In season 5 episode 2 of Dexter, Astor says "it got worse" to discuss what happened in her life since the title character joined their family.
Most of season 2 involves this trope. The entire season essentially revolves around the department trying to find a serial killer who is branded as the "Bay Harbor Butcher". Dexter realizes that the victims of the Bay Harbor Butcher are all his, Doakes starts to suspect Dexter is hiding something, and he ends up trailing Dexter. And later he finds Dexter's trophies. Which leads to Lundy finding Dexter's trophies in Doakes' car, painting Doakes as the Butcher. Dexter captures Doakes and realizes he doesn't fit the code, leading to Dexter trying to frame Doakes. It all goes downhill from there.
In a Season 4 episode of Battlestar Galactica (2003), recurring character Cally is on the edge of a nervous breakdown due to stress, mixing medications, and the fact that her husband appears to be having an affair. Then, she learns that her husband is actually a Cylon, which provokes her to take her infant son to an airlock, with plans to kill them both. She's talked out of it by the very woman she suspects her husband of cheating on her with (also a Cylon), but then after Cally has handed the woman her child, she knocks Cally out. She regains consciousness in the same airlock, in time to see the woman on the other side of a glass barrier, still holding the kid. The woman then kills Cally by launching her into space.
And it gets even worse in "Sometimes A Great Notion", where Earth's revealed to be a desolate wasteland that was inhabited by an 21st-century-like society of humanoid Cylons who who had given up Resurrection tech to procreate like humans. Because of that, half the cast became borderline suicidal, a quarter of the cast lost all hope, and the rest became paranoid and started reliving past lives.
In a Season 2 double episode, "Surprise" and "Innocence", the premise is that Spike and Drusilla have resurrected an unkillable demon called "The Judge", who can burn a whole crowd of people with a gesture. But, luckily, we have Angel on our side...then, Angel loses his soul and goes to join the baddies. Oh, Crap!.
A girl is walking home with a werewolf on the loose in Sunnydale. It's a creepy night and she hears someone behind her. She's scared but runs into a nice guy named Angel who offers to walk her home... oh wait he's the ruthless soulless Angelus now.
Also, the two-part season 2 finale, "Becoming", where Buffy's life is basically ripped to pieces. First, Angelus gets his hands on Acathla, a demon that will suck the world into hell if awakened. Except that he can't get the ceremony to work. Looks like a good thing, until he decides that the easiest way to get information would be to "ask" Giles. So he sends some vampires to attack the Scoobies in the library, while he's lured Buffy away. The soul restoration curse is interrupted, Giles is kidnapped, and in the process Xander is knocked unconscious, Willow is put in a coma, and Kendra is killed. Buffy arrives after the police, and ends up a murder suspect. Willow still hasn't woken up. Giles is being tortured. Then, she goes home after Spike finds her, looking to make a deal. Only Buffy's mom finds out she's a Slayer, and kicks Buffy out of the house when she doesn't have time to explain. Drusilla tricks the ritual out of Giles. A spark of hope, Willow wakes up, and is going to try the curse again. Except that Xander lied to Buffy. So when Willow restores Angel's soul, it's too late. He already woke up Acathla, and the only way to close the portal is Angel's blood. So Buffy has to send her lover to Hell, finally himself again, minutes after getting him back. With her friends and lover dead and badly injured, expelled, and kicked out of her own home, Buffy runs away. Long story short, it gets worse in so many ways.
Except that if Xander hadn't lied about what Willow said, then Buffy would have gone easy on Angelus as she had several times before, and Angelus would have won while she was dithering.
The ending of Season 6 exemplifies this. Buffy gets shot. But wait, it gets worse! Tara got shot too, and fatally! But wait, it gets worse! Willow can't bring Tara back. But wait, it gets worse! Willow's got black hair and she's totally evil now! But wait, it gets worse! She just murdered someone in cold blood! But wait, it gets worse! Giles is dying! But wait, it gets worse! She's going to blow up the world!
If you thought Buffy's life was bad before...in Season 9, vampires are beloved, Slayers are seen as the enemy, Buffy herself has a dead-end job in a cafe—she just wants to be normal despite slaying being the only thing she feels she can do—and her friends have largely shunned her.
There's also the Zompires in Season 9, which are stronger and more dangerous than regular vampires. Though nowhere as smart as the regular vampires.
