• Mon, Apr 14 - 3:26 pm ET

8 Lame Plot Devices TV Shows Use To Spice Things Up

Liz Lemon 30 Rock oh Brother

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I don’t envy TV writers. Okay, so I totally do envy them because that seems like the coolest job ever. But I understand that it’s also a difficult one, and carrying a show and all its character arcs out over multiple seasons has got to be tough. But sometimes I’m watching a show, and something will happen that I just know is an attempt to spice things up and get people talking. That’s not necessarily always a bad thing, depending on the plot development.  Unfortunately a lot of times those plot developments are unoriginal or overused or just plain lame.

It’s just another item to add to the long list of reasons sometimes shows need to end sooner rather than later. If you’ve exhausted all your interesting and refreshing plot devices, maybe it’s better to just quit while you’re ahead. Here are just eight common examples.

1. Pregnancy

Leslie Knope Parks and Rec

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It’s been a few days now, so can we finally talk about (spoiler) the fact that Leslie Knope is pregnant on Parks and Rec now? Yes, people get pregnant so characters should too. But we just watched both Ann and Ron welcome babies. How many do we need? I’m also getting tired of the same finding-out-about-the-pregnancy storylines. Once a woman throws up on TV now, I just assume she’s pregnant.

2. Major character death

Family Guy Stewie Brians funeral

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Once again, yes people die and therefore so should characters. And sometimes actors leave their shows and killing them off just makes the most sense. But it’s kind of happening every other week now, don’t you think? What’s especially bad is when it’s used to get ratings. When Family Guy killed off Brian and then brought him back, it just felt like such a stunt.

3. Character moves/contemplates moving for work

Leslie Knope its my destiny

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Once again Parks and Rec is guilty. And once again they’ve used it more than once. Ben moved to Washington, DC, to give him and Leslie some obstacles to their relationship. Now this season Leslie has been contemplating whether to accept a job offer that would take her away from Pawnee. On top of that, Ann and Chris already moved away. It just feels like deja vu.

4. Impromptu wedding

April Andy wedding Parks and Rec

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Parks and Rec strikes again. Remember April and Andy’s wedding? Even Leslie and Ben’s wedding was thrown together. Same with Jim and Pam deciding to get hitched at Niagara Falls before their bigger wedding on The Office. Yes, in theory that’s more interesting than just going into a church and reciting vows. But not when we’ve come to expect the impromptu nuptials more.

5. Rape

Anna Bates Downton Abbey

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There was a really interesting piece in Entertainment Weekly a couple of months ago examining the recent trend of female TV characters becoming victims of sexual assault. Downton Abbey, Scandal, House of Cards and American Horror Story are just a few examples. That’s not to say the subject should be off-limits entirely, just like any other event I’ve mentioned here. But as Karen Valby argues, it often feels like a device to make a woman more sympathetic or complex or simply to add drama, which isn’t always respectful to the character or to real victims.

6. Needing to “save” a school/company/club

Community Jeff who cares

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Ah yes, the classic “let’s team up and stop something bad from happening to the thing we all love even though we’ve been renewed for another season so you know nothing bad will really happen” device. Community‘s done it, Glee‘s done it, even Mad Men did it when the characters broke off and started their own agency. It’s getting old.

7. Turning good girls bad

Rory Gilmore in love with him

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Here’s another issue in the depiction of female characters. Often the only way writers can come up with to add layers to a girl’s persona is to turn her personality completely on its head in an unrealistic way. Gilmore Girls started going downhill as soon as Rory decided that dating and hanging out with the cool kids was more important than her education and her relationship with her mom, which were the biggest and most admirable aspects of her character before that. And don’t even get me started on Jenny Humphrey on Gossip Girl.

8. Time travel or alternate universes

Lost Jack we have to go back

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Okay, so this one’s a little more specific. But really, TV people, unless your show is Doctor Who or something else that’s actually about time travel, please avoid this. When Lost did it, it felt like the writers were just throwing random crazy things at us, and then when Once Upon a Time did it I just couldn’t take it anymore.

You can reach this post's author, Jill O’Rourke, on twitter.
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  • Kaitlin Reilly

    #6 — literally every. single. episode of Glee was about trying to save Glee club from ending. When it finally got to the point where it couldn’t be saved I was actually relieved.

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  • http://sarahhollowell.com/ Sarah Hollowell

    In Community’s defense, though, they spend most of their time trying to save their actual show. Their season renewals get held off forever, they get pushed from the schedule and end up airing their season half a season late…

    Glee, though, holy crap, stop. Just stop, Glee. Stop forever.

    • Jill O’Rourke

      Oh absolutely, and I can forgive Community the occasional cliche because the rest of the show is so original.

      But I ask myself how Glee is still on the air every single day.

    • Jenna

      You seriously think Community is original? Despite Glee’s last two seasons.
      Glee > Community

    • Jill O’Rourke

      Don’t speak ill of the dead.

  • lizinthelibrary

    You forgot the “reveal a character is particularly connected to this case/situation because of childhood abuse/childhood sex abuse”. This is especially true for crime dramas (see CSI, Criminal Minds, Law & Order every incarnation). It’s quick, easy, and cheap way to add character complexity to random male cop/detective and I’m bored by the time the 18th character had his meltdown reveal.

    • Jill O’Rourke

      Oh my god that happens in every Lifetime movie too!

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