Strictly Formula

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Some crime show. You don't know any of the characters, but you still pay attention to the plot. Abortion doctor murdered. The Christian fanatic is too obvious a suspect. Maybe it's the doctor's wife. Maybe it's his brother; they were professional rivals, and the deceased just won an award. What does an abortionist win an award for, anyway? The cop's partner wants him to do something about his anger issues. Isn't that always the way?

Fry: Married? Jenny can't get married.
Leela: Why not? It's clever; it's unexpected.
Fry: But that's not why people watch TV. Clever things make people feel stupid, and unexpected things make them feel scared.

Stories sometimes have a rigidly adhered-to structure. All the beats fall in the same place. All the characters do the things they are expected to do. The bad guys get got. They get got by the good guys, the same good guys as last week.

The good guys did the same kind of things they did last week to get the bad guys. There was one of three results. The bad guys died, went to prison, or were redeemed.

Reading a summary of the story, there is no difference between the last story and the current story, except for a few details about how the bad guys were bad and the specific techniques used by the good guys to "get" them. The Once Per Episode events can often be predicted down to the minute.

Pretty dull, huh?

Why, then, is almost every one of the top-rated shows on TV like this? Why do romance novel series and detective novel series outsell works that follow a different pattern?

Because people who read/view them are freed up from discerning the structure and can concentrate on the language and the details. The writer has gotten the shape of the story out of the way of the content of the story. Many Something-of-the-week shows express this trope to some extent, which can be both a strength and a weakness of that format. And attempts to shake it up? They Changed It, Now It Sucks.

The few who read/view for the shape of the story might be left behind. By way of consolation, they are given everything that is not Strictly Formula.

It should also be worth noting that the inventor of great ideas that are much copied can sometimes retroactively acquire a reputation for being formulaic.

See also Status Quo Is God and Same Story, Different Names.

Just watch out. Sometimes the formula isn't there, but just perceived by the general public. A classic case is how every protagonist in H.P. Lovecraft's work dies or goes insane in the end. Except that rarely happens. Then the formula becomes Common Knowledge, without ever really existing.

Examples of Strictly Formula include:


  • Never Say No to Panda: The ads would start out with someone offering someone else a Panda Cheese and the person would refuse it for whatever reasons. Then a Panda would come on screen, stare at the person for a while, then starts destroying their things. The implicit message being that you shouldn't refuse a Panda Cheese in the first place.

Anime and Manga

  • Every episode of Pokémon that isn't a Gym battle, catch/release of a Pokémon, personal development episode for one of the characters, or plot point from the game follows the formula: Meet person of the week with Pokémon of the week, this person/Pokémon will either have a problem or cause someone in Ash's group to see a problem in themselves, Team Rocket will plot to steal Pikachu and/or Pokémon of the week, Team Rocket unleashes their plan and is defeated in short order, the problem of the week is solved either by Team Rocket's defeat or some unrelated event.
    • The anime also seems to enjoy having Ash collect badges just to lose at a Pokémon League tournament, so that he can have an excuse to keep on travelling. Oh, and he stays 10 years old.
    • Team Rocket, however, has gotten less air time in Black and White, and they often have their hands full with special directives or other serious business, meaning that they leave Ash and friends alone. They don't show up once per episode like they used to, and they don't often have much bearing on Ash's side of the plot.
    • Ash catches 5 Pokémon in a region, releases or otherwise gives up one, and then catches another Pokémon to replace it. Subverted in Black and White, where he has a team of 9 with no releases.
  • Sailor Moon: one of the girls make a new friend or had the friend without ever mentioning it, the friend has some kind of problem (romantic 99% of times), the Big Bad decides that—OMG, coincidence! -- said friend is definitely the person who has... whatever the Big Bad is looking for, the Big Bads send a monster of the week, Sailor Moon and company start losing, Tuxedo Mask throws a rose and makes a small speech regarding the problem of the victim of the week, Sailor Moon uses her overly long attack to defeat the monster, figures out the victim didn't have whatever the Big Bad is looking for and the friend's problem is solved by the end of the episode, thanks to the fight or not.
    • Also, the new friend will seem to have formed a strong, meaningful bond with one or all of the senshi...and then they are never seen or spoken of again.
      • This was in the anime version, the manga and live action version was more about the senshis.
  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei: Mr. Itoshiki is all riled up about some aspect of society. He lists a bunch of examples, taking the class on an impromptu field trip to do so. He declares that the aspect of society has left him in despair, possibly attempting suicide Then, either Kafuka or Chiri shows up to show the positive side of the aspect of society or comment on the aspect of society's proper/improperness. Then there might be some sort of punchline or something. This formula is followed all but the most surreal episodes, with the exception of some of the character introductions.
  • Every single episode of Pretty Cure Max Heart sees Nagisa encounter some kind of everyday problem, begin to deal with said problem, get attacked out of nowhere by a member of the Quirky Miniboss Squad who summons a Monster of the Week for no real reason, transform alongside Honoka (who always just happens to be there because apparently her whole life now revolves around Nagisa), fight said monster to a standstill until Hikari transforms into Shiny Luminous, and finish up with either Marble Screw Max, Extreme Luminario, or Marble Screw Max Spark; monster gets defeated, miniboss squad member runs off, and Nagisa deals with whatever problem she was worried about, roll credits.
  • Every Bubblegum Crisis episode ever has essentially the same plot: An old friend to one of the team is introduced, and some Backstory about how the old friend and the teammate know each other is exposited. The old friend goes away just long enough for something bad (with 50/50 odds that "bad" means "fatal") to happen to him/her. Irrespective of which teammate's friend it was, Priss gets all pissed off about the situation and decides to take matters into her own hands. As she is suiting up, however, the rest of the team shows up because they've always got her back. The team suits up, and goes off to kick the problem's ass. If the old friend survived, there's a heartfelt apology from the old friend who is ultimately never seen again, and a wry signoff/joke. THE END.
  • The Saint Seiya movies (with the exception of the second one) generally follow the same format as the Posidon arc of the manga - Greek God X arrises, proclaims they will destory all of mankind; Athena confronts said god by herself and is promptly set up for a slow, tortuous death as a human sacrifice and her bronze saints (as the main characters) are given some arbetrary time limit to fight through the bad guy's minions and rescue her. Inevitiably, they are all defeated at least once until Seiya (and sometimes Ikki) manages to struggle into the main baddie's chamber, whereupon he focuses all his and his friends' energy into the single punch that he's learned and blows the baddie to space dust. Athena is rescued, roll credits, the end. You could set your watch by it.
    • Some of the other consistent guideposts: Hyuuga will get curbstomped ala Worf. Shiryu will get beat within an inch of his life, but triumphs after shedding his armor to unleash his true power, and then collapses. Shun will fight defensively, get ripped apart, and call for his Big Brother with his last conscious breath. Ikki will then teleport in and avenge his little bro by viciously one-shotting the offender, but then gets Worf-stomped by the Dragon or Big Bad. Seiya will get debilitated somehow (blinding or poisoning, usually) and get thrown down a cliff or stairway, or into a ravine, which he will slowly and painfully make his way back up from, for the final confrontation as described above. Like clockwork.
  • Franken Fran gets a patient who wants something. She gives it to them through super surgery. It comes back to bite them in the ass. Fran tries to fix it, and ends up making it worse. Fran shrugs it off and moves on to the next patient.
  • Most One Piece Story Arcs: the crew is end up in some location they have a reason/are forced to stay at, they get a look around the place whenever there's anything especially interesting about it, find out trouble's brewing, new characters get their stories told, crew heads to confront bad guys, Luffy is indisposed, rest of crew fight similarly skilled opponents, Luffy comes back and beats the Big Bad, crew says their goodbyes to anyone they might have helped or been helped by (often taking the form of a huge village-wide party).
  • Almost every TV episode of Doraemon falls into this with Nobita crying about a problem and begging Doraemon for a gadget of the week whether it is getting revenge from the bullies Gian and Suneo, solving his school struggles, or showing off over Suneo's wealth. Nobita will abuse said gadget or end up stolen by Gian and Suneo and both misuse it themselves. Doraemon has to get it back and morale is taught or not.
  • Kirby: Right Back at Ya! always followed this formula: Kirby and his friends live their happy lives. Dedede acts stupid and orders a monster. Monster attacks. Kirby inhales and copies its power. Monster is defeated. Kirby and his friends return to living their happy lives.
    • This extends to even the special two-part episodes, and even the Series Finale.
  • Most of Cardcaptor Sakura involved one of the Clow Cards attacking or causing chaos in Sakura's neighbourhood, leading her to neutralise and capture it (a occasional variation in the anime version involved Syaoran sometimes stopping the card and earning it instead). The final arc after she becomes Master Of The Cards mostly involves Eriol sending some magical force up against Sakura so she must upgrade one of her cards to stop it. The formula was occasionally put aside to focus on the personal lives of the main characters along with several romantic side arcs.

