Created By: WackyMeetsPractical on March 26, 2012 Last Edited By: WackyMeetsPractical on October 8, 2014

Anti Premise Episode

A show's premise is broken temporarily

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A lot of shows rely on a premise, and all episodes are based on this premise. The show may have a Series Goal, in which the characters spend every episode trying to achieve that goal, often invoking Failure Is the Only Option, insuring that Status Quo Is God. Other shows are Strictly Formula, and every episode must follow the formula. Some shows have an established setting and dynamic, which every episode is expected to follow.

But every once in a while, you get an episode that's completely different. These episodes takes the premise of the series, and asks "What if the opposite happened?" In a show where Failure Is the Only Option, the characters succeed. In a show where The Masquerade must be maintained, it becomes broken. If there is only one setting, then the characters will get to leave.

These episodes are often presented as a What If? episode, often turning out to be All Just a Dream, or an Alternate Universe, or an Imagine Spot. By the end of the episode, the Reset Button will surely be pressed, and the rest of the series can continue to follow it's premise as if nothing every happened.

Episodes don't count as an Anti Premise Episode if the episode is a premise changer, or the end of the series. If you are not sure if an episode of a series is an Anti Premise Episode, ask yourself what the premise of the episode is, then stick a 'NOT' in there somewhere, and see if it resembles the premise of the episode. If it does, chances are, it's an Anti Premise Episode.

This is a sub trope of Something Completely Different, where the episode doesn't come anywhere close to following the show's premise. If an episode defies the premise that the show is in fact real to the characters, then you're dealing with a Real World Episode.

Spoilers ahead!

Examples:
  • A Smallville episode had Clark Kent reveal his secret about his powers and alien origins to the world. The episode explored Clark's life as a hero and a celebrity before things got very bad. The whole incident was erased with time travel.
  • Phineas and Ferb had a few. One episode had Candace finally succeed in busting her brothers. It turns out to be a dream. Another episode played with the "one outrageous stunt per episode" premise by having Phineas and Ferb do nothing for a whole day.
  • A Futurama episode introduced a What If machine that explored several different What If? scenarios, one being a world in which Fry was never frozen for a thousand years and remained in the year 2000.
  • In Phil of the Future, the Diffy's must keep the fact that they're time travelers from the future stuck in the early 21st century a secret from everyone in that time period. But one episode had Phil reveal their true nature to the world and became instant celebrities. The event was undone at the end of the episode.
  • In Hannah Montana, a wish on a shooting star undid Miley's double life and allowed her to be Hannah Montanna all the time, erasing her friendships with Lily and Oliver in the process.
  • An episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch's premise was that there was one day which allowed witches to reveal their nature to mortals without any concequences (and anyone they told forgetting at the end of the day).
  • An episode of The Secret World of Alex Mack involved Alex and her best friend being struck by lightning, and Alex's powers were transferred to her friend, who did exactly the opposite of Alex and revealed himself to the world. Turned out to be a dream of Alex's
Community Feedback Replies: 36
  • March 26, 2012
    TBeholder
    hmm, you're on to something
  • March 26, 2012
    Bisected8
    Good trope!

    • An episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch's premise was that there was one day which allowed witches to reveal their nature to mortals without any concequences (and anyone they told forgetting at the end of the day).
  • March 26, 2012
    fulltimeD
    An episode of The Secret World Of Alex Mack involved Alex and her best friend being struck by lightning, and Alex's powers were transferred to her friend, who did exactly the opposite of Alex and revealed himself to the world.

    Turned out to be a dream of Alex's
  • March 27, 2012
    Routerie
    Lost had an anti-premise recurring segment in the final season, apparently showing each character's life had the events of the series not occurred.
  • March 27, 2012
    randomsurfer
    FWIW the Gilligan hypthetical example you mention happened in the first Reunion Movie. Then at the end of the film they end up back stranded on that same desert isle again.
  • March 27, 2012
    ironlunch
    I think this works very well with television shows. I could think of multiple examples and the pre-requisites are pretty well defined. I'll give this my hat.
  • March 27, 2012
    WackyMeetsPractical
    ^^^ I'm not sure if that should count. It doesn't fit the requisites of being a single episode, or of being temporary. On top of that, the flash-sideways did more than show the character's lives had they not gone to the island, but in fact gave them completely different lives even before the flight that was supposed to get them stranded.

