A new person (or an old inhabitant returning after years away) comes to a town suffering from lawlessness and corruption. He or she is appointed to a position of responsibility, such as The Sheriff
, and proceeds to reduce crime, establish the rule of law, and topple the corrupt powers that kept the town from prospering.
A stock plot in The Western
, although easily transplanted to other settings. Often, it may be a corrupt organization that needs cleaning up instead.
In more cynical works, the would-be reformer ends up succumbing to the corrupt system, dying or worse, becoming just as corrupt as the people they replaced.
In comedic works (particularly cartoons, it seems), may entail a broom and/or dustpan, a pointy stick and garbage can, or other literal interpretations of the phrase.
Contrast with the Tyrant Takes the Helm
story arc, where the villain may believe that they're in this plotline, but are actually making things worse.
- Batman, to varying success; the recent franchise reboot emphasized this aspect, as Batman himself hopes that someday he won't be needed.
- Jesse Custer in the Salvation arc of Preacher.
Table Top Games
- Discworld: Carrot Ironfoundersson, when he arrives in Ankh-Morpork - but he's so nice about it...
- Liaden Universe: Pat Rin yos'Phelium when he arrives on Surebleak.
- Deconstructed in Harlan Ellison's short story, "The End of the Time of Leinard". The sheriff who was brought in to clean up the town decades before is now seen as a menace for his heavy-handed tactics, leading the town to conspire to get rid of him.
- Shadowrun adventure Harlequin's Back. In one of the mini-adventures in the book, "A Fistful of Karma", the PC's must defeat a cruel tyrant who oppresses the people of a mining town.
- Dragon magazine #71 (back when it wasn't just Dungeons & Dragons) had a Boot Hill module called "The Taming of Brimstone", in which the player characters had to clean up the title town.
- The Untouchables.
- Many episodes of Stargate SG-1. Often, the SG-1 team arrives on a planet to discover that an enemy force ("Goa'uld" or otherwise) has enslaved or is otherwise tormenting the local population, prompting the team to clean up the town.
- The entire cast of Angel was eventually assigned to run the uber-evil law firm they had spent the last four years fighting. Everyone angsted a lot about whether they were up to the task, or would be corrupted themselves.
Angel: You hired Harmony as my secretary??
Wesley: I thought we could use a familiar face.
Angel: Hmm. You turned evil a lot faster than I thought...
- Once Upon a Time: Emma came to Storybrooke when her long-lost son showed up and said she was The Chosen One. She didn't believe the kid, but when she got a good look at the town and the crooked mayor, she decided to stay put and be a professional pain in her side, eventually getting the job of sheriff. As such, she's untanggling all of the town's dark secrets.
- Looney Tunes short "Drip-Along Daffy": Daffy comes to "clean up this one-horse town", and in the end he does... as streetsweeper. "Lucky for him, it is a one-horse town."
- Similarly done at the end of the Quick Draw McGraw cartoon "Double Barrel Double," but without the double entendre line.
- Possibly because Quick Draw himself is a horse so the joke wouldn't work.
- The Spongebob Squarepants episode 'Pest Of The West' has Spongebuck immediately being appointed sheriff so he could save the town from Plankton's ancestor, Dead Eye Plankton. He does exactly that.
- Name a political challenger, this is almost guaranteed to be one of their platforms.
- City Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire was brought into El Paso to clean it up as the previous 5 marshals in the last 8 months were either incompetent, corrupt, or killed. He proceded to kill at least 10 criminals in the next year, dropping the crime rate significantly.