After almost every Supernatural episode everyone thought that Dean was going to recover from his nervous breakdown and gain some peace and some self-worth. After venting his frustration out on his car? No. After acting like a Jerkass before telling Sam how he was feeling? Nope. After being tempted but deciding not to sell his soul to bring his father back? Nah. After letting out the traumatizing secret that's been eating him apart for a good portion of the season? Hell no. After finding out just how deeply self-loathing he is but forcing himself out in "What Is and What Should Never Be"? God no. When Sam dies in his arms, the breakdown finally culminates in selling his soul like it's a worthless piece of tat in "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part Two". Even after he makes the revelation that he doesn't deserve to die in "Dream A Little Dream Of Me", we're still reminded that it's too little, too late and he's going to Hell whether he likes it or not. And, let's face it, has anything ever got truly better on this show?
In general, this series does a great job of turning it up to eleven in strange ways. Not Darker and Edgier enough? Add demons. Still not? Add angels. Still not? Add absentee God, the Devil walking around, and the Four Horsemen. Still not as dark as you want...?
And in Season 7 it just keeps getting worse: Leviathans—monsters they can't kill—are now let loose on Earth. Their friend Cas was the one who did it, by betraying them, working with the King of Hell, and absorbing all the souls of Purgatory in a desperate attempt to end the angelic civil war. Cas also broke Sam's mental wall so he now has hallucinations of Lucifer and Hell, and Dean is barely holding it together. And now Bobby is dead.
Season eight: Sam nearly dies in an attempt to close the Gates of Hell, Abaddon—one of the most powerful demons ever seen on the show—is loose and plotting to usurp the throne of Hell, Cas's Grace is stolen, and the angels have fallen from Heaven.
Season nine: Dean tricks Sam into accepting possession in order to save his life, Cas is human—later running on borrowed Grace that's killing him—and can't be much help to the Winchesters, Charlie's disappeared to Oz, Dean takes the Mark of Cain, Dean and Sam spend most of the season after Sam learns about his possession in a drawn-out version of their fight in "When the Levee Breaks"—you know, the one that led to the Apocalypse starting—Kevin's killed on Metatron's orders by the angel possessing Sam, and Dean dies and gets turned into a demon.
Season ten: Dean took off with Crowley and has been running around as a demon while Sam crosses the Moral Event Horizon to try to find him. When Sam finds him and cures him, Dean brings up everything bad anyone in their family's ever done, pretty much, including what Sam was up to, to torture Sam. Things don't appear to be getting better anytime soon.
The Shadows have been manipulating events behind the scenes, leading to an outbreak of war between the Narn and Centauri, followed by Centauri attacks on other neighbors after the fall of the Narn. Then it gets worse when the Shadows become openly involved, using their highly advanced ships to attack most of the other races. Then, it gets even worse when, after the main character drops a nuke on the Shadow homeworld, the Vorlons whip out their Planetkiller ships, using them on any world under the Shadows' influence, regardless of population or how many people were under Shadow influence (even if it was only one person). Yes, it gets even worse; the Shadows respond with their Planetkillers, which happens to be a frickin' cloud the size of a planet which envelops worlds before nuking them to hell and back. They wipe out planets under Vorlon influence, again, without regard to population. Then it gets better. But not for Londo.
There's also the sub-arc regarding Clark and Earth. The first season ends with the assassination of the President of the Earth Alliance. Then, his V.P. slowly turns out to have been behind the assassination, as part of a plan to become a totalitarian dictator. This escalates to the point where the eponymous space station is forced to declare independence from the Earth Alliance. Then, after they defeat the Shadows, B5 becomes the lynch-pin of a Civil War against Clark, ending with a massive Earthforce vs. Earthforce battle right on Earth's doorstep. Oh, and when it becomes clear to Clark that he's going to be overthrown and arrested, he commits suicide, but not before programming Earth's defense satellites to bomb Earth itself.
The pilot episode of Veronica Mars embodies this trope as Veronica lays out her backstory. In the space of a few months, her boyfriend dumped her, her best friend got murdered, her mother left the family, she became a social pariah in her school, her father got recalled from his job as sheriff, and then, just to top things off, she got drugged and raped by someone at a party. And this is all before the show even started.
In the NCIS season 6 finale, Ziva is left behind in Israel after Tony kills her boyfriend. It gets worse when the last shot of the episode is Ziva being tortured in Somalia.
Doctor Who: Every season finale since the revival!
Series one: So we're on a game show where "voted out" means "disintegrated". Bad. It turns out that what's going on is deeper and part of a conspiracy that's hundreds of years long. Worse. Then it turns out it's the Daleks. Who descend on the station and the world in a MASSIVELY HUGE armada, with hundreds of ships and perhaps millions of individual Daleks. Remember that it was shown five or so episodes that one Dalek is more than a match for an entire military base.
