The writers have let the mythos or stories they have generated get so thick and convoluted that a new reader/viewer has very little chance of understanding the significance of anything. They are 'locked out' of understanding the story by all the reliance on continuity.
This is one of the main bones of contention between creators and executives. Executives generally want each episode to potentially bring in new audience. Creators generally want to entertain the audience they have. In a rare case of this wiki taking the side of the executive meddlers, we have to admit that continuity lock-out is never caused by the execs. It has to be written. When executives fear this condition developing, and either attempt to prevent it before it takes hold, or kill it once it has developed, you have The Firefly Effect.
The standard answer to this issue is the Previously On segment: many shows on this list open each episode with a short capsule summary of events you should be aware of. Of course, Previously Ons have their own drawbacks, such as inadvertently providing spoilers or flat-out not working (because it is impossible to explain everything adequately in the space of 60 seconds). The better answer is Better on DVD: after all, the best way for anyone to understand any show is to buy the DVDs and watch it from the beginning, sometimes more than once or with the help of fan annotations. (Of course, this was not possible prior to the late 1990s; VHS collections of TV shows tended to be pretty spotty, or "best of" collections with more thematic than narrative coherence.)
Why bother with the intense continuity at all? Simple: An intricate series-spanning plot often results in a stronger and more interesting overall show. You may not catch as many fans, but the ones you do get are yours for life. This does mean that you have be sure to rope in as many as possible early on before the Lockout effect takes hold to make the effort worthwhile.
Some Long Runners and certain mediums (such as novels) are designed to be engaged within a linear multi-volume fashion over a period of time, and the authors can't reasonably be expected to keep everything entirely accessible to a newcomer if they want to engage in any meaningful plot or Character Development; if you start reading a seven-volume series at volume five and find yourself hopelessly lost, then you arguably have only yourself (or in some cases the publisher) to blame.
A Compressed Adaptation might cause this. In Web Comics, this can be the impetus for an Archive Binge or a justification for Archive Panic.
This happened with the original UC timeline, which is one of the main reasons Alternate Universe series were made. It was also a major driving force behind the creation of Metal Armor Dragonar; Bandai wanted to bring in fans who might have otherwise been stymied by the existing Gundam mythos and were ready to switch production to Dragonar if it outperformed Gundam ZZ. It didn't, but remains a cult favorite.
Death Note, mostly due to the Gambit Pileup nature of the series. It's possible to jump in within the first ten episodes or so, but after Light and L actually meet each other, forget that.
Given that One Piece has been running since 1997, Eiichiro Oda understandably tries to avoid locking out his readers, which can be difficult given the fact that almost everything and everyone in the series is of some importance even if you don't follow the series from the start. Given that collecting every volume of the story released so far will set you back a few hundred dollars, he understandably puts short flash-backs into the story as well as summaries of the various arcs. To offset this, volume 50 is clearly labelled as a good "starting point", complete with recaps, backgrounds and a new direction for the story.
Would you believe a simple fanservice-ladenUnwanted Harem show like To Love-Ru has this? If you only watch the anime, you'll never find out what's the deal with Celine, where did she come from, and why she's suddenly living with the main cast. Or, until the second anime season, where did Oshizu get herself a new body. Also, the new manga To Love-Ru Darkness makes no effort of helping newcomers on telling who's everyone.
Code Geass: So many things happen in each episode, especially in the super-fast pace of R2, just skipping one episode would result in no understanding of the current plot. And it's difficult to understand the plot even while watching normally.
The first season isn't so bad. Its episodes are cleanly split between "Stand Alone" and "Complex" episodes. Stand Alone episodes are entirely self-contained storylines that are wrapped up by the end of each episode. They're not filler episodes (as they reveal background info for the characters, among other things) but they're not related to the main plotline that gets told in the Complex episodes.
The 2nd season gets a little more complicated. Episodes are divided into "Dividual", "Individual", and "Dual" episodes. Dividual episodes seem to be like Stand Alone episodes, except all of them have some minor detail that becomes more important later on. All three episode types cover three different angles to an overarching storyline that eventually unfolds.
Following along with the story can be quite confusing if you don't watch either season from the very start, or even if you end up missing even one episode, as the series doesn't use Previously On, and don't use Recap Episodes in the same obvious way that most series do.
And all of this headache isn't even including how the original manga and the Mamoru Oshii films are by themselves separate continuities that have nothing in common with each other. Anyone who's just starting into the series will inevitably ask what the correlation is between the manga, the movies, and the anime series.
Anybody introduced to the .hack series as an anime will run into a giant wall of Lock-Out. The two main anime series, Sign and Roots, are actually prequels to the main stories which are told in two sets of PS2 games, and thus don't resolve any major plot points. The effect is even worse if you read the novels or manga, which are generally side stories or Alternate Continuity, with huge references to the main plotlines that aren't explained at all. The games leave some things unexplained (the system restart during the climax of Quarantine comes off as an enormous Deus ex Machina... unless you watch Liminality, which explains why that happened). In short, you're not going to understand this series unless you're prepared to read/watch/play all of it.
Three words: Hajime No Ippo. The series has been running for decades and has already clocked in at over 1,000 chapters with no real end in sight. Sure, you COULD jump in later since it's about boxing and thus all you'd need to know is "this character won/lost some previous matches," but without knowledge of who certain characters are or how/why they box a certain way would make it difficult to follow.
Vision of Escaflowne is guilty of this, mostly due to focusing ONLY on its story and characters. It's carefully plotted and compressed, the content in the episodes always leads up to something, and there's absolutely NO filler in it (this would have been rectified had the producers had the necessary budget and amount of episodes they wanted), not that this prevented fans from loving it to death.
This is particularly prevalent in comic book series, more so than television or film, because while most TV shows run for a maximum of a few hundred episodes (most of which are easily obtainable one way or another) some comic book series run for much longer. (Like Superman: Consistently in print since the 1930s). This, and the fact that comic books can be incredibly rare (with the auction prices this entails), ensures that most new readers are just going to either give up or ignore most of the last 70 years of continuity. In the past, it wasn't uncommon for long-running series to actually recycle storylines with little variation, in keeping with the Seven Year Rule.
This was the reason given for DC Comics' first Cosmic Retcon, Crisis on Infinite Earths, back in 1985: that things were getting too confusing for the fans (in actuality, it was getting too confusing for the writers but they didn't want to admit it.)
Chris Claremont took this to eleven with his out-of-continuity miniseries X-Men: The End, which tries to bring every subplot of 30 years to a satisfactory conclusion.
During his run on X-Men, Grant Morrison stated that he wanted to make the book more accessible to new readers by avoiding mentioning past storylines beyond vague summaries. Once he left the book, the subsequent writers went right back to the older, continuity-heavy storytelling style.
The first movie did far better business than expected. A number observed that not only were the comics mired in their own complicated storylines and prominently featuring non-movie characters instead, but that Marvel didn't even try to tie-in to the movie - which is understandable, since film adaptations of comic books are generally considered to be aimed at a distinct audience and exist within their own continuity anyway. Consequently, the comics saw no boost in readership as the movie raked in millions, so the trope was cited. Crossover traffic may not have happened regardless and this next part may not be true, but the trope is widely believed to be the reason why Bob Harras was fired from Marvel.
Fred Perry's Gold Digger has a degree of Continuity Lockout nearing that of The DCU, despite having only existed since the early '90s and consisting only of one main title, a short-lived spinoff, and a few early crossovers with Ninja High School. Miss a few issues and you're likely to be met with a completely different set of cast members some of whom haven't shown up for a few years, sometimes not even mentioning the main characters.
He is trying to combat this with the 101st color comic, set a few years after the 100th and having some new archaeologists under the tutelage of Gina. Who is also a professor.
The Gail Simone run on Wonder Woman was pretty continuity-heavy and sales fell sharply during it, with the writer herself later lamenting that her run might have been confusing to new readers. DC hired J. Michael Straczynski to replace Simone and bring in new readers with a highly-publicized storyline that took place in a more accessible Alternate Continuity. Brian Azzarello took Wonder Woman back to a more classic take, but he has said he will be making a deliberate effort to avoid bringing up past storylines and characters so as not to alienate new readers.
