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"Who knew the ramen guy had so much Backstory?"

People are rarely all that they seem at first glance. Without getting into An Aesop about books and covers and ugly ducks and swans and frogs that when kissed turn into robots; it's fairly true to say that people are mostly visually oriented, and go by first impressions. So when it turns out that The Big Guy who can bend steel bars is also a Harvard alumnus with a penchant for pontificating on the power of prose, people are justifiably taken aback.

This is not so much a character type being subverted as it is getting Character Development in unexpected directions. Much like Playing Against Type, it can be something that seemingly goes against the character type, or combines two different, seemingly opposite roles or characters into one more Round Character. The talent or quirk is rarely impossible for the character to have, just unexpected: people aren't just their job or surface personality after all. The Smart Guy who's a cooking wiz because he had to take care of his younger siblings, or The Ditz who's a Black Belt because her dad wanted her to be able to defend herself are two examples. Hidden Depths can be discovered in Backstory or organically as a story progresses, but if used improperly can crop up in a Plot Tailored to the Party to give a character the necessary skills. Why did they never mention it? "You Didn't Ask".

This might take a while to fill:

Character type(s) and their usual Hidden Depth:

The Big Guy + The Smart Guy = Genius Bruiser (and the other way around for Badass Bookworm)
The Big Guy = Gentle Giant
The Smart Guy = Badass Bookworm
The Chick or Pollyanna = Stepford Smiler
Shrinking Violet + Beneath the Mask=Yandere
Shrinking Violet + Action Girl = Little Miss Badass
Genius Bruiser - The Worf Effect = Minored in Asskicking
Noble Demon = Fallen Hero
Alpha Bitch = Defrosting Ice Queen
The Fool + Badass Normal = Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass
Aliens and Monsters + Mama Bear = Monster Is a Mommy
Jerk Jock or Jerkass + Pet the Dog = Jerk with a Heart of Gold
Anyone's Mom = Mama Bear
The Cutie + Super Strength = Cute Bruiser
The Ditz + The Smart Guy = Genius Ditz (and the other way around for Ditzy Genius)
Nice Guy + Berserk Button = Beware the Nice Ones
The Quiet One + Berserk Button = Beware the Quiet Ones
Jade-Colored Glasses + Knight in Shining Armor = Knight in Sour Armor
Fake Ultimate Hero + The Munchausen = Miles Gloriosus
Children Are Innocent + Wise Beyond Their Years = Innocent Prodigy
The Stoic or Emotionless Girl + Not So Stoic = Sugar and Ice Personality
Character - Basic Skill + The Spartan Way = Fish Out of Water
The Ace = Broken Ace
Lovable Sex Maniac + Nice Guy = Chivalrous Pervert
The Chick + Combat Pragmatist = More Deadly Than the Male
Jerkass + Break the Cutie = Jerkass Woobie
Yamato Nadeshiko or The Ojou or Proper Lady + Action Girl = Lady of War
Proper Lady + Guile Hero or Beware the Nice Ones = Silk Hiding Steel

Of course, since these are common enough to have become a trope, they are less of a surprise than more — unusual depths. Indeed, some hidden depths are so common that making the surface and depth the same surprises the reader. In more extreme cases, a completely Flat Character becomes a Rounded Character.

If the audience is aware of the depths but not all the characters are, Dramatic Irony is almost bound to occur. If it happens gradually, it's essentially Flanderization in reverse. May be demonstrated when a character catches the Smart Ball.

For more examples, see the index.

Examples of Hidden Depths include:


  • Dykes to Watch Out For: Sparrow, described by the author as "the most cartoony of my characters," started as a fairly one-dimensional therapy-head and New Ager; she later came out as bisexual, had a child, became an atheist, and developed a grumpy side to her personality.
  • X-Men: Toad, of all people, has some depth to him. While being Magneto's Butt Monkey for years, he's become quite a skilled mechanic; and while not innovative, can reproduce pretty complicated devices. He also grew a spine, led his own version of the Brotherhood, and was one of the chessmasters behind the resurrection of the reality-warping Proteus.
  • Most of the kids from Runaways fit this trope one way or another, particularly Chase, Gert, Molly, and Karolina.
  • Stan Lee was very fond of this- the X-Men include Beast, a furry monster man (originally a human-ish jock type, on the surface) who is a brilliant Polymath; Prof. Xavier, a cripple who is the most powerful telepath on Earth etc.

    In the Fantastic Four The Thing is likewise very intelligent ex-fighter pilot. On his worst day, he's needy, pessimistic, and shovy; on his best, he out-braves Captain America. Sue is the most powerful member of her team and on her best day the Team Mom, but she's got self-esteem issues and doubts Reed's devotion to her and the family. Johnny is vapid, self-absorbed and manic--but he's also best friends with Ben no matter what, and usually the first into a fight. Reed is brilliant, but every so often he admits his deep guilt over causing the accident that made the Fantastic Four in the first place--even guilt over what happened to Victor von Doom, even though he didn't have a damn thing to do with it.
    • Ben Grimm's Depths are lampshaded in Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men, when Rogue kisses him, stealing his powers and psyche. "She expected to be kissing a toad. Instead she's touched the heart of a prince."
  • Superman, Batman and many other heroes play this with their alter egoes- Clark Kent is a mild-mannered, occasionally clumsy reporter, who no one would suspect of also being the Man of Steel; Batman is a terrifying vigilante, one that many believe is actually a mythical monster and some deny the existence of entirely, while no one at all would consider linking him with shallow, lazy playboy Bruce Wayne. In many stories, though, their identities are also shown to surprise other characters-Clark is also a brilliant, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who can prove to be incorruptible and brave (evident when Supes loses his powers), while Wayne is also a highly respected philanthropist with a far cleaner business record than his playboy persona might suggest; also, while the death of his parents is public knowledge, most people don't seem to be aware of it.
  • Sin City is a comic that's known for being Rated "M" for Manly but Frank Miller is careful to give each character a menaingful backstory. Take Marv, for instance. He's ugly and out of his mind, yet he is shown to be a very jolly drinking-buddy, a supportive friend, and is much smarter than he lets on.
    • It was once mentioned that he fought in a war. His violent tendencies, paranoia and alcohalism could be the results of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Geoff Johns specializes in revamping B-level villains by adding backstory and character depth to them.

