— Quote from an attorney in a Dutch court (translated)
There's a German word, Schadenfreude. It means "the joy you get at seeing other people's misfortune" (Schaden = "damage", Freude = "joy"). The Sadist Show is built on it. In this kind of show, there are no sympathetic characters whatsoever, and nobody will ever Pet the Dog. Everybody is both obnoxious and incompetent, beyond even the Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist. The audience can't really root for them, so the fun is in seeing the characters suffer more than they deserve, more than Job, more than possibly everybody in the history of the human race combined. In short, it's a comedy, but not in the Shakespearean sense.
And not just any old misfortune, like getting an Anvil on Head. The agony in a Sadist Show is a very sharp kind, the one that reminds you how totally unfair life is. It isn't a Sadist Show unless the characters suffer the very opposite of poetic justice. For instance, if our Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist has been mugged, that's not enough. If the poor dope runs to report the mugging, and is arrested for jaywalking, and has to sit in jail while the mugger walks past their cell every day, that's the Sadist Show.
Sometimes, there will be a character who the audience kind of sort of roots for, but not really. One form is the No Respect Guy (like Frylock from Aqua Teen Hunger Force) who tries to act decent but fails. However, the audience doesn't exactly root for them, because they're so ineffective, and they're usually a bit of a stick in the mud too. Another form is a Heroic Sociopath, who is as vile as the rest of the cast, but is at least competent (like Brock Sampson from The Venture Bros.). But they're too evil to really cheer for, and how sympathetic can they be if they're stuck with the rest of these losers? The Venture Bros., with its emphasis on failure, reminds us that Brock may be competent, but he's in a pointless dead-end gig, and one that he is so over-qualified for that it's humiliating.
Note that this can be somewhat subjective, depending on how sympathetic and/or interesting one finds a character, a cast, or a situation.
This kind of show almost always has Negative Continuity, so the writers can inflict any kind of torment they like (including killing them off over and over again) without affecting future episodes.
Often overlaps with the Grossout Show. An Immoral Reality Show will usually be this in-universe. May be the result, cause or overlap a World Half Empty. Essentially the basic premise of a Dark Fic. Compare Kafka Komedy. Compare and contrast Point-and-Laugh Show (Real LifeJerkasses, but dispensing with the torture in favor of just laughing at their existence) and Cringe Comedy. The natural habitat of the Lethal Klutz.
The anime of School Days is a more full-fledged example; all the main characters are total jackasses, especially the male lead, and most of the appeal of the series comes from the multi-horrific-murder ending, because by that point you want everyone to die.
Ultimate Girls. UFO Man has revived three girls by sacrificing much of his own life force, so now they're in charge of protecting Tokyo. Oh, but growing 50 feet tall is only the half of this show. While most fellow fanservice shows just feature embarrassment as a natural emotion of being seen naked, this show actively goes out of its way to utterly humiliate the protagonists. It's not enough that embarrassment becomes the girls' power source as their magical spandex wears out (very quickly). Oh no. When they revert back to their normal size, they don't even get their clothes back, even though said embarrassment has already served its purpose.
Alien Nine. Yuri got chosen for the Alien Party completely against her will. And there is no way out of it for her (except maybe killing herself).
Grrl Power! One half-hour OAV which focuses on convincing this one guy to go to school. How do the girls do it? Set him up for all kinds of miserable tasks, and when he asks for payment, explain that it's not a part-time job. The girls are saving up to set up a new country at some island. Oh, and there's also this one man who the girls refuse to do a damn thing for, for no explained reason, even though they make a point of helping everyone else who can pay up.
Keroro Gunsou. Being a space frog with inferiority complex, while trying to take over Earth, only to be at the mercy of the pink-haired Natsumi Hinata, who you live under and forces you to do chores can suck big time.
Paranoia Agent. This applies to the lives of nearly every main character that is featured in each episode, up until Lil' Slugger comes by and puts them out of their misery.
D.Gray-Man: Allen Walker is the universe's chew toy whose rather depressing life is played off for laughs.
