authority figures indulge in excessive micromanagement to the detriment of their society.
- Averted in the Suicide Mission in Mass Effect 2, however. If you don't pick the correct specialists for each role (Tali, Legion or Kasumi for the vent; Jack or Samara for the barrier; Garrus, Miranda or Jacob to lead secondary fireteams), people will die.
- Played straight with any technological task not specifically flagged for a teammate to do. You can never assign Tali or Kasumi to bypass a door, it has to be Shepard. Hacking a computer system, even with Tali or Legion standing next to you - Shepard again!
- Played for Laughs in Mass Effect 3, if you assign Vega, whose tech-savvy is mostly limited to cleaning guns and crashing a shuttle, to handle a complicated engineering task on a mission; he'll still do it, but it will mostly consist of fiddling with the wires, then kicking it.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda: The Pathfinders were intended to handle exploration, diplomacy, research, and combat, in roughly that order. In-game, you do all that plus odd jobs for anybody who needs help, though in fairness many of those fall under diplomacy (helping allies). It's explained that Alec Ryder, the PC's father, invented the Pathfinder role, but he died before he had a chance to do anything with it. Alec was formerly an N7, the same as Shepard; this trope is apparently part of their training. You, as the most prominent Pathfinder, get to define the limits of the role... and apparently it includes doing odd jobs for everyone.
- Justified in the Halo series, as the Master Chief has spent years undergoing Training from Hell to handle every weapon and vehicle used by both humanity and the Covenant. Being a SPARTAN supersoldier, he is often the only consistent game changer on the battlefield. He also has the benefit of a highly advanced AI capable of single-handedly operating huge battleships running in his suit. She typically takes over the tasks he cannot, such as hacking, exposition, and troubleshooting.
- Police Quest danced around this trope several times. Sonny Bonds, the protagonist, started out as a patrol officer who got a (highly unconventional) impromptu promotion to Narcotics detective for the final part of the first game. He became a Homicide detective for the duration of the second game. Then, at the start of the third game, Sonny got promoted to Sergeant and put back in a patrol car — again — only to advance back to Narcotics detective by the end of that game! Chronologically these three games cover only a few years of time in Sonny's life. Even for the police department of a small city like Lytton, CA, this "hopping around" between jobs is highly unusual.
- In the second game, Sonny believes that a recently-murdered man's body has been dumped into the local river, so he calls for a police dive team. The dive team van arrives, with only one officer in it. Of course, police procedure prohibits diving alone, but "fortunately" it turns out that Sonny can serve as the dive-buddy since he happens to have a diving certificate. This implies that whenever other detectives need the river searched, they're basically screwed.
- Also, throughout the entirety of that game, Keith's actions amount to going back to the car to call the dispatch so that you don't have to. And that diving-team specialist? While underwater, he does nothing except swim about.
- In the second game, Sonny believes that a recently-murdered man's body has been dumped into the local river, so he calls for a police dive team. The dive team van arrives, with only one officer in it. Of course, police procedure prohibits diving alone, but "fortunately" it turns out that Sonny can serve as the dive-buddy since he happens to have a diving certificate. This implies that whenever other detectives need the river searched, they're basically screwed.
- Dragon Age: Inquisition: Played With.
- Averted with the War Table mechanic. Inquisition power is split between three departments: Forces (Military), Secrets (Spies), and Connections (Diplomacy). The three Advisors in charge of these departments will ask the Inquisitor for clearance to send their subordinates on missions which suit their skills (although most missions can be completed by any department, some are more efficient than others). There's a massive number of missions in the game that the main characters never even have to touch.
- Played straight with the in-game map areas. The Inquisitor and their companions do everything here, including raiding keeps and forts, saving villages, performing random petty deeds, and fighting dragons and demons. Sometimes this is unavoidable (Fade Rifts can only be closed by the Inquisitor), but sometimes it's downright silly (the Inquisitor could send a small company or group of agents to deliver flowers to a grave site or look for a lost pet—there is no credible reason s/he would need to waste their own time personally). It may be justified by simple efficiency; when you do send teams of agents to gather resources, their output is always a small fraction of what the Inquisitor would gather in person in that time.
- Breath of Fire IV, given how many sidequests and minigames the main character has to do, you can invoke him to destroy the world by the end of the game.
- In Mega Man X, X is supposedly only one "hunter" in a large organization. He's not even that high-ranked in the organization despite his accomplishments, being listed in some games as only a B-class Hunter (compared to Zero being S-class), yet often everything that happens in a game is entirely up to him with no justification (except for Mega Man X: Command Mission, where the mission he's on is explicitly an infiltration op that only a small team could be sent for). At best he only ever gets support from Zero, Alia or some other operator, and the later arrival Axl.