Fan Works

  • Sleeping with the Girls and its sequel, "Sleeping With the Girls: Chaos Theory," play it semi-straight, but avert this. The Self-Insert (keep reading) is hopping between worlds that typically operate under "Strictly Formula" rules. Being from the "Real" world, he can see these conventions playing out and has played with them in order to accomplish his goals. To prove this, he was able to talk Washu through one of the oldest perverted jokes in anime history, the Perverted Walk In.[1] He is able to do this to the second, as it happened in front of them to someone else, pointing out every single part of the joke and how it works.


  • As a rule, even avowed non-fans of the genre can effortlessly summarize the plot of any modern Romantic Comedy (for example, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Hitch, et al), purely on the basis that it's... a Romantic Comedy. They'll Meet Cute after a few failed dates, then some misunderstanding will drive them apart just long enough to answer the Will They or Won't They? with a definite and invariable They Will.
    • Likewise, virtually all screwball comedies from the 1930s are fundamentally identical and predictable.
    • Virtually every other comedy to come out of America in the past decade follows the same basic premise: protagonist starts the film with no life, is offered an outlandish solution which initially doesn't work. Then it works, and all is good for a while, until everything comes crashing down. But then it all becomes good again just in time for a happy ending.
    • Slasher films follow a near-identical story structure, the only variation being in the murder scenes. In this case, though, hardly anyone cares, since the deaths are the only reason anyone buys a ticket anyway.
  • The James Bond movies. Teaser (which might not be related to the plot), credits with dancing silhouettes and a song from a popular artist, mission briefing, Q Branch gives Bond exactly the gadgets he needs to complete the mission, Bond gets involved with a Bond Girl and a female henchman, Bond gambles with the villain, henchmen ordered to kill Bond, female henchman dies, Bond enters the villain's base (voluntarily or captured), the villain reveals his plans (sometimes in a dinner), Bond foils the plans and goes away—along with the Bond Girl—from the Collapsing Lair, and sometimes is confronted by a surviving henchman. And there's always a Chase Scene, many times involving a helicopter.
  • An extreme in-universe example is the Show Within a Show Ow, My Balls in Idiocracy.
  • The basic premise of The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven has been copied so often and so precisely that we have a whole page for it.
  • Movies set in the Roman Empire (or societies obviously patterned after the Roman Empire) can be expected to feature one or more of the following:
  • Played with in The Cabin in the Woods, where there's a massive conspiracy making people follow the strict formula of horror movies because that formula is actually the guideline for a human sacrifice ritual, and all the right beats need to be hit in order to keep the Ancient Ones satisfied.
  • Hallmark Christmas Movies: The protagonist, a straight white woman who moved to the big city and became successful there, returns to her small hometown, re-meets and falls back in love with the straight white man who she never married, learns about and comes to terms with a family secret, (re-)discovers the True Meaning of Christmas (not "the holidays"), and at the very end of the movie kisses (always a closed-mouth kiss) the aforementioned straight white man.


