Writing drama is hard. Sticking to a popular formula is easy. That's why sometimes you can create a temporaryGenre Shift in a series to fill up time in your story. For example, many television shows are general drama, but...with a character who is a doctor. You know that soon enough, there's going to be a central episode for that character, complete with a medical plot.
This trope can be glaringly obvious or just a subtle genre that doesn't fit into the rest of the series. Medical Drama is used as an example because it is difficult to hide.
A good test to see whether something fits this trope: If you turned on the television or opened the book at a particular point, would you be able to guess the main genre correctly?
This trope is often paired with Mood Whiplash. For a permanent genre change, see Genre Shift; when the plot starts out as something unrelated leading up to the switch it's a Halfway Plot Switch; and when a work has a chronic case of this trope it's a Genre Roulette. See Courtroom Episode, Noir Episode, Superhero Episode, and the rest of the Episodes page for common subtropes. For the same principle applied to video game genres, see Unexpected Gameplay Change.
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Berserk, for one arc, becomes a grim and gritty medieval story devoid of any demons, aside from the Zodd fight. After the arc, shit starts hitting the fan and we return to the Crapsack World that is the world of Berserk.
The Excel♥Saga anime is, for the most part, the epitome of a Gag Series. So naturally one of the last episodes was played completely straight.
In the eight episode of Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward becomes very determined to solve the mystery pertaining to a serial killer. Things get very Detective Conan-y very fast. Especially funny because the villain in the episode (Barry the Chopper) is voiced by the same actor as Jimmy Kudo in the English dub.
In a more straight example, Tenchi Muyo! in Love 2: Haruka Naru Omoi (known better in the US as Tenchi Forever) trades out the previous film's (and its direct predecessor, Tenchi Universe's) time-travel action story for a downbeat romance drama that intensely examines the relationships between Ayeka, Tenchi and Ryoko and sheds some light on Katsuhito's (rather sad) past as Yosho.
Justified Trope in Monster: medical drama is the format of the first two episodes of a very long series, as the protagonist is a neurosurgeon who then turns amateur detective.
One episode of Samurai Champloo suddenly changes the series from an anachronistic hip hop-fueled Edo-era samurai series into a horror series. All the major hip hop and anachronistic references are removed, the soundtrack changes into a more moody, atmospheric one, the trio suddenly have to contend with zombies, and the whole thing ends on a bizarre Gainax Ending where everyone seemingly dies when a meteorite crashes into the village they're in. Since the events of the episode are never mentioned again, it's hard to tell whether the whole thing was even canon.
Likewise, "Pierrot Le Fou" in Cowboy Bebop is an out-of-place horror episode, but replaces zombies with a super-powered Psychopathic Manchild killer.
REDLINE plays out mostly as a Widget Movie about an illegal street race, presented in a bizarre Dead Leaves-esque tone. It's only during the third act that a top secret bio-weapon known as Funky Boy is released from containment by La Résistance, and then all of a sudden, the latter third of the movie has a Kaiju movie going on in the background.
Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men was a succession of these instead of the routine superhero stuff: high school drama, sci-fi, murder mystery...
Interestingly, Morrison fled from this genre bending as far as he could after a certain point in his run, making the good guys and bad guys as unambiguously traditionally super-hero/super-villain in their morals and adventures, despite still keeping the more exotic outward trappings introduced earlier.
Sin City is mostly a crime-noir comic series set in a somewhat realistic world (for a comicbook anyway). Despite this, we've had a few departures.
Shlubb and Klump had their own short story which was a wacky little story featuring Those Two Bad Guys and an ending gag straight out of a Looney Tunes episode.
The story Hell and Back features genetic tampering, espionage, a guild of assassins with high tech weapons, and a villainess◊ who could easily be mistaken as a straight up supervillain due to her costume and gadgets. It seemed like a Tom Clancy novel, mixed with Metal Gear.
The Yellow Bastard was operated on by genetic scientists and even voodoo witchdoctors who turned him into what could be mistaken for a yellow Star Trek alien.
The Farm is often described as affecting the characters mentaly. Every time anyone goes there, they always feel something in the pit of their stomachs and think the exact same thing, "People have died here." It's also believed to be haunted, giving it a weird horror vibe even though we don't see anything.
And Rats is a creepy psychological horror story about a Nazi concentration camp guard getting his overdue comeuppance.
