In Honor of Guy Fawkes Day, 5 TV Characters Whose Plots Could Use a Little Work

It’s that magical, pumpkin-addled time of year when we celebrate the holidays by using them as the basis for seasonal, TV-themed stories. Halloween and Thanksgiving soak up most of the attention, but November 5 marks one of the year’s less treasured celebrations: Guy Fawkes Day.

In case your seventeenth-century history is rusty, on November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes took part in the abortive Gunpowder Plot, an attempt by English Catholics to blow up Parliament. The scheme’s failure is commemorated annually on this date, with burning effigies and cries of “Remember, remember the fifth of November!”

For four centuries, Guy Fawkes has been synonymous with a notorious failed plot. That’s why today we honor him with a look at five TV characters who seem to always end up involved in failed plots—stories that grate, bore, implode, or otherwise arouse the ire of the commonfolk.


Nelson Van Alden, Boardwalk Empire

Michael Shannon’s creepily hair-shirted performance singlehandedly keeps Van Alden a compelling presence; it’s a shame the writing of the last season-plus hasn’t matched his level (last night's face-ironing notwithstanding). More so than anyone else on this list, Van Alden is a case of wasted potential. The character started out as a rich, disturbing portrait of asceticism, a microcosm of how the stringent denial of human urges attempted through acts like Prohibition ultimately atrophies people from within.

Then he burst like the furnace at the Overlook Hotel. Since late in Season 2, Van Alden’s misfortunes have vacillated between tedious and over-the-top implausibility: committing manslaughter in a fit of pious fervor, shacking up with Lucy, fleeing to Chicago to sell irons door-to-door. Right now he’s on an island, no longer connected to either of Boardwalk’s larger stories or its themes.


Lily Aldrin, How I Met Your Mother

Kids, back in 2005, HIMYM established itself as one of the most honest, affectionate sitcoms around. In its later seasons, though, it’s fallen prey to a common comedy affliction: distorting its characters into caricatures of their former selves in a reach for more and broader jokes. None of the core five have been as badly served by HIMYM’s general decline as Alyson Hannigan’s Lily, once a sharp and self-possessed woman now treated as little more than a grab bag of sitcommy wife/mother stereotypes. Even in these weaker seasons, Marshall, Barney, and Robin have all enjoyed story arcs that've deepened them, while Lily has gradually shed both agency and identity.


Declan Porter, Revenge

Declan's relationship with Charlotte in Revenge's first season often worked better than it received credit for, as the two star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks strained to resist the poisonous influence of their elders. But severed from that, Declan is way off in left field, getting roped into conspiracy-related juvenile delinquency because... well, because Connor Paolo is still on the payroll, I guess?

As the connection to Emily’s less vengeance-laden childhood, the Brothers Porter started out as a salt-of-the-earth oasis amid the luxurious villainy of the Hamptons. But when Revenge’s soapiest instincts rev up, the show struggles to keep both of them incorporated. Jack at least retains a bond to the show’s center, albeit a second-level bond these days. Declan probably should’ve spent at least part of this season off at whatever summer camp they sent Chuck Cunningham and Judy Winslow to.


Maw Maw, Raising Hope

Like Greg Garcia’s previous series, My Name is Earl, Raising Hope works best when it goes for a warm-hearted approach with black humor around the edges; the show stumbles when it attempts the reverse. The sitcom figured itself out in the second season when it embraced the Chance family rather than scoffing at them, but the near-psychotic Maw Maw remains a vestige of its more misanthropic impulses. Cloris Leachman is as game a comic performer as you’ll find, and when she drops in for a few zingers to tart up an episode the character can be funny. Put her at the center of the story—like with this season’s two-parter “Throw Maw Maw from the House”—and the “crazy/horny/violent old lady” gags run roughshod over everything else.


Any non-Morgan, Dexter

Remember Angel and LaGuerta’s courtship? How about Quinn’s dalliance with internal affairs? What about the time Masuka went on Antiques Roadshow? That last one might not have happened, but I can’t say for sure, because I’ve forgotten virtually every storyline Dexter has ever done that didn’t involve its title character or his sister Deb (and even for her you have to look past a handful of ill-considered romantic subplots).