Fan Works

  • The Hunter in With Strings Attached. He starts out as an egotistical warrior who loves killing and scaring the crap out of people. But after several days observing the four (who detest him and speak with him as little as possible), especially how they relate to one another and how they do not use their formidable power to kill, he confesses to Paul just how lonely and friendless he is, and that he really doesn't think of killing as “fun.” He also reveals that he started out as a graduate student in botany and had a fiancee who's been lost to him for 20 years now.
  • Andy in Calvin and Hobbes The Series. Starting with Season Two onwards, he changes from The Generic Guy to the Only Sane Man, as well as the lead Deadpan Snarker.
  • Nearly everyone in White Rain.
  • Silver Spoon in Inner Demons. It's revealed that she actually hates Diamond Tiara, and only hangs out with her because their fathers work together and expect it of them. After developing a real friendship with Apple Bloom, her patience with Diamond grows increasingly thin, until she eventually snaps after one insult towards Apple Bloom and her friends too many, and delivers a "The Reason You Suck" Speech before breaking off their "friendship".


  • This trope is pretty much the point of the 2008 documentary American Teen. The documentary follows five high-school students in a very rural and average Midwestern town in Warsaw, Indiana: Hannah, Colin, Megan, Mitch, and Jake. Each of them are all meant to be some kind of person that you would have known in your own high school: the quirky and unique girl, the all-star athlete, the popular girl with everything going for her, the heartthrob, and the nerd/gamer, respectively. Hannah has a hard time fitting in with a rural town because she's so liberal and she falls into a severe depression when she's dumped in the beginning of the film, Colin's entire future is riding on getting on a basketball scholarship and his father rides him hard over this, Megan is under tremendous pressure to be accepted into the prestigious University of Notre Dame because the rest of her family went there, and Jake worries about finding a relationship that's meant to last.

    The only one who doesn't seem to have any substantial depth like the others is Mitch, who, perhaps coincidentally or not, is focused on significantly less than the other four and is even left out of some posters for the film. Playing video games doesn't really cause a bunch of angst.
  • Pretty much the whole point of the Breakfast Club, the students reveals plenty of emotional baggage that they never spoke before to their friends or family.
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - Both Delysia, a ditz, and Miss Pettigrew, a governess have a lot more depth than their labels who imply.
  • One could argue this is the point to Reservoir Dogs. Orange has many scenes revealing his hidden depths, Blonde turns out to have a hidden depth that was right out in the open, and White has his hidden depth come out at the end.
  • Played for laughs in Black Dynamite. Randomly during the film, the Jive Turkey cast reveals they have a lot of esoteric knowledge of Greek Mythology.
  • There are several instances in American Beauty such as Angela, the pretty cheerleader who is a virgin and Frank Fitts, Ricky's Marine father who wants Lester sexually. When rebuffed, he kills Lester.
  • Molly in You, Me and Dupree takes a liking to Dupree when she sees beyond his party boy persona and sees a kind, talented, hopeless romantic of a man.
  • David from the Sabrina remake knows a lot about the family business despite spending all those years as a playboy ne'er do-well.
  • Michael Keaton, in both his personas of Bruce Wayne and Batman, normally gives a subdued performance as both characters in the movie. But then, during the scene with the Joker at Vicki's apartment, Bruce Wayne, faced with the murderer of his parents, decides to, without any warning at all during his conversation with him, get nuts.
    • He's doing it to protect Vicki, not to confront his parent's killer. The audience should already know the Joker is their killer, but Bruce doesn't find out until the end of the scene when the Joker gives his signature line (and shoots him in the chest). Bruce is so shaken by The Reveal that he completely drops out of his crazy act. (It's a VERY well written and well acted scene all around.)
    • Max Schreck in Batman Returns, a stereotypical Corrupt Corporate Executive, is revealed to love his son and his deceased wife, and also seems to have some hidden resesntments towards Bruce Wayne and the rest of the silverspoon crowd.
  • Played for Laughs in Tangled with the thugs in the Snuggly Duckling; the song "I've Got a Dream" is about how they may be criminals, but — like everybody — they're also florists, mimes, pianists, romantics, and, yes, even singers.
  • Col. Kessler from Battle from the Bulge seems like the perfect soldier, strong, loyal and professional. Until The Reveal that he's an Ax Crazy Blood Knight.


