Did people in the 1960s, when TV was a relatively new source of entertainment, predict that at the end of the “Mr. McBeevee” episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” the previously-unseen-by-everyone-but-Opie titular character was going to appear? Like we would now. You see, Mr. B is a “Not So Imaginary Friend,” and because of Opie stating that he has 12 hands…The point I’m trying to make is: recognizing tropes have made us more cynical about TV, and that’s why I love them.
One of the reasons why shows like “Community” and “South Park” are so good is because they rarely go the easy route and do something that’s been seen a million times before. Their success comes from the way they subvert tropes, unlike, say, “Two and a Half Men” or “Family Guy,” both of which have been doing the same exact stories with the same exact jokes that “The Honeymooners” did in 1955. Just not as well.
On the following pages are 10 of my least-favorite TV tropes. If ever you’ve groaned at a character screaming in horror when they realize who their bedmate is, or turned the channel when someone thought they were high or drunk when they were actually just given a placebo, this list is for you. (Note: this is not the 10 WORST – it’s 10 that really bug me, even if some of my favorite shows use them. Please list your least favorites.)
#10. Ugly Guy, Hot Wife
TV Tropes Excerpt: “A very common trope, particularly in animation and sitcoms, is for a woman to be far more attractive than her significant other. This is largely a result of Hollywood-style casting for women’s roles in which average-looking women are virtually unknown, leaving a large amount of hotties needing work.”
Notable Examples: Peter and Louis Griffin on “Family Guy,” Kevin James and Leah Remini on “The King of Queens,” Homer and Marge Simpson on “The Simpsons,” Harry Goldenblatt and Charlotte Yorke on “Sex and the City” (This one’s so overused that I’ve put it down at #10, because it’d be too obvious of a #1 choice, no matter how obnoxious the idea of James Belushi schtupping Courtney Thorne-Smith is.)
TV Tropes Excerpt: “A common Sitcom plot where the total Jerk Ass learns his lesson, turns sweet and benevolent — and becomes absolutely intolerable, making the other characters yearn for the original personality. Eventually the character in question will revert to normal, and the reaction will either be relief, or realization that he really is worse in his obnoxious form.”
Notable Examples: Bender from “Futurama,” Peter Griffin from “Family Guy,” Roy from “Wings,” Reese from “Malcolm in the Middle,” Toby from “The West Wing,” Fun Bobby from “Friends” (This one’s frustrating because you know the character who goes from jerk-to-friendly will be back to acting like an asshole by the end of the episode. It’s a 22-minute/44-minute plot stall.)
#8. Annoying Laugh
TV Tropes Excerpt: “In some cases, the Annoying Laugh is used in place of actually fleshing out a character, since the type of annoying laugh can lead the audience to assuming the character basically is just as annoying as his or her laugh happens to be.”
Notable Examples: Janice from “Friends”, Kitty from “That ’70s Show,” Vince Masuka from “Dexter,” Urkel
#7. Spicy Latina
TV Tropes Excerpt: “This character is very hot-blooded and confrontational, and often times has a rough background where they had to learn to defend themselves.”
Notable Examples: Vanessa from “Six Feet Under,” Carla from “Scrubs,” Ana Lucia from “Lost,” Gloria from “Modern Family,” Santana from “Glee” (Replace every Spicy Latina — with the exception of Gloria — with a Sassy Black Nurse, and you’ve got yourself an improved show.)
#6. Exotic Animal in Urban Setting
TV Tropes Excerpt: This one doesn’t have a definition because it’s not a trope that exists. YET. It’s been bugging me lately because of the horse from “2 Broke Girls,” who the writers finally got rid of during Monday’s episode. No, they didn’t kill the thing, but rather sent him to a stable, out of the broke girls’ Brooklyn backyard. In a show full of stupid characters, Chestnut might be the worst. Except for Peach. She’s the WORST.
Notable Examples: Marcel the Monkey from “Friends,” Bear from “B. J. and the Bear,” Chestnut the Horse from “2 Broke Girls” (“Lancelot Link” is excepted because IT’S ABOUT TALKING MONKEYS)
TV Tropes Excerpt: “A character who’s normally Book Dumb, The Ditz, or possibly even the Ralph Wiggum comes up with a valuable insight. The character most often heard belittling their intelligence sighs heavily and concedes, ‘I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with him.'”
Notable Examples: Cosmo from “The Fairly Oddparents,” Patrick from “Spongebob Squarepants,” Brittany from “Daria,” Nathan from “Misfits,” Bill from “NewsRadio” (And this one’s been on my mind because of the George Clooney movie, The Descendants, and specifically, the character of Sid. He’s a lunkhead who asks inappropriate questions and laughs at Clooney’s mom (his sort-of girlfriend’s grandmother) having Alzheimer’s, but when it’s time for him and George to have a heart-to-heart, it turns out he’s actually very wise and misunderstood gentle idiot. UGH. NO. Just keep them dumb. That’s how we like ’em.)
TV Tropes Excerpt: “Two characters, often combative but with obvious Unresolved Sexual Tension, resist going into a full blown relationship for a rather long time. Usually the two characters will be presented so that “they will” is the conclusion to root for; only rarely is the question of whether the writers think they should in any real doubt.”
Notable Examples: Ross and Rachel from “Friends,” Ben and Leslie from “Parks and Recreation,” J.D. and Elliot from “Scrubs,” Mulder and Scully from “The X-Files,” Sam and Diane from “Cheers,” Niles and Daphne from “Fraiser” (Most shows — particularly sitcoms — go down this route at least once. I don’t know why, either.)
TV Tropes Excerpt: “This is someone The Hero used to be with, but broke it off. Said Ex does not take rejection well.”
Notable Examples: While I was thinking of obnoxious tropes (like this one!) and writing this article, my fiancée was watching “The Good Wife” on CBS. During a commercial break, a promo for an upcoming hilarious new episode of “Two and a Half Men” aired, and one of the clips showed Ashton Kutcher’s ex-wife, Bridget (why, Judy Greer, why?), crashing her car into his house, because she’s cray-cray. There are hundreds of examples of this, from both good shows and bad, and they’re all equally annoying.
TV Tropes Excerpt: “A person you would expect to be a big Jerkass turns out to be the nicest person you’ve ever met, or at the very least has some redeeming qualities behind their tough demeanor. Occasionally, they’ll actively try to make it a Hidden Heart of Gold.”
Notable Examples: Kim Kelly from “Freaks and Geeks,” Dr. Morris from “ER,” Dean from “Supernatural,” Dan from “Night Court,” Spike from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Major Charles from “M*A*S*H” (I honestly can’t think of a show that doesn’t use this trope. Thing is, sometimes we want our jerks to remain jerks and not team up with the good guys. That’s what ruined Spike as a character on “Buffy.” It’s not always a bad thing for characters to be just evil.)
#1. SLOW MOTION to Signify DRAMA
Every slow motion scene on TV is part of the worst trope EVER. (With the exception of this one, from “Spaced.”) I hate slow mo. I bet it was created by the same monster who gave the green light to “Shasta McNasty” and canceled “Terriers.” I’m on to you, Mr. Forced Drama. Go listen to your the Fray CD, very slowly.