Untold Tales of Spider-Man came about in particular, because at the time (1995) the Spider-Man books were in a state of continuity lock with the Spider-Clone Saga and Marvel wanted a book for fans who wanted a Spider-Man book that did not require buying EVERY Spider-Man book being published, in order to understand what was going on.
According to Jeph Loeb, this is the major reason why Linda Danvers, the 90's Supergirl, was benched so that DC could bring back the original Silver Age Supergirl. His argument was that Linda's origin was far too confusing and tenuously-tied to the Superman mythos to make sense to casual fans, which is hard to argue. After all, "Kara Zor-El is Superman's teenage cousin who survived the destruction of Krypton while in stasis" is a far more coherent origin story than "Linda Danvers is a teenage Earth-born Angel of fire who merged with a protoplasmic creature from another dimension to become the new Supergirl".
Uncanny Avengers has been said to have this. Unless you have read Uncanny X-Force, don't expect to know what's happening beyond the introductory arc. The villains themselves are the result of a story arc from Uncanny X-Force and Wolverine's son is reintroduced with no explanation for who he is or his history for new readers, as are his associates. Unsurprisingly both Uncanny Avengers and Uncanny X-Force have the same writer.
Star Wars might be the quintessential example of this. Even on its own terms, the original 1977 film (A New Hope) has a fairly convoluted, confusing plot until Obi-Wan Kenobi shows up about a half-hour or so into the picture to explain everything you need to know, and even then there is much that (necessarily) remains inaccessible to the viewer. The iconic character of Boba Fett, who is "officially" introduced in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) but had actually appeared earlier in the (now almost impossible-to-find) Star Wars Holiday Special, is never even named on screen (except for a brief scene in Return of the Jedi, and that is in the middle of a firefight where it's all but impossible to hear anything); therefore, when we meet that character's father, Jango Fett, in Attack of the Clones (2002), we have no way of knowing, outside of the immediate context, why this character and his son are so important, and must rely on the franchise's large amount of supplementary material. In fact, you don't even learn the name of "The Emperor", the entire series' primary antagonist, until The Phantom Menace (1999), with the result that many first-time viewers had no inkling - until it was revealed at the climax - that "Senator Palpatine" is also Darth Sidious, let alone that he would become the head of the Galactic Empire.
The more recent Harry Potter films have had this problem in an unusual way. Each individual movie became more or less incomprehensible without reading the books.
As an example, the plot and tension of Order of the Phoenix hinges on the fact that the only person who would admit to Voldemort's return is Harry Potter. The problem is that if you saw Goblet of Fire you know that isn't true. Because the Ministry of Magic clearly has someone in custody who could tell them (or they could conjure it out of his head): Barty Crouch Jr, who was last seen alive and going to be taken into custody at the end of the film. The book of Goblet of Fire had him kinda-killed off. This was not done in the film, and thus you need to read the books in order for the continuous work of films to make sense.
Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. The movie never says who they are. Then, Harry calls Pettigrew "Wormtail" in the Goblet of Fire movie without explanation. And Sirius is called "Padfoot" in Order of the Phoenix.
Plus, it also means that no explanation at all is given for how Lupin instantly recognizes the Marauder's Map for what it is.
In The Half-Blood Prince, the scenes explaining why who this prince might be and why he is so important are skipped. It is title dropped at the end when Snape proclaims, completely out of the blue, "Yes, Harry, I am the half-blood prince". People who haven't read the book are likely to go "so what?"
Deathly Hallows Part One relies heavily on a shard of a magical two-way mirror as a visual and plot device - despite the fact that said mirror had never appeared in the movies before. Sirius had given a gift to Harry as a gift at the beginning of book 5, and Harry forgets about it because he is worried it is something that could get Sirius into worse trouble. Harry finds it again after Sirius's death and unwraps the mirror - one part of a two-way communication device which Harry could have used to verify Sirius was okay, thus potentially saving Sirius's life. Harry breaks the mirror in frustration and finds the shard as he cleans out his trunk two years later at the beginning of Book 7.
Arguably, many of the above examples are things that you only notice are missing if you've read the books. Lupin recognising the Marauders' Map is treated as no more or less significant than any wizard recognising any magical object. Barty Jr being in custody and no-one believing Voldemort's back is no more unlikely that Sirius Black being in custody for twelve years without anyone figuring out Pettigrew was the real traitor. (Plus, they could have just viewed Harry's memories: Word of God says such evidence is too easily faked for the Ministry to accept and Barty's confession was dismissed as the ramblings of a madman.) The movie viewer knows that the Half-Blood Prince is the person whose instructions Harry has been following and who led him to mutilate Draco, which is about all the book says anyway. Perhaps the real issue is that, as with the books, come across anything after about Number 4 and good luck figuring what the heck it's all about or, indeed, getting anything approaching an ending.
The Star Trek movies (to a large extent) avoided this, save for Star Trek: First Contact (which assumed the viewer had some knowledge of the "Best Of Both Worlds" two-parter and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for Worf's location during the cube battle). Several other examples are peppered throughout the films:
Insurrection averted this trope. According to Michael Piller's unreleased book, Fade In: The Making of Star Trek Insurrection, at least one plan was to have Picard and his crew look for a Federation traitor (a la Heart of Darkness) against the backdrop of the Dominion War (during the point when the Federation was losing ground against the Jem'Hadar). This plan was scrapped due to concerns that theatregoers wouldn't understand the references (which didn't stop them from referencing the aforementioned Deep Space Nine and "Best of Both Worlds").
The 2009 Star Trek also largely averted this - seeing as it specifically sets itself as an origin story in a clear alternate continuity (if Hand Waved connected to the original through use of the Timey-Wimey Ball). However, the tie-in comic, Countdown, is the canonical last appearance for many of the TNG characters, as well as the only way you'll get to find out the backstory for Nero and his ship (which, in turn, references past elements of the franchise, all the way back to V'Ger).
Movies based on comics start with the premise that the movie requires no knowledge of the comic since it's telling its own version of the story. That premise is quickly violated.
Example: X-Men Origins: Wolverine could have used footnotes to explain the significance of its story elements. Since the Weapon X scene was so brief, it could have said "To learn more, please read Weapon X by Barry Windsor-Smith." One benefit is that you get to spend more time with your non-comic-savvy friends explaining the plot. Whether they'll care or not is another story...
Probably the worst is Hawkeye's appearance in Thor. Non-comic fans are left clueless why the movie spent five minutes bringing in a big name actor to play a random wisecracking guy with a bow and arrow, who never appears in the film again.
Peter Greenaway's Luperverse movies, The Falls, The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Drowning by Numbers and several short films, are a deliberate appeal to this trope. His main character, Tulse Luper, generates so much writing and ancillary material about himself (both in canon, and, via Greenaway, In Real Life as well) that no one can write his definitive biography. Lampshaded in his very first appearance in Vertical Features Remake, where a team of academics utterly fails to recreate a lost film Luper made while relying on vague notes and the memories of his collaborators.
Ralph Bakshi's take on The Lord of the Rings seem to assume you are already familiar with at least the bare bones of the story, since they refuse to explain anything beyond "And so it was that..."
The M. Night Shyamalan film The Last Airbender, based off the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender, takes most of the key plot points of the series and represents them in a movie format. This trope happens because of the compressed timeframe to tell the story. You never really understand how Aang is trapped in an iceberg, why Katara decides to leave with Aang dragging Sokka along and the nature of why Aang "glows up" in stressful moments is never explained (admittedly, the Avatar State isn't fully explained until the second season, but it happened enough times in the first season to understand its purpose). If you're familiar with the series most everything fits into place (though very poorly, due to plot holes caused by the changes in the story).
