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Crapsack World: Live-Action TV

  • A lot of police procedurals take place in such a world. In the grittier dramas, every character is damaged or morally-compromised to one degree or another. Every prosecution is an uphill battle hampered by city politics, well-meaning civil rights crusaders, legal loopholes, or simple incompetence. And success is a mere drop in the bucket: there's always going to be another crime to solve, another murderer to catch. At best, our protagonists are jaded and/or burned out from seeing the worst of humanity day-in and day-out. At worst, they are one failed case away from turning Knight Templar.
  • The Adventures of Superboy: In the episode "Roads Not Taken, Part 2", the titular character visits an Earth on an alternate timeline, ruled by a dictator known as the Sovereign, who is his duplicate in that timeline.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined): The 2000s series. The human race is made up largely of flawed, amoral, and evil people who barely deserve to continue existing as a species, every victory the fleet wins comes at great cost, and even the completion of their quest to find Earth nets them nothing but the lifeless, irradiated ruins of a dead civilization.
  • Blackadder: Even though it's hard to tell. The first series starts off with him accidentally lopping off his uncle's head (said uncle absolutely despised him despite not knowing him at all), and throughout the series Blackadder just keeps sliding further down the social food chain, despite all of this being Played for Laughs.
  • Blake's 7: If they're nice/happy, they stop being nice/happy or they die. If they're not, they get worse or they die. If they get worse, they die. If they don't die, run.
  • Breaking Bad: Albuquerque has a few decent neighborhoods, but otherwise appears to be dirty streets frothing at the mouth with a meth problem.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The episode "The Wish" where Cordelia gets transported to an alternate universe where Buffy never came to Sunnydale. The normal Sunnydale is no picnic either, but it was preferable to this.
    • There's also a 'Buffy' novel that has an even more disturbing Wish-type world. Instead of The Master being the vampire king, Giles is the vampire lord of Sunnydale.
    • The final season of Angel really began to delve into this following Fred's death. Illyria wondered if there was anything good in the world, and all Wesley could offer her was "hope".
      • And season 4 had Jasmine, a benevolent Eldritch Abomination who made the world a better place at the cost of free will. Wolfram & Hart were so grateful to Team Angel for getting rid of her that they made them the new head of their LA branch.
  • Carnivŗle: Truth in Television based on being set in the dust bowl during the Great Depression.
  • Charmed: Set in a world where you are born with no power and an easy victim to demons and warlocks, with good powers but too weak to do much and now a target of said demons and warlocks, with bad powers where you have no choice to be good and live in a darwinist underworld, or are the Charmed Ones who are powerful but targeted by virtually all the forces of evil until you either die or kill enough powerful demons that they decide to bide their time and wait to try and kill the next generation.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm: Nearly every character, recurring or one-time, is a miserable jerkass.
  • Dark Angel: It is set in the crapsack world of the US Pacific Northwest after an EMP takes out a lot of the infrastructure for the USA (and presumably elsewhere). The series is set in a chaotic world where thugs and criminals are in control and so on. Paragraph 2 of the definition of this trope is a perfect description of the Dark Angel setting.
  • Dead Set: A world where the only thing to watch is Big Brother.
  • Defiance: After a devastating conflict with alien refugees and a terraforming mishap, the Earth is forever changed. The atmosphere is saturated with electromagnetic radiation, making long-range communications impossible and air travel prohibitively hazardous. Freak weather patterns and uncontrolled terraforming have led to huge swaths of uninhabitable territory. Dozens of abandoned and/or destroyed arkships form a belt of debris around the planet that constantly threatens to fall out of orbit, in the form of either "Razor Rain," where jagged bits crash through the atmosphere at terminal velocity and shred anything in their path, or "Arkfall," where a whole ship crashes to Earth. Most large animals have either gone extinct or mutated into new hybrid forms. Predatory insects the size of tanks roam the wilderness, and they're not even the worst things out there. Most major cities were completely erased by the terraforming process, and the few left are the seats of power for the fascistic, opportunistic Earth Republic. The other major superpower, the Votanis Collective, isn't much better, as it is politically dominated by the arrogant, warlike Castithans. The only independent nations are small municipalities like Defiance, and those are only able to maintain their independence if they have control over a resource that everyone needs (in Defiance's case, the mineral Gulanite) and taking it by force would be too much of a diplomatic headache. There's so much unclaimed wasteland and abandoned technology that Disaster Scavenging - aka "Arkhunting" - is a viable career choice, and Arkhunters routinely betray and/or kill each other to get ahead. Earth is basically a dying rock full of ruins, monsters, and xenophobia, and no one can ever leave.
