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In its benign form, this just makes the Clueless Deputy The Watson for their boss, or the protagonist detective. But it can rapidly slide downhill until the deputy acts like an idiot. Generally, the deputy has some redeeming qualities, such as incorruptibility, shooting skills or at least the willingness to serve in a dangerous job for low pay, but if the sheriff is a Corrupt Hick, the clueless deputy may simply be a relative who needed a job.
The clueless deputy can be counted upon if the writer needs a The Guards Must Be Crazy moment to justify the heroes getting out of jail, or to act as an Obstructive Bureaucrat to keep information that could resolve the plot from reaching the sheriff.
On rare occasions, the clueless deputy of a Corrupt Hick sheriff is unaware of their superior's criminal activities, and when incontrovertible evidence is presented, will arrest the crook to preserve law and order in the county.
- Touta Matsuda in Death Note is consistently the slowest on the uptake in the investigation team. However, this naïve innocence is why he was chosen as assistant to chief Soichiro Yagami. He is also the best shot on the team, shooting Light's hands as he is about to kill Near.
- Junior Justice (son of Buford T. Justice) from the Smokey and the Bandit movies.
- Jake in the western spoof Support Your Local Sheriff, although he manages his Genre Savvy moments as well.
- Sam Wood, in In the Heat of the Night.
- Every cop in Drowning Mona is a complete idiot, except (possibly) the Chief of Police.
- Officer Lou, Marge Gunderson's assistant in Fargo.
- Deputy Norris Ridgewick in Stephen King's Castle Rock stories. Not only does he bear a faint resemblance to Barney Fife (his collagues mockingly call him "Barney"), but in The Dark Half his superior actually finds it notable that when Norris discovered a mutilated corpse he had the presence of mind to face away from the evidence before throwing up. As we come to find out, "presence of mind" is not one of Norris's strong suits.
- By Gerald's Game, Norris is now sheriff (apparently one result of some of the events of Needful Things), and has apparently gotten a bit better at presence of mind (see description of handling of Joubert's van). By Lisey's Story, he's even managed to find a wife.
- Nolly Gardener, of 'Salem's Lot, sort of fits the trope.
Live Action TV
- Barney Fife, of The Andy Griffith Show, is perhaps the paradigmatic example of this trope.
- After Barney's departure from the show, the character of Warren Ferguson was introduced in an unsuccessful attempt to fill the same role.
- Enos in The Dukes of Hazzard; his Suspiciously Similar Substitute, Cletus, is a little less so.
- Festus Haggen of Gunsmoke was Book Dumb, though otherwise pretty sharp. His predecessor, Chester Goode (called Chester Proudfoot in the radio version), was a little slower-witted.
- Randy Disher from Monk. A few episodes show that while he's a good cop he simply isn't prepared to deal with the sort of cases that Monk gets.
- Other episodes...not so much.
- Lassie (Det. Lassiter) from Psych is a borderline case: not nearly as outrageously stupid as most of the characters listed here, he's still distinctly, and by a fair margin, the dumbest of the major characters, mostly used to provide a very easy mark for Shawn's antics.
- Interestingly he happens to be an extremely competent police officer. It's implied that he has the same problem that Randy, above, has.
- Deputy Perkins, of B.J. and the Bear and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.
- Sgt. Nails of Eagle Eye Mysteries falls most unfortunately into this category, although he's actually quite competent as an arresting officer; it's his skills as a detective that are pretty poor, as he tends to overlook certain critical clues when carrying out investigations.
- Deputy Bart of Harry Potter Comics. Because Sheriff Ned is immune to memory charms, Bart's brain has been fried a bit too much from wizards hitting him in their attempts to mind-wipe the Sheriff. Bart remains effective at what he needs to do, though.
- Nutsy and Trigger in Disney's version of Robin Hood. Not that the sheriff was much better.
- Fillmore: In the episode where Fillmore visits his old partner in Tennessee, the Corrupt Hick Safety Patrol sheriff has a Clueless Deputy who's among the few non-corrupt members of the Safety Patrol.
- Inverted in the Looney Tunes shorts Drip-Along Daffy and My Little Duckaroo, in which the sheriff (Daffy Duck) is far more clueless than his deputy (Porky Pig).