Interestingly enough, the main character of a story does not need to be likeable. Readers can enjoy a story without wanting to be the protagonist’s best friend. We are fascinated by human character, even if that character is unpleasant. However, when that character is the protagonist, we still need reasons to root for them.

In the space opera comedy Final Space, Gary seems as unlikeable as they come. He’s rude, selfish, oblivious, and a little dense. I had trouble connecting with him at first. But the show uses humour and other techniques to encourage sympathy for Gary and interest in the plot surrounding him. Here are some ways the show makes an unlikeable protagonist worth watching:

1. Give them a reason to be unlikeable.

A character doesn’t need to be likeable, but should be understandable. Gary spends five years aboard the Galaxy One alone, completely devoid of human contact. That would stunt anyone’s social skills and character growth.

2. Have someone likeable care about them.

Mooncake loves Gary. Because Mooncake is adorable, innocent, and loveable, we have more incentive to stay with Gary’s story. And since Mooncake sees Gary as a rescuer, hero, and friend, we can start viewing Gary from that perspective as well.

3. Put them in difficult situations.

From floating in space with his oxygen tank running low to being chased by the Lord Commander, Gary has a rough time. We are able to set aside our dislike of his character as he faces an enemy far worse than he is and encounters life-threatening situations.

4. Give them some redeeming characteristics.

A lot of Gary’s personality is wince-worthy, but he’s got some good qualities that the show brings out. He might be arrogant, but he’s also brave. He might be ignorant, but he’s also honest (when he’s not impersonating an officer to impress Quinn, I mean). He means well even though he says stupid things. He protects Mooncake and his friends even if it means risking his own life. These are not the characteristics of a villain, but of a hero.

5. Make them grow.

As Gary finally gets to interact with people again after five years alone, he learns, changes, and grows. Slowly. His monologues give us a glimpse into how he learns to love and respect those around him. Starting with an unlikeable character means there’s lots of room for this type of change.

Creating an unlikeable protagonist is not an excuse to be racist, misogynist, or otherwise discriminatory in your text. This doesn’t mean that the character can’t have those attitudes, but if he does, the narrative should not present those things as acceptable. For example, In episode four of Final Space, Gary calls Quinn a “sly fox.” She could have giggled or ignored the comment (which would be supportive or dismissive of his words) but instead she punches him. When he apologizes and then calls her an “icy minx,” she punches him again. Everyone around Gary knows his attitude is childish and inappropriate, and generally don’t allow him to get away with it when he goes too far.

If you decide to feature a less-than-likeable main character in your story, consider using some of these techniques to draw your readers in (without condoning discriminatory behaviour). Make sure to give your readers reasons to want to stick with that character! Mooncake will thank you.