The 10 Characters You Meet on Primetime TV


Everyone knows that primetime TV is a stronghold of stock characters, gender stereotypes, and cheap jokes. All of which is, ahem, half the reason we love it so much. No matter how far our society seems to advance, stereotypes sell, so they keep popping up on the small screen — even, we’ve noticed, pushing the boundaries of how offensive they can get. Just for analyzation purposes, we’ve picked out ten of the character tropes on modern television, from the epic nerd to the hot girl, that we seem to keep seeing over and over again, for better or for worse. Click through to see our list, and if we’ve missed any of your favorite stock characters, be sure to let us know in the comments!

The Epic Nerd as Romeo

(Chuck‘s Chuck, The Big Bang Theory‘s Leonard, The O.C.‘s Seth)

Nerds: they’re so hot right now. But not all nerds can pull of the romantic lead. The Nerd as Romeo is a certain type of nerd, the classically handsome behind the mop of hair and pocket protector type, and the socially competent, super intelligent type. It’s those social skills that make them ripe for romantic conquest.

The So Gay He’s A Cartoon Character Guy

(Glee‘s Kurt, Will and Grace‘s Jack, Ugly Betty‘s Marc)

Primetime television has a hard time processing gay characters who aren’t so flamboyant as to become sparkly, sassy handbags for the girls they befriend. True, Kurt is by far our favorite character on Glee, but it’s because of his snappy one-liners, over-the-top facial expressions, and highly ridiculous ensembles. But as fun as all that is, ultimately Kurt has become an overblown spectacle, not a believable character.

The Token South Asian

(Parks and Recreation‘s Tom, The Big Bang Theory‘s Raj, The Office‘s Kelly)

Token Black Characters are so five years ago. All the cool shows nowadays are thinking outside the box to fill their minority quota. Now, if only any of these actors could get roles as lead characters…

The Deadpan Snark Machine

(Parks and Recreation‘s April, 2 Broke Girls‘s Max, Glee‘s Sue)

The snarker is pretty much everyone’s favorite character. This character type has been around forever, but now we’re seeing one in just about every show on television. Who else can deliver bitter commentary and witty asides without breaking their stride? But of course, the inevitable dramatic character development comes when someone breaks through that tough wall of banter to the soft gooey center within. Yawn!

The Dopey Husband

(Modern Family‘s Phil, The Simpsons‘s Homer)

An age-old tradition and still going strong, the dopey husband (almost always accompanied by the much more attractive and whip-smart wife) serves to reinforce gender roles and remind the women watching the show how much better they are then their, ahem, better halves.

The Fallen Princess

(Glee‘s Quinn, 2 Broke Girls‘s Caroline)

TV gets a lot of traction out of the traditional damsel fallen from grace story — girl has everything, loses everything through no (or little) fault of her own, tries to get everything back but to do so, has to find a new way of relating to the world. Caroline is a straightforward example of this, while Quinn, with her teen pregnancy and recent random punk makeover, has had a bit more of a bumpy ride. How many times can she fall and get back up before she finally finds happiness? Find out in Season 38!

(The Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon, House‘s Dr. House)

The Totally Abrasive but Still Somehow Lovable Guy

There have been quite a few a-social characters gracing our small screens of late. Whether displaying clear signs of Asperger’s or simply an advanced case of crotchety-ness, there’s something lovable about these characters who not only don’t fit in, but aggressively don’t fit in. Perhaps we can all see a little bit of ourselves in the misanthrope?

The Secretly Sensitive Man’s Man

(How I Met Your Mother‘s Barney, New Girl‘s Winston)

Much like the Hooker with a Heart of Gold trope, the Secretly Sensitive Man’s Man has a tough exterior but a soft, melty heart that needs your love. Though we haven’t seen Winston’s soft side yet, we know with all those sports-related jokes and tough guy faces, it’s coming. Also, here might be as good of a place as any to wonder if anyone else noticed how the show straight out replaced one sporty black guy with another with only a few throwaway sentences of explanation. Sigh.

The Adorkable Dream Girl

(New Girl‘s Jess, Glee‘s Rachel)

Believe it or not, the term ‘adorkable’ existed pre-Zooey Deschanel. In some ways this is the female counterpoint to the Epic Nerd as Romeo, except with a little more Manic Pixie Dream Girl mixed in for good measure. As the moniker suggests, these girls are painfully dorky and highly cute all at once (and usually natural showstoppers, no matter what the characters around them insist), leaving you with very weird feelings in your stomach when they wear tight sweaters.

The Just Plain Hot Girl

(The Big Bang Theory‘s Penny, New Girl‘s Hannah)

Sadly, this girl is just a foil for the characters around her to do their thing. She’s good looking! She’s a girl! She’s here in this room right now! Job done.