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Cerebus Roller Coaster
These strips ran within a month of each-other.
There are many reasons why the tone of a story may change. Sometimes a happy, joke-based, show goes into a much more serious and darker direction. Sometimes a once dark and deadly serious series turns into a comedy. Sometimes the work completely changes its genre. Sometimes writers run out of ideas and just try to put out anything they can or the exact opposite - they find what they really want to do. Sometimes Executive Meddling or Creator Breakdown takes the story in a new direction and turns it into something completely unrecognizable from its source material.

And sometimes all of it happens at the same time.

Cerebus Rollercoaster is what happens when Cerebus Syndrome gets zig-zagged - the series goes back and forth through different tones, jumps from genre to genre or dances on the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism. If this ends well, the series can end up Growing the Beard by absorbing the best elements of all the phases it went through. If not, it may end up jumping the shark.

This may occur for different reasons. Sometimes creators just plain don't know exactly what tone they want to give their work. Maybe the story went too far into Cerebus Syndrome, and the writer is tired and horrified of the Crapsack World it has become, but while trying to reverse the process, he finds out that new, Darker and Edgier settings have a lot of fans, so he desperately tries to balance drama and comedy to keep both fanbases happy. Sometimes the new writer decides to take the series in a new direction, then into another direction and so on, until fans who have grown to be writers themselves take the series back to its original roots. Some people may just Follow the Leader too much, and when the leader changes, so too does the direction of their story. And sometimes they just don't want to stick to one setting and are forced to discard all story ideas which are too dark or too light for basic settings. Tropes Are Not Bad - when played right, it may give a series a unique, recognizable style and keep it fresh. If done badly, however, this will pretty much turn the story into a train wreck.

Compare Mood Whiplash, which is a smaller version of this taking place in a single story rather than spaced out among multiple installments. Dude, Not Funny! may occur if one character is lagging between transitions.

Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Gundam franchise as a whole goes through this, with series varying from Zeta Gundam to Gundam ZZ, to Victory Gundam to G Gundam, from Gundam Wing to Gundam SEED to Gundam 00 to
    • Zeta to ZZ is a miniature example in and of itself. Tomino himself said that Zeta was too dark and depressing, and thus made ZZ light-hearted because he felt that anime should make people happy. However, this seems to have resulted in over-correction, resulting in ZZ being very silly at the start before evening out later on, which has led some fans to apply Fanon Discontinuity to just the early episodes.
      • Tomino himself has this as applied to his whole body of work; Its been a common observation of his fans that Tomino tends to alternate between lighter works and depressing character dramas. Be Invoked, for instance, was directly followed by Xabungle, which was then followed by Aura Battler Dunbine. The tonal shift between Zeta and ZZ is a continuation of Tomino's established pattern, as ZZ was made directly after Zeta.
  • YuYu Hakusho plays this trope to the hilt. Beginning at first as bit of a Black Comedy about a dead teenager hilariously doing anything to come back to life,anything. Then he gets ressurrected and has to hunt down criminals like a detective and the whole thing escalates with the Toguro Brothers and Yukina. Then comes the second season which although does have development, mostly is just shonen-style fighting,...then Genkai dies and it just keeps getting darker. It doesn't really stop again until Yusuke proposes a tournament for the the Three Kings.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann in a way mirrors the rollercoaster ride taken by the entire mecha anime genre through its history. Episodes one to eight are very optimistic and often outright comedic, taking a lot from classic 70's Super Robot anime like Mazinger Z or Getter Robo. The next episodes contain their share of angst and dark themes, and villains, while still evil, gain some depth. It mirrors the effect Mobile Suit Gundam had on the genre. Later episodes are post Neon Genesis Evangelion era, being much darker than before, with varying moral values. Yet in both parts the anime remains pretty captivating and the last part takes the awesomeness and hot-blood Up to Eleven, mirroring the effects GaoGaiGar and other reconstructions had on the mecha genre. It seems that what Gurren Lagann is trying to say is that it doesn't matter what tone or message your mecha show has - if it doesn't have its share of epicness, you're doing it wrong.
  • One Piece should be called Cerebus Rollercoaster: The Series. To put it simply, a given arc will typically start with lighthearted moments between the Straw Hats on the ship, which continues once they get on their current island, although there will be hints of darker action. Then trouble starts, and the Straw Hats are once again fighting for their lives against a gang of villains, who will typically be led by a Jerk Ass at best. Subjects such as war, racism, slavery or death may become prominent. After the end of the struggle, things go back to being lighthearted, even with occasional jokes about the life or death experiences. Even fights can rapidly switch from serious to silly, such as when Zoro accidentally ends up handcuffed to Usopp, and the two of them and their opponents (who refuse to work together) argue over how to resolve the situation.
  • Dragon Ball started as an parody of Journey to the West. Then King Piccolo became its Knight of Cerebus and comedic elements started fading away. Stronger and crueler villains started to pop out and each next saga was darker than the previous one. And then the Buu Saga came, bringing back lot of silly and combining original humor with later epic fights and darkness, creating such situations like people being killed by being turned into chocolate candy and eaten. The anime version has also Dragon Ball GT, which swapped from a goofy humour-based Adventure Planets first half, to dark ultimate evil after ultimate evil second half.
  • Code Geass varied wildly in tone, influenced by a lot of Executive Meddling and behind the scenes stuff.
  • Higurashi has this in spades due to the weird time shenanigans. Basically, most arcs start off as Slice of Life comedy revolving around a handful of schoolchildren living carefree lives, but they reside in a Town with a Dark Secret, and each arc gradually spirals out of control, usually culminating in the death of several main characters, or even the entire town. Then the Reset Button gets pressed by an unknown third party, and it's back to lighthearted comedy, and if any of the main cast are still aware that something's horribly wrong, they do a great job at hiding it.
  • Karakuridouji Ultimo. Starts off with the 16-year-old protagonist running into a cute little boy robot, who wants him to help save the world. A few chapters later, we found out, that said robot boy is a Sociopathic Hero at its worst. Then more comedy and action scenes, which lead up to the protaganist's best friend being in love with him, and also being batshit insane. Then all the good guys are killed, and the world blows up. Which leads us right into part 2, with time restarted and everybody fine. They even threw in some more comedy just to reassure us that everybody is A-OK. Until the end of part two. Two of the original Good Doji masters are dead, and the others are out of commission. Part 3, managed to do this in single chapters alone. The only thing you can be sure of with the tone of this series, is that by the end of each part, something bad is going to happen to somebody, if not everybody.
  • The fourth season of Yu-Gi-Oh!. There are some funny moments in-between, even after Yugi sacrifices himself in the Pharaoh's place. But the humor dramatically lessens when Jonouchi, the series' Plucky Comic Relief, dies.
  • Katekyo Hitman Reborn!. It started as a comedy manga, but from the Kokuyo Arc onwards it turns into a battle manga, with quite some violent and bloody stuff while dipping right back into comedy for filler.
  • Air Gear. It starts as a story about people mastering rollerblading, full with comedy relief, but in later chapters it turns out there are genetically enginereed kids who where created to free humankind from "gravity", and that the Air Treck true nature is that of a technology that can save the world. Or destroy it. Many people have been horribly killed or used for AT's sake. That, and the psycopath Big Bad ulterior motive is: to help the weak
  • Gintama exemplifies this trope, flipping from hilarious to heart wrenching in moments.
  • Gate Keepers go up and down with this, in both humorous, and dark elements.
  • Sonic The Hedgehog The Movie was an action-comedy for most of the movie. Just near the end it gets a Sudden Downer Ending, with Metal Sonic sacrificing himself and Sonic being shaken up.. Only to return to comedy within the last 4 minutes.
  • Slayers switches from goofball comedy to world-threatening danger at the drop of a hat.
  • Magical Project S starts off as an over-the-top parody of Magical Girls and stays that way for more than half the series. Then for about three episodes the plot suddenly abandons its silly and goofy elements in a favor of a heart-wrenching story involving the Dark Magical Girl. Then the comedy comes back in for the remainder of the series, but now it is the very genre that it was parodying.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has the infamous case of happy beginning, heart-wrenching middle and a controversial Bittersweet Ending. Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion manages to restore things to apparent Sugar Bowl again, only to deconstruct and partially reconstruct it again over the course of a single movie.
  • This trope is one built-in feature of Kotoura-san and can be said as omnipresent. The number of comedy/drama flip-flops can be numerous within a single episode—and if it's not the case, the stinger would be enough.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya, particularly the Anime, has this in spades, though it's all intentional. It starts out as a high-school harem comedy complete with fanservice shots, dips into some sci-fi, goes back to being silly, gets serious when we find out what Haruhi does to the world subconsciously and what it could mean if she ever got too upset... then someone pulls a KNIFE on the main character and comes within an inch of killing him before we're treated to some intense sci-fi fighting. And that's just the first five episodes! The rest of the series takes a light-hearted turn, but gets scary when someone or something stops Haruhi from having a good time or her imagination gets the best of her. We're treated to Fridge Horror with the Endless 8 arc, then the cast makes a funny (and terrible) movie... Then Haruhi Disappears, giving Kyon a mental breakdown, and just when everything looks like it's about to turn out fine... He gets stabbed TWICE and nearly bleeds to death all over the road. This series couldn't be any more bipolar if it were a magnet!
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion starts out as more somber and introspective than your average Mecha show: the main protagonist is withdrawn and depressed rather than being a typical hot-blooded shonen hero, the other major characters are hinted to have issues as well, and, despite a few comedic touches (such as Pen-Pen), the conflict with the Angels is played quite seriously. Midway through the first season, things lighten up, as Shinji and the other characters show hints of overcoming their defenses, and the Angel fights are lighter (such as the Shinji and Asuka synchronized dance routine.) Then, in the last third of the series, things get worse. WAY worse. And if that wasn't enough, the fandom still debates whether or not the ending is one of pure unbridled cynicism or subtle idealism.
  • Kirby of the Stars sometimes varies in tone quite noticeably from episode to episode. For instance, it's been known to jump from an escalating pie fight, to children being brainwashed by possessed teachers, to King Dedede formulating a plan to eat the villager's food because he doesn't like the food his servants cook, and from there to a girl with a Swiss-Army Weapon going after Meta Knight because he (supposedly) left her mother to die fighting a horrible demon while he ran off with the sword it had been guarding... over the course of four episodes.
  • Pokémon Special. The series' many arcs vary in intensity. The arcs of the first two generations are known to be pretty violent for kids' standards but future arcs tended to tone it down...but then the BW arc ends with arguably the biggest, most painful Tear Jerker in the entire series and the XY arc starts with the protagonist already broken and his hometown razed to the ground. Not to mention the bad guys are actively chasing and trying to kill him and his friends, further feeding into his massive trust and guilt issues.