In "Army of Ghosts", the Cybermen have crossed the dimensions from a parallel world, infiltrating five million advanced cybernetic soldiers into every city on Earth—insinuated into society as the "ghosts" before anyone knew what they were. It is, as the Doctor noted, not a invasion, but a victory, so complete and sudden is the conquest. But then, in the bowels of the Torchwood institute, the Void Sphere opens, and four Daleks emerge.
To make it clearer, four Daleks might not sound like much, but they are the bigger threat and could easily defeat millions of Cybermen. One would probably win.
"This is not war, This is pest control!"
And then It Got Worse—some more. They open the Genesis Ark and millions of Daleks pour out, battle ready. And victory wasn't free—Rose ended up stranded in a parallel dimension.
Series 3: in which the kindly old Professor Yana turns out to be the Master. Bad. Then he steals the TARDIS, stranding the Doctor, Martha, and Captain Jack at the end of time with a group of devolved humans about to kill everyone. Then, when they finally manage to make it back to the present day, they find that the Master cannibalized the TARDIS into a paradox machine and became the Prime Minister of the UK. He blows up Martha's flat; has her, the Doctor, and Jack branded as criminals; and keeps them on the run overnight. Once he has them and is torturing the Doctor, he reveals his true plan: after disintegrating the US President with his newly-dubbed Toclafane army, he uses them to conquer the world, which he turns into a giant arms factory in order to begin a Time Lord Empire to conquer the universe. The Toclafane are actually the last sane humans that the Doctor and Yana had tried to save—converted into tiny flying homicidal maniacs that, thanks to the Paradox TARDIS, can kill the present-day humans without canceling out their own existence. And they do. One tenth of the population of Earth in the opening rounds, just because the Master likes the sound of the word "decimate". Basically, it was a sequence of it getting even worse every time you'd thought they'd hit Rock Bottom.
Series 4: the prelude to the finale is "Turn Left", taking place in an alternate universe where the DoctorDIED during "The Runaway Bride" because Donna never met him...in the first 10 minutes. You know this can't end well. And it doesn't. It ends with The Stars Are Going Out. And we find that it's no different from what's happening here, just in a different order. All those one-off references to missing planets? Oh, that's just Davros' reality bomb that's going to disintegrate all matter in all universes. Yes, Davros, the creator of the Daleks. Yes, there's an army of them again, though, by now, you're probably desensitized to that.
The series 4.5 specials end with the Doctor finding out that even the Master turning everyone on Earth into an extension of himself isn't the real problem. The Time Lords themselves have found a way to leave the Time War...by bringing Gallifrey and all the horrors of the war right into Earth's orbit. And it got worse than that. The Time Lords' plan is to do what the Daleks were going to do: erase the entire universe and start over.
The fifth series episode "Cold Blood". Rory being shot and killed was bad enough. Then the situations was made rapidly more depressing when the crack in the universe got hold of him and erased him from having ever existed.
Later, the finale: the Unexplained Recovery in "The Pandorica Opens" was nastily subverted when it turned out that that Rory was actually an Auton constructed from Amy's memories. Every new series recurring villain ever, PLUS several old-school ones offscreen being in space isn't the real problem: the soldiers on the ground are all Auton duplicates made by the Nestene, including Rory, who fatally shoots Amy and fights off the Nestene Consciousness's influence just in time to hold her as she dies. Oh, and then the universe DOES get erased this time. And the Doctor is locked inside a prison specifically designed to contain him, with no way of getting himself out.
AND we also have poor River trapped inside the TARDIS, which is locked in a perpetual time loop only a few seconds long that ends with the TARDIS exploding.
Series 9 is another rough run. First in "Face the Raven", the Doctor trying to save a friend who's been framed for murder is actually leading him into a trap set by Ashildr and an unknown party to capture him. Bad. Then Clara's attempts to help accidentally condemn her to being Killed Off For Real, pressing a BIG Berserk Button for him. Worse. Next in "Heaven Sent", the Doctor is trapped and alone save for a deadly monster in a bespoke torture chamber, his anguish over the previous events still raw. Driven to Madness as a result, he ends up escaping by killing and recreating trillions of copies of himself over four-and-a-half-billion years. Even worse. Then it's revealed the Big Bads responsible for this are Rassilon and the Time Lords — his own people. Even worse. And the escaped Doctor now has no Morality Chain. "Hell Bent" confirms the Protagonist Journey to Villain is complete; he is a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds ready to risk the universe's existence just to get Clara back from the dead...
