Television has an intriguing way to change characters majorly. One of the biggest examples remains Breaking Bad as Walter White started out a nerdy professor and ended the show as a ruthless drug-dealing monster. Often, the transformations can be for the poorer side. Many a character comes in as a terrific person, well-written and acted to win fans over. As the show continues, however, that same character can get worse and worse to transform into one the show’s fans openly hated. That includes Felicity on Arrow or quite a few characters from Glee. Some characters are bad from the get go and just get worse as the series continues to aggravate fans majorly.
But some characters are able to flip the script. They can start off rather bad and downright hated but transform into something great. In many cases, a character that in the first season was disliked or outright loathed becomes one of the most popular on the show. It can be a major character turn, some good writing and the actor themselves managing to make it work. It may not even on purpose, just circumstances causing the character to experience an amazing turnaround that makes it astounding to look back at their early episodes. Genre shows have an amazing ability to take low-level characters and transform them into huge successes and even total bad-asses. Here are 20 characters from genre TV shows that started off lame only to become awesome to show how a good character is right there waiting to break out.
20 CORDELIA CHASE, BUFFY/ANGEL
A famous story is how Sarah Michelle Gellar originally auditioned for the role of Cordelia Chase only to get cast as Buffy herself. Charisma Carpenter was actually 27 when she landed the role of Cordelia but looked just the age for a high schooler. Cordelia is clearly the arrogant queen bee of Sunnydale High, a rich gal who puts down everyone around her and hassles Buffy a lot. But Carpenter’s charm did show layers such as Cordelia falling for Xander and even aiding the team in their battles. The third season has a major development of Cordy losing her money which shakes her up and forces some humility.
She joined Angel as just the secretary in some hot outfits. The huge turn was Cordelia inheriting visions of danger that Angel and the gang would use to save the day. She also blossomed as a fighter able to take down vampires on her own and her sassy mouth offset a truly smart mind. The character had a lot of turns, including a mystical pregnancy and possessed by an evil force. Her return in season 5 was a highlight of that year as the show clearly had more spark when Cordelia was around. From a vapid figure to one of the most critical of the Buffyverse, Cordelia became a queen in her own right.
19 COLLEEN WING, IRON FIST
It’s well known how the first season of Iron Fist was not very good. Finn Jones just seemed the wrong choice for the main role and the bad writing and fight scenes did him little favors. Likewise, Colleen Wing wasn’t that big a deal when she showed up. Jessica Henwick looked okay but Colleen had a major chip on her shoulder and would treat Danny badly. She’s also pretty harsh to her own martial arts students. They do get together before Colleen reveals she once worked with the Hand but left when she realized how evil they were. She does show her skills as a fighter to start getting fans on her side.
Just as the show improved in season two, so did Colleen. She became tougher and smarter while a far more capable fighter. She showed her willingness to do what it took in The Defenders and a highlight of Luke Cage’s second season was her and Misty Knight bonding into a friendship. It culminates in season two of Fist as Colleen ends up getting the mantle herself. Sadly, the show’s cancellation means we won’t see more which is a shame given how Colleen showcased the series major improvement from its poor start.
18 JENNIFER GOINES, 12 MONKEYS
Syfy’s adaptation of the acclaimed movie expanded on the idea of time travel to save the world. It mixed in some intriguing storylines, surprising turns and had true fun with the entire concept. A major shift was that the character of Jeffrey Goines (played by Brad Pitt in the movie) was now a woman named Jennifer. The daughter of a rich scientist, Jennifer was a complete nutcase locked inside an institution. Her babbling and ravings could be annoying at times and layering in a bit too much mystery into the show. While Emily Hampshire was a good actress, the character laid in a bit too much insanity to get into.
In season two, it begins to change as Jennifer takes part in the time travel missions more. The show also enhanced her madness and how it led to funny stuff. From imagining herself a master thief when she’s just bumbling around to singing a Pink song to Adolf Hitler, Jennifer stole every scene she was in. She turned into a leader with absolutely hysterical laugh lines and her insanity became appealing. The series gave her a nice fun ending as time truly helped change fan opinion on Jennifer being the best character on the show.
