Created By: castaghast on September 30, 2009
Troped

The Call Has Bad Reception

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Launches in 48 hours if there are no objections

This happens when a hero receives the call, but for one reason or another, they don't quite get the instructions or mission straight. This results in all kinds of mishaps where the hero tries to do right by whoever sent them on this mission, but fail because they don't know how to use their power, or worse yet, don't know what to do.


Examples

  • The Greatest American Hero is a well known example of this. Ralph Hinkley tries to use the suit the aliens gave him to do good, but because he doesn't know how to use it, and the aliens are less than patient with him, he winds up being less than effective at his task of saving the world.

  • In Army of Darkness, this happens to Ash, though this is largely his own fault: when told the magical words to speak to prevent an apocalypse, Ash ignores the wizard telling him. When the time comes to speak the words, he doesn't remember what to say, and winds up causing the apocalypse.

  • In some versions of Green Lantern, the recipient of the ring gets it with little to no instruction, only to be told "you'll know what to do when it's time." Most notably Justice League: New Frontier.
Community Feedback Replies: 21
  • September 26, 2009
    Iron Salticus
    • In The Matrix, the call has excellent reception - until Neo drops the phone off of a building. This, combined with how dangerous the last instruction it gave him was, leads him to be captured by the Agents.
    • By Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Harry has already Jumped At The Call repeatedly - but Dumbledore's last instructions to him are less than clear, making it very difficult to accomplish his mission.
    • This is the basis of the plot of the Christopher Nolan film Memento. Having accepted The Call from himself to find his wife's killer, Leonard's anterograde amnesia and Notes To Self lead to all sorts of problems - some accidental due to his memory problems, but some deliberate due to his Memory Gambit.
  • September 26, 2009
    Ryusui
  • September 27, 2009
    kyzzi
    Partyline Call? Might be a bit too dated. Solar Flare Call?
  • September 27, 2009
    DragonQuestZ
    This isn't about the call to adventure. It's more related to mentoring the hero.

    Hero Needs A Tutorial might fit better.
  • September 27, 2009
    Elle
  • September 27, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    In the Stephanie Plum novel Seven Up, Eddie De Chooch is told by a mob boss that he wants his enemy's head - metaphorically, of course. Unfortunately, Eddie mis-hears it as "heart", and literally cuts the heart out of the corpse and mails it to the mob boss.
  • September 27, 2009
    Thinks Too Much
    I like the title, since it's about the hero misunderstanding the mission. Lost The Call and Dropped The Call are misleading, I think - I like the original title.

    Sounds like it would often lead to Nice Job Breaking It Hero when he discovers what the mission really was, but not necessarily.
  • September 27, 2009
    random surfer
    A point about the Greatest American Hero example - the suit came with an instruction book but Mr. Hinckley Haney lost it before he even realized what it was.
  • September 27, 2009
    Nate the Great
    Does Gizmo Duck almost immediately losing his instruction manual on Duck Tales count?
  • September 28, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Happens literally in [[Literature/Monster Monster]]. Judy is the Chosen One destined to save the universe, but her reception with the universe is rather crappy, leading to the universe consistently screwing up her life.
  • September 28, 2009
    castaghast
    Four more examples: in the movie White Noise, Michael Keaton's character is able to make contact with his dead wife, who he thinks is telling him about future tragedies in order to stop them. This belief is strengthened by the fact that she says things like "go now" and "leave now" after hearing and seeing future tragedies. In this one, the Call literally has bad reception, as it turns out that the wife is saying to go away from her now, and to leave her where she is, as the husband's interference in the nether realm has allowed malevolent spirits to track him down and target him.

    Also happens in Quantum Leap. Actually, the entire series is about the Call's bad reception: small hints are continuously placed that Sam might be doing something more than randomly hopping from life to life, but nothing really comes of it until the last episode, where either God or an agent of God literally comes up to Sam, tells him what is really going on, and recruits him to do his work.

    Knowing: the aliens send messages regarding future disasters to earth, supposedly in order to prepare them. However if the first recipient in the movie is any indication, nobody really understood the message in and of themselves, and the people who got it just went crazy.

    9: Happens with the soul talisman, rather than putting the necessary knowledge in their heads, or even writing it on a piece of paper, the inventor leaves cryptic clues on what needs to be done to stop the brain with 6, the talisman to stop the brain on the floor besides 9 when he awakes, the and the instructions on what to do in a locked box, which doesn't get found until the end of the movie.