    Comic Books 
  • Cerebus the Aardvark is Trope Namer for both this and Cerebus Syndrome; overall, the story fits the latter trope, but on a story arc by story arc basis, and many times on an issue by issue (or even page by page) basis, it fits this trope.
  • The superhero genre went through this. The Golden Age was pretty dark - Batman was a gun-wielding Vigilante Man, Wonder Woman liked to have her enemies Bound and Gagged and a lot of heroes had no problem with killing criminals, especially Those Wacky Nazis. The Silver Age was a result of Reverse Cerebus Syndrome when everything became Lighter and Softer, sometimes to ridiculous levels. The Bronze Age was step towards a more serious direction, which was taken way too far in the Dark Age. As a result, in the Modern Age, everybody said "screw it" and does whatever they want, so the same company can now publish the adventures of the Incredible Hercules and The Punisher, or Power Girl and Justice League: Cry for Justice.
  • Every time new a writer takes over an ongoing series or takes care of a certain character, you can expect him to take it into a new direction, with often mixed results. It's hard to find a Super Hero who didn't have this happening to him.
    • Sometimes it may happen even without changing the writer, because he (or somebody else) decides that character needs a retool.
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac started as a black comedy, went serious in its fourth and fifth issue and then jumped back to black comedy
  • The Incredible Hulk became very dark during the Planet Hulk and World War Hulk storylines, becoming Conan the Barbarian IN SPACE!, but the following Jeph Loeb run was much Lighter and Softer. When Planet Hulk's writer Greg Pak returned, he tried to restore the previous tone. The result was the Fall of The Hulks storyline, where Pak and Loeb tried to combine their styles, which didn't end well.
  • Les Légendaires is a king in this art; take any album, you will most likely find both terrifying stuff and Crowning Moment of Funny, sometimes right one after the other.
  • Transformers: Wings of Honor: Goes back and forth between the text stories and comics
    • The original comic was light-hearted and made fun of the Unreliable Narrator
    • The Coming Storm was more action packed, but more violent, and funny up until the Sudden Downer Ending which kills most of the cast
    • The Flames of Yesterday takes place in the middle of The Coming Storm and, bar a few moments, is a lot funnier and ends for the best.
    • A Team Effort focuses on another team, and contains no character death, it's a space-adventure turned mystery.
    • Battle Lines had a more dark tone, with the survivors going to fight the Decepticons, and losing several of their member. The Hero Dies and it shows that the story did not really matter in the long run as the war sets in.
    • Generation 2 Redux: had the series go back into more light-hearted territory, with the cast considerably younger and more optimistic, the villains are either funny or naive and it ends with most people on the good guy's side.
    • The Machine Wars continuation is foreshadowed as darker, but the comic itself could be anywhere on the rollercoaster when it comes out.

    Fan Fic 
  • A Different Medius certainly does this a lot. For example, the first chapter's fairly lighthearted... Then Chapter 2 has the revelation that Azurai murdered Buwaro's birth parents, and Thornwood's destruction. Then they visit Barracalo, and have a great time... Until Buwaro finds Azurai
    • A particularly harsh example is when Sam gets transported to canon!Medius, prevents loads of angst, and even convinces canon!Iratu to join canon!Rhea's party. canon!Iratu's head is bitten off right in front of Sam, which she knows wouldn't have happened had she not been there, and goes on to blame herself.
  • Calvin & Hobbes: The Series downplays this quite a bit, though it's still kinda jarring.
  • In Gender Confusion, the author outright states her intention to do this to the series, even referencing the trope, after the main couple finally gets together in Chapter 13:
    THE MOMENT YOU'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR! But of course, the story isn't quite over yet. No, the romance was not the main point of the story. It was minor, a mere half-dozen chapters to whet your appetite for the true narrative. The humor is coming, and after that, the power, the pain, the sheer insanity that results from a grave loss, and the humor shall never leave even when the world seems ready to collapse. I'm taking you on a rollercoaster called Cerebus, and I'm not letting you get off.
  • A Growing Affection has this in spades. Book one starts off with Naruto and Hinata getting to know each other better, with a few darker hints. Then it ends with a major, if short war, and some life changing events therein. Book two returns to the light and fluffy, focusing at first on Naruto and Hinata's relationship now that they are officially a couple, and their growth as ninjas. Then in the second half Naruto gets kidnapped, and his friends go AWOL to rescue him. Several major characters die, and other are irrevocably changed. Then the first novella of book three goes back to Naruto and Hinata's relationship, having them deal with some interference from her grandfather. The rest of the novellas in book three are much darker, killing more major characters and pushing others to their breaking point. Then book four is about the Fourth Ninja War. Again there are a few lighter moments early on, but in general the tone is the most serious, even if it is not quite as dark as the last two parts of book three. And then it has a happy, fluffy ending.
  • the Reading Rainbowverse has lots of relationship drama... interspersed with lots of ridiculous questions from the anons and Fluttershy getting drunk. Just as an example, After Lyra broke up with Bonbon, Bonbon proceeded to host a ludicrously animeesque food fight with Pinkie Pie in order to get ehr to teach her how to travel through the multiverse. And meet other Lyras.
  • Reality Checks Nyxverse has done this consistently with each story so far in the series — a few chapters of light and fluffy stuff, the development of a more serious plot (still intermixed with light stuff) that comes to dominate the story, and after the climax, a few more chapters of lighter material to tie everything off.

    Film 
  • The Star Trek film series has varied quite a bit in tone over the years, ranging from a fairly serious drama in which one of the main characters died (Star Trek II) to a lighthearted comedy set on Earth with a Space Whale Aesop (Star Trek IV). The 2009 film was more of a comedy-drama.
  • The Star Wars trilogies do this. The first trilogy start of as lighthearted in A New Hope and dark tones come up in the latter two. In the prequels the first two start lightly, then Revenge of the Sith takes a nosedive into dark.
  • Due to Executive Meddling, the Batman films became this way. Tim Burton's take on the franchise was dark and gothic. There was a bit of cheese in the 1989 film, but his follow-up, Batman Returns, was almost depressing. Later, Warner Bros. had replaced Burton with Joel Schumacher to make the franchise more marketable. Batman Forever and Batman & Robin increased the camp value, but it brought the franchise to a halt for the rest of The Nineties. Christopher Nolan restored the franchise with his consistently dark and realistic reboot, The Dark Knight Saga.
  • Godzilla, being the longest-running film series in history, is well acquainted with this trope. The darkest and most horrific film of the series was the original, a somber and intelligent allegorical parable about nuclear warfare. Over the next two decades, the series gradually shifted to more and more campy, child-friendly fare, then took a sudden serious turn just in time for the series to take a ten-year hiatus. 1984's The Return Of Godzilla set up a new continuity that, while not dealing with the previous themes of nuclear war nearly as extensively or didactically, still maintained a consistently serious tone. The third sub-series, in which every movie (save Godzilla Tokyo SOS, a direct sequel to the movie preceding it) established its own continuity, ranged everywhere between outrageously campy and over-the-top to the most serious and frightening film since the original.
  • In Bruges, a Black Comedy about two hitmen hiding in Bruges, takes this to the extreme with the mood even fluctuating both ways sometimes in a single scene. A key example is discovering Ray's hit went wrong when he accidentally murdered the wrong person and the guilt is visibly destroying him:
    Ray: [sobbing] I know I didn't mean to... but because of the choices I made, and the course that I put into action, [he] isn't here anymore, and he'll never be here again. (beat) I mean here in the world, not here in Belgium. Well he'll never be here in Belgium either, will he? I mean, he might've wanted to come here when he got older.
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang features a great scene which has drugged Harry waking in a car, witnessing a murder, killing the mook in a cold, blind rage, having a dog steal and eat his finger, to breaking down on the phone to Perry.

