A Shaggy Dog Story is a plot with a high level of build-up and complicating action, only to be resolved with an anti-climax or ironic reversal, usually one that makes the entire story meaningless. The term comes from a type of joke (called "gildersome" in The Meaning Of Liff) that worked the same way — a basic premise, a long amount of buildup, and a deliberately underwhelming punchline.
The classic example is a man who bankrupts himself trying to return a shaggy dog to a rich family in England for reward money — when he finally makes it there, he's told that the dog "wasn't that shaggy" before the door's slammed in his face. The End.
For television, these stories tend to be found in two varieties: serious and comedic.
Serious shaggy dog stories generally put the protagonist on a quest or goal, only to undermine the purpose at the last minute. For instance, a cop spends all episode trying to convict a criminal, only to watch the perp be hit by a car and die before he's brought to justice; or a doctor searches all episode for the cure to a mysterious illness, which seems to miraculously cure itself. This plot highlights the futility of characters' jobs, or the cruel ironies of life. An even crueler variant is Shoot the Shaggy Dog.
Comedic shaggy dog stories are often parodies, undercutting typical plot structures by offering a ridiculous coincidence or unforeseen twist, or even just making the entire episode irrelevant. The Simpsons enjoys these. Comedic shaggy dog stories can be frustrating in their randomness, but often succeed in execution.
This could be cynically viewed as Truth in Television, since a lot of life's events don't seem to have much of a point to them either.
See also Gainax Ending. Can compare to All Just a Dream and Overly Long Gag, and overlap with Happy Ending Override. A reveal that It Was With You All Along may feel like this to the protagonist. For short stories which build up to an unbelievably wretched pun, see Feghoot. Contrast with Shaggy Frog Story, where a familiar story is mangled for comedic purposes. A deliberate inversion of Brevity Is Wit. Can also lead to a "What Now?" Ending, should the protagonist himself realizes that his adventure is all for nothing.
When this is the result of Bad Writing, it may be a Writer Cop Out.
Not to be confused with Scooby Doo, which is a cartoon featuring Shaggy's dog. Also not to be confused with the Disney's movie The Shaggy Dog.
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The Komuvitan-D miniarc of D Gray Man: Vengeful spirit releases an instantly-transmittable rage virus (originally designed as a supplement to help people work longer hours), Zombie Apocalypse tropes abound, race against time to find the alpha infected and synthesize a cure from his blood...long story short, the alpha is cured at the darkest hour-only to be promptly re-infected three panels later. The situation is fixed (in postscript text) by a side character who had reported to HQ and missed the whole thing, and the next arc begins as if nothing happened. The only thing anyone gets out of this arc is knowledge of just how much Chief Komui cares about his subordinates, even those who passed away years before...
And then there's the Fallen One arc, which is dark and cruel enough to veer into Shoot the Shaggy Dog territory.
In the "Valentine's Day Competition" arc of Maria Sama Ga Miteru, a whole episode is dedicated to Mifuyu, a minor character who cheats to win a date with popular Sachiko. We get an in-deep explanation of her motivations, which reach back to her childhood when she already wanted to gain Sachiko's friendship, but failed. She is jealous of Sachiko's "petite soeur" Yumi, but then finds her rival is "more special" than herself after all and she decides to give up on the date. In the end she is shown to have cut her hair, cheerfully accepting that she is of minor importance to Sachiko — and is never mentioned again. The sheer pointlessness of this episode, together with the Family Unfriendly Aesop about "accepting your lower position in life", makes it come dangerously close to being Filler.
In Yes! Pretty Cure 5, the characters spend almost the entire series working on a plot point that is ultimately resolved in Shaggy Dog fashion: the wish-granting Dream Collet is finally completed, only to be promptly stolen by The Dragon and given to the Big Bad, who uses it up by wishing to be beautiful, of all things.
The first series of Ojamajo Doremi has the three main characters working for the entire series to become witches- and succeed- only to give up their powers to save Onpu. This is then turned into a double Shaggy Dog Story when the first episode of the second series has them regain their powers anyway. Then in the finale of the last series, they decide not to become witches after all.
Here's an analogy for MD Geist. Once upon a time, a man decided to climb a mountain. He fell down and saw a very shaggy dog. Turns out a rich couple lost a very shaggy dog and would give a reward for its return. A woman decided to tag along for the ride after hearing the man's story. When he got on the plane, he found that he couldn't take the dog without preparations, so he took it to the vet. He went to the couple's house, walked directly up to the door with the dog and the woman, and rang the bell. The owners of the dog were happy that they got their dog back, when all of a sudden the man pulled out a shotgun, killed the owners, and shot the dog in the head. The man then walked off into the sunset telling the very confused woman that the battle has only begun.
Early in Midori no Hibi, Seiji thinks that Midori has returned to her own body for sure (somehow, she ended up popping out of his right sleeve; replacing his real hand. It's less Nightmare-riffic when you actually read it); it's even a two-parter and he talks about how he misses her. As it turns out, Midori was just taking a nap. ...
One of these stories turns out to be a Brick Joke. Klaus's story about Lucky the dog comes up again when Hayate saves Izumi from Lucky (six/ten?) years prior.
Naruto's Three-Tails filler arc revolved around Konoha and Orochimaru's efforts to capture the three-tailed beast. In the end, the Leaf Ninja win, but then depart and leave the defense of Three-Tails to a bunch of Red Shirts, who are then killed when the Akatsuki show up to take Three-Tails for themselves. While this is a filler arc and it cannot go against what happened in the manga, knowing what happens in the manga makes the heroes' efforts seem futile.