In the 1980s, a story arc in Batman dealt with Batman fighting a villain called Doctor Fang who was an ex-boxer who was trying to take over boxing in Gotham City. One issue (Batman #372) turned into a full on boxing detail concerning a minor prizefighter getting a shot at the title and hardly had the Dark Knight in the issue at all.
Fables did this for the first few storylines (corresponding to the trades). The first one is a murder mystery. The second is a political thriller. The third is a caper (even lampshaded as such). The fourth is a spy/war story.
Forrest Gump: Mostly a general drama, but part of the plot is a war story.
In Master and Commander, the crew rests for a few days on the Galapagos Islands. Dr. Maturin explores the island with the help of an eager midshipman and the film turns into a nature documentary for a little while. Almost seems like a Poorly Disguised Pilot for Creation, in which Paul Bellamy plays Charles Darwin.
While all the Resident Evil films were arguably a Genre Roulette, the third one was entirely different from the other 3. It was less a zombie movie and more a Desert Punk film with zombies occasionally appearing.
Not only are none of the Troll films connected, they can't seem to decide on a genre within the films themselves. The first film doesn't know whether it wants to be a horror film or a fantasy adventure, with Troll 2 and Troll 3 (aka The Creepers) it's hard to tell whether they were supposed to be straight horror films or horror comedies, and with the other Troll 3 (aka Quest for the Mighty Sword) it's hard to tell whether it's supposed to be a straight fantasy adventure or partly a comedy.
In Catch Me If You Can, con man Frank Abagnale Jr works illegally as a doctor, among other things. This subplot looks almost as if it could be reused as a pilot for a television series. Which is entirely appropriate, since Frank is shown studying hospital dramas for lingo and basic protocol ("Do you concur?").
To Kill a Mockingbird: The genre of the novel is probably best described as "coming of age". In the middle of it is a courtroom drama. There are some other crime elements scattered throughout, but it would be misleading to describe it as a crime or law novel.
The film has a higher focus on the courtroom scene and won the award "Best Courtroom Drama" from the American Film Institute.
It's often told that the reason why these sections exist is because Melville was told the novel needed to be longer - and he couldn't think of anything else to pad it out with.
Similarly, Les Misérables has extensive sections detailing the Paris sewers, the Battle of Waterloo, thieves' argot, cloistered orders of nuns...
Until the final chapters, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is pretty much a Romantic Comedy occasionally punctuated by fact-finding trips into Dumbledore's pensieve. This was only played up in the movie, which eliminated most of the pensieve adventures. Notably, the filmmakers added the attack on the Burrow because they thought some action was needed in the middle part of the story.
The Thursday Next books are... sort of an urban fantasy mystery series about literature and the Metafiction thereof. Once per book, there's a chapter wherein Thursday teams up with Spike Stoker to fight vampires, ghosts, demons or what have you, usually just so she can pay the rent. The narration shifts to a style that would not be out of place in Dracula or the more serious modern horror novel. And then things are back to normal next chapter.
There's also a scene where Thursday has to cross the void between two books in the Bookworld, and the book depicts the wordless void by briefly turning into a comic.
In Mists of Everness, the second book War of the Dreaming, there is a chapter or two which features a switch from the present-day High Fantasy to Beatrix-Potteresque Talking Animal interlude. It's interesting and funny, and ties into the plot later on, but the unexpected change can be jarring.
Goosebumps is normally a kid's horror series, but "How I Learned to Fly" stands out as the only book in the series that plays out more like a supernatural romantic comedy (Jack learns to fly so he can impress his crush, Mia) and a satire on being famous in America (when Jack and Wilson prove that they can fly, they soon become hounded by obsessed fans, are taken in by the U.S. Army for experiments, and become so popular that they have no private life, which is actually scarier than any ghost, ghoul, monster, or freaky creature you can name).
Sayid had flashbacks about his time as a torturer in the Iraqi army and his later attempts to lead a normal life after the war.
Another Sayid flashback had him infiltrate a terrorist group that was planning a bombing in Australia.
Desmond's episodes had him involved in a Mental Time Travel back when other characters would dismiss the thought of that nonsense outright.
And some consider the Sun/Jin flashbacks to be a full-fledged Soap Opera.
The flash-sideways frequently switch genre. Flash-sideways Locke appears to be in some sort of dramedy about coping with his disability, Ben's are a drama set in a high school (yes, a canonHigh School AU), Sawyer and Miles are in a buddy cop movie...
House, which is actually a medical drama, has an arc in which Dr. House hires a private investigator to spy on Wilson. Instant detective drama!