Super Cruel and Terrible Tales of Mangaka. It's a semi-documentary manga about the lives of typical down-on-their-luck mangaka, and it's darkly hilarious: between dysfunctional workplace, overbearing editor, and general sad state of the manga industry in Japan, it comes out as something that is genuinely funny. For example, one of the mangaka just lost his position in a prestigious magazine and is forced to draw for no-name hentai publication for a shitty amount of money. To avoid unwanted children he can't afford to raise, he force his wife to only do oral. This in turn make the wife sick of him, and she abandoned her. The mangaka is now jobless and gets no sex at all. Hahaha.
Welcome to the NHK, with a This Loser Is You protagonist, his loser otaku friend who tries to help him but unwittingly makes his life even worse, and the girl who also tries to help him (surprise surprise, she's just as much of a socially inept dork as he is, and suicidal to boot). Played half for comedy, half for drama.
Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-chan, which is about an Ordinary High-School Student and the insane Magical Girl who kills him repeatedly. Removing her halo causes massive bouts of diarrhea. Another angel shows up and tries to kill protagonist-boy with a cattle prod because he's going to invent immortality in the future...but only for women, and it makes them all look twelve, so everyone decides he's a pedophile. Very much a Crosses the Line Twice sort of show.
The comics in MAD Magazine featuring Monroe, a whiny, ugly teenage loser. His stories often end with something nasty and painful being done to him.
Also Mad's Spy vs. Spy, originally by Antonio Prohias. Unlike in the golden age cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, one or the other of the two spies suffers a gruesome and usually fatal injury.
Ziggy, the eponymous character is always getting the short end of the stick, and the other human characters he comes across are sarcastic and indifferent towards him at best, and cruel to him at worst. No wonder he only has animals as friends— but then again his pet parrot Josh isn't all that nice to him either.
Funky Winkerbean started as a standard humor comic strip, and eventually morphed into a treatise on existential despair and the futility of life.
Spider-Man can tend this way, Depending on the Writer. At the best of times, writers make sure to show how his superheroic life makes his mundane life more difficult. At the nasty end of the scale, he can't keep a girlfriend (or wife), job, or residence; he's roundly hated and on the run from both the police, the mob, and a veritable army of Super Villain; all of his friends are dead, insane, on drugs, insane AND on drugs, or refuse to take his phone calls because he's so unreliable; and he intermittently suffers injuries, power fluctuations, web-fluid shortages, and costume damage. And at one point, his heroism winds up killing him!
How pathetic can it get? There was a three issue run in the early 90s where, because Peter had been so busy with superheroics and his mundane life, he forgot to do laundry and had to fight crime in a dirty, slightly mildewed costume. Everyone he encountered commented on the smell and made remarks about his personal hygiene.
Zits. Originally, Jeremy and his parents were both on even ground, with the parents embarrassing Jeremy and Jeremy being your typical teenager, annoying the parents in return. In later years, however, Jeremy is shown a lot less sympathetically, by insulting his parents left and right, being one of the laziest teenagers ever created, and all-in-all, being a complete Jerk Ass son to the point that it's any wonder why his parents don't punish him.
Peanuts. Everything that happens to CharlieBrown. Linus is not much better off, having such a tyrannical big sister as Lucy.
The Final Destination film series pits normal humans against an immortal, undefeatable, omnipresent force explicitly identified as The Grim Reaper. The humans escaped their original deaths due to unexplained premonitions of their demises. Death wants to balance his books, and he goes about it in a spectacularly sadistic way. As a result the series mostly revolves around figuring out in what horrific ways the protagonists end up dying.
Big Bully. So, if you've tattled on your childhood bully, he gets sent away to reform school, and you get to move away and live a happy life where you can be a successful novelist, right? Nope. People are more interested in the new Stephen King book, you're divorced, your son hates you because of that, and that childhood bully is back, and he can get away with messing with your life again, as good things happen to him.
Meet the Parents and its sequels have one thing after another go wrong for Ben Stiller's character. Even after his happy ending in the first movie, he is embarrassed once more during the credits.
The Muppets. Have you ever seen a group of characters get shat upon as badly as Kermit and the gang does in this movie? Even the ending is more or less a depressingly unhappy one.
