"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"After the movie It's a Wonderful Life, a device whereby an external force (usually supernatural) intervenes in a time of crisis to show the character facing said crisis how things would have been had he or she never been born. May occur as part of a Near-Death Experience, or following Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter. Episodes with this plot usually take place around Christmas time, because It's a Wonderful Life takes place around Christmas. If a show hasn't done a Yet Another Christmas Carol episode yet (or if they have already done so), they'll be doing this one. Usually the character learns that everyone they know would be worse off without them. The most common subversion is that everybody's life is better. The world is usually governed by the Butterfly of Doom; regardless of how minor the change, there is rarely a middle ground or a world which is only slightly different, to the extent that the character's absence, no matter how seemingly insignificant or small, will result in a complete Crapsack World in which there is little hope whatsoever. Also closely related to Necessary Fail. This may be a Dead Horse Trope already. Nearly half the examples below are subversions of some sort, most commonly the above subversion used for parodic effect. A Sub-Trope of Whole Plot Reference (so anything less than the plot is merely a Shout-Out). Requires a Ripple Effect-Proof Memory. Compare For Want of a Nail. Sister trope to Yet Another Christmas Carol, "Gift of the Magi" Plot, and How the Character Stole Christmas. And here and here is a re-creation of It's a Wonderful Life using clips from TV episodes that referenced It's a Wonderful Life. May or may not be related to It's a Wonderful Failure.
— Clarence Odbody, It's a Wonderful Life
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Anime and Manga
- The final episode of Serial Experiments Lain shows a world in which Lain does not exist (in contrast to scenes from the first episode, before all the weirdness)... and then the viewer realizes that this is not a mere possibility, but a reality Lain created by erasing everyone's memories of herself. Although she did leave her BFF Alice with a tiny figment of memory of her, only large enough to make her wonder for a second if she has seen Lain before.
- The fourth Haruhi Suzumiya novel and The Movie, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, is one long Wonderful Life story for Kyon, except he didn't actually ask for it, he's not the one being retgonned, and the "angel" responsible is affected by the changes as well... It does happen around Christmas, though.
- Played straight for a sequence in the final episode of Kimagure Orange Road.
- Rika in Higurashi: When They Cry's "Saikoroshi-hen" wakes up in a new world after a Near-Death Experience, in which none of the tragedies involving Oyashiro's curse happened. Her parents are alive, Satoko's parents are alive, Satoshi is still around, and Rena's parents never divorced. However, as a result, Keiichi never came to Hinamizawa, Satoko and her other classmates bully Rika, Hanyuu is absent, and the town will soon be flooded due to the dam project never being stopped.
- The Big Bad of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure part 6 uses this as the basis for his plan; he plans to create a world where the Joestar family never existed and Dio reigns supreme.
- The End of Evangelion had a characteristically disturbing variant of such a scene filmed in live-action, but it was ultimately cut (it can still be found floating around the Internet). In it, Shinji witnesses a world in which Misato, Rei and Asuka (who is inexplicably sleeping with Toji) go about their lives without ever having known Shinji. Here they all lead bleak, aimless existences, are almost suicidally depressed and take some time to share their incredibly cynical philosophies on life and love. Shinji eventually recognizes that this is not reality (just like the unrealistically happy high-school romance anime alternate universe of episode 26). It's not entirely clear whether the audience was meant to infer a Wonderful Life-esque lesson about how their mere existence can impact the lives of those around them, or just be depressed and disturbed.
- Count D in Pet Shop of Horrors shows Leon what would have happened if he, and not his childhood friend, would have grown up to become a bank robber, slowly stripping away everything that makes his life worthwhile. Spoiler: The exact same thing as happened with his friend is what, granting Leon's wish of wanting to understand why his Childhood Friend shot himself rather than shoot Leon AND his wish to have died in his place. Count D doesn't take kindly to that kind of shit.
- Card Captor Sakura has an odd variation: during the climax of the first half, Yue shows Sakura a future where she'd still exist, but it'd be as though she had never existed, not even to her closest family, just to show her what's at stake for the final judgment.
- This was done in the french comic book "Si seulement" written by Rodolphe. A writer whose name is Joe Horton finds himself in different realities after he discovered a mysterious room in his basement with five doors (one for each reality) . In the first part of the scenario, he never saved his sister from an enraged dog, thus killing her and becoming a singer. As a result, his wife does not recognize him and his son does not exist. In the second part, his cowardness was worse as he never stood up his girlfriend from being bullied and raped by some thugs. He ended up as a cafe owner married to an unfaithful woman who abused him with her lover. In the third part, he was incarcerated due to a fire he created at a neighbor's farm, thus killing horse. He became a corrupt politician. It was better that the fourth part, when he died while trying to save his sister, which let her becoming a very famou spainter. In the final part, he was also put in jail and became a sadistic person, murdering children . He finally finds his old life back, coming to the conclusion that he has a wonderful existence.
- J. Michael Straczynski's new run of Wonder Woman, "Wonder Woman: Odyssey", is "It's a Wonderful Plot". It's surprisingly still fresh ground for comic books. In it, Wonder Woman finds herself in a parallel timeline where Paradise Island was destroyed when she was a child and she was smuggled to Man's World as a baby and raised in the streets and alleys by the few surviving Amazons. Slightly subverted, as instead of just witnessing "the world without Wonder Woman", she'll be living it, and fighting to regain her old status (thereby repairing the timeline).
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
- Don Rosa did a story about Donald Duck, "The Duck Who Never Was", based on this trope to celebrate his 60th birthday. Donald applies for a job at a museum but is immediately laid off for exceeding the retirement age due to a nearsighted curator misreading his application. He meets a "birthday genie" and accidentally wishes he was never born, only to be transported to a version of Duckburg where almost everyone is worse off. Gyro was hit by a ray that lowered him to normal intelligence and an unhappy life as a farmer. Grandma Duck was forced to work for Daisy, who became an incredibly successful romance novelist, but was left a lonely, bitter shell without anyone to love (ie, Donald). Gus, as Scrooge's only nephew left, was hired by Scrooge (which was the reason Grandma Duck had to work for Daisy - she didn't have anyone to help her with running her farm, which she sold to Gyro), but was easily tricked by Magica into handing over the Number One Dime. This broke Scrooge's spirit, resulting in him losing the rest of his fortune to Glomgold, causing the collapse of Duckburg's economy and leaving Scrooge as a bitter old duck living in a barrel and leading Daisy to buy the Money Bin and using it as a printing room for her novels. Without Donald around, Gladstone got Huey, Duey and Louie, who have all both adopted his lazy philosophy of relying on luck and grown ginormously fat. Gladstone (the one person Donald did want to see being miserable) is still a success who also has the Beagle Boys, who without Scrooge to steal from had no choice but to go straight and become the police, in his pocket. Actually, in the pockets of anyone willing to bribe them. Luckily, Donald returns to the museum and the Genie returns things to normal.
- There was another Donald story with a similar premise, but only in the loosest of terms. For one thing, the story takes the Good Angel, Bad Angel trope and turns it Up to Eleven, with the two actually being depicted as (magical?) creatures living in Donald's brain. The bad angel, fed up with how the good angel seems to always influence Donald, beats him up and ties him into a closet, then disguises himself as the good angel. What does this have to do with this trope? Well, the angels' recent conflicts inside Donald's brain have resulted in Donald demonstrating bipolar disorder-like behavior, so all his friends and family (plus Gladstone) hold a meeting which Donald eavesdrops on and thinks is about how much he sucks as a person. Furious, he wishes that he was never born, and the bad angel (disguised as the good angel) shows him what life would be like without him... and everybody's happier (i.e. Daisy is Happily Married to Gladstone, Huey, Dewey and Louie are in Scrooge's custody). Just as this little tour ends, the good angel breaks free, beats up the bad angel in return, and shows Donald what would really result (Daisy leads an empty life married to Gladstone; Gladstone thinks that Daisy is way too controlling; Scrooge is contemplating putting Huey, Dewey, and Louie in juvenile hall, etc.). And before you ask, no, this was not a fanfiction.
- Huey, Dewey and Louie are preparing dinner for New Year's Eve in a geriatric care home using money provided by the Junior Woodchucks. They send Donald with the money to buy food, but he loses the purse. Donald decides Duckburg would be better off without him and seems to prepare to commit suicide, but is interrupted by his guardian angel (not the angel from the previous story, by the way). The guardian angel shows him how a new year's eve in Duckburg would be without him: Huey, Dewey and Louie live in an orphanage, are constantly bullied by their peers and are unable to celebrate new year's eve in peace. Daisy is dating Gladstone (again), but is unhappy with how Gladstone takes her to a horse racetrack rather than a restaurant and feels Gladstone doesn't really care about her. Scrooge has no friends or family and when he decides to invite his staff to a dinner party, he finds that none of them is willing to spend more time than necessary with him.
- And another time (Donald Duck comics will ruminate any trope to infinity) there was an inversion where Donald made the wish that he were alone without all his friends who were annoying him. No points for guessing he didn't like it when the wish came true, though there was more to the plot than that.
- And one more: Donald gets to see what Duckburg would be with his hypothetical twin brother existing instead of him. Since the twin is randomly a clichéd Big Brother Is Watching dictator, this makes him feel better about being who he is. It's like the story changes clichés mid-swing.
- Mad Magazine is fond of this trope. They tend to favor people with political power, especially the current president of the time.
- The Monroe comic had a chapter with this plot. In it, everyone is happier and better off without Monroe; even the guardian angel admits absolutely everything is better for everybody. In the end, Monroe decides to continue living, because "misery loves company."
- MAD also does this for Bill Clinton, with Richard Nixon as the angel sent to him (he has a right wing but not a left one). This being Mad, it's far less heartwarming and more of a political satire than most examples (For example, when Nixon mentions the part about no one being a failure if they have friends, he mentions the quality of Clinton's friends), with Nixon's praise being backhanded at best, and suggesting some might have been better off if Clinton hadn't become President.
- Hilariously double-subverted in the post-Zero Hour Legion of Super-Heroes: Brainiac 5 gets a view of what the Legion would be like without him, and it turns out to be an idealized Silver Age-style world in which the other Legionnaires are just kids in a "hero club." After confirming that, yes, their lives are in fact better without him, Brainy chooses to go back anyhow in order to go on making their lives as miserable as they make his.
- A Flintstones comic had Fred find that he hadn't received a Christmas bonus. Fred gets depressed about this, somehow gets even more depressed and starts going on a walk without knowing where he's headed - toward a tar pit. The Great Gazoo then yanks Fred out of time at the last minute and takes him to a world to show Fred what things would be like if he never existed (Fred protests along the way that he didn't wish that he was never born, Gazoo retorts saying Fred posed an interesting "what if" and didn't want to pass it up). They arrive in a world where Bedrock is a lot larger and is now known as Slaterock, Barney has an administrative position at Mr. Slate's business and Wilma is married to Mr. Slate. Gazoo then shows that all is not as it appears to be. Slaterock grew up "too big, too fast" and crime is now way up. Betty is single and homeless because she never met Barney (because Fred introduced her to him) and Barney is quite lonely and spends his nights in the office depressed. Pebbles is a spoilt brat and Wilma is unhappy with her marriage. Gazoo then takes Fred back to his own time, where he declares that he's alive...and in pain having fallen into the tar pit. He returns home now more appreciative of his family and Mr. Slate arrives with Fred's bonus, saying his secretary forgot to put it in his pigeonhole.
- In Grant Morrison's Batman story "Last Rites", set between Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis, Bruce is given false memories of a life in which his parents weren't killed. Jim Gordon and Dick Grayson are dead. Bruce is a dilettante doctor, coddled by Martha and a disapointment to Thomas, especially when he falls for a patient who turns out to be Selina Kyle, distracting him while she robs the surgery.