One of the many reasons why The Godfather Part III is polarizing was because of its complete inaccessibility to audience members who had not seen the previous two movies. Wrote Roger Ebert at the time "It is, I suspect, not even possible to understand this film without knowing the first two." However, Ebert still enjoyed the movie and rated it higher than he did Part II.
In what is something of an irony, the producers and executives were a little wary of applying ''Part II" to the second movie partly because they were concerned that people might get the impression they needed to see the first movie in order to understand the second one, which might turn off new audiences. The second movie, however, is generally more accessible, and in general started the trend of Numbered Sequels.
David Lynch's adaptation of Dune is nigh-impossible to comprehend without reading the book, particularly its last forty minutes or so which are an incredibly rushed depiction of two-thirds of the book's length. Especially bad is the scene where Paul decides he needs to ride a sandworm to properly lead his new army, despite the fact that the Fremen ride the worms never having been referenced. In 1984 audiences were even handed playbills before entering the film to explain the plot they were missing.
The second Mortal Kombat film Mortal Kombat: Annihilation has a huge number of plotholes unless the viewer knows the mythology of the video games. Sub-Zero and Scorpion both die in the first movie and they're back alive here. What the film doesn't explain is that Sub-Zero is merely a title and the Sub-Zero from the first film was the brother of the one in the second film. Scorpion is infact an undead ninja. Fans of the games on the other hand would most likely know all of this.
The film does have a (throw away) line about being the brother of Sub-Zero, and being that the first movie showed Scorpion removing his mask to show a fire-breathing skull him coming back to life isn't sharp leap. Watching the second movie and not the first, however, would still count as a lockout, but that can be said for any time someone watches a sequel without seeing the previous works.
Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995) has a memorable allusion to "that thing in the building in L.A.", which knowledgeable viewers will recognize as a Continuity Nod to the attempt by Hans Gruber and his gang of thieves to rob the Nakatomi Plaza tower in the original 1988 Die Hard movie. Even though there's a brief flashback to the climax of the 1988 film within the 1995 sequel, it can be difficult for first-time viewers to understand why Simon Gruber (Hans's brother) is so consumed with the desire to exact revenge on John McClane, the series' hero. The 1995 film even has an offscreen conversation between John and his ex-wife Holly, who was a major character in the first Die Hard (and is mentioned again in the fourth movie, Live Free or Die Hard, in 2008) and is the subject of the '95 film's closing punchline, which seems to come out of nowhere and make for a somewhat confused ending if you are new to the franchise.
Although Mc Clane does briefly explain to Zeus that he dropped Simon's brother off a building not long after The Reveal.
Rambo (2008), the fourth film of Sylvester Stallone's First Blood franchise dating back to 1982, opens with John Rambo working in the Southeast Asian country of Thailand as a trapper of poisonous snakes. It's soon mentioned in the dialogue of the movie that Rambo is an ex-Green Beret who fought in the Vietnam War, but that dialogue skips over the events of the three previous movies (with which longtime viewers should be familiar) during which Rambo returned to the United States and later went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, with no reference point except for a brief montage during which Rambo flashes back to the events of the original First Blood (1982) and imagines himself screaming "Nothing is over!" The naive viewer will be forgiven for assuming at first that Rambo has remained in Southeast Asia for the past 40 years. This is lampshaded in a conversation he has with one of a group of missionaries who have come to enlist him in a rescue mission.
Sarah: Where are you from?
John: Bowie, Arizona.
Sarah: Why'd you leave?
John: I got drafted in 'Nam.
Sarah: And you just stayed?
John: It's complicated.
Larry Niven's Ringworld books pretty much ARE this trope
In another example of a creator locking himself out of his own continuity, John Varley, in an introduction to one of his Eight Worlds novels, admits that he's long since lost track of all the background details of the series, and has given up trying to make the later novels fully consistent with the early ones.
Terry Pratchett said much the same in the introduction to the first edition of The Discworld Companion. Although he does still make the effort; if necessary consulting with Big Name Fans who actually know more about the Discworld than he does, such as the Companion co-author Stephen Briggs.
Pratchett wrote his way out of having to be consistent, all errors are blamed on the fact that even the History Monks can't quite always get time back exactly the way it should be after the magical disruptions that occur.
As the The Wheel of Time series progresses, and both the cast and pagecount swell, individual characters get less and less face time. It's sometimes several hundred pages between a character's appearances, even for main characters. Two of the main characters, Mat and Perrin, have even been left out of a book at one point or another. Worse, the characters have often been active in that time, leaving the reader to infer what happened since they were last seen. Not that we're bitter. In fact, it is quite clear that till the 4th book or so, each book provided info from previous books, including character development history and some important pieces of lore. However, by the 5th book, no more "backward compatibility" is provided and the writer assumes that readers have read the previous books. To the point of removing anyone 3 books or older from the glossary. Readers may have trouble remembering which of the 20 A-named female channelers was Aes Sedai, Rebel Sedai, Aeil, Seachan, or Dark-aligned. They tend to blur together after 10,000 pages or so.
Isaac Asimov put the Foundation series on a decades-long hiatus in the 1950s in no small part because he found it tedious to work a synopsis of the previous stories in so that new readers would know what was going on. He also got fed up with having to reread the material himself to keep it consistent, not that it did him much good. A fan later handed him a long list of inconsistencies within the 'Foundation'' stories.
Interestingly, the author later wrote two prequel novellas (with a third on its way), starting with The Hedge Knight which essentially reproduced the Ice and Fire themes about power and politics down to a much smaller and far easier-to-digest form, and radically less intimidating to newcomers, particularly the graphic novel adaptations.
Also interesting to see how the very faithful HBO TV adaptation Game of Thrones is handling the uber-serialised, densely-plotted structure and the vast cast of characters in the story. The plot is reproduced quite faithfully and getting lost is easy. Having said that, the TV series benefits from the presence of "Previously On" intros. They only cover what happened in the episode just prior to this one, but it still helps. (Also, it seriously helps to have faces and voices to hang onto character names. Even some characters who were Scrappies in the books are getting a better reception on screen.)
They aren't above combining characters and changing or simplifying plots to make each season more self-contained though. While the books pass from one to the next with barely a hiccup the seasons released so far have a distinctive beginning, middle, and end.
Stephen King hired author Robin Furth to be his archivist and continuity editor to assist him in writing the final books of The Dark Tower. She compiled an encyclopedia that King referred to during writing that was published itself as Stephen King's The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance. He says in the foreword to that book that there was no way he could have completed the series without such a document. And sadly, it shows. Many of the books most important plot points are mentioned only in passing, which can result in a whole mess of confusion even for those who have read all the books in order.
Perry Rhodan has a real problem with this. With a backstory of over 2500 issues in the main series alone that might become relevant for the current plot at any time and story arcs that last for 50 to 100 issues it can be quite hard for new readers to break into the series. Nowadays they take some pains to make the round numbers a good place to start, without too much pre-knowledge. Also, in each issue there is a small glossar explaining plot-relevant background that a new reader might not know (or an old reader might not remember).
Warrior Cats: It is possible, if not a bit difficult, to start reading the second series without reading the first series. However, by the third series, things apparently get nigh incomprehensible for people who haven't read all of the previous books.
Katherine Kerr's 15-book Deverry series is divided into four parts; starting at the beginning of any one of the three latter will cause you to only miss half of the significance of what's happening... The Dragon Mage (3rd series) is probably the worst offender, since it tells about the end of the civil war, which has been earlier covered in three other books.
To keep up with all the various plots and Loads and Loads of Characters in Honor Harrington by David Weber, you not only need to read the mainline titles, but the sub-series and short story collections, which are themselves not in chronological order. Go here for a reading order.note You could skip the first book, On Basilisk Station, and start the second, The Honor of the Queen, and still mostly understand the plot — but after that, you haven't got a chance. The books are mostly free, so it won't set you back much. That said, the Stephanie HarringtonSpin-Off series generally averts this, thanks to a Time Shift of several hundred years into the past, before Manticore became enthralled in transgalactic political espionage and warfare. It's also written for a Young Adult audience, so its action is pretty much confined to Sphinx.