  • Doctor Who: The universe has some individual-story settings that qualify as full-blown Crapsack Worlds. Particularly glaring examples include Thal-Kaled War-era Skaro in "Genesis of the Daleks", Varos in "Vengeance on Varos", and Androzani in "The Caves of Androzani".
  • Dollhouse: It is yet another Whedon example. Even before the mind-control technology apocalypse, apparently the great big amoral slavery corporation was to some degree controlling the government. And then there's the whole dystopian burned-out planet afterwards with technology lying around that can randomly wipe or reprogram your brain anywhere at any time.
  • Farscape universe: a weird and astoundingly corrupt place, where the most civilized areas are dominated by one of the two warring empires: the Peacekeepers, Human Alien Private Military Contractors with a habit of conquering their own clients, a strong bias against any relationship stronger than friendship (with or without benefits), and an awful lot of xenophobia; or the Scarrans, a race of warlike Reptilians with a foreign policy even worse than the Peacekeepers, a vested interest in ruling the galaxy, and a habit of exterminating species they believe to be inferior and without use. The area between them is frequented by fugitives, pirates, mercenaries, con artists, mystics, con artists pretending to be mystics, assassins, terrorists, gangsters, mad scientists, evil sorcerers, unscrupulous sects of psychic monks, hordes of ravenous alien monsters, Godlike Aliens with attitude problems, actual gods with even worse attitudes, interdimensional entities with a decidedly Blue and Orange Morality, and an awful lot of contenders for the role of the next Evil Empire. There are very few episodes in the entire series where anyone gets a straightforward happy ending, and even less that end with the locals being any better off; when it comes time for the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans to finally make peace, the hero has to threaten the entire universe with a doomsday device- and actually set it off- before they even consider agreeing to a treaty. Oh, and while Earth might have stayed out of the conflict, humanity turns out to be no better than any other race in the galaxy, to the hero's despair.
  • Firefly: The Whedonverse extends this further in this show. The largest power is effectively space Nazis that have shown that the richest get the best, slavery still exists, many free worlds are hideously backwards, all the main heroes have a criminal past (one of which was due to a brother saving his sister from Mind Rape that made her Ax-Crazy). Oh, and lest we forget the Reavers...
    • Word of God claims that the Alliance do as much good as they do harm. They genuinely want to help people even if they do go about it in completely the wrong way at times.
    • This is apparently Jayne's opinion of things; at one point he calls it a "crap-heel 'verse".
  • The Flash: Barry Allen in the 1990s show was accidentally thrust 10 years into a future where Central City has been taken over by his brother's killer, Nicholas Pike, and where an underground group of citizens were waiting for the Flash to return in order to set things right.
  • Fringe: Sure, the parallel universe has more advanced technology than ours, but their universe is literally falling apart. To the point where the agents of the Fringe Division over there are more or less unbothered by the prospect of dying horrifically on any given day, since their job demands that some lives must be sacrificed for the greater good.
    • The prime universe becomes this when the Observers take over.
  • Glee: Welcome to the world of GLEE; where everyone has something sucky and traumatic happen to them at least once a season.
  • Hercules The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess: Despite being staunchly idealistic, the world of these shows is inhabited by warlords, bandits, mythological monsters and apathetic gods. Other lands like China and India are no better. Even Heaven is rocked by never-ending conflict.
  • Heroes: They have one of these almost every season.
  • Hill Street Blues: This is another example.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: It may always be physically sunny in Philadelphia, but definitely not in the metaphorical sense.
    • Played with in one episode where the "heroes" are tearfully united with their real father — a kindly, warm-hearted, selfless individual who is pretty much their complete opposite. After only a short period of time in their company the father is so horrified he ends up kicking them out.
  • League Of Gentlemen: Royston Vasey. There are incestuous serial killers, a ringmaster who kidnaps women, a butcher who sells highly illegal and hideously immoral drugs, an OCD couple who practically worships toads, a pedophile German exchange student councilor and a psychotic lesbian job restart officer who bullies and insults her "dole scum". And that's just 7 characters.