  • Bridge of Birds has Miser Shen, a seemingly comical flat character who lives up to his name by hoarding wealth. It's only when he loses said wealth do we find out his deal. Shen's village was razed because he was unable to pay the duke's taxes. His daughter died in the purge and Shen was so devastated he look for a way to bring her back. He discovered that there was a giant who could grant his wish by paying him heavily. Shen then spends the rest of his life making money until he completely forgets about his goal.*sob*
  • Harry Potter provides a few examples:
    • Severus Snape, on the surface a Sadist Teacher and later apparently revealed to be The Mole, turns out to be a Double Agent and the The Atoner who is torn over his feelings towards the son of the man he hated and the woman he loved.
    • Mrs Weasley's Crowning Moment of Awesome: She kills Bellatrix, the second strongest villain in the series, through a Mama Bear Berserk Button.
    • Fleur Delacour at first appears to be a highly vain woman who only cares about Bill because of his looks. She later surprises everyone when it is revealed that she genuinely loves her fiancee after a werewolf attack leaves him with some very ugly scars.
    • According to Pottermore, Minerva Mc Gonagall fell in love with a Muggle after graduating from Hogwarts. He proposed, and she accepted, but then turned him down because she knew he wouldn't go with her to London where she would be working for the Ministry.
    • Sirius Black: He seems like a nice guy by the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, but it's then revealed he's a hypocrite. He said in Goblet of Fire "If you want to know what a man's like, look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals." but he, in fact, constantly mistreated and neglected Kreacher during Order of the Phoenix. It could be said he had a Karmic Death, seeing as how his treatment of Kreacher helped convince the house-elf to lie to Harry about Sirius being at the Ministry.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel First & Only, Dorden, The Medic, improvises an explanation for a wounded Naval man that not only shifts the blame from them but puts it on their opponents. When the troopers with him comment, he reveals he had been an amateur actor.
    • In Traitor General, Mkvenner reveals that he knows Old Gothic. Better than Gaunt does, even.
    • In Honour Guard, although Hark has been assigned to the Ghosts to bring down Gaunt, he capably assists Gaunt's mission, even after Gaunt decides to defy orders (although he does try to arrest him immediately, until it is clearly impracticable.
  • In Patricia A. McKillip's The Bell at Sealey Head, Miranda Beryl arrives at the house of her dying relative and seems a perfect city-loving Blue Blood. Then, when Emma see Ridley Dow caught in magic and is unable to rescue him, Miranda calls him by his first name, which works, and arranges for him to be brought to a room with total competence and complete disregard for what happens to her clothes in the process — and evinces knowledge about magic. Whereupon she recruits Emma to help her keep up the facade of a Blue Blood heiress waiting for her inheritance.
  • Discworld series.
    • The Truth - Mr. Tulip of the New Firm is a mountain of dumb muscle with a bizarre Verbal Tic and a habit of snorting anything in powdered form, including icing sugar and crushed mothballs; he's almost too stupid to be really malicious, except that he really is great at killing people. He does, however, turn out to have a --ing phenomenal appreciation for art history, capable of pointing out to various curators the provenance, quality and legitimacy of a wide range of pieces, and sometimes weeping over their splendour. All while hulking there with his ill-fitting suit and bloodshot eyes, dribbling drain cleaner and saying "--ing" every sentence.
      • His Backstory is only hinted at throughout the book. In many ways, he's one of Pratchett's most interesting characters because we're shown that the little we know has an explanation, but that the explanation itself is mostly hidden. It's tragic to see him struggle with traumatic childhood memories while casually murdering people. To quote the book itself, "Sometimes Mr. Pin heard him wake up screaming in the middle of the night."
    • Vimes also seems to have a lot more to him than Noble Bigot Cowboy Cop. But in his own words "He knew he had hidden depths. There was nothing in them he wanted brought to the surface".
      • Carrot, while initially innocent and naive, later develops this in spades. He's so good at it that even career con-man Moist von Lipwig can't read him.
    • All three of the witches are fairly obvious character types: Granny is The Determinator — a mean, strong, unyielding powerhouse, whose main flaw is that she can't admit she's wrong; Magrat is an overly-romantic wet hen who gets steamrollered by Granny; and Nanny's a disgusting old baggage whose main role seems to be as Plucky Comic Relief. But later books reveal Granny is full of self-doubt and not lacking a form of kindness; right from the beginning it's clear that Magrat has a core of iron; and Word of God is that Nanny is more powerful than Granny, but cultivates an image that hides this because she has less will to use it. Being a witch seems to require having Hidden Depths; they're where the Second (or Third) Thoughts come from.
    • Some trolls get this in low temperature environments, especially Detritus.
    • History Monk Lu-Tze has some pretty deep hidden depths.
  • Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is all about Hidden Depths, with the main character learning that first impressions are not the only barometer of a person's character (the dashing charmer turns out to be a scoundrel, the uptight dullard is revealed to be a decent, honourable and caring man, etc). There's a reason Jane Austen initially called it First Impressions.
  • Raptor Red - Red's sister is, for most of the story, a manic, easily-angered character who is deeply suspicious of almost every creature that isn't her sister. Imagine Raptor Red's surprise (as indicated by the page quote) when she finds her playing slide-down-the-snow-hill with a pack of Troodon.
  • JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings - most hobbits have these. Check "The Scouring Of The Shire". Early in the book, when Frodo reveals his to Gandalf, it's even lampshaded a bit.

 Gandalf: Hobbits really are amazing creatures, as I have said before. You can learn all that there is to know about their ways in a month, yet after a hundred years they can still surprise you in a pinch.

  • In Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novel Death Masks, Michael reveals that his wife Charity made his armor. In Proven Guilty you find out she also spars with Michael, has her own armor, and was a dark magic witch who was sacrificed to a dragon (which is how she met Michael). In the same book Charity and Harry storm the heart of the Winter court Artic Tor to rescue Molly.
  • In the Dragonlance novels the elven princess Laurana is initially regarded as little more than a Brainless Beauty, but when challenged she proves to be a brave warrior, skilled diplomat and inspirational leader whose innovative tactics lead her army to a series of remarkable victories in the Vingaard Campaign.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, every character has Hidden Depths. However, with some Complete Monster characters, the surface is removed and you find out that underneath, they're worse.
  • In Suzanne Collins's Catching Fire, at the end, Katniss learns she's the Unwitting Pawn. Who is the mastermind? Haymitch. The lush. Who suffers from D Ts, so he's not faking the drunkenness.
  • In the Matador series by Steve Perry, Sleel is initially portrayed as a Badass Loveable Rogue [1] with a complex about always proving he's the best. Then he's found browsing in the philosophy section of a bookstore, casually quoting poetry, and being able to spot a deception that fooled everyone else in his team. And then it's revealed that he has a doctorate in poetic literature, wrote several best-selling novels, and used the proceeds to set up a foundation caring for orphaned children. Oh, and his name is actually an acronym of his neglectful parents' initials.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Rogues in the House", Murilo is The Dandy, but when he receives a recognizable ear as warning:

 But Murilo, for all his scented black curls and foppish apparel was no weakling to bend his neck to the knife without a struggle.