And then the two-hour Season Six opener was a psychology/rehab drama.
The Season Six episode "Lockdown" was a character-driven mystery drama.
Ever since the mass-firing/departure of House's fellows at the end of season 3, the show has done a fairly consistent job of mixing in genre-bender episodes that break with the standard format it had established. Since the end of season 5, in particular, this has become more and more common. These writers really know what they are doing in terms of keeping the show fresh.
Thirteen's life outside the hospital is a crime drama replete with drugs and sex.
Heroes is a sci-fi drama, but has a tendency to shift to different genres depending on who is being focused on. It can be a political drama when following Nathan Petrelli (in season one and late season three), it can be a high school/college drama when it follows Claire, or a cop show when following Matt.
For one episode of The Prisoner, "Living in Harmony," the series' plot is transplanted onto a Western setting.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a hilarious musical episode. There's also the episode "The Body" which is a "pure" drama with no supernatural elements until the last few minutes. Really, Buffy's eclectic combination of "Horror-Comedy-Romance-Action-Drama" meant that it felt a little unusual for any individual episode to lean hard on any one genre.
The episode "Helpless" left Buffy without her super Slayer strength for an episode, preventing her from just beating down the villain as usual. This made the episode have much more of a "horror" feel than any other episode in the series.
Scrubs also did a musical episode. Usually they're a medical dramedy.
Hercules and Xena did this rather frequently, with the latter being by far the worse offender. This tendency would eventually be lampshaded later in the latter series.
"The Rescue Mission", a mid-season episode of Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, features Terra Venture answering a distress signal left by an alien spaceship - as a result, there are no Zords, Sentai footage or regular villains, and most of the fight scenes are unmorphed.
As far as the individual episode plots, Sliders is almost Genre Roulette, except that it still manages to stay sci-fi most of the time.
The finale of Crossing Jordan has all the characters stranded after a plane crashed, and try to survive in the cold long enough for rescue to find them.
The Haunting Hour: The Series:
"The Most Evil Sorcerer" plays out more like a medieval fantasy with supernatural elements.
"Le Poof de Fromage" plays out like a parody of an alien invasion story.
Similarly, "Best Friends Forever," is a parody of zombie stories and the sitcom episode premise of "Kid keeps pet after his parents forbid it and tries to keep the pet under wraps."
"Headshot" and "Terrible Love" are more like darkly funny satires mixed with supernatural elements. With "Headshot," this is more in line with the fact that the story is a modern-day retelling of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. On top of that, "Terrible Love"'s humor and horror was a bit more well-mixed, but it still made a good point about its Aesops of "Love Makes You Crazy" and "Learn to love yourself before you can love anyone else."
In the third-season finale of Modern Family, Cam and Mitchell are trying to adopt a newborn baby from his Latina mother, and suddenly find themselves embroiled in a Telenovela plot.
"The Chase", a Dalek story which, uniquely for a Dalek story, is a straight-up comedy story with semi-sympathetic Comic Trio Daleks and almost no horror elements. It has outrageous comedy setpieces, Slapstick, a Fake American laughing at the Daleks, a subverted Journey to the Center of the Mind in an amusement park, and a much rarer plot structure to usual as well (the characters go to a different location each episode, when almost every other Classic story kept them in the same location). The only other Dalek comedy was "Destiny of the Daleks", which is an otherwise fairly formulaic Dalek story with jokes added in by a bored script editor.
"The Highlanders" is the only "pure historical" the Second Doctor ever did before the format was abolished, making it into a bit of a hangover from the Hartnell era. Considering how much his Doctor unbalances the story, it's easy to understand why. On the opposite side of things, "The Tenth Planet" (Hartnell's last story) is a Hartnell story that feels strongly like proto-Troughton, being that it follows the "Base Under Siege" format associated with that Doctor and features the Cybermen, a villain used heavily in Troughton's tenure.
"The Deadly Assassin", the only truly companion-free serial (all other storylines in solo travel periods give the Doctor a temporary companion-figure), meaning the Doctor narrates a lot of the action. It's the only story where every single character, including all the people travelling in the TARDIS, is an alien from the planet where the story is set (Gallifrey), which gives it a weird feel as there are no cultural outsiders. It's also a Noir Episode.
The first few acts of "Sightings" play more like an episode of The X-Files.
The episode "Each of Us Angels" is about an old man telling stories about his experience on a hospital ship during the storming of Iwo Jima.