Which characters do you dread seeing pop up at the center of a storyline these days? Which characters have been mishandled or have outlived their usefulness on their given show? Nominate your own honorary TV Guy Fawkeses in the comments.

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anyone from its always sunny

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I am impressed that Guy Fawkes day gets a mention on a website devoted to TV shows :-)
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Bear on Person of Interest.
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Like Like Like!

Reese and Finch are captured by HR (or anyone else), and there is a full episode following Bear as the Machine somehow directs him around the city to save them!

Maybe even a romantic subplot with a poodle!
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I completely agree about Bobby Singer in Supernatural...they never should have killed him off. I always looked forward to his scenes!



I would like to add Zach Addy from Bones to the list. Unlike Bobby, he is NOT dead! Why have they made no attempts to bring him back? Much like Bobby, I always looked forward to his scenes, even though he didn't carry his own story lines, he always made the episodes more enjoyable!
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It would be hard to bring him back, unless as just a civilian like Bennan's father.

Even if he didn't kill anybody, just his association with the killer and being his apprentice would invalidate ANYTHING done in the lab with him there. Even a presidential pardon would still leave every trial they work on open to any lawyer with half a brain.
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Completely true...but they could go the the hospital and get his insight into cases, like they did for that one episode. I know it will never happen, I just miss his character on the show.
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as far as I'm aware the other shows are fucking stupid, but whatever the case, raising hope and boardwalk empire are always right where they're supposed to be in terms of writing. So leave them the 'f' alone. pick on garbage like revolution and the walking dead.

also "guy fawkes day" is entirely passe. and if it weren't, what the fuck is with equivocating it with fictional crap? nothing says 'fuck the system' like "i'm a mindless zombie feeding it."
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Hodgins and Angela in Bones, Ryan and Esposito in Castle and obviously, Bonnie in TVD.
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Our beloved Charlie Day of Its Always Sunny. This week's ep was more focused on him. Want more.
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"Red John" on The Mentalist. He should have stayed well and truly dead from the excellent season 3 finale.
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thea on arrow. i know the shows been on 4 weeks, but god dang she's annoying. also, i know that fauxmanda is an integral part of revenge, but can we kill her off already and bring back tyler?
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Spoiler alert!!!!

Im gonna say Tdog from The Walking Dead, but hey problem solved. Now we r supposed to feel something now hes dead, i forgot he was even there til he wasnt. Oh well all good now.
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Greg Sanders on CSI:: I like the scenes where he interacts with Sara and Nick, but outside of "Who Killed Sherlock?" and "Fannysmackin'," the Greg-centric episodes always seem to feel the need to bring up Greg's obsession with old-time Vegas mobsters. Whereas Nick Stokes, Grissom, Catherine, and even Hodges have been able to carry whole episodes (and even some great episodes) on their own, Sanders' best moments tend to be small bits in episodes that focus on the team as a whole (like his dissertation on porn in "Killer" or his leading the investigation into a body found in Doc Robbins' bed). I dread to think what his performance evaluations are like..
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alex on grey;s anatomy. i;m honestly surprised they brought him back for this year, he could;ve gone off to johns hopkins and everything woulda been fine. i mean i get that he;s one of the original interns but after he betrayed mer and then she forgave him, he was used up. now he;s back to doing what alex does, sleeping with every intern in the building. maybe they want to fill the void for a rake because of no mark, but give alex something (or at least someone) interesting to do!!!

and the obvious one, NATE. FREAKING. ARCHIBALD. remember when nate was actually relevent to the show? when he actually had his own storylines and his own family problems? his family was the first we saw less of than everybody else;s, which is saying something since we were led to believe chuck's parents were dead and we still saw more family drama from him than nate. i mean in season 4 serena;s brother had more interesting storylines than him! for the last two years he;s had a simple purpose; to sleep with some floozy not very close to his age and exchange banter with chuck. i mean the show is ending but they could;ve had him get somebody pregnant or something!
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You are so right about Alex. I love him but geez! It doesn't seem like he's done anything since Izzie took off. It's been years.



I don't remember Nate ever having a real storyline besides with Blair for 10 seconds haha. I think of him as eye candy. He is not an important character. Nothing would change if he had left after season 1. Haha. He's so pointless.
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Parker on Leverage - they have been getting a little better at this, but as the writers seem unable to bring more of who she is out, every Parker-centric storyline becomes pushy and forced.

Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory - the problem is that they've only served to make him less human and less empathetic as the show has gone on, he's gotten broader with the unlikable behavior so every Sheldon-centric story plays out the same way. They broke the mold once in the last year, with Sheldon becoming concerned for Leonard, and even there they made him a little selfish (which is still a lot better than his usual grotesque selfishness).

Lisa on The Simpsons - um, duh, it's Lisa. There have been how many Lisa episodes over the last 23 years? Probably 30, and out of them maybe 2 were bearable. They write her too preachy and too touchy-feely, they always serve to make Lisa less likable and then the writers carry those traits over into other episodes thus ruining Lisa more and more with every Lisa episode.

Everybody who's not Oliver or Laurel on Arrow - I know they want to be "Revenge" so badly, but holy crap I don't care about the mom or her husband or the crazy sister or the wacky best friend or the grudge-carrying cop dad, all of it feels horribly forced.

Elisabeth Shue's Fin on CSI - bringing Ted Danson on was a revitalization, they were able to write him in a positive way that felt different from what had come before. Then they brought in Shue's generic character and it was like someone had turned out the lights on the show, she's just drab and generic, brings nothing to the table, the writers have kept the character too close to the vest so they have nothing for her to feel or do usually and she's played flatly for it.

Amaro and Rollins on Law & Order SVU - Amaro's personal stuff was too similar to Stabler's but they're starting to downplay it now thank goodness. Rollins though is like a bad soap opera all by herself, she really feels at this point like she's going to screw up cases when a defense attorney hears about her personal life.

Roger on American Dad - always the same thing, costume, wacky antics, over the top behavior, so that even for the MacFarlane universe it becomes unbearable.

Sam Axe on Burn Notice - YEAH I SAID IT, WHAT?!? They rarely differ from each other, there's always a tiny bit of a bleeding heart element to his gruff and drinking exterior, they never go into his backstory (even the Sam Axe movie didn't really go into who he was), they always involve the same types of antics, and we always get him calling himself Chuck Finley. Sam is a great character, but his storylines have often felt mechanical.
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Emma Pillsbury- glee

oh where have you gone?
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Basically every single character on Gossip Girl (even if this is the last season cause c'mon that's just not right)
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So true, at this point only Georgina Sparks delivers. Even Blair has lost it since she got back together with Chuck. But the first place in snoozage has to go to Rufus and Lily. I had hoped they would be cut out once the kids went to college, but they had other plans. I'm not even going to include Nate in all of this, since he's been a non-character since day 1, no offense.
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Oh, this list could be made so long. Or at least it's easy to come up with characters who could be used more in the story lines, even if they are not failed characters or part of failed plots per se:

Dalia - Suburgatory

Red - Once Upon a Time

Any characters besides Booth or Brennan - Bones

Melanie - Bunheads

Almost everyone, quite often - Glee

Juliette - Grimm

Winston - New Girl

Bear - Person of Interest (Deserves much, much more screen time. Maybe even a spin-off)
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Juliette isn't a failed subplot. She's a failed character. Unlike the five-ish characters listed in the column, she never had any potential to be any interesting or have a decent subplot. Wu's item-eating last year was more interesting than anything they've given Juliette.
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Dalia is great, she is supposed to be like that but slowly you can see she is becoming a better person.
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I agree, but the problem is that she isn't getting enough screen time. She is such a great character that I would like more episodes to revolve around her and how she interacts with others. I'm just waiting for when George and Tessa move in with the Royces and Tessa has to play house with Dalia. That will be hilarious.
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I think everything they've given Dalia has worked pretty well, largely because Carly Chaikin just nails that character. Like you said, they just need to give her *more.*
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I think everything they've given Dalia has worked pretty well, largely because Carly Chaikin just nails that character. Like you said, they just need to give her *more.*
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Good List.... I'd like to see more development for these and a few others not mentioned
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I concur
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Can we hear it for Rachel in Suits? I don't know who it was that made me realize the problem with her character, but basically her role in the show is pretty much 'love interest'. On a couple of occasions she's been pretty awesome and badass, but then the writers decide she needs to be a love interest again, and somehow just throw her actual character into storage for a while.
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Bonnie freakin Bennett from TVD My bb girl needs a storyline, she needs screentime. She is an amazing character who the writers are ruining.
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Well, I'd say she's a pretty good actor. Not so sure on the character thing, though either way she does need a decent plot.
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A plot other then being a big old fun-sucker..God in last week's ep I wanted to strangle her.. just the look on her face when she saw Elena and Damon having a good time..She's like "OMG Elena's actually beginning to stop self-loathing and embrace her new nature, better give her the stink eye and put a stop to this right now!" Bonnie has kind of always annoyed me anyways. I hope she gets involved with that ugly professor and gets made to look like an idiot when she inadvertently tries to kill all her friends..
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Well the really glaring show at the moment for this sort of thing is True Blood. The worst culprit is the Sheriff whose plots have never gone anywhere.
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Kevin, Erin, and formerly Kelly, from The Office.
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I was debating who to include from The Office when I realized I couldn't narrow it down past "everyone."
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I have to disagree about one thing, Masuka is awesome



