Even nit-picky audiences have to accept the fact that most of their favourite TV shows and movies aren’t striving for realism. Sure, it would be nice to expect normal behaviour and scenarios from our fictional characters, but that probably won’t lead to interesting dramatic, romantic or comedic setups and scenarios. We’ve come to expect situations where sometimes all the pieces line up a little bit too neatly or where the good guys always win and get the girl, but that still doesn’t excuse sloppy, trite clichés. There are some clichés which are so overused in TV and movies that it’s really hard to suspend disbelief when you’ve seen the situations play out literally hundreds of times before, and you can’t help but roll your eyes when some of the following tropes start unfolding onscreen.
10. Struggling 20-somethings with Huge Apartments
Countless rom-coms and sitcoms revolve around the lives of 20-something characters who are trying to find their way in the big city and, more often than not, ‘have it all’ in life. Despite the fact that most of the time these characters have self-proclaimed dead-end jobs, they still manage to live in some of the most desirable real estate locations you could ever hope for. It doesn’t matter that some hard-working set designers have deliberately ‘styled’ the apartments with cheap furniture and peeling wallpaper, there’s always plenty of square footage and the living spaces look more like enviable studio apartments than the crummy bedsits they’re meant to be. Of course, when it comes to sitcoms this is mostly for practical reasons as multi camera comedies need plenty of room for filming – but we’re still not buying that these characters could ever afford the rent on these types of places.
9. A Failure to Communicate
Another staple of the rom-com genre and most sitcoms is when characters completely fail to talk like normal human beings to each other. There’s nothing more annoying than a situation where a character has pertinent, important information to share with somebody else but they talk about it in such a frustratingly vague way that it gets misunderstood by both parties. The leads to a spiralling sequence of events where both characters are acting under the false belief that they are both on the same page. Even worse is when a character seemingly makes no effort to share massively important information when all they need to do is just speak up or send a text which explains the situation. Another miscommunication cliché is when characters tell ridiculous lies rather than come clean about the truth. It’s an easy way to build drama, but it inevitably leads to more and more elaborate lies and ridiculous scenarios which completely snowball out of control. The conflict feels so contrived that it’s not enjoyable, and the original lie is typically so unnecessary that the whole thing could easily be avoided.
8. The Renegade Cop with Nothing to Lose
It’s definitely optimistic thinking that this will cliché stop because it’s the premise for so many TV shows and movies, but do we really need to keep seeing protagonists who don’t follow the rules and play outside of the box? Whether they’re a cop, secret agent, surgeon or lawyer, it really is time for writers to start doing more with these formulaic characters. These curmudgeonly nonconformists always end up revealing their softer side and they always prove themselves right by the end of the movie or episode. This cliché really shines if the protagonist has to hand in their badge or gun (bonus points if it’s a cop approaching retirement) or if they are put on some sort of suspended leave because then you know that they can play outside of the system and that they’re finally going to solve the case.
7. Don’t Go In There
The horror genre is more creative than most people give it credit for, and it’s always reinventing itself or playing around with tired premises and tropes to keep audiences guessing what will come next. However, if there’s one thing even the best horror movies and TV shows have always relied on it’s the idiocy and frankly suicidal impulses of its main characters. The tactics of most horror characters usually mean they put themselves in even more danger, e.g. splitting up into smaller groups, investigating strange noises, running away but then cornering themselves in locked rooms or upstairs, etc. This is why mindless, mute slashers don’t really have to put much thought or effort into their murder sprees because their victims are like fish in a barrel.
6. Anything Involving Computers
Technology is always lazily used in TV and movies. Security cameras produce crystal clear resolution even when zoomed in, mobile phones have amazing coverage and endless battery lives (until it’s convenient for them not to, of course) and there’s always some sort of whacky user interface which looks nothing like a real computer screen. However, the biggest culprit is hacking. Hacker characters either look like grunged-up ‘outsiders’ or dweeby nerds with no social skills, and they can overcome any technology barrier by mindlessly mashing the keyboard at the speed of light as gibberish code appears on screen or, much worse, a progress ‘hacking bar’. They’ll spout off some technology jargon and mention backdoors, proxies, encryption and mainframes before they gain access to some impossibly guarded system with their magical laptop.
5. Magical Mouth-to-mouth, CPR and Defibrillators
If something tragic or unexpected happens to a main character and they appear to be dead, you can usually predict that someone will swoop in and perform some sort of desperate emergency medical procedure. It doesn’t matter how unresponsive they are, it’s pretty obvious when a character isn’t really going to die (usually they’ll be lying on their back with a tiny gash on their head) and this last-ditch attempt at revival will work after just a few seconds of chest compressions, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or electric shock courtesy of some electric paddles. It also doesn’t matter what’s happened to them – whether it be near-drowning, caught in an explosive blast, rescued from some rubble or some sort of other injury – they’ll miraculously come back to life and hop straight back into the action.
4. The Idiot Father
There are many, many character stereotypes which pop up time and time again throughout countless movies and TV shows, but none are as overused as the idiot father. A particular staple of cartoons and comedies, this bumbling patriarch constantly messes up at his job, can’t do the simplest domestic chores, aggravates the children and, most inexplicably of all, is married to a level-headed attractive wife.
3. The Sudden Realisation
Leave it to an off-hand comment or seemingly innocuous line of dialogue from a bystander or secondary character for the protagonist to finally piece everything together. This is one cliché which is always found in cop shows and medical dramas and is usually punctuated by a lingering close-up or a slow pan on the main character’s face when they finally realise what they’ve missed. They’ll then rush off to solve the problem and the person who uttered the crucial, problem-solving sentence is left wondering what’s going on.
2. One at a Time Fights
Never fear if the good guy is surrounded by thugs or henchmen in a dimly lit alley or car park. No matter how many baddies there are or how well-trained in martial arts they appear to be, more often than not they’ll only choose to attack one at a time. They’ll patiently wait in a circle looking tough until it’s their time to run in and throw a punch before they are easily dealt with by the protagonist. This cliché in particular is frustrating because it hints that there is a badass fight scene about to happen. But when the faceless goons start attacking one at a time, it just becomes a boring back and forth slugfest with no real stakes or tension.
1. Awkward Phone Calls
Is there anything weirder and more unnatural than seeing two characters from a movie or TV show engage in a phone call? No one ever says goodbye, there’s never any small talk, both characters jump straight to the point and most of the time no one checks to see who is calling so they are always totally surprised. Even worse is when the scene only focuses on one character and they start repeating back what the other person is saying in a really jarring, over the top way so the audience knows what they are both talking about. Obviously, no viewer wants to watch two characters engage in some back and forth chit chat before they get to the point, but do characters have to be so socially inept when it comes to talking on the phone?