Eric Flint's 1632-verse is a "shared universe" open to anyone who wants in. In other words, any fan of the series can write their own contributions to it and have them entered into canon if they pass muster with a review board for the series. Flint and his co-writers then tend to take characters introduced in these stories and work them into the main series. Thankfully, the short stories that have the most impact on the main story have been collected into their own "Ring of Fire" anthologies.
Various Star Wars Expanded Universe works assume the reader has at least basic Broad Strokes knowledge of important EU events and don't even try to make sense otherwise. Amazingly, other works still manage to remain accessible, though the knowledge of the movies is still required.
The Babylon 5 novels are plagued by this, because while some of them are noted as taking place after the events of specific episodes, they aren't necessarily sequential, and are all written by different authors.
The Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde do a brilliant job of constantly inventing new concepts, settings and characters whilst referencing and being consistent with previous books. But if you read them out of order they'll make almost no sense at all.
Live Action TV
The Stargate franchise has been accused of this. A newbie coming it at the eighth season of Stargate SG-1, for instance, is going to need some help understanding who and what all those species are meant to be about. Some people almost gave up after sitting through the pilot episode — without seeing the movie first. "Who are all these people?!" Somehow it did not occur to the writers that it carried over a whopping six characters from the movie without bothering to give them any proper introduction, in addition to introducing five new major characters in this episode alone. The fact that they moved through Abydos and Chulak in large crowds didn't help. Starting with "Emancipation," when it became obvious that they were focusing on a four-person team, things started to look more manageable.
It got so bad that the premier of the second season was prefaced by an hour-long program with the sole purpose of catching up the viewers on the various plot threads and backstories.
Babylon 5 freely admitted that it was a "novel on television," and no one starts reading a novel in the middle. J. Michael Straczynski said he dislikes the use of Previously On segments, preferring instead to have characters recap the plot with As You Know speeches, which is arguably worse.
The promotional efforts for season four do very little to convince those who didn't watch the first three seasons they should watch the fourth due to it revolving around in jokes which are Pandering to the Base.
The 2000s Battlestar Galactica. The series premiere follows immediately from the events of the pilot miniseries, which was not initially included on the Season 1 DVD, and any given episode relies on the viewer being aware of plot details introduced several episodes or seasons earlier.
LOST. There's dozens of major and minor characters, all of whom have their own unique and complicated backstories. The fact that these backstories often intersect in unlikely (and often downright implausible) ways makes things even more confusing. Many people who started watching halfway through the show found a little humor in the fact that the show was called "Lost".
The season 5 premiere features Hurley giving a hilarious rant about EVERYTHING that happened in the first four seasons, which is quite fun to watch with people who haven't seen anything else about the show.
By the final season ABC was running multiple clip shows per season plus weekly reruns with the important continuity details annotated on-screen.
Farscape. The show would have been more successful if this trope hadn't intersected badly with Growing the Beard. According to articles, the network executives cancelled Farscape precisely because of the Continuity Lockout.
HBO's The Wire offers very little exposition to explain or remind the audience of past events that are referenced or provide context for the current scene. Even in the first season it would be almost impossible to truly understand everything that is going on without having watched from the beginning.
Try watching Glee mid-season without the "previously on" segment to clue you in. The pregnancy plot was confusing enough in context. One can only imagine trying to watch an episode that contained that plot without knowing the context. Averted in the second season, however.
This trope is often blamed as one of the contributing factors to the cancellation of the original series. Amongst a lot of other issues that the show was facing at the time, the fact that a fairly large portion of the stories broadcast during the 1980s seemed to hinge upon the audience being aware of characters, events and storylines which hadn't been seen for upwards of ten or even twenty years didn't make the show any easier to watch. Matters weren't helped by the fact that this was well before VHS and DVD was prominent enough to allow people to catch up on the old stuff, and that a lot of this old stuff had been deleted from the archives anyway, meaning that even if the technology had existed, the original material didn't.
In the new series of Doctor Who, the later into any given series an episode occurs, the lower the likelihood of a casual viewer having any clue who the characters are or what is going on. Some episodes also make references to events/characters from the classic series.
Also one of the problems with the TV movie—they'd included enough from the old series without properly explaining it that it wasn't going to make nearly as much sense to anyone unfamiliar with Doctor Who. Given that this was long prior to YouTube and BBC America, most Americans knew little to nothing about it, and while it tossed in all kinds of plot-points from the series it failed to give them nearly enough context. This is mentioned specifically on the movie's DVD commentary. Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann in particular thought that the first act of the movie should have opened up with the TARDIS landing in San Francisco (sans interior shots), thus saving the whole Bigger on the Inside thing as a big surprise for the audience during the later scene where Chang Lee steps into the TARDIS. Instead, we see the large TARDIS interior right off the bat, with no context.
An early version of The Sarah Jane Adventures story "Secrets Of The Stars" would have featured aliens named the Mandragora who had last apppeared on Doctor Who in the 70s. This was one of the reasons why they were replaced with the Ancient Lights in the final product, the story would have been relying too much on one from around 30 years ago and thus locked out the young target audience.
Though that didn't stop episodes being produced that featured characters like the Brigadier and Jo Grant, in particular Jo, who hadn't even been mentioned on Doctor Who for nearly 40 years, yet much of the episode Death of the Doctor required familiarization with the character to truly appreciate.
The Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood is sometimes reliant on continuity from its parent show, and its writers stubbornly refuse to explain the connections any more than is absolutely necessary.
Torchwood's main character, Captain Jack Harkness, is shrouded in mystery. Some of his backstory is revealed on Doctor Who, while some remains hidden. A viewer of Torchwood alone could wait forever for explanations that already happened on another show. The same is true of the Torchwood Institute itself.
The Series 1 episode "Cyberwoman" assumes a familiarity with the Doctor Who Series 2 finale episodes for viewers to understand why the villain is so frightening. Without that information, viewers would be baffled by references to recent historical events that bear great significance to the plot.
Series 1 never really explains why Jack is taking loving care of an amputated hand, either.
The reason behind Jack's jarring personality shift at the beginning of Series 2 is only vaguely alluded to within the actual series. The viewer would have had to have watched the three-part Doctor Who Series 3 finale to understand this.
Ditto for Jack's brief cameo in the Doctor Who special The End of Time. You would have had to have seen Torchwood: Children of Earth to understand why he was drinking away his sorrows on a space freighter rather than fighting aliens in Cardiff.
Heroes. Good Lord, Heroes. The writers really wanted to give the impression that there were characters with powers everywhere, which is one of the reasons it was so interesting and complex. On the other hand, even viewers who watch every week could be confused with all of the new characters and old characters simply disappearing. Plus all of the Face Heel Turns and Heel Face Turns. Just buy the DVDs. It's more comprehensible that way.
Angel, from the end of the first season on, became increasingly arc-driven, to the point that season four required that you be familiar with many of the developments of the past two years to grasp the complexity of Jasmine's advance planning. Network execs reacted to this by insisting that season five be much more typical, revamping the entire location of the show and substantially modifying the mission of the main characters.
The Star Trek franchise was reset precisely because of this trope. The original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation largely averted this by focusing on "crisis-of-the-week" standalone episodes that could be watched in (almost) any order, without sacrificing narrative. By the time Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was knee-deep in the Dominion War arc, you'd have to have watched the prior seasons to understand the main conflict and the various interpersonal conflicts. Star Trek: Enterprise also took this trope to an extreme point by having many episodes only serve to tangle up continuity even further by trying to resolve plot holes and conflicting elements from previous series.
The "Mirror Universe" episodes in DS9 and Enterprise assume you have knowledge of the MU episodes from the original series (and, in DS9's case, the earlier seasons). Granted, that's one of the original series' most iconic episodes, but it's not as if everyone watching the modern Star Trek shows had seen the original.