    Literature 
  • Discworld has been going through this in later books, starting with the book-long Tear Jerker Night Watch and cynical Monstrous Regiment, but the next book, Going Postal, introduces us to a Loveable Rogue and a lighter tone. Next is the Nightmarish Thud!, followed by Making Money and Unseen Academicals, both of which are a lot more fun. This is then followed by the pitch-black I Shall Wear Midnight. The series was wrapped up beautifully with Snuff, which is also dark in bits, but has several heartwarming/tearjerking moments as well as Terry Pratchett says a long, extended goodbye to his wife (shown in small comments Vimes makes to Sybil and the dedication of the book).
  • The Aunt Dimity series as a whole can be characterized this way. The novels have many elements of comedy and Farce, and some of the solutions to the mysteries are simple and largely non-threatening. In other portions, tragic and horrific elements appear, and the answers (e.g. terrorism, suicide, survivor's guilt, murder) are far more grim. Interestingly, the opposites tend to reinforce one another: Characters can take things so seriously that they jump to dire conclusions that are dispelled by relatively innocuous explanations, and everyone has a good laugh afterwards. Alternatively, they can go blithely forward in a misplaced confidence that nothing bad will happen, until something does. There are additional benefits in avoiding saccharine extremes and keeping the audience guessing.
  • The Wings of Fire series. The first book is a straightforward, dragon-centric adventure story, with a fairly dark plot, a villain who's actively insane, and serious Character Development moments. The second book is a much more lighthearted romp, with a less serious plot, a goofier antagonist (who is, at heart, an overprotective mother), fluffy relationship drama, and its hero is the fairly stubborn Tsunami (who doesn't change much). The third book swings back around to having Glory as its protagonist, who may have one of the darkest psyches ever explored in a children's book (a highly abused dragon girl with deeply ingrained Boomerang Bigotry), as well as the series' most unsettling plot yet. The fourth book brings back the relationship fluff and introduces a new Plucky Comic Relief in the form of Fatespeaker, while keeping the dramatic plot. And the fifth book stars Sunny, the local cutie and eternal optimist—so naturally it has some of the heaviest character moments yet.