 "You are thinking, Kull," said the old statesman, suddenly, "that Ka-nu is a useless old reprobate, fit for nothing except to guzzle wine and kiss wenches!" In fact, this remark was so much in line with his actual thoughts, and so plainly put, that Kull was rather startled, though he gave no sign. Ka-nu gurgled and his paunch shook with his mirth.

"Wine is red and women are soft," he remarked tolerantly. "But—ha! ha!—think not old Ka-nu allows either to interfere with business."

  • In The Tillerman Family Series by Cynthia Voigt, it's quicker and easier to count the characters who do not have Hidden Depths than it is to count the ones who do. Nobody is exactly who or what they seem at first, and reputations and early judgments frequently turn out to be unfair, flawed or flat-out wrong.
  • The 3 cops of L.A. Confidential. Bud is frustrated with being the Dumb Muscle, Exley is a squeaky clean hero cop ready to sell anyone out for a promotion and Jack wants to do real cop work but he's hip deep in corruption that's it's hard to escape.
  • In The Pale King, Chris is surprised when his father quotes a famous poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The again, he didn't know much about his father in the first place...
  • Many characters in PG Wodehouse's books, while falling into stock roles (the Upperclass Twit and The Jeeves, for example), turn out to have these; the phrase "hidden depths" is actually used from time to time.
  • Basically all the characters in The Westing Game.

Live Action Television

  • In season four of Dexter, we had the Trinity Killer, who was said to have been the most successful serial killer up until then. Early episodes show him committing premeditated, cold blooded murders. However, Dexter discovers he is actually quite a normal guy, maybe even an otherwise upstanding citizen.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • In a first season episode, Cordelia showed a surprisingly unexpected Hidden Depth with her introspective reflections on the empty loneliness of popularity. Of course, by episode's end she was still the Rich Bitch, but later seasons saw her change. Lampshaded in a later season when she scores highly on her SATs. "I do well on standardized tests. What, I can't have layers?"
    • Giles at first seems to be the typical uptight academic mentor stereotype but later seasons reveal that he had a Dark and Troubled Past running with a gang of sorcerers. He also is a great singer, plays guitar and has a kick ass rock LP collection.
  • NCIS
    • Timothy McGee on NCIS is known to his team members as a computer nerd. They're surprised to discover that, under a pseudonym, he's become a highly successful novelist. Although they're slightly more surprised to find out the 'hidden depths' are out there in the open - all of McGee's characters are based on his co-workers.
    • Tony DiNozzo is seen mostly as a skirt-chasing Lothario who can't keep his pants zipped. Come season four and he's leading Team Gibbs, proving that under the Handsome Lech behavior, he is intensely loyal, street-smart, incredibly mature, and remarkably concerned for his team's welfare (team, naturally, including Ducky, Abby, and Director Shepard), traits that do not come to the forefront until he is Acting Special Agent In Charge - his conferences with the Director through season four make this even more clear. He may hit on Ziva and Kate regularly and smart off to Gibbs, but if the thought crosses your mind to do anything that could remotely cause his True Companions any discomfort, he will make his displeasure known. Pointedly.
      • Lampshaded when he expresses genuine concern about McGee's lack of a social life and McGee, getting tired of the lecturing about it from his co-workers, asks to have Sarcastic Tony back.

 DiNozzo: Sorry, it's Mature, Wise Tony here now.

  • Dean Winchester in Supernatural originally came across as the classic Brawn to his younger brother Sam's Brains as well as an unrepentant ladies man. Throughout the series though, he is revealed to not only be smart enough to make an EMF detector from an old Walkman, rebuild from scratch the Impala, use a working knowledge on chemistry to make bombs and weapons on the fly, decipher anagrams and patterns quickly and read Vonnegut. The first woman he really loved (Cassie) also broke his heart.
    • The Trickster: Introduced as a trickster god who doesn't particularly care about anything other than doling out ironic punishments, poofing up women and sweets, and "teaching" Sam important life lessons. Turns out that he's an archangel who left Heaven because he couldn't stand to watch his brothers killing each other, and is all for no Apocalypse, even though he's resigned and convinced himself that there's no use fighting it once it's started.
  • ICarly: iEnrage Gibby focused on Gibby's Unstoppable Rage side, as well as this dialogue.

 Freddie: You play the ukelele?

Carly: Yeah, a little.

Freddie: Wow, that's never been established.