- Issue #16 of Cartoon Network Presents featured a Top Cat story, "It's a Wonderful Strife", in which both T.C. and Officer Dibble, tired of putting up with each other, wish they'd never come to the city. The both of them are then shown alternate realities by their guardian angels, played respectively by Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss. Huck shows T.C. that, without guidance from a crafty leader, his gang has to resort to crime for sustenance, and Snagglepuss shows Dibble that if he never became a police officer, T.C. would be an anarchist bossing around the entire police force.
- In Nodwick, a plot like this appears when a well-meaning but somewhat naive angel (who is naturally named Clarence) attempts to save Nodwick from his henchman existence by offering to take his soul for good, and tries to convince Nodwick by showing what would happen if he were to die for good. Bad Future ensues. He then attempts to invoke this trope by replacing members of the party one by one to find a better Alternate Universe for Nodwick (replacing Nodwick put another henchman in an even worse stew than Nodwick, since he was taller and therefore a better Human Shield, replacing Yeagar put an Ogre in the party who ate Nodwick on a regular basis, and Arthax was replaced with a necromancer, who heavily reduced Nodwick's death count with some unfortunate implications). The angel is eventually forced to acknowledge that Nodwick is a Cosmic Plaything designated to deflect misery from everyone else around him, and leaves things as they were.
- Issue #15 of The Simpsons comic, A Trip To Simpsons Mountain, played with the trope without actually going through the plot; the story being about Grandpa telling the Simpsons children a story from his childhood, about how he went out to look for his father, who had gone missing — though he proves to be a somewhat Unreliable Narrator as he tends to confuse his own life with things he'd seen on TV. Towards the end of the story, young Abe finally finds his father, standing on a bridge and crying and saying he regrets wishing he'd never been born; only to grow ecstatically happy when Abe calls him "Dad" and asks him to come home. Cue Bart, who has been listening to the story: "C'mon, Grandpa, I've seen that on TV, like, a million times!"
- In one issue of the Ren & Stimpy comic, Ren gets fed up with Stimpy's idiocy and wishes they had never met. Jiminy Lummox offers to show Ren the life he would have had without Stimpy; In this other reality, Ren is a rich and powerful businessman without peer or equal, and Ren loves it. When Ren wishes to stay, Lummox insists that Stimpy be given his own wish in return; Stimpy just wishes Ren the best, and Ren, touched by Stimpy's kindness, admits that Stimpy is his best friend. Lummox takes this as a cue to set everything to normal, leaving Ren furious. "The heart never lies." "MINE DOES!!"
- The Katawa Shoujo fanfic "The Greatest Gift of the Heart" picks up from the Bad End of Hanako's route, and shows what would've happened if Hisao had never had his heart attack and ended up at Yamaku. In this fic, he befriended the other girls and Kenji, and without him, they end up lonely, miserable and plagued by their personal problems, while Hanako committed suicide.
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fanfic "The Turtle Who Never Was" puts Michelangelo through the Wonderful Life plot, courtesy of two spirits (taking on the forms of Splinter and Shredder) who argue whether Mike's made a positive difference on the lives of everyone around him or not, and consequently take him on a trip to an alternate reality where he'd never been born, in order to find out.
- In the Ouran High School Host Club fanfic, It's a Wonderfully Splendid Magnificent Life, Tamaki, with his mother ill and his grandmother preventing him from seeing her, wishes he'd never left France. Kotoko grants him this wish and lets him see what would have become of the rest of the club had he not left France, which causes him to reconsider, especially when he realizes that not even he and his mother are happy there.
- In chapter 14 of the A Certain Magical Index fic Twist Of Fate, Kuroko (who hates Touma) and Awaki accidentally wind up in a world where Touma had never been born (they were both in the middle of teleporting, causing them to be unaffected when Touma got Ret Goned). They are guided by a mysterious man named Moses who is unaffected by changes in the timeline. Without Touma, this is a Crapsack World to the extreme. Academy City is a military state, World War III raged, and practically everybody Touma helped is dead, insane, etc. When they manage to restore the timeline, Kuroko finally lets go of her grudge, noting how important he is and how much she and her friends owe him.
- The Saki fanfic A Wonderful Life, has Yumi doing this the night of her and her teammates' defeat in the individuals; when she wonders whether she would have done better had she gone to a different school. Nodocchi shows Yumi a future in which she wins the tournament for Kazekoshi, at the cost of Tsuruga being unable to even enter, and Momo resigned to being isolated and invisible. Unlike most examples, however, Nodocchi reveals that she can't offer Yumi the possibility of accepting the alternate future (although Yumi would have said "no"), and Yumi wonders if it was All Just a Dream.
- The two Smurfs fanfics It's A Wonderful Smurf and sequel A World Without Gargamel has an imp named Mandrake the Mischievous who loves to make other people miserable, and who gives the It's A Wonderful Life treatment to Brainy (with Clumsy tagging along for the ride) in the first story and Gargamel in the second. In both cases, his main goal is to prove that his target has led a worthless life... but things don't develop as he'd planned.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic "A Hearth's Warming Carol", Rainbow Dash wishes that she was never born after she gets all of her friends upset with her. Princess Celestia then appears and uses her magic to show Rainbow Dash what Equestria would be like without her. In this alternate universe, Rainbow Dash sees that her friends' lives are different due to her not being there to perform her first sonic rainboom from the episode "The Cutie Mark Chronicles," that helped her friends discover their hidden talents. Rarity is a jewel thief, Applejack is a cold hearted business-pony, Pinkie Pie is a depressed rock seller, Twilight lives all by herself in a cottage in the mountains where she studies magic day and night, and Fluttershy is dead.
- In the Hey Arnold! fanfic Without You Helga feeling that everyone would be better off without her, wishes she was never born, which unfortunately comes true. Here she not only learns what has become of her family and friends without her presence, she also must find a way to return to her universe and fix what's gone wrong because of her wish as well.
- In the Les Misérables fic It's a Wonderful Life, Javert, Clarence appears to Javert at Pont Au Change and shows him how different the story would have been without him: Had Javert not been a guard in Toulon during Valjean's incarceration, he would have succeeded in one of his escape attempts and thus would have never met the Bishop of Digne and turned his life around - instead, he turns to crime, is summarily arrested and sentenced for life; Because of this, Valjean never becomes monsieur Madeleine, and M-sur-M declines into a decrepit cesspit with corruption and misery and prostitutes marking every alley; Among them is Fantine, who gets arrested and released after her brawl, but now with a bad reputation to go with her name - she dies of consumption soon after and her corpse is robbed and left forgotten; Without Fantine to provide for Cosette and Valjean to save her, the Thenardiers throw her out and she freezes to death. And lastly, without Javert volunteering to spy the students, the barricade falls earlier and the students are exiled instead of executed, which only leads to another, bloodier attempt some years later. However, this does nothing to dissuade Javert from jumping into the Seine, since it does not solve his moral dilemma - he is only convinced into living when Clarence shows him the future where Valjean dies, and Javert chooses to live to prevent Valjean's unjust death.
- "Superior Spider-Man: Take Two" is a Spider-Man fanfic that essentially answers the question, "What If? Peter Parker was able to get his body back from Doctor Octopus at the end of 'Dying Wish'?" Before dying, Otto begs Peter, "Don't throw your life away the way I did mine," prompting Peter to start making changes in his life. The following story follows the plot beats of Superior Spider-Man, only with Peter as Spider-Man instead of Otto. At one point, after accidentally causing the death of the criminal Massacre and later being goaded into brutally attacking Jester and Screwball, Peter chose to take a leave of absence from being Spider-Man in order to get his head on straight. At one point, a small portion of Otto that was still inside Peter's mind visited him in a dream, giving him a vision of what would have happened if Peter was never bitten by the radioactive spider; he wound up working for Oscorp, until being callously fired by Norman Osborn. In his quest for retaliation against Osborn he would end up becoming an alternate version of the Green Goblin. After this dream, Peter resumed his life as Spider-Man, his sense of purpose restored.
- Your Life is Wonderful Charlie Brown is a Peanuts fanfic where resident Butt Monkey Charlie Brown, feeling more distraught than ever during the holidays is shown what great impact he has made on his friends' lives. Some of the things altered without his intervention are Linus being a Shrinking Violet, Pigpen being an overdressed Jerk Ass, among many other alterations.
- The Animaniacs fanfic It's A Warnerful Life double-subverts this. At first, it appears that everyone is better off without Yakko, but it turns out that that couldn't be further from the truth - without "major patients" like the Warners to keep him busy, Dr. Scratchansniff is fired; Mr. Plotz is happy - Too happy, to the point where he gladly signs away millions of dollars to shady businessmen; with no Warner Brothers to lust after her, Hello Nurse feels as though she isn't pretty enough, so she lets herself go; the other toons like Slappy Squirrel and Pinky and The Brain were not hired for the show because Yakko wasn't around to recommend them; and without a big brother Dot and Wakko were easily caught and kicked out of the Studio - not only are they homeless, it's actually stated that they're going to die.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Richie Rich's Christmas Wish has the entire plot of the film based on this, as Richie wishes (with a wishing machine) that he never existed.
- Bedazzled (1967) is maybe an unconscious parody - a poor shlub is tired of his nowhere life, tries to end it all, the Devil (an angel of sorts) intervenes and offers the chance to wish up an alternate existence (not once, but seven times) which gets him to see his old life is better than the alternative. The Devil was a Jackass Genie, that's why the alternatives were so bad.
- Mr. Destiny, an '80s comedy starring Jim Belushi, Linda Hamilton and Michael Caine in the Clarence role, subverted this trope a little; Jim Belushi's character always bemoaned the fact that he blew a game-saving play in high-school baseball, and Caine changed history so that he made the game-saver instead. Belushi then sees his life changing; he's now the Vice-President of the sporting goods company he's working for, and married to the boss's daughter, but it turns out he's having an affair with a psychotic temptress, and his real wife from his old life (Hamilton), the one woman he truly loved, is married to someone else.
- The Nicolas Cage film The Family Man has the subverted/inverted version. His character is shown how much fuller and happier his life would be had he stayed with his girlfriend after college rather than moving to London and starting his rich-but-lonely life and career as a high-powered stockbroker.
- The plot of The Butterfly Effect is one of the most famous (and cruelest) subversions/deconstructions of this trope. The protagonist's life has been really depressing, and all his friends are worse off than before he met them. He uses his Mental Time Travel abilities to correct his past mistakes, but they each end up making things worse for them and/or himself. Accepting that they really are better off without him, he eventually decides that the only way to make them all happy is to remove his presence from their lifes entirely. The director's cut was even worse; in that version he travels back so he dies in his mother's womb, just so his loved ones can live their lives without his damaging influence. There's a line from the doctor indicating she's had half a dozen miscarriages like that one...
- The educational short A Case of Spring Fever (Seen on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 1012-Squirm) features a Wonderful Life plot where the missing element is springs. But don't worry, it's not as dumb as it sounds. Oh, no. It's much more stupid.
- What's interesting is that MST parodied this particular short in two different episodes. In the first one, it's just a skit during a host segment—Tom Servo eats so many waffles that he never wants to see another one again, and Crow shows up as the Waffle Sprite to spell out just how terrible a world without waffles would be. Squirm, the episode featuring the "Spring Fever" film itself, aired several seasons later, so the reference was simply a Genius Bonus.