A possible subversion, though, in that three-tails isn't really important to the arc. The real driving force behind the story is the filler character Yukimaru, who Orochimaru is trying to use to control Three-tails. Essentially, the writers shift the focus of the narrative from the Three-Tails, whose fate they have no control over, to Yukimaru. As a filler character, they can control Yukimaru entirely.
This also applies to the activities of the Konoha nin during the Hunt for Uchiha arc: they spend the whole time searching for Itachi, and while all kinds of plot happens behind their backs (including unwittingly running into Sasuke's group) they fail to make any leads in battling Akatsuki and by the end of the arc Itachi dies without them ever meeting him. The only purpose their involvement ultimately served was to demonstrate Tobi's abilities (which he uses to render all of their attacks useless and escape easily).
Technically, you can throw the "Sasuke Retrieval Arc" into this list either - the only thing the Konoha group accomplished was killing off Orochimaru's Elite Mooks squad, the Sound Four (Kimimaro doesn't count since he would've died anyway), while Orochimaru gets his hands on Sasuke. On the other hand, it is the Character Development that drove the arc, and all the involved major characters (including Sasuke himself) receive defining moments during the mission.
A case of it happening before the story began: the Kannabi Bridge detour was this for Team Minato. After Rin was kidnapped by Iwa ninja, Obito Uchiha put her rescue before successful completion of the mission, and Kakashi followed. They saved her, but Kakashi lost his eye and Obito was crushed under a boulder, so he donates his Sharingan eye to Kakashi before they need to leave him to die, and when their sensei joins up with them later they still complete the mission. What makes it this trope, is that every indication is given that Rin died sometime after this, making the heroism of her teammates utterly pointless with more loss than gain. And as it turns out, Obito seems to think so as well - he cites this as one reason why he performed a Face Heel Turn in the first place, becoming Tobi and setting off the entire main plot into motion.
The Hunt for the Bikochu Filler Arc. Four or five episodes of build-up, a few cool fight scenes, and a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Hinata, all over a beetle which can supposedly sniff out Sasuke. Then Naruto farts on the Bikochu, ruining its ability. Really? Shaggy Dog Story andBottom of the Barrel Joke? Wow, Filler Writers. Wow.
The episode "Speak Like A Child" in Cowboy Bebop. After receiving a mysterious tape by airmail, Jet and Spike set out to find a way to play the darn thing so they can find out what's on it. In the end they end up going back to Earth and raiding an antique museum in the basement of a condemned building just for a video player and an old TV, only to discover they brought back a VHS player — and the tape is Betamax. To compound it, a Betamax player arrives from the same sender, by airmail, shortly afterward.
Jet even lampshades it in the preview, stating that the story goes nowhere at all, makes no sense, and all the action is small-scale.
In Baccano, the words whispered of the Rail Tracer (a train-riding murderer of urban legend) to Rachel come across as one of these, particularly when her listeners crack up upon hearing them "Tickets please."
Monster can be seen as a subversion - Tenma's final decision to save Johan's life renders the entirety of his off-to-kill-the-monster plan moot and pointless in retrospect, but he could not have reached the same conclusion without undergoing the apparently wasted journey.
The first two arcs of 20th Century Boys turn out to be Shaggy Dog Stories, coupled with them being arc long Hope Spots as well. However, instead of making those arcs seem pointless and frustrating they help raise the stakes and the tension in the series.
Kenji and his friend's plan to stop Friend's cult taking over the world and destroying Tokyo with a giant robot? Turns out the robot is a fake, and Friend's plan all along is to frame Kenji and his friends as the ones behind all the chaos whilst making himself appear to be the hero. It works, and results in the main character being killed, along with a few of his friends (they get better).
Kanna and co's plan to stop Friend from killing the Pope? The whole thing was another Evil Plan so Friend could 'save' the Pope and increase his grip over the world, propelling him to Godhood. Oh, and he covertly releases a virus at the same time, killing a ridiculous percentage of the world's population. Even if the first goal failed, he still had the second.
In Katanagatari, the entire series is more or less this — ultimately, nobody really gets what they wanted, and nothing really changes because of their actions. Still, the journey was fun, and Shichika, one of the sole surviving named characters, got some Character Development out of the whole deal.
Well, it was a story about ending the story about the deviant swords. And that was accomplished, even if nothing else really mattered.
Bakemonogatari's Tsubasa Cat chapter is kinda like this. Koyomi asked most of his nakama to run around the city to find Shinobu so he can treat his classmate's cat spirit possession (manifestation of Tsubasa's stress over the fact that Koyomi is getting into a relationship with Hitagi). In a true Bakemonogatari spirit, this is all played for Seinfeldian Conversation (and perhaps some World Building). In the end:
Koyomi is already part of an Official Couple in the series, Tsubasa's feelings can't be returned.
Tsubasa's cat-possession is part psychological, it won't go away for good.
