8 Sitcom Plots That We're Just Done With For Good
Egghead students at the University of Vermont fed a bunch of fiction into one of those fancy campus computers and determined that when you boil it down, there are only six basic story plots. Well, we know that our Dell XPS 15 needs a software upgrade because there are at least eight plots that we see over and over in situation comedies. Consider this our petition to never see these sitcom tropes again.
We’re trapped in a room
The appeal for writers is obvious -- lock two or more characters (preferably ones in conflict) in an enclosed space and let the sparks fly. That’s what happens in this episode of The Office after Jim forgets to tell security everyone is working late. A guard should be along to let everyone out in … oh, about 22 minutes. That should be just enough time for Stanley to murder six or seven coworkers.
The pressure cooker doesn’t have to be volatile -- it can just be sexually awkward. A Friends episode trapped Chandler in an ATM vestibule with a Victoria’s Secret model. Spoiler alert: Chandler was nervous.
It was only a dream
One hundred percent, completely out of plot ideas that are based in reality? Then the dream episode is your best friend! For one episode, characters can have superpowers, travel in time, or live in an alternate reality -- as long as they wake up before the end credits.
Sometimes the dreams are lame, like when the gang on iCarly falls asleep to dancing videos, only to have dreams in which each character glides through a fantastical hot-stepping scenario. Or at least that was the intention. Freddie, if you’re going to dream you’re a badass, dream better!
But sometimes the dreams are awesome, like when Dick Louden wakes up from an entire series of Newhart to find himself back on The Bob Newhart Show. Genius! The “only a dream” trope should have been retired after this scene.
On an episode of That 70s Show, Newman … er, an angel of some kind magically transports Eric to the future to see what his life will be like ten years down the road. What a terrific device to goof around with silly costumes and old-age make-up!
This particular episode overlaps with another sitcom plot we never need to see again -- the Christmas Carol episode. It’s the same bit -- some kind of celestial being presents characters with their potential futures (often pretty dang bleak) if they don’t change their ways. This old warhorse has been used on Boy Meets World, Martin, Roseanne, Suite Life on Deck, and a bunch of sitcoms from before any of us were born.
The clip show
It’s the laziest sitcom trope of all because the only thing you need to write is an excuse to show old clips! It doesn’t even need to be a good excuse -- on Full House, l’il Michelle got amnesia after falling off a horse, giving the episode an excuse to recycle tired old stories to jog her memory. Frankly, we’d rather watch clips of Michelle repeatedly falling off a horse.
At least The Simpsons have enough shame to own their lameness, calling their rehash “So It's Come to This: A Simpsons' Clip Show." A dang funny April Fool’s set-up is brand-spanking-new -- and essentially the same set-up as Full House, with an explosion rather than a horse accident providing an excuse for reminiscing.
The most common makeover comedy plot is turning an “ugly” young woman into a ravishing beauty by removing her glasses and taking the bobby pins out of her hair. But on Family Matters, the trope was gender-bent to transform dorky Steve Urkel into suave Stefan Urquel. All it took was removing his glasses and sliding the suspenders from his shoulders.
And leave it to Arrested Development to turn the trope on its head when G.O.B. tries to seduce a secretary. In his misguided flirtation, he instructs her to lose the glasses and let down her hair -- revealing a cross-eyed, frizzy-haired vixen who was much more attractive in her original incarnation.
The simple misunderstanding
Maybe the most frustrating sitcom plot of all: The 22-minute misunderstanding that could be cleared up with a 30-second conversation. At least that’s better than on soap operas, where the same infuriating confusion can go on for weeks.
Take this maddening example from Friends, where Rachel mistakenly believes Joey has tried to propose -- and accepts.
JUST TELL HER YOU DIDN’T PROPOSE, JOEY! The Simple Misunderstanding is the trope most likely to provoke a shoe thrown through the screen halfway through the episode.
Two best friends break up (for 22 minutes)
Maybe they should just call this one The Bart and Milhouse since this plot has been recycled on The Simpsons multiple times. My mom won’t let me play with you! We both like the same girl! We both want the same comic book! Geez, guys, just kiss and get it over with.
Our favorite recent example was the fight between besties Troy and Abed on Community, where a squabble resulted in campus civil war. If two best friends fight, the more chaos the better.
We’re going on a vacation!
The impetus behind the “We’re going on a vacation!” episode is show producers who, surprise!, would really like to go on a vacation. Need a week or two in Hawaii? Just write an episode where the cast wins a free trip! Aloha, indeed.
Hawaii trips abound on Full House, Brady Bunch, Modern Family, Saved by the Bell, Growing Pains, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Step by Step, My Wife and Kids, and so on. There’s a reason writers don’t build episodes around a trip to South Dakota.
The other reason producers lazily push the vacation button? Cross-promotion and/or product placement. If you’re an ABC sitcom (owned by the Walt Disney Company), isn’t a trip to Disneyland or Disney World a no-brainer? Full House, Modern Family, The Goldbergs, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Roseanne, Black-ish, Family Matters, Boy Meets World -- check the network, people, and tell us we’re wrong.
If we see one more of these, we’re going to need a vacation.
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Top image: Sony Pictures Television