The Karate Kid: Giving us plenty of scenes of Daniel being beaten and tortured, and bad guys being pathetically punished.
Drive is the story of an amiable getaway driver who finds love with his pretty neighbor and her young son... and then has that love cruelly snatched away when the neighbor's ex-con husband comes back from jail, and he decides to do what he thinks is right by helping the husband get out of a jam. Naturally, his attempt to do the right thing goes horribly wrong...
The early novels of Evelyn Waugh are sadist shows. In the first few pages of Decline and Fall, for instance, Paul Pennyfeather gets debagged, expelled from Oxford, fined five and sixpence for two cigarette burns in his room, cheated out of his inheritance by his guardian, and sent to work in the worst school in England. No wonder he's upset. ('God damn and blast them all to hell,' said Paul meekly to himself as he drove to the station, and then he felt rather ashamed, because he rarely swore.')
When Philip K. Dick was going through his darkest days of depression and insanity, he wrote some very painful stories, most of which consist of him bashing down his protagonists so that even suicide seems like a happy option.
Justine by the Marquis de Sade is nothing but a Sadist Show (written by the guy who gave rise to the very word "sadism", no less!) punctuated by philosophical monologues. The world is not just indifferent, but actively malevolent. Justine is consistently punished for her decent behavior while her persecutors experience nothing but boons for their cruelty and selfishness.
Queen for a Day is a show in which five female contestants describe in excruciating detail their horrible Real Life problems (such as deaths in the family, cancer, job loss, poverty, homelessness, even mental illness) in order to win prizes, the host viciously belittling and ridiculing them as the audience laughed at their predicaments. When the winner was announced, the other contestants were ushered off the stage and given nothing, not even bus fare home. This passed for family entertainment for twenty years on American TV.
The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica plays this for drama. It got excruciatingly (and brilliantly) dark at points.
The series Arrested Development finds its characters, particularly Michael Bluth, constantly having brief opportunities at success yanked away from them. Often times, it will be the culmination of the decisions of everyone in the house working against each other to completely void any progress they may have made. The mildly likable Michael Bluth often finds that as soon as he himself is willing to be the slightest bit lax in his principles he is karmically punished, as when he condemns his family for spending their shares of company stock only to have it immediately revealed that he has used his shares to buy a new car.
The humor in the BBC TV series The Office (UK) and Extras comes from the continual humiliation of the main characters, especially the second series of Extras. The US adaptation of The Office will occasionally flirt with this, but seldom rely on it. The same goes for The IT Crowd, often in a big way.
The Brit ComBottom (as well as its spiritual predecessor The Young Ones) exists entirely so the audience can watch two only-slightly-sympathetic Loser Protagonists sharing an apartment, arguing, dreaming up Zany Schemes that inevitably fail, beating the hell out of each other, and suffering fatal injuries at least once every three episodes. Edmondson, Mayall, and Planer also joined forces for Filthy Rich & Catflap. This sort of show is really Edmondson and Mayall's specialty.
Peep Show is another Brit Com to fit this trope, a cringingly awkward black comedy following, once again, two only-slightly-sympathetic Loser Protagonists as they ruin their own chances in life and love.
Married... with Children. What redeeming moments the characters had were very few and far between, and such moments were almost always the exclusive purview of Al and to a lesser extent Bud.
Somewhat inverted on Frasier, which was an extremely well-written show with sympathetic characters, but it was very rare for the eponymous character or his brother to ever come out ahead by the end of the episode. This made the series a bit of a "Masochist Show."
Everybody Loves Raymond, to some extent. There are no more than token efforts to solve the Dysfunction Junction situation. Ray is a wuss when it comes to standing up to his wife and mother, although he does get better at this in the later seasons; Frank is an insensitive Jerk Ass; Deborah is a mean, overly angry housewife; Robert is a self-loathing whiner who expresses Wangst despite the fact that he's in his forties; and Marie is simply the personification of the devil who uses guilt to get what she wants in addition to being meddlesome.
Dinner Impossible could be fairly accurately summarized as "Food Network tries to kill Robert Irvine." Restaurant: Impossible allows him to spread the suffering around a bit more. That said, he enjoys the sadism a bit as he doesn't perform so well in other shows.