A large reason why the Enterprise series finale, "These Are The Voyages", was such a polarizing episode was due to the B-plot (which was a concurrent side-story to the Next Generation seventh-season episode "The Pegasus" - if you've never seen the episode, you're lost as to why Riker is mulling over a decision to tell Picard about his involvement with an illegal Romulan cloaking device).
In Treatment really requires the viewer to watch every episode in order, even if you don't like one (or more) characters and want to skip them from week to week. If you do not view every episode, you won't understand what's going on later in the week or in the series.
Buffy could be somewhat guilty of this, especially during the fourth season and onwards. The most egregious example comes during "This Year's Girl"/"Who Are You", where Faith re-appears. It's assumed that the viewer knows her history, and despite this being lampshaded by newcomer Riley ("Who's Faith?"), very little explanation is given, and you'd better be watching the spin-off too, 'cos otherwise you won't see the end of this mini-arc, to understand what to make of Angel's appearance a few episodes later.
Interesting is that this trope functions in-universe too. The Scoobies are a very self-contained group with their own in-jokes and insider information that makes getting close to them very difficult and makes miscommunication practically a given.
And God help you if you pick up the Season Eight comics after a substantial time away from the show. Why is Dawn a giant? Why does Xander only have one eye? Why is there an army of Slayers running around? How did they become a paramilitary organization?
Lampshaded again in a hilarious, fast-paced exchange between Buffy, Giles, and Principal Wood in season seven while discussing all the things that have happened to Spike.
Dollhouse.Joss Whedon loves this trope. This was particularly true of the s2 episode "The Attic": the concept of the Attic had been mentioned only once since the previous season, and there was no explanation of who Mr Dominic is (and he hadn't been seen or mentioned since season 1, either).
It's possible to watch Seasons 1 & 2 of Ashes to Ashes without first seeing Life On Mars - which introduces you to Gene, Chris, and Ray, and tells Sam Tyler's story - but if you haven't seen LOM by the time A2A hits Season 3, you're almost completely lost. Sam and what may or may not have happened to him play a huge part in the ongoing battle between Gene, Alex, and JimKeats, and virtually all of 3x05 - the return of DCI "Bastard" Litton - is nigh-incomprehensible if you haven't seen LOM. Fully understanding 3x07 and 3x08, which pull a Cosmic Retcon on LOM and cause anyone who watched it to immediately start second-guessing everything they know? Forget about it.
Weeds tends to reveal major plot points in the current arc each episode, making it very difficult to get on track if you miss even one episode. Watching an episode in the middle of the season with no previous context will make no sense.
Hong Kong or Taiwan serials can stretch for hundreds of episodes and rarely pause to recap who's who.
Supernatural, especially since season 4, when the angels started getting involved. Considering the show's high HSQ, watching a newer episode without following the story makes for bizarre and incoherent viewing. Take season 4, episode 16: "So, the guy torturing that dude who looks like a paedophile is the good guy? What are the angels stabbing each other over?"
Fringe avoided this problem during seasons one and two, thanks to its heavier focus on self-contained Monster of the Week plots, with the occasional Wham Episode for the longtime fans. According to JJ Abrams and the other Fringe producers, they specifically wanted to make the show more accessible and avoid the impenetrable-for-newbies style progression that LOST did. However, by the time season three came around, the plot became too tough for new viewers to follow, so the show's structure became far less episodic. It's understandable though, as the more procedural feel of the first two seasons would have watered down the major plot developments (with many of them reaching Mind Screw territory) that season three unraveled.
Mad Men suffers from this in spades. The episodes are generally not self-contained, and most of the subtext is built upon episodes from previous seasons. The problem is that this series built on subtext. Viewers must watch from the absolute, S 1 E 1 beginning. The Previously On segments absolutely do not help.
Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, the adaptation of Kamen Rider Ryuki suffered from this. Why? Because the writers felt it would be a good idea to do away with self-contained Monster of the Week episodes and using a more Story Arc driven program. The only problem was that the show was targeted towards children who probably thought they could skip an episode and catch up the following week, this had caused viewers to become confused and the ratings dropped and eventually the show was Screwed by the Network to the point that the final two episodes NEVER got to air on American television.
This is a common failing with regards to soap operas, and considered a reason for their near-extinction today; it was and remains very difficult for casual viewers to "jump in" and figure out what's going on, especially with regards to some of the older soaps which ran for more than a half-century in some cases. And due to the thousands if not tens of thousands of episodes produced of some shows, with many early episodes lost, the Better on DVD option simply doesn't exist (the sole exception being the original Dark Shadows, which ran for more than 1200 episodes, all of which (save a single lost episode) are on DVD).
Oddly averted by the cheap soaps such as Hollyoaks and Neighbours. These have so few plots that you can watch an episode, wait several months, watch another and see exactly the same situation (although often with different characters taking the roles).
Brit Coms in general suffer from this due to the pervasiveness of Historical In Jokes in British humor; Brits have a lot more history than Americans, are much better educated in it - and dearly love making fun of it. Fortunately, thanks to British Brevity, it's easier to catch up on British shows on DVD or your favorite streaming service than it is with American shows. For instance, while you won't understand "The Reichenbach Fall" without seeing every other episode of Sherlock beforehand, catching up will take you a grand total of seven and a half hours.
Nearly every Newspaper Comic in existence is written under the belief that not everyone gets the newspaper every day, so most of them are of a Gag-a-Day format to avoid this. However...
Both Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse daily strips and Ward Greene's Scamp daily strips began as essentially one continuous story, but both eventually shifted to gag a day formats.
That also makes them particularly tricky to separate into individual stories for reprinting in comic book form (besides the obvious fact that they have to make up a meaningful name for the story arcs), for example, Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse as the Monarch of Medioka (Printed in WDC #593-599 starts of with a conversation referring to the immediately preceding adventure, and the plot is set in motion by spending of the money they made off of said adventure. The preceding story, In Search of Jungle Treasure was printed in issues 4 and 5, so unless you have a complete collection, you have to take their word for it.
Modern newspaper strips with running plots generally get around this by decompressing the plot so much that every minor detail happens over at least 3 days. This also means you have to read several months' worth of strips to get anything meaningful out of it.
However you were on your own with regards to older-style serialized stories that offered little by way of recaps or "previously ons". If you didn't follow a story from its beginning, you often had a hard time figuring out the plot. This was intentional as the purpose of the comic strip serial format was to sell newspapers.
Fleep was an Ontological Mystery, so the entire story was progressed through clues slowly gained over the various strips. It was canceled for being too confusing.
Candorville is doing its best to avert this, sometimes filling a panel with As You Know dialogue, but it's been steadily failing ever since it started introducing monsters and prophecies. Now there are 2-3 factions trying to Take Over the World, and a new reader may not initially realize that any of them are present.
Doonesbury is a victim of this. 40 years of strips with close to 100 characters, around 30 or so who appear on a regular basis.
Any band that's been around more than five years or so. You can get into and like the music with any band, but if you're seeking to get into the fandom side or be seen as anything but a noob, much less knowledgeable and intelligent, if a band's been around longer than five years, you'll need to check out all of their work, engage with active fans that were around from the beginning (or at least, themselves read up on the fandom lore) and be a lurker until you know what you're talking about to avoid Flame War.
Influences and inspirations for songs, lyrics, stage presence, or more, which can change your opinion or liking of a song or even a band.
BIONICLE, especially after the introduction of the on-line serials. The main story arcs tended to avoid this, but when former main characters that had been cast aside for years got back on stage, even that went messy. The whole storyline balanced on a thin line between trying to please the older fans and bring in fresh blood. Probably one of the main reasons LEGO decided to cancel the line and bring in Hero Factory, which is much lighter on the story.
This can be a problem with online roleplays that have gone on for years. When a new member wants to join up they have to verse themselves in everything that's happened before.
Depending on the extent of Fanon, this can happen - a lot of fandom members tend to assume everybody is on board with their fandom lore, the running gags, the personalities invented (and accepted) by them or have read all the popular fanfiction recommendations. This can lead to some new fans wondering where on earth this is coming from.