17 JESSICA, TRUE BLOOD
The first season of HBO’s vampire drama focused on how Bill was willing to break major rules to help out love Sookie. At one point, Bill takes out a powerful vampire attacking Sookie. The vampire Authority punishes Bill by forcing him to turn young Jessica into a vampire against her will. At first, Bill drops her off with Eric and Pam but they quickly hand her back as being a hassle. The genius of the character was that rather than moan over her fate, Jessica loved being a vampire. It allowed her to escape her overly strict parents and enjoy a new life.
Deborah Ann Woll was terrific in the role as Jessica overcame some bumbling to be a compelling figure. She blossomed in enjoying her powers and soon showing off a lot more. Her relationship with young Hoyt was well done with the ups and downs and Woll had some truly funny lines and moments. The character got to show off more as the series went on and proved herself very capable in her own right. Woll would do the same making Karen Page into a strong character on Daredevil to show she has a knack of turning seemingly lame characters into something great.
16 ZELENA, ONCE UPON A TIME
Once Upon a Time has had a lot of fun putting wild spins on classic fairy tale characters. In season three, the gang faces off against the Wicked Witch of the West who seems to have an odd grudge against Regina. Whether in green makeup or regular skin, Rebecca Mader was a terrific presence to win viewers over with some biting lines. The big twist was that Zelena was Regina’s half-sister who had lived with jealously over the power Regina had (which literally turned her green with envy). This led to numerous clashes and Zelena seemingly killed off after a short run.
When she returned, she was still the villainess, even using Robin Hood to have a child. Yet motherhood seemed to soften Zelena, making her realize wasting her life on petty revenge and power wasn’t worth it. She and Regina became unlikely allies as they handled their issues and Mader gave the character more warmth (although she still had some brilliant put-downs). A bright spot the final season was Zelena truly caring for her daughter Robin and even willing to sacrifice herself for her. It was a great turnaround to show how, like Regina, the fight for redemption turned this one-note villain into one of the show’s standout characters.
15 CISCO RAMON, THE FLASH
Most comic book fans agree Vibe was the worst Justice Leaguer ever. A horrible walking stereotype, Vibe had a bad costume, horrible talk and his breakdancing got more attention than his vibrational powers. Making him a major character on The Flash seemed a bit off. Carlos Valdes was good but Cisco was pretty much the annoying character coming up with nicknames for the bad guys and some lame jokes. It began to change when he discovered his “vibe” powers to get visions and then open up portals to other realities.
The character has shifted a lot as the series has gone on. Thanks to a time-travel mess, his brother died when he shouldn’t have and he blamed Barry for that. Cisco overcame it as he made plenty of mistakes on his own to mess things up. Yet he keeps going on and his powers are as vital to the team as his science genius. The character is so much better than his comic counterpart and become one of the Arrowverse’s prime players to shake things up nicely
14 CAROL, THE WALKING DEAD
Even before the zombie apocalypse, Carol’s life was harsh thanks to an abusive husband. Her early time with the survivors was a quiet type, mostly withdrawn and Melissa McBride showed how haunted she was. The search for her missing daughter provided some annoying behavior and some fans might have enjoyed Carol joining the long list of characters suddenly bumped off. However, the woman soon grew in the part as she adapted to being a survivor. She made a brutal move that led to her being exiled but later redeemed herself to get back into the group’s good graces.
Incredibly tough, Carol is also a sharp tactician who takes to military life very well. When she joined Alexandria, Carol brilliantly conned the populace into thinking she was a meek woman so they had no idea how dangerous a threat she was until it was too late. Carol has blossomed into one of the show’s best-loved characters, even more so than Rick, a capable leader and a warrior. It’s been a long journey but most agree Carol is what gives Dead plenty of its life
13 ROM, DEEP SPACE NINE
tart of Deep Space Nine shows Rom as just an employee of Quark’s bar. It’s a throwaway line that reveals he’s actually Quark’s younger brother who he still treats like garbage. It’s also openly stated he’s pretty much a complete idiot and his bumbling was good for comic relief. The first major shift for Rom is when his son, Nog, wants to join Starfleet. Quark refuses to let him but Rom stands up to his brother to say he’d be proud to have Nog join there. When Quark tries to ruin Nog’s entrance test, Rom openly snarls he’ll burn the bar to the ground if Quark pulls something like this again. There was also the surprising touch that the gorgeous Leeta was in love with this goofball. Another turn was the revelation that while bad at business, Rom was actually a genius engineer.