Every season of 24 has examples of this trope. For example, in season six the heroes are chasing an evil terrorist. It is then discovered that the terrorist is in possession of a small nuclear weapon. Then the weapon is detonated, killing at least 10,000 people. Then we're told that the terrorist has a whole stockpile of such weapons and intends to use them all within the next few hours.
Pretty much happens anytime there is a positive and/or stable moment in Jack's life.
Dollhouse: Okay, so there's a technology that allows you to hollow out another human's mind, then reprogram it with whatever memories, skills, personality traits, etc. you like. People in a variety of hard-luck situations are being pressed into service as "dolls" by a secretive organization and rented out to the highest bidder. Oh, but some of the dolls have a tendency to hang on to bits and pieces of various people they have been programmed to be, potentially driving them mad, potentially resulting in a dangerous lunatic impossibly skilled in an impossibly-diverse array of abilities. Oh, but the technology continues to improve and becomes easier to use, becomes widely available, and triggers the end of the world when it reaches the point Average Joe has the means to reprogram his neighbors or engage in "body snatching".
The first episode of Lost is a good example: around 40 people are crashed onto an island: they're dying, burning, getting ripped up by engines, and overall mayhem is going on. At the end of the episode, as all the trauma seems to be settling and the people are ready to start to go search for the black box from the cockpit in the jungle, what better time to find out that a tree-ripping, machine-noise-making monster lives right next door?
Season 4-5 was basically based around this trope, and with season 6 it seems things got worse, again.
In Season 6, this culminates in the Series Finale when the Man in Black's plan finally gets realized. But finally, thankfully, this is soon followed by the first glimmer of hope that appears in several episodes.
Hawkeye's numerous breakdowns on Mash, going from just making stuff up in a Season One episode to a massive one that he doesn't exactly recover from in the Grand Finale.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is made of this trope. The show is about a crime unit that investigates sexual crimes, so the story almost always starts with some sadistic and horrible crime. As the twists and turns of the mystery unfold, the scenario almost always gets worse. More victims are found, the runaway turns up dead, the victim commits suicide—whatever. There's one thing that's certain about every episode: no matter how bad it starts, it will get worse.
The season two finale is a good example. It opens with House getting shot, then ending up in the bed next to the guy who shot him. The patient of the week develops more symptoms (some very nasty) and no approach seems to work. Meanwhile, House begins to fear that his own health is deteriorating as he experiences hallucinations and blackouts. Everything works out when it turns out that everything after House getting shot was a hallucination. The patient was real, having been introduced earlier; we never find out what happened to him, but it's implied that the real case wasn't a great mystery.
The penultimate episode of season 4 and the finale which it leads into are also great examples. An episode that starts with a bloodied and disoriented House realizing he's been in a terrible accident manages to get worse, and ends with a tragic reveal. The finale gets even worse and doesn't get better.
Criminal Minds has several episodes in which the unsub they think has killed a limited number of people actually has killed dozens more ("The Fox", "Open Season", "To Hell..."/"...And Back"), or the unsub escalates the violence ("Omnivore"), or the crimes themselves turn out to be even more horrific than first imagined ("Legacy"). In "Lucky", what seems to be just another serial killer turns out to be a cannibal, and then it really gets worse: the cannibal fed one of his victims to the rest of the community in a pot of chili.
And then at the end of "...And Back", the team comes home, tired and a bit horrified, right before Hotch is attacked in his apartment by the Reaper. In the next episode, only four hours after "...And Back"'s events, the team gets a new case, realizes Hotch is missing, and only three of the characters can know that Hotch is in the hospital after being stabbed nine times. He got better. Sorta.
You'd think that being stabbed practically to death is the end of it, but it's not. In the episodes that follow, the Reaper hunts down Haley, torturing and killing a good man along the way, and then kills her, too. And just to put the icing on the cake, Hotch is put on trial for his "reckless" behavior in the case and for killing the Reaper. At least, though, they drop those charges. At least.
One of the more prominent instances is in the two-parter "The Big Game"/"Revelations". The first episode begins like any other and gradually becomes just a touch more horrific with every passing scene, until it gets personal at the end of the episode. From then on, it just gets worse and worse until Reid actually dies for a few minutes. The horror pretty much just reaches a plateau at that point.
Many character and plot arcs in Oz invoked this trope...too many to mention, except one of the examples from Criminal Minds above brings to mind a killer on death row whom Glynn wanted to confess his crime before he was executed. He eventually does, and Glynn starts to walk away, satisfied. The killer then proceeds to name almost thirty other women he has killed, or claims to have killed; we never find out which. If you're in favor of the death penalty (or you're not but you have different standards for fiction), it's worse, because it meant possibly years of red tape to cut through before the killer could be executed.