- The Squirm episode featured another host segment, where Crow and Tom Servo wonder if every object in the universe has its own sprite, just waiting for the chance to pull a Wonderful Life plot. They test this by having Crow announce that he never wants to see Mike again for as long as he lives; sure enough, Mikey the Mike Sprite appears to show the 'bots the horror of a world without Mike. The 'bots don't miss Mike at all, but they wish for him back anyway just to humor the sprite. Then Servo says he never wants to see Mike's socks again; enter Mikesocksy...
Mike: C'mon man, I really need my socks.Mikesocksy: NooooooooOOOOOOOooo Mike's Socks. (whistle)
- Second Glance is a Christian youth film where the protagonist wishes he wasn't a believer. The next morning an angel shows up to let him experience his life as if he'd never been a Christian.
- And bonus points for the protagonist supposedly having to live as a non-believer, while his new life is being explained to him by an angel.
- The movie 16 Wishes subverts this: Abby gets a wish that transforms her into an adult, causing her to see what her friends' and family's lives are like without her in them. She realized was such a brat that everybody was actually better off without her. She promptly changes her ways after undoing the wish.
- In the Danish arthouse film Reconstruction, the protagonist sleeps with another man's wife and wakes up in a world where he never existed.
- The Santa Clause 3 uses this plot for the second half of the movie. Jack tricks Scott into wishing he never became Santa and they are both transported back in time, allowing Jack to put on the original Santa's coat so he can become the new Santa. In the new timeline, Scott's family has become a bunch of miserable cynics who resent him for being a workaholic at his office job and causing Laura and Neil to divorce, Jack Frost has turned the North Pole into a Vegas-like resort that completely commercializes Christmas and parents have to pay to put their children on the nice list, making them (including Lucy) into greedy brats.
- The Trope Namer is loosely based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern called The Greatest Gift.
- The Sweet Valley Twins series played the trope entirely straight in a Christmas special book, in which Elizabeth wishes she'd never been born and promptly receives a visitation from a quirky guardian angel who shows her a vision of what life would be like. It's heavy on For Want of a Nail scenarios based on Elizabeth's actions in previous books, but also contains a couple of more nonsensical changes: the club of shallow, popular rich girls is transformed into a vicious girl gang, and Elizabeth's sister Jessica goes from bubbly, stylish, and popular to shy, geeky, and pathetic.
- Subverted in a Sweet Valley High Super Edition, "Winter Carnival" where Elizabeth becomes annoyed with Jessica's forgetfulness/selfishness when it causes a rift in her budding romance with Jeffrey French during a winter festival at a ski resort. Elizabeth is upset and leaves, angrily wishing that Jessica wasn't around to mess things up. When she arrives home, she finds out that Jessica is dead. With Jessica gone, everyone in Sweet Valley is depressed and spends a lot of time remembering Jessica's bubbly personality and forgetting about Elizabeth. She wakes up and realizes that it was All Just a Dream and makes up with Jessica and Jeffrey.
- Animorphs did this in one book, with Jake making a Deal with the Devil with Crayak to Cosmic Retcon the timeline so that the Animorphs never received their powers in the first place. Subverted slightly in the fact that the kids end up winning the war with the Yeerks FASTER without their powers, although most of them die in the process.
- Parodied in More Information Than You Require, and given as Prince Albert's motivation for introducing Germanic pagan influences onto the English Christmas and becoming a Funny Foreigner.
- A variant in the Discworld novel Jingo, when Vimes accidentally picks up his Dis-Organiser from the wrong timeline immediately after making a difficult decision. The Dis-Organiser gives a running comentary on what's happening in the universe where Vimes stays in Ankh-Morpork and tries to work within Rust's regime. The Klatchians invade and the entire Watch gets killed, ending with Vimes himself. (Presumably, made even worse by the Dis-Organiser in that universe telling Vimes how much better things would be going if he'd gone to Klatch.)
- The Star Trek novel First Frontier is about a group of aliens (who turn out to be sentient descendants of Earth dinosaurs who were rescued by the Preservers) using the Guardian of Forever to avert the asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs. This erases the human race from history (and the dinosaurs' descendants ended up nuking themselves out of existence anyway). When the Enterprise is protected from the time change and sees what the galaxy would have become without humans, it's basically "It's Humanity's Wonderful Life", a Crapsack Galaxy in which the Romulans' total domination is only challenged by the Vulcans helping the Klingons build suicide-attack missiles against them.
- It happened on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Without Carlton driving the family to greed and materialism, as well as countering Will's laid-back attitude, they sink into laziness and poverty.
- Oh, and Carlton's Clarence/guardian angel is Tom Jones.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Tapestry, Q shows Captain Picard what he would've become had he not gotten into the bar fight as a cadet that gave him his artificial heart. Needless to say, he wasn't the same lovable stoic Bad Ass we remember. Can you say, Lieutenant j.g. Picard?
- Although, oddly enough, everything else seemed to remain exactly the same, except for the unseen Captain Thomas Halloway being in command of the Enterprise. Though that was fulfilling Picard's request when he first took up Q on the offer: only Picard could be affected by the change.
- Married... with Children had a subversive "Wonderful Life" episode centered around Al, with Sam Kinison as his "Clarence". The world turns out much better without him (Peg is a model housewife who's married to a rich man named Norman Jablonski (portrayed by the same actor who would later portray Jefferson D'Arcy) who has saved up enough to move the family into a mansion, Bud has respect for women and isn't driven by greed or lust, and Kelly is in college and still a virgin), and he chooses to return out of spite.
- He was infuriated when Peggy said she had saved her self for marriage screaming "What? When she graduated, the football team retired her number."
- An episode of Providence, aptly titled "It's a Wonderful Providence," involves Sidney's mother's ghost showing her what her life would've been like had she not moved back to Providence after her mother's death.
- With some mild parody, Night Court had Judge Harry Stone led through a "Wonderful Life" vision by his guardian angel, Herb. Subverted somewhat when Herb (assuming the image of Mel Torme) admits that the reason the vision was in black and white was not (as Harry suggested) because his absence took color out of the world, but nothing more than an artistic device meant to cater to Harry's love of Film Noir and that Harry needed to get over himself.
- In addition to the requisite For Want of a Nail changes (sleazeball lawyer Dan Fielding becomes a truly diabolical villain without Harry's friendship), there were a few random changes. For instance, in the Film Noir Alternate Universe, Jack the Speakeasy Owner has no sense of taste, whereas in the main universe Jack the Shopkeep is blind.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer's season 3 episode "The Wish" did a Wonderful Life variant, in that Cordelia wishes that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. In this reality, Cordelia doesn't manage to come to an Aesop-style revelation, because she is killed half-way through the episode before Giles manages to reverse Cordelia's wish, turning the rest of the episode into a For Want of a Nail situation.
- Angel features an alternate reality in the third-season episode "Birthday." A demon gives Cordelia the chance to enter a world in which she does not have the prophetic visions, which after three years are near the point of killing her. In this parallel world, Cordy has become the rich and successful actress she always wanted to be - but the sight of a one-armed Wesley, and an Angel driven insane from getting the visions in Cordy's stead, quickly convince her to go back to the real world (though changed to become part demonic so she can survive the visions).
- In The Secret World of Alex Mack, when Alex wishes herself to never have been born, her mother instead got the GC-161 powers, was easily found, and was captured and became a lab specimen. Alex then finds her mother, rescues her, teaches her to use her powers, and wishes herself back into existence. It turned out to be All Just a Dream...
- To keep Alex's father from finding out the truth, Danielle Atron demoted him into menial labor, thus reducing his income. To help with expenses, Alex's sister got a part-time job, which left her no time for any accomplishments that'd give her a chance to get into her college of choice.
- The popularity Danielle Atron got with the development of GC-161 allowed her to run for Governor. The odd part about this was that, aside for a brief conversation with Vince in the mainstream universe, she had never shown any interest into becoming a politician in the whole series.
- Ray Alvarado got a job at the plant and became best friends with Vince despite the age gap pointed out by Alex.
- In Moonlighting, Maddie wished she'd never kept the office open. A "guardian angel" by the name of Albert, showed her what would have happened if she hadn't. A twist is that others' lives might be the same or better, but her own life is headed for destruction.
- Also done in Highlander: The Series, where Duncan McLeod sees how drastically different the world would be without him. The biggest change is that Horton would have been able to take control of The Watchers and turned them into an organization that hunts down Immortals. After they kill Methos' mortal lover in an attempt to get to him, a furious Methos responds by teaming up with his old partner Kronos, and the Immortals following Methos and Kronos wage war against the Watchers. Also, Amanda would have never had her Heel–Face Turn, (and been murdered by the Watchers in the midst running a con) Joe Dawson would be homeless with his faith in humanity shattered, and Duncan's well meaning sidekick Richie would have been recruited by Methos and Kronos... until he got hit with a You Have Failed Me for not being able to go through with an assassination on their behalf.
- Subverted in A Bit of Fry and Laurie. An important media mogul (a clear Anonymous Ringer for Rupert Murdoch) is about to throw himself off a bridge when the angel appears to show him how life would be. It turns out that without him, everyone would live together in peace and harmony, since he wasn't able to create his media empire which would profiteer heavily on create divisions in society through glorfication of violence and spreading bigoted discourses against minorities. When they return to the bridge, he wants to be brought back to life because he can exploit this universe for his own profit. The angel then pushes him off the bridge.
- In Chappelle's Show, Chappelle (as an Almighty Janitor) shows a big-breasted woman how the world would be if her breasts were smaller after overhearing her complain about being ogled and harassed over her big boobs. In that world, she was turned down for a raise and fired, her friend never invited her to her wedding as a bridesmaid, and the world was destroyed by an insane man who used to masturbate to her when she was large-chested. The woman then decides to get her breasts enlarged. It takes a comedic twist when it's discovered that the janitor isn't magic; he's high on PCP and was wondering why the woman was following him around.
But, then how did you show me all that stuff?Girl, I am high on PCP! But I love me some titties!
- Saturday Night Live had the ghost of Richard Nixon (played by episode host John Turturro) as the "Clarence" for Newt Gingrich. In a world without Newt, he's horrified to learn, abortions are safe and legal (Ted Kennedy never having gotten the case of scotch Newt sent him to keep him from showing up for the vote) and Hillary Clinton is President.
- SNL had a couple more "It's A Wonderful Life" parodies, including the infamous one from season 12 (on the episode hosted by William Shatner) in which Mr. Potter finally gets what he deserves, one from season 26 in which episode host Val Kilmer sees what the show would be like if he chickened out at the last minute, and a reimaging of the movie (from season 36) as a Hanukkah movie rife with Jewish stereotypes and examining the tension and stress of a Hanukkah celebration.
- There was also a "What if Al Gore had won in 2000?" sketch released at the height of George W. Bush's unpopularity. In this universe, global cooling is the problem rather than global warming, gas is so cheap that the oil companies are hurting, and America is so well-loved that Americans can't go to other countries without getting hugged.
- When Andrew "Dice" Clay hosted an episode in 1989, the opening sketch addresses the issues of cast regular Nora Dunn and musical guest Sinead O'Connor refusing to participate in the show by doing this, with Jon Lovitz in a devil costume playing Clarence. Because Dice was never born, Frank Zappa hosted the show and ratings were so bad the show got cancelled. Nora Dunn was crushed under one of Sinead O'Connor's amplifiers and Sinead was so traumatized she gave up singing. Dice decides he wants to live after finding out that The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was a box-office smash for its star, ... Jon Lovitz.
- The TV show The Wayans Bros. both played it straight and subverted it at the same time. Without Marlon around, Pops owned a gourmet restaurant, Dee was married to the soap hunk of her dreams, and Shawn was rich and owned everything. However, everyone was unhappy: Pops only kept getting the same gift from Shawn and was ignored, Dee's husband was cheating on her, and Shawn was going to destroy Grandma Williams' nursing home to build a Yogurt World.
