Status Quo Is God
"Thank goodness everything is back to normal! Which is the only way it should ever be."
—Marge Simpson, The Simpsons
A more extreme version of Failure Is the Only Option, in which almost nothing changes. This usually happens in a series with no overarching conflict, although it is also the final stage of Exponential Plot Delay, the phenomenon in which the plot of a serial story has totally ground to a halt. In either case, each installment of the series will open under virtually identical circumstances to the installment that came before.
The reasoning for this is probably that the creators want the audience to instantly know everything about the characters and situation, without having to bother with such things as "what happened last episode". For example, they may use a title sequence that tells us everything we need to know, or, if the series has a serial plot, flashbacks, since Viewers Are Goldfish. Much like Failure Is the Only Option, any changes at all are resolved with a Snap Back or Reset Button. And God forbid anyone change the status quo of the surrounding world.
This trope is especially true for cartoons, where networks want to be free to broadcast reruns in any convenient order or lack thereof. Cartoons with Story Arcs have slowly started becoming more popular over the past decade or so, perhaps influenced by the popularity of the many, many Anime series which have an ongoing continuity. Or, perhaps, simply as a result of a generation of Americans and other Western audiences (implied by the previous statement) growing up with more complex media as the Eastern audience had the generation before along with the increasing availability of personal creative display via the Internet. It's still especially common in sitcoms, though—and as a result, there are plenty of Broken Aesops created by the fact that, although characters have learned their lessons or attempted to improve their predicaments, nothing ever really changes.
It can be very difficult to juggle an unchanging status quo without gradually turning off your audience; characters and situations which never change tend to get stale after a while, and audiences can get a bit tired of seeing the Reset Button being pushed every time it looks like something might happen to change things—especially if the thwarted change was potentially more interesting than the current status quo. Furthermore, there's a risk of Moral Dissonance. Writers sometimes conflate a storytelling imperative with a moral one, and expect viewers to approve of the reversion of positive character development or of a character turning down her dream job so that she can keep the same drinking buddies.
This trope is especially notorious when applied to Shipping. Ever get the feeling that while a certain story may enjoy some Ship Tease, the fanfiction seems to be the only stories that actually develop these insinuated romances and the writer(s) would like to keep it that way? Ever notice how many times there are characters whose sole purpose in the plot is to be a perpetually unrequited love interest? (Though granted often enough if that is the case then the script will just LOVE to remind us every chance it gets.) Fortunately while there are some cases in which it can either go in a good way or a bad way. But there is a pretty darn good chance that many stories will love to imply potential romances every chance they get but whether if they actually do anything BUT imply them can be a different story.
Status Quo Is God is a very powerful trope, even more powerful than the notoriously powerful Happily Ever After trope. It often happens that a show will be the kind of show that lends itself to Happily Ever After endings and usually has them. But sometimes, a story can't have an ending that is both happy and maintains the status quo—thus, these two powerful tropes are in conflict with each other. When this conflict occurs, it's likely that the status quo will be maintained, and the ending will be less happy than it might have been if not for Status Quo Is God.
Negative Continuity is what happens when the writers become too aware of the ramifications of this: they change anything and everything every episode, knowing that absolutely none of it will ever stick.
Related to Just Eat Gilligan and Un Confession. For the opposite, see Nothing Is the Same Anymore. Contrast Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome. Has nothing to do with the divinity of a certain rock band.
- Anime and Manga
- Comic Books
- Live-Action TV
- Newspaper Comics
- Real Life
- Tabletop Games
- Video Games
- Web Comics
- Web Original
- Western Animation