The Firefly episode "Ariel," pictured above, has Mal and crew robbing a hospital in the Core while Simon and Jayne smuggle River into the hospital and to an imaging suite so that Simon can find out what the Alliance did to her. Simon, the Serenity's ship's doctor and formerly one of the best trauma surgeons in the Core, poses as a doctor (or rather, a doctor who isn't a wanted criminal) and at one point risks blowing his cover to save a patient's life, and then thoroughly chews out the guy who was inadequately treating him.
The episode of Jericho that dealt with April's death played out as a medical drama.
In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Vic Fontaine himself is a walking Out-of-Genre Experience. Introduced in the second-to-last season, Vic was an intelligent, self-aware hologram who played lounge music in a 1960's Vegas club holosuite program, and not in the "Take Our Word for It" way, oh no. More like in the "actually plays entire songs in the middle of an episode" kind of way. When he wasn't busy crooning to his fellow DS9 regulars (and the audience at home), he was helping them find love by setting up relationships, including one (Odo and Kira) that possibly saved the entire Alpha quadrant. One entire episode was committed to saving poor Vic in something that would fit right in with a 60's gangster movie; holodeck\suite episodes were nothing new to Star Trek by this point, but this is one of the few where there is no outside-the-box trick and everything happens irrespective of the fact that it's a simulation.
The first half of Laserdance's The Guardian of Forever was their usual synthdance, but the second half completely abandoned the style and switched to progressive trance. It was thought that this was going to be a permanent Genre Shift, but they returned to form for their final album, Laserdance Strikes Back.
Anoraak normally does minimalistic synthpop, but "Long Distance Hearts" has a more trancy sound.
Limp Bizkit's "Douche Bag" starts off in their usual Nu Metal style, then becomes a Jazz song out of nowhere at the end.
Nightwish is usually a symphonic metal band, but their "The Islander" is Celtic folk-rock, and their "Slow, Love, Slow" might be described as dark cabaret/jazz.
A few Nine Inch Nails songs do this. "March of the Pigs" starts off as metal, turns into techno, and then switches to clean vocals over a piano. Then it does it all over again. "Ruiner" is mostly a synth-heavy industrial track, but has a bluesy breakdown and guitar solo after the second verse. "The Becoming" has sections that almost sound like "Kumbaya," but then give way to pulsing guitars and screams of "Goddamn this noise inside my head!" The song "Everything" off of the Hesitation Marks album is a pop-punk song that is sandwiched between the usual dark/industrial NIN fare.
Pop-punk band Green Day has done this a couple times, most notably on the album Nimrod. They play faux-country on "Dominated Love Slave", instrumental surf music on "Last Ride In" and swing on "King For A Day".
Candorville, a strip with just enough Magical Realism to avoid fitting into Slice of Life, made a temporary switch to dark Urban Fantasy in February of 2009. It seems the author liked the effect, because later he made another such switch. And another one. At no point has the strip completely shifted over, and only in late 2010 were the urban fantasy strips finally mixed in with the other strips rather than segregated into a few story arcs.
Mother Goose and Grimm can't make up its mind whether it's going to have continuity with its title characters, or be an absurd gag-per-day strip without recurring cast members á la The Far Side.
Jim Davis intentionally did this for a few Garfield strips in which Garfield is in the midst of an abandonment nightmare. Suddenly the strip is entirely creepy and not at all funny.
Might and Magic 7 is a full-on fantasy RPG for the majority of the story- until the final act, whereupon our heroes take on space aliens with space blasters.
Somewhat downplayed in that the space aliens are supposed to look like devils, and that science-fiction elements were in the intro to the game (and that all the previous games in the series had major science-fiction elements towards the end of the game). Of course, wetsuit-wearing quarrelling visitors doesn't necessarily lead to wielding blaster rifles in a raid on a submerged spaceship protected by robots...
Happens as early as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time where you infiltrate the Gerudo Fortress, having to avoid guards and stunning them with your bow/hookshot and freeing prisoners covertly. And a simplified preview of this genre shift earlier in the same game, when young Link has to sneak past Hyrule Castle guards to meet up with Princess Zelda.
The same type of genre change happens with greater work put into it to change the tone and gameplay later on, with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker having it as early as the first dungeon and removing your sword. The tone also feels completely different from the rest of the game, being dark and dank, and you'll find yourself moving slowly, crowching, sidling along walls and hiding inside barrels a la the box from Metal Gear Solid. You also have to take out the searchlight operators in order to be able to move on.