  • Agatha Christie used this trope to literally sell more books than God Himself. She may not have invented the mystery formula, but she is the reason you know it.
  • Dan Brown's novels. You know exactly which character is going to be evil in the end after reading the first few paragraphs (i.e. the character that either has no apparent logical reason to be the villain and/or the one that appears to aid the protagonists the most).
    • Also, the plot of the book is generally predicated around an object, discovery, piece of computer code, etc, which all the sensible characters insist should not exist such as the uncrackable security code in Digital Fortress, the meteorite in Deception Point, the existence of the Illuminati in Angels and Demons, etc. More often than not, this turns out to be the case; the conspiracy or whatever turns out to be a hoax, or a smokescreen hiding the villain's true intent.
  • David Eddings has written several multi-book series of high fantasy adventure. They're all identical. In The Malloreon, even the characters note that it seems like they've been through it all before... Which may be true, since they did The Belgariad before. It is eventually explained the universe became "stuck" when its Purpose was split in two, so people keep acting out the same patterns until things get set to rights.
    • He set out to write the most formulaic fantasy series ever in the The Belgariad, to see if he could still make it interesting.
  • Romances do this too, although there are several categories of romance and the beat list differs based on what sort of romance you're writing. In fact, many publishing companies who specialize in romance have their specific formulas, and if you stray too far outside their guidelines, you're not going to get published by them. This allows the reader to treat a new book as a familiar comfort food, differing in the details but not outside the form they've become accustomed to.
  • The Dresden Files has a formula that seems to be followed to the letter in books one, two, three, and five. The sixth book appears to follow the formula at first but turns out to be a subversion. The later books go completely off the formula.
    • The author says that this was a conscious choice which he did not initially believe would work, but which he made in an attempt to prove his writing teacher wrong.
    • Harry is working on a low-key wizarding (that is, consulting) job or personal business when two problems develop more or less simultaneously: a police investigation with a supernatural side and a client hiring him for his magical expertise. The two cases almost always turn out to be connected. He butts heads with the police frequently even if he's working on something with their blessing, because they don't know or don't like how the magical world works and he can't tell them. He also butts heads with and insults local crime lord Johnny Marcone, but they're never actually enemies. He is tied up and/or gets his ass kicked several times by Mooks as he's hunting down his two cases. He will do something awesome to save a woman. By the time he and his allies in this story finally find the Big Bad, he is already in bad shape but wins by throwing a Spanner in the Works.
      • Then comes Changes, wherein Harry's car gets destroyed, his apartment is burned down, he's forced to kill his vampiric ex-girlfriend to end the war with the Red Court, and to top it off, at the very end he gets shot and (apparently) drowns, though given there are still seven or so books to go, it's unlikely it will last.
  • Ditto for The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries and Charlaine Harris' other series, about the woman who can sense where dead bodies are.
  • The Harry Potter books follow the same formula beginning with the Dursleys, going to Diagon Alley, riding on the Hogwarts Express, going to Hogwarts, solving some mystery, confronting Voldemort or some Death Eaters, and concluding with Dumbledore explaining everything that had happened. Up until the seventh book that is, when they mixed things up a bit.
  • Piers Anthony's Xanth novels, by his own admission, tend to follow the same basic formula every time: Random person has random problem, random person goes to the Good Magician to ask a Question about how to solve that problem, random person gets sent on a seemingly arbitrary quest, seemingly arbitrary complications occur, at the end of the story, it turns out that going on the seemingly arbitrary quest solved the original problem, or the character finds out that the problem they thought they wanted solved wasn't actually the real problem, or they actually wanted something different, either way, they get what they "really" wanted and everybody lives happily ever after.
  • The Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters have fairly formulaic romance subplots—as soon as the young lady is introduced, you know she'll be one half of the meant-to-be-together couple, and ditto with the young man; and you know that despite everything that threatens to keep them apart, they will get together in the end, one way or another. This predictability and warm fuzziness are part of the "cozy mystery" genre, and it doesn't get boring because the writing is good and the mysteries themselves don't get stale.
  • A lot of the Haruhi Suzumiya Light Novels, most of which have not been animated, follow a formula when dealing with the entire Brigade: Haruhi gets a hair up her ass about doing some sort of activity. Kyon complains, Koizumi agrees, Nagato says nothing, Mikuru is confused, and they all go along with it. Something strange is going on with whatever activity they are doing, but Haruhi remains oblivious to it, either enjoying whatever they are doing or getting bored. Koizumi and/or Nagato explain whatever is going on, then Koizumi and/or Nagato fixes it, possibly with help from Kyon, though sometimes Mikuru From The Future shows up to settle the matter. In the end Kyon finds out that if the weird event wasn't obviously caused by Haruhi, then it had some connection with her anyway.
  • This is taken to a ridiculous extreme in the Encyclopedia Brown books. The first few pages of every book are word-for-word identical. Chapter 1 is always a case from his father, Chapter 2 is always a case he solves by himself in which he proves that the culprit is Bugs Meaney, and Chapter 3 always features Bugs's attempt at revenge for being foiled in Chapter 2, introducing Sally (cue more verbatim passages) as the explanation for why said revenge is "attempt to frame Encyclopedia" rather than "beat the crap out of Encyclopedia."
  • Jodi Picoult: All her books have the same (general) formula: People (usually centering on the woman) living a normal life(in some New England town), something big happens/happened to them (i.e. husband is cheating, child is arrested) and there ends up being a court case either involving family members (i.e a family member committed a crime) or involving family members suing each other. Usually the court case involves children or teens. Expect one child to be severely ill and wiser than their years. The parents will/already did forget about the other child, if there is one. It is often a Tear Jerker, but is successful because of that(the judge/jury feels sorry for the defendant). Usually there is a Shocking Swerve near the end. Glaring examples include My Sister's Keeper and Handle with Care, which has been criticized for being nearly identical to My Sister's Keeper. Most of Picoult's books written before My Sister's Keeper actually are more fluid with the formula, with Harvesting the Heart not following it at all.
  • Every American Girl gets a series of 6 books written to formula down to the titles.
    • The formula has been getting a little more fluid as of late: Kaya's (the Nez Perce girl) books hardly follow it at all.
  • PG Wodehouse tends to be fairly formulaic in overall plot. Though given that several lines in the formula are evidently "Insert creative and unique Crowning Moment of Funny here", who cares?
  • Meta example: In All the World is a Stage, the theater director reveals that he writes all his plays based on the same 10 dramatic character archetypes, and the public loves it. The protagonist himself ends up writing a play based on the same formula (but IN JAPAN) to make an impression on the actress he fell in love with.
  • The Anita Blake novels are immensely formulaic. Just read the work's page on This Very Wiki.
  • Brian Jacques' Redwall series runs on four plots: the siege, the kidnapping, the land quest, and the sea quest. All will also need a puzzle/rhyme/prophecy to be solved. All with lots and lots of Food Porn.
  • Many of Philip K. Dick's short stories followed the formula: Man invents technology. Technology turns on man. Man fights technology. Technology defeats man. Technology turns on itself.
  • In Death: Each story in the series follows this basic formula: A murder occurs. Eve Dallas is called in to investigate the murder. She works the case to figure out who the murderer is. When she does, she goes and gets the bad guy. The series does play around with this formula, like the bad guy might actually get away somehow, the murderer is already identified, or the murderer goes after Eve first. Also, the series focuses on the developing relationship between Eve and Roarke, as well as other characters.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs: A handsome man of physical strength and skill, of high birth—though he may be ignorant of it, and the reader may be too—travels to far-off land and meets a heroine, beautiful, spirited, and prone to be kidnapped. She is also of high birth, though the hero and reader are even more likely to be ignorant of that, and even she may be. He has adventures, several of which revolve about rescuing the heroine, and there are misunderstandings between the two of them. In the end, the misunderstandings are resolved, the dangers are dealt with, and they marry. Sometimes he diverged from this; the results were often unhappy.
  • Jane Austen: A gentlewoman sooner or later falls in love with a man but can't marry him because he's engaged to someone else/he's in love with someone else/etc. Often there are cads to tempt her as well, but ultimately she ends up with the good guy who won't steal all her money and/or abandon her somewhere. (The web comic Wrong Hands lampshades this in the Jane Austen board game.)