  • Lexx: One of the biggest examples of a Crapsack universe in science fiction. The main characters are horny, greedy cowards who fly a spaceship that eats inhabited planets for food. The one who isn't horny, greedy, or a coward is undead. One of the crew is a humanoid Man-Eating Plant who routinely eats people and openly warns that she'll eat her crewmates if ever there isn't anyone else to eat. Another member of the crew has been genetically imprinted with DNA from a monstrous alien carnivore, which leads to her doing things like going into a heat-state, during which she blacks out and eats people, including an entire theater's audience, culminating only when she mates with and consumes a Body Double of her love interest. At the end of every season, things have gone from bad to worse. Of note: in Season 2, the crew cripple a being named Mantrid, unwittingly setting up his meteoric ascension to Big Bad (and powerful galactic force). By the end of the season, the crew stops Mantrid, but lose several allies (including a plant-like creature and a young boy who helped them) and have unwittingly destroyed an entire universe, not to mention that they've run out of gas and have to go into hibernation for years. By the end of Season 3, they've blown up two planets full of people (one "good" and one "evil" planet, but not all of the people on either planet thought the same way) in order to get enough food for the Lexx to survive.
    • That, in turn, drives the plot of the next season, where the Lexx finds Earth. The crew wants to get the Lexx more food, but they end up doing more harm than good. Several innocent people are killed, one crew member sacrifices himself to stop a destructive invasion of killer carrot aliens, at least three whole cities are annihilated off the face of the planet by the starship (and that's before Earth is blown up), and the Lexx eventually dies of old age. The only redeeming point is that the last two surviving crew members get to travel the stars in a spiffy new mini-Lexx. Keep in mind that the whole series is intended as Black Comedy.
  • Malcolm in the Middle: The Central Theme of the show is "Life is unfair". The implication being that the real world is this, and its crapsack-ness is examined in the show's fictional universe with only some exaggerations. Really, what kind of a world punishes its brightest and most capable children with ostracism and vitriol so severe they wish they were normal?
  • Married... with Children.
  • Max Headroom: The quintessential Cyber Punk Dystopia. The destitute poor are the largest percentage of the population, mostly living in shantytowns where violent crime and drug abuse are rampant; and the only escape from the misery of it all is watching communal televisions, where all the programming is mindless fantasy and violent bloodsports. The middle class has shrunk, spends most of its time either working soul-destroying jobs, or glued to their televisions, where all the programming is mindless fantasy and violent bloodsports. The upper class is comfortable, but spends most of their time engaged in political scheming (up to and including assassination) and fighting to maintain their social status, when they're not glued to their televisions watching mindless fantasy and violent bloodsports. And if that's not bad enough, the advertisements on television can literally make your head explode.
  • Once Upon a Time: Storybrooke. (The Enchanted Forest is more a World Half Full) In season 1, the fairy tale characters are all trapped in Storybrooke, Maine. They have no memories of their own life, and are being ruled by the Evil Queen, Regina, who is the mayor, and there are no happy endings. Everyone is struggling and no one can leave. However, thanks to The Messiah, slowly the happy endings start coming back, culminating in the curse breaking, and everyone regaining their original identity. However, in subsequent seasons, the city is continuously plagued by villains, and although you can leave, you lose your fairy tale memories. Storybrooke was almost destroyed 3 times in 2 seasons already, but it's marginally better now because everyone acts like a community now, and can defend their town thanks to the Charming Family.
  • One Foot in the Grave: Set in a Purgatory-like British suburbia in which everything always goes wrong and/or is generally unpleasant, and one stuffed to the brim with muggers, burglars, con-men, lunatics and antisocial louts, none of whom ever once get punished or even caught. Practically everyone the Meldrews ever interact with semi-regularly either despises them or is incredibly irritating. The series' overarching message, if it has one, seems to be "Life is cruel, utterly meaningless and basically horrible".
  • Red Dwarf is set in an empty, vast, meaningless universe. Humanity has gone extinct, and the only things left behind are insane mechanoids and genetically engineered horrors, ranging from distorted mutants to sapient, merciless and highly lethal diseases. The only person seemingly left in existence is David Lister, a British low-classer with especially revolting personal tastesnote , who drifts aimlessly through the void with a neurotic cleaning droid, a senile artificial intelligence, a super-egotistical and mega-shallow lifeform that evolved from the common housecat, and the hologram-"ghost" of the most petty, small-minded and all-around irritating people he knew. Who is also his best friend.