- Charles in Charge has an episode like this: without Charles, the Powell family (and Charles's mother) end up with a lot more money, but they've all turned into spoiled jerks.
- A first season Mork and Mindy episode had Mork embarrassing Mindy's dad in front of his new girlfriend. Mork tells Orson he wishes he'd never met Mindy because he screws up everything, so Orson shows Mork what Mindy's life would be like if they hadn't met (and on top of that, says he actually CAN erase the year they had together). In the alternate year, Mindy is married to a deadbeat gambler and her father has sold the music store and traveled the world (the latter of which turned out to be a lie). Mork decides he doesn't want to undo the year he's had with Mindy and that if anyone's going to screw up her life, it should be him. And then they kiss and make up. Awwww.
- Lampshaded when, immediately after returning from the vision of a world without him, Mork exclaims, "Hey, it's a wonderful life!"
- Further Lampshaded when Mork asks Mindy the setup of a joke he tried when she couldn't see or hear him. She immediately comes back with the punch-line and Mork gasps, "How did you know that?" Mindy replies she doesn't know and Mork starts humming the theme to The Twilight Zone.
- My Family did one where Ben wondered how his family would be without him. He then realized they would be exactly the same and was naturally pleased since it meant their problems weren't his fault after all. This occurs after an older man, who just happens to be named Clarence, "saves" him from committing suicide.
- At the end, Ben seems to be in a much better mood than his usual vile-tempered demeanour, so it almost looks like he's actually had some kind of revelation...then it turns out it wasn't the fresh perspective, but Nick having been locked out of the house all night. (Nick leaving didn't chirp him up meaningfully...)
- Lampshaded when Ben compares it to a movie that shows every Christmas, but can't remember the title. Clarence chirpily suggests Reservoir Dogs and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
- Done in the first season finale of My Mad Fat Life.
- Done well in an episode of That '70s Show. Eric and Donna have broken up and Eric is so miserable that he wishes he and Donna had never been together in the first place. An angel (Wayne Knight) shows up and offers to grant his wish. He shows Eric an alternate reality where Donna and Hyde got married, Hyde goes to prison and Eric is still a spineless wimp who only ever dated Big Rhonda and never moved out of his parents' house. At the end, Eric says that he's OK with all that, but when the angel shows him the good memories he would also lose, Eric changes his mind.
- Done with a twist (similar to That '70s Show) on Mad About You. After finding out that the newspaper stand where they met had burned down, Jamie freaks out because if it weren't for that stand, they wouldn't have met and would never have fallen in love. Paul insists they would have found each other anyway. A magic wind shifts the world to what it'd be like, only both of them quickly lose all memory of what was lost, and start remembering their new lives. Both are unhappy with their current romantic situations and after wandering around lost, find each other at the burned out remains of the newspaper stand and go home, the world now fixed.
- Done in the "Apocalypse" episode of Smallville. Clark starts wondering if his friends would be better off if he had never made it off of Krypton, and he suddenly finds himself in a world where just that happened. As usual, at first he's justified to find out that all of his friends are better off, but ultimately realizes that his absence would leave the world in great danger. There some problems with this episode, since without Clark, all of his friends should have died anyway, most of them having been saved from mundane situations by him at one point. Lex's brush with death in the first episode (since he would not have known Clark at all prior to that moment) should have still happened, with a more fatal outcome. Considering it's LEX FREAKIN LUTHOR, you have to wonder at whether this would be a bad thing.
- Another Smallville episode around Christmastime had Lex shown a possible future by the ghost of his mother. In this one, he gave information to the Daily Planet exposing his father's crimes. This caused his father to disown him, but Lex ended up married to Lana with kids, and Lex is working a low-paying job. Then Lana gets sick and, because Lex doesn't have money to pay her hospital bills, she dies. Lex says that he can't live in this world where he has nothing left, and it's better to have power so that he can have what he wants. It's supposed to show Lex's descent into evil, but the intended Aesop was really Broken.
- Something of a Chekhov's Gun to boot, since a later episode has Lex contact his mother via new age means, and she's angry that he ignored her Wonderful Life warning.
- The series Switched at Birth actually has two such episodes:
- One imagines that instead of keeping her discovery of the switch quiet in 1998, Regina tells the truth but ends up losing custody of both girls due to her drinking. Daphne is raised by the Kennishes with an implant to hear but becoming selfish and manipulative with Bay in her shadow. Toby is still into gambling and Katherine is having an affair. The girls eventually discover that Regina died on their birthday.
- In a Christmas episode, the girls, tired of the family traditions, wish together the switch never happened. Daphne wakes up as Bay, able to hear, a star athlete pushed by John to become pro and Toby is a moody musician. Bay wakes up as Daphne, deaf with a younger brother (her father Antonio died in this world but earlier), Regina still drinking and Emmett just a good friend. Interestingly, when they wake up with things set right, each girl assumes she alone had this odd dream.
- Doctor Who
- The episode "Turn Left" did this, with an alternate history where Donna never met the Doctor, so he was killed beyond regeneration by the flooding of the Racnoss tunnels when the Thames broke through. In the following couple of years, every single alien menace that the Doctor had thwarted hit home with full force, reducing the Earth to a Crapsack World. Things got downright awful. It's also (in part) set over two Christmases. Interestingly, although the perspective focuses on the consequences of the Doctor not being there, the way the scenario is set up puts Donna in the role of George Bailey, and the Doctor in the role of perhaps Harry Bailey (who in the original movie became a WWII pilot who saved the lives of every soldier aboard an Allied transport ship, years after George saved him as a child).
- This was by no means the first time it was done. In the 30th anniversary Doctor Who Magazine story "Time and Time Again" by Paul Cornell the Black Guardian creates an alternate timeline where the Doctor never left Gallifrey, meaning Earth has been invaded many times by various aliens. The 7th Doctor, while travelling back through his timestream to find the means to stop this, meets the 6th Doctor who wonders whether it is worthwhile leaving Gallifrey.
- Much of the 11th Doctor's run could be considered this. Series 5 and 6 had ideas of the Doctor undergoing He Who Fights Monsters syndrome, with some of the Universe's most vicious beings joining against him. "The Wedding of River Song" has him realise how much the Universe likes him, with many replies when a message is beamed saying he is dying. The Series 7 finale, "The Name of the Doctor", has the Alternate Timeline part. When the Great Intelligence enters the Doctor's timestream to reverse his victories the Universe starts collapsing and people disappear from existence.
- The 50th Anniversary story, "The Day of the Doctor", could be seen as this. In an effort to convince the War Doctor not to commit genocide to end the Time War, the Moment shows him two of his future selves (Ten and Eleven) and how they'll be affected by his taking fatal action. It seems to backfire, as the War Doctor sees their guilt lead them to seek a peaceful solution to a Human/Zygon conflict, and decides to use the Moment, believing it will lead to a better future. Then, Ten and Eleven show up to aid him, lessening his burden. But the sight of Clara's disapproval leads Eleven to come up with a better solution to the Time War and convince the War Doctor not to use the Moment, which is just what the Moment had been planning.
- If you take this theory of Supernatural's "What Is And What Should Never Be" episode, then things tend to get a bit vicious. It Makes Sense in Context but the message to Dean is "Be thankful for all your abuse and parentification because without it, you would be worthless with no good qualities." Ouch. And also subverted in the fact that it's pretty clear at the end of the episode that Dean would have rather stayed and, in the next episode, things go even more to hell and his mental state gets worse.
- Season 4's "It's a Terrible Life" showed that even if the boys weren't Winchesters, they'd still end up as hunters somehow, which is pretty awful when you think about it. Zachariah serves as their Clarence-figure, disguised as Dean's boss.
- The Facts of Life had an episode in which Beverly Ann wished that she had never come to town to become the girls' den mother (or whatever she was). In a dream, Santa appeared to show her what would have happened without her. Blair lost her fortune due to a bad investment (Beverly never advised her not to), Tootie and her fiancee broke up (Beverly never gave her a safe way to carry her things to meet his mother), Natalie was arrested for bank robbery (she wore an outfit similar to the robber's because Beverly never fixed what she was going to wear), and Jo was killed in a motorcycle accident (Beverly never let her borrow her RV).
- iCarly has an example where it's only a Crapsack World by the standards of the show. Carly, after becoming upset with her brother Spencer when his metal tree accidentally burns down her Christmas gifts, wishes he were more normal. Her angel appears and grants the wish. Spencer is turned into a straightlaced lawyer. Sam goes to jail because Spencer refused to let Carly be her friend and become her Morality Chain, Carly ends up as Nevel's girlfriend, Freddie loses his hope that he will get together with Carly and winds up being bossed about by a girl who is completely unsuitable for him, and finally Spencer marries the completely smothering psychopath Mrs. Benson. And there is no iCarly webshow anymore, because Carly never had the opportunity to do it.
- In a Popular episode at the end of the arc centered on Harrison's battle with leukemia, he is prevented from committing suicide by being taken on a Wonderful Life by the spirit of his deceased hospital roommate who returned as his guardian angel. Keeping with the somewhat parodic nature of the show, said roommate is even named "Clarence". Making it even funnier is the fact that his actor was previously the star of Teen Angel.
- A Laverne and Shirley episode has Laverne feeling sorry for herself while nursing a broken leg, then falling asleep while watching It's a Wonderful Life on TV and dreaming that she'd never been born.
- A Malcolm in the Middle episode has Lois imagining what her life would be if she'd had all girl children. She goes to the mall and alternates between reality and daydreams about her 'perfect' life with her daughters. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a mess. Mallory (Malcolm) is in love with a lazy guy and manipulates Hal to get what she wants, Daisy (Dewey) is a know-it-all, Frances (Francis) works at Hooters and is married to a much older man, and Renee (Reese) is pregnant. And Hal has become grossly overweight due to the anxiety caused by raising four daughters. It's something of a subversion, however, since by the end of the episode Lois is still hoping her next child will be a girl.
- Weird Science has an episode called "It's a Wonderful Life... Without You", in which Lisa creates for Wyatt a world where he does not exist. While at first Chett and Gary initially look better, they soon find how their new lives are actually worse, as without Wyatt, Chett is under pressure and Gary is a thief. But when Wyatt wants Lisa to return him to the world where he was born, she can't, because she was never created, so they have to find a way to communicate with Chett and Wyatt so they can create Lisa in their world.
- In the Hannah Montana episode "When You Wish You Were a Star", Miley wishes upon a star that she could be all Hannah, all the time. In this life, Jackson is a hermit, Robbie Ray is married to a Gold Digger, Lilly has become the Alpha Bitch (with Ashley and Amber as her Girl Posse), and Oliver and Rico have gone into business together as sleazy paparazzi-wannabes.
- Lost, Season 6, did a fairly subtle extended version of this trope, with an alternate reality playing out in which the Island was destroyed in 1977. Most of the main characters' lives aren't merely better, but the characters themselves are also generally better people.
- An episode of 80s Brit Com Sorry! had this plot. Notably, the library was a less welcoming place without Timothy's influence, and his mother was a lonely old woman who kept talking to her lapdog, Timothy.
- Lampshaded in the series finale of Quantum Leap. When Sam expresses a desire to stop leaping to the Bartender (a character who is strongly implied to be God), explaining that he did not intend to make the world a better place by improving only one life at a time, the Bartender replies that the lives Sam has touched in his journey have touched others, and those lives in turn have touched others; by traveling through time, Sam has done a large amount of good simply by helping individuals in need.
