Is there anything worse on a TV show than a character that doesn’t live up to their expectations? Every now and again, a character will be introduced to a series that is made out to be the best of the best; sometimes they’re billed as the strongest villain the series has ever seen or are said to be much smarter or more cunning than any of the major characters so far. Then, they are defeated so unceremoniously that you’re left asking “why was this character a big deal again?”
This phenomenon isn’t limited strictly to villains, either. “Sixth Ranger Syndrome” and the “Worf Effect” plague several of TV’s iconic characters, making writers scramble to find ridiculous ways to depower them or temporarily take them out of the equation so that the story can proceed as planned.
This begs the question: How many of our favorite characters are actually worthless? Now, before we get started we’d like to remind you that the characters on this list aren’t necessarily “bad.” In fact, several of these entries are considered fan-favorites! However, they are just people who have been built up to over-the-top levels by the showrunners but have actually turned out to be pretty weak or worthless in-universe.
Here are 15 TV Characters Who Seem Powerful (But Are Actually Worthless).
15. Laurel Lance (Arrow)
Black Canary is to the Green Arrow what Jessica Jones is to Luke Cage. Over time, the two became romantically involved, becoming one of the few long-lasting power couples in the world of comics. When Arrow premiered on the CW in 2012, fans knew that a live-action version of Black Canary wouldn’t be far behind.
The first Canary, Sara Lance, appeared in season 2. Sara was a hero who was trained by a group of assassins and fought crime with the help of her “Canary Cry,” supersonic soundwaves that shot out of her mouth. After the first Canary’s death, her sister Laura Lance picked up the mantle and continued to help Ollie in his plight against evil.
You know those people that want to do good so badly, but then actually just cause more damage than they’re worth? That’s Laurel. Unlike her sister, she had no formal training, which led to her often being shoehorned into the “damsel in distress” role on the show (as well as the vindictive ex-girlfriend).
14. The Daleks (Doctor Who)
Hold it right there, Whovians! Before you start writing us hate mail about dissing the Daleks, hear us out! In the Doctor Who universe, these aliens are a race of mutant warriors who utilize state of the art battle armor as they attempt to carry out their dogmatic ideology.
When they were first introduced in the ’60s, the Daleks were used as a not-so-subtle allegory for the Nazis, locked in a genocidal war against their mortal enemies, the Thal. Despite possessing what looked like a toilet plunger and a mixer for arms, the original Daleks gave the first few doctors more than a run for their money.
As the show progressed, however, the Daleks turned from “scary Nazi allegory” to “over the top comedic racists.” Instead of having legitimate reasons for despising other races, they simply wanted to kill anything that wasn’t Dalek, complete with their own exclamatory catchphrase “EXTERMINATE!”
Whenever they appear in the modern series, it’s like the writers flip a coin to decide if they want to go with the fleshed-out, semi-sympathetic Daleks or the one-note caricature version; When it’s the latter, the so-called alien warriors bumble around and give us comic relief slapstick.
13. Jean Grey (X-Men: The Animated Series)
If it wasn’t for the incredible Batman: The Animated Series, X-Men probably would have been considered the greatest comic book cartoon of the ’90s. It had everything you could possibly want. An iconic theme song, a large cast of characters that shared the spotlight fairly evenly, top-notch animation, and showrunners who weren’t afraid to shy away from the comic’s best stories. Not to mention, it gave us arguably the best version of Wolverine!
But then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, was Jean Grey. In the comic books and movies Jean is portrayed as Professor Xavier’s star student and the second most powerful telepath in the Marvel Universe. In the X-Men cartoon she is introduced in the same way, but becomes completely useless when the situation hits the fan. On most occasions, Jean is taken out of the fight first or is only able to use her powers once before fainting from the fatigue.
In fact, with the exception of her Phoenix and Dark Phoenix storylines Jean could be taken out of the X-Men show completely, and few would notice.
12. Worf (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
Before we start in on this one, we just have to say that we love Worf! We really do. Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Klingon lieutenant was one of the many standouts that came out of the iconic series and made it arguably better than the original Star Trek. Worf was a stoic, unrelenting idealist with a heart of gold and fierce loyalty to his friends. Not to mention, he was the first Klingon main character in the show’s history!
However, there is a whole trope called the “Worf Effect” for a reason. Just one look at this guy gives you the impression that he’s not somebody you want to mess with. So, when the writers wanted to introduce a new villain, they would often display their power by having them beat up on Worf; this works when used sparingly, but after the upteenth time it happens (as it did in TNG), the “powerful” character just starts to look like he’s about as useful as a red shirt.