Live-Action TV

  • Game Shows (as well as Reality Game Shows like Survivor) pretty much thrive on this trope.
  • House and both have the main character go through almost the exact same pattern every episode to find the solutions everybody else misses. This was much truer of House in seasons one through three. After the mass firing at the end of season three, things were mixed up just a bit for a while, returned to normal, but went off the rails (in a VERY good way) once House started seeing dead people. Many episodes still fit into the basic formula of the show from before, but they have also done others that completely break the mold. House's moment of realization was even lampshaded in a recent episode, when House stopped talking in the middle of a conversation and the other party said, "You're about to run out of here, aren't you?" And, of course, he did.
  • Eureka follows a pattern that is similar to House.
  • The A-Team: Hannibal, in disguise, contacts the clients of the week, the team breaks Murdock out of the insane asylum (until he's released in the final season), B.A. gets tricked into being drugged so they can put him on a plane, the team comes up with a plan that's Crazy Enough to Work, which involves Face pretending to be someone he's not, there's a bit of MacGyvering in an A-Team Montage followed by a climactic Final Battle featuring lots of A-Team Firing.
  • Law and Order: there's always a corpse at the beginning, the cops questioning irrelevant characters, a plot twist at the 20-minute mark, an arrest at 30 minutes at which point we switch from the cops to the DAs, and another plot twist 45 minutes into the show where the DA finds out what really happened.
  • According to Jim: Usually Jim does something that he doesn't want his wife to know. His wife finds out about this. Rather than confront him she will try to maneuver him into having no choice but to confess.
  • Home Improvement has to be one of the most formulaic shows ever aired. The layout: Tim makes fun of Al on Tool Time and later does something stupid to upset Jill, who is dealing with the latest parenting issue; Tim goes to Wilson (who doesn't show his face in a new and clever way) for advice, parrots back a mangled apology to Jill, and all is well.
  • The first couple seasons of Power Rangers (before they left Earth), outside of season premieres and finales, generally followed a fairly strict formula. A minor dilemma involving the civilian identities of the rangers pops up, the Big Bad (Rita/Zedd/King Mondo/Divatox/whoever) takes inspiration from it and have their monster creator design the Monster of the Aesop around it, a Mook attack occurs for whatever reason (no morphing just yet), this escalates into the Monster of the Aesop attacking (requiring the Rangers to morph), Big Bad makes it grow (sometimes without bothering to wait for the Rangers to fight it on foot), the Rangers call forth their Humongous Mecha, Monster of the Aesop gets squished by Stock Footage, and the plot ends with the Rangers solving their civilian issue. Sure, sometimes it swaps things up (some episodes have the Rangers defeat the monster on foot), but it almost always followed that general formula.
  • CSI: Miami:
    • Episodes follow the same basic pattern: a murder victim is found, after which we get a cavalcade of people who just happened to be at the murder scene shortly before or after the murder ("I was never there.", "We have evidence to show that you were.", "OK, I was there, but I didn't kill him.", repeat at least 2 or 3 times), and by the end of the episode they get the person who did it to confess. The original CSI was at least a bit more varied than this (in that only maybe 40% of episodes follow this format).
    • Every single interrogation goes the exact same way: suspect is initially uncooperative, Horatio removes his shades and makes a smoothly intoned threat, cut to the suspect looking down, beat, suspect reveals everything they know. Every single one.
    • Every teaser ends with Horatio's putting on his shades, then making a pun. YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!
  • Cold Case: The Beginning: To musical accompaniment related to the era, the Victim of the Week is shown in his/her time period doing whatever he/she does for a living, then cut to the corpse. Flash to present, where Rush & co. get their first lead on the case (either through previously-buried evidence, or a relative of the deceased with new information.) Cue One-Woman Wail and credits. The Middle: The detectives interrogate a chain of suspects, each one revealing another plot development in the flashback. Almost every flashback is preceded by accusing the person of the murder, who then denies it, briefly flashes to their younger self, and reveals another side of the story. They return to the precinct at least once to study evidence, and multiple times for good ole Perp Sweating. The last 20 minutes proceed to deconstruct the suspects' original motives until the person they return to with 5–7 minutes left, who confesses (with this flashback recreating the murder scene.) The End: As another piece of time-period-appropriate music plays, the killer is marched through the precinct, usually seen by another character. Vignettes are shown of the key players of the case going on with their lives in the present, in both their "past" and "present" appearances. A cardboard box marked "Case Closed" is filed in the evidence room. Someone who was really close to the victim sees an apparition of him or her, who turns and slowly fades away. The detectives resolve their romantic tension. Roll end credits.
  • Burn Notice: The standard week-to-week plots are this; the overarching Myth Arc isn't. In the standard plots, someone comes to Michael who needs...extralegal assistance. Mike will usually have to go through plans A through C, with a little bit of Indy Ploy, before saving the Client Of The Week, often while having to work around the client's good-intentioned "assistance". The Myth Arc tends to be a lot more chaotic, usually merging with the usual plot in the season finales.
  • Fringe. There's a cold open with some gruesome event happening to a random character, Walter makes some discovery while examining the body, the FBI takes the bad guy into custody, and the bad guy is then killed by other bad guys or the mole. Insert Walter and Peter arguing and references to John Scott as needed.
  • Murder, She Wrote always followed the same formula. There's a murder, and the victim had several possible enemies. One of the suspects is Jessica's niece, nephew, long-lost friend or love interest of the same, and the police always zero in on that person. Jessica must then catch the real killer, usually by Engineered Public Confession or by using something only the killer would know. If the murderer's story is particularly tragic, it ends with Jessica shaking her head sadly, otherwise there's a Mood Whiplash cut to the "Everybody Laughs" Ending. The pacing was also always the same. Expect the body to fall at about the 20 minute mark, and the wrongful arrest of the obvious suspect at the 40. On the rare occasion there was a dead body before 15 minutes, there's going to be a second death in the show later.
  • Mission: Impossible. Nearly every episode begins with Jim finding the tape and getting the mission, picking out the photos of the team he's using and then explaining part of the plan to the team in his house while they sit around testing the gadgets they're going to use.
  • Doctor Who
    • The new series formula: The Doctor turns up to identify the location, the TARDIS may go wrong, companion complains, baddie appears, someone dies, companion gets kidnapped or something, Doctor does something badass and hammy, and delivers the baddie an ultimatum, baddie doesn't listen and the Doctor saves the day. Cue hugs and celebration if the deaths are not multiple.
    • The old series formula: Doctor, Barbera, Susan and Ian leave TARDIS. TARDIS access gets blocked off somehow. Susan hurts herself, probably while yelling "Grandfather, Grandfather!". Barbera stays behind to take care of her while Ian does something manly and the Doctor does something clever. Baddie appears. Dramatic cliffhanger.
  • Disney Channel and Nickelodeon kid-coms tend to love zany schemes, paper-thin disguises and idol singers.
  • Disney Channel is probably an even worse offender than Nickelodeon. Since the huge success of Lizzie McGuire and That's So Raven,almost all of their shows have had some teenager(s) living a normal life with a TWIST, with their one same sex friend and one friend of the opposite sex (possibly a future love interest). There's almost always a ditz and person who's an absolute jerk, usually because they're a popular kid at school.
    • Also, the star will be (either in-universe or in real life (as so much as Disney tries to insist they are)) a singer who sings the theme song of the show and/or gets shoehorned into singer as much as possible in the show.
  • That '70s Show got pretty bad for this when Eric and Donna were dating. A dozen episodes a season of "Eric says something jerk-y, Donna freaks out, both talk to their respective groups, Donna realizes she overreacted, they make up, the end".
  • Highlander the Series tends to follow a general formula, with a few variations: Duncan meets an immortal he met some time in the past, and ends up decapitating him.
  • In the documentary series I Shouldn't Be Alive, the story is always: people go on a trip, their technology fails and/or they make a stupid mistake, and they get lost in the wilderness. The searchers usually miss them the first time, and they see an opportunity for rescue but aren't spotted. They fend off depression, a dangerous animal, and/or a medical condition, and are found just hours before death. The story ends with The Reveal: Real Life rescue photos.
  • The X-Files seem to follow this pattern: Something creepy happens on a remote location, followed by the opening montage and theme. Mulder and Scully are informed, he tells her about existing X-files like this and reveals his crackpot theory; she offers a scientific explanation. The duo travels to the site and encounters several witnesses/survivors. They run around the woods/darkened rooms and bicker a lot. One or more of the survivors are killed in a grisly fashion. If it's a Myth Arc episode, Mulder meets with his current Mysterious Informant. Scully does the science but finds nothing. Mulder, meanwhile, witnesses something that completely confirms his earlier theory. The culprit is killed, captured, or destroyed if it's not human. Any evidence the duo uncovered is mysteriously destroyed or not-so-mysteriously confiscated by The Government. Scully or Mulder writes a report saying that the evidence of supernatural is inconclusive, and the file is closed.
  • Dave Barry wrote a book about his family's trip to Japan, and describes how his wife was able to accurately describe what was happening in an episode of a Tokyo Soap Opera without knowing a word of Japanese, just through knowledge of soap tropes.
  • Time Gentlemen Please follows the same formula every episode. A plotline is introduced, usually involving a recurring character entering the pub and talking to Al Murray. He attempts to resolve the situation, which usually results in him annoying other characters. Throughout the episode, the characters say their catchphrases, constantly. Somebody tries to touch Lesley's Tigger, which results in Leslie almost beating them up but being bribed free crisps just in time. At some point the plotline is resolved. Usually, all of this takes place within the pub. If there ever was a show that is the archetype of strictly formula (namely being built entirely around catchphrases and one location) this is it.
  • Monk . Every. Damn. Episode.
    • Which is of course fitting: he has so many phobias that need his life to go completely according to schedule, and the show shows his life.
  • Medium: 1) Alison has a dream with an obvious twist which anybody but her would be able to guess. 2) Allison has breakfast with her family and some small but endearing drama develops. 3) Alison meets up with her boss or that cop, and they present a case and she tells them that either a) she's either been dreaming about and which she knows something is wrong or b) there's another more important case which is tangentially related. Alison knows they have the wrong suspect. 4) The small family drama reaches it's head. 5) Alison takes some small step to hunting down the killer herself. 6) The police's first suspect proves to be wrong. 7) Alison has her life threatened as a result of her stupidity during step five. 8) Alison survives and solves her mystery. 9) The small family crisis resolves itself. 10) Alison has another dream confirming that everything will be fine now. 10) Alison makes some sort of glib, self-satisfied comment to her husband.
  • The show 7th Heaven always seemed to feature the same plot: kid makes mistake, kid must pay for mistake, kid's mistake affects overly righteous parents, righteous parents forces kid to learn from mistake. And to make matters worse, the kids always seemed to suffer from Aesop Amnesia as they would commit that very same mistake in the next episode.
  • The TLC Reality Show Four Weddings is formulaic by design (four brides attend each other's weddings, rate them in various categories, top bride wins dream honeymoon), but even who they have is formulaic. They will usually have someone who has a traditional wedding, someone who has a traditional wedding WITH A TWIST (she's wearing sneakers, they're all going to dance), a Sassy Black Woman who has something unusual (i.e. praise dancers, a rapper), a destination wedding, and a foreign wedding. Something will go wrong in one of the weddings, and there will be one that the other brides hate.
  • Every single brazilian Soap Opera (which usually have a 6–8 months run), specially the ones aired by TV Globo, can specially Egregious at this. 90% of the main plots are about a Forbidden Love between a lovable underdog and a lovable rich, and the antagonist in these cases is always a Rich Bastard who is "in love" for the aforementioned rich part of the Official Couple, and spends the whole run of the show using one gambit after another to try and break them apart. There's a Foreign Background for a couple of episodes (usually Europe, Middle East or Asia) and a set of Plucky Comic Relief characters. In the last episode, the main couple get married and the villain is killed or goes to jail. ALWAYS.
  • Tabloid talk show Maury has a pretty limited set of episodes, e.g. people with congenital defects (or "heroes" as the show often refers to them), paternity tests ("That baby looks nothing like me!"), disrespectful teenagers who are cured of being brats by boot camp ("You don't know me!") and "Jack Hanna brings animals that pee all over the stage". Not only are the topics limited to about a dozen options or so, each topic itself is played strictly to formula: if you've seen one "Who's the daddy?" episode you've seen just about all of them.
  • Castle: Victim of the week gets killed, Castle talks with Martha and/or Alexis about their problem of the week, Beckett calls, UST begins, Lanie and/or Perlmutter give us the gory details, questioning, more UST, lots of looking at the white board ,plot twist, Martha and/or Alexis chime in on the case while working on their problem of the week, more questioning, more UST, Castle epiphany, they get the bad guy (chasing optional), Castle goes home and sees how Martha and/or Alexis solved their problem of the week. And did I mention the UST?
    • Unless it's a two-parter or about Beckett's mother. Then all bets are off. But not the UST.