- Another episode was actually called "It's a Wonderful Leap". This was something of an aversion, however, because it did not feature anybody being shown what would have happened if anybody had not been born. It did, however, feature a woman who claimed to be Sam's guardian angel, and was apparently telling the truth.
- The ALF episode "Stairway to Heaven" had this plot device. At one point he wishes that he never crashed into the Tanner's garage, then is knocked unconscious. Then ALF enters a world where the Tanners never met ALF and ALF never met them. The Tanners are rich, snobby people who own the entire neighborhood and have the Ockmoneks be their servants, but are also bored out of their minds and dull. ALF landed in a cosmetic factory where some blue fluid from his spaceship turned out to be great perfume and he became a very rich CEO and has no fear of the Alien Task Force. ALF decides he likes his new life, until the Angel tells ALF in order for him to go through with it, he will have to forget all about his previous life. ALF doesn't want to forget about the Tanners and decides it's not worth it. But then he wakes up. It is never stated whether the whole thing was a dream or a vision, but as Alf and Kate learned the hard way, the blue stuff in his spaceship DIDN'T make great perfume.
- ALF's guardian angel tells him, "Anyone who wants a new life gets one. It's the Capra Amendment," a reference to the Trope Namer.
- A famous episode of Australian soap Home and Away featured long-standing character Alf Fisher having a near-death experience whilst on the operating table. He met up with his dead wife who took him on a tour to show him what their town would become if he gave up and died now.
- Repeated later with Sally and the ghost of Tom, her foster-father.
- The final episode of Dallas showed what the world was like without J.R. Ewing. In some cases, it's worse: Without J.R., Gary would have driven Ewing Oil into the ground, which killed thier parents earlier. Jason (the brother who would have existed without J.R.) then sold Southfork to become a housing development. Bobby would be a bitter and divorced gambler, Ray ekes out a poor living as a ranch hand (having never discovered he was Jock's son) and Cally is arrested for shooting her abusive husband. However, some folks are better off: Sue Ellen is sober and a successful actress; Kristin is still alive (albiet a con artist); and J.R.'s mortal enemy Cliff Barnes is happily married with good kids and about to become President of the United States. It had a twist ending:
Adam (the guardian angel except not really): Angel? Who said I was from Heaven?
- We were left with the impression that J.R. shot himself in the end.
- However, the reunion movie revealed that he had merely shot his own reflection in a mirror.
- Done with a twist on Psych: after a particularly embarrassing screw-up, Shawn wonders what life would be like if he never returned to Santa Barbara and became a detective. The twist being: 1) that he's fully aware that it's all just a dream, and manipulates things to comedic effect; and 2)the lesson he learns is not how much better he's made everyone else's lives, but how much better THEY have made HIS. Shawn initially tries to convince himself that everyone's lives would have been terrible without him, though his superego (played by Tony Cox) doesn't let him get away with it.
- The penultimate episode of Brimstone, "It's a Helluva Life," uses this to some extent. Since Ezekiel Stone is already dead, it involves the Devil showing him how all the things he'd done during his life had led to bad outcomes, and doomed him to Hell, even without him killing his wife's rapist. Luckily, an Angel turns up to point out all the good he'd done as well.
- In the 2011 Christmas episode of Warehouse 13, Stern's brush inflicts this trope on Pete. Turns out that without him Myka is still with the Secret Service, Artie is in jail, Claudia is institutionalized, and MacPherson is alive and in charge of the Warehouse.
- Heartily lampshaded: Stern's brush inflicts this trope because it belonged to Philip Van Doren Stern, the author of "The Greatest Gift", which was adapted by into It's a Wonderful Life. The episode is even called "The Greatest Gift".
- In one season's Christmas Episode of Raising Hope, Jimmy hallucinates what his life would be like if Hope had never been born. Turns out it would be pretty bad. Played with when Jimmy realizes that this is very similar to a movie he watched...
"Maybe me spending most of Christmas Eve passed out in a bar deprived Hope of seeing that Jimmy Stewart movie everyone loves for another year..."
Narrator: That silly wish caused all kinds of strife, and we sort of ripped off it's a wonderful life.
- Given a lampshade when the narrator is recounting the episode in "The Chance Who Stole Christmas" episode.
- Very subtly done (because there was no dream sequences or supernatural elements) in the How I Met Your Mother episode "False Positive", where Marshall, Lily, Barney, and Robin all make poor decisions for their future after considering better alternatives (Marshall and Lily quit trying to have a baby and decide on a dog instead, Robin takes an easy job as a game show bimbo instead of an ambitious respectable one in journalism, and Barney buys an extravagant suit instead of giving the money to charity, connecting with his half-brother's father, and starting to turn his life around). Ted promptly rips them all a new one and forces them back on track, causing substantial and lasting changes for all the characters for the rest of the show's entire run that wouldn't have happened without him. The ending explicitly parodies the movie, with snow suddenly starting to fall on Ted after everything is made right again. It's subtle enough that if the episode didn't center on the group seeing a showing of It's A Wonderful Life it could very well have been a coincidence.
- In "Blackadder's Christmas Carol" Blackadder is the kindest most generous man in Victorian London. He's visited on Christmas Eve by a spirit (Robbie Coltrane) who tells him how wonderful it is that he's so nice. Unfortunately, by showing Blackadder what his descendants would be like if he were mean (rich and with power over the entire universe) he changes into the man we know. He then wreaks vengeance on all the awful people who have been taking advantage of him. More unfortunately, that's the time Queen Victoria and Prince Albert show up to give the nicest man in London a great gift and he tosses them out - assuming they are the winners of the shortest, fastest, ugliest people in London contest.
- The Sweet Valley High TV series played the plot somewhat different from the above literature example. An angel comes to show them what the world would look like without both of them. The sports team has no cups (no cheerleaders), one of the girls is a fanatic Greenpeace activist, someone's a computer nerd... it gets worse.
- Friends: Referenced by Chandler when he's forced to spend a day pretending he and Monica have divorced. When he comes home he says he's seen how lonely his life would be without her. Of course she promises she'll never leave him. As Chandler was weighed down by truckload of emotional baggage / Commitment Issues and Monica, his best friend, was the only woman who supported him and who he trusted enough to change for, his life would have been pretty crappy without her.
- There's also, of course, the much clearer example with The One(s) That Could Have Been two-parter where the Friends all imagine their lives if things had gone differently. Ross never divorced (the first time), Rachel married Barry, Monica stayed fat, Joey never lost his job on Days of Our Lives, Chandler gave up his boring office job to be a comedy writer, and Phoebe became a stock broker. Each and every one of them (except Joey) was miserable and by the end of the episode they all ended up pretty much where they were in the series: Phoebe became a free spirit again, Rachel left Barry, Ross left Carol (upon realising she was a lesbian), Monica stayed fat but she and Chandler were back in love. And yes, it's just as heartwarming as it sounds.
- Charmed's Milestone Celebration "Centennial Charmed" shows how crappy the world would be if Paige hadn't ever met her sisters.
- The Glee episode "Glee, Actually" has a sequence with Artie dreaming about a world in which he had never been paralyzed.
- Done without a dream sequence or magic in Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide episode "Boys." Ned's friends tried to cheer him up and convince him to write tips again by getting help from fellow students, younger kids, Gordy, and Mr. Sweeney to act out Ned's past which caused him to start the guide and a present showing school with and without his guide. Gordy is still dressed in a robe like the ominous ghost of Christmas future while riding on a float through the school.
- An episode of Season 2 of Xena: Warrior Princess had a variation of sorts, wherein Xena accidentally wishes to the fates that she had never become a warrior and done all the horrible things that haunt her with guilt now. In a partial subversion, for most of the episode Xena actually prefers this alternate universe- even after the fact that she never stood for her village gave a chance for three notorious warlords to join forces and Gabrielle was enslaved by them (she still intends to find a way to stop them, to her it's just like any other problem she's run into). The only thing that finally convinces Xena not to stay in this universe is Gabrielle accidentally stabbing a man, thus getting blood on her hands.
- A twist in the Haven episode "The Trouble With Troubles". After Cliff's wife Susie is killed, Cliff wishes that The Troubles (a time period every 27 years when people get strange powers) never existed. The town of Haven becomes a crime-free paradise. Unfortunately, while Susie is now alive, she is married to someone else and doesn't know Cliff. Because of Audrey and William's Anti-Magic, they were unaffected by the wish, but now nobody else remembers them. Unfortunately for the town, because it had been so safe, nobody is prepared for the arrival of an Ax-Crazy killer like William. Despite his misfortunes, Cliff still prefers the new Haven solely because Susie is alive. In the end, the wish gets canceled when William kills Cliff.
- One episode of The Big Bang Theory does an interesting variation wherein the character who becomes the subject of this trope isn't involved at all: The nerds and their girls (and Stuart) are exited about the opportunity to celebrate a Christmas without Insufferable Genius Sheldon, who had to drive to Texas because his sister is expecting the birth of her baby. But then Amy remarks that without the existence of Sheldon, the lives of them all would have developed in quite different directions. (Specifically, they wouldn't all have relationships close enough to celebrate Christmas together.) This causes the friends (sans Sheldon, remember, he is in Texas!) to ponder over this for the rest of the episode, via a series of Imagine Spots.
- The NCIS episode "Life Before His Eyes" has Gibbs facing a near-death experience and seeing how his life would've turned out had certain events happened differently:
- Had he saved Kate in "Twilight," she and Tony would've gotten married and had a son, but Ziva would never have joined NCIS and would've gotten arrested at some point.
- Had he not killed Pedro Hernandez for killing his wife and daughter, he would've regretted it and later turned into a reclusive and antisocial drunk.
- Had his wife and daughter not been killed, he would've stayed in the Marine Corps—and come home in a box.+
- Castle: The seventh season episode "The Time of Our Lives" covers this plot. Thanks to an Incan artifact that the Killer of the Week was trying to steal (or maybe It Was All A Dream) Castle finds himself in an alternate reality where he and Beckett never met. In this reality, his star faded after the Derrick Storm novels ended because he never created Nikki Heat, and he never outgrew his Casanova phase. Martha is now supporting him and Alexis is now a goth who regards her dad with mild contempt. Meanwhile Beckett is now a police captain, but she never solved her mother's murder and long ago learned to compromise her principles. She also admits to Castle that she is chafing behind the captain's desk and wants to be a detective again. Once reality is restored, Castle, realizing how he and Beckett complete each other, convinces Beckett to marry him that evening in an intimate family-only ceremony.
- Misfits plays with this trope as early as the first season. After his ex-girlfriend is released from prison, Curtis (on probation for possession of drugs) uses his power to travel back in time to stop the deal from going down, which results in his ex's death. Going back a second time sees him prevent the deal and stay with his ex, but because he isn't arrested, he secures the deaths of Kelly, Alisha and Simon at the hands of the enraged probation worker because he wasn't there to prevent it. Going back a third and final time in order to restore the original timeline sees him arrested for possession... except his (ex-)girlfriend was never arrested, meaning he is still in a relationship with her, and is cheating on her with Alisha.
- The BBC short Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life (which went on to win the 1994 Live Action Short Film Oscar) manages to avert this trope while still qualifying as a Whole Plot Reference. The trick is that it spoofs the realistic plot developments instead of the fantastical ones: the broody Kafka (Richard E. Grant) is struggling to write a story and bothered by a man who has a large quantity of knives on his person and a noisy family of dancing women. Instead of the hero driven to the breaking point over misplaced/stolen bank funds, only to see them subsequently replaced by donations by the people's he's touched over the years, he seemingly kills the knife man's pet cockroach out of fright, and the man is rather upset. But the women arrive to celebrate Christmas with him and as a present give him many cockroaches, one of which is actually the pet. With Kafka's life spared and spirit lifted, he writes "The Metamorphosis".