Torchwood: Children of Earth. It's like the universe was watching and secretly planning "how can we make this even more of a living hell for the Torchwood staff?"
Also "How can we make what they're doing to the kids any worse?" From "they're taking them", to "they're taking them and the kids won't age", to "they're incorporating them into their bodies", to "they're incorporating them into their bodies because the kids produce feel-good chemicals". For 40 years, the kids have been trapped, unaging, plugged into an alien's body because they make them high. There's signs they're at least partially conscious too.
To finally defeat the aliens, they need an antenna to transmit a feedback signal. Unfortunately, the power is going to be so great the antenna will be destroyed. How is this worse? The only antenna that could work in the time available is a human child. And to make things even worse, the only child available is Captain Jack's own grandson.
Not just the Torchwood staff. Most of whom died. As in permanently this time.
Toby once describes the consequences of defaulting on the national debt in a calm monotone: "You know, the immediate collapse of the US economy, followed by Japan sinking into the sea, followed by a worldwide depression the likes of which no mortal can imagine," and then the punchline, "...followed by week two."
In an episode of The Big Bang Theory entitled "The Vengeance Formulation", Sheldon devises a plan to get back at Kripke for humiliating him on NPR. He concocts a solution that will slowly expand and turn foamy and puts in it the ceiling tiles of Kripke's office. The plan backfires when the foam falls not only on Kripke, but on the president of the university and the board of directors. Then, it gets worse. Just as Leonard says "At least they don't know it was us," we see a video come on Kripke's computer screen. It contains Sheldon gloating about his masterful work, and naming Raj and Leonard as accomplices.
In a more recent episode, Sheldon is watching the results of his first drink ever (okay, his first five or six drinks ever, taken consecutively just before giving an acceptance speech), and comments something to the effect of how this could not be any more humiliating. Leonard, who is clearly enjoying this, says, "Keep watching."
In the Stargate SG-1 Season 4 cliffhanger and Season 5 opener, "Exodus" and "Enemies", SG-1 is planning to move the Tok'ra to a new base (annoying, but not overly problematic) when Tanith escapes and calls Apophis down to attack them. Apophis arrives with a massive fleet, but not before Sam Carter devises a way to blow up the planet's sun to take out Apophis's attacking force. Of course, Teal'c is more interested in killing Tanith than getting out of the system before the sun explodes, and so he and O'Neill end up stranded on the planet. And then Teal'c gets captured by Tanith. Jack gets rescued in barely the nick of time, but as they're leaving the system, SG-1's ha'tak gets blasted into another galaxy by the energy wave from the supernova. At this point, things are looking pretty grim... and then Apophis' flagship shows up too. Things look like they might be getting better for a bit when a mysterious ship attacks Apophis, but it gets worse AGAIN when they discover that this ship happens to be full of REPLICATORS. And then, in trying to get away from THEM, Teal'c shows up again... completely brainwashed by Apophis, and with Apophis in tow, and all of SG-1 gets thrown in a holding cell. ...oh, yeah, and he brought a few of the Replicators with him, so now the ha'tak is entirely infested. Just to recap, by the climax of this episode, SG-1 is stranded in another galaxy, a prisoner of Apophis, on a ship infested with Replicators, and fighting against one of their own.
A Lampshaded example occurs in the season 9 opener:
Vala: We're already trapped in here, how much worse could it get?! (the ceiling begins to drop) Daniel: How about that much? Vala: I knew it was a mistake the moment I said it. The moment.
The plot of Breaking Bad can be described this way: "In the pilot, he finds out he has terminal lung cancer. After that, things get worse".
Specifically: He's a vastly overqualified high school teacher who hates his job and has money problems. He's fifty years old, his wife is pregnant with an unplanned baby and his son has cerebral palsy. When he finds out he's dying, he begins to cook meth to provide for his family after he dies. He has to kill two drug dealers in self-defense and dispose of the bodies, resulting in a half-dissolved body splattered across the entire house. His partner is beaten half to death by another dealer, who then abducts and threatens to kill them. He gets stranded in the desert and nearly dies of thirst, he misses his daughter's birth while making a drug sale and he watches a girl die of an overdose. Then his wife leaves him and takes the kids. And a couple of planes collide directly over his house (and it was indirectly his fault). And it just kept going from there.
