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The Tone Shift that a show goes through when its plots become increasingly convoluted. Most often happens with shows whose initial premise is mundane, and ostensibly could take place in the real world, begin to gradually take in tropes from more elaborate genre fiction until the show is at a point where it no longer resembles its pilot episode at all. This is similar to Cerebus Syndrome, except that instead of working on tone this trope increases the density and zaniness of literal plot elements, often requiring a greater Willing Suspension of Disbelief and viewer concentration level in order to succeed.

This trope is typically used as a ratings grab. For a show that's losing appeal, it's much easier to instantly come up with wacky plot elements than it is to invest time in more complex character nuance. As with much Executive Meddling, this motivation doesn't exactly have much basis in reality -- most Long Runners either don't undergo this process at all, or do so only when they're about to be canceled. Oftentimes, fans appreciate good consistency in tone.

Shows up fairly often in adaptation, particularly Animated Adaptations, as this is an easy way to demonstrate how a show is different from its parent program.

If the author takes advantage of established series elements that have gathered over time, then it's Continuity Creep.

Often a reason for Jumping the Shark. Compare Cerebus Syndrome, Kudzu Plot.

Examples of Denser and Wackier include:


Anime and Manga Edit

  • This happened to manga works of Fujio Akatsuka a lot. His comics such as Osomatsu Kun, Moretsu Ataro, and Tensai Bakabon were always comedic (although Ataro was originally more dramatic), but they both started out as being down to earth, but gradually became more and more insane with nonsensical, slapstick-heavy gags. In addition, this happened when all three promoted a Breakout Character and eventually pushed the main characters aside.
  • Lupin III has had many wackier episodes, but the cream of the "how does that work?" is the art and tone shift for the third series and for the Legend of the Gold of Babylon movie. It says something when a character who is known for being just this side of possible evokes an "are they smoking something?" feel.

Comics Edit

  • An in-universe example in the comic series Supreme. A comic book writer has acquired powers based on one's personality. Supreme points out that he's a British comic book writer, and he'll just grow more and more complex until he becomes a convoluted mess. This was likely a Take That directed at the trend of British comic book writers who tried to create complex story lines that just didn't stop. (Such as Alan Moore.)


Film Edit

  • An American Tail was a musical adventure about hard times, i.e. immigration, separation, and a war between mice and cats. The sequel, Fievel Goes West, is one of the best examples of this trope, from what you can tell from the rubbery animation to any of Tiger's scenes.
  • Piranha 3D was definitely a tongue in cheek horror B-Movie but relatively little of it was played for outright comedy; Piranha 3DD on the other hand a lot more jokes and a lot fewer scares.