  • Firefly has a lot of subtle indicators of Hidden Depths among its crew. There's Shepherd Book, who turns out to be a little more badass than his priestly outfit would indicate. Jayne turns out to be pretty proficient with a guitar, and has interesting philosophical responses to death (particularly his own), which is surprising considering his nature. Mal is implied to have an unusual interest in art and poetry, both having read some literature and having his bunk festooned with calligraphy. Simon, despite initially being portrayed as snobbish and conservative like only a privileged upbringing on a core planet can produce, showed a genius criminal mind who was able to plan out and execute break-ins to two heavily guarded government facilities. According to the actress, Inara is dying from a terminal illness, a subplot the series never got time to fully play out.
    • Further, Shepherd Book can order around the crew of an Alliance starship, which raises more than a few questions about his history.
  • Cameron of The Sarah Connor Chronicles shows unusual sides that one wouldn't expect of a Terminator, having an interest in history and dancing, and showing a pretty impressive set of investigative skills. And there's also the fact that she is apparently self-evolving, as shown in her rapid response and recovery time in "To The Lighthouse."
  • The reimagined Battlestar Galactica Reimagined:
    • starts with the appearance of a beautiful and cold robot woman entering a building, played by underwear model Tricia Helfer. She later turned out to be one of the best actors on the show and played some of the more sympathetic and complex characters, including the abused Gina and at least two others. Playing many Number Six clones with different personalities really let her display a lot of range. Completely unexpected after the obvious hiring of Ms. Fanservice in the first place.
    • Ellen Tigh is introduced as a manipulative, deeply selfish woman. She is an alcoholic, she's promiscuous and she enables Tigh's worst excesses. Eventually, it is revealed that she is a Cylon; and really a caring, profoundly religious, genius scientist, albeit an alcoholic and manipulative one.
    • D'Anna is established to be nothing more than a domineering, zealous bitch — but it turns out later she is a domineering, zealous bitch on a quest for forbidden knowledge.
    • Gaius Baltar is an arrogant intellectual who grew up on a farm and is ashamed of his 'hick' heritage.
  • How I Met Your Mother character Barney Stinson started out as a fairly one-sided Casanova but has been given a detailed Backstory and is now a Ladykiller in Love. He has also shown emotional vulnerability in unexpected places, such as when his brother James revealed that he (James) was going to adopt a baby with his soon-to-be husband. This well-rounded development of what initially seemed to be a fairly Flat Character, along with Neil Patrick Harris's acting, has turned him into an Ensemble Darkhorse, and he is now far more popular with fans than any of the other characters who were originally more central to the story.
  • It can be argued that the entire cast of Frasier are reusable standard sitcom comedy tropes that usually get portrayed as the one-dimensional butt of jokes in other shows, but in Frasier, are given the stage as subtle, well-developed main characters — any television viewer can recognize the arrogant, obnoxious blowhard (Frasier), the fussy, snooty fop (Niles), the opinionated, crusty old relative (Martin), the airheaded, naive Funny Foreigner (Daphne), and the sassy office slut (Roz) as one-off or peripheral sitcom characters from any number of other shows and movies. It's just that these so-called stereotypes had so many other facets and layers and for once weren't used just as fodder for some other, more "normal" main character, that they couldn't be described as stereotypical (or even typical) at all.
  • Chief O'Brien from Star Trek starts out as a second-string bridge officer, gets promoted to transporter chief on the Enterprise, moves on to become the Chief Engineer on Deep Space Nine only to have it revealed that before all of this, he was a soldier, which becomes important as the Dominion War flares up.
    • Actually, we found out that O'Brien is a traumatized veteran of the Cardassian War in the appropriately named Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Wounded, when he tells the story of the first battle he had been in.
      • Rules of Engagement establishes that the cheerful, friendly chief has been in 232 combat situations and has been decorated fifteen times.
    • An even better example from Deep Space Nine is Rom, Quark's dopey brother, who turns out to be a gifted engineer even conceiving and designing a net of self-replicating mines that effectively stops the Dominion from sending reinforcements through the wormhole. (And, got married to a hot dabo girl.)
    • Rom's son Nog started out as a sexist juvenile delinquent, but was revealed to have similar skills and determination, becoming the first Ferengi in Starfleet. (At least one potential future shows him rising to captain rank.)
    • Quark himself was more of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get character, but the leader of the Klingon Empire did once refer to him as "a brave Ferengi", a very hidden depth.
    • Or when Spock reveals:

 How do Vulcans choose their mates? Haven't you wondered?

Kirk: I guess the rest of us assume that it's done ... quite logically.

Spock: No.

Kirk: ...No.

    • The Vulcans start out with no emotions. Later they have emotions but keep them under strict control. They end up with often-overwhelming emotions that they have difficulty controlling.
  • James Fullalove from two of the Quatermass serials is a reporter for an evening newspaper who is fluent in Medieval Latin.
  • Jay in The Inbetweeners seemed to be nothing more than a disgusting pervert and liar at first (although he was always shown as a good friend), but in the season one finale he temporarily entered a very reflective mood and revealed some of his vulnerable side. Then in the second season he got into a relationship and revealed himself as a Chivalrous Pervert.
  • Sheriff Lamb, from Veronica Mars, after he reveals that his father beat him, which is itself a huge cliche, but well-played. Also Logan. He initially seems like the stereotypical rich, entitled asshole, but his troubled family situation revealed Hidden Depths.
  • That's the beauty of Lost. The first few episodes of the series seem to fool us into thinking we know which characters to root for until their flashbacks and centric episodes reveal a whole 'nother story before the first season is even over!
  • Det. Eddie Alvarez from The Unusuals came off as a naive, self-centered, overambitious jerk at the beginning ... but underneath that is a natural police detective conversant in a startlingly diverse range of languages.
  • Quantum Leap has an unusual variant: hidden depths in the protagonist that often even he doesn't know he has until he uses them during the show. This is mainly due to the combination of a ridiculous amount of doctorates and useful hobbies and the amnesia he sustained from initially Leaping. Occasionally, though, it's Al who will display a skill we didn't know he had.
  • Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski on The Wire is initially dumped on the Barksdale detail because he's an incompetent officer who accidentally discharges his gun in the office on his first day after being dumped there (and prior to that had filed a false report to cover up that he'd shot up his own car), who only remains on the force because he's the son-in-law of the career officer. However, after being restricted to office duty, he begins to pull his weight as the one who penetrates the drug dealers' heavily slurred, slang-laden, and coded communications.
  • Reese on Malcolm in the Middle spent a lot of time on the show being idiotic, clueless, and sadistic, certain to age into a series of minimum wage jobs and possible (maybe even probable) jail time. Then, after being forced by his mom to take a cooking class, he found that he actually thrived in the kitchen. He became better at preparing food than his own mother, and he enjoyed it so much that not letting him cook became the only form of punishment that his parents could use that was even remotely effective. Note the panic he exhibited when his mom threatened to take away his whisk.
  • Argubly the very camp Kurt from Glee, who has read Sun Tzu's Art Of War, and at least knows what Vocal Adrenlin's latin motto means ("murder or be murdered).
    • Also Sue Sylvester starts off as a Complete Monster (albeit, a hilariously awesome one), but we've come to see some of Sue's depths, most notably being that though she may work her Cheerios like dogs and say horrible things to... well, everybody, she genuinely cares about the students and their well-being (aside from a certain Wallbanger about a human cannonball). We also learn about Sue's back story, which begins to explain some of her behavior.
  • In the US version of the The Office, when Jim plays opera music to block out Dwight's listening device and asks Andy's opinion of the music as a cover, Andy knowledgeably criticizes it, and Creed, who had shown no sensitivity in the previous 5 seasons, starts crying.
  • In The X Files, the Smoking Man pops up early on as a mysterious figure with few lines and shadowy motivations. Over the course of the series he's revealed as one of the most well-known Magnificent Bastards in popular television and shown to be dissatisfied with his position in The Conspiracy, at one point almost tendering his resignation in order to become a semi-autobiographical crime writer.
  • Similar to Six Galactica, when Jeri Ryan was added to the cast of Star Trek Voyager, and especially when the promo photos of her in a skintight silver catsuit demonstrating that even the Borg can have large breasts, most people were expecting little but Ms. Fanservice and a character who would end up being a shallow Distaff Counterpart to Spock and Data. However, the writers (and Jeri Ryan) were apparently so determined to prove she wasn't just hired for her appearance that soon the entire series revolved around Seven of Nine and she quickly emerged as one of the most interesting characters on the show. The only other character to challenge her for that spot was the holographic Doctor, who himself had become an Ensemble Darkhorse.
  • An episode of Criminal Minds has the team trying to trace a teenage serial killer, and Garcia is on the phone after finding a name:

 Garcia: He gave the name Nico Bellic. Now the thing about the name Nico Bellic... (Reid looks up about to interrupt, and then...)

Rossi: It's the name of the main character from Grand Theft Auto IV. (Cut to Garcia looking shocked, then back to everyone staring at Rossi.) What? I know stuff.

  • One episode of Power Rangers Zeo showed that Skull was actually a talented concert pianist, and Bulk, who previously dismissed classical music as "sissy stuff", gained a new appreciation out of it after seeing his best friend perform beautifully.
    • Their actors also apply for this, as Paul Schrier (Bulk) went into directing (including several episodes of Power Rangers) while Jason Narvy (Skull) is a Shakespearean actor with multiple degrees, including a Ph.D in Dramatic Arts.
  • Friends. Phoebe can speak Italian (even she was unaware of this) and French, Joey has an extensive knowledge of elevators and managed to memorize the entire "V" volume of the encyclopedia in less than a day, and Chandler plays a mean game of table tennis. Gunther also apparently smokes (or used to smoke), is a former actor, and is fluent in Dutch.
  • NCIS: Los Angeles did it with Deeks and Kensi accidentally discovering their mutual love of comic books.

 Kensi: You know, Bizarro, the mutant version of Superman.

Deeks: I know who Bizarro is. How do you know who he is?"

  • Parodied in Modern Family when Cameron remarked how people have some hidden depth even after knowing them forever. Turns out he was talking about Rob Lowe's acting ability.
  • Tim Taylor of Home Improvement was usually a Bumbling Dad prone to insensitivity but he was often able to say the right thing at the right time when someone needed him.
  • Jay Wratten of The Shadow Line. He seems at first to be little more than a Psychopathic Manchild, but the final episode shows him to be much smarter and more manipulative than anyone realised. Gatehouse even uses this very phrase when describing him.
  • Chuck. Casey can hit a high note because he used to be a choir boy.

 What? I wasn't hatched.

  • In the first season of Breaking Bad a lot of viewers hated Walt's DEA Agent brother in law Hank for being a one note obnoxious compensating for something Big Guy type character. However, after episode 2 of the second season when he shoots Tuco its revealed that he's starting to have a lot of anxiety about his stress job and dealing with the fallout of killing another person.
    • One arc in the fourth season has revealed even further depths by revealing that in addition to being a solid field agent for the DEA that he has mad detective skills which he uses to follow a seemingly silly hunch brought about by a fast food restaurant napkin of all things and more or less discover that Gus is using his chicken business as a cover for a HUGE meth operation.


  • In the early years of his career, Ricky Nelson was almost exclusively considered a pretty boy, white-bread-and-mayonaise fake rockabilly singer who hitchhiked to stardom as the son of Ozzie and Harriet. Then in 1971 he recorded Garden Party, an effective retort to the fans at a Madison Square Garden "all-star" concert who booed his updated dress and new country-rock songs mixed in with Nelson's more familiar oldies. The song was a hit, and it gained him new respect as a songwriter and an artist.
    • To be fair, some reports of the Madison Square Garden concert claimed that the boos were for a police action elsewhere in the arena. Ricky's version makes for a better song.
    • Nelson's newfound respect also forced a reevaluation of his 1950s music, especially the innovative guitar work of sideman James Burton.