From the same network, a lot of the "Food Network Specials" basically consist of the audience waiting for the cake to fall over.
Or shows like Chopped and Cupcake Wars which is a stage by stage elimination show where 3 out of 4 chefs dreams gets crushed one chef at a time.
Hells Kitchen, getting eliminated early there is practically suicide for your career in the culinary field, you will be stuck working for slave wages after this at a low quality dining place if you were eliminated early.
And then there's Cutthroat Kitchen, which is a show about a cooking competition where chefs strategically screw each other over.
... where sabotage is not only encouraged, it's for sale!
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is this trope in spades. The main cast of five has virtually no redeeming qualities and their attempts to improve anything always makes it worse. Sweet Dee was originally conceived as the voice of reason, but very quickly lost that aspect of her character and is now just as horrible as the rest of them.
Lexx is another World Half Empty example. The characters are less than sympathetic, and while you'd kinda root for them at first, by the third series you'd wish they died in the pilot, for the entire Universe's sake. The third series tries to redeem them, but some even consider blowing up Heaven and Hell planets to deserve them the fate above. Fourth series goes to Earth, which doesn't have that much luck or sympathy either, and is destroyed chunk by chunk until it is blown up and between the survivors manage to wind up President Buffoon, the Mad Scientist partly responsible for Earth's destruction (and his Fangirls), and of course, the devil himself.
The show is wall-to-wall power struggles and emotional warfare. The rule on that show is that whatever makes the characters (especially Malcolm) the most miserable is what will happen. Just two examples: the episode that ends with Francis dragged naked behind a Zamboni on a skating rink (after trying to stop getting deeper in debt to his evil employer), and the episode that ends with Malcolm being insulted, a lot, by a girl, having a crying jag, and drying his tears with poison oak.
There was an in-universe example of this as well... In one episode, Francis babysits his brothers and sets up a "contest" to see which brother loves him most by doing random tasks for him. This quickly devolves into a brawl, and Francis briefly cuts in, saying something to the effect of "Whoa, whoa. This was supposed to be about love, and you've turned it into something ugly! ...Carry on." He then sits down with a drink and watches his brothers fighting, saying "This, too, pleases me."
The Thick of It is a relentlessly cynical, sadistic show about dirty cowards and a near Villain Protagonist. The characters who aren't self-serving and malicious are hideously incompetent, and they all inhabit a realm where idealism goes to die.
Cheaters. The show's purpose is to be a private investigator service for people who think their significant other is being unfaithful. Except without the "private" portion. If the SO is indeed cheating, you don't have to pay any fees for hiring the show, but you are expected to confront them and the Other (Wo)Man in public with the host and camera crew trailing behind like Ambulance Chasers, getting in the broken-hearted peoples' faces and asking "How do you feel?" Never once have they shown an investigation that exonerated the SO or had a happy ending. Is it any wonder the host was once stabbed on-camera by an enraged man?
Ooh La La Couple, a 2012 Korean Drama, constantly has its characters in awkwardly funny situations that should generally be serious and heartbreaking, but are juxtaposed to hilarious reactions.
A.N.T. Farm. While the main character isn't too bad, everyone else is either an inconsiderate jerk or a complete idiot.
Black Books is nothing more than an embittered Irish drunk taking out his anger and frustration on the world, usually in the form of Manny. It's good.
Much of the appeal of Dirty Jobs is seeing Mike Rowe get absolutely filthy and try (and mostly fail) to perform tasks that would make most people cringe while his hosts (who do this for a living) look on with amusement. One of the most popular episodes involves Mike getting bitten by snakes. Multiple times.
The game has one of the most consistently and gleefully sadistic rule sets imaginable, as everything and everyone is stacked against the players, including each other. The backup clones each player receives does less to mitigate the cruel dooms than it does to encourage the GM and players to heap even more on each other. Players participate with the guarantee that they will get to spread their share of sadism around and enjoy the suffering of their friends.
The second rule for the GM is "Kill the bastards". An extended part of the rules the players are allowed to see (yes, most of the rules are technically illegal for players to see) discusses how to make the other bastards kill one another.