Much of Planetes. Sure, in the end Hachi is happier and more mature (ditto Yuri, Ai) but most everything is about the same as in the beginning. The Debris Section is still chronically underfunded in its decrepit basement office, most of the cast are ditzy as ever (especially Lucy,) Edel's sleazy husband is back to abusing women, the SDF remains trouble judging by Hakim, and the SDF-Union treaty hasn't had significant impact on third world suffering. The final arc's climax serves as a double dip of this, since not only do all attempts to thwart the SDF threat come moments too late, saved only by the Union caving into their terms; Ai and Claire collapse from asphyxiation in the final tenth of Ai's miles long run for rescue, saved by a lucky passerby; and Hakim's If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him threats get ignored by Hachi, whose innocence is saved purely by a jam or empty magazine. No, on top of that, while the SDF ultimately get what they want, their boarding action on the Von Braun is repelled well enough to prevent them from accomplishing either of their goals (control of the bridge in case the engine came back online, or capturing Locksmith) in assaulting the Von Braun, while the Von Braun crew wasn't able to restore engine control, meaning that pretty much the only violent part of the operation and all the hundreds of deaths during it were utterly meaningless.
The Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig episode NIGHT CRUISE has no relation to the overall storyline, follows a one-shot character for 90% of the episode, and features the Major and Batou in what could easily be cameo appearances.
The episode revolves around a former war vet planning to "Reset the world" by assassinating a government official he works for as a pilot, and spending the time in-between fuming about the current state of the world. The date he picked for the assassination comes and goes without him doing anything, and Section 9 (who was observing him under the presumption that he might be a member of the Individual Eleven) comes to the conclusion that he very likely never will.
There are several of these in A Certain Magical Index, most notably the Book of the Law arc and the Daihaseisai arc.
The entirety of Shaman King pretty much Yoh and his friends fight and struggle through the tournament to stop Hao from getting the prize, becoming a god and wiping out humanity. But half-way through the tourney they realize theres no way they'll be powerful enough to beat him since he has centuries worth of experience and killing him will just allow him to resurrect some years later and start the process anew. Ultimately they let him take the prize but manage to convince him that humanity worth keeping alive just so he can see his initial thoughts about them were wrong. None of the heroes accomplish what they wanted to do had they won the tourney but they're alive to keep seeking other solutions.
In the Hentai anime Onmyouji - Ayakashi no Megami there's a big fight between the good and bad guys, with many sacrifices for the good guys. Finally the main heroine succeeds with her plan to unite with the antagonist to stop her. Then the antagonist wins. No explanation given.
Umineko No Naku Koro Ni: One of the big, subjective questions both in the fandom and in the story itself is whether the plot is one of these.
High School Boys and After School: The boys spent most of the skit practicing a campus "Meet Cute" scenario for Tadakuni... only ending with the latter on a Pose of Supplication, saying it is completely useless in the boys' school they're studying.
High School Boys and Scary Stories (1 and 2): Tadakuni told extremely horrifying stories invoking extreme actions to Hidenori, Yoshitake and (the eavesdropping) Mei. They were also made up.
High School Boys and the Accompanying Girl: After seeing Tadakuni walking with a random girl, his Class 2-A classmates decided to put a halt to his "date"... only to find out that she was just asking for directions.
High School Boys and Traditional Events: the three guys and Karasawa go to the principal and discuss the school's "70-hour fast" tradition. The latter, having only been on his position for three years but unwilling to leave them in the open, makes up a story about how, back in 1984, the principal saved the school from complete shutdown due to low attendance by pleading with prefectural authorities for 70 straight hours. Then Karasawa reveals that Sanada North High was only founded in 1989.
High School Boys and the Literature Girl (2): Motoharu went on making wind-related quotes to the Literature Girl. It turned out he spoke to the wrong person — he intended to speak to his sister Mino.
High School Boys and the Train to School: Hidenori spent the whole skit engaging in an Internal Monologue about whether or not he should tell a schoolgirl he sees daily on the trains that she has a hair on a mole on her neck, trying to figure out the consequences, and, eventually, why that was never noticed. After he decided to do so (and still feared a backlash), her response was a bright smile and a "Thank you!"
The first and last skits of Episode 4 were about Tadakuni trying to get close to Yoshitake and Hidenori, spending most of the skit eavesdropping (High School Boys and Eavesdropping) or asking Nago for advice (High School Boys and Complaining to Each Other), only to find that the two guys he thought were Yoshitake and Hidenori just happened to be lookalikes.
High School Boys and the Cultural Festival (2): Sanada North's Student Council President dared Ringo and her companions to pass through their haunted house without yelling. Ringo coasted through without making so much as a noise... only to finally let out a scream of horror at the sight of a naked Student Council President at the exit.
High School Boys and the Cultural Festival (4): After Ringo defeated Sanada North's Student Council President, Karasawa (as an announcer) treated the fighting as but part of a scheduled program.
High School Boys and the Biography of a Hero: Hidenori has long idolized "Rubber (Band) Shooter", a masked Bully Hunter who saved him eight years ago. So when he returns to the shrine where he first met him upon hearing the same "Pachelbels Canon" he played back then, Hidenori ran up the steps only to see... Yoshitake shooting rubber bands. Hidenori dashed off the stairs.
High School Boys and Holy Night: Hidenori tried his best to avoid being beaten up by Yoshitake's older sister, after he inadvertently pointed out she's always alone during Christmas. Hidenori, being the series' Chick Magnet, went as far as trying to date her. She still beat him up.
High School Boys and the New Semester: The boys spent the whole skit discussing the winter break while waiting for the first class of the spring term. Their class teacher came in... and announced that due to a typographical error, school should have started the day after.
