The "dark and troubled past" trope is nothing new. Rarely on a TV show is there not at least one character who has gone through something traumatic in their history. This trauma can range from absent parents to abusive relatives, or from criminal pasts to dead lovers. Some TV characters just have it worse than others. But the characters on this list really take the cake. From homelessness, to castration, to accidentally killing their loved ones, these characters have been through so much it's honestly surprising they’re still standing.
For some, the hardship started at a really young age, affecting them way into adulthood. Others learn to accept their traumatic past and find a way to move forward, only occasionally revealing glimpses of their emotional scars. All in all, a troubled past can certainly make a character more layered and complex. Plus, a good backstory can push viewers to root for characters they would otherwise despise, and to love their favorites even more.
TV Show: Friends
Phoebe Buffay's backstory is pretty crazy. Her dad abandoned her at a young age. Her mom committed suicide. Her stepdad went to prison. Not only that, but she also had to live on the streets and struggle to make ends meet by begging and pick pocketing. She never attended high school or college, she lived in a car at one point, and she got hepatitis after a pimp spat in her mouth.
And yet, Phoebe is the quirky and upbeat one of the six friends that make up the show. She’s kind, loyal, and loving; as opposed to her twin sister, who is anything but. We’re guessing nothing but her sunny demeanor could have gotten her through the tough times.
TV Show: Bones
Both Seeley Booth and Temperance "Bones" Brennan suffer from difficult childhoods on the show, but psychologist Lance Sweets has the physical scars to prove it. Before being adopted by a loving couple when he was six, Lance suffered despicable abuse. In a Season 4 episode, the whip scars on his back are shown. Probably one of the reasons he could empathize so well with Booth, who had an abusive, alcoholic father and with Brennan, who was abandoned by her parents when she was a teenager.
TV Show: Supernatural
The Winchester brothers had probably one of the toughest childhoods in the history of television. After their mom dies in a fire caused by the yellow-eyed demon, their dad takes up demon-hunting and basically gives up on any effort to live a normal, monster-free life due his obsession with avenging her death.
As a result, the brothers were always on the road, worrying about when their father would come home and having to mature quickly. While other kids were learning about life, love and whatever, they were learning about demons, werewolves, and ghosts.
And, of course, the brothers are still going through tough times. Thank Chuck they have each other, otherwise they would probably have gone nuts a long time ago.
TV Show: Orange is the New Black
A lot of Litchfield Penitentiary's inmates have tragic backgrounds, but Pennsatucky’s is probably the saddest portrayed on the series. From a young age, she wasn't taught that that sex was pleasurable for both men and woman, and she frequently sold her body for things like a six-pack of Mountain Dew. Her mother was not the best, basically using Pennsatucky to get more money from the government. She eventually became a meth addict who shot a nurse because she made a snide comment about Pennsatucky getting her fifth abortion. Which ultimately landed her in prison.
Honestly, going to Litchfield probably wasn’t the worst thing that could happen for a character with such a sordid past. Even with all that abuse from prison guards.