Usually avoided in pro wrestling, since most of the characters (at least if they fall between the two extremes of "irrelevant" and "universally popular") will switch from Heel to Face and back again (or vice versa) quite a few times over the course of their part in an overall story arc, with other characters all but forgetting about the bad deeds they committed as Heels or the good deeds they committed as Faces (unless a character is explicitly confronted with his/her past). However, since World Wrestling Entertainment has a video archive going back to the 1960s and everything (or almost everything) that occurred over the course of that half-century is regarded as canon, it often becomes helpful to play vintage video clips in the montages in order to bring everyone up to speed. (Anything that happened in the 1950s or earlier is, for the most part, written off as being the province of the wrestling "territories", ultimately embodied by the National Wrestling Alliance, which has an ongoing history dating back to the late 1940s - and yes, all of those 60-plus years are NWA canon - but from which WWE's original incarnation, Capitol Wrestling Corporation, broke away as early as 1953.) When it's convenient, of course, WWE will cheerfully ignore parts of the canon that are fairly unimportant, since only events that have happened since about 1984 (when Hulk Hogan first hit it big) are considered particularly relevant.
Incredibly, there is at least one WWE personality whose exploits stretch back all the way to the outbreak of World War II, well before the beginning of WWE or NWA: Mae Young, the 90-year-old former United States Women's Champion (a now-defunct title) who appeared on Monday Night Raw as recently as March 2013. With an in-ring career spanning literally six decades, Young is generally referred to in Broad Strokes whenever WWE programming discusses her incredible history, usually being hailed as the first nationally prominent female wrestler (not true, although she was part of the very first generation of female wrestlers) and a morale-booster for Americans on the home front during the war in the 1940s (true this time). Attempts have been made to construct a title archive for Young, but so many of her victories happened so long ago and were so spottily recorded that this task has proved frustrating; indeed, it's doubtful if Young herself can remember everything.
WWE fired their continuity editor for pointing out the millions of continuity errors. His job was specifically to point out and edit storylines to make sure the continuity worked.
WWE onscreen commentators both past and present (Matt Striker, to give one noteworthy example) can boast an encyclopedic knowledge of 20th-century wrestling lore, being able to cite references to things that happened long before they were born - and since there isn't time in the middle of a match to bring everyone up to date on what all these references mean, anyone who happens to be casually tuning in to WWE programming is certain to be all but lost, even when it comes to references to events that happened as recently as a few months ago.
Table Top Games
This is a general property of Table Top Role Playing Games. Most have highly detailed universes which are contained in Door Stopper books. A good Game Master and group of players will help a new player considerably. Put succinctly, a new player has to learn the mechanics of most games (crunch) as well as the setting (fluff). Despite the name, learning the "fluff" is not always easier - some games have really simple rules and terribly complex ideas behind them. Smart companies design their products around this problem.
Dungeons & Dragons and by extension Pathfinder get a bit of a break, as D&D has fertilized so many video games and other fantasy works that some of the material comes off as a cliche within the genre. Despite this, there are literally hundreds of books for the various D&D settings, optional guides, and so forth, spread through so many editions, that without a patient group it can be very overwhelming for a new player.
Forgotten Realms alone published dozens of books and boxed sets with every edition.
Paizo's Pathfinder Adventure Paths try to get around this by offering free books which brief the players on the adventure to come and what to expect. They're "only" roughly 15-30 full-size pages, and they still require a decent knowledge of the rather complex Pathfinder setting.
D&D and Pathfinder have the Continuity Lock-Out problem in their crunch as well. As they constantly release new books with new mechanics, a new player can have five to ten rulebooks of material to sort through. For example, Pathfinder initially had one Core Rulebook, but by mid-2013 now has expanded to include dozens of minor splat books and at least seven that could be considered "options for players." The Core book is about five hundred pages, and each other major book is about two-hundred and fifty.
The World of Darkness, Old and New, were prone to this. The typical rulebook was 250 pages of fluff, 50 of mechanics, so a new player would have an immense buy-in in terms of learning the game's feel. Additionally, there were multi-year long metaplots, constant expansions, and a splat book for everything. And the lines all overlapped at least a bit. Fortunately, playing someone brand new to the supernatural world was pretty much the norm, so the characters would be unlikely to know much about the setting.
Call of Cthulhu is a bit difficult to follow if one isn't overly familiar with the Cthulhu Mythos.
This is a problem of many games which license another setting, such as Star Wars, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Dresden Files, and The Wheel of Time. Presumably, someone wanting to play these games wants to enjoy settings from other media they like. If they invite other friends who aren't familiar with the setting, the new player has to adapt to all the new rules, mindset, and the setting.
Star Wars games often use the Expanded Universe. Given how much of it there is, that can really be overwhelming if all you know are the movies.
Warhammer and Warhammer40000 are fairly approachable as straight war games without any over-arching fluff, but their various role playing incarnations like Dark Heresy require a massive amount of detail about their settings. The war games do a fairly good job of giving a feel for their worlds, however, with rule-books that are about a hundred pages of rules and three hundred pages of fluff and model galleries.
Paranoia subverts this. You're neither expected to know the rules nor the setting going in. If you are caught knowing the rules or setting, it's treason. Friend Computer assures you that knowing the rules or setting are not vital to your success in this mission. Report immediately to Brain-Scrub Room Zeta 462 to have this treasonous information purged from your brain or be executed for treason. Have a pleasant daycycle.
All the above problems apply doubly-so for the Game Master, who has to know (or fake) the setting to the satisfaction of the players.
Many games release a "beginner's version" to try to compensate for this problem, allowing new players to sample the game at a minimal layout before deciding whether they want put down their hard-earned money and then spend time working through the game at all. Sample adventures which hold the players' and GM's hands a great deal are also used to this effect.
Making many new characters naive about the setting is another effective tool to combat this problem, since the player and their character learn together. This is very effective in Unknown Armies, World of Darkness, Call of Cthulhu, and other settings where there really isn't a good reason for the character to know much about the setting. When The Masquerade means new characters are naive, the player can be almost as surprised as their character when they discover something new.
StarCraft II is also slightly guilty of this. There are summaries on the website and the installiation process shows off a recap of what went down in the original games, but otherwise you have to read the novels to know anything about Valerian, Tychus, Matt Horner.
Plot advances going unexplained in-game during the 4-year Time Skip between Brood War and Wings of Liberty caused a disconnect for people as well. If you were hoping for a continuation of where Brood War left loose ends off, prepare to be extremely disappointed.
Prime example, you'd have to dig into StarCraft's Expanded Universe to understand why Raynor is all of a sudden longing to be with Kerrigan again at the start of Wings Of Liberty despite his last appearance in Brood War having his classic character defining moment of vowing to kill Kerrigan someday. We're suppose to believe that he got over his ploy for revenge during the 4-year intermission, but how he got over it went completely unexplained in the game; leaving many players confused as to why Raynor's suddenly in a different emotional state.
Another unexplained plot change you'd have to read the Expanded Universe to understand involves how the Dominion are all-of-a-sudden the top dogs again despite being on the recieving end of many Curb Stomp Battles in Brood War. The player's Willing Suspensionof Disbelief really comes to question here as to how the Dominion achieved such a miraculous recovery; incluing how Korhal instantly turns into a planetwide megapolis come Wings Of Liberty despite being a desert wasteland 4 years prior in Brood War.
As a sort of alternative, the Ac!d games happened in an alternate universe, but they still expected a familiarity with the main phase series with its spoilerrific character cards. In the first game's story, a lot of hints about Snake's identity and motivations require some knowledge of his main phase canonbackstory, such as his sterility.
World of Warcraft is like this at times. Events happen outside the game's continuity that still affect the game. Why is the king of Stormwind back for Wrath of the Lich King, and where was he? Why is Cairne dead in Cataclysm? Op, better read the expanded universe material to find out! To be fair, the games never leave you completely out of the loop, but you might have to dig for those tidbits. It's just the basics, not the complete story.