- In the SimCity series of games, you are the mayor of the city. That doesn't explain why you and you alone are the main force handling zoning, road layout, utilities, public safety, parks and recreation, city ordinances, public transit...
- It's justified in Assassin's Creed: player character Altaïr breaks every tenet of the Assassin's Creed at the beginning of the game and is demoted from Master to Novice as punishment. Throughout the game, Altaïr has to investigate the patterns and behavior of every target (which he previously had other, lower-ranked Assassins do for him), devise his own way to get close to them, and then kill them all by himself. The Bureau leaders recommend places to start his investigation and Assassin Informers will provide useful intel but in the latter case he has to do them a favor first.
- Averted in Space Station 13; everyone has a specific job and limited authority. People can get promoted by circumstances or because one of the crewmembers who can do that decided to move them a few steps ahead, or force their way into complete and total rule of the station, but nobody does everything and nobody can do everything.
- Played with in The Walking Dead: Season 2. The main character is an 11- year old girl, and as per usual, she is at least somewhat involved in pretty much everything important that happens to the group. Sometimes the trope is entirely justified, for example when someone small and/or lightweight is required. Sometimes the player is even allowed to call the other characters out for sending a child to do a dangerous task. It's lampshaded at one point when the main human villain points out she's the only credible threat in her group, simply due to the others' sheer incompetence. Sometimes played entirely straight.
Clementine: That man said he had food in the station.
Alvin: Mind checking it out?
Clementine: Why don't you go look?
Alvin: I'm gonna sit with Bec' for a minute... I'll be right behind you!
- Parodied in the Attack of the Clones episode of How It Should Have Ended, when Obi-Wan is unsuccessfully trying to apprehend Jango Fett.
Obi-Wan: Could you guys just maybe send a larger ship?
Mace Windu: No! No, we cannot.
Yoda: Important Jedi business we have.
Obi-Wan: All of the Jedi are busy?
Yoda: Yes. Sit here on cushions, we must.
Obi-Wan: I'm really doing all of the work, aren't I?
- Parodied/justified on Agents of Cracked. Their boss doesn't remember the phone extensions for any of the other employees.
- While G.I. Joe had hundreds of characters (about one per every task that might need doing), mainly due to never featuring all of the characters in any one episode, it was extremely common to see one specialist doing the job of another. In particular, nearly every member of the team was apparently qualified in flying modern jet fighters, and did so often. Perhaps this is why they ended up causing so much damage to the cities they were assigned to protect from Cobra.
- In The Simpsons, members of the Family tend to get involved in affairs of other characters, with varying degrees of justification. One blatant example is in "Eight Misbehavin'", where Homer helps Apu steal back his children from the Zoo, with no explanation given except possibly that Homer is up for any kind of hijinks.
Krusty: You'd really help me take on the mob?
- Lampshaded in "Lisa's Date with Density", where Chief Wiggum says "You know, in most cities, the Chief of Police doesn't even go out on calls like these."
- In "Insane Clown Poppy" Krusty picks Homer out of several people for parental advice, and after Krusty bets and loses his daughter's violin to the mob and has to get it back, the Simpsons are inexplicably the first people he goes to for help. Lampshaded:
Homer: For a casual acquaintance like you? Absolutely.
- Similarly in "The Lastest Gun in the West," Marge explains to a confused Buck that she's helping him solve his alcohol problem because "I just naturally assumed it was some of my business." He responds "nobody's even told me your name yet."
- Often, one Simpson is the cause of, and another is the solution to, the problem that befalls Springfield:
- In "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment", Prohibition gets started because Bart drinks at the Saint Patrick's Day Parade, and Homer works to reverse it.
- In "Sweets and Sour Marge", Homer indirectly, and Marge directly, causes the sugar ban, and Homer works to reverse it.
- Apparently enforced, according to the DVD Commentary for "Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part 2"; one writer suggested it should be Barney, but it was decided that it should be someone from the family. (It's Maggie.)
- From "Homer the Smithers", Mr. Burns tries to force Smithers to take a vacation. Smithers appears to agree, though looks on his own to find someone too incompetent to handle his job so he can get back to it immediately - but then his computer doesn't bother narrowing down from 714 "finalists", to which he decides, "nuts to this; I'll just get Homer Simpson." Lampshaded in the DVD commentary as an excuse to get to this trope.
- In Futurama, the Planet Express team gets commissioned to do various improbable things, such as in "A Big Ball of Garbage", where they are put in charge of planting a bomb on the titular ball. Flimsily justified by reference to the fact that they're the only people willing/contractually obligated to take on such a suicidal mission.