High School Boy and Ringo's Troubles: Ringo came into North's Student Council to ask whether she is actually too short. After deciding the other members were too nice to be honest, she decided to ask the Student Council President in the next room instead. The Student Council, fearing that the President was going to say something stupid again, tried to prevent her from leaving the Council room. While their tactics didn't work, the President's answer wasn't stupid either... and Ringo still beat him up.
High School Boys and Older Brother: Mei and Yoshitake's older sister asked Yusuke to give the boys a lesson so that they could be "less childish"... only to find he was Not So Different from the main trio.
High School Boys and Convenience Stores: Hidenori was given the wrong charge by a trainee employee. After another round of Inner Monologue, he decided to try to get the older employee to straighten up the error... That older employee turned out to be a trainee as well.
High School Boys and 100: Motoharu spent the whole skit killing centipedes. Then Mino opened the windows facing the forest and let the centipedes in.
High School Boys and the End of Summer: Emi, a girl who lives in Hidenori's maternal hometown, has a crush on Hidenori, who came to visit, and planned to confess to him on the night before he left. The entire episode was about her trying to confess... and right before she's going to say that, Hidenori made a most surprising reveal: they are cousins.
Emi: And so, my summer ended without me able to do anything.
High School Boys and Limits: Mitsuo has apparently been hogging a one-stop store's toilet, forcing Hidenori, who also had a case of Potty Emergency, to search elsewhere. He finds one in the public park... only to be forced to go elsewhere upon sighting the Literature Girl.
High School Boys and Kick the Can: Hidenori, Yoshitake, Motoharu and Mitsuo engage in a... rather physical game of kick-the-can — with the latter's Zaku model as the "can", ending with Hidenori kicking the model to oblivion. Turns out the three were planning to give Mitsuo a birthday present in the form of a replacement model... only for Mitsuo to realize that they bought him a ripoff. Come the next Eye Catch he dumps it off a waste bin.
Double Subverted in High School Boys and Frankfurter; while Yoshitake, Motoharu and the gang failed to prevent Mitsuo's half-eaten sausage from falling to the ground... but Mitsuo eats it anyway... and then trashed it after one bite.
In the unanimated skit High School Boys and Studying, the boys suddenly found the learning curve for the schoolwork getting too steep, and got into a serious study session... before the teacher announced he wrongly used the senior textbook for the past two weeks.
In the unanimated skit High School Girls are Funky: Frog, Yanagin found a frog perching on the vending machine's coin drop. After unsuccessfully trying to kick the drinks out of the machine, she eventually had to remove the frog on her own... only to find she only has a 1,000-yen bill, which ''can't be used in the vending machine at all.
In High School Boys and the Worst, Yoshitake spent the whole skit listing examples to prove his sister is the worst, only deduced at the end that he would be the worst by trying to prove himself somebody is worse than himself.
Various cults and evil mages have spent great amounts of time and effort in schemes to resurrect the dark wizard Zeref in Fairy Tail. Then it turns out that Zeref was alive the whole time, was a good guy, and not pleased when he finds out that a bunch of cults have committed many evil acts in his name...
In Barefoot Gen, Kimie is no longer producing milk for baby Tomoko, due to starvation. So Gen and his new "brother" go out and try to find milk for Tomoko... and they do find it. The Americans who now occupy Japan are distributing cans of powdered milk, but it is not free (in fact, it's quite overpriced). Since Gen knows how important it is that Tomoko get some, he takes a job and days later finally earns enough to buy one can of the powdered milk. He returns victoriously from the market, only to find that Tomoko has starved to death.
In Sword Art Online, Kirito hears rumors of a rare item that can revive the dead, in hopes of bringing back a friend who died for him. Considering death in the game means your brain getting microwaved in the real world, the audience knows from the start this isn't going to end well. He finds the item, while his friends fight off a Thieves' Guild to buy him time, and finds out is does revive the dead...if used within ten seconds.
Kirito:(tossing the item to Klein)Use it on the next person you see die.
More light-hearted than most examples, but the Rinne no Lagrange episode "Kamogawa Balloons" is (mostly) this. The Jersey Club is going to lose its clubroom because they aren't a sanctioned club, and they need a fourth member to become one. They find a new member, but she doesn't fit in. Madoka accidentally does a balloon-riding stunt, which she twists into an attempt to inspire the recruit to stay in the club. At the end, the new girl quits, the council seems to have lost interest in revoking their clubroom rights, and the original clubmembers decide the room isn't that important anyway.
In one issue of Yu-Gi-Oh!, Jounouchi becomes a contestant on a game show called "Get The Million". Yami Yugi finds out that the host rigs the games so that no one can ever win the grand prize. Yami Yugi prevents the host from reaching his controls, allowing Jounouchi to win the final game. Unfortunately, the host gets arrested and all his assets are confiscated, including the grand prize. Jounouchi cries because the police refused to compensate him even though he won.
Puella Magi Oriko Magica, after a lots of struggle, Madoka is unexpectedly killed by the antagonist, Homura then resets time, making everything in the story pointless.
In the Chuunibyou Demo Koi Ga Shitai light novels, Yuuta spends most of the first novel going through a lot just to help Rikka review for her remedial exam in Mathematics, only for her to fail spectacularly at the end of the book. By the start of the second novel, Rikka still hasn't gotten any better, with her highest exam score a pathetic 30 out of a hundred.