    Live Action TV 
  • M*A*S*H, particularly in the later seasons.
  • Scrubs. Holy mother of God Scrubs. The show itself is best described as a collision between a medical drama and a slapstick comedy with great big dollops of tragedy, Gallows Humor, surrealism and Lemony Narrator thrown in for good measure, and it's a complete toss-up as to what each episode will give the viewer. And it's not just across the show or across seasons, it can be across a single episode: one storyline might be a Zany Scheme filled with sex jokes, pratfalls, and wacky shenanigans, while another storyline might be a gut-wrenching, savagely dark tragedy about the death of patients and the psychological fallout from one or more of the doctors, while the camera merrily Whip Pans between the two.
  • Power Rangers always has been, and always will be, a franchise nobody can take without a lot of Willing Suspension of Disbelief. It's campy and Crazy Awesome in its own way, but the tone of each season varies. Back in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Lord Zedd was its Knight of Cerebus and set a much more epic arc than the original Rita arc. Both Power Rangers Zeo and Power Rangers Turbo were a step down from serious towards lighter tones, only for the series to turn into epic space opera during Power Rangers in Space and Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. The tone of the series can vary from dark, like Power Rangers Time Force, to completely comedic, like Power Rangers Ninja Storm. Even checking out the Super Sentai source material isn't any indication of which route the next series will take, as proven by the darkest series of all, Power Rangers RPM, which was based on a self-parody of Super Sentai — but even then RPM is one of the funnier seasons, relying on humor from The Comically Serious and the Meta Guy in the cast instead of having Hijinks Ensue.
  • Kamen Rider as a franchise also alternates a lot between silly and serious. You have darker series like Amazon, Faiz, and Blade, and less serious ones like Black RX and Den-O. Within each series, most start as being comedic and episodic, and then eventually focusing around mid-season into something more serious, while still having several gags and enemies like Starfish Hitler and a muay-thai boxing chicken who constantly dances in the background.
    • Fourze has to take the cake when it comes to the rollercoaster. We can have our Large Ham protagonist kicking ass and then go to finding out the school board are creating this year's monsters before going to a Christmas based episode and then it brings out one of the worst monsters in the show and then we have the High School Dance. Then we get our hero dying at the hands of the other rider of the show and that's when it takes corkscrews and loop-de-loops around this thing.
  • Skins appears to be falling into a pattern of letting things get lighter with the premiere of each new generation, then taking a turn for the Darker and Edgier in that generation's second season.
  • Psych used this to its advantage for a multi season story arc. By keeping the show episodic and lighthearted during most of each season the Ying and Yang episodes they used for the finales seemed much darker in comparison.
  • Doctor Who does this all the time, both within the context of individual seasons and on a larger level.
    • Series 2 alternates between an invasion which the Doctor can't help stop and he may be dying, to a madcap body-snatcher romp, to a tale about humans losing their humanity to cold steel shells, to a somewhat tongue-in-cheek 50s piece with a hammy villain, to demonic possession on board a lonely Sanctuary Base, to an offbeat episode commenting on Doctor Who fandom itself to all-out war between the Daleks and the Cybermen.
    • The classic series had a lot of this too, with the tone changing wildly, particularly whenever new people took over behind the scenes. The best example might be the tenure of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, since it lasted so long. It began with the comical Robot, which established 4 as much sillier and more alien than his predecessor. Soon it was doing far darker stories like Pyramids of Mars and Genesis of the Daleks. Moral Guardians complained, so we got a Robot Buddy and much more comedy with serials like City of Death (written by comedic author Douglas Adams). Baker's final season, however, was comparatively grim and death and decay was a recurring theme.
    • Arguably, Series 5 and 6 of the new series is this. Matt Smith was originally a much more madcap and alien Doctor, who met a girl and took her away to see the universe. In the middle of the season, Rory gets erased from time. However, two episodes after this, the Doctor is passing off as a human lodger and playing football. The episode after that has the Doctor trapped in the Pandorica; Rory returning, albeit as an Auton and shoots Amy, while River is inside the TARDIS and it's exploding. And that's just Series 5.
    • As for Series 6? It begins with The Doctor being Killed Off for Real and only gets worse from there. Other episodes in the season include a madcap pirate romp, a sinister clone saga, a horrifying "What Do They Fear?" Episode and a buddy comedy.
      • "The Doctor's Wife" is as much of this as possible squeezed into one episode: it includes a sweet, whimsical, romantic main plot about the series' origin story, a gruesomely dark and Tear Jerking subplot about the dead Time Lords, quirky Cargo Ship-riddled bantering and shenanigans between the Doctor and the TARDIS, and a sadistic voice trapping and psychologically torturing Amy and Rory For the Evulz.
    • Due to the production difficulties of the time (several producers, tortured budgets and plots that had to be written around the lead actor's failing mental health), Season 3 (with the First Doctor) definitely qualifies. "Mission to the Unknown", a Bottle Episode without the Doctor in it where a bunch of people get miserably slaughtered by Daleks, is followed by "The Myth Makers", a lighthearted Bathos-based social comedy set in Troy which suddenly becomes very dark and bloody when the Greeks invade in the final episode. "The Daleks' Master Plan" is a Space Opera Arc combining an extreme bodycount (including the deaths of two companions) and brutal violence with the intentionally goofy villain the Monk and a ridiculous comedy episode halfway through where they get stuck on a 1920s film set and then go off to celebrate Christmas. "The Massacre" is another unusually dark episode with a Downer Ending where the Doctor is forced to ignore a genocide and has a Heroic BSOD, interrupted in the last five minutes by a giggly Cloud Cuckoo Lander Manic Pixie Dream Girl companion accidentally breaking into the TARDIS. Then we get the somewhat less relentlessly negative "The Ark", the absolutely ridiculous "The Celestial Toymaker", a comedy Musical Episode ("The Gunfighters") which again has a suddenly dark and bloody ending, and it's only by "The Savages" and "The War Machines" that the series settles back down into monster-based adventure serials.
    • All of the Short Trips books do this due to their anthology structure. Short Trips and Sidesteps follows up the first part of a traumatically dark story where the Doctor has no powers and is just an old man abusing his granddaughter and Barbara is struggling with schizophrenia with a short story about the Fourth Doctor and Romana landing on a planet made of sweets and having a conversation with a talking cake.
  • How I Met Your Mother, with its dedication to showing both the ugly and delightful sides of life in equal measure, has been a mild version of this trope ever since season 1. Often combined with Mood Whiplash.
  • NCIS rolls with this, the show starts off with some gruesome murder, then it kicks starts with the crews antics (mostly Tony's), then in between and at the end, it can go either light and humorous or dark and dramatic depending on how the plot goes.
  • The Prisoner has this to some extent. Many episodes were quirky and surreal and filled with 60s sci-fi elements, while others were darker, more realistic, and often psychologically unsettling. It became even more noticeable in the last few episodes: the most lighthearted episode of the whole series ("The Girl Who Was Death") came right before the strikingly dark "Once Upon a Time" and the infamously bizarre "Fall Out".
  • As with many tropes it played with, Farscape took this and ran with it for all it was worth. Not only would it alternate between highly dramatic and comedic episodes (for example, a drama-heavy two-parter which ended with the death of one of the Crichtons, essentially killing the main character, being followed by an episode that was largely animated as an homage to Chuck Jones, and then was followed once again by an episode dealing with the aftermath of Talyn-John's death) but would have heavy Mood Whiplash within the individual episodes, especially as Crichton's mental state was variably played for laughs and drama. This even extends from season to season, as the series gets progressively darker over the course of season 1 and 2, before taking the plunge outright in season 3. Season 4 then backpedals into a somewhat lighter tone, before things get pitch black in The Peacekeeper Wars.
  • Glee For sure. Often episodes can start off with a upbeat cover of some top 40 hit, but by the end of the episode can have dealt with, among others, Attempted suicide, almost death and temporary paralysis of a teenager, unwanted pregnancy, a bully assaulting another teen verbally, physically, and eventually sexually - all this between episodes surrounding choosing between Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, weddings, and puppets. Justified at the start of season five when we jump from a Beatles tribute to the Cory Monteith memorial - the writers wanted to start the season on a positive note.

    Multiple Media 
  • BIONICLE's story went pretty steadily into the dark, but some of the franchise's later additions make it into an example. For instance the book Raid on Vulcanus is one of the darkest and most violent entries in the entire franchise, with its many gray-morality protagonists, brief discussion of complicated moral questions and graphic, sword-to-flesh violence (and yes, this is still a LEGO franchise we're talking about) and tragic war stories. Its direct sequel, the animated feature The Legend Reborn is meanwhile a fairly light-hearted action-adventure film with moments of slapstick and goofy cartoon sound effects. The novelization, however, averts this completely and more or less keeps the previous book's tone. Which then clashes with the purposely light and tame stories of the easy-level reading children's books.
  • Open-themed live call-in shows with a wide thematic tolerance become this, for example Domian in Germany.

    Music 
  • Musical duo Trout Fishing In America recorded two albums of children's songs in their earliest years. Then they did an album of mostly dead-serious folk-rock. Ever since then, they've gone back and forth between the two, even splitting the difference with sillier folk-rock songs, and albums that contain a little of both.
  • Green Day's career is frequent with New Sound Album shifts to either "Darker and Edgier" or "back to snarky". After breakout Dookie, came the heavier Insomniac (partly due to Creator Breakdown), followed by two lighter albums, then two Punk-Rock Opera albums, and then a trilogy that tried to go back to the old sound.