  • See also The Four Chords of Pop.
  • Music in general tends to follow a fairly rigid structure. The classical sonata and the "verse-chorus-verse-chorus" form of popular music are both tried and tested formulas in their respective genres. Music that doesn't adhere to these formulas in some way tends to sound, to our ears, rather avant-garde.
  • Beneath all the window-dressing and elaboration, almost all Blues songs tend to rely on rather specific chord progressions, rhythms, and lyrical constructions. More details can be found on the page.
  • Theodor Adorno used the proliferation of this in pop music to argue it was an inherently morally devoid genre compared to Viennese serialism.

Puppet Shows

  • Quite a few recurring Sesame Street segments, both classic and contemporary, tend to follow a basic plot formula, usually with little or no variation, though there are often exceptions:
    • The Super Grover segments usually were played out in the same way: Super Grover detects a problem while flying in the air (it could be two kids fighting over something, a boy being afraid to get his hair cut, or even a girl's computer not turning on), then dives down to the "problem," often crashing into something in the landing, and when he is told of the problem, he usually comes up with a ridiculous explanation or solution (sometimes like dancing around going "Wubba Wubba!"), only for the child to solve his or her problem by him/herself. Naturally, Super Grover takes the credit.
      • In at least two of the books, Super Grover made things worse. In one he attempted to save one of his friends from an evil witch that was threatening her. The problem? The witch wasn't real, it was a play, and he utterly ruined it for her. She is shown to be extremely angry at him at the end of the story. In the other, he is fishing with friends when he notices that the boat is leaking very, very slightly. His solution? Pick the boat up out of the water and deposit it back on Sesame Street, pretty much wrecking it.
    • The Sesame Street News segments also followed a basic formula to many of them: after the "NEWS FLASH" intro logo and music, we fade to the "news scene" where Kermit The Frog, clad in a reporters' trenchcoat, hat and microphone, is talking to someone off-camera or facing the wrong way or doing something else not related to his duty, before realizing he is on camera and begins his report. Everything goes smoothly as he interviews who he is supposed to, but then halfway into the report, things begin to go wrong (usually with the fairy tale/nursery rhyme being parodied in the sketch not going as it traditionally does), and something bad typically happens to Kermit. The segment then ends with Kermit, usually embarrassed or somewhat shaken up, returning the viewers to the "regularly-scheduled program."
  • Sesame Tree, the Northern Ireland co-production of Sesame Street: Potto and Hilda have a problem (or in season two, Archie arrives with a problem). The Big Whizzing Machine recieves a message from a kid asking about something related to the problem. The Bookworms find a book that sends Hilda to visit a school. Potto uses his computer to watch a relevent Sesame Street "kids around the world" segment and Muppet sketch. Potto gets a phone call from Hilda leading to a segment about how the kids at the school she's visiting deal with the problem. They realise they can now solve their problem, and answer the question.
  • The Hoobs, another UK Henson preschooler show: The Hoobs have a problem which leads to them asking a question. Hubba-Hubba appears on screen to declare that an answer to this question would make an excellent entry in the Hoobipedia. They attempt various solutions, inspired by (in order) asking the Tiddley-Peeps (children), reading an animated story Hubba-Hubba found on Hoobnet, asking Roma the roving reporter, and asking some different Tiddley-Peeps. This final suggestion proves to be the correct one, and the Motorettes sing a song about it before the Hoobs give their report to Hubba-Hubba.
    • Some episodes play with the formula; for instance when the question was "How can we get the Hoobmobile from the island it's stuck on?", it was Roma who talked to the Tiddley-Peeps, because the others were trapped.


  • Believe It!, Richard Wilson's "radiography" on BBC Radio 4. Every episode opens with Richard describing a scene from his childhood. This is then enacted with Young Richard played by David Tennant, and leads to someone's death. This death haunts Richard, leading to an event in his adulthood (playing himself) involving someone famous, which almost certainly didn't happen.


  • LEGO Bionicle in its early years ('01-'03). Whenever Fan Dumb starts an it went downhill in '04 topic on an online forum, someone always points out that all of those years followed the same formula: the six heroes are a given - the Big Bad unleashes something bad - the village elders somehow know all about said bad things - heroes collect stuff - they go underground to defeat the current boss. Thankfully later years did away with this concept, and gave justification for the elders' secret knowledge. This argument is also frequently brought up when someone berates Bionicle's "replacement" line, Hero Factory for being too darn formulaic and predictable, though in the latter's case, that was pretty much the point, since LEGO wanted to avoid another overly-complex and difficult to follow storyline.
    • One of the Bionicle comics from 2003 even lampshaded the stories becoming a little formulaic:

Lewa: Has anyone else noticed that every time we go underground, something really bad happens?
Tahu: Yes, Lewa, we have all noticed.

    • The toys also changed noticeably back then (it was part of a general shift at Lego due to bankruptcy). Bionicle toys started shifting a lot away from the rest of Lego, with tons of unique, space-filling parts that meant that they couldn't be rebuilt into many things. That took a lot of the wonder and excitement out of it.
    • Another entry for the toys is the dreaded "Inika build", named after the Toa Inika sets from 2006. Almost all Toa and various other canister sets released between '06 and '09 followed the same general body-plan, using mostly the same LEGO pieces, while earlier series tended to variate the builds every year or so. Hero Factory did away with this almost entirely with its second set-line.