- A variation occurs in the The Dead Zone episode "Zion." Bruce experiences what life would have been like if he had stayed in Indiana and helped run his father's church. Bruce's life isn't that great since he's unhappy and regrets having stayed. True to the trope, Johnny ends up crazy and alone, Sarah and Walt are divorced due to the strain of dealing with Johnny, and Johnny dies after attempting to assassinate Stillson to prevent tragedy.
- ''Amy and the Angel', an Afterschool Special that aired in 1982, plays with this: the Clarence was Driven to Suicide before the story's events and was forced to roam the earth for years. At the end of the special he gets a second chance at life by making sure Amy doesn't make the same mistake he did.
- The storyline of the Billy Joel music video for his song "Second Wind".
- Beethoven himself gets this in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concept album Beethoven's Last Night. It involves a tenth symphony and Mephistopheles.
- The Gwen Stefani song "Wonderful Life" plays with a less fantastical version of this trope, referencing the impact a now-missing lover had on the narrator's life.
If you only knew what you gave to me / Now you can't be found
- Alex had "It's a Wonderful Crisis", where Alex's boss commits suicide and Alex takes over his job as head of MegaBank. Cyrus then returns as an angel to show Alex how much better everyone else would have been if he had never been born. Ultimately, Cyrus is revealed as demon and the whole thing is a plot to send Alex and Clive to hell.
- An early Over the Hedge arc had Verne meet an angel (4th class) "quantum mechanic" who stated that he was accidentally born some 400 years too early and his very presence in that time was causing global warming, preventing Martha Stewart from earning a Nobel Prize, and generally bringing about the apocalypse. Before having his soul put on ice Verne is allowed to say "goodbye" to RJ, and ends up shoving him out of the way of a piece of space junk thus making him a necessary part of the timeline.
- In It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, an angel shows Kermit what would happen to The Muppets in a world where he never existed. Unfortunately, he's not too sure how to bring them back.
- An episode of The Basil Brush Show has this happen. After Basil spends all of the money on cosmetics (namely, for looking after his "brush") he and his friends risk having to stay in the flat without electricity or heating. Whilst the others go off carolling he starts feeling sorry with himself on a bridge. An old man (later shown to be Santa Claus) shows up and shows Basil that he makes lots of people happy, but Basil doesn't get it and wishes he was never born, so the old man sends him to a reality where his thieving cousin now does his show and where the people he helped and now in worse situations. Basil learns his lesson and after begging to exist again ends up in his own reality again. He goes home and finds everyone celebrating Christmas as one of his flatmates found a note with a large sum of money, conveniently.
- Sesame Street has a direct-to-video Christmas Special, Elmo Saves Christmas (1996), which plays with this trope. After Elmo saves Santa Claus while staying up late, the former is presented with a snowglobe that grants wishes. Elmo uses the snowglobe to wish that it could be Christmas every day, and Reality Ensues: Christmas mixes with Easter and the 4th of July, Big Bird can't see Snuffy, the carolers strain their voices from singing too much, Christmas trees are an endangered species, and everyone in general is utterly sick of the holiday and can't afford to give real presents anymore. Bonus points for including lots of direct references to the Trope Namer, culminating with Bert and Ernie in shock watching the scene from the movie where George comes across, well, Bert and Ernie. ("What's the matter with you two guys? You sang to me here on my wedding night!") This doubles as a Fandom Nod to the people who think that the Muppets are named after the characters from the movie, which the creators deny.
- Adventures in Odyssey two-parter "It's A Polkenberry Christmas" did this to George Barclay (fittingly enough, as the Barclay family were based on the characters from It's a Wonderful Life). The first part has George's life in tatters - the church can't pay its bills because Ellis (the clerk) has mislaid the cheque; the landowner refuses to sympathize; Stuart (his youngest son) falls off his bike and has an injury, prompting George to chew out the mother of the boy who was teaching him to ride the bike, which in turn leads to him being chewed out by the husband afterward. George eventually ends up on a bridge wallowing in his thoughts of pity. Meanwhile Mr. Whittaker and Eugene who are visiting the family find that George has gone out and, fearing the state of mind he's in, decide to look for him. They go their separate ways and Eugene finds George on a bridge, thinking he's about to throw himself into the river. Ironically, Eugene slips on the ice and falls into the river, and George has to go in and save him. After doing so Eugene takes George back to the motel where he's staying with Mr. Whittaker, only to find their clothes are now dry as if they'd never been in the water at all, the receptionist doesn't remember Mr. Whittaker ever checking in with Eugene (and he isn't on the computer record either) and the receptionist, a classmate of Jimmy's (George's eldest son), doesn't remember working with him on a class project. Things go downhill from there: no one recognizes George, Ellis is a thieving street bum and the church has been turned into a golf course. Eugene postulates that George's attitude and the incident with the river is what sent them into this version of reality. They then phone up Mr. Whittaker (who is at Whit's End in Odyssey, as in this reality he had no reason to come to Polkenberry Falls), who tells George that he lost faith in God, is estranged from his wife, is himself missing and Stuart was never born. Unable to accept what is happening, George chews out Eugene, who refuses to take any responsibility. Enraged, George attempts to find his family using phone books in a library, only to attract the attention of the police. Evading capture, George wishes he was alive again, and ends up back in the river with Euguene, realising the experience was All Just a Dream. They return to the household where the church congregation has gathered the money required to pay off the debt and George celebrates Christmas with his family. And the "Everytime a bell rings, an angel gets its wings" line get parodied as well.
- A previous episode features Donna wishing Jimmy was never born, and ends up having a day where Jimmy was never born at all. Donna finds that being an only child isn't all it's cracked up to be.
- Old Harry's Game subverts this in the second episode of series two, in which Satan, an ex-angel, asks Thomas if he has seen the film before taking him to see "all the crap things that did happen because he was born".
- In the February 2, 1947 episode of The Jack Benny Program, Jack goes to see It's a Wonderful Life and calls it improbable. Later that day he hits his head and has a dream sequence in which he sees what the world would be like if he'd never been born. Don Wilson is a farmer, Phil Harris is playing at crummy dives, Dennis Day works for Fred Allen, and Mary Livingstone, who had been flirting with Jack before the dream began, is married—to Frank Nelson!
- One of frequent "Good Game Master Pro Tips" in RPGT is playing out a "zero" variant(s) for adventures — what would happen if Player Characters don't appear at all? What would happen if PC start their quest and then only blunder aimlessly? This forces GM to check and "pre-cache" at least some of necessary sources, creates a frame of reference for NPC reactions and helps to see the world as working on its own, i.e. find and draw the fine line between "heroes" and "Mary Sues".
- Vampire: The Requiem has a particularly nightmarish example. The Ordo Dracul is a bunch of vampire mad social scientists, and they invoke this trope by killing a random joe and see how life goes on without his presence. This is one of the factions that the player character can join.
- Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge, Christopher Durang's Affectionate Parody of classic Christmas stories, features the typical subversion, with the title character learning that everyone's much better off without her.
- Chrono Cross screws around with this, and other Alternate Universe tropes, there are two mirror alternate history universes and in one the protagonist is dead, so among other things you can see how things play out with his absence.
- Or would that be you get see how things play out with him NOT absent, since the reality where he died is the "real" one?
- Undertale has this built into the game's code. A whole character, Dr. W. D. Gaster, has been shattered across space and time, represented in the game as if he were Dummied Out content but in reality. After he fell into the Core, he shattered, and nobody in the game remembers him unless you deliberately futz around with the game's files to access his content. Despite his sorry state he remains conscious in some form, forced to watch and comprehend the fact that the world goes on just fine without him.
- Subverted in the webcomic MegaTokyo, because the guardian angel Seraphim did not have enough funds.
- An invered them in Misfile, where both protagonists lives are better in the altered reality than they were in the original. Ash has a relationship with her mother where as before he never even met her, and Emily may have died if reality hadn't changed.
- Predictably enough, used in Sluggy Freelance around Christmas 2009, with a short shown on a dystopian alternative Earth, called "It's a Wonderful Life, Citizen". It's about someone who is miserable and wishes he was never born. Because happiness is mandatory in that place, his desire in the sense of no longer existing (in that universe, anyway) is granted, and everyone agrees they're happier without him. The story has An Aesop: Report anyone who's unhappy to the authorities.
- Sexy Losers hilariously skewers it with the aptly titled "It's a Wonderfully Shitty Life". I was supposed to help somebody?
- One of the Bug's irrational fears is that this trope will be subverted for him.
- Housepets! has the arc "It's a Wonderful Dog's Life" where the human Joel (a PETA member who helped kidnap a dog) was turned into a Welsh corgi named King. The arc is more a deconstruction, as the supernatural force who transforms him, "Pete", has no intention to change him back. And with subsequent events, it's unlikely he'll ever be changed back.
- Butch of Chopping Block had a dream about this, in which he discovered how much better the world would be without him. (The dream ended with him violently killing the angel.)
- Brawl in the Family featured a rhyming take on the story for Christmas 2013, in which King Dedede wonders if the world would have been better if he had never existed; Pit appears to show him an alternate universe in which Meta Knight (actually Waddle Dee) rules as a dictator. While Dedede's ending is played straight, the arc itself ends with the aforementioned subversion: Pit is showing Waluigi how much better the world would be without him.
- Original Life subverts it. An angel appears to Fisk, and shows him how horrible things would be without him. But it's What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous? at best. The angel can't earn his wings unless Fisk learns a lesson, but the problem is, Fisk is already happy with his life. There's no lesson to learn, because he already knows it. He agrees the world would suck without him, however, stroking his own ego, but it's enough for the angel to say mission accomplished and get his wings.
- Played with in xkcd here. A ghost comes to show someone what would happen if he gave up fighting about the word "literally". Literally nothing changes.
- Lampshaded in this strip of Phil Likes Tacos.
- The short video It's a Wonderful Game by LoadingReadyRun is a silly take on this trope. The protagonist, in a rage about not being able to defeat the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES once he ran out of new games to play, wishes that Mario had never been made. The result? "Bring him back! Bring Mario back!"
- ''Captain Estar Goes to Heaven'' — A young woman who leads a hellish life finds a world that may actually be Heaven. She is offered a "Wonderful Life" that she never had ... can she deal with it?
- The 2010 Nostalgia Critic Christmas Episode You're A Rotten Dirty Bastard parodies this plot. The Critic quits his job due to being angry about there being nothing to review for Christmas. Roger, his guardian angel, comes in to show how other people on the That Guy with the Glasses Team live without his existence, only for everyone to be much better off without him. The Cinema Snob is a giant porn star, Linkara owns both Marvel and DC Comics, The Nostalgia Chick is married and is a major director of films such as Twilight: The Good Version, Angry Joe is the president of the United States, blows up the evil Canada (naturally, killing Phelous) and publicly executed Tom Green, and Spoony has taken the Critic's job, gives positive reviews to Last Action Hero and Junior, and is loved even by the trolls. When Roger discovers he could have been God's greatest angel and successor without the Critic, he tries to kill him, only to learn that God lied about angels being Immune to Bullets. The Critic realizes he improved his own life and goes back to his old self. All narrated by Santa Christ.
- Not everyone's lives were better. Technically Joe did blow up Canada. So the critics existance actually prevents more than 33 million deaths. And Phelous's, but that happens all the time anyway. Though if we take Joe at his word, Canada was an evil empire in this alternate world.
- Which, if true, raises the point that the Nostalgia Critic is also somehow responsible for stopping Canada from becoming an evil empire.
- Doug Walker said in commentary that he was disappointed to find out this trope had been subverted numerous times before, but still hopes that this is the only rendition where they look at the Angel's life without him.