    Theater 

    Video Games 
  • The Diablo series seems to be riding on this. Despite its immense popularity, Diablo II was sometimes derided for not being as dark and edgy as the first game. In the books as well, the mood can range from as dark and edgy as the first game to surprisingly goofy. On the other hand, whatever funny moments the series can prevent it from getting too dark.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog went from lighthearted and happy-go-lucky (as much as having a hedgehog save his friends from being used as live power sources for robots and a mad scientist threaten the world with a Death Star clone can be anyways) in its "Classic era" to progressively darker in its Dreamcast era and culminating in Sonic 2006 before doing a 180 and returning to its happy-go-lucky roots (well, as much having a mad scientist split the world into pieces and a hedgehog nearly outrun a black hole can be considered happy-go-lucky) with titles such as Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colors.
    • Worth mentioning is that after Sonic Adventure 2 we got Sonic Heroes, which is easily the most lighthearted "post-classic" Sonic game, possibly even the entire series (and still has a final boss who is charitably described as an omnicidal dragon made of razor blades). After that, Shadow the Hedgehog was released, which took Darker and Edgier to absurd lengths. Sonic '06 then returned to a similar tone of the first two Sonic Adventure games.
  • The No More Heroes series does this constantly and completely on purpose. Mixed in with all the self awareness and wacky villains are played straight moments of the main character foaming mad over his best friends death and scenes that slowly reveal just what a dark hole you got yourself into.
  • MadWorld and Anarchy Reigns each do this purposely. The gameplay is insanely violent to a comedic degree, but all the cutscenes are usually deadly serious and deal with tragic subject matter. It's done a bit less in Anarchy, but the story present is actually much more personal and tragic since Jack is trying to kill someone who failed to rescue his daughter and has gone mad because of it.
  • Metal Gear Solid can go from running jokes about a child's (adorable) inability to cook eggs to pussying out of suicide in front of your father's grave in the space of the same game.
  • Borderlands 2 contains moments that switch from silly and humorous to dark and back again. For example, at one moment Tiny Tina was singing an adorably creepy song or making a cute attempt at street slang. The next moment, she's torturing a psycho for ratting out her parents and getting them killed.
  • Shadow Hearts: Covenant gets into this pretty heavily. In one scene, you'll help a flamboyantly gay French tailor find softcore porn so that he'll make dresses for one of your party member's animated doll. Then there'll be a quiet scene in which the protagonist reflects on his time with his now-dead girlfriend, and tries to come to terms with his own impending death. Then another of your party members will demonstrate his 'found art' approach to fighting by wielding an inexplicably miniaturized nuclear submarine as a bludgeon. Then you run into the Plucky Comic Relief from the last game, who has developed from a klutzy goofball sergeant into a grim and ominous Colonel Badass after the woman he loved was assassinated in front of him immediately after he finally worked up the courage to tell her how he felt.
  • The entire Mother series does this beautifully, but especially the third entry. Quirky party members, clever pop-culture references, bright comic-book style colors, potty humor, goofy aliens, dancing monkeys, birthday presents filled with music for no particular reason, your mother being brutally murdered, the apocalypse, a villian that represents humanity's sins, acid trips, animal abuse, and your brother killing himself before your very eyes. Not necessarily in that order.
  • The Mario RPGs are often like this. The Paper Mario series goes from light hearted and comedic to dark at almost a moment's notice (just compare the somewhat cheery Castle and Dragon, Excess Express and Fort Francis sections of their respective games to the rather morbid Twilight Town, Thousand Year Door and Sammer's Kingdom return ones). And the Mario & Luigi series? Same. Superstar Saga was mostly comedic, Partners in Time was the darkest Mario game ever released and Bowser's Inside Story went back to being somewhat comedic again. Although they all do have their dark moments (like the Hooniversity in the first game, or Dark Bowser/Dark Star in Bowser's Inside Story, or Bowser's Dream in Dream Team).
  • Ni No Kuni, for great justice. The game begins with Oliver's mother tragically dying, and then segues almost immediately into Drippy being brought to life, who actively berates Oliver and by extension the player for crying over his mother's death. Things are roughly lighthearted from there on out... until Hamelin, which, especially in the PS3 version, contains the most actively tragic seen in the game since the mother's death. And then it's back to cuteness and happiness until the next Drama Bomb comes along...
  • Senran Kagura has an issue with this. The constant bouncing back and forth between Fanservice-heavy Slice of Life between cute, busty girls, and the morally gray world of Shinobi work where characters are frequently trying to kill each other leads to a very inconsistent tone. The developers have acknowledged this, and plan to have individual titles focus more on one tone or the other in future.

