Watchworthy

17 TV Show Protagonists Who Were Overshadowed By A Side Character 

Alexandra Plesa
Updated August 24, 2017 23.6k votes 4.6k voters 68.3k views 17 items

List Rules Vote up the shows whose side characters you loved more than the so-called leads.

Great lead TV characters aren’t born, they’re made. You know them by their tragic backstories, kickass introduction scenes, unique quirks, and triumphant redemption arcs. Writers write leads characters in such a way that viewers want to root for them and give them supporting players to do just that – support. These characters will sometimes have their own compelling arcs, but most often they take a back seat to the protagonist, providing guidance, friendship, mentorship, or comedic relief as assigned. 

Once in a blue moon though, a show features a secondary character who totally steals the spotlight. It might be because the lead is a jerk, or is boring, or simply because the side character is played with more dynamism than the lead. In these cases a supporting character can move into more of a co-star if the audience attention pushes creators to give them more screen time. In some cases, a show featuring an ensemble may just naturally have one character shine brighter than others. 

Here are a few examples where a show's lead was totally eclipsed by a more interesting side character.

Data-driven recommendations based on voting from over 40 million monthly visits to Ranker. Try the free app
How I Met Your Mother is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 17 TV Show Protagonists Who Were Overshadowed By A Side Character
Photo:  How I Met Your Mother/CBS

Of course, on this show, it’s not difficult for almost every character to eclipse the bland and often obnoxious Ted Mosby. The show's basic premise - the story of Ted's many wrong turns on the path to finding his eventual spouse - set Ted up for failure as an interesting character. After all, the show ends when Ted meets the future mother of his children, so his character is all but assured to make iffy choices. Not surprisingly, it's Barney Stinson who happily steps in to take the spotlight and be the strong character the show needs. 

Without his fate already set in the way Ted's is, Barney is allowed more range of emotion and even depth. He may be a womanizer, but he's allowed more character development than Ted over the whole series. Ted's always the victim (in his own mind) and Barney is so emotionally detached as to be optimistic. Barney just makes for better TV. Nothing drives home the point more than the fan outrage at the characters' eventual fates, and that, ideally, they would have been swapped.

More How I Met Your Mother 

Legendary 'How I Met Your Mother' Fan Theories #11 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #15 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years

Where to watch
Orange Is the New Black ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 17 TV Show Protagonists Who Were Overshadowed By A Side Character
Photo:  Orange Is the New Black/Netflix

Remember when this Netflix show revolved around Piper Chapman's misadventures in prison? What a long way we’ve come. While it later became clear that the creators were using Piper to provide viewers with a more relatable entry point into Litchfield, she was incredibly bland in the beginning and hasn’t done much to redeem herself as a character since. She has never been as interesting as her fellow inmates. Which account for why Orange Is the New Black shifted from being about Piper, to being a strong ensemble show allowing all of its strong side characters thorough backstories and continues story lines. Along the way, it transformed into a much more compelling series.

More Orange Is the New Black 

The Best Characters on Orange Is the New Black, Ranked #25 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #59 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years

Where to watch
New Girl is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 17 TV Show Protagonists Who Were Overshadowed By A Side Character
Photo:  New Girl/FOX

Jessica Day is very much the eponymous "new girl" of New Girl, but no one would have expected from the show's pilot that her roommates would become the real reason fans tuned in each week. Jess is adorable, but with friends as memorable as Schmidt, Nick, and Winston, the competition for best character is pretty stiff. So while Season 1 focuses mostly on Jess and her new living situation, eventually the show has gone on to give the focus to the guys. All of the show's characters have a sort of naive quality to them, but Jess's blind optimism makes her rather drab compared to the more dramatically inclined dudes she lives with. 

More New Girl 

All The Times Nick Miller From 'New Girl' Was A Full Blown Mood #67 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watch #245 of 383 The Best TV Shows of The Last 20 Years

Where to watch
That '70s Show is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 17 TV Show Protagonists Who Were Overshadowed By A Side Character
Photo:  That '70s Show/FOX

That ‘70s Show is another case where the lead left and the show continued, proving that Eric Forman wasn’t the glue holding the group together after all. He was actually a pretty meh character when you think about it, never taking responsibility for his shortcomings and constantly being mean to his best friends. Donna, Kelso, Hyde, Fez, and Jackie were far more interesting.

More That '70s Show 

20 Hilarious 'That '70s Show' Memes That Only True Fans Will Laugh At #33 of 807 The Best TV Shows To Binge Watchlisted on The Longest Running US Sitcoms

Where to watch