The main story arc of Tamako Market revolves around Dela travelling the world to find a bride for Prince Mechya, and being sidetracked in Japan when meets Tamako and discovers mochi, than Choi shows up to find out why they have heard from him and she finds that Tamako smells of the same flowers that Mechya does, a sign that she is the destined bride in the final episode it is revealed that the scent Choi found actually cam from flowers at Karou's shop, meaning that Tamako was not the bride after all. Assuming of course, Mechya wasn't lying to avoid taking Tamako away from her life in Japan.
The entire mini-arc revolving around the Johnny Hunter in Eden Of The East, where one of her kidnapped victims starts using a cell phone to post photos and messages on an internet singles board asking for help. After the Eden of the East team discover that the victim has the same bag as Ohsugi, who also isn't answering his phone, and that Ohsugi also frequents the singles board, they come to the conclusion that Ohsugi was the one was kidnapped. After two episodes of the group and Akira trying to track down his location, they finally discover that the victim is actually a serial rapist who stole Ohsugi's bag, and Ohsugi was somewhere else entirely (and the Johnny Hunter escapes with the victim anyway.) About the only thing to come of the situation is Akira meeting a fellow Selecao and learning that he has something to do with the Careless Monday attack.
Norm MacDonald every time he's interviewed so the guy says to me he says to me the guy says...
The spoken-word piece "Moose Turd Pie", one of the more famous versions being done by Bruce "Utah" Phillips.
Hellblazer had a mammoth 12-issue story spanning two arcs ("Empathy is the Enemy" and "The Red Right Hand") that ended in a manner that wasn't very well received: with the fate of the world being decided by the result of a World Cup football game - something that was entirely out of the hands of the main character.
One issue of Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was ostensibly about the backstory of the turtles' vigilante friend Casey Jones. After rescuing the victim of a gay bashing, Casey takes him to a bar and, when the guy wants to know why he does this, spends most of the issue talking about his family and how he became a vigilante after muggers killed his older brother. Only one problem, as the bartender explains after Casey has left... Casey never had a brother. Thus, everything between the initial rescue and that reveal is plot-irrelevant.
So... that either makes Casey a victim of a mugging turned brutal beat-down himself. Or a gay man who was once brutally beaten if you want to read between the lines. If not none of this holds true, it was a pretty pointless affair overall, yes.
Or, it means that Casey is a schizophrenic prone to confabulation, which actually fits very well with the rest of his character
The Crusader subplot in Avengers: The Initiative was quite compelling - Crusader was a Skrull advance agent who went native, and joined together with the heroes of Earth (in human form) to repel other Skrull invaders. At the end of the story, he has saved the day, gets congratulated by Nick Fury himself... and is shot through the head by 3D-Man, who can see disguised Skrulls. 3D-Man simply shrugs his arms and says "Skrull."
The ex-mercenary Darca Nyl's arc in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. In the series where he was introduced, a Dark Jedi killed his son, a dying Jedi handed over his lightsaber and told him to stop Lycan, and all during the pursuit people assumed that he was a Jedi, and they needed his help. And he gave it, even at the cost of pursuit time, and it felt good. Even after tracking down and killing Lycan, Darca Nyl decides to keep helping people, because it's right and because he thinks that's what his family would have wanted him to do... And then a more recent comic came out, with an older, bitter, isolationist Darca Nyl who failed utterly at helping people and retreated to a cabin where he did nothing but carve statues of his wife and son. The "heroes" of the comic only got him to help by threatening to shoot all the statues.
Recent Star Wars comics love this. Old Soldier Able was a clone trooper who survived alone on a forsaken planet for years before the Rebellion found him and recruited him and put him into a commando squad. He was by far the most practical and cynical man there, which sometimes irritated the other Rebels, but he tried to adapt and look out for the last Jedi, Luke... And then a comic came out where the whole squad got transformed into rakghouls by a Sith talisman.
Ultimate Spider-Man #28: Peter Parker sees the Rhino tearing up Manhattan on the news, and rushes to go fight him. Over the course of the issue, he's sidetracked by various other problems, including a parent-teacher conference, Flash Thompson being a dick, and Gwen Stacy crying in a dumpster. By the time Spider-Man gets to the scene, Iron Man has already easily subdued the Rhino.
Archie Comics Sonic The Hedgehog #7: After finding a map leading to Uncle Chuck's greatest treasure, the Freedom Fighters set out to find it, thinking it might be a great weapon he created. Robotnik, hearing this, tries to beat them to it. After an issue worth of struggles, Robotnik secures the treasure, which turns out to be a bronzed pair of Sonic's baby shoes.
Transmetropolitan features a three-issue subplot (issues #10-12, year 2) involving Officer Stomponato, a corrupt sentient police dog, gradually tracking down Spider Jerusalem in order to exact revenge, only to have the dog accidentally jump to his death, failing to even attract Spider's attention.
The main plot of those issues has some of this as well. A cult of people who can't stand to be touched have the frozen head of Spider's ex-wife, and hold it hostage to kill him; said wife intentionally broke their laws before having herself frozen, knowing that since she'd be "dead", they would take their revenge on him instead, and she could be resurrected afterward. Spider points out the obvious: they have her head. He chucks it off a ledge (landing on the dog above), and all is forgiven.
The French author Gotlib has done a lot of these in his Rubriques Ã Brac.
Asterix and the Black Gold revolves around a quest to find petroleum for the Gaulish village, since it's an essential ingredient of their magic potion. Asterix and Obelix fail to bring back even the single drop necessary, and so the Romans attack the village at their full vulnerability - but fortunately Getafix had experimented with the formula while the leads were away and had found that beetroot juice was an ample substitute.