While The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has elements of the stealth genre in the Silent Realm segments, the true example of this trope is the visit to the Eldin Volcano during the Song Of The Hero quest, where upon entry the volcano explodes, Link is captured and all his items are taken from him. He has to slowly sneak around the newly instated enemy camp and retrieve his items and has to use the ones he gets back to help him get the other ones as if they were gadgets like in a true stealth-action game.
Mass Effect 2 is pretty much a straight Bioware RPG Space Opera. Commander Shepard wanders around the galaxy performing quests and beating up bad guys. Then there are two quests worth of downloadable content which turn the game temporarily into a heist movie and a detective movie respectively, with the appropriate mood, camera work and tropes.
Part of Legion's loyalty mission bears a resemblance to a Tower Defense game, with Shepard remotely activating rocket turrets to help fight off waves of geth.
Mass Effect 3 has The Citadel DLC, which is an intentional send-up of the series with numerous homages to other video games, movies, and books, a lot of snide commentary about the game and the multiplayer community, some good-natured shots at both the fans and the game, and a lot of series in-jokes. It completely clashes with the sharp Reconstruction of Space Opera which makes up the rest of the series.
Kingdom Hearts Coded does this in several chapters, taking an action-RPG game and twisting it into a 2D platformer, a hall-running railshooter, and even a turn-based RPG at times.
In Fable III, once the King/Queen first sets foot on the streets of Aurora, there is a rather abrupt (and effective) switch from dark humor/fantasy to full-blown horror and it just gets scarier from there.
Each of the Fallout: New Vegas add-ons are this. Dead Money is a slice of Survival Horror in a Art Deco resort (not unlike BioShock), Honest Hearts swaps the struggles of the Mojave out for a religious conflict in Utah, Old World Blues is a zany romp with the Mad Science and humor typical of the Fallout series magnified. Lonesome Road is a road through a true apocalyptic wasteland while on a journey to discover your past and a final confrontation with the man who's had some involvement with all the other add-ons as well as your own history.
Fallout 3 has a brief stint into the sci-fi realm in the Mothership Zeta DLC when your character is abducted by aliens, fights off the aliens, and at the end actually engages another alien ship in a space battle above post-apocalyptic Earth.
In the NES ice hockey game Blades of Steel, the first intermission entertainment is a short, simplified game of the space-shooter Gradius on the arena scoreboard. Then the puck drops for the second period.
Max Payne loves delving into different genres during the course of the game.
Acts 1 and 2 are your standard crime-noir, with some tease of a Genre Shift into occult horror territory near the end of Act I before revealing that no, Lupino's not into dark magic, he's just tripping balls on Valkyr.
The nightmare sequences throughout the game inject a tone of surreal horror into the game when they occur.
Act 3 introduces elements of espionage/technothriller stuff early on, with Max battling heavily-armed mercenaries and infiltrating a military bunker in order to get to the bottom of Valkyr, along with a brief detour back to the usual crime-noir in Chapter 4, where Max confronts B.B., the backstabbing bastard who actually murdered his partner and set him up to take the fall for it. Then after that, we go into espionage mode again, this time with what seems like some kind of Ancient Conspiracybut which is actually, according to Max Payne 2, a very old criminal syndicate culminating in a final confrontation at the top of Aesir Plaza.
The entire Call of Duty franchise (since Modern Warfare at least) typically have zombie apocalypse-themed DLC packs. There are so many that they've now developed their own universe/continuity.
The first mission of Saints Row IV is a seriously-taken pastiche of Modern Warfare-style modern military shooters, unlike the more comedic tone of the rest of the game, down to the breaching scene and using a knife for melee attacks rather than Groin Attacks or pro-wrestling moves.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle flirts with this in the fight with Matt Helms, who's basically one giant slasher villain homage, and who's backstory is one of the few times the game and its predecessor deals with supernatural elements (his stage is even reached through an Akashic Point, another one of the rare supernatural elements.)
Train Simulator 2013 has the infamous Trains vs. Zombies DLC... which is just the same game as before, except now there are zombies that the player has to try and not let on the train. And a witch. It must be seen to be believed.
Batman: Arkham Asylum features a fairly standard but well-told Batman plot, but a sudden case of Mood Whiplash and Mind Screw hits whenever The Scarecrow's fear toxin causes Batman to have some rather disturbing hallucinations. For many players, these sudden horror sections were the high point of the game. The gameplay was unchanged, but the tone was completely different.