11. Ras Al Ghul (Arrow and Gotham)
Oh yes, Ra’s al Ghul isn’t even safe from this list. Since his introduction to the DC Universe back in the 1970s, The Demon’s Head has become the go-to villain for any story the publisher writes with a global scale.
As the leader of a deadly League of Assassins, Ra’s has come in contact with many of the publisher’s greatest heroes (though he is typically thought of as a Batman villain). The character has appeared in both the CW’s Arrowverse as well as Fox’s Gotham, both to much avail.
But here’s the thing… Ra’s al Ghul is supposedly the most dangerous man in the DC Universe. You’d think that someone who is immortal and has seemingly unlimited ninjas at his side would require the likes of Superman or Wonder Woman to bring down. Yet, Ra’s is consistently defeated on these shows by street-level characters like Green Arrow, Chronos, and (mentally at least) a teenage Bruce Wayne.
10. Vegeta (Dragon Ball Z)
Vegeta best represents the tired and true “foe to friend” trope. In his first few appearances in the Dragon Ball universe he was a straight-up villain. Then, he turned into a reluctant ally. Then he became somewhat of an anti-hero before finally turning to the side of good (though he still has a passionate jealousy of protagonist Goku). Just like Goku, Vegeta is a member of the amazingly powerful Saiyan race, and flaunts his heritage proudly.
Through the years, Vegeta has also become a great example of the “Worf Effect.” Vegeta may be a fan favorite of the Dragon Ball series, but he’s gotten a major beatdown from just about every major villain. Here’s a list of a few of the characters who have kicked his butt: Freeza, Cell, Kid Buu, Broly, Android 18, Recoome, and Beerus.
Further muddying the water is the fact that Vegeta is the only character who has been shown to defeat Goku multiple times. What the heck, Dragon Ball?
9. Bran Stark (Game of Thrones)
Game of Thrones fans have a love/hate relationship with Brandon Stark. At the beginning of the series he was just a young, innocent boy with a love of climbing who was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. That incident may have been what set off the entire War of the Five Kings, but we felt bad for him; he never meant for any of this to happen, and he definitely didn’t deserve what came next!
Everything changed when Bran met the Three-Eyed Raven. The character completely disappeared for the entirety of season five, only to come back in season six as a completely uncaring zombie. Even worse, all of the training that Bran had been doing with one of the most powerful beings in the GoT universe seemed to all be for naught- He led the Night King to his position, got Hodor killed, and completely alienated his friends (and almost his family) in the process. Six seasons of buildup for what? The ability to see (and sometimes interact with) the past?
8. Skeletor (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe)
In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Skeletor tries on the regular to steal the powers of Castle Greyskull so that he may rule over the universe. The character looks like a total badass; he’s rocking the purple hood and ram-headed staff like nobody’s business, and his head is a freaking floating skull, for crying out loud! Although his voice is a little grating on the ears, he makes it work in a stereotypical mustache-twirling villain kind of way.
Yet, Skeletor can be added to the dustbin of awesome-looking villains who are ridiculously incompetent. Worst of all, Skeletor is usually taken down by He-Man without even throwing a single punch. The showrunners didn’t want to promote “violence,” so the confrontation between the two characters normally involved He-Man putting Skeletor in a headlock and then the two rolling around or throwing things at each other.
7. Walter White (Breaking Bad)
Walter White from Breaking Bad is one of the greatest characters ever created; the brilliant writing mixed with Bryan Cranston’s next-level acting made for five incredible seasons of the show. However, aside from a brief period in season five, Walter White was never the beacon of power that fans tend to make him out to be.
Think about it – Walter was always at the mercy of more powerful players in the drug world. In season one and two it was Tuco. In seasons two, three, and four it was Gus. In the second half of season five it was Uncle Jack and the DEA.
Walt was the chemist behind the biggest drug empire in the United States, but he was always acting more powerful than he really was. He threatened low-level drug makers to “stay off [his] turf” and could get away with intimidating Saul Goodman and Elliot and Gretchen, but any time Walt got involved with the major players he found himself at a huge power disadvantage that he could only level out by concocting some insanely complex scheme.
6. Cobra Commander (G.I. Joe)
Honestly, Cobra Commander was probably just designed mainly to sell more toys. And it worked like a charm. Just look at the guy: the costume gives off an air of authority and he’s so tough that he refused to show his real face to even his most trusted allies, instead opting for a cold, emotionless mask.
But then he opens his mouth. Words cannot describe how ear-destroyingly annoying and whiny Cobra Commander’s voice is!