    ^^ I was aware of the movie and that they got off. Was not aware that they were stranded again at the end. Not sure it would count, as it took place after the series had already ended, though the Status Quo Is God ending might still qualify it.
  • March 27, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Good work. You got my hat.
  • March 27, 2012
    fulltimeD
    An episode of Star Trek Voyager, "Non Sequitor," involved Harry Kim waking up in an altered timeline where he never was assigned to the Voyager and therefor still lived on Earth with his girlfriend. Undone by Reset Button. Not sure if this counts.
  • March 27, 2012
    WackyMeetsPractical
    ^ It probably would, if the premise of the show was "Harry Kim takes a job on a space ship and constantly wishes he was back on Earth".

    I think we need to add another qualifier to the definition so that this doesn't devolve into any episode that takes place in a setting or time different than the established setting. The Anti Premise Episode must specifically exploit the premise, and attempt to answer a fundamental question posed by the premise. For the above examples, the episodes deal with resolving the core conflict of the series. I'm not too sure about the Star Trek example, as I'm not entirely familiar with it, but based on what I read of it, it seems like it deals with a conflict introduced in that episode, and not a driving force of the series. If instead, it was a timeline in which the entire crew lived lives in which they were never stranded far from home, then that would count. But it's still up for debate.
  • March 28, 2012
    Koveras
    • There were a few episodes in The X Files, where Agent Mulder lost faith in the supernatural and the extraterrestrial and Agent Scully had to play the believer until Mulder stopped angsting.
  • March 28, 2012
    WackyMeetsPractical
    ^ Role reversal may be a special exception. The series premise may rely on Mulder being the believer and Scully being the sceptic, but as long as there are characters still fulfilling the roles, can the premise be said to be defied?
  • March 31, 2012
    MetaFour
    • Mystery Science Theater 3000's central premise involved an everyman (initially Joel, later Mike) trapped in the Satellite Of Love with homemade robot companions, and all of them being forced by mad scientists (initially Dr. Clayton Forrester and TV's Frank, later Pearl Forrester) to watch bad movies. This premise was inverted in several episodes:
      • In Last of the Wild Horses, the entire universe shifts into a Mirror Universe where Mike and Crow are the villains forcing Dr. Forrester and Frank to watch bad movies.
      • In Time Chasers, Crow goes back in time to Set Right What Once Went Wrong and prevents Mike from ever getting trapped on the Satellite Of Love. He returns to the present to find that Mike's place has been filled by Mike's surly, drunk brother, Eddie. We get to see how different the SOL would be with Eddie running the show before Crow goes back in time again to stop himself from changing the past.
      • In Quest of the Delta Knight, Pearl Forrester worries that the experiments aren't causing Mike enough pain, so she and Mike switch places for the first half of the episode. Pearl gets along with Crow and Tom Servo remarkably well, as do Mike and Pearl's minions.
  • March 31, 2012
    fulltimeD
    A different episode of Smallville had Clark hallucinate another life as a mentally disturbed human patient in a mental asylum who was convinced that he was an alien with superpowers.
  • March 31, 2012
    fulltimeD
    First Wave had several of these, where the alien invasion supposedly wasn't real, but these were usually Lotus Eater Machines of some kind or another. An early episode, "Second Wave," also counts, because the Gua invaders fake the "Second Wave" to see how the humans react.
  • March 31, 2012
    Alvin
    ^^^^^ This may be irrelevant, but in The X-files, if a case revolved around more straightforward beliefs, especially Catholicism, Scully could be more a believer and Mulder a skeptic. I think this was especially true in episode 3.11, "Revelations" Dec. 15, 1995.
  • April 8, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Would the episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine where Sisko has a mental breakdown and imagines himself as a struggling black science fiction writer in the racist 1950's count? In it, the "Benny Russel" character Sisko becomes writes stories about a space station in the future called Deep Space 9, and eventually begins to confuse reality with his fictional world.

    Also, Farscape had several episodes where various aliens tried to convince John that he had returned home, or that he had in fact never left (the premise of the show being that John is lost in space). Of course, these both turned out to be Lotus Eater Machines.
  • April 9, 2012
    WackyMeetsPractical
    ^ The Star Trek episode sounds like a straight Something Completely Different episode. Farscape may count, though I don't know the show nor do I know it's premise.