Played for humor on Top Gear's "cheap car challenges," where they start out with wretched bangers and things go downhill from there. Played for drama on a couple of specials, particularly the Polar Special (truck vs. dogsled to the magnetic north pole) and the Bolivia Special.
For the second amphibious car special they were asked to rebuild the cars that all barely made it across a lake. Then... " You will now take your amphibious cars... To Dover."
Clarkson likes to lampshade this with is famous 'still...could be worse' , listing all the problems and failures in his car and then switching to May or Hammond strugling with worse than what he mentionned.
In the How I Met Your Mother episode "Of Course" Marshall makes a comment to Robin about how many women Barney (her ex-boyfriend) has been sleeping with lately. Later, when Lily tells him Robin wasn't taking her breakup with Barney as well as she let on, Marshall has a flashback to that conversation. Now, not only do we see his comment in a different light, but we also see what we didn't get to before: that after talking about all the women Barney's been banging, Marshall started singing an impromptu song about it in front of Robin as well.
Think that can't get worse? When Ted (who is also Robin's ex-boyfriend) was later told about how hard Robin's taking her breakup with Barney, he has a flashback to when Marshall was doing his "Barney bangs women" song, and now we see that, after where Marshall's flashback left off, Ted jumped in and joined Marshall in singing it, too. And still in front of Robin.
Then, finally, when Barney himself is told about how hard Robin's taking the breakup, it's his turn to have a flashback, and, sure enough, with this we found out that he also joined in. Singing a song about how he's having sex with dozens of women. In front of his ex-girlfriend. The sheer horror actually makes Barney throw up in his stormtrooper helmet.
Just prior to the Maddigan's Quest episode "Laketown", Timon arguably caused the deaths of Ferdie and one of the performers and burnt the Fantasia's map, leading them to get lost and arrive at Laketown with only three days to reach Solis, where the solar converter has already failed. Towards the end of the episode, it's revealed to the others that Timon's been infected with a virus that's slowly transforming him into a younger, stronger version of the Nennog, inducing him to try and kill his baby sister Jewel. With the Fantasia distracted over the question of what the hell to do with a soon-to-be homicidal, superpowered boy, Maska kidnaps Jewel, drugs her and blows up the vans, injuring Goneril and leaving the Fantasia with no way to reach Solis or go after Maska.
Explorer: 24 Hours After Impact, a National Geographic documentary about the K-T extinction, embodies this trope for dinosaurs. What with the 12-point earthquakes, crematorial heat, global wildfires, mega-tsunami, oxygen deficit and nuclear winter, you'll be astounded that anything got through it alive.
Heroes: Every. Single. Volume. No, really. To the characters, the villains keep getting more and more horrifying, the events more traumatizing (how much pain can we put Claire through before she finally withers into dust like a normal teenage girl? How many times can Nathan betray his own kind before someone FINALLY manages to kill him, although that's resolved now?), and things of that nature. Everything just keeps getting worse for them. If only they'd left it at Season 1. It would have been entirely and completely epic. Carrying on, the plots themselves seemed to degrade after they managed to (YMMV) Jump the Shark in Volume 3. Even Volume 2, but Volume 2 wasn't that great anyway. If it had gone on, it would've been either epically awesome or horribly, horrifyingly fail: either Adam would get to show us more awesome plotting or Sylar would hijack the plot like he did in every other volume. Every one of them. The only thing that hadn't completely and entirely been exhausted was the cast of characters, and even then it would be debatable, what, with all the character derailment and semi-rerailment they'd gone through. As far as I know, though, the funding was cut, so...yeah...
The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Night Terrors" is one long example of this, showing the crew as they encounter a Negative Space Wedgie that suppresses REM sleep, causing everyone on the crew to gradually suffer Sanity Slippage save for Troi and Data. As the episode progresses, crewmembers go from erratic to terrified to suicidal, but it doesn't really hit home how badly things have gotten until the final parts of the episode, in which a scene opens with Data reporting on the log as "Acting Captain" - the warning that the shit is really hitting the fan and even Picard himself is succumbing.
It would have been a lot worse if Troi was Acting Captain, especially if the episode took place before she got her Commander pip. Data was Second Officer on the Enterprise, making him 3rd in the chain of command (just after Riker).
The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Civil Defense" is also a long example of this. The station's computers malfunction and believe its many years ago when it was a mining station under Cardassian control. It considers the current inhabitants (you know, the good guys) to be slaves under revolt, and threatens to flood the place with poison gas if they don't surrender. Everything they try — bypassing the computer, climbing through access shafts, and even saying "We Surrender!" — makes things worse. At one point, the former station head and current villain Gul Dukut arrives on the scene: he'd received a distress call from the computer, and would be willing to shut it down if Kira lets his soldiers move onto the station. When he tries to leave and let them think it over, the computer assumes Dukat is abandoning his post, stops him from transporting out, and revokes his access — trapping him with the others. And then...