  • Revolution: The post-blackout world of the show. Especially the Monroe Republic, judging from the fact that the Plains Nation people go in for very colorful clothing and arts and crafts, while the Georgia Federation's technological lead is clearly farther advanced and can provide a high enough standard of living that even relatively ordinary people can dress like only the wealthiest people of the Monroe Republic can. It gets even worse, if possible, when the Patriots wreck the Monroe Republic and Georgia Federation, forcing thousands of people into refugee camps.
  • Sliders: Being a TV series about people traveling across parallel versions of Earth, it has so many examples, starting with the Ice Age world in the pilot episode.
  • Smallville: Earth-2 is an Alternate Universe where Clark was found and raised by Lionel Luthor. Lionel uses Clark's abilities to basically take over the world. No one is safe, even- or especially- Lionel's children, particularly the two that don't have godlike powers.
  • Sons of Anarchy: Charming where the most positive characters are a Type IV Anti-Hero (or is Jax an Anti-Villain? Hard to tell.) and a Knight in Sour Armor.
  • Stargate SG-1: The entire Milky Way Galaxy as depicted is like this. As depicted in the series, the galaxy's population is primarily enslaved humanity duped into worshiping a bunch of evil aliens who get a kick out of posing as gods (never nice benevolent Judeo-Christian Jehovah God who never ever shows up yet Satan does, more like "Kneel Before Zod" gods), taking over the bodies of unwilling people, and ruling their planetary systems through a mode of governing best described as Unapologetic Dog Kicking (i.e. one System Lord basically nuked an entire populated star system rather than let it fall to another). In fact, part of the reason these evil aliens so despise Earth, is because it is one of the precious few relatively happy and free worlds in the galaxy. On top of this, when the evil aliens are defeated they are ALWAYS replaced by even more Ax-Crazy foes (i.e. crazy religious fundamentalists with indestructible apostles and ships, robots bent on consuming whole planets, etc.) And if that's not good enough, the one powerful good race that WANTS to help is locked in a war for survival against said robots and the best they can do is bluff the parasitical aliens into leaving a few worlds alone.
    • Stargate Atlantis: The Pegasus Galaxy isn't much better. It used to be a pretty nice place a long time ago under the stewardship of the Ancients. Then they unwittingly create a fast-breeding, vampiric race of pseudo-humanoids with bio-ships who defeat the Ancients despite their vastly superior technology and then start feeding on the galaxy's humans, periodically waking up from slumber to "harvest" the galaxy. Additionally, not all Wraith are asleep. Some keep watch and wipe out any civilization that even hints at possibly being threatening to them. The ascended Ancients aren't going to help. The only consolation is the Wraith fighting among themselves, as they were woken up ahead of schedule, and there isn't enough "food" for them to go around. The three times the humans from Earth encounter civilizations advanced enough to be their allies against the Wraith, they end up as new enemies. These include crazy humanoids composed of nanites (similar to the Replicators) who, when finally turned against the Wraith, choose to wipe out their "food" (i.e. all humans) instead. The Genii are a militaristic underground culture with 50s technology and a beef against Earth humans. The Vanir turn out to be a renegade faction of the benevolent Asgard, who view humans as expendable and are perfectly willing to destroy every single stargate in an Earth-Shattering Kaboom to keep safe from the Wraith.
  • Supernatural: This world plain sucks, and hard. While you're alive, you're random victim fodder for all the monsters you've ever heard of (from urban legends to mythological beasts), and some you haven't... yet. The afterlife is a bitch where you are endlessly tortured in the Bloody Bowels of Hell as time passes according to Year Inside, Hour Outside logic, unless you decide to turn in to a demon yourself. Heaven isn't much better, it's the Matrix ruled by a Council of Angels who have severe Parental Issues by way of Have You Seen My God?. And for a third option, you can stay and become a ghost until you go crazy from loneliness and turn in to a poltergeist. Did I also mention it's The End of the World as We Know It?
    • According to the vision showed to Dean by Zachariah, in five years time it's going to be even worse, as Dean is a homicidal, Jerk Ass soldier, Sam is possessed by Lucifer, and the only angel to give a damn about the human race is a hippie stoner/love guru who uses drink, drugs and orgies to cover up his new Nietzsche Wannabe attitude. Life sucks in 'The End'. By season five's ending, however Sam has managed to seal both Michael and Lucifer in Hell.