- In Archer when something needs to be done in ISIS it's only limited to the core 8 cast members doing something about it, the rest of the other nameless employees in the office do nothing but just be there to show how busy the office is.
- By early Season 3 it becomes clear that ISIS, despite being a dedicated spy agency, only has three active field agents: Archer, Lana, and Ray (and the latter actually began life as a support agent in his first appearance, before being Retconned into fieldwork). This becomes obvious when Ray is apparently struck by a life-changing injury and Malory feels she has no choice but to promote Cyril to field agent, after roughly six hours of bad training from Archer that took place maybe two years ago, to cover his cases.
- Not only that but it seems to get worse over time: by the end of Season 3, Cyril and Pam, the ISIS Comptroller and HR Director respectively (both of which often seem to be the only people in their respective departments) also become full fledged field agents.
- It becomes even more ridiculous when you take into account that there was an entire Season 1 episode devoted to how essential the support staff is and how the characters are hopelessly lost without them. By the time Season 3 rolls around, said support staff has all but disappeared except for Ray who, you guessed it, started going into the field with the main cast.
- And now as of Season 6 the main 8 cast members literally do do everything, since everyone else left ISIS after it got shut down by the CIA and weren't there when Malory got it back.
- This trope is Lampshaded in "Drastic Voyage: Part 1". Slater insists on sending Pam, Cyril, Krieger, and Cheryl on the mission even though they're not field agents because he knows no matter what he does they'll somehow find a way to get into the field anyway.
- Non-human example - Thomas the Tank Engine is a short-range locomotive with his own branch line to run. Yet from series 3 onwards, running his branch line was about the only thing he hardly ever seemed to do. The same could be applied to any of the main characters.
- Used both ways in The Dreamstone. The Land of Dreams is protected by a population of magical Wuts and the omni-powerful wizard, the Dream Maker, while Viltheed consists of the Evil Sorcerer Zordrak and his enormous army of Urpneys. Despite this, most episodes narrow the feud down to "Rufus and Amberley vs Sgt Blob, Frizz and Nug", with other characters only ever coming into the fray when one of them is genuinely on the ropes. While this is Lampshaded frequently in the villains' case (Frizz and Nug are usually the only ones who can be dragged into a mission), the heroes' reasoning seems based on pure suspension of disbelief (though one episode shrewdly implied the Noops were aware they always get handed the dirty work).
- In T.U.F.F. Puppy, most of the actual work done in TUFF is done by Dudley, Kitty, Keswick, and The Chief. The rest of the staff in TUFF do little, or are absent entirely.
- In The Legend of Zelda, both Link and Zelda (when the latter hasn't been captured), who are apparently Hyrule's only capable fighters, set off to confront Ganon, with no escort, and leaving no one to defend the castle. It approaches the point of absurdity in "Cold Spells" and "A Hitch in the Works", when Zelda wants the castle cleaned, she personally gives the orders, and orders Link and Spryte to do the cleaning. Link is the hero, who should be guarding the Triforce and saving Zelda (although even these roles conflict at times). Spryte is a fairy princess. Aside from Doof the handyman, there is no evidence that the castle has any kind of service staff.
- In an episode of Family Guy called "12-and-a-half Angry Men", the jury in Mayor West's trial consists entirely of A-list and B-list characters. This includes Brian - a dog.
- And Joe, a precinct cop, serves as the bailiff. Though this is hilariously lampshaded.
- On The Fairly OddParents!, Timmy seems to be the only kid with fairies who makes wishes that alter reality. Mainly because the others are implicitly too sensible to make the boneheaded mistakes Timmy does to twice a week. When Chloe was introduced to share Cosmo and Wanda, she made big mistakes too.
- On Grossology, very little focus is put on Grossologists other than Abby and Ty.
- In Danger Mouse, hardly any agents other then DM and Penfold are ever seen. In the reboot, other agents appear more frequently, but still aren't shown doing much.
- In Inspector Gadget, agents other than Gadget are very rarely seen, if ever. In the reboot, agents other than Gadget and Penny are frequently seen, but mostly just stand around doing nothing.
- In Patrol 03, the three main characters handle most of the policework. Justified, as every other member of the force is either corrupt or incompetent.
- Supa Strikas Done to extreme levels. The only coaching staff is the man only known as Coach. There are no medical staff, and the players are frequently seen treating each other (or sent to a hospital). When something needs to be fixed or a mystery needs to be solved, a player (and at times Spenza, a friend of the players) take care of it which can cause them to miss parts of the game. The opposition teams do the same, with whatever mean trick they do usually done by their star player.