Lampshaded when Asterix tells Getafix to, from now on, do his experiments before sending them halfway across the world.
One More Day and One Moment In Time play this frustratingly straight. In One More Day, Spider-Manis given the option of getting a redo from Mephisto, to prevent his Aunt from getting shot. In exchange, Peter has to trade his marriage. Simple enough right? But then, One Moment in Time revealed that Mephisto changed absolutely nothing by taking Peter and Mary Jane's marriage. History still plays out exactly the same. The only reason that his Aunt comes back to life is that in this new reality, Peter spirited May back to life instead of wasting time making the deal with Mephisto. In other words, May could have come back to life in the original reality if he had just spent more time with her.
Seven Psychopaths is the story of a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits assembled to assassinate Hitler in the fall of 1941. Little do they know Hitler has already been assassinated. "Hitler" these days is just a role played by a series of body doubles acting as puppets for the Nazi party. The team actually does manage to wipe out the body doubles, thanks largely to the Master of Disguise among them getting himself invited to join them. But the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits idea ultimately backfires, as the Master of Disguise, who also happens to be a narcissistic Glory Hound, decides he can't pass up the chance to become the "most beloved man in Germany", so he kills the only other team member who knew about the body double program and lives out the rest of his days as Hitler. The course of the war remains unaffected.
Almost every tale by Edward Gorey has elements of this, notably, The Headless Bust and The Unstrung Harp.
The Blood Bowl comic is about Morder, an assassin undercover in the Bad Bay Hackers Blood Bowl team, hired to kill opposing players. Until he gets a contract to kill his own team's star player, Dunk Hoffnung, and make it look like an in-game accident. His attempts to kill Hoffnung are constantly foiled by the chaos of the game, and the both of them narrowly escape death several times. Eventually Morder doesn't care about the contract anymore and wants to kill Hoffnung out of personal spite. When the Hackers win the championship and Hoffnung is distracted by his amorous fiancee, Morder sees the opportunity to finally finish it — and is killed by the team's coach, who has decided to "cut" him from the team.
Matt Fraction's 2011 Defenders series ended with Doctor Strange altering the past so that the team never formed in the first place. (They had made a fatal mistake in their very first mission, which would have resolved itself without their help anyway).
The Aristocrats is a film which features many stand-up comedians, comedy writers, and other entertainers and celebrities all performing variations on the same shaggy-dog joke, "The Aristocrats". The joke has long been a sort of "secret handshake" between fellow comedians, or an impromptu contest of improvisational skill. The structure of the joke is thus: a man goes into a talent agent's office, and describes (or performs) his "family act" for the talent agent. The content of the act is improvised by the teller of the joke, usually (but not always) involving as many varied, violent, obscene, or offensive acts as possible. The punchline, when the talent agent asks what the man's act is called, is "The Aristocrats!"
A classic example of this trope is found in the Marx Brothers film A Night At The Opera. Groucho and Chico spend several minutes haggling over a contract. Chico keeps objecting to the terms, and Groucho keeps tearing off the sections that Chico won't agree to. Finally, nothing remains but the space where Chico has to put his signature, and Groucho hands him a pen. "I can't write," Chico admits sheepishly. "That's all right," replies Groucho, "There's no ink in the pen, anyway."
Horse Feathers has a similar exchange between the two. Chico explains how he goes about kidnapping someone; call them on the phone, and then send his chauffeur. Groucho asks what kind of car he has, and Chico says he has no car, just a chauffeur. Groucho wonders why someone would have a chauffeur without a car, and Chico replies that he couldn't afford both so he sold the car. Groucho says he would have sold the chauffeur and kept the car, but Chico says he needs the chauffeur to take him to work. Groucho asks how he does so without a car, and Chico says it doesn't matter because he doesn't have a job.
The Killer ends with one of the protagonists dead, the other wrecks his career by killing the Big Bad right in front of the cops he's surrendered to, and the damsel in distress is doomed to go blind, not even able to salvage the eyes of her dead love interest, because he got shot in the eye.
Time Bandits. In the end, it's revealed that everything that happened was part of The Supreme Being's plan. The villain defeats himself and the Supreme Being appears to put everything back the way it was.
But Kevin has the map in a photo so is able to return to Agamenon, and he never liked his parents anyway, so the story wasn't entirely pointless for him in a way...
Not only that, but upon obtaining the needed object containing the spell's magic words and returning home, they discover that they can't take objects from one world into another, making it a double shaggy dog story.
The French movie Chacun Cherche Son Chat (Released in English as While the Cat's Away) plays with this - most of the cast of the movie is looking for the protagonist's missing cat. The cat turns up on its own, midway through the movie, but it hardly ends the movie.
Roger Ebert described M Night Shyamalan's The Village as a Shaggy Dog Story, saying "Critics were enjoined after the screening to avoid revealing the plot secrets. That is not because we would spoil the movie for you. It's because if you knew them, you wouldn't want to go."
The "secrets" are that it's the modern day and the village is just some random village of nutters who fled the "horrors" of modern society (medicine and so forth) to raise their kids in the good old days of the dark age of Europe, even pretending to be surrounded by demons to scare their kids into not leaving the nature reserve that they own. Even when one of the kids is dying because of it, the only person that they will send for help (because all of the adults who actually have any awareness of the outside world refuse to go) is a blind woman who has no idea what a road is, let alone being able to safely cross it or find a hospital.
