It happens when you least expect it, in the middle of a show you like, or on a series you at least respect. Something that was meant to be a solid punch line or a heartfelt moment instead leaves you feeling dejected or furious. This? Again? If I hear another character cheerily joke “that went well!” or see someone make a queasy face and then say, “I just threw up in my mouth,” I’m going to punch a hole in this TV screen just so something original can happen!
There are plenty of TV clichés that surface over and over, and this list will never be complete. If these premises were ever fresh, they are long past their expiration date; if these lines were ever distinctive, they have worn from overuse. But as of this day, during this season, these are the tropes that need to be retired right now.
A character waits in someone else’s home or office in the dark; when that person arrives and flicks on the lights, surprise!
No more of this. Even ironically, Happy Endings. Even demonically, Revenge. Enough already. Surely there are other more plausible but still sinister ways to startle people. Don’t villains and assassins have better things to do than sit in the dark?
“And by [thing], I of course mean [opposite of thing].”
Chandler Bing called and he wants his ironic detachment back. Just kidding, the “[blank] called” thing is even more overdone. Irony! Irony.
“He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he?”
Being caught shit-talking is one thing — a thing that does occasionally happen — but no one has ever actually, authentically said, “She’s standing right behind me, isn’t she?” This trope often occurs as part of a list, so in addition to being overused, it’s also really easy to spot coming: “He’s an egomaniac, he’s stuck up, he’s unkind, and he’s … standing right behind me, isn’t he?” Yes, he is, and he wants you to come up with a new take on the situation.
Nonsense language to prove that someone isn’t listening.
“So then Santa Claus and I played football on the moon, and the monkey army won, and I can just say anything right now because you’re not listening to anything, right, honey?” “Mmhm.” This has never, ever happened in life, ever. We can forgive the fancy apartments and the nice clothing and the geographical inaccuracies and suspend all kinds of disbelief to enjoy a show — but this we cannot abide.
A character throws his or her back out and is immobilized for much of the episode.
This one has just been done to death, reaching maximum saturation on November 16, when both Modern Family and Suburgatory used it. The only way to make this work is to go New Girl’s route and throw in a threat of thyroid cancer. You know, to make everything funnier. (It worked, though; this week’s New Girl was great.)
Someone has to babysit an egg.
Oh, egg sitting. It’s been a go-to for decades, but the number of TV characters who’ve egg-sat radically out-paces the number of actual human beings who have. Same goes for the dropping-an-egg-from-great-heights science project: Slap a parachute on that bad boy and let’s have a different academic rite of passage, please.
Someone mistakes a character’s brother/sister for their lover.
It happened on The Good Wife just last week, with Kalinda briefly mistaking Will’s sisters for some kind of harem, and Grey’s had a whole episode about it back in the day. She’s just McDreamy’s sister, Meredith! Chill out! BYO Luke/Leia/Han Solo joke.
An animal turns its head when someone is nude, giving a quizzical “ruh-roh” look (bonus/negative points if the dog actually grumbles).
Enough. Plus, everyone knows that dogs actually really appreciate healthy, open expressions of sexuality, and frankly they’re put off by our puritanical and hypocritical attitudes about pornography.
The nursery-school application process is unbelievably competitive/bizarre/challenging/stupid.
Up All Night went to this well last month, with Reagan bending over backwards in an attempt to get her child — who is an infant — into a prestigious preschool. Rich people problems!
A character is taken to task for using too many abbreviations or text-speak.
Poor Penny on Happy Endings was called out for using “abbreves,” it came up on How I Met Your Mother, and several scenes on Suburgatory devolve into text-speak word-salad. We get it, language is malleable, har har har.