Whacked! No matter what the specifics are for any given round, it will always involve slaughtering your opponents with baseball bats, meat cleavers, exploding rubber duckies, oversized shish kabobs, cacti, missiles, and plenty more! Again, and again, and again!
Conkers Bad Fur Day is about the title character going through several situations that involve very dark humor, and occasionally very dark trauma. The only non-indicative word of the title is "fur", since very little has anything to do with his fur so much as his acid-trippy trials and tribulations, which are ultimately topped off with his life being ruined.
Dragon Age II, Hawke is caught smack dab in the middle of having an apostate (or being an apostate) on the run from Templars and insane blood mages and have absolutely no way to make anything better. Only the way they approached one bad thing after another. Either by being pragmatic/sarcastic/angry.
Something Positive is a form of Sadist Webcomic that is more about characters surviving their lives while the world continues to spit at them. (Of course, how sympathetic you think they are depends on how you view the passive-aggressiveness and sadism they react with.)
8-Bit Theater has an entire cast of idiots, sadists, and idiotic sadists. The main characters are Fighter, a nimrod who manages to be Too Dumb to Live and too stupid to die at the same time (or maybe not); Black Mage, a psychotic murderer who kills any- and everyone that gets in his way (and a few others just for the hell of it); Red Mage, a Munchkin powergamer blissfully unaware of his own idiocy with no regard for anyone elses' well-being; and Thief, a duplicitous, greedy elf supremacist with no conscience. All their opponents are of matching idiocy, and the king of the local kingdom wears the literal interpretation of Black Comedy for shoes. In fact, the most sympathetic main character other than White Mage, the voice of reason, is Black Mage, as he's at least tried to change. Well, before it was revealed that in order to obtain his doomsday attack, he sacrificed orphans to a dark god. Said doomsday attack is also powered by love; i.e. it siphons love out of the universe, and the divorce rate goes up by a few percent every time he uses it. Even White Mage is becoming more of a Jerkass, with her refusing to heal Black Mage when he has a spear through his head. Also, to add insult to injury, Thief almost never gets his comeuppance, whereas Black Belt (an actually slightly sympathetic character) is the only character yet to have been Killed Off for Real (even the Big Bads turn up in Hell occasionally).
The webcomic Ansem Retort, which tells the tale of a sadistic Fox reality show.
Like The Nostalgia Chick, it's not just a case of being hurt with a bad movie anymore. He's a frequently unhappy, lonely man who only reviews because he has nothing else and that's the only thing he can be proud of.
The Angry Video Game Nerd is all about watching the eponymous Nerd play through craptastic games just to show us everything that's wrong with them. Doing so must cost him his sanity and self-respect.
In the Nightmare on Elm Street game review, he's being stalked by Freddy Krueger throughout the episode. When confronted face to face he finds out that Freddy IS him, Freddy states that since he chooses to play the crappy games of his own free will, he is his own nightmare.
Ashens is the story of one man's struggle with constantly disappointing products. Unlike most examples, his suffering is genuine, as he often suffers from food poisoning, Sensory Abuse and lacerations on camera, to our amusement.
Several shows like Tom and Jerry, the Tex Avery shorts and Looney Tunes have their source of humor based on this trope, complete with violence that is over-the-top but still family-friendly (no blood or gore involved).
A notable example was 'The Ducksters', featuring a Show Within a Show 'Truth or AAAAAAAAH!'. The penalties for missing answers on that show were ... probably not going to make it past the FCC these days.
Winning wasn't much better, the prizes had a tendency to be dropped on you.