Run Lola Run ends with Lola arriving up just in time with the money Manni needed for his crime boss, only to discover that Manni managed to settle things himself without much fuss. The last scene is of them both walking off while Manni asks what's in the bag.
Of course, both of those outcomes, just like just about everything else that happens in all three storylines, are caused by Lola's very own interference, which in turn is caused by what happens in the stairwell, albeit one has to watch the movie several times to notice every single causality. It's basically 'Chaos Theory: The Movie'.
Cabaret, to an extent. The real tragedy of the story is that almost nobody learns anything about how dangerous the Nazis are, except for the protagonist, who can't really do anything about them except leave Germany.
The Finnish Affectionate Parody film Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning ends with Pirk, Dwarf, and Info trapped in Hawaii during Earth's Ice Age. Info says that if he goes into low power mode he can survive until modern day, at which point he will prevent everything in the film from ever happening... pan out... credits.
To make the story even shaggier, it's implied that since during the panout, you can see space debris that resembles the space station seen earlier in the movie, they're actually in the NEXT Ice Age with no chance of preventing the events and Info was lying just to give them some vague sense of hope and/or prevent Pirk from somehow making things even worse.
Murder By Death is an excellent example of this. After all of the chaotic happenings in the movie, it appears that no murder took place. One of the characters, when asked if one happened, says "Yes. Killed good weekend." The beauty of it is that the movie is hilarious in large part because of this.
The Final Destination series movies are about a group of people who somehow escaped death and then find themselves dying from improbable accidents one after another. They spend the movie trying to figure out death's plan and finding a way to defy it and live. They invariably fail and succumb to the inevitable.
Monster A-Go Go, the monster movie where it turns out that there was no monster at all.
The climax of Medium Cool is set in motion by a search for the female protagonist's son. Later, he turns up safe at home. His mother and her boyfriend die in a car crash.
The Big Lebowski follows a bizarre and convoluted Random Events Plot where ultimately the protagonist fails at everything he tries to do. Not only that, most of it turns out to have been completely pointless to begin with: the kidnap victim was just on an unannounced vacation, the ransom notes were sent by opportunistic thugs pulling a con, the Briefcase Full of Money had been empty from the start, and the guy he was working for was just setting him up as the fall guy to cover for a bit of embezzlement. His car has been destroyed, his apartment trashed repeatedly, he's been drugged once and beaten several times, his best friend has caused much of the above by Millstoning him at every turn, his other best friend is dead from a heart attack, and he never got his freakin' rug back. All he has to show for the entire movie is a night of sex with the admittedly pretty hot Maud Lebowski and potentially an illegitimate child he'll never see. But hey, The Dude abides.
A Serious Man has one scene where a rabbi tells the main character about one of his friends, a dentist, who found Hebrew script meaning "Help me, save me" inscribed on the teeth of a gentile customer of his. After making many attempts to discern their significance, he gave up without knowing how or why they were there. The protagonist is noticeably irritated by the anti-climax.
Though in the book it was Britain who faced the aliens.
The late-60s Israeli comedy Sallah Shabbati uses one of these as a side plot: the poor immigrant's latest scheme to get cash (so he can get his family out of the refugee camp and into an apartment) is to answer a newspaper ad asking for a dog. When he shows up at the posh Tel Aviv house with a stray he found in the camp, the woman there reacts in horror: "That's not my Pookie!"
Big Deal on Madonna Street: The last shot about sums it up: a closeup of a newspaper article about an unknown person or persons who climbed in the window of an apartment, broke down a wall and ate some pasta.
Lots of Middle Eastern movies seem to be about this, and they're depressing. Case in point: Kandahar, which is about a woman who needs to get to Kandahar before her sister, who had both of her legs blown off by a mine, commits suicide. The movie is about her travelling around trying to meet her sister before the date when she said she'd kill herself - but sadly the woman is arrested while trying to cross a border checkpoint. and that's the end
Also A Time For Drunken Horses, which if I remember rightly has two little boys on their own without a family, who begin smuggling goods over a snowy mountain pass with horses. To help the horses survive the bitter cold, they are given alcohol (making this movie a case of Exactly What It Says on the Tin). One day they are smuggling a haul and they give the horses too much alcohol and the horses collapse. The end.
Well, for the villains, sure. They spend the entire movie manipulating and killing each other (as well as anyone who gets in the way) over the eponymous statue of a falcon which is covered in black enamel but secretly covered in jewels. At the end, they form an alliance and attain it... only to find it is a fake. For SamSpade, though, it's a grandslam: the falcon lured all these villains out of the woodwork, allowing him to work with them, getting him out from under the police's thumb, make money, and even reveal his heroic colors by setting every last one of them up to go to jail, including the Femme Fatale who killed his partner.
In Eyes Wide Shut, Bill suspects that his wife is having an affair and gets himself embroiled in some dark sexual circles while trying to sow his own wild oats. It turns out that his situation was not nearly as dark as he thought it was, he decides against having sex with anyone after all, and his wife was never disloyal to him in the first place.
Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indy and the Nazis spend the whole movie fighting over the eponymous MacGuffin. Then at the end, the Nazis get the Ark and open it only to be swept away by The Wrath Of God. As is often pointed out, Indy could have done nothing and the movie would have still ended the same way.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is similar in that the villain does succeed in the end, and is destroyed by doing so, meaning the same thing would have happened had Indy stayed at home. Still, both of these stories end with him hooking up with Marion, so at least they are good for his social life.