Live Action Television Edit

  • Happy Days: The actual shark-jumping episode is a good example. Picture the premise of the show -- how the Cunningham family was so gosh-darn swell back in the fifties. Now, reconcile that image with Fonzie water-skiing over sharks to overcome his fear of them, and you can see how Jumping the Shark became a Trope Namer.
  • Family Matters starts out as a mundane sitcom, but succumbed to this trope as a result of Steve Urkel, who got initially got into plots with his suave, handsome, scientifically induced alter ego Stefan until the end of the series featured him traveling into space. Steve Urkel being the harbinger of these changes was likely incidental, since an Extraverted Nerd does not require fantastic elements in order to function.
  • Farscape started off as a Wagon Train to the Stars that was only slightly wackier than usual, but from the last few episodes of the first season the writers really started pushing the boat out both in terms of Cerebus Syndrome and in how crazy the situations they put the characters into became. Among mainstream TV shows, it's probably rivalled only by the Doctor Who franchise for how close canon episodes got to what are usually Crack Fic concepts. And it mostly did this while still keeping the stories emotionally significant.
  • The Office in the USA rolls with this, though not quite as badly as some other shows. The first two seasons (really the first season, but what was technically the first season was stunted), portrayed a fairly realistic day-to-day workplace with a Pointy-Haired Boss, who, while on the extreme of what should be firing offenses, was fairly realistic in his incompetence, but later seasons saw a more ironclad Contractual Immortality take place for many characters, especially Ryan, Michael, Dwight, and (in one case) Meredith.
  • The TV adaptation of Honey I Shrunk the Kids is much denser and wackier than the original movie, with stuff such as talking about foot odor, aliens that eat with their butts, and clowns.
  • Thirty Rock gets sillier with each season. Back in the pilot, Jack's official job title being "Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming" was about the only especially unrealistic aspect of the show. Now Surreal Humor in the form of weird, off-the-wall stuff is a regular feature of the series.
  • Boy Meets World got like this in season 7, especially when you compare it to the more serious season 6. While it had several serious episodes and some realistic plotlines, it also had a lot of convoluted and wacky plotlines, especially the Jack and Eric ones. For example one plotline involved Eric gaining the ability to see into the future whenever he sneezes and Jack trying to use this power to win the lottery. Luckily, this was the show's final season.
  • Super Sentai had two: Gekisou Sentai Carranger and Engine Sentai Go-onger, both which were car-themed Affectionate Parody seasons.
  • Frasier did this right — after a first season that was very well-written, but quiet, sensible, slow-moving, and rather Cheers-ish in style, the second season amped the show up into a full-blown theatrical Farce and perfected its trademark blend of ludicrously overblown plots, highbrow wit, and slapstick, which it marinated in (and scooped many, many Emmys for) until it started losing momentum in season nine.
  • Downton Abbey. While the first series is a rather understated comedy of manners with subtle observations on the class structure of Edwardian England. The second veers at several times into full blown soap opera, complete with plot lines invoking amnesia and mistaken identity, a suicide-murder frame-up, a miraculous medical recovery, and a rather superfluous affair.
  • Happened in Doctor Who, but so long ago that it's basically been forgotten. At first, the only sci-fi element was the time machine, which was basically a plot device so you could get dropped in historical settings and teach science. Fifty years later and the Edutainment Show stuff is pretty much gone; Series 6 alone featured clones, an I Am Your Father twist, memory loss, dinosaurs in modern London and space pirates.

Newspaper Comics Edit

  • FoxTrot went this route. The drawing style was always cartoonish, but in the early years the characters and storylines were well-grounded in reality. Starting in the '90s, the style of humor became increasingly cartoonish and all traces of realism vanished.
  • Candorville: This is probably better than Cerebus Syndrome as a description of what's happened. Formerly a slow-paced Doonesbury clone with a bit of Magical Realism thrown in, it's introduced vampires, soul-eating demons, and at least two factions competing to rule the world--but even now that characters are getting killed, the whole thing is still Played for Laughs.
  • Round about the 1960s Dick Tracy started introducing a ton of sci-fi elements including "Moon People". Once original author Chester Gould left the strip, they were quickly written out. The only remnant of the era Honeymoon Tracy, the daughter of the Moon Queen and Dick's adopted son, Junior Tracy, is still around, but we don't talk about who mom was.