  • Cyrano De Bergerac: This is one of the central themes of the play: not everyone is what he seems.
    • Roxane the refined intellectual surprises her three suitors by proving quite the adventuress, sneaking behind enemy lines to deliver food to the French soldiers and then staying with them once the battle starts.
    • Christian gets written off by many who haven't read the play as a male bimbo. While he's not as book smart as Cyrano or Roxane and is utterly hopeless at talking to women, he's witty enough to think of several nose-related puns on the fly when he first meets Cyrano.
    • Cyrano has to delay de Guiche for fifteen minutes. What he will do? Insult him? Challenge him to a duel? Make a simple excuse? No, tell him a fantasy/science fiction tale about a trip to the moon... and de Guiche is spellbound!
      • This doubles as a Shout-Out to the real Cyrano de Bergerac's most famous work.
    • Given Raguenau’s status as the Butt Monkey in Act II, he could be considered a mere Plucky Comic Relief character. Then we have Act IV where Raguenau risks his life to smuggle food to the Gascon Cadets in the siege of Arras. He has proved is a brave man, but then you apply Fridge Logic and realize that Raguenau was the man who not only cooked all the food, but also found a way to occult it in Roxane’s carriage so they can fool all the check posts the Spanish Army has in the battlefield, making him not only a Supreme Chef but an Iron Chef: Someone capable of smuggling food to troops.
  • Lampshaded in The Philadelphia Story.

 "C.K. Dexter Haven, you have unsuspected depth!"


Web Animation

  • Strong Sad from Homestar Runner. He started out as a depressed, bland character, but after the launch of his web blog (and the toon "The Secrets That I Keep"), he's been made more sympathetic and likeable. His voice is also much less annoying now. He has even developed a spine. Of a sort.
  • Miller the Killer from an arc of the Nameless series was fairly deep, especially considering the series he appeared in. In his 11 or so minutes of total screen-time, we learn that he's a non-stereotypical homosexual who was sexually abused by his mother and impulsively murders women. This is about a billion times deeper than any other character in the series. This, combined with the fact that he's adorable, has made him fairly popular.

Web Comics

  • Raven from Questionable Content, who seems to be an all-around boy-chasing ditz, turns out to have quite the eye for interior design. It is also revealed that her parents are both quite intelligent--her father is an astrophysicist, and her mother is a nuclear physicist. Many readers have speculated that she is, in fact, Obfuscating Stupidity.
    • Even Penelope came to the exact same conclusion. It seems that the only ones who haven't caught on are Faye and Dora.
      • Maybe just Faye. Dora knew Raven had gone back to college, switching majors to physics.
  • A lot of the characters in El Goonish Shive. Being all mysterious helps.
  • Liriel from Drowtales is a Bottle Fairy because she's trying to silence the voice of a dead drow queen in her head.
  • The Jaegerkin from Girl Genius seem to be progressively acquiring/revealing more depth as the comic progresses. Introduced as little more than Comic Relief monster henchmen, the comic has since shown them to have a strong sense of loyalty and honour, be a lot more intelligent than they let on (a fact lampshaded more than once in the comic), and, unusually for a GG-verse Henchmen Race, have freewill. Add in their general likablity and the whole hat thing, which may or may not be a sort of religion and they've ended up being downright intriguing.
    • Also, Higgs seems to becoming this. He's hiding something, it's just not clear what it is yet.
  • Homestuck:
    • Karkat initially seems like just a violent Jerkass with a Hair-Trigger Temper, but is later revealed to have some very astute wisdom regarding troll relationships. It's actually this awareness of the various issues with troll psychology (including his own flaws) that makes him seem shockingly normal compared to the rest of the trolls we're introduced to.
    • For the first 13 years of his life, John is convinced that his dad is a street performer with a harlequin obsession. Then, John sees the inside of Dad's room for the first time, and realizes that Dad was just an ordinary businessman, and his apparent interest in harlequins was just an attempt to bond with John.
    • Similarly, Rose is convinced that her mom's extravagant gifts are actually passive-aggressive barbs. It comes as a shock to Rose when she realizes that Mom really did care for her, and wasn't playing the role of a doting mother facetiously.
  • From Darths and Droids: Darth Maul is actually one of the most well developled characters in the whole story, being Chaotic Neutral at worst. Also, a lot of the Clone Troopers seem to be genuinely sorry when they are ordered to kill the Jedi.
  • Paz from Gunnerkrigg Court initially has little characterization, and is simply a Chew Toy from Spain. However, in "A Bad Start", when Kat is reeling from a particularly nasty revelation about the Court's past, it's Paz who gives her a pep talk about changing the system from within, demonstrating a degree of level-headedness that Kat desperately needed at that moment.
  • In Strays, Holland. Meela even demands, "What else are you hiding?"
  • The comic TV Eye Presents: 151 Hidden Depths is built around this trope, giving every original Pokemon a different backstory.