    Also, I guess I see the complaints about the "losing the instruction manual example." In it's purest form, this YKTTW is about incidents where the call is so vague, garbled, or poorly formatted that the hero screws up when they otherwise might not have. However, I'm on the fence myself about incidents where the instruction manual is lost. On the one hand, that technically is the hero screwing up. On the other hand, I would think that anyone recruiting someone for a mission should be aware of the limitations of who they're hiring, and if they have the technology to make grandiose appearances, they have the technology to handcuff the instruction booklet to the hero's arm if necessary. But I dunno, I'll take it out if that's the consensus.
  • September 28, 2009
    random surfer
    If you're referring to me, my statement wasn't meant to be a complaint, just a clarification. The Fridge Logic being "But why wouldn't the aliens tell him how the suit works?" They did (or tried to), but he lost the book so he has to figure it out as he goes along. (Or in the case of flying, have a Genre Savvy 8-year-old tell him how to take off.)
  • September 29, 2009
    castaghast
    OK, point taken.

    One more: Transformers: The Movie '86. The Matrix is to be used by the Chosen One to light the Autobots' darkest hour. Problem is, no one knows who the chosen one is, and they just assume that it is whoever the leader of the Autobots happens to be at the time. They also don't know exactly when their darkest hour will be, which isn't helped by the fact that in this movie the Autobots have the worst day they've ever had, with about 3 or 4 scenes getting progressively worse. This results in both Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus getting killed attempting to use the Matrix. Eventually it is revealed that Hot Rod is the one to open the Matrix, and their darkest hour is when Unicron tries to destroy Cybertron.
  • September 29, 2009
    Hertzyscowicz
    War God: Tomanak doesn't like to lead his champions by the hand, so he generally nudges them toward where he wants them. Also, in the beginning Bahzell has only a vague notion that he's supposed to be heading west, and turns east when he realizes he's getting the call.
  • September 29, 2009
    castaghast
    Launches in 48 hours if there are no objections

    To clean this up, here are the proposed guidelines for The Call Has Bad Reception:

    1) There actually has to be a call to adventure involved. The Dial Tone (someone imagining the call, if that isn't made into a trope) doesn't count.

    2) The call has to have good intent, and cannot lie to the hero. There are some tropes that involve the hero being lied to in order to get the hero to do bad things.

    3) An Idiot Hero cannot be involved. This is the biggest part of this YKTTW: the issue here is that the problem is the fault of the instruction giver, not the hero. If the hero or protagonist is of the sort that, if they knew exactly what they had to do, they would still screw it up (Excel, Greatest American Hero, Mr. Bean), then it doesn't count.

    4) Quantum Wave Function Calls do not count. This is when the person sending the hero on the mission purposely tells the hero half the story, because the very act of telling them the whole story would immediately doom the hero to failure (Gandalf in LOTR, the Oracle in the Matrix, Zedd in The Sword of Truth series).

    Any objections?
  • September 30, 2009
    STUART
    I think you should go with Dropped Call for the name.
  • September 30, 2009
    askyle
    What about Actual Broken Telephone? The Call Has Bad Reception sounds more like the fib one would use for hanging up on someone without coming out as rude (by the way, do we have that one?).
  • September 30, 2009
    random surfer
    Personal opinion: I don't think Greatest American Hero counts as an Idiot Hero.
  • October 1, 2009
    Arivne
    @askyle: we have that one as Tunnel Of Avoidance.
  • October 1, 2009
    Ryusui
    1. Actual Broken Telephone? Are you serious? The tropes refer to The Call, not "The Telephone".

    2. Optimus Prime never used the Matrix.

    3. Ralph Hinkley is most definitely not an Idiot Hero. He doesn't know how to use the suit and chafes at the fact that he has to use it, but he uses what he does know about the suit well enough to be effective (even if he can't land worth a damn).
  • October 1, 2009
    Cat22
    I like The Call Got Dropped. Implies the hero didn't refuse, miss or listen to the call first to see if he wanted it. Agreeing with Ryusui here that the title needs to refer to the The Call somehow, not telephones.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=rh55x8pbt6iapnwfq6szkbnu