Video Games

  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • Each dungeon in the series is typically preceded by being forced to perform some task in the Overworld in order to open the door or access the dungeon. The dungeons themselves follow the pattern of "Enter dungeon, defeat the miniboss to get new item (or possibly just finding the item in the dungeon and using it to beat the miniboss), use new item to defeat boss, use new item to open/get to next dungeon, lather, rinse, repeat".
    • From A Link to the Past onwards, almost all console games (as well as Phantom Hourglass to an extent) start with a quest for three plot coupons, followed by a storyline twist that (depending on the game) might lead to exploring 3, 5 or 7 additional dungeons before meeting the Big Bad. Before or after the plot twist, the Master Sword may be collected. The NES and handheld games, as well as Majora's Mask, showcase instead a quest for an even number of Plot Coupons (4-8) that is carried over through the entire adventure. Subversions happen at times, though, as in the case of Spirit Tracks having an extra dungeon after the main four, or The Minish Cap having one more as well due to a case of Your Princess Is in Another Castle in one of the earlier dungeons.
    • Aonuma and Miyamoto went out of their way to change up the Zelda formula for Skyward Sword. Not only is the rest of the overworld dungeon-like, most of the dungeons themselves sport the format of a more compact space, but a higher density in puzzles, enemies and obstacles. This is best appreciated with the first three dungeons, whose goal of completion isn't even on the Plot Coupons (you do collect some in the first two, but finding Zelda is the main focus). Also, half the boss fights take place outside the conventional dungeons - this includes the airborne battle against a Bilocyte-controlled Levias, the finale against Ghirahim, the Final Boss and all three battles with the Imprisoned.
  • The entire plot of Metal Gear Solid 2 was based on its eerie adhesion to the plot of Metal Gear Solid. The resemblance of MGS and Metal Gear 2, however, hasn't been commented on.
    • Metal Gear Solid 2 breaks out of its deja vu in an extremely shocking manner which subverts the hell out of this trope. It turns out, all of the events leading up to the end were constructed to make the new protagonist, Raiden, become as great a soldier as Solid Snake via the "S3" program, to train a super-soldier.
    • But in reality the S3 Plan isn't a "Solid Snake Simulation" but a program to test the Patriot's capacity to manipulate events this add another level on the Gambit Pileup to the point of the trope's namer parody.
  • To an extent Wily escapes and comes back with another plan to take over the world once more in the Mega Man series. Any new villain is really Wily in disguise, or is being manipulated by him. Wily is always the villain, and there's always 8 robot masters. (Except in the first game, where there were six)
    • The Mega Man X series to an extent. New reploids are introduced and they turn out to be evil or just backstab people. Usually Sigma is involved. In fact, it's a plot twist in the last game when he really wasn't secretly behind it all.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Bowser kidnaps the princess, go save her. Eight worlds. Starts with a grass world, then usually a desert world and a water themed world. Various other stock location themes in the middle, such as ice and sky. Ends in Mordor, fight through Bowser's Castle, defeat Bowser, save princess. And in each world, expect to find a fortress guarded by a Mini Boss, as well as a Castle housing the local boss at the end.
    • 3D Super Mario Bros.. 120 collectible items (Stars or Shine Sprites). Every so often this unlocks a new world, you fight Bowser three times including the final battle, some form of coin collecting mission is involved somewhere and you can always reach the final battle with around half the stars/shine sprites you need for 100% completion, although it gives you a shorter ending.
    • With the Mario series' rigid story structure being so set in stone, the RPG spinoffs have gone out of their way to hang lampshades on it in the style of "The princess got kidnapped? That's the third time this week!", usually putting some kind of spin on it.
  • Touhou Project has a similar plot for each game: some Big Bad (who is never really evil)causes some incident that gets the protagonists' attention, protagonists go out and beat up unrelated bosses for a few stages, then fights the Big Bad's Battle Butler, then the Big Bad themselves, then everyone has a tea party.
  • Bioware games from Neverwinter Nights on all have identical structures. Semi-tutorial level, event that sets up initial quest, initial quest succeeds at high cost, status quo shaken up and leads to new, more open area with more sidequests, attain full status (Jedi, Spirit Monk, Specter, Grey Warden), get larger task to gather four clues/allies. Each part of this quest involves a seperate zone with multiple stages that can solved different ways, with several side quests in each area. Progress in each will be completely useless towards completing the others except in terms of equipment and party members picked up there will aid you in combat. A fifth area will open up after three of them are complete, you may or may not be forced to complete it immediately. Once all five are done the plot will continue in a linear fashion to the final area, generally with no sidequests and forming a more cinematic conclusion. Jade Empire was varied in that the middle section where you gather clues/allies was more linear, with content all in one area instead of split up.
  • Ace Combat, from the second game on (at least outside Japan). The protagonist's nation is under attack by another nation, almost always reaching Back From the Brink, then after a series of skirmishes one or more enemy ace squadrons appear. The good guys usually take back their capital or some other important city by half-time. At least one superweapon will be deployed and destroyed. A twist will reveal that the apparent enemy is just a Disc One Final Boss. An Airstrike Impossible mission will occur. The enemy ace squadron(s) will be shot down. Another superweapon will appear and be destroyed, along with the true enemies. Peace is achieved once more. The first game is missing the enemy aces and the major twist, as well as deviating in a few other ways.
    • Exceptions: Shattered Skies, as Erusea just simply acts out of dickery with no outside influence; Skies of Deception, as the war itself was just a ploy for loads of money by their leader (and no squadron acts as Gryphus 1's counterpart, save for the almost throwaway Alect squadron).
  • The cutscenes in Mutant Rampage Body Slam save for the intro and ending have the same basic dialogue structure, almost as if it was written in a madlib program. The recycled animation doesn't help much.
  • Pokémon: Kid gets his or her starter and Pokédex from the local professor, battles his or her rival whose start has a type advantage, goes on a journey to get all 8 badges and become champion, runs into and defeats a evil team, maybe fights a few legendary Pokémon, and finally defeats the Elite Four and current champion.
    • By the time Pokémon Black and White came around, the developers caught on. The games are a Deconstruction of the classic Pokémon formula, and needless to say, therefore also follow the pattern (with a few key differences).
  • So far with the Ace Attorney series, you have:
    1. A case where either the lawyer the player controls being new, gaining amnesia or otherwise rusty who covers a case of utmost importance that leads to a plot point that will become very important later on. Justified in that this is the obligatory Tutorial Mode.
    2. Two cases that are almost always unrelated to said plotpoints from the first case the player has to solve, one of which involves defending/prosecuting someone famous or is otherwise very high profile.
    3. Another case that either related to the regulars or the player, will almost always throw back to the plot point in the aforementioned first case and usually has something to do with some kind of dilemma the regular in question has, solving it by the end.