Blackwing Descent, one of the tier 11 raids, is home to Deathwing's son Nefarian, who is running experiments on different kinds of dragons. Except Nefarian was already killed several years prior to the Cataclysm expansion. Playing through the game alone, you'll never find out how Nefarian came Back from the Dead, what the purpose of his experiments was, or how they tied into Deathwing's plan since the raid doesn't address it and neither Nefarian nor his experiments ever appear or are mentioned outside of Blackwing Descent. Were it not for the Expanded Universe, the entire raid would be a Big Lipped Alligator Moment.
Nozdormu, Aspect of Time and leader of the Bronze Dragonflight, was missing in action during classic World of Warcraft and the first two expansions. It was a bit of a plot point that the rest of his flight didn't know where he was or what he was doing. Then, in Patch 4.2, he shows up during the Elemental Bonds questline. No mention of him having been gone, where he was, or when he got back was made, and everyone just acts like there's no reason he wouldn't be there. Turns out his return was covered in the Expanded Universe novel Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects... Which, when 4.2 first launched, wasn't even out yet
To make things worse, the continuity is spread over multiple handheld systems, including the GBA, DS, PSP, and the 3DS. 3 out of 4 of these are Nintendo systems. The PS2 remake of Chain of Memories alleviates the confusion slightly for those without Nintendo handhelds, but they'll need to get a 3DS to get Dream Drop Distance, which will tie together the previous three hand-held installments (358/2 Days, Birth by Sleep and coded) and the inevitable Kingdom Hearts III. Likewise, those with Nintendo handhelds, but no PS2 or PSP... you get the picture. Crack is Cheaper than playing the entire series.
The Ace Attorney goes out of its way to avoid this, to the point of characters avoiding references to other games even when it would make sense to do so. See: Miles Edgeworth in Investigations constantly mentioning that he no longer follows the von Karma way without mentioning the fact that von Karma murdered his father and raised him that way as revenge for a small courtroom slight. Presumably this is done to avoid a Late Arrival Spoiler, but still, you would think that would be a big deal...
Continuity in The Elder Scrolls games works in a similar way to avert lockout. You don't NEED to know about the Warp in the West to play and enjoy Morrowind — but if you'd LIKE to know how the previous game's multiple endings were resolved, just read the in-game book about it! Business and technical challenges sometimes force some bizarre contortions of continuity, but that's another trope.
Melty Blood assumes you already know all the characters and their relationships to each other. If you're completely unfamiliar with Tsukihime, it feels like a massive In Joke.
The Legacy of Kain series is hard enough to follow even if you play them all. If you missed one, you have no chance.
You'll probably be alright if you miss Blood Omen 2. It gives some back story for the Hylden, but nothing terribly important that can't be gleaned from Soul Reaver 2.
BlazBlue takes the cake, natch. Ok, so let's try and break down the storyline: No matter which character you play through the arcade mode with, each of them all end up having the same ending in which they just simply cannot stop the Big Bad from unleashing his ultimate creation and getting one step closer to destroying all existence. But the thing is, each of these character endings all happened at the same time, because the Big Bad is manipulating the laws of space and time to reset time over and over again, each time creating a new dimension in which he hopes the parameters will be just right where he can carry out his ultimate goal. Confused yet? It gets worse. On top of all those endings all happening at the same time, an overarching storyline continues to unfold in which each character has their own goals that they want to achieve. Some characters are just trying to live peaceful lives, some have become bounty hunters while trying to hunt down the most notorious criminal in the world, while he himself is just looking for someone's ass to kick, namely the Big Bad. One girl is trying to figure out who she is, and eventually finds herself as the very center of all the crap that is happening. Meanwhile, the bad guy is trolling each and every last one of them, manipulating many of them and corrupting their ideals, making friends distrust each other, betray each other, and pull everyone's strings to the extent that everyone is about to just go straight up crazy. Somehow the main characters figure out the plot, band together, and defeat the big bad, but this was all part of his plan to make what is a computer equivalent of GOD overlooking the entire universe to divert its attention long enough for the big bad to take it over and advance his plan yet again.
All of that was the outcome of just the first two games alone. Read the character pages for the game and just see how many spoilers there are. It'll take a long while before you can start to make sense of it. It's not like playing the first game will help better explain anything either. You'll be just as confused if you just bypass the first game altogether and start with the second. This isn't even counting the numerous spin-off games for multiple portable platforms like the PSP and DS, assuming that the game even gets exported over from Japan in the first place!
Worse still, there is an exorbitant amount of side materials which all manage to tie into the main plot. Whereas you could largely get by in Guilty Gear, BlazBlue's predecessor, without these, they are crucial to understanding the BlazBlue universe. For starters, if you want to know why Hakumen is the man he is today and how Hazama is able to prey on Tsubaki's jealousy of Noel, that's where The Wheel of Fortunedrama CD comes in. The Phase Shift light novels build up the underlying story of the Six Heroes and details the exploits of the Dark War's unsung hero, a time-displaced Ragna the Bloodedge, not to mention that the fifth novel throws in a hook for the third game. Even the overly fanserviceyRemix Heart manga might end up influencing things down the road given the main character's friendship with three of the games' more prominent females, her status as one of the Duodecim (the twelve families Jin, Tsubaki, and CP newcomer Kagura belong to), and some rather Mind Screw-laden visions of the future in later chapters. Luckily, members of the fandom have managed to translate and give synopses of these works, but if you don't bother doing your homework, you're going to have a hard time making sense of some of the more cryptic allusions.
Happened with Mass Effect 2 when it was ported to the PlayStation 3. Because of licensing issues, the first game never made it to that console. People were worried that new players wouldn't get the whole story, so BioWare created an interactive comic that, admittedly, tells the story from a somewhat awkward perspective. It glosses over Feros completely, leaving some players in the dark about Shiala, the Feros colony, et. all. Even worse, as Admiral Hackett doesn't appear in the sequel outside of passing mentions and a letter, his significance in the Arrival DLC is completely lost on players who didn't experience the first game.
Averted in Mass Effect 3 with the DLC plots from Mass Effect 2, as the game has alternate scenarios in place if the player didn't do the DLC missions. For example, Shepard is incarcerated at the start of the game for working with Cerberus rather than causing hundreds of thousands of batarian deaths, as the situation in Arrival is handled instead by Alliance soldiers and Liara defeats the Shadow Broker with a ton of hired mercenaries.
There are two small cases in the second and third games. Unless you've played Mass Effect: Galaxy, you won't know how Jacob knows Ish on Omega. People who haven't read the novels also won't know where Kai Leng came from.
Metroid: Other M is frequently accused of this. While most of the references make sense to a casual fan, the use of this trope single-handedly turned the Ridley scene into one of the most despised scenes in the series history. This plot point came from an obscure manga that was never released outside of Japan, where Samus has already feared Ridley since he killed her mother and led a massacre of her home planet K2L. About the only indication people get is a nonsensical shot of Samus turning into her child self, rather than actually showing the ravaging of K2L for context.
It is possible to understand and enjoy the plot of Suikoden III without playing the first two games in the series, but the reveal of the Masked Bishop's identity (a pivotal moment in the story) will not make any sense.
Homestar Runner. It's not a very continuity-heavy site really. But there is large reliance on in-jokes and running gags. The toons are sorted in to different categories so you're not even sure where to start. However, it has a wiki that is so helpful and comprehensive... it's a little scary. This is the only place you'll find a chronological list of the toons and games.
Sluggy Freelance. Trying to understand the significance of things without going through an Archive Binge... just doesn't work. Sluggy Freelance may be the only webcomic where the creator forgot his keys and locked himself out of his own continuity. In his defense, the writer has become aware of this trope and provides relevant links at the bottom of the strip for anyone who hasn't gone through the eight plus years of continuity.
Megatokyo. If you haven't read it from the beginning, you can forget about understanding the story. This is largely due to its character driven nature. If you haven't witnessed every second of Piro and Kimiko's courtship, or taken notes on each tiny nuance of the Piro/Miho dynamic, you aren't going to have any clue what's going on. Even then you might still have trouble, but that's anothertropeentirely
Hate is as strong an attracting force as love. See the Fallout fandom, who hate every single thing about the series but will tear you apart if you try to take it from them.
