This is a trend I’ve been seeing in cartoons a lot recently. Its not a bad trope at all and all of the examples I’m writing about are still good characters, but I’m a bit worried about it falling into cliche territory. I’m talking of course about pairing the strait man and the cloudcookoolander.
Theres very little point in me actually writing this except to see what these characters have in common and what makes these characters unique.
So anyways, the first two characters I’m gonna talk about are the ones I feel I know the best.
Mild un-detailed spoilers ahead
Dipper and Mabel Pines
Given the nature of this show and its ongoing story arc, both of these characters have developed beyond the regular trope into something more. The two are still based heavily on the smart/ weird contrast, but both also contain aspects of the other’s personality.
Dipper is typically the smart one and the strait man of the group, but he’s been shown drifting into silly territory at various points throughout the series. Heck, its been an established part of his character since the very beginning. In the episode Double Dipper, both he and Mabel are seen playing around with silly string, and in Not What He Seems, he and Mabel both shoot illegal fireworks that set the mystery shack on fire. There are a ton of straight man characters out there who are absolute killjoys whenever they show up on screen, and an unhealthy amount of those characters tend to be the main character. Its nice to know that Dipper avoids this trend.
Another thing about this character is the fact that he seems to somewhat aware of the trope and occasionally tried to play it up. In Society of the blind eye, he mentions something along the lines of “I’m supposed to be the Smart Guy!” Usually when he’s shown playing this up, it completely backfires on him.
That’s just one example of it happening, and that was just a one off joke, but sometimes it affects the entire plot. Anyone who’s seen sock opera knows how wrong Dipper can be.
Last thing about him, I swear… Dipper believes in the supernatural and puts his faith in the journals. This guy is the exact opposite of a skeptic. Typical straight men would be.
Mabel pines is the weird one of the two. While characters like Dipper tend to have a comprehensible line of thinking, a lot of the fun that comes with Mabel comes from her thinking slightly to the left and off into infinity. But just because she thinks this way doesn’t mean she’s not smart or incapable of being serious. Both Sock Opera and Not What He Seems come to mind, though theres also an entire episode dedicated to showing how her brand of silliness can actually cause a lot of good. Other episodes even show her using her creativity to solve some of the problems they come across.
Perhaps on the negative side of her personality (and this is not, I repeat not a dig on the show! This is a great character flaw for a character like her, and only shows how well this show is written) is her unknowing selfishness and her apparent lack of empathy. She makes fun of Dipper without ever meaning any harm and sometimes puts her own goals in the way of some of the other characters. Sock Opera, which I already mentioned featured one of Dipper’s defining flaws, also displays Mabel’s own issues to the point where its kinda the point of the episode (this episode, by the way, is a much watch. One of the best episodes so far). Actually, somewhere though season 2, I kinda noticed that Mabel somehow made her way from deuteragonist to straight up protagonist. This is a good thing.
Lastly, her own emotional depth seems to be be developed far beyond the rainbows and unicorns typical of her type of character. As Alex Hirsch put it “If you think Mabel’s just glitter and sweaters after watching NWHS, then I can’t help you.
Wander and Sylvia
I usually find myself watching Wander over Yonder shortly after and episode of Gravity falls. This one seems to be kinda interesting in that the gender roles seem to be both played strait and played with at the same time.
Sylvia plays the straight man of the pairing like Dipper, and while she is smart, its clear that her actual physical strength and her attitude are her defining features. Thats usually reserved for the dumb muscle of the group. Admittedly female straight men are common enough to be a cliche, especially on Disney Channel, but Sylvia seems different. Her personality is bigger than the typical female straight men, and much more entertaining.
Wander is undeniably male and likely identifies as such, but he also seems have the “I love all things” nature female characters of this type usually have. When paired with a female straight man like sylvia, the male character is usually shown as being really, really stereotypically male (think Homer and Marge), but Wander doesn’t seem to follow that type, just as Sylvia doesn’t follow hers. Also, like Mabel, Wander seems to use his silliness to solve a lot of his own problems.
Ultimately, though, the best part about this pairing is that neither character is superior to the other. They’re not each others sidekicks, they’re best friends wandering the galaxy as equals. This is less like Cosmo and Wanda, and more like Finn and Jake.
Star and Marco
Star vs the Forces of Evil is the show that kind of provoked this post. I’ve been watching this a lot lately actually. I previously reviewed both the premier and Blood Moon Ball and ultimately this series tends to be pretty awesome, if a bit flawed at times.
The thing I like about this show is the chemistry between the two main characters. This show is practically a romantic comedy, and honestly, instead of giving these two separate entries like the two above, I really wanna go ahead and talk about how these two act together vs when the two are apart.
When the two are together, they make a great team. Marco needs star to liven up his life while Star needs Marco to bring her down to Earth and serve as her conscience. When the two are apart, things get a little weird.
Star can be very mean spirited and violent, and with Marco out of her life, there’s nothing stopping her from making a mess of everything. This might be chalked up to poor writing, but I actually kinda think its intentional. The girl has horns for crying out loud!
And without Star, well Marco might be kind of boring. In the pilot all he did was play it safe, and having him on his own would make for a very boring series.
Funny thing is, and this might be the most controversial thing I say in this thing, you would kinda hate these characters if they were all by themselves. But when these two are together and keeping each other in check, you get a very likeable pair of characters perfect for a show that all but announces these two to be a couple.
Wirt and Greg
I’ve seen two episodes of Over the Garden Wall and am working on watching more, but from what I can tell, a lot of the silliness from Greg’s age comes from his age. The other characters on this list have the silly one the same age as the smart one, but Greg seems to get an actual excuse. Theres no reason to think that Greg remains as silly as he is as he ages.
Wirt seems to me to be quite a bit like Dipper, if maybe slightly more introverted.
I really wish I could examine this more. This definitely looks like a good show.
Special Case The Crystal Gems
This is a bit different from the above character in that the silly characters and the serious characters are doubled. On the Silly Side you have Steven and Amethyst, and on the Serious Side you have Pearl and Garnet. None of these characters are even remotely flat in any way, except for maybe in the Uncle Grandpa episode, but whatever.
Steven Universe actually plays with this trope quite a bit. Amethyst acts the way does to hide the fact that she’s an emotional wreck, while Garnet is actually made of up of two other gems who seem to represent this trope as well. Also of note is that Steven is also this way when paired with Connie.