Degrassi: The Next Generation did this in season 4. In season 3, Rick's just an abusive boyfriend. He comes back in season 4, appears to have reformed, but the kids bully him, and then he goes Ax-Crazy.
Despite being home improvement shows, Holmes on Homes (and its spinoff Holmes Inspection) hit on this trope all the time. The crew usually shows up to fix relatively mundane issues such as leaky basements or cold drafts, only to find out the home in question also has serious problems with structure, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, mold, asbestos, or termites (or in some cases, all of the above). They inevitably proceed to fix these problems in order to "Make it Right".
Ms. Parker from The Pretender embodies this trope. First she gets pulled out of a cushy coorperate job to join the hunt for Jarod. And then she finds out her Mom's death was probably a murder, not a suicide as she had been led to believe her entire life—though this is not confirmed until late in the series. Mr. Parker constantly plays with her emotions until he ultimately jumps out of an airplane and is presumed dead. Jarod doesn't help matters either. He hints in the second season that Mr. Parker may not be her biological father. That point in particular gets much, much worse in the last movie when it's revealed her biological father is Mr. Raines. Ew. Jarod also leads her to find out her brother is Mr Lyle, a psychotic serial killer who may or may not have cannibalistic tendancies. When she finally finds love and decides to leave the Centre, they kill her boyfriend and almost let her take the fall for it. And in order to keep the trail from leading back to the Centre, they kill a junkie, a cop, and a mechanic to keep them from talking. As it turns out, the person who actually killed Thomas was the woman her father married in Season 3. Brigitte dies in childbirth thus robbing Ms. Parker of her chance at revenge. Ouch.
Jarod has his share as well. He was stolen as a young child and forced to complete simulations for his captors. Who in turn corrupted his work and used it to kill. Once he escapes, things go downhill as he searches for his family. His brother Kyle is a killer in his own right, and just after they're reunited, Kyle gets blown up in a van. He gets better until he's Killed Off for Real by Lyle. If this isn't enough to give him family issues, he finally finds his father only to separate for safety reasons almost as soon as they meet. Why? Because the Centre cloned Jarod and now that he's broken his Mini-me out of custody someone needs to raise the preteen clone. This isn't the last family member to stumble out of the Centre's shadows for either Parker or Jarod either. Some people have the worst families...
From Power Rangers RPM: The season's Teen Genius, Dr. K, has spent her most of her life in a government think tank named Alphabet Soup for weapons research and development, and has never gone outside since because they tell her she's allergic to sunlight. She finds out that this, of course, is a lie, and then proceeds to escape the compound with her only two friends (Gem and Gemma) by uploading the Venjix computer virus she had been working on for the think tank. Before she can install the firewall to prevent the virus from spreading beyond Alphabet Soup, two guards detain them. What proceeds afterwards is the eventual destruction of planet Earth by the Venjix virus, except for the domed city of Corinth.
In Weeds, this trope applies to almost every aspect of the main character's lives.
The first-season ER episode "Love's Labour Lost," in which Dr. Greene does his damnedest to save a due-to-give-birth mother and her baby and whatever can go wrong does go wrong. In the end, he does manage to save the child. But not the mother, or the emotions of everybody watching at home.
The second season finale of the V (2009) series. Oh, God. Anna's gloves come off, and the result is a Wham Episode beyond even the series' usual level of HSQ, which can get kinda high. Diana: Dead. Ryan: Dead. Even Tyler isn't safe. No, that's not all. The latest scheme to stop Anna only served to give her more good press again. Chad's exposed and doesn't know it. Lisa's imprisoned. Anna's younger, loyal daughter's human disguise is now exactly like Lisa's and nobody knows, so the Fifth Column may have a Sixth Column in addition to everything else. She begins her career as The Dragon by eating Tyler. No, that's not as bad as it gets. Anna can't use her "bliss" trance on humans, else she'd broadcast it worldwide and control the world simply by thinking happy thoughts at it, so thankfully, we're not that screwed... what's that you say? Ryan's hybrid daughter, who's been wrapped around Anna's little finger for some time, can and does?
Then it got even worse: The show was canceled, so we'll never know if they got out of that mess. The Bad Guy Wins?
Repeatedly in an episode of The Red Green Show, as a battered Red and Harold recall their attempt to preserve the original, historic Possum Lodge building, without professional help, on a dozen pickup truck beds.