Video Games Edit

  • Kingdom Hearts started doing this as soon as the second game came out. The games are spread across different consoles as a Jigsaw Puzzle Plot, making it very confusing for anyone who isn't really into the series.
  • Though the first Serious Sam wasn't exactly serious to begin it with, it still had a relatively realistic art-style and cartoonish but not that out-there Standard FPS Guns. Then came Serious Sam II, which had things like a world based on fairy tales, a kamikaze parrot as a weapon and redesigned the hero to make him more cartoonish. However, the third game is apparently going to be Darker and Edgier.
  • The creators of Team Fortress 2 realized that if they wanted their First-Person Shooter to be memorable and stand out from other similar games, like Call of Duty, they would have to drastically distance themselves from the feel of the first game, and take absolutely nothing seriously. It worked.
  • The original Earthworm Jim was already wacky, but its sequel went off the deep end - for example, its third level featured Jim as a cave salamander floating through a pinball bumper- and pencil-studded intestine while shooting inflated sheep on his way to a nonsensical game show at the level's end. Thankfully, it actually worked. After that, Earthworm Jim 3D on the N64 (developed by an entirely different team) descended into infantile, "random" gags and Bubsy the Bobcat-quality puns.
  • Sonic Colors, compared to some of Sonic's more recent titles, is definitely more cartoony and surreal in its plot and dialogue.
  • Dead Rising 2 : Off The Record promises to be this. The original installments had heavy goofy elements but a fairly serious main storyline. Off The Record's trailer shows Frank having fun in an amusement park full of zombies, basically just screwing around, while wacky music plays.
  • Saints Row started off as just a slightly wackier Grand Theft Auto clone about gang warfare, but its second installment began introducing outlandish minigames like streaking naked, driving a sewage truck spraying gunk everywhere to devalue property, riding a quad while on fire, and so on. The third game goes completely nuts, with a cyberspace level, futuristic VTOL jets and hoverbikes, a vehicle that sucks people up and shoots them out of a cannon, zombies, and so on.
  • Metal Gear started out as a relatively subdued action movie with some sci-fi elements. Metal Gear Solid added supernatural elements, like nanomachines, psychics and ghosts, that are just accepted as part of the universe of the games. By Metal Gear Solid 2, outrageously complicated conspiracy antics and vampires become involved, and every boss in Metal Gear Solid 3 has some kind of supernatural power (and explodes after being killed). Peace Walker has Turing Test-passing AI, magic, singing tanks, dinosaur-like monsters and mp3 players in 1974.

Webcomics Edit

  • Roomies was never exactly down-to-Earth and serious to begin with but nevertheless dealt with fairly realistic personal issues, went this route with the introduction of the Aliens.
  • Problem Sleuth' slides from gentle, mildly complicated antics into utter, ultra-convoluted chaos. Some fans consider the change to be where it Grows the Beard.

Western Animation Edit

  • The Simpsons is one of the better executions of this trope, as the original seasons of the show (series 1-9) while not that bad, was very grounded then had a quite realistic premise... Quite unlike the 'anything goes' antics that made the whole show a pop-culture fixture in later seasons. However, many viewers feel that as years dragged on, this went on too far. Now the show toned down wackiness just a bit and returned back to its original roots.
  • The Tom and Jerry cartoons started out as a fairly typical 'cat chases mouse' cartoon, which even in the early 1940's wasn't anything new. As time went on though, episodes began taking place in different time periods and settings, and thanks to the influence Tex Avery had on MGM's animation studio, the slapstick violence was cranked Up to Eleven.
  • Total Drama Island was a pretty exciting relatively realistic "animated reality show". The second season takes place in a movie studio and every episode is a shout out to films with much cartoonier antics. The third season is a musical.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: The characters [1] became wackier, dumber and rather callous. The show as a whole becomes zanier.
  • Family Guy, big time. The first few seasons were rather realistic in comparison to what it later became -- the only really crazy things happened in flashbacks. After the show was Un Cancelled, however, the plots and the characters became wackier, zanier, dumber, and quite mean spirited at times.
  • Disney cartoon adaptations are often this. Timon and Pumbaa is a noticeable example, being random slapstick and goofy compared to the more realistic film.
  • Arguably happens in compressed form Once an Episode of Regular Show. Rigby and Mordecai set out at the beginning of the episode to accomplish something completely mundane -- maybe clean out the park fountain, maybe win a bowling tournament, maybe buy a grilled cheese sandwich -- and it will always go completely insane by the end of the episode.
  • The Boondocks became this way starting with season 2 onwards. The show started out as an animated series with fairly realistic settings and events(much like King of the Hill). Once it entered its second season however, the characters became very Flanderized, the story-lines became zanier and far more outlandish, and the show as a whole became much more cartoony and fast-paced(to the point where even the characters seem to be talking a mile a minute at times).

Notes

  1. except for Squidward, Gary, Sandy, and Plankton