The villain featured in the original G.I. Joe series was a bumbling idiot that couldn’t command his way out of a paper bag, much less defeat his enemies in combat. Quite often, he was being either overthrown or ignored by more powerful villains like Destro and Baroness and Storm Shadow. Even in the G.I. Joe movies (both animated and live-action), Cobra Commander is pushed to the side to make way for more threatening baddies!
5. Captain Planet (Captain Planet and the Planeteers)
Captain Planet and the Planeteers was a bizarre children’s cartoon from the 1990s that tried to utilize the Saturday morning cartoon time slot as a platform to teach kids about environmentalism. The premise was as follows: the Spirit of the Earth is awakened from her slumber thanks to a company drilling for oil. Seeing the horrific ways that humanity has polluted her beloved planet, she sends out five elemental rings to random children across the world. When the team gets together, they summon the superhero Captain Planet to defend the world from those who would pollute it.
A superhero made up of the elements should be powerful, right? Captain Planet’s powers are never really explained, which means that the sky is the limit on his power levels!
Except for the fact that the superhero has the absolute lamest weaknesses in all of cartoon history. If he comes into direct contact with any sort of pollution, he gets super weak and can’t use his powers. Also, if he’s around anyone who has any sort of strong negative emotions, he gets extremely weak. In theory, a little emo kid smoking a cigarette could be the downfall of Captain Planet.
4. Kendra the Vampire Slayer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the show that propelled Joss Whedon to stardom. Nowadays, the director and showrunner is hanging around with the likes of the Avengers and the Justice League, but he’ll always be the most associated with the Scooby Gang. In season two of the hit TV show, the titular character dies (albeit for a short time period); her death activates another slayer named Kendra, and the two are forced to coexist for the time being.
Kendra is portrayed as the ultimate slayer: she was trained by her master to be an emotionless killer and has much more knowledge about textbook vampire slaying than Buffy ever did. Her master even went as far as to make her block out the memories of her past life as well as raised her to be anti-social as to not let personal connections interfere with her work.
3. Lion-O (Thundercats)
The Thundercats TV show was one of the ’80s most insanely profitable Saturday morning cartoons. The show followed the adventures of the Thundercats, a race of cat-like warriors who crash land on the planet Third Earth after their home was destroyed. Though they take a liking to their new home, an evil sorcerer known as Mumm-Ra teams up with their sworn enemies to steal the source of their powers (the Eye of Thundera).
Lion-O is a prince and leader of the Thundercats who (thanks to a malfunction in his cryosleep chamber) became stuck as a boy in an adult’s body. This meant that, despite his looks and superhuman abilities, he had the maturity and leadership skills of a 12 year old boy.
Yeah, it was part of his character arc and all, but someone unfamiliar with Thundercats would mistake Lion-o for someone like He-Man or Thor when he’s really more like a Carl from The Walking Dead.
2. The Shredder (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
The Shredder has and always will be considered the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ greatest enemy. Oroku Saki has deep connections with the Turtles and their Master Splinter, sometimes being Splinter’s before he was mutated and sometimes being the assailant of Splinter’s owner. No matter which version we’re talking about, the Shredder is the leader of the villainous Foot Clan, decked out in armor that would make someone out of The Road Warrior envious.
When it comes to the original TMNT cartoon, the Shredder is all talk and no game. Voiced by James Avery (aka Uncle Phil), this version of the character was hilarious; he’d always act like he was the evilest thing in the universe and then throw a child-like temper tantrum whenever things didn’t go his way. In fact, the few times that things actually did go his way was when Krang took over himself or hired out other goons to do his work.
1. The Green Ranger (Might Morphin Power Rangers)
We want to reiterate: characters who appear on this list aren’t necessarily “bad!” The Green Ranger from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is still to this day many fans’ favorite Ranger in the whole franchise. We can’t blame them; under the mask was the legendary Tommy Oliver. Plus, he had what was probably the coolest costume, Zord, and weapon in Power Rangers history! Let’s also not forget that the “Green With Evil” storyline is one that fans point to as being one of the series’ best.
Upon a rewatch of the original Power Rangers, the Green Ranger isn’t as great as your young mind probably remembers. You see, in the original Super Sentai footage there was a severe lack of Green Ranger because the character only appeared in 27 episodes, and only for brief appearances at that.
In Super Sentai, the infamous Green Candle represented how much power the character had left before he died; this meant that he only showed up in costume in dire circumstances. In MMPR, this lack of footage translated into Tommy being away from the rest of the team, often until the final Megazord battle, or terribly edited-together scenes with new American footage.
Which other characters have seriously overhyper power levels? Let us know in the comments!
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