    Webcomics 
  • El Goonish Shive has this problem - when it went through Cerebus Syndrome, it ended up being too dark in Painted Black arc, so the author took it back to being silly and fun, but decided to introduce serious elements from a completely different angle, adding a lot of relationship driven plot points, teenage angst and Slice of Life elements. Ultimately the series evolved into a combination of comedy and teen drama.
    • It's not a bug, it's a feature. The comic oscillated between wacky comedy, teen drama and animesque adventure from the start. The wheel turns more and more smoothly, but it more indicates Dan's growing experience with using Rotating Arcs than possibility of other long-term trends.
  • Sluggy Freelance began as a Gag Per Day Fantasy Kitchen Sink comic, then gradually went through Cerebus Syndrome, at first with combination light comedy/dramatic arcs, and then with full-blown dramatic storylines such as "Fire and Rain" and "That Which Redeems," featuring Character Development, relationship angst, quests for identity, and tragic elements. Since then, the comic has alternated between such storylines and light, goofy ones such as a lengthy World of Warcraft parody. Sometimes, the tone will switch abruptly from comic to dramatic even within the same chapter.
  • Drowtales effortlessly jumps between cutesy comedy and incredibly depressing drama, though most of the time it spends somewhere in between.
  • To put it in perspective, the main villain of Homestuck is a dog with sunglasses...who thinks only of killing everything in sight...and occasionally dog treats and is unable to kill the cutie of the group thank to loyalty...but then ends up in a universe where he quickly finds other cuties to kill and proceeds to do so while infighting gets them Killed Off for Real...but luckily there's a afterlife and everyone there seems to be quite happy with how things turned out...that exists in a realm of eldritch abominations who are morally ambiguous at best. And it all began as a young boy playing a game with his friends. Yeah, Homestuck is this trope in webcomic form. Although it's definitely gone towards the darker side. And to many, the remaining humor elements seem forced and unnatural. The creator has picked up on this and the comedic elements now are usually situational or background events to the overarching drama.
    • As of Act 6, many of the most pressing conflicts have been dealt with at least for now, and much screentime is spent following the Alpha universe, an alternate universe in which the kids' ectobiological parents are the new kids, which starts in much the same places as Act 1 did and calls back to the much more light-hearted mood of the early strip. Yep, Homestuck is definitely back in lighter territory...for now. Since then we have learned that two kids are in the future after all of humanity was subjugated and destroyed by Her Imperious Condescension, serving Lord English... We also were introduced to uu and UU, two comedic aliens, one nice and one a jerk, but looking rather harmless... Then we learn that they share a body, one of them kills the other and becomes Lord English. Rollercoaster is on the track.
  • For a Mega Crossover Fan Webcomic running mostly on Fanservice and Comedy Roommates has some surprisingly dark story lines. Mostly (for a lesser extent the fae are guilty too) stemming from the premise of the series: Fictional characters are "real" and know their fictional nature. So what's free will? How binding is their Canon? What happens when too many storytellers mess with you?
    • In practice this goes like: The dramatic arc which dealt with Javert's dark past (canon) was followed by the Jareth vs. Misto story that was purely comedy, after that came a dramatic and romantic arc about Erik finding a new girlfriend (and giving the impression to have a crush on Sarah Brightman), intersected with a meta and hilarious outtake about the "Killed for canon meeting", which results in a carefully calculated and deviously executed Mood Whiplash "What does Friends with Benefits mean anyway?" and so forth.
  • Electric Wonderland takes place in a Cyberspace world where literally anything can happen, allowing ample opportunities for both comedy (April Fools can disregard rhyme and reason more easily than ever before!) and drama (What should you do if a friend you made on the Internet stops logging in?)
  • morphE: is already hitting the rollercoaster by chapter 2. An extreme example is that these two comics were released 5 days away from one another. Going from a gagged character screaming out in terror upon seeing his dismembered hands to a klutzy character rambling nonsensically out of sheer nervousness is certainly a shift in tone.
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del has done this as well, going from gag a day strips to marriage to miscarriage, loss, and death. It eventually goes through this cycle again with new characters. Gag a day, then story arc, then gag a day again with a promise of another drama arc.

