Given that TV shows usually feature large ensembles, it's natural for characters to appear or disappear. Sometimes new arrivals are clearly meant to replace an old character; other additions may simply be intended to expand possibilities beyond the current group of characters.
It's strange for viewers when we see a character who was not on the show before, but the people in-universe act as if they know them and they've been around the whole time, conveniently off-camera. In some settings - a school, a workplace, a town - it's understandable, but other closed-off settings, like a deserted island, make it harder to suspend disbelief. Some shows even joke about the new arrival upon introduction before moving on to incorporate them into the show. Here are the most notable characters who joined TV shows partway through their run but supposedly were “there all along.”
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The fourth and final season of Saved By the Bell had an unusual reason for the sudden introduction of a new student, Tori Scott. The show's parent network, NBC, had originally ordered a shorter fourth season featuring the original cast. When NBC asked for more episodes, original actors who played main characters Kelly and Jessie declined to extend their contract to film the new episodes. As a result, Leanna Creal was cast as Tori to fill the void left by the other girls.
Though she didn't outright replace the old characters, the biker girl became a love interest for Zack, though she was late to make an impression on fans. Complicating Tori's presence even more, the show returned to the previously shot episodes with Kelly and Jessie (without Tori) to end the show, causing even more confusion for fans when Tori was gone again just as swiftly and without explanation as when she first appeared.
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For the most part, Lost balanced the introduction of new characters well, by incorporating new groups of survivors from parts of the plane that crashed in different areas, as well as people already on the island known as the “Others.” However, Nikki and Paulo both appeared at the beginning of the third season out of nowhere, apparently part of the original group of survivors. Though it was common on the show for minor characters from the group of survivors to pop in and out as needed for episode plots, Nikki and Paulo were inserted into strong focus, and the other main characters acted as if they'd been around the whole time.
The pair may be the writers' attempt to answer fan questions about what all the other forty-something survivors of the crash got up to while the handful of main characters were on camera. In some cases, Nikki and Paulo's presence cleared up confusing plots or unanswered questions, but in others, it frustrated fans who felt the characters were out of place.
- Photo: Showtime
Given the central plot premise of Yellowjackets, in which a girls' high school soccer team gets stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash, the show faces a similar challenge as Lost once did: How do you expand the ensemble within that limited setting?
With a much smaller group of survivors than on Lost, the sudden appearance of two new teen girls is harder to rationalize. Nonetheless, Season 2 introduces Crystal (Nuha Jes Izman), who forms a bond with Misty over their shared love of singing and musical theater. She makes an impression on the audience early with her confession of having absorbed her twin in the womb, but still: she was nowhere to be seen in the first season. Likewise, new teammate Melissa (Jenna Burgess), also turns up in the second season after no prior appearances in the wilderness. To a lesser extent, there's also Gen, played by Mya Lowe, who was present in background throughout Season 1, referred to as "Yellowjacket #1" in the credits, before finally being given a name in Season 2.
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Fans of Full House surely remember Kimmy Gibbler, who returned, along with most of the original characters, for the follow-up Fuller House. However, fans of the original series will not remember Kimmy's brother Jimmy (played by Adam Hagenbuch), who was only introduced in Season 2 of the Netflix sequel series. On top of the fact that Kimmy having a brother was never mentioned before, his introduction is bizarre: He overhears Stephanie singing in the backyard and comes toward the sound of her voice, and kisses her.
Fortunately, Kimmy reassures Stephanie and the others that he's not a stranger, he's her brother; likewise, Stephanie welcomes his advances and they end up building a relationship and getting married. By the end of the series, Jimmy certainly feels like part of the family, so it's easy to forget that there was no mention of his existence in the original series or the first season of Fuller House.
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Fans of The Cosby Show may forget that the eldest daughter of Cliff and Clair Huxtable didn't appear in the pilot. Though she was an important part of the family, Sondra didn't appear until partway through Season 1, in the episode “Bonjour, Sondra.” She's a sophomore in college returning home on break - which explains her previous absence, but not the remark in the pilot that the parents had exactly four children.
Bill Cosby supposedly based the character on his own eldest daughter, Erika; he added Sondra to the show later on because he wanted the Huxtables to show an example of a child who was already raised well and went to college. Although it's jarring to return to early episodes where Sondra is absent, her introduction was early enough to fit well into the show.
- Photo: The WB
When the fifth season of Buffy first aired, fans must have been shocked to see Buffy suddenly had a younger sister - with no explanation. Michelle Trachtenberg appeared in the ensemble one day as if she'd been there playing Dawn all along. As with most unusual events in Sunnydale, the explanation comes via magical means.
Throughout Season 5, Buffy and Joyce experience moments of not recognizing Dawn - alternate memories - until finally they learn that she was, in fact, created after the events of Season 4 in order to contain and protect a mystical key sought by the evil god Glory.
The monks not only created Dawn, but also inserted memories of her into the other characters' minds, so that Buffy and her friends would protect Dawn from Glory. Even after this strange origin is revealed, Buffy continues to value Dawn as a real sister for the rest of the series. Even though there was a fitting and unconventional explanation, Buffy's writers still got away inventing an entirely new sibling out of whole cloth.