    • Demons, monsters and angels don't have it much if any better. If your a demon your condemned to Hell to suffer unless you escape to Earth where you will likely be killed by a hunter or an angel. If your a monster, you have to constantly keep a low profile and an eye over your shoulder for hunters who will kill you for no other reason then being a monster. Sooner or later you will give into your violent instincts whether you want to or not. And when you die you go to Purgatory, which is considered one step above Hell, where you have to fight other monsters constantly only to be die and reborn elsewhere for all eternity. If your an angel, you had it good tell the higher ups failed to bring about the Apocalypse resulting in massive civil wars and every angel forcibly expelled from heaven.
  • Survivors: The majority of the world population is wiped out by the machinations of a evil corporation.
  • Terra Nova: The Earth of 2149 has so much environmental damage that the sky is an acrid yellow with smog and pollution, the atmosphere can no longer be breathed, and overpopulation is so severe that having more than two children is an arrestable offence.
  • Titus: Where the only really helpful advice for getting through life is "Stop being a wussy".
  • The Twilight Zone: Several episodes take place in worlds like this. Examples include "It's a Good Life", where one all-powerful boy controls everyone, "Eye of the Beholder" where everyone who is ugly is ghettoized, "Number Nine Looks Just Like You", where everyone has to get surgery to look like one of a limited number of models, and "The Obsolete Man", where religion is outlawed and you are terminated if declared "obsolete".
  • Veronica Mars: It begins with the titular heroine's best friend being brutally murdered. When Veronica's dad, the town sheriff, goes after the wrong man, he loses his job, his wife abandons him, and his daughter becomes a social outcast. Then she gets drugged and raped at a party, and when she tries to report it, the new sheriff accuses her of making it up and laughs in her face. Again, all of this happens in flashback before the first episode's plot begins. Things only go downhill from there.
  • The Walking Dead: This is to be expected, considering the world has fallen victim to a Zombie Apocalypse. The show is relentlessly grim, the kids among the survivors aren't even safe from horrible deaths.
  • Waterloo Road: The review describing this show as being set in a town resembling a cross between Dante's Inferno and Baghdad was uncannily accurate. In the opinion of this editor who grew up in the same town, this only proves that the show's creators did indeed do their homework.
  • Weeds: It's somewhat easier to root for the Villain Protagonist when all the forces of law and order are corrupt hypocrites, and all of the other characters are in it up to their necks.
  • The Wire: This is an example of the World Half Empty done right, especially in the fourth season (which focuses on four inner-city schoolchildren, only one of whom manages to escape into a decent life). But even "done right" it can be enough to overwhelm people.
    • The sad thing is that everyone who knows the Real Life situations they show says it is all what it is really like.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place: The wizarding world. For utterly arbitrary reasons (seriously, we've never been actually told why) there can only be one wizard per family. Children grow up with powers and train for the wizard competition in which they will battle their siblings(s). One wins, the others lose their powers forever. We've seen at least one planned uprising by a large group of thwarted siblings, and one can assume that the earlier generation of the Russo's isn't the first - or the last - wizarding family to be torn apart by asinine rules.
    • Furthermore, the wizard world is full of Fantastic Racism and any wizard who wants to marry a non-wizard has to give up their powers.
  • The Young Ones: Granted, Thatcherís Britain was pretty crapsack in Real Life, but not nearly as surreal and comedic. EVERYONE in this universe is at best an abject moron, and at worst also an abject bastard. The employment classifieds of the newspaper are always completely blank. All of the policemen are miserably thick, some of them to the point that they donít even demonstrate normal human thought processes. Army sieges, avoidable plane crashes, and full-blown street riots — in residential areas, no less — are everyday occurrences. Oh, and a half-psychotic young man with a lengthy history of violence and destruction is not only allowed to walk the streets, but is enrolled in a pre-med program. Yikes. Just yikes.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode the "Quickening" showed a planet the Jem'Hadar decided to make an example of. Not only was the place blasted into the Stone Age, but the people of the planet were given a genetic disease called the Blight. All are born with it-anyone who does not take their own lives first dies of it. One man, being treated well because the Blight was in its final stages, said that he was glad to have bathed and slept in a bed for the first time in his LIFE.
  • Low Winter Sun begins with two policemen brutally murdering a colleague-one for revenge, the other to cover his own ass from an impending Internal Affairs investigation. This is set against the hellish wastelands of modern Detroit, rife with corruption and drug trafficking.
  • Salem: Salem is not a nice place by any means.

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