Arkham City followed with an entire, darkly surreal section devoted to the Mad Hatter's insane fantasies, where Batman winds up in another hallucinatory world. Also like Arkham Asylum, the gameplay was unchanged.
Another occurs with Ra's al Ghul's section of the game, where yet another unreal battle takes place in a theme park Middle Eastern fantasy world before jumping right back into post Dark Knight grim-and-gritty Gotham.
"Edgar Allen Poen" is an even more fundamental change: it turns the episode "Owl's Well That Ends Well" into a pastiche of "The Raven", while actually staying faithful to the episode's original story and message. No Alternate Character Interpretation, no funny voices, no jabs at the fandom—a marked contrast to the parodic or satirical treatment that every episode before or since received.
"The Pet Games" is arranged like an in-universe sports broadcast. Most of the dialogue comes from two off-screen commentators. Rainbow Dash and Twilight serve as judges for the event. Even the show's theme song is retooled as a bit of Product Placement.
"For Glorious Mother Equestria" is set up as a political propaganda film, with a breathless narrator wildly misinterpreting events in order to push the party line.
"Pinkie's Day In" briefly turns into a sitcom, complete with a Laugh Track and the Seinfeld theme as transitional music.
The Gargoyles episode "Sentinel" marked a brief foray into Space Opera, when Goliath and Angela go to Easter Island and run into an alien warrior who mistakenly believes that the Gargoyles are aliens as well. Though we don't see its direct consequences, the episode makes it clear that Earth is an outpost in a massive intergalactic war.
Word of God says that the aliens that the sentinel was guarding against actually would have invaded Earth two centuries after the events of the show, with the descendants of the main characters (and the members of the cast still alive at that point) forming a resistance against them. Honestly, the show was already such a Fantasy Kitchen Sink that aliens weren't much of a stretch...but since the proposed spin-off about the alien invasion was never actually made, "Sentinel" still sticks out like a sore thumb.
They even lampshaded their pre-finale summation episode; when the Gaang takes a break from training to go see a play based on their previous adventures, Sokka comments that this exactly the kind of random time-wasting activity he misses since the show shifted to more serious and plot-driven/driving episodes.
In American Dad! the alien Roger once pooped out a turd made of solid gold; pretty standard fare for the show. But then a couple scenes in two different episodes were devoted to people finding the golden turd and engaging in Film Noir style crime out of greed over it, without a joke to be heard. These scenes would even switch to a widescreen format back when the show was still aired in fullscreen just to make them look more cinematic.
"Lost in Space" is a almost serious science-fiction story focused on Jeff.
The Recess episode "Schoolworld" adds Sci-fi to the comedy-drama.
Dan Vs., a show focused on wacky revenge schemes has "The Dentist" where Dan and Chris fight a dentist supervillain.
Later we get Wild West Town, where the genre jump shouldn't be even remotely difficult to guess.
Dexter's Laboratory, a sci-fi gag comedy, has the episode "Cracked". It's very dialogue-heavy, Dexter's lab isn't even mentioned, and feels more like a school slice-of-life story.
"Filet of Soul" is a fairly straightfoward horror story about Dexter and Dee-dee being haunted by the ghost of their pet goldfish.
Family Guy has "Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q.", which actually shows domestic abuse in a serious light and barely has any jokes in it (save for Peter mistaking Gwyneth Paltrow for a sick golden retriever and Peter confusing Portuguese for "porch of geese"), which is odd, given how much the show makes fun of women getting abused, insulted, and beaten.
The Banned Episode "Partial Terms of Endearment" was also a traditional Very Special Episode (save for the end) that focused on abortion and the right to life vs. pro-choice argument (which actually was handled well, according to Seth MacFarlane and many critics who managed to see the episode, despite that it went direct-to-DVD and, as of 2013, has not aired on television in fullnote Scenes of and discussion about this episode were included on a 200th episode retrospective, with Seth MacFarlane explaining why FOX won't air the episodenote It has, however aired on the BBC at least).
"Brian & Stewie" is also mostly a dead-serious episode with the two locked in a bank overnight and Brian confessing his lack of purpose in life and suicidal thoughts.
Archer has "Space Race", the two-part finale of the third season, which stands out for being a full-on Science Fiction story about a mutiny on a space station and a plot to colonize Mars in a workplace comedy about spies.