The Obligatory Male Protagonist

Tv shows or movies with an ensemble cast will nearly always have a man as de facto main character. (Studios, networks, and advertisers have apparently not yet caught on to the fact that people who aren’t 18-35-year-old white men also watch tv and go to the movies.) These obligatory protagonists come in a few different varieties. Here’s a spotter’s guide for some of the major types (mind you, more than a few characters cross the lines from one category to another).

Captain Competence

James Kirk from Star Trek via IMDb; Gil Grissom from CSI via CSI Fandom; Gregory House from House via IMDb

He’s better than everyone at everything. He always has the right answer. While other characters may have their particular areas of expertise, he’s always the one to solve the real problem. To be frank, the only reason there are other people on the show is so that he has someone to be better than.

The Fixer-Upper

Nate Ford from Leverage via IMDb; Mal from Firefly via IMDb; Jeff Winger from Community via IMDb

He’s a damaged, bitter, broken man, but that doesn’t stop him from being the center of attention. Expect the women in the cast to do a lot of emotional work for him, such as holding his hand while he cries, calming him down when he lashes out, and making excuses for him to the people he hurts. He may pull himself together over time. Then again, he may not.

The Overgrown Child

Phil Dunfy from Modern Family via IMDb; Castle from Castle via IMDb; Jake Peralta from Brooklyn 99 via IMDb

This guy just never grew up. He lives his adult life with the blissful joy of a child, which would be fine except that it also means he never takes responsibility for anything, is clueless about how his actions affect the people around him, and gets pouty and petty when things don’t go his way. The women in his life usually fall into the role of surrogate mother, saying “no” to his worst ideas and cleaning up his messes when he does them anyway.

The Plot-Jacker

Peter Quill (and Gamora) from Guardians of the Galaxy via IMDb; Emmet (and Wild Style) from The Lego Movie via IMDb; Owen (and Claire) from Jurassic World via IMDb

(Also known as the “Chris Pratt Special.”) There’s a female character in the cast who not only has the knowledge, skills, and background to be the hero of the story, but also has a good reason to take on the mission or challenge the big bad. Then this guy wanders in out of nowhere and takes over, doing better by sheer guts and grit than she did with all her knowledge and skill. Expect her to fall into his arms at the end.

If you spot any of these types in the wild, you know what to expect.

In Character is an occasional feature looking at some of our favorite characters from written works and media to see what drives them, what makes them work, and what makes us love them so much.