Max Grodénchik showed the character still goofy but trying his best. In “Bar Association,” Rom organizes a union of workers against Ferengi law to get them some rights. He also quits the bar to join the station crew and become a huge aid. It’s his idea for self-replicating mines that saves the galaxy from the Dominion and sets up a major Starfleet victory. He also manages to marry Leeta while helping the crew out. In the final episodes, this supposed moron ends up becoming the Grand Nagus to change Ferengi culture and show who really was the smarter brother.
12 RAY PALMER, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW
The Arrowverse has made a lot of changes to DC characters to try and make them relatable to non-comic book audiences. In the case of the Atom, Ray Palmer was introduced as a tech genius boss wanting to help Starling City. Having played a big-screen Superman, Brandon Routh was believable as this do-gooder although it became clear that, while a genius, Ray lacked a lot of common sense. He built his own super-suit called the Atom but his attempts at fighting crime were rather bungling. He appeared to have been killed but in reality found the power to shrink in size.
When brought onto Legends of Tomorrow, Ray was trying to make his life mean more following his “death.” The show did a good job showcasing Ray’s smarts and how he can be a bumbling goof much of the time yet a loveable charm that won fans over. Sometimes, his decision to always see the good in people can cause trouble. Yet, his reaching out to Nora Darkh is turning that woman from evil and Ray’s optimism is much needed on the team. It makes sense how the Atom has truly grown as a character once joining the Legends.
11 DONNA NOBLE, DOCTOR WHO
Catherine Tate has long been a popular comic in Great Britain. So the idea of her on the 2006 Doctor Who Christmas special wasn’t too terrible. Donna Noble was a rather flighty young woman who finds herself transported into the TARDIS while in her wedding dress. She and David Tennant had a good chemistry yet the character came off rather shrill with a lot of yelling and too much attitude. Realizing her groom was using her all along to sacrifice her to a giant alien spider did sway her a bit. Yet fans weren’t happy when it was announced Tate would be the regular companion in 2008.
Thankfully, the writers helped show Donna a stronger person who took things a bit more seriously. She and the Doctor got along great, truly becoming good friends as Donna loved their adventures. She could be a good humanizing effect on the Doctor, such as convincing him to save a family in Pompeii. Tate turned the character into a great source for laughs but stronger than she seemed. Her final fate was one of the saddest of the show thanks to how Tate made Donna one of the best Companions in the show’s history.
10 GABRIELLE, XENA
While the series was called Xena Warrior Princess, fans believe Gabrielle was an equal star of the show. That’s intriguing given how her early episodes were hardly what one would call great character work. As Xena starts her journey of redemption, she rescues Gabrielle from some crooks. Gabrielle returns the favor by talking a mob out of attacking Xena. Gabby joins Xena on her journeys and at first is totally out of her league in a fight and just some funny lines. A shift came when they fell in with some Amazons and Gabrielle began getting fight training. Even then, she was still mostly the comic relief sidekick.
As the series progressed, so did Gabrielle’s character arc. Her relationship with Xena deepened into soulmates and each aiding the other. It was stated Xena was worried of Gabrielle following her own dark path but still helping her. The character seriously toughened up into a capable warrior in her own right yet her inner strength was what helped Xena become a true heroine. Rene O’Connor’s transformation from bard to warrior remains a great reason the show worked.
9 WILLOW ROSENBERG, BUFFY
While not quite totally lame, the early episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer didn’t do much to show Willow Rosenberg off. Buffy’s first friend in Sunnydale, Willow clearly nursed a huge crush on buddy Xander while aiding Buffy in her adventures. She was a quiet type with computer skills yet didn’t stand out too much. The first shift came with Willow learning magic and thus becoming a more important member of the team. She also got showcases including the “Vamp Willow” of another world and her fun relationship with Oz.
