Narm is a moment that is supposed to be serious, but due to either over-sappiness, poor execution, excessive Melodrama, or the sheer absurdity of the situation, the drama is lost to the point of surpassing "cheesy" and becoming unintentionally funny. (However, the humor can be extremely subjective, and mention of it may be responded to with a Dude, Not Funny.) Either way, the gravity of the moment is squandered to the point of torpedoing the audience's emotional investment.
It is named for the famous scene in the last season of Six Feet Under, where the main character Nate suffers a brain embolism. He suddenly grabs his right arm and repeats "Numb arm" (at this moment the scene is still genuinely creepy), but then it quickly degenerates into "N'arm! N'arm!" before he comically rolls up his eyes and drops to the floor. Even though this was the climax of a highly-acclaimed show, fans and critics overwhelmingly found the scene to be funny.
Were you to discuss this phenomenon in a scholarly work or literary circles, the word you would probably use is "bathos", though all the implications of the technical term do not match up exactly (bathos can be intentionally invoked for humor, for one). If you're talking to non-tropers and don't want to have to make fun of the unintentional comedy of brain embolisms, that's probably the word you want to use.
Narm often stems from a failed attempt to pull off a Crowning Moment of Awesome, a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming or a Tear Jerker. Alternatively, a good performance in a bad movie will evoke Narm because the actor Took the Bad Film Seriously. Anything that falls under Wangst and Deus Angst Machina runs the risk of falling under Narm, as what is intended to be angsty and dramatic can instead come across as over-the-top ridiculous and absurd. In subtitled Anime, Narms are often created through the use of badly used English, with Totally Radical dialog in general being another rich source of Narm. In dubbed anime, Narms are more likely to result from the combination of a budding William Shatner reading an overly-literal translation.
Large Hams are vulnerable to this trope. See also Nightmare Retardant and many cases of Snark Bait, as well as Fetish Retardant for erotica (of which the Swedish home furnishings variety is a particularly good source of Narm). Not to be confused with 'Nam, or the Narn, or OMMM-NOM-NOM-NOM. Also not to be confused with the National Area for Retired Mills, North American Registry for Midwives or the National Association of Recording Merchandisers..
Contrast with Narm Charm, where somehow, the drama still works; keep in mind that Narm is subjective, as one person's cheese is another person's Narm Charm. However, Narm is not when something simply falls flat or "doesn't work"; this is not a page for simply complaining about scenes you didn't like.
A number of examples of Narm become memes.
No real life examples, please; this is an Audience Reaction trope, and as far as we know, Real Life does not have an audience. Besides that, it is impossible to list Real Life examples of Narm in good taste.
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Live Action TV
- Professional Wrestling
- Tabletop Games
- Video Games
- Web Comics
- Western Animation