    4. Charlie. Or stepladders.
    5. sometimes a bonus case that either further relates to, or shoots a throwback of, the aforementioned plot point.
    6. Sometimes having one of the regulars be accused of some kind of crime the player will have to defend them for or prosecute against with an exception or so that the regular had really did it, which may overlap with points 1-3.
    7. The villain of the final case is always a Complete Monster
    • The same is always done with all the characters too, as they will always be one of the following:
      • Normal, uninvolved; usually an assistant or protagonist with wacky hair. (e.g. Phoenix, Maya, Trucy, etc.)
      • Enemy prosecutor/detective; aggressive, has a defining characteristics (e.g. famous guitarist Klavier, coffee addict with visor Godot, German sadist with a whip Von Karma, etc. etc.)
      • Dim Judge; only serves to give you a game over, always take the side of the obvious big bad and give the defense/prosecution an excuse to spell everything out.
      • Normal, bland; usually defendant or common witness who is uninteresting (but still has a wacky personality), only exists so you have a case or so you have more than one person to tear apart in court. Only notably subverted for Matt Engarde, who is actually the villain hiding behind a dumb persona. (e.g. attention seeking Larry Butz, who only occasionally proves useful)
      • Minor but antagonistic; obviously guilty of something, if there's a reveal of their actions/past/M.O. they'll serve as a red herring for the real killer or padding out plot. (e.g. Wendy Oldbag claims to be a key witness, actually only a time wasting, attention seeking old gossip in all of her appearances).
      • Big Bad; behind it all, obviously guilty not far into court questioning, will quickly jump between "innocent" and "angry" emotions, will always pull the evidence card on you even though they pretty much confess with their exaggerated responses - for some reason, changing back to innocent mode and demanding evidence instantly removes all suspicion. Almost always hoist by their own petard by confession only, whether it's an unintentional (e.g. breakdown) or intentional e.g. Engarde giving confessing for protection)
  • In most games about characters' relationships and adult games, the main character will get a (reverse) harem of three or more people. A while after the main character chooses one love interest, the story will wind down. If it's presented as a Visual Novel, then it will often be a slice of life story. If it's presented as a Simulation Game, then it will often have an ordinary setting and mundane themes. In order to distinguish run-of-the-mill content from exceptional content, one should look for quality writing, visuals, music, and gameplay (where applicable).
  • Metroid:
    • In most games, the heroine lands on a planet or spacestation and something happens to her powers: They're either lost, damaged, or simply absent, so she has to rebuild her gear gradually, and make her way through the various areas and locales by using the powerups she gains (often by defeating big bosses) until meeting the final boss.
    • Each game in the Metroid Prime series follows a sub-formula on its own. The first game is more or less like the 2D games in terms of progression, as you're randomly exploring a world that just happens to be divided into visually distinct regions, occasionally fighting bosses. In the second game, the objective in each of the three main areas is to find a temple, located in the Dark World counterpart of said areas; each temple is locked and three keys scattered through the areas are needed to get access to them, and inside lies a Marathon Boss that guards a large percentage of sacred light, the game's Plot Coupon. In the third game, the objective is to disinfect entire planets, three of them again, and each planet has a Phazon-infected bounty hunter as a Mini Boss; in addition, the three planetary bosses are fought in nearly identical chambers. Last, but not least, each of the three Prime titles culminates with a Fetch Quest of 9-12 items related to the access to the final stage, where the Final Boss awaits.
    • Metroid: Other M seeked to change the formula in various aspects, like being more story-centric (a trend first seen in Fusion and Corruption, but never to this extent), and Samus having all of her powerups since the beginning, but only using them when she's given the permission to do so.
  • Professor Layton's formula is as follows: Layton gets a letter telling him to go to a certain town, town has secret of some sort, Evil Tower of Ominousness is present, Layton unmasks disguised villain, town secret is revealed (it's always completely insane), Layton does something really fucking badass, other villain is thwarted (usually this villain is sympathetic in some way), player is left crying for one reason or another, then one last puzzle. Not always in this order, so the degree to which it's strictly formula is debatable.
    • There are three minigames, you unlock extra content for these minigames by solving specific puzzles, beating these minigames 100% unlocks a trio of bonus puzzles each.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Start with an epic title theme, then let the player create an Featureless Protagonist character, whose only backstory is being a convict. At the end of the tutorial level, the prisoner is released into the Wide Open Sandbox with a quest to save the world and/or prevent The Empire from crumbling. No matter how grand the task, Take Your Time is the policy, and every Weird Trade Union in the sandbox provides a questline at least as long as the main one. At the end of the main quest, the ex-convict receives a fancy title and conspicuously disappears from the series. Put a snappy one-word subtitle referencing the primary location of the game on it and you are done.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Scooby Doo. Every episode will involve a trap that they have to bribe Scooby with Scooby Snacks for, and it will go horribly awry but succeed in getting the Monster of the Week anyway Despite the Plan. Said monster will turn out to be a man in disguise, and he would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for You Meddling Kids!
    • And the solution is explained in each episode using clues that weren't revealed to the audience until the end.
    • Subsequent movies and revival series departed from this formula by featuring actual monsters.
  • Dora the Explorer, Blue's Clues, and many other shows targeted at that age group.
  • Code Lyoko, the first season. Life at schoolXANA's attack threatens real world → into Lyoko to stop XANA → Return to the past → back at school with knowledge of what will happen that day. This was done away with from Season 2 on: writing-wise, Character Development moved over the series like a storm; storyline-wise, constantly banging on the reset button made XANA grow exponentially stronger with each use. Oops.
    • Also the whole "Jeremie thinks it's XANA" "Odd think's it's not" "Aelita or a Tower Scan shows it is" and so now "One of the Lyoko Warriors must stay behind to be in danger and make the Return to The Past more dramatic"
  • The Fairly OddParents goes by this formula: Something in Timmy's life sucks, he makes a wish to change it, it works out great at first, then somebody says, "What could possibly go wrong?" At this point, crap hits the fan, and Timmy has to overcome the wish to bring everything back to normal. In the end, Timmy learns some sort of life lesson. And then forgets it.
    • And then there's the movie specials. Every movie would involve Cosmo and Wanda (and in more recent specials, Poof) being separated from Timmy, but they get back together in the end.
  • Jimmy Neutron does the same thing just instead, he invents something, then later uses a different invention to reverse the effects.
  • It does have a continuity/MythArc, but the general formula of Danny Phantom is followed in a strict pattern: Danny and co. have some personal problem, a ghost appears and somehow meddles in their personal problem, Danny goes ghost and beats the crap out of it, sends it to the Phantom Zone, and solves the personal problem, usually inspired by the battle.

