I’m just the most excited to see that ABC greenlit the Marvel series “Agent Carter” for their network’s lineup this fall. We’ve previously seen Peggy Carter (played by Hayley Atwell) kick all kinds of ass in the “Captain America” movies, and it’s thrilling to see this character play the title role in her own on-screen adventures.
Seeing a heroine who has played second string up until now be moved up to first chair makes me think of all the girl sidekicks who would be better served as leads. There’s A LOT of these female characters, who are qualified to be leading ladies but are relegated to being sidekicks or love interests — positions they are, honestly, overqualified for.
Hermione Granger is the perfect example of the overqualified girl sidekick. Hermione is a better witch than Harry is a wizard. She works her magical butt off and she can out-spell cast basically every student at Hogwarts (and, let’s be real, probs some professors, too). She’s not just super-talented and crazy-hard-working, she’s also a girl with a big heart and a social conscience doing her part to make her world a better place. She’s like the only one who cares about the House Elves. Right, apparently her fatal flaw is that she’s “bossy.” Which is a word generally used to make women feel terrible about knowing how smart and capable they are. It’s a good thing Hermione WASN’T the central character in the Harry Potter series, Voldemort probably would have been dead halfway through Sorcerer’s Stone and half a book does not a franchise make.
Hermione is by no means the only overqualified girl sidekick out there. Some of my favorite reads of the last few years have overqualified girl sidekicks/love interests, Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” and Robin Sloan’s “Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore.” These are WONDERFUL reads. I love these novels. Still, I see Hermione’s plight play out in these stories. The girl is smarter and more talented, the guy is favored by his author and put in the right places at the right times. The girl’s trump card is her unbelievable skill. The dude’s trump card is his unbelievable luck.
The last “Lego Movie” also had a very lucky hero and a very overqualified girl sidekick. And they knew it. And the story was vocal about the incongruity of these characters’ abilities and their assigned roles. They weren’t just using the tropes. They were skewering them.
It’s not that this trope can NEVER work. It just doesn’t make enough sense to be used over and over and over again. Katniss headlines “The Hunger Games” and Tris stands front and center in “Divergent” because it’s difficult to imagine those girls sidekicking for ANYONE. If a female character is overqualified to be a sidekick, that probably means the writer needs to promote her and make her a leading lady.