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Using the Transformers Animated motto of being More Than Meets The Eye in more ways than one, Gentle Giant Bulkhead is revealed to be a Genius Bruiser who is the best space bridge technician in the universe.
    • In Beast Wars, Rattrap is sarcastic, eternally pessimistic, once lived the life of a gambler and womanizer, and can be quite the asshat at times. However, he showed over the three seasons that he may be the second most loyal member of the Maximal squad, behind (obviously) Optimus Primal (and maybe Rhinox) and has also shown some pretty decent fighting skills as well as quite the remarkable skills in demolition and sabotage, such as when he infiltrated the Predacon base and when he, well, infiltrated the Maximal base (this time in an attempt to shut down a psycho computer).
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • Mai. Azula's not the only one who thought her actions in episodes like "Return to Omashu" and "The Headband" indicated a heartless Emotionless Girl and apathetic, obedient minion who would never choose Zuko over Azula. That's what she wanted you her to think, but "You miscalculated."
    • Then just to put emphasis on the friendship depths, Perky Female Minion Ty Lee turns on Azula, cause despite the fact that she's been Azula's puppy dog throughout the series, taking a kill shot on one of her friends draws the line.
    • At first Iroh just seemed like a cheery, goofy old guy there to annoy Zuko...until he's captured by Earth Kingdom troops who are amazed to have captured the famous "Dragon of the West," one of the greatest Fire Nation generals. Later reveals of his past eventually make him probably the deepest character out of a show atypically full of them.
    • And Azula herself for that matter. We see her acting like a complete twat all through the series up til the very end, then the pressure of being crowned Fire Lord gets to her. Along with her previous assertion that she did want her mother's love but didn't feel she deserved it, it made for one Hell of a Villainous Breakdown.
    • Prince Zuko: Badass, Determinator, Evil Prince -turned- The Atoner, is also a Momma's Boy and a lover of Turtleducks. In the "Ember Island Players", he gives hints that he does like theater, but just dislikes that specific group because while they have great special effects, they tend to butcher their stories.
  • At first glance, it would seem that Clay of Moral Orel is just a jackass. A flashback to his childhood would reveal that, due to the quirks of his abusive father, he only feels loved when his loved ones are hurting him. However, he accidentally goes too far several times and becomes so pathetic that he fails to provoke an angry response.
    • Hell, most of Season 3 was this. The episode "Alone" was simply about three well-established characters sitting alone in their apartments, thinking about how they'd been sexually abused. The story of Orel's teacher, in particular, is disturbing-- She's in love with her rapist, who has just died in prison. Another one, a ditzy airhead nurse, is incapable of having a healthy relationship, ever, because she's been a disposable whore so long she can't even think about sex without crying. It's also implied she's been raped. It's not really a funny episode.
  • Black Steve on G4's Code Monkeys. This actually seems to be a bit of his gimmick on the show with fact he is well, black. He constantly gets angry and goes into angry black man rage when people expect him to go with a stereotype or things he is not something cause he is black. So far it's shown he is a Harvard graduate, a former professional wrestler known as "The Black Shadow," and speaks Japanese while he also manages the money of the company.
  • Mr. Crocker from The Fairly Odd Parents is a crazy teacher obsessed with catching a fairy. His past was explored in depth in the special episode The Secret Origin of Denzel Crocker, which revealed that Mr. Crocker not only had fairies himself in his childhood, but he had Cosmo and Wanda, and was quite sane and similar to Timmy Turner, the main character, at age 10. Most later episodes support this fact, but exactly which fairies Crocker had are contradicted.
  • The Venture Brothers
  • Iron Man: Armored Adventures - Though really, really hard to see beneath her excessively annoying exterior this show's version of Pepper Potts hides perceptive, intelligent depths - on one occasion she demonstrates her superb button-pushing skills:

 Pepper: Quick, Tony, insult his mom!

Tony: Pepper, I don't think this is the time -

Pepper: No, really! This guy has serious issues. Use it. Push him.


 "Yup, you have quite the backstory."

  • The studio's elephant mascot from Cats Don't Dance is a talented pianist.
  • An episode of G.I. Joe involved an alien device that accidentally tossed a team of Joes and their Cobra opponents back in time to pre-Classical Greece. One of them reveals the ability to speak a little Ancient Greek. The highly skilled and multilingual infiltrators Lady Jaye or the Baroness? No. The well-read Lifeline? No. The genius Dr. Mindbender? No. Sergeant Slaughter. It even gets lampshaded when Lifeline expresses utter disbelief.
  • Little Enzo Matrix from Re Boot starts off as a typical young, bratty, rather annoying kid who gets a few spotlight episodes to show he can be competent but is very clearly not anywhere close to being a hero. Come season three, The Hero gets Put On A Pod straight into the Web and Enzo is booted into the hero role, becoming an in-universe Replacement Scrappy before finally showing that, while young and inexperienced, he is still very capable of defending the system. Then he gets trapped in a game and level-grinds in badass.
  • On Phineas and Ferb, local "bully" Buford can speak fluent French and quote Voltaire. He also has a tendency to go into odd philosophical statements, though these usually break down into Sophisticated As Hell.
    • He was only an actual antagonist once, since all of the other characters recognized this almost instantly.
  • Most of the main cast of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic have shown themselves to have some Hidden Depths, as part of the general effort to create varied and interesting female characters. For instance, the extreme Shrinking Violet and Friend to All Living Things Fluttershy and the prissy fashion artist Rarity both have a bit of each other in them: Fluttershy has a vast knowledge of sewing (and can be a downright terrifying Mama Bear when the situation calls for it) while Rarity is a bit of a Kindhearted Cat Lover with her pet cat herself. Regular Genki Girl Pinkie Pie is seen to have a severe phobia of rejection and traits that could be interpreted as manic-depressive (aka bipolar) disorder.
    • Fluttershy has also displayed a tendency to become extremely intimidating and commanding if pushed too far, and has displayed flying speed that can rival even Rainbow Dash.
    • Although Rainbow is an impressive flyer, she can become almost paralyzed with fear if her confidence falters in high-pressure situations.
    • This might be the case for Alpha Bitch Diamond Tiara's friend Silver Spoon. While Silver Spoon remains an unrelenting Jerkass towards Apple Bloom, it's typically while following Diamond Tiara's lead, and a couple of her actions implies she's actually a lot nicer than her friend; she genuinely tries to cheer Diamond Tiara up at the end of "Call of the Cutie", and she applauds Granny Smith's story in "Family Appreciation Day" even when Diamond Tiara is trying not to be impressed by finding out The Apple family founded Ponyville and got Diamond Tiara's family business off the ground.
  • Kendra from The Cleveland Show used to be an international casino hustler.
  • Futurama: Zoidberg's doctorate is in Art History. Since he's a medical doctor, it doesn't come up much.
  • Pretty much everybody in The Simpsons has some sort of hidden depths. Makes some sense, considering it's been on for over 20 years.
  • Hey Arnold: As confirmed by The book six of the series Hey Arnold! Arnold's E-Files Brainy is in love with Helga and he is as eloquent (and as manipulative) as Helga… only that he cannot talk because his asthma, also, he's allergic to cats.
  1. one of his friends actually used the words "loveable rogue" to describe him
  2. see Kids Next Door