    Web Original 
  • Atop the Fourth Wall, while is always a deeply comedic series, has plot arcs toned to fit the main villain - funny villains are just for additional jokes, while serious ones tend to have other plans going on in the background. Comedic and incompetent Doctor Insano was replaced by the scary Mechakara. After Mechakara's defeat, his place was taken by Harmless Villain Doctor Linksano, to let fans catch a break. Linksano has been replaced by the far more menacing Lord Vyce. Each arc is full of episodes completely unrelated to its plot, which helps in keeping the main purpose of the show straight.
    • It's gone from Silent Hill: Dead/Alive (one of the most depressing arcs in the series, giving a nightmarish origin to the "Magic Gun") to "Secret Origins Month", where even the reviews are light-hearted and playful.
    • And again - from "The Entity" arc, that worked well to give the series more horrors for another "Secret Origins Month".
  • The Nostalgia Critic does this a little differently to Linkara, as his show never has any battles or villains, and the only problems he has are of the "inner demon" kind. But he'll give you a long, easy road of funny, then exhausts everyone with Close To Home things like child abuse, domestic abuse, self worth problems, feeling like a failure etc. and after a while goes back to "hehe, just a funny review show". And so on and so on.
  • Everyman HYBRID starts out a lighthearted fitness series/parody of The Slender Man Mythos, before some hints show up that the real Slendy might be getting involved, then there's a Wham Episode where he appears to the group in Evan's home...but in their next few videos and Ustreams they blow it off and take a step back into lighthearted territory, though Slendy still shows up if you look hard enough...until "Joke's Over", where all pretenses of fitness or hijinks are abandoned and the series takes a full step into Cosmic Horror Story territory.
  • Ask King Sombra rapidly fluctuates between being comical and funny and serious and frightening. Sometimes within scenes of each other.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama is one of the few successful examples of a comedic series trying this. For example, four consecutive episodes of the fourth season involve 1) an elaborate Star Trek parody/homage; 2) global warming played for laughs (and guest-starring Al Gore's Head); 3) Fry's thousand-years-dead past resurfacing in the most heart-rending, gut-wrenching, soul-destroying story ever broadcast; and 4) a whacky escalating war involving paper routes. Gleesh.
  • Teen Titans, especially in later seasons (season 1 was fairly tonally constant), bouncing back and forth from lighthearted action-comedy, to utter random goofiness, to some surprisingly intense darkness. Honestly, when you've got an episode centered around sentient omnicidal cow abducting space tofu that comes shortly after an episode where the local Woobie gets tortured by being shown a vision of the apocalypse at her hands in a scene strongly choreographed to suggest rape, your show is officially schizophrenic.
  • ReBoot was mostly comical during season 1, but the season ended with a somewhat darker two-part episode. Season two went back to comical for half of the season, but kicked off a plot for the second half that ended with a Wham Episode. Season 3 got darker every four episodes, before spending the last ten minutes with a Musical Episode. Season 4 goes to the point of Cyberspace Annihilation, then swings back into comedy. THEN a previous villain returns, WINS, and we get a Cliffhanger. This series is a freakin mood yoyo.
  • As ReBoot, its "relative", Beast Wars also shifted its tones frequently. Season 1 was an episodic and fairly balanced series of semi-serious and humorous stories, while season 2 was serious-toned all the way through (with some amusing moments sprinkled throughout its run). Season 3, on the other hand, went from being serious, to half-serious and jovial, back to being dark again, but with some truly over-the-top comedic moments, which made not only the season, but also episode-tones shift wildly.
    • In a similar vein, Transformers Animated (much like Teen Titans and Ben 10: Omniverse), is mostly a lighthearted, wacky action-adventure show with a gazillion silly in-jokes, but it took every chance it got to dive into darker waters: Ratchet's recollections of the past war, Optimus' backstory, Omega Supreme's purpose, and especially Blurr's death are fully serious and dramatic. Even Waspinator, who retains some of his comedic persona from Beast Wars, has a dark origin and constantly switches from his goofy self to a horrifying, tragic re-imagining of himself.
  • South Park started using this trope every now and then since its 7th season.
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated alternates between its largely-humorous episode stories and its very different story arc.
  • The "Rita & Runt" segments of Animaniacs often have the typical humor of the show, but sometimes there will be some dark stuff. The best example would be the mostly serious "Puttin' On The Blitz", where Rita and Runt help a little girl reunite with her father on a train during World War II.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic pulls this with the opening episodes of both seasons.
    • Season 1 started with Nightmare Moon, who represented the pinnacle of real danger the mane six faced for the entire season; almost all other conflicts were social or moral in nature - dealing with petty jerkasses, learning lessons about friendship, and the like. While occasionally dealing with creatures like dragons, hydras, and cockatrices.
    • And now, with the beginning of Season 2, we've come full circle with Discord who, notably for a show like this, isn't shamed into defeat or forgiven and redeemed - he gets put right back in the Fate Worse than Death he crawled out of, at least until Season 3. Then you're back into stories like "Pinkie Pie babysits," "Rainbow Dash finds out that reading is fun," "love potions cause hilarity to ensue," and "Twilight Sparkle struggles so hard to find An Aesop that her sanity sinks into nightmare-inducing depths".
    • Also, Queen Chrysalis, whose evil scheme closes out the second season. She is a demon-bug-pony with a Voice of the Legion and significant Body Horror. She manipulates the main character's brother into loving her by impersonating his fiancé Cadance, beats Celestia one-on-one after absorbing his love, and launches a full-scale invasion of Equestria (not to mention her attempted murder of Twilight and the real Cadance). And after all that is resolved via The Power of Love, what happens? A large party, someone's absence during a full-out invasion is Played for Laughs, and one character proclaiming this to be the "Best Wedding Ever," as if said invasion never even happened.
    • ...And then in the third season's premiere, we've got a plot in which a relatively small number of comedic moments serve to lighten the tension amidst elements like the newlywed couple from the previous episode being continually battered to the breaking point by the nigh-apocalyptic return of an Evil Overlord reduced to a monstrous figure by just how far gone he is who is ultimately defeated, in the show's first instance of this, by apparently being Killed Off for Real. The closing scene is composed of another celebratory song.
  • Samurai Jack uses this trope as darker and more serious episodes are interspersed with jarringly comedic ones.
  • Good Lord, Generator Rex. The ongoing story is incredibly dark, and just keeps getting darker... but the breather episodes are crazy funny.
  • Ben 10: Ultimate Alien is currently going through this. The most recent episodes had the main trio being murdered (but revived later) and the return of an old villain who starts killing people in cold blood. So, the next episode was a fun romp with Dr. Animo and teradactyl people.
    • The whole franchise is a Cerebus Rollercoaster, from the light and fluffy original, to two Dark and Edgy sequels, finally going Lighter and Softer again for Ben 10: Omniverse.
      • Interestingly Omniverse may be Denser and Wackier and Lighter and Softer but it does have a rather dark main plot concerning a trio of Knight of Cerebus villains trying to take down Ben. However, most of these darker episodes are sandwiched in between comedic episodic ones.
  • Family Guy has been doing this recently. In order there was 1) The Griffins win the lottery; 2) Brian has a terrfying drug trip and Meg chews out her family for years of harassment; 3) a Very Special Episode where Domestic Abuse was Played for Drama; 4) Stewie takes Brian's car for a joyride.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball, a normally upbeat and wild cartoon, unexpectedly took a turn for the dramatic with "The Treasure" which gave an explanation for the Watterson's financial troubles and featured a rather dramatic and perilous climax. (With the Watterson kids going into an unfamiliar area and nearly getting badly injured in the process.) The series then went back to normal light-hearted fare...then came The Finale where the series Negative Continuity is deconstructed and the Wattersons discover that their various whimsical misadventure have left long term effects on Elmore, ultimately resulting in the family getting lynched by just about the entire town. Whether we'll see more dramatic episodes in the upcoming third season is anyone's guess.
  • Adventure Time just loves to do this. As it underwent Cerebus Syndrome, the episodes starting getting more mature and character-oriented, but the show is still mostly a bizarre comedy. So, one episode we'll have nuclear warfare and a thinly-veiled Alzheimer's metaphor; the next, we'll have Finn and Jake treating a children's book like a Tome of Eldritch Lore and BMO talking to himself in a mirror.
  • Ultimate Spider-Man takes the Ben 10: Omniverse road. While it is Lighter and Softer and Denser and Wackier than the usual Spidey fare, its main arc plot is much darker than the comedic episodes. Season 2 seems to be going for a more mature arc plot too, while still maintaining humour.
  • This is increasingly true of the 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. It's a lot goofier than its 2003 predecessor, with the addition of a lot of Japanese visual humor. Despite that, the show can get very dark when it wants to, featuring, among other things, The Shredder beating the turtles to a pulp in a fight that almost completely lacks dialog, the horribly burned Rat King almost forcing Splinter to kill his sons, and a goofy heroic wannabe acquaintance of the turtles being painfully transformed into a feral blob monster.
  • Rick and Morty is pretty much always dark. Whether the dark is utterly hilarious or Depressingly serious is another matter. Race of man made people taking a restaurant hostage, being held on trial for the death of a giant, or getting ready to bring Armageddon to start another Adam and Eve situation? Hilarious. Marital troubles, Other dimensions of you causing trouble, and Replacing yourself in another universe seconds after the you from that one died? Disturbing. And it's not uncommon to switch between the two sides several times in the same episode.

Cerebus RetconCerebus SyndromeKnight of Cerebus
Ascended Fridge HorrorSeries TropesEarly-Installment Weirdness

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