There are no small roles, right?
March 5, 2011 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Movies and specific episodes of TV series where the sidekick surpasses the hero?

I'm a huge fan of sidekicks. Most of all, I love it when they outshine the hero. Give me a Sherlock Holmes story where Watson solves it first, and I'm a very happy person.

This question was inspired in part by old Charlie Chan movies, where his children and his African-American manservant/chauffeur are constantly bumbling buffoons. The sons occasionally have their moment where they save the day etc., but the manservant almost never does anything but act the fool for what I suppose was comic relief at the time. It must have been hell to play such a racist stereotype. I know it's been hell to watch. So if the movie has a stereotypically bumbling, fearful, stupid, subservient minority sidekick drop the act and start kicking ass, I'd be particularly grateful.

Related and still interesting are episodes of TV shows that revolve around secondary characters. One of my favorite episodes of Buffy was the one that followed Xander for a night while the rest of the gang battled ultimate evil.

related TV tropes (there are many more, of course)

Thank you!
posted by jsturgill to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Big Trouble in Little China is a perfect and deliberate example of this. The guy who is set up by movie convention as the sidekick does all the actual ass-kicking, and the guy who is set up as the main character/action hero is useless.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:58 PM on March 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

The recent Green Hornet movie was exactly this sort of thing. It was clear from the begining that Cato was brilliant, brave and badass, while the hero was bumbling at best.
posted by peppermind at 5:59 PM on March 5, 2011

What you want, is everything P.G. Wodehouse ever wrote, concerning Jeeves and Wooster.
posted by timsteil at 6:13 PM on March 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

This TVtropes article has a fairly good list of such characters.
posted by sarastro at 6:15 PM on March 5, 2011

I didn't noticed that you linked that in your humble appologies.
posted by sarastro at 6:16 PM on March 5, 2011

The main character in the late, lamented, super-fun TV series The Middleman was the "sidekick" in that particular duo.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:26 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Inspector Gadget!
posted by citron at 6:41 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

In Futurama, there is the blowhard incompetent space captain Zap Brannigan, and his put-upon competent lieutenant Kif Croker.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:48 PM on March 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sky High.

From wikipedia:

The story describes the beginning of the freshman year for Will Stronghold (Angarano) at Sky High School, a school for young superheroes that floats in the sky.

As the school year begins, Will is the only student who has not yet developed any superpowers. Students with great powers are taught to be heroes, while less capable youngsters are designated as "hero support" and derisively referred to as "sidekicks".

posted by Sassyfras at 6:55 PM on March 5, 2011

Talladega Nights. Shake'n'bake!
posted by phaedon at 7:04 PM on March 5, 2011

I haven't seen the Green Hornet movie, but long before it came out I thought the old TV show was subtly nodding in this direction. It may have been unintentional; they may not have fully realized what they had in casting Bruce Lee as Cato, as this was early in his career. But he (literally) kicked ass compared to Van Williams as the Green Hornet.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:07 PM on March 5, 2011

Perhaps not a literal example, but you may get a kick out of the sketch "Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit" from That Mitchell & Webb Look.
posted by prinado at 7:09 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agent 99 in the old series "Get Smart" would be a good example of this.
posted by patheral at 7:49 PM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Robin Hood Daffy with Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. A better example with those two characters is Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century with Porky Pig more obviously in the "sidekick" role.
posted by Jeff Howard at 8:24 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Kick-Ass (I think the main character is the sidekick)
Inception - Joseph Gordon Levitt, maybe
posted by rhizome at 9:11 PM on March 5, 2011

posted by mintcake! at 10:44 PM on March 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, Arthur from The Tick
posted by patheral at 10:48 PM on March 5, 2011

I'd love to see more examples of a sidekick who is usually depicted as ineffective breaking the mold. Most suggestions so far look like they're of sidekicks who have always been the openly competent ones in their particular mythos.

Which is not to say that the suggestions so far haven't been welcome.
posted by jsturgill at 10:52 PM on March 5, 2011

Not a sidekick, but a supporting character: Matsuda from Death Note. Acts immature, inexperienced, etc., and annoys his peers. But he ends up doing a few unexpected and cool things.

Also not a sidekick, but there's Barclay from Star Trek...maybe.
posted by methroach at 12:00 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

48 hours, with the Eddie Murphy character surpassing--in brains, fighting skills, coolness, and all-around police work--the dysfunctional alcoholic played by Nick Nolte.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:59 AM on March 6, 2011

Barnacle Boy is way more competent than Mermaid Man From Spongebob Squarepants.
posted by hollyanderbody at 9:18 AM on March 6, 2011

You mentioned Watson solving the mystery first, but you didn't mention Without A Clue, which is an entire movie based around that premise.
posted by bingo at 9:32 AM on March 6, 2011

Another good one: The Star Trek: TNG episode Lower Decks, in which the story focuses on low-ranking crewmen, and the regular cast are portrayed as unavailable titans.
posted by bingo at 9:35 AM on March 6, 2011

Babylon 5 wherein Vir the assistant is the one would kills the emperor not Ambassidor Molari. And later on is the emperor.
posted by Freedomboy at 10:11 AM on March 6, 2011

Breaking Bad, maybe? Though nobody's a "hero" on this one, Jesse seems to come into his own and becomes much more than the teenaged middleman to supposed "good guy in a bad situation" Walter White.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 6:58 AM on March 7, 2011

Based on your mention of "The Zeppo" you're likely to be familiar with it, but the Firefly episode "Jaynestown" is reminiscent of this in some ways (with twists of course).
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:29 AM on March 7, 2011

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