Hey Arnold!! became into this starting with Pigeon Man. They're a bunch of other episodes that provide this example such as the post season 1 episodes. A huge example would be in Arnold Betrays Iggy , the Helga episodes (mainly the ones where Helga goes through a lot of envy), Girl Trouble, and New Bully on the Block
Invader Zim: A megalomaniac alien, a deranged hedonistic robot, a paranormal-obsessed lunatic and his self-centered, sociopath sister in a ignorant, cybergothic Crapsack World. Vasquez has managed, through no small amount of effort in both writing the show and fighting to get his ideas aired by the censor-happy Nickelodeon network, to create a world wherein everyone fails at everything they try all the time. The only ones who come out okay are the ones who don't care about anything. Dib tries to foil Zim's latest plan to destroy Earth? Dib probably succeeds, Zim's plan fails, ending up with Zim learning nothing, Gir having destroyed half the lab (again), Dib taking the blame for whatever damage Zim wrought on the world, and Gaz rubbing salt in his wounds by calling him a kook. Pyrrhic victories all around, nobody grows, and the world is worse off. In every episode. Vasquez is a misanthropic savant.
The series is the only show ever to have a famous running gag involving child abuse. And everything that happens to Hans Moleman and Milhouse. "Homer's Enemy" and "The Boys Of Bummer" are some noteworthy examples.
Pick one of the Looney Tunes derived series from WB in the 90s and tell yourself it isn't sadistic, you won't be able to.
When Drawn Together isn't about taking the piss out of Reality TV (the original premise which it pretty much dropped in the second season) or cartoons, it's about heaping abuse on the dysfunctional housemates. Fortunately, they all retain strong Jerkass tendencies, so there's little room for sympathy save for Captain Hero, who was originally the biggest of the Jerkasses but developed into the most sympathetic character.
Stressed Eric: The entire point of this show was to have every single thing in the protagonist's life go horribly wrong. At the end of every episode he collapses of a heart attack or some other such stress related malady.
Ed, Edd n Eddy. It's a rare occasion that the neighborhood kids did something positive toward the Eds. It changed by the end of the movie—the neighborhood kids actually start liking the Eds at that point. In most of the episodes, a character gets hurt practically every five seconds. The show practically revolves around pain.
South Park - the moral of the show appears to be "Life sucks, then you die. Then life continues to suck, and you die again." And if you are a reasonable child Surrounded by Idiots, you're going to get the short end of the stick quite often.
A majority of The Buzz on Maggie has the eponymous character treated like crap by her parents, her Jerk Jock older brother Aldrin, the teachers, the Alpha Bitch Dawn, and occasionally, her younger brother Pupert and her best friend Rayna. The only time that the odds were in Maggie's favor was when she was forced to babysit her baby sister Bella while trying to win memorabilia of her favorite band.
Total Drama goes as far as being hosted by a sadist. By the time of the fourth season, the original cast is so sick of all the hellacious torture they've gone through that many have sworn to never be on the show again in any capacity, only participating because of their legally binding contracts. DJ freaked when he found himself back at Camp Wawanakwa in the fourth season for a challenge, and he was there as a judge.
The Fairly Oddparents. The whole show seems to revolve around ways to just to torture Timmy in the most cruelest ways possible. Heck, his parents get in on the act more often then not. It's a miracle the kid hasn't broken down after all the crap he gets into. In fact, his life being hell is why he has Fairy God parents in the first place, Timmy has two Fairy God Parents who grant his every want at any possible second, Timmy despite parental and babysitter abuse can still live in total paradise whenever he wants. As long as he makes smart wishes and keeps them under control.
Time Squad. Almost all of the humour comes from the main characters being complete dicks to each other- Tuddrussel abuses Larry, Larry tries to kill Otto, Otto attacks Tuddrussel etc. The most vicious cases of this is when the writers had decided to make entire episodes dedicated to making sure that Otto is completely miserable, like have him abandoned on islands only inhabited by blood-thirsty baboons. If it's not the main guys- you can bet that some of the jokes come from ether Tuddrussel beating people up for stuff they didn't even do or historical figures being stupid or jerks and their inventions or ideas cause mayhem.
The heroes and sidekicks of Sidekick are so horrible it almost makes you wish XOX would just destroy the world already.
Rocko's Modern Life, Rocko has been pushed and stepped on by almost everyone even his friends tend to get him injured.
Regular Show: No matter where they go, or what they do, Mordecai and Rigby will never get out of their boring work as park groundskeepers.
Archer. When the main character getting an erection at the idea of his mother's death and the Running Gag of Lana trying to kill him is not to be taken seriously, you know you have one of these.