After Sen. John McCain emerged as a lead opponent of the repeal on openly gay people serving in the US military, The Daily Show ran a parody of the It Gets Better Project ads that actually use the phrase "It Gets Worse".
In the short-lived ABC-TV series Darkroom (1981-82), the episode "Stay Tuned, We'll Be Right Back" uses a variation of Godwin's Law of Time Travel. A Cleveland resident finds that he is in contact with the U-boat that sank his father's troop ship during World War II forty years earlier. He contacts the sub and gives them phony instructions. The next day he wakes up to find that his father is alive and the Nazis now control America.
Sherlock Series 2. If your Stalker with a Crush strapping a bomb vest to your best friend wasn't enough, get a load of his second act: he foils anti-terror plots, sends trained assassins to move in next door and across the street from your home, has you falsely arrested for kidnapping, gets a rogue reporter to "expose" you as a fraud and then trains three guns on the most important people in your life with orders to shoot unless you commit suicide.
This is the overarching theme about the drug trade in The Wire. Anything you think you can do about it is only going to make things worse, and when you lock up or kill one drug kingpin, you create an Evil Power Vacuum that will only be filled by someone worse. For example, the Big Bad of Season 1 is Avon Barksdale, a ruthless Blood Knight whose organization is responsible for over a dozen murders and has most of the city's West Side in an iron grip. However, Avon has his standards, occasionally does positive things for the community, and is smart enough to keep a lid on the violence, if only to keep from drawing too much attention. When Avon is locked up for good in Season 3, the next person to rise to power is Marlo Stansfield, who has all the cold blooded ruthlessness of the Barksdale organization at its very worst, with absolutely none of the redeeming features. Marlo provokes Even Evil Has Standards from every single drug dealer and gangster in Baltimore, including even some of his own people. Summed up by this conversation in Season 3:
Cutty: Game done changed. Slim Charles: Game the same. Just got more fierce.
And just to explain that, Cutty is a gangster that has gotten out of jail after doing 14 years for a murder where he brazenly killed a drug kingpin, then called the police to tell them about it and waited for them to come pick him up. He's dismayed when he sees the way things have changed for the worse while he was locked up.
Firefly: The series begins with Simon and River being fugitives on the run from a totalitarian government, and their problems only increase from there.
The Castle episode "Cuffed" is basically an escalating version of this. First Castle and Beckett wake up to find they've been abducted by unknown parties, handcuffed together, and locked in a small room. Then they discover the room contains a box filled with chains, cuffs, and bloody knives. Then they discover that the fellow captive they thought was in the next room is a hungry tiger. And then the tiger breaks through the wall into their room...
In the Modern Family episode "Fulgencio", Phil tries to model calm, rational problem-solving for his kids by taking it on himself to discuss things with other kids they're having problems with... only to make their situations all worse.
In Once Upon a Time, things in Storybrooke were far from great, as all the fairy tale characters were trapped there with no happy endings and could never leave. Once the curse broke, characters could leave but would lose their fairy tale identity. Then, an outsider got into Storybrooke and witnessed magic, which was what many characters feared most. Also, God Save Us from the Queen! Cora and Hook entered. Plus, after Belle was shot and stumbled past the town border, losing her memory, Mr. Gold snapped and threatened to kill all of them if Belle was harmed. Yeah. . .
Arrested Development's fourth season involves a rather large helping of this for pretty much all the main characters.
"Runaway Train", about the San Bernardino train disaster. First, a runaway freight train derails at a bend in the tracks and crashes into a residential neighborhood. Then, about a week later, the whole neighborhood is blown up by a gas pipeline damaged in the crash.
"Attack Over Baghdad", about a DHL cargo plane that was hit with a surface-to-air missile by Iraqi insurgents. The crew managed to safely land the plane...only to learn that they may have landed in a mine field.
The first season of Tyrant ends with Bassam being thrown in jail after a failed attempt to depose Jamal. The second season opens with Jamal facing a popular uprising where his only advisers are his wife, who has deluded herself into believing that the people actually love her, and his uncle Tariq, whose only skills are bombing and gassing civilian targets. And then the Army of the Caliphate, a real, honest-to-God terrorist group shows up...
Homeland: Throughout season six, a conspiracy against the President elect is revealed, with Carrie, Quinn and Saul struggling to combat it. Then when it's foiled, the President elect has suspects detained without trial in a military jail, refused to release them when ordered by the courts, expands the Patriot Act, and later even more are rounded up (including Saul).