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October 9, 2015

The Five: Most overused sci-fi plot lines

by Keith McDuffee, posted Oct 6th 2005 8:38AM
 black hole"Oh here they go, using plot number four." Have you ever said something like that when watching a show? It's when the writers have run out of a unique or clever plot ideas for an episode, so they dig into the plot database (is there one out there? Someone should start one.) and reuse something you've seen a million times before. Here's my top five most overused plot lines for sci-fi television shows.
5) Lone hero misfit saves the world from aliens/meteor/etc. You can always see this one coming. World's getting overrun by aliens? THAT guy will save them! Whether he does it on his own, by developing an ingenious computer virus to plague the alien horde's ships, or leads a small army of misfits to save the day. Though sometimes the writers have to decide if the hero lives or dies in the end. Usually you just want to see him bite it.

4) Human and inhuman fall in love/have a baby.
If a show turns to this for a plot, you may as well say they've jumped the shark. Crap, even Mork and Mindy did this! Sometimes you can see this storyline coming from episode one, though sometimes they can work it all into one night. Captain Kirk had this one down to a science.

3) Crew lost in space, always trying to find home. Not usually something that will fit into one episode, though you've no doubt seen this theme on numerous sci-fi shows. Lost in Space. Star Trek: Voyager. Battlestar Galactica. They're all getting lost out there!

2) Mysterious plague/infestation cure is right in front of everyone's noses. Top scientists and the greatest minds on the planet can't figure out how to save the world's intergalactic space flu problem, but they never think to simply look in the kitchen cupboard for an answer. My god, everyone's dying from some mysterious disease that oozed out of a meteor, but we can't find a cure! What kills it? A jar of mayonnaise. Your ship is infested with mutant rats from planet Ratztar, so why didn't you know that they die when you play an E-flat from the intercom system?

And for #1, there's a tie:

1) Time Travel. It's so convenient, yet so problematic. Someone makes a mistake in the past, figures out how to travel through time, they fix the problem, and all's honey-dory. Or, they time travel by mistake, wind up in the past and unable to get home, forever searching for a way to return. This is yet another one of those "I so saw that coming from a mile away" plot lines. You know it's inevitable that the writers will work it into the story at some point.

1) The government did it. Those pesky suits. They're always up to no good. Aliens invading Earth? The government pissed them off. Biological catastrophe? The government did it trying to make a $10 million toothpaste for the Marines. Meteor about to hit earth? The government blew off a chunk of the moon trying to mine for diamonds.

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April 02 2011 at 6:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm waiting for a show that takes ALL of the lame chiches and uses all of them to make a uber sci-fi show. Speaking of cliches, Star Trek originated one of the biggest... the "plot simplification device." A mechanism constructed of easily found devices that solves the othewise unsolveable problem and bring the show to its impending conclusion.

October 09 2005 at 6:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

[As a corollary to the Time Travel plotline: the crew is stuck in some kind of time loop, and only one person knows it and has to try to convince the rest of the crew.] I call this the Groundhog Day plot, and it has been used on TNG (playing cards til they know what will be dealt) Xena (she has to save two lives at opposite ends of the city, some funny bits where her friends get killed and she just goes "see you tomorrow" or words to that effect, focusing on solving the loop) Stargate (odd episode, sad and funny and the same time) and Buffy (she only spent 10 minutes in the loop, but it counts. I get a kick out of this plot for some reason.

October 07 2005 at 2:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You left out alternate realities and omnipotent beings that magically make selective technology stop working.

October 07 2005 at 8:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Alien, Witch or some supernatural person has a baby that ages at a freakish rate to teen or young adulthood and somehow also gained the maturity and intelligence of one that age. Hero is believed to be killed. Funeral plans are made. Appropriate mourning period has passed. Suddenly hero shows up alive as either a clone, twin, or somehow miraculously survives what was thought to have killed him/her.

October 06 2005 at 10:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How about "Living a lifetime inside someone's mind" I can only think of that TNG episode and the recent 4400, but it still seems like a cliche.

October 06 2005 at 8:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom Hadley

Not really a theme, or at least not a specific one, but one thing I'd add is the one-episode guest star who comes in, changes something big and crazy, everyone manages to fix it, and guest star leaves. This always pisses the HELL out of me, because if a lot of shows weren't so damn episodic they'd incorporate some of these people into the regular (or semi-regular) cast, or at least keep them around for a couple episodes. Star Trek is horrible for this. Name me one halfway intriguing guest star that's come back regularly (NOT from DS9, they were good about this). Voyager especially. Oooh, here's an interesting plotline with a great main guest character. And explore. And drop. Stargate is actually quite good at bringing things back on a regular basis. The Aschen, Linaia/Kira (sp?), The Robots from Tin Man (I think?), all that. So many shows, and I suppose perhaps for budgetary reason, are often TERRIFIED, it seems, of altering the makeup of the regular cast, of bringing someone new into the fold, even when it makes sense. Though what REALLY bugs is when they pretend like the person's gonna stay around, but you KNOW they're not. Also, the "let's turn the ship/station into a haunted house for an episode." I really hate the ones where they decide it's gonna be some creepy horrorish episode. Dark things jumping out from the deckplate and whatnot. /end rant.

October 06 2005 at 6:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jen Segrest

Oh! and I nearly forgot! "his dna has been altered" or "we've modified his dna." Then they top it that somehow it alters/modifies BACK. GAG! As if. Gimme a break. Thats not even BAD science.

October 06 2005 at 2:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jen Segrest

Mind/body swap, oh god yes, thats a all time hate of mine as is the alternate timeline/universe/reality. The ssad part is I think Star Trek and Stargate have done ALL these. Stargate does it OFTEN.

October 06 2005 at 2:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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