    The best way I can think to describe it, is if you can describe the premise of the episode, then insert a NOT in there, and then make an episode about, then that episode counts as this trope.

    Perhaps we could avoid confusion in the examples if we require examples to be listed in a Premise/Anti Premise format. for example:

    Smallville: "Clark Kent, alien from Krypton, fights crime while masquerading as a normal human"/"Clark Kent reveals his identity to the world, thus NOT maintaining his masquerade."
  • April 10, 2012
    fulltimeD
    The premise of Farscape is that John is a modern day Earth astronaut who winds up Lost In Space through a wormhole, and basically spends four years becoming a feared terrorist and criminal in an alien part of the galaxy, while trying to find a way home. But You Cant Go Home Again.
  • April 10, 2012
    fulltimeD
    ^ re: DS 9- I was thinking it counted because the premise of the episode was that the show we'd been watching for 5 years was actually fiction.
  • April 10, 2012
    WackyMeetsPractical
    ^ I'm not too sure. It'll work if you define the premise of the series as "All these events are real", but I have a feeling that your example might be a different trope entirely. I have seen several episodes of the "show you've been watching turns out to be fictional" variety.

    After some searching, I believe that trope is Real World Episode. Your Deep Space Nine example is already there.
  • April 10, 2012
    Ryusui
    Might I suggest Premise Breaker Episode?
  • April 10, 2012
    uncannybeetle
    For Star Trek the Next Generation episode Yesterday's Enterprise fits. The Enterprsie is a ship of peace and exploration with many families and children, but in this alternate timeline it is a ship of war meant for killing Klingons. The timeline resets at the end, with repercussions in the form of Tasha Yar's half Romulan daughter.
  • April 10, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    I like the idea that examples should be listed "the show is about this"/"this premise undoes it completely" e.g.

    The premise of Friends is that viewers enjoy the jokes of the titular group and are invested in the development of those characters/The What If episode breaks this by having the characters meet after years of estrangement, with entirely different backstories and goals.

    Possibly the final Harry Potter book, depending on what you think the series is, at it's core. Most people describe it as a series of books about a boy attending a school for wizards, solving mysteries and defending the school from evil. In the final book, Hogwarts itself barely plays a part and the main characters drop out (as opposed to maintaining the balance between fighting evil and getting good marks). Then again, that book is still about fighting Voldemort, and you could argue that that struggle is actually the backbone of the series.
  • August 2, 2013
    MorganWick
    Bumping this to see if we can get it launched.
  • August 2, 2013
    69BookWorM69
    Very good trope. One word usage quibble: "insuring" in the first paragraph should be "ensuring". The i-word involves financial security (car insurance, life insurance, etc.). The e-word means to take steps to bring about events. (By the way, assuring is something one does with people; sometimes in requires extra effort, hence reassuring.)
  • August 2, 2013
    Snicka
    The Doctor Who episode Turn Left. What if Donna never met the Doctor?
  • August 2, 2013
    reub2000
    • Bones is normally about identifying and investigating decomposed corpses. The episode "The Signs In The Silence" involve Dr. Brennan trying to identify a living and uncooperative deaf-mute teenager.
  • August 2, 2013
    DAN004
    This can be a part of a Very Special Episode.

    BTW I'd love how it gets 5 hats quickly, but I still think this needs more examples. Thinking of removing one...
  • August 2, 2013
    Koveras
  • August 2, 2013
    Noah1
    This may cross over with Broken Aesop or Forgotten Aesop, if An Aesop is part of the show's premise.
  • August 2, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    • "The Doctor Who episode Turn Left. What if Donna never met the Doctor?"
    That was the least of it. Turn Left was basically about what if the Doctor did not survive his encounter with the Evil Alien of the week. Answer: first Earth, then the whole universe, goes to Heck.

  • October 8, 2014
    Noah1
  • October 8, 2014
    justanotherrandomlurker
    We actually have a YKTTW on this? Because I think I asked about it recently, but was told that it was already covered by And Now For Something Completely Different.
  • October 8, 2014
    PacificGreen
    @randomlurker Keep in mind that this YKTTW IS from 2012. That said, it's just been recently bumped...
  • October 8, 2014
    DAN004
    Discard plz.
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