- Not everyone's lives were better. Technically Joe did blow up Canada. So the critics existance actually prevents more than 33 million deaths. And Phelous's, but that happens all the time anyway. Though if we take Joe at his word, Canada was an evil empire in this alternate world.
- Doreen and Maureen's Christmas special merges this plot with Yet Another Christmas Carol, lampshades the frequency of this stock plot, and possibly double subverts it by having Doreen realise that the whole world would be much happier without her...and then taking joy in making everyone miserable.
- My Friend Martin. It featured a group of kids who want to prevent Martin Luther King's assassination. So they go back in time, kidnap him as a child, and bring him back to the present day... only to find segregation and racism still in full force, and many of the main character's best friends are affected. Young Martin, who guesses that the changes the others observe are For Want of a Nail, bravely decides to return to his own time. The end of the show featured the animated King time-lapse aging as he walks through the portal, while in the background a montage of his achievements plays.
- The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo: "It's A Wonderful Scoob" has Scooby traumatized once too often by spooks (namely the episode's villain Time Slime) and he leaves to return home. Vincent Van Ghoul shows him what would happen to his friends and the world in general without his intervention.
- The same thing happened to Dagget from The Angry Beavers, but the clueless Dagget wound up messing up the "improved" lives of his friends in the alternate reality.
- This is featured as the sixth American Dad! Christmas Episode, "I'm Dreaming Of A White Porsche Christmas," but gets subverted. Stan wishes to trade lives with Principal Lewis, but in the process he loses Francine and the kids and tries to undo his wish. When it looks like Stan has learned to truly appreciate his family, an angel arrives to inform Stan the lesson is over. Stan returns home and discovers a completely different family more akin to how Stan always wanted things to be. Also, Klaus is a normal fish, and Roger's existence as an alien is hidden by his disguise as a mall optometrist renting Stan's attic. Stan is then informed that the entire series before this episode was this trope. This new family is Stan's actual family, and because he didn't appreciate them, he was given Francine, Steve, Hayley, Klaus, and Roger as punishment. But the angel who was in charge of Stan's case apparently passed away, Stan completely forgot about his old family, and the case fell through the cracks. Now however, Stan actually wants Francine and their kids back and tries to switch.
- Used in a 13th season episode of Arthur called "Silent Treatment." George feels that his friends are ignoring him and decides to stop speaking. His dummy, Wally, then shows him a world without him in a fantasy sequence. George even Lampshades it, noting that there's a movie like it.
- Batman: The Animated Series
- A particularly awesome example in the episode "Over the Edge": because of a Scarecrow-induced nightmare, Batgirl actually dreams she gets killed during costumed adventuring. Commissioner Gordon discovers then that Batgirl was his daughter Barbara, and actually orders a manhunt on Batman. Things go downhill from there. Gordon goes so far as to enlist Bane to help him hunt Batman. A surprisingly dark episode, and probably one of the best of an already excellent series.
- Another is "Perchance to Dream", in which Bruce wakes up to discover his parents are alive, he's engaged to Selina Kyle, and there's even a Batman to fight crime. Sounds like a perfect life, huh? Like it says in the title, it's All Just a Dream and he's been put in a Lotus-Eater Machine by the Mad Hatter.
- Beavis And Butthead did a somewhat predictable reversal of the plot of It's a Wonderful Life, with an angel coming to Earth on Christmas to show Butt-head how much better the world would be if he had never been born. Neighbors, classmates, teachers, and Beavis (mainly because he'd never had the chance to screw up) are shown to be happier and more successful without him. Naturally, Butt-head fails to grasp the lesson.
- Daria was one of the neighbors who was happier. This proves that without Butt-head's intervention, her show would not have been as interesting as it was.
- The cartoon spinoff of Beetlejuice played with this in an episode wherein the depressed trickster Beetlejuice accidentally wished himself out of existence, and he's shown what the Neitherworld would be like without him. His friends in the Neitherworld are relatively better off without him, except they've let their success go to their heads and become jerks, but what really gets to BJ is how in the mortal world, Lydia is miserable without him as a friend.
- Here's a odd one: Captain Planet and the Planeteers — "Two Futures" two-part episode, which takes place on New Year's Eve Wheeler ends up trapped in a cave with Dr. Blight and her time machine. Upset with Gaia, Wheeler makes a Deal with the Devil with eco-villains' female mad scientist Dr. Blight to go back in time to prevent himself from getting his Fire Ring. Gaia, shows him the future of each area, including Hope Island in bad shape, so he goes back in time and changes things to allow things to return to normal. The eco-villains escape into the time line, but end up in a better future thanks to the Planeteers.
- What, polluting streams wasn't enough, now the villains have to pollute time streams too?
- That's those wacky Planeteer villains and their utter obsession with the evil that is polluting for you.
- What, polluting streams wasn't enough, now the villains have to pollute time streams too?
- In the CatDog episode "It's a Wonderful Half-Life", the titular twins are fed up with each other, and at night dream (In the Style of... an old-timey black-and-white cartoon) about what their lives would be if neither one had the other: Cat is a wealthy and successful businessman, but completely friendless as nobody can stand him; meanwhile, Dog lives a life free of rules, but is without a home.
- Happens to Miss Malone in "Crate Expectations," an episode of The Completely Mental Misadventures Of Ed Grimley.
- The Donkey Kong Country cartoon had an episode with the same name in which DK gets everybody upset with him and decides to run away, but falls unconscious during his trek. He has a dream where Eddie the Yeti, as his guardian angel, shows him a Kongo Bongo Island where he doesn't exist, in which Diddy is an evil dictator, Candy's married to Bluster, and K. Rool is protecting a papier-mache lilypad.
- In an episode of The Emperor's New School, Kuzco realizes he makes everyone miserable as he is and wishes he were never emperor in order to fit in. Without him, Yzma has taken over the empire, and everyone is even more miserable.
- A rather subversive treatment of this story was The Fairly OddParents episode "It's A Wishful Life", where everyone's shown as being better off without Timmy Turner, even though he's a decent kid. When Timmy does all sorts of good things for his friends and family only to get complete ingratitude, he angrily wishes he was never born just to see how tough things would be without him... only to discover that everyone in Dimmsdale, including Cosmo and Wanda, actually have much better lives without him. It should be pointed out that the whole thing turned out to be a test being given to Timmy by Von Strangle, even if he was pretty sadistic about it. Still frustratingly, many world changes had nothing to do with Timmy's existence (ex. AJ having hair and Francis joining the football team). Viewers and The Mysterious Mr. Enter were not impressed, to say the least, to the point that "Wishful Life" is one of the few episodes that showrunner Butch Hartman regretted making, citing that they did go a bit overboard on the cruelty and that the lesson wasn't a fit one for kids.
- Family Guy
- This show did an interesting take on this trope. Peter gets killed in a car crash after getting drunk at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting . Death then shows up to show what Peter would be like if he continues on his path of alcoholism. In this future, Peter tortures his family and has sex with his boss. Horrified by this, Peter wishes he had never taken a drop of alcohol in his life. Death then shows him what his life would be like WITHOUT alcohol. In this future, Peter is happy, educated, and cheerful, but he has uptight friends, doesn't know Joe, Cleveland, or Quagmire, and thinks they're uncouth. The Aesop is "use moderation." (Which becomes something of a Broken Aesop when you're talking about someone on his way home from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.)
- In the episode "Chap Stewie," Stewie becomes disgusted with his family's crude, unsophisticated ways after watching Downton Abbey and decides to prevent his own conception through time travel in hopes of being born into an upper class British family.
- Exaggerated in an episode of Futurama which explores what would happen if Fry wasn't sent into the future. The universe implodes.
- Well Fry was sent into the future specifically to prevent the universe imploding.
- At first, Wade Duck's take on this plot in a U.S. Acres episode of Garfield and Friends looks like a standard parody, as he learns that if he hadn't existed, everyone else's life would be exactly the same. But in the end, this becomes even more subverted: he comes back in time to prevent a robbery, using knowledge that he only gained because he had been a bodiless observer at the time!
- Hey Arnold! uses the subversion in which Helga dreams of what the world would be like if she disappeared. Everybody celebrates that she is gone; Arnold, who caused her to disappear with a magic trick, is famous for it; and her parents' lives are much better. Eventually she wakes up and tries to fix all the bad things she did in that episode before falling asleep.
- An episode of Johnny Bravo did the obvious subversion, in an episode where an angel shows Johnny what life would be like with out him, despite his protests he wasn't interested in seeing it, and everyone was better off: Pop's Diner was replaced with an extremely chic restaurant, Carl was a martial arts master and a software millionaire (Pop claims Carl is the reason Aaron City was on the map), Bunny Bravo was the head of a spy organization, and Little Suzy... apparently became a terrorist...
- Even his angel confesses that his boss warned him Johnny was just a 'hunk of meat with a mouth'. The only reason he came back was because he had put his face in cement that morning. He believed his friends' success didn't make up for not having his beauty around.
- Played straight with the Christmas special of Kappa Mikey, where Mikey never visited Japan and everyone's life is worse. This coincides with a Yet Another Christmas Carol subplot. Because Mikey never won the contest, someone else became the new star of Lilymu! - the overweight and past his prime Speed Racer. The ratings tanked and the show was cancelled. Guano became a chimney sweep with a stupid accent, Lily married Yoshi the cameraman and adopted several kids (Becoming very cranky and ugly), Gonard, because the show was cancelled during a take and no one yelled "Cut", terrorizes the city as his Lilymu! role, and Mitsuki tried to be a serious actor, but quickly became a White-Dwarf Starlet.
- The basic plotline of the Leap Frog educational release A Tad of Christmas Cheer has Tad thinking that his family doesn't care about him anymore, so a "fairy godbug" transports him to an alternate reality in which he never existed.
- The Life and Times of Juniper Lee: In the episode "Te Xuan Me", Juniper and her classmates were captured by time wraiths. Whenever time wraiths capture anybody, they rewrite history so their captives would have never existed. In the alternative world, Ray Ray became the Te Xuan Ze; Monroe said he had never met a Te Xuan Ze who accepted the role as much as Ray Ray did; and Dennis behaves like the mainstream Ray Ray. The only people (other than the captives) to remember the original timeline were Ray Ray and the magical creature that caused the whole mess by provoking the wraiths. Ray Ray eventually learned the truth and rescued everyone, restoring the original timeline. For a while, Ray Ray believed it was All Just a Dream since even Juniper didn't remember anything, but a photograph he had with him clued him to the fact it really happened.
- In the Lilo & Stitch: The Series episode "Skip", Lilo skips ahead twenty years. In the intervening time, Hamsterviel has conquered Earth and captured the experiments.
- A subversion of the trope can be found in an episode of the cartoon Little Shop; capping it off is the following exchange of dialogue:
Seymour: Hey, this isn't right! You're supposed to show me how miserable everybody is without me!
Junior: Hey, if everyone made the world a better place, it'd be perfect!
- In The Magic School Bus Christmas Episode (simply titled "Holiday Special"), Wanda wishes recycling didn't exist (long story short: she was planning to use a nutcracker to get into a production of The Nutcracker, but it fell out of her backpack and Arnold thought it was trash so he threw it in the recycling bin), so Ms Fizzle uses the bus to eliminate recycling from Walkerville. Chaos ensues, culminating in the bus disintegrating because it was built from recycled materials, and the class having to rebuild it so that they can put things right.
- A variation occurs in the Maryoku Yummy episode "A Day Without Maryoku," with Shika so frustrated at Maryoku not following the rules that he takes it up with Tapo Tapo, insisting that their world would be better off without her. Tapo Tapo uses magic bubbles to show him how the day went down and then how it would have gone down without Maryoku. Apparently, a lack of Maryoku not only left him watching all the wishes, but kept Bob's van from starting.