I can't think of any useless characters off the top of my head, but I have to give a shoutout to Homeland and Person of Interest for creating incredible appeal and depth in every character on that show
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Couldn't agree more about Declan Porter. Remember when they gave him that Brooklyn girlfriend? Yeah.
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I disagree about "Dexter" only because Angel is only interesting as supporting Deb and Dex and LaGuerta and Quinn really should go off and die at this point in time. I can okay Masuka getting a sub plot.
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Bobby Singer on Supernatural. There is only one failed subplot for him, but it's a biggy: he's dead. Bring him back. Why they thought killing off the most consistently entertaining character on the show (other than maybe Dean Winchester) was a good idea, who knows?
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No. I LOVED the character of Bobby Singer, but bringing him back for that last half of the season was the WORST THING THEY EVER DID on the show.

He died. It was horrible. It was sad. But the up-shot was he got the best swan-song / goodbye-ep I'd ever seen. We saw how he pretty much raised those kids and how close he was to them, and risked OBLIVION to give them one final bit of info instead of going to heaven. And when he STILL had a shot... he chose to relive one last memory of sharing some brews with the guys instead of moving on.

THEN... they brought him back as a cranky ghost that possessed people and hulked out, risking innocents to satisfy his vengeance.

Worst character... transition... ever.
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He needs to be brought back, but really be brought back. Not as a cranky ghost. The last half-season was the one big ugly failed subplot.



If they can bring Sam and Dean back repeatedly, hopefully they have enough mojo for one Bobby-resurrection.
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I didn't hate the way he came back to the degree that kanniballl did, but I agree that he needs to stay dead now... although I hate myself a little for saying it.



I'm with you, though, Gislef. They shouldn't have killed him off in the first place.
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Nelson Van Alden, Boardwalk Empire

vs.

Masuka, Dexter
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In what? A skeeving-out-coworkers contest?



Tough call but I give it to Van Alden just because there's a 40% chance he will straight-up murder you while Masuka's not likely to do worse than cop a feel.
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Admittedly, not on the air any longer, but...



*clears throat* WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALT.
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Ah, yes. One of the earliest signals that the writers had no clue what they were plotting, so they just dropped an entire storyline they didn't know how to finish. (Cue Lost apologists who say I just want every little thing answered, I would be more comfortable with shows like NCIS, etc). There's "leaving plots open-ended" then "leaving giant gaping plot holes".
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I liked the show but recognized the faults. And I won't apologize for that.

The only thing I CAN say is, they painted themselves into a corner with logistics.

They have a show where each season lasts only 40-days or so. But they cast a young actor who's about to hit puberty / growth spurts / etc. It's hard to sell the the illusion of the expanded timeline when your character goes from adolescent to teenager in the span of what should be 2-3 months of episode-time.

But that was just poor planning on their part. They should have wrapped up his storyline in season 1 and been done with it.
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I'm a pretty decent Lost apologist, but, yeah. That.
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Why do you hate magic children and their trusty canine companions, Noel?
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Any non-Morgan. Haha, so true... Dexter had its spaggetthi of side plots and they all led nowhere. Every non-Morgan character is right where he/she was back in S1 - or dead.
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