Danny: There's a rhythm to these things. Ghosts attack, we exchange witty banter, I kick ghost butt, and we all go home having learned a valuable lesson about honesty, or some such nonsense.

  • Kim Possible. Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World.
  • Looney Tunes. Most of the major characters exist primarily in Strictly Formula cartoons. For example:
    • Pepe LePew chasing the accidentally white-striped black cat, who runs in terror from his stench.
    • Wile E. Coyote using physics-defying ACME devices in inevitably failed attempts to catch the Road Runner.
      • Lampshaded in a fake Cartoon Network commercial for ACME devices. "We put Rockets..." (Sound of explosion) "...On Everything."
    • Ralph Wolf trying to catch Sam Sheepdog's charges, only to find himself stopped by Sam in ridiculous ways.
    • Different directors also often created opposing formulas for particular characters, for example Bob Clampett interpreted Daffy Duck as a Screwy Squirrel, Chuck Jones recreated him as a Fake Ultimate Hero in various genre parodies, Friz Freleng made him a show biz fanatic (usually in bitter rivalry with Bugs Bunny) while Robert McKimson often utilized him as a Loveable Rogue.
  • Inspector Gadget. Gadget receives a classified assignment in the form of an exploding message from the chief of police. The message blows up in the chief's face after Gadget is done reading it. His niece, Penny, and dog, Brain, secretly get involved in the mission. Brain tries to keep Gadget alive from the assassins out to get Gadget, who in turn mistakes Brain for a criminal, while helping the villain agents he thinks are doing innocent civilian deeds. Meanwhile, Penny snoops around, gets in danger or captured and tied up, gets rescued or free, and ultimately solves the case. Gadget receives credit for the case that his niece had solved. A dumb joke is made, and we get an "Everybody Laughs" Ending. Repeat Next time, Gadget!. Finish with the And Knowing Is Half the Battle epilogue.
  • Super Why! is extremely formulaic even for an Edutainment Show aimed at little kids. In every episode: One of the kids will have a (mundane) problem; the Super Readers gather in the clubhouse to discuss it; they (magically) choose a book to find the answer; they enter it in their "Y-Flyers"; they read the story and decide to help its characters; they do it in the SAME order (first Alpha Pig, then Wonder Red and/or Princess Presto, and finally Super Why, each one giving a spelling/reading lesson in the process with the help of "Super You" -the audience) and then solve the story by changing its ending (by swapping a word in the text); they then return to the clubhouse, where, with the 'Super Letters' they gathered in their Super Duper Computer along the way, they spell a phrase that gives the answer to their problem as well. And then they dance the same victory dance. It's so repetitive that they use the same animation and catchphrases all the time!
    • To be fair, one or two episodes vary some elements of the above... but not by much.
  • While The Simpsons isn't a strictly formula show, there a pattern in many episodes. The creators have a lot of material to work off of with their cast of characters, so what usually happens is that a member of the Simpsons family (usually Bart or Homer) purposefully or inadvertently destroy the life of a secondary character and are then driven by guilt to help them, though it isn't always the fault of the family. Sometimes the character will even end up staying at the Simpson's home until their life is put back in order. Examples include "Krusty Gets Busted", "When Flanders Failed", "Like Father, Like Clown", "Bart the Lover", "The Otto Show", "Brother Can you Spare Two Dimes?", "Krusty Gets Kancelled", "Homer and Apu", and "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song"... and that is just from the first five seasons. It gets more prevalent in later seasons.
    • The formula "the Simpsons visit X state/country/continent" is used frequently, often lampshaded with Homer announcing, "The Simpsons are going to X!"
    • A number of episodes, from all eras of the show, involve Homer and Marge breaking up, or nearly so, over something especially boorish, selfish and thoughtless that Homer does. Occasionally there's a variation in which mutual stubbornness is the cause. They inevitably reconcile by the conclusion.
  • Most of the Popeye cartoons have Bluto taking Olive Oyl hostage and ending with Popeye eating spinach to beat him.
  • Nearly all the Casper cartoons boil down to this:
    1. Five seconds of an invisible Casper riding a bike, playing with a yoyo, etc, he fades in.
    2. Casper's lonely, tries to befriend people, who run off screaming. "A GHOST!"
    3. Casper meets small child or animal, often helping them out of a jam.
    4. Casper and the friend play. Sometimes the friend discovers Casper's a ghost, runs off afraid, leaving Casper unhappy.
    5. Large baddie threatens the little friend, Casper appears, demanding, "You leave my friend alone!"; the baddie runs off in fear. All ends well.
  • Parodied in the Futurama episode When Aliens Attack (see page quote).
  • Most Total Drama Island/Total Drama Action episodes start with some sort of conflict between two or more campers, a challenge which plays off that conflict (which takes up most of the episode), and an elimination ceremony that will resolve it unless the conflict is over several episodes (except for when they didn't do an elimination). It makes it extremely difficult to vary the amount of screen time, leading to Ensemble Darkhorse and Spotlight-Stealing Squad for multiple characters.
    • But this time, they're playing strictly formula because that's exactly how it works on reality TV, which they're parodying.
  • Special Agent Oso: Oso does a training assignment and fails. He is then called away to help a child by Mr. Dos and Paw Pilot assigns Oso "three special steps" to complete the task. Paw Pilot then starts singing about the mission as a strange music video is shown. When he arrives, Oso follows the steps carefully when helping the child, needing the audience's help for very simple tasks. As the final step is completed in the nick of time, Oso returns to complete his training exercise, using the knowledge he got from his mission to earn his training award. Oso then receives a special assignment digi-medal for helping the child. The episode finishes off with a corny one-liner.
  • Wallace and Gromit: Not all of them, but mostly it's:
    1. Wallace and Gromit opens new business.
    2. Business don't go so well.
    3. Wallace invents crazy new device to help business.
    4. New invention goes awry/falls into the wrong hands/etc.
    5. Big action chase scene at the end.
  • Downplayed with Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is notable for being one of the least formulaic animated series ever made, and certainly the least formulaic of all shows ever spawned by Nickelodeon. Anyhow, the series was like this for most of Book 1 with: Team Avatar needs to rest/ran out money/bending practice so they stop somewhere,they run into someone who will not be part of the main plot until much later,Zuko/Zhao/Fire Nation finds where they are and tries to capture them,they fight but Team Avatar escapes. That or some kind of conflict ensues,Team Avatar fixes it and they move on.
  • Phineas and Ferb: The title characters decide to take on a ridiculously ambitious project, while their pet Perry The Platypus slips away to adopt his Secret Identity and thwart his Mad Scientist Arch Enemy. There's a song, Doofensmirtz captures Perry. While Perry is trapped Dr. Doofensmirtz explains his Evil Plan to Perry, along with the motivation. Perry escapes and they fight, the boys and their friends enjoy their creation while their big sister Candace runs herself ragged trying to bust them to their mother. Doof is thwarted, the results of his scheme coincidentally hides the evidence of P&F's activities, and Candace is left with nothing except maybe a Throw the Dog a Bone moment. Having established this formula, the show then riffs around it, subverting or double-subverting parts of it, and leaving it behind for the odd episode.
  • The 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series follows this formula in many episodes that don't involve Shredder and Krang causing havoc with their fully powered Technodrome or appearances of minor villains. Most episodes involve Shredder and Krang steal a state-of-the-art equipment or a power source which the turtles defend and save the day.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers had this down to an art form. Almost every episode followed the same plot points.
    1. Some kid/environmentalist/native is doing something good.
    2. The Rogue's Gallery villain of the day shows up, saying politically and environmentally incorrect things while destroying the environment/eroding moral values/polluting.
    3. Cut to Hope Island/the Geocruiser[2] where the Planeteers are going to wherever the plot happens to be. Odds are good that one of the Planeteers will know/be related to/is fascinated by the subject of said kid/environmentalist/native in point one. Gaia calls and says that the ecovillain of the week is doing bad stuff.
    4. They get there. Wheeler makes an observation about the situation, which is inevitably wrong. The other team members (and sometimes Gaia) have to correct his stupid, ignorant ways.
    5. The Planeteers try talking it out with the locals. With the exception of the kid/environmentalist/native mentioned earlier, everyone is for the ecovillain's plan, as it seems to be good for the time being because it draws in tourism/it stimulates the economy/the natural thing that the planeteers are trying to save is annoying.
    6. The kid/environmentalist/native is now an ally of the kids and they try to talk to the ecovillain to make him stop. He/she tries to kill the heroes.
    7. The Planeteers get captured, Wheeler's fire ring does nothing. Someone comes along and saves them as the Ecovillain revs up their doomsday/mining/invention.
    8. They summon Captain Planet. He flies in and is almost immediately incapacitated by the pollutant of the day. The Planeteers and the ally of the episode help wash him off. Captain Planet saves the day while making incredibly bad jokes.
    9. Everyone learns a lesson about (insert moral or environmental lesson here.) These people never have a problem again.
    10. Planeteer Alert!
    11. End credits, theme song.
  • The Buttons and Mindy shorts of Animaniacs were extremely formulaic. The parents leave their preschool child Mindy in the yard while they go out for some reason with no supervision other than Buttons the dog. Mindy gets out of the yard and starts following some random thing, while Buttons gets into danger trying to protect his charge. Eventually Mindy ends up right back where she started from, where the parents find the two and see no evidence that their child has been out and about and considerable evidence that Buttons have been misbehaving in some manner, getting the dog in trouble.
    • This was deliberately lampshaded in the caveman episode: "Buttons! UG Mindy! No OOG tarpit!"
  • The general story for each episode of The Dreamstone; Urpgor invents a device for Zordrak to help capture the stone, Sgt Blob and his men are sent to the Land Of Dreams with device in hand, the Urpneys steal the stone but screw things up (either due to their incompetance, the heroes' intervening or some other horrible twist of luck) and the Noops retrieve the stone from them just in time to prevent Zordrak sending nightmares to the Land Of Dreams. Oh and Frizz moans something for the final line. A handful of exceptions exist (usually when Zordrak finds a method of sending nightmares different from stealing the stone) but they are outweighed by the usual formula.
  • Redakai boasts an oddly rigid structure where a fight must happen at act one, and then another fight as the climax for each episode which the good guys win. Sadly, they are often poorly done and prevent the episodes from setting up any atmosphere, partly thanks to the power-up scenes that go into each one. It is particularly obvious in some episodes that the battles are just shoehorned in and destroy otherwise salvageable plots.
  • In the first season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, characters learn a valuable lesson about friendship pretty much every episode (usually after one of the characters causes a problem or conflict by acting ignorant or confrontational), and then Twilight Sparkle writes a letter to her mentor Princess Celestia summing the lesson up in a few sentences. As of Lesson Zero other characters can write letters to Celestia as well, and a few episodes involve no closing letter at all, but An Aesop about friendship is still always present.
    • A side formula is always present in episodes involving the Cutie Mark Crusaders, with the three fillies trying to take up some new activity or talent in order to earn their cutie marks (with inevitable failure). Usually this causes some problem or embarrassment that merges into the Friendship Aesop formula above.
  1. where someone walks in on another person while bathing, or while in a compromising position
  2. This plane that the Planeteers used