- Played straighter in the episode "It's a Yumderful Life," when Maryoku, feeling the pressure of being "the greatest wishsitter," wishes she had an easier job, and then suddenly finds herself as not a wishsitter, but Bob's official clipboard holder. There's even a direct Shout-Out to the movie with "Yuzu's pedals," a pair of lucky bike pedals Yuzu gave her earlier in the episode, disappearing, and then reappearing when she's back to her regular life.
- Mega Man once went to the future. A future that shows him what the world will be like if he doesn't return to his own time. Without him to stop Dr. Wily, the villain took over the world.
- The Phineas and Ferb episode "Phineas And Ferb's Quantum Boogaloo" involves the boys traveling through time 20 years to the future, and running into future Candace, who, after some crazy antics, goes back to the events of the very first episode of the series. The roller coaster is terminated, and the boys get busted. Future Candace returns to the future, only to find everything industrial and bleak. In this world, everyone is named "Joe", and Doofenshmirtz is the ruler. What Candace didn't learn was that, because of her interference, it was Perry, not Doof, who got harmed by the huge ball of tin foil; and that Doofenshmirtz became the ruler because Perry didn't recover on time to stop him.
- In an episode of the The Powerpuff Girls, the titular superheroines accidentally travel fifty years into the future after overusing their superspeed for a race home. Fifty years of a world without the Powerpuff Girls, who get to see it taken over by Him.
- In another episode, after Professor Utonium realizes his best inventions have been accidents, has a dream where his experiments are succesful: Without accidentally adding Chemical X, the Powerpuff Girls are now normal (named Bertha, Beatrice and Betty), their lives are a tad dull, there's constant traffic because nobody does anything about the giant monsters that attack Townsville and, for some reason, the Lab where the Professor works is now a pizza place.
- The Punky Brewster cartoon episode "Allen Who?" has Allen being browbeaten by everyone for nearly spoiling a surprise party, so he wishes that nobody knew who he was. Glomer grants him that wish, but he's forced to fend for himself as everyone takes him as a stranger.
- In that reality, Allen's grandmother was depressed for having no grandchildren; nobody cared about the coach to start the surprise party; Margaux had a broken arm because Allen wasn't there with a wagonload of basketballs to stop her fall (showing the Mainstream Margaux was wrong about blaming him for it in the first place).
- In an episode of Rainbow Fish, the title character wishes that he was never born after having a bad day. His "guardian angelfish" soon appears and shows him what life would be like without him. In this alternate universe, Rainbow's favorite restaurant has hardly any customers, his parents are sad for not having a son, his sister is depressed due to being an only child and even the school bullies are miserable because they don't have anyone to pick on.
- In Rick and Morty, Rick creates a device that lets the family see alternate timeline versions of themselves. Summer realizes that she doesn't exist in most timelines, as Jerry impregnated Beth when they were teenagers and Summer's existence in any timeline hinges on if her parents decided to get an abortion or not. In any timeline she exists in, her parents gave up their dreams and her alternate life is pretty much identical to her current one. However, in every timeline where she doesn't exist, her parents got to enjoy their dreams with Beth becoming a skilled surgeon and Jerry becoming a famous actor. Beth and Jerry become conflicted over whether they should have stayed together while Summer becomes disheartened over the fact that her parents considered (and in most timelines succeeded in) aborting her. Though it's revealed that in at least one timeline, Beth and Jerry both come to seriously regret getting an abortion as they both grew up lonely and desperate for happiness.
- Parodied on Robot Chicken, where Wimpy (from Popeye) is shown how much better the world is without his existence. Incidentally, hamburgers are free in that world. Seeing this, his guardian angel then kicks him off the bridge himself.
- The Rugrats episode "Chuckie's Wonderful Life" did this for Chuckie, where Angelica took over the town. This was actually a surprisingly dark, almost disturbing episode (yes, of a show involving talking babies). Even if you just included what happened to Chuckie's father, it's rather bleak. He ends up unemployed, sitting alone in his house, surrounded by tons of empty pizza boxes he's been hoarding, a sock-puppet his only friend.
- The Simpsons has Homer visited by his guardian angel, who initially appears to him as Sir Isaac Newton. When Homer fails to recognize him, he instead shows himself as Colonel Klink of Hogan's Heroes, and shows Homer what the world would be like if he had never married Marge; Homer is a millionaire and is married to Mindy from the plant, and Marge is president of the United States. Oddly enough, the angel seems to consider this state of events worse than the "real world" — probably because the angel's remit is to make sure that Homer doesn't cheat on Marge now, and this example doesn't really help his case.
Jimmy's Dad: Think again, Jimmy. You see, the firing pin in your gun was made out of... yep, zinc.Jimmy: Come back, zinc! COME BAAAACK!
- Homer doesn't get the message and instead spends his time asking "Klink" if he knew about the tunnels under the camp and the radio in the coffee pot. But he manages to stay faithful to Marge on his own.
- And another episode used a variation, where Homer looked into magic sauce (seriously) to see what life would've been like if he had won class president or more accurately, if he wasn't sabotaged as the principal overheard two popular kids encouraging the student body to vote for Homer as a prank to humiliate him. The Principal got Carl and Lenny to get rid of the real ballot box, which had Homer win. While he is first laughed at, Carl and Lenny voice that Homer is a loser like them, and thus you don't have to be popular to succeed, resulting in them chanting his name and leading the student body to approve of him. Homer becomes confident and self-assured of himself, able to make decisions on the go and he ends up asking the top cheerleader to prom... only to dump her there and go for Marge. After a successful night (with Patty and Selma voicing their approval seeing Marge return home,) Homer is spotted by Mr. Burns. Impressed by the young man's stance and his position, he is offered a job at the plant, Section 6F (his current one in OTL is 7G, so a step-up). He takes it and we see that he would live in a luxurious mansion where the Flanders' house would be (the original Simpson' house is a guest house of his, occupied by Abe). While he and Marge are happily married, its revealed that since Homer used protection, they never had kids.
- They also parodied the use of this trope in A Case of Spring Fever (see the MST3K entry) with an educational film about a world without zinc. At one point, the protagonist attempts to shoot himself because the world is so terrible.
- Also, in "Grift of the Magi," Moe sees what the world would have been like had he never been born (offscreen) and stops his suicide attempt.
- The Smurfs episode "It's A Smurfy Life" has Handy see what life in the Smurf Village would be like if he never existed. Gargamel at one point even says, "it's a wonderful life", when one of Handy's inventions was modified by the evil wizard to capture Smurfs.
- In the Sofia the First episode "The Baker King", King Roland wishes he had a simpler life while standing in front of an (unbeknownst to him) Magic Mirror, and wakes up the next morning to find he and his family have become the village bakers. Unlike in most examples of this trope, Roland's previous existence isn't erased; no one knows he's the king, but no one knows where the actual king is, and it's seeing all the improvements to the town that he authorized that convinces him to go back to being the king.
- Parodied in an episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, where after a tribute episode to Zorak gone horribly wrong, Zorak wishes he was never born, prompting his nephew Raymond from the episode "Hungry" to appear as a wingless angel to show what life would be like without Zorak: Diff'rent Strokes would still be on the air, Lokar would be the bandleader of SGC 2 C, and Space Ghost himself would find huge success on his show, going on to become governor of California, then president of the universe. Upon this revelation, Zorak wants to live to make Space Ghost miserable, and Raymond gets his wings.
- In an episode of Spongebob Squarepants that stars Plankton, Plankton uses a machine that switches the lives of himself and Mr. Krabs. Despite initially enjoying being the owner of the Krusty Krab, it eventually drives him mad, he reverses the machine's effects, and (at least for this episode) learns to cherish what he has.
- There was a pretty good episode of Superfriends called "The Krypton Syndrome" where Superman falls through a portal, winds up on Krypton, and manages to save it. He returns to the present, but finds Earth a burning ruin, with Robin one of the only survivors. After realizing what happened, he goes back and ensures Krypton's destruction.
Superman: When Krypton was saved, my father never sent me to Earth. So, to this world, there never was a Superman.
- Subverted in the Superjail! season finale: the Warden is sentenced to spend eternity locked up, because his existence would culminate in his world domination. It's only when he escapes and gets a chance to see what happens without him there to horribly enslave the world that he's able to show the alternative (which isn't remotely as bad as world domination, but quite a bit freakier). The force responsible for his fate doesn't buy it, leading to two very unsettling minutes of Continuity Nod as the two realities combine.
- In the Teen Titans episode "How Long Is Forever?", Starfire is thrown into a dark future where the Titans have split, becoming embittered with each other, which just goes to show how important she is as The Heart of the Titans.
- One episode of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series follows this trope: the Turtles wonder if the world would be like without them, and then they wake up in a world in which they never existed and Shredder succeeded in his plans to taking over the world. It's a mess, and not even Shredder is happy. In the end, it turns out to be All Just a Dream.
- The 4kids version has an episode where Donatello goes into an alternate future where Shredder has taken over the world because he never returned from the future. Perhaps more accurately, the Turtles' brotherhood falls apart without Donatello to act as the "level head" and peacemaker. Shredder would very likely have taken over the world anyway. This leads to something of a missed opportunity when various later events in the series echo aspects of that Bad Future, and Donatello never even bats an eye.
- Tiny Toon Adventures did this for their Christmas Episode "It's A Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special", with Buster wishing he didn't exist after a loss of confidence. He's shown an alternate Acme Acres (in a clever Jimmy Stewart double whammy, his guardian angel is a while rabbit called Harvey (who's actually Bugs in disguise)), where Plucky is the star of the show and using his position to make life miserable for Babs. Meanwhile, Monty has taken over the school and uses it for his own purposes. It's a particularly memorable version of the trope, because the special is littered with clever allusions to the real It's a Wonderful Life — among others, Porky lassos the moon for his girlfriend Petunia, Pepe Le Pew uses a perfume called "ZuZu's Petals," and when Buster gets back to his own reality, he runs around wishing Merry Christmas to various local landmarks.
- Another allusion to It's a Wonderful Life was Monty being wheelchair-bound like his counterpart from the original story. He claimed it was an accident he suffered while skiing. And his alternative self, while not wheelchair-bound, was about to go in the same skiing trip that got the mainstream Monty.
- Nightmare does this to Spider-Man in a dream in the Ultimate Spider-Man epsiode "Nightmare before Christmas". After making Spidey relive his first fight with the Enforcers when he was starting out and a battle with Shocker earlier at the start of the episode. After showing Spidey a glimpse of a public who didn't appreciate him, Spidey decided to quit, which resulted in a Bad Future where he's rich, but the Green Goblin became the Goblin King and killed most of Spidey's allies, as well at much of S.H.I.E.L.D. and most of the Avengers, with only Nova and Hawkeye surviving. When Spider-Man figures this out, he fights his way out to get out of the nightmare.
- Part 2 of the Uncle Grandpa Christmas Special revolves around Uncle Grandpa seeing a reality where he never existed, thanks to a guardian lobster named Lawrence.
- It's a good technique when your self esteem is rather low to think what Clarence would show you if you were never born, and think of all those who lives would be different or even worse for you not being there. Unfortunately, this technique suffers greatly when used by those diagnosed with depressive mental disorders; it is all too easy to think of everyone who would be better off had you not been born, hence the common trope subversion.
Merry Christmas, building of the Department of Redundancy Department building! Merry Christmas, Trope Co. World Headquarters! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Amazing Technicolor Battlefield! Merry Christmas, Mr. The Scrooge!