Willow really came to the forefront in season four with her relationship with Tara coinciding with her becoming a stronger witch. Her power was quite huge even though it led to some dark turns. Alyson Hannigan was amazing showing Willow going from a bookworm to a very sexy lady whose flaws made her more popular. She sunk into serious darkness but emerged stronger for it. The show ends with Willow doing a spell that helps save the world and wanting to enjoy this new era of magic. She started out mousy but Willow truly roared at the end.
8 THEA QUEEN, ARROW
In the comics, Oliver Queen is an only child. The Arrow series changed that up by giving him younger sister Thea. While Willa Holland is a good actress, the character was a truly obnoxious party gal brat. She actually goes on about how she had it far rougher growing up in a mansion while her brother was on a desert island. Her attitude ticked a lot of fans off and while season two softened it, she could still be pretty annoying. Yet there was promise when she discovered Malcolm Merlyn was her real dad and decided to have some bonding time.
This involved training her in fighting and archery, turning Thea into a capable warrior. She proved herself joining her brother’s crusade as Red Arrow/Speedy and doing very well with it. Thea became much more loveable with a sharp humor while fighting her inner darkness (pushed by being brought back to life). The character became a huge highlight and fans were saddened when Thea left in season six for her personal crusade. Given how many fans had wanted her gone in the first year, her leaving being a sad thing spoke volumes to how much Thea had turned herself around.
7 SANSA STARK, GAME OF THRONES
It’s downright astounding to look at the first season of Game of Thrones and how much the actors have grown. It’s not just physical (although notable how Isaac Hempstead Wright went from a shrimp to nearly six feet tall) but also in their characters. Sansa was clearly a spoiled brat when the show began, a girl who grew up on fairy tales of princes and courts. Fans despised moves like her siding with Joffrey to let a wolf be executed and carrying on about how she was dealing from inner turmoil more than others. Despite how Sophie Turner was a capable actress, the character did not come off well.
Like everyone else, the events of the series forced Sansa to grow up fast. She realizes her “handsome prince” is a psychopath and the loss of her family educates her quickly to how brutal life can be. The big turn is when she falls in with Littlefinger who begins to educate her in politics. Sansa takes to her lessons better than Littlefinger expected, showing a cunning mind and a commanding presence over her own army. It pays off in the season seven finale when Littlefinger realizes too late Sansa set him up for his own downfall. Her education was harsh but Sansa has now become a skilled player in this Game to show how much she’s grown.
6 SKYE/DAISY, AGENTS OF SHIELD
The first season of Agents of SHIELD is better regarded today than it was when it premiered. A major issue in 2013 was fans expecting a full-scale exploration of the MCU but instead the team seemed to be held back. In truth, that was because the producers were waiting for Captain America The Winter Soldier to unleash the twist of SHIELD having been infiltrated by Hydra. This issue extended to the character of Skye, introduced in the pilot as a hacker who falls in with the team. She came off too eager to please and fans found her just downright annoying. There was even the accusation of the show trying to push her as a heroine when she didn’t deserve it.
The first step to changing that was when Skye discovers Ward is Hydra and this betrayal toughens her up. The major turn was when Skye was affected by an alien rock that revealed she was an Inhuman. Then came her father revealing her true name was Daisy as fans realized all along Skye was Daisy Johnson aka Quake. Chloe Bennett has been terrific ever since, showing Daisy a fantastic fighter, putting up with the insanity of SHIELD’s world in style. From fighting evil robots to an alternate world and time travel, Daisy has gone from the least favorite thing on SHIELD to an indispensable member of the show.
5 G’KAR, BABYLON 5
A reason Babylon 5 is so well remembered is how it upended the conventions of sci-fi television. As the series began, Londo appeared to be the comic relief ambassador while G’Kar was a sinister schemer. The character was rather one-note despite Andreas Katsulas’s good performance. His clashes with Londo seemed more comedic than anything serious so he was being set up as the not-too-terrible heavy. As the series progressed, both of them changed as Londo unwittingly became a party to genocide. Meanwhile, G’Kar was slowly but surely transformed into the best character of the show.