Penny and Aggie is a tapestry of numerous characters and subplots and overarching plots and rivalries...just read it from the beginning and you'll understand it better. The website now attempts to help those not planning on an Archive Binge by displaying a summary of the current plotline and the characters involved. The reader is still missing out on a wealth of backstory and characterization if they rely on that alone.
There are forgiveable elements of this in SGR's first strips, too. Ryan, Shelley and Fallon drop in with little introduction because they were already established in the predecessor strip Bobbins.
There are various characters still around from SGR, too, it's just that their backstory is no longer needed to understand their current role. (Including at least one who logically shouldn't be able to come back.)
Girl Genius has so many characters who can be summarized as "Mad Scientist", many of whom disappeared for several years and then resurfaced, that even after reading the entire archive it's hard to keep track of what's going on now.
What's going on? SCIENCE!, that's what's going on.
Gene Catlow has spent many years on a single, complex arc that seems to have important roles for dozens of characters.
Any MSPaint Adventure, but particularly Problem Sleuth. Even people who have read every single page in order occasionally need to sit back and think "Wait, what's going on?" If you have a good grip of the story, even skipping a few pages will mean you won't understand a Call Back or five.
Generally, webcomics having call backs isn't so rough because of their archives, but MSPA is one of the few webcomics (except, perhaps, the Walkyverse) that requires you to read unrelated webcomics to get all the jokes. Want to understand why Jade is making jokes about pumpkins in Homestuck? What's up with Ace Dick's extended sideplot in the Game Of Life? Well you had better read every badly-drawn, nonsensical corner of Jail Break!
Homestuck, Problem Sleuth's successor, has a veryveryveryveryvery convoluted plot. One can spend hours trying to fit all the pieces together, and chances are that you've probably still missed something that the fandom hasn't. And then there's the tangentially related pages such as the Midnight Crew and Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, which somehow weave through and permeate the entire plot even though they're in rather... inaccessible locations.
This link is the in-comic recap of the first year.
The Order of the Stick is not quite long enough to invoke this yet, but it's well on its way there, as any strip past the 300-strip mark has a 80% chance of making no sense whatsoever to anyone who hasn't read through the whole archive. It's exactly like joining a RPG campaign in the middle: you'll still get the gamer jokes, but who are all of these NPCs?
El Goonish Shive: Author Dan Shive tries very hard to avert this but he has lampshaded it in the past like in this comic's title or this one's commentary. Like Sluggy Freelance, he has taken to providing relevant comic reference links at the bottom of the strip just above the commentary for anyone who hasn't gone through the ten plus years of continuity recently.
Given the vagueness of the plot and the fact that all the episodes are online, lonelygirl15 would probably not be an example of this, if it wasn't for the tendency of seemingly irrelevant, blink-and-you'll-miss-it background details to become crucial Chekhov's Guns several hundred episodes later.
Happens in Survival of the Fittest a great deal. Sometimes, even starting at the beginning of the current version/season isn't enough - references will be made to scenes or characters in previous versions. It's often very bewildering for people seeing the RP for the first time.
Arguable with the Whateley Universe, since it now consists of over a hundred stories, most of them novel or novella length. Every major protagonist has a backstory, and girls of Team Kimba all have backstorynovels. Diving in with current stories means you may not get the in-jokes, or the references to prior stories, or what's going on with recurring characters, or some of the ongoing plotlines, like Ayla's blackmailer or Jade's quest, or the people who may be after Toni. It's assumed that you already know what the main characters' powers are.
Also arguable, That Guy with the Glasses, especially with how many multi-video running gags, crossovers, story arcs, and callbacks to past videos they use. Most hardcore fans of the site were lucky to find the The Nostalgia Critic's stuff on YouTube before it grew into a critic community, so they have a leg up on knowing each Running Gag. Watching individual reviews on the site, it seems fairly accessible, but understanding something like Kickassia is impossible unless you have a good understanding of the group's dynamic, and the use of past characters.
Made even worse by Spoony no longer being on the site. Newcomers won't be able to follow it anymore unless they do some off-site research.
Suburban Knights was specifically written to avoid this, however. You'll definitely get more out of it if you're a fan of the site (especially regarding the use of Ma-Ti) but the story is perfectly comprehensible to someone coming in cold.
Ostensibly, one of the reasons Rooster Teeth ended Red vs. Blue: The Blood Gulch Chronicles at Episode 100 was to prevent Continuity Lockout. While they succeeded, the series from that point forth became more plot based, and a good number of the Call Backs still require familiarity with all the older episodes (as opposed to just episodes from the most recent trilogy, Recollection).
One of the many complaints people had about Beast Wars is that when it aired, it had the strongest continuity ever seen in a cartoon on American or Canadian TV. As a result, a new viewer jumping in partway through is going to be quite perplexed by what's all going on. Then its sequel Beast Machines one-upped it.
Ironic with Beast Machines, since they were originally trying to avert this trope by ignoring most of Beast Wars, only to end up with a stronger version of the trope in its own series.
Later episodes of The Simpsons suffer from a mild case of this condition at times (though it's understandable for a series in its 23rd season). One particular gag involved Homer (accurately) daydreaming about a "think-tank", a joke which is probably funnier to longtime viewers than new ones.
Homer: What, I'm not allowed to get one right?
Many of The Simpsons' minor characters are completely bizarre without context, yet the show takes it for granted that the audience can recognize and appreciate most of them without any sort of perfunctory introduction or explanation. Examples would include Bumblebee Man, Sideshow Mel, Duff Man, the Sea Captain, or Disco Stu, or even Krusty, all of whom are long-running continuations of one-off gags from many, many years past. One gag even relies on the viewer recognizing Duff Man's voice, when he himself neither appears nor even gets mentioned in the episode.
This is Lampshaded when Marge gets amnesia one episode. She finds all the side characters confusing and creepy and is incredibly disturbed when Homer says they're his and Marge's close friends.
The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes has subplots that span several episodes, or start off one week and get picked up again much later. The second half of season 2 was mostly changed to stand-alone episodes, as Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb claimed that the show's mediocre ratings might have been the result of the series being inaccessible to new viewers. Even then, viewers jumping in at this point would probably still feel confused.
This was then used as part of the justification behind ending Earth's Mightiest Heroes and launching Avengers Assemble as a replacement.
Aside from this episode, there are many episodes that continue off of each other, numerous Myth Arcs, newly introduced KND members, and other organizations or subfactions of the KND themselves.
ThunderCats (2011) is heavy on its Heroic Fantasy plot, but this makes it fairly difficult to leap in halfway and know what's going on. Some episodes don't really end as much as they just stop, only to pick up right where they left off the next week, which lends to the show being more accessible in large chunks.
As the Ben 10 franchise goes on, it may become harder for audiences to become invested in the arcs and characters, as well as adding to the fact that the films that the series have produced are all canon, meaning that those disinterested will have to watch them anyway. Ben 10: Omniverse promises that it's a good starting point, though it still requires a good deal of understanding of the franchise to understand some of the humor, characters, or episode plots.
For that matter, Green Lantern: The Animated Series falls under this starting with the Manhunter and Anti-Monitor arc in the second half. That's pretty impressive for a series that only lasted 26 episodes.
The Venture Bros. series creators, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, actually discuss this trope when they hosted the season four finale Operation PROM on [adult swim]. They appeared in a series of videos leading into and coming back from commercial breaks during the initial airing of the episode, and in one of them, discussed how self-referential this episode in particular was. The series in general, at least after the first season, can have this effect as well, as the episodes are packed with references to things that happened previously.
Total Drama has been getting less and less elaborate on its past as the series goes on. The latest season, All Stars, begins with no real recap of any of the show up to that point (aside from the characters quickly bringing up certain moments), so anyone who hasn't seen the episodes beforehand would be much more confused than those who had.