Characteristic Trope

Tropes can become discredited in a number of ways. Usually this involves overuse or changes in social values. But sometimes it doesn't even take that.

When a trope which may have been perfectly ordinary on its own is used so famously by one particular show, its meaning gets changed. Instead of what the trope had meant before, it now means "Homage or parody of the show which used it famously." (Or, if you're less lucky, "Blatant rip-off of the show which used it famously.") Think of it as a kind of Real Life Flanderization of a trope.

This can get annoying for writers, since the trope may be a useful screen-metaphor in its own right, but they can't use it without creating unwanted associations.

See also Fountain of Expies for character-specific examples, as well as Whole Plot Reference. Compare Trope Codifier and Trope Namer, which both identify a show for becoming well known for a trope, but not necessarily laying such claims on future use of it. Contrast Ur Example, which is when a show uses what will eventually become a trope, but wasn't actually one at the time. See also Follow the Leader for intentional trope invocation based off of that one particular show.


  • The Earth All Along reveal is cliche for many reasons, but it's also so characteristic of Planet of the Apes that you can't "unexpectedly" reveal a planet to be Earth without the audience flashing back to Charlton Heston.
  • "Rashomon"-Style is similarly characteristic of the film for which it is named, though since most Western viewers will never have actually seen Rashomon, you can get away with it so long as you throw in some Lampshade Hanging to let the more culturally literate viewers know you're not trying to pass it off as your own idea.
  • There are particular styles of Techno Babble that are distinctly Star Trek.
  • The Karmic Twist Ending was used so famously by The Twilight Zone that viewers can't help but think of it whenever they see one elsewhere.
  • On that note: modern fantasy is so inextricably connected to Tolkien that—to quote fantasy author Terry Pratchett—"even if [the author/writer] has said 'Bugger me, I'm not going to write like Tolkien'", audiences usually associated some part of it with his writings.
  • Family Matters: Though there are earlier famous examples, a character as flamboyantly nerdish as Steve Urkel, an Extraverted Nerd character often sparked comparisons to Family Matters, for some time after the show.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot — The trope is indistinguishable from the movie.
  • Any time you pitch a show as X Meets Y, you're going to be compared to both X and Y.
  • Star Wars
  • Whole Episode Flashback, LOST, as a result of expressing usually intriguing flashbacks of various points of various characters' backgrounds in just about every consecutive episode.
  • For American and Canadian audiences, Transforming Mecha will nearly always take the audience's mind to Transformers.
  • Any use of a desert planet is going to bring Dune to mind. Or at least Tatooine.
  • People getting powers as a genetic trait? X-Men. Also, All of the Other Reindeer applied to said empowered individuals.
  • Wizarding School = Harry Potter
  • If there's a Platform Game where the Goomba Stomp is the primary method of dispensing with enemies, it will inevitably have links to Super Mario Bros., whether intentional or assumed. It's become even stronger nowadays, as Super Mario Bros. is one of the few platformers to use this mechanic anymore.
  • Jekyll and Mr. Hyde referencing - any time two extremely different characters, usually one good and one evil, turn out to be the same person.
  • Any work that has a Super Mode - specifically a Golden Super Mode powered by a finite number of artifacts - will undoubtedly be compared to Dragon Ball. Sonic the Hedgehog is no stranger to this.
  • Almost all My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Dark Fics are in some way connected to Cupcakes, be it through the use of the same tropes (a favorite being Rainbow Dash as the victim) or even through the use of a Shout-Out or Take That.
  • In a darker example, many tropes associated with Adolf Hitler or the Nazis have become this due to the two's infamy, even if such tropes dated before them and originally had benign connotations. For example, the swastika was originally a symbol of good luck (and was created independently in several cultures) before it became specifically associated with the Nazi party, whereas the Bellamy salute was discontinued in the United States to avoid replicating the similar Nazi salute.
  • In the UK, any show using the BBC Quarry will be compared to Doctor Who, even though the series hardly uses it any more.

For that matter, most of the tropes in this catalogue which are actually named for a particular show are probably so characteristic of those shows that it's dangerous to use them if you can't handle the association.

See also Older Than They Think.