He was shown a man of true honor who feels the pain of his home world being conquered. He was a capable fighter and possessed amazing convictions. A major highlight of the show would be G’Kar’s speeches that were truly poetic and packed major punch. The relationship between him and Londo was always fascinating as they veered from sworn enemies to friends and G’Kar enduring horrible tortures but still coming through it. While Katsulas passed away in 2006, his performance as G’Kar is a key reason B5 ranks among the best sci-fi shows ever.
4 CAROLINE FORBES, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES
At the start, The Vampire Diaries focused on the love triangle between Elena and vampire brothers Damon and Stefan. Caroline Forbes was Elena’s best friend but also a bit envious of her. The head cheerleader, Caroline could be vapid and self-absorbed and far too much the cliché “mean girl.” Her major appearances in the first season were being used by Damon and some forgettable side plots. In the second season premiere, Caroline was killed by Katherine and, because she had vampire blood in her system, became a vampire herself.
Instantly, the character was totally transformed. Candice Accola made Caroline a stronger character who enjoyed her new power. Her sense of humor also increased with sharp and often hysterical lines. The genius was how Caroline still kept to her “queen bee” sensibilities even as a vampire. She got good stuff like a mystical pregnancy that had her adjust to motherhood and her tense relationship with Klaus. There was also drama of handling her mother’s fate and briefly falling to darkness herself. Accola handled it all well as no matter how rough TVD could get, Caroline was always a good source for laughs and warmth which would astound anyone going by her early episodes.
3 AHSOKA TANO, THE CLONE WARS
It’s sometimes forgotten how The Clone Wars began as a feature movie in 2008 that didn’t do well. It took a while for the animation to win folks over and fill in the blanks of the epic conflict. Fans also weren’t pleased with the addition of Ahsoka Tano. The idea of Anakin having his own apprentice was seen as a sudden addition to the mythos and her early character came off a bit too chipper and eager to please. It’s a reason the early episodes of the cartoon series weren’t as well viewed by the fandom.
Thankfully, as the show progressed, so did Ahsoka’s character. Her bond with Anakin was strong, truly good friends as she looked up to him. The character wasn’t perfect but learned from her mistakes. She proved herself a very capable Jedi and a terrific fighter against all odds. She also became an inspiration for young female fans of someone able to hang with the male Jedi. It was sad the show ended with her leaving the Order but thankfully, the producers kept her going. Rebels reveals an older Ahsoka is now Fulcrum, a top Rebellion agent. It’s even shown she survives the original trilogy and fans are hopeful that her journey continues for a long time.
2 BARBARA KEAN, GOTHAM
The first season of Gotham gave little hint to how the show would become an insanely wild romp. It actually tried to be serious with Jim Gordon as the cop fighting mobsters. His wife, Barbara, was just a typical wife, no real background to her. There were hints she had a past relationship with cop Renee Montoya but still mostly on the sidelines, a damsel in distress and her relationship with Jim transforming from a warm marriage to a total trainwreck. At the end of the first season, Barbara was tortured by a psychopath which broke her.
From that point on, Erin Richards became a huge highlight of the show. Barbara’s descent into madness also made her a cunning operator as she and Tabitha rose up in the criminal underworld. It looked like Barbara was killed but came back wilder than ever with hysterical lines and a unique love-hate relationship with Jim. She even found herself briefly becoming the heir to Ra’s al Ghul. The final season has Barbara a full-fledged serious mob boss and stealing the show like a true Gotham villainess.
1 WESLEY WYNDAM-PRYCE, ANGEL
When Wesley Wyndam-Pryce first showed up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, fans already hated him. He was sent to replace Giles and was even stuffier, a pure academic who acted like a big shot but had no idea how to handle real demons. His bungling could make things worse and fans were happy to see him gone. When he returned on Angel, he was at first the same stuffy figure. However, Wesley soon toughened up to aid Angel and proved he was a capable fighter. Alexis Denisof showed nice growth with dry humor and Wesley becoming a stronger man.
The character went to some very dark places with some brutal moves that threw fans off. A long arc had Wesley making a huge mistake that put him and Angel at odds and sent him on a downward spiral. His love and loss of Fred also rocked him majorly. The character met his end in the series finale and had become a loved character to show one of the best turnarounds from a hated figure in TV history.