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy had no reason to go on her whole adventure to find the Wizard and kill the Wicked Witch of the West. The only thing she needed to get home was right on her feet the entire time. As comedian Dennis Miller noted: "So Glenda appears at the end and says, 'You had the power to go home all along!' I always wanted Dorothy to look at her and say, 'Yeah, bitch? And you had the power to tell me that two hours ago!"
Burn After Reading ends with the CIA director and Palmer sitting in an office contemplating what the heck happened. The only thing they learned, they muse, is to not do it again, if only they knew what, if anything, they did to cause the whole thing in the first place.
The Britney Spears roadtrip movie Crossroads has this times three, with three childhood wishes: Britney wants to reunite with her Missing Mom, "Anna-Marie" wants to get married, and "Boomkat" wants to be a singer. Near the end of their journey Britney learns her mom wants nothing to do with her ("Samantha" doesn't want any reminders of her slutty past(!)); Anna-Marie discovers her boyfriend is a cheater, and Boomkat is just not as good at singing as Britney.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Not that the plot matters much but it is ostensibly about King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail which Arthur takes seriously whether anybody else does or not. When he gets to the final climatic battle charge, he's arrested by modern day police officers because one of his knights earlier in the film accidentally killed a historian narrating the tale.
Two Lane Blacktop: The film centers on a cross-country race between a mysterious man and a pair of street racers. Along the way, a girl gets mixed up between the two parties, but she eventually just leaves. We never find out the mysterious man's backstory, and both parties forget about the race before anyone wins.
A very unusual example is The Usual Suspects; the ending reveals that the entire movie was one great big pack of unbelievably audacious lies having almost nothing to do with reality, but this revelation actually sheds a fascinating new light on what has been happening.
It's worth noting that it's arguable whether the film becomes implausible if the entire plot is a lie, the final montage tends to suggest a kind of "Only the names have been changed, to protect the guilty." scenario (meaning he tricked all the other "suspects" as well - from the beginning.) This possibility does nothing to change its shaggy-dog-ness from the perspective of Dave Kujan whose pursuit is still meaningless thanks to his dogged attempt to fix the whole thing on Keaton, based on a deeply personal vendetta
U Turn. Sean Penn finds himself in a lot of trouble by accident due to a misunderstanding and is just trying to make his way out of a nasty town when he gets the mob onto him. His only exit out is his car, but then it breaks down and he needs to get it fixed. Meanwhile people are trying to kill him, and the girl he falls for turns against him and is out to kill him too. When the car is finally repaired he finds she stole his keys. Out of desperation to get out of this town he strangles her to death and retrieves the keys. As he lay dying, he finally makes it back to his car to drive off only to find the mechanic who repaired his car duped him and it breaks down again. He resigns himself to his fate.
In Duplicity, Ray, an ex-MI-6 agent, and Claire, an ex-CIA agent, are each working for separate cosmetics conglomerates; Ray for the one owned by Richard, and Claire for the one owned by Howard. Except Claire's really working as a double agent on behalf of Richard, and Ray and Claire plot to steal a new formula Howard's company is developing so Richard's company can beat them to the punch. Except Claire and Ray are really working together on their own, and want to steal the formula themselves and sell it on their own. Except there *is* no formula; Howard just wanted to make Richard look foolish by having him chase his tail, and he succeeds in fooling Claire and Ray as well.
The World War II docudrama Conspiracy plays with the illusion presented to the Nazi ministries that they were collected to provide their genuine opinions on the "Jewish Question", and to determine policy. By the end it becomes clear that the gas chambers have already been built, the SS organized the meeting simply to bully everyone into line, and disagreement was futile from the very start.
Jokes such as the 'Banana And A Piece Of String' joke do this. In this tale a landlord is plagued by a leprechaun who, each evening prevails upon him to lend the leprechaun a half (then a quarter, then an eighth and so on, this joke can and has gone on for over an hour) of a banana and a piece of string. Each night, an explosion occurs in the room given to the leprechaun, increasing in violence as the quantity of banana decreases, beginning with a mere ruffling of the bedclothes and ending in the complete destruction of the inn. Finally, with his inn utterly destroyed the Landlord begs to know what the leprechaun has done and the leprechaun at last agrees to tell him but only on the condition that the landlord never tells anyone the secret.
And to this day he never has
'Jimmy and the Little Purple Grapes'. Jimmy convinces his mother to let him pack his own lunchbox, and he chooses to take little purple grapes with him. Throughout the rest of the joke, which takes about five minutes (or until the person telling the joke gets bored), every person who hears the phrase "little purple grapes" from Jimmy becomes enraged and gives him an increasingly harsh punishment. At the end of the joke, Jimmy has been beaten up, expelled, disowned, and put in jail because of that one phrase. His cellmate offers to tell him the reason people become so angry if Jimmy will sneak out of jail and get him some cigarettes. This joke is also known by "purple flowers," but the only real difference is the beginning of the story (where Jimmy sneaks out to be with his girlfriend, and he randomly gives his teacher this excuse. The joke follows from there).
Jimmy sneaks out and gets hit by a bus. The moral of the story: Look both ways before crossing the street.
A traveler was headed down a lonely road when it began to rain. Luckily he happened upon a monastery just off the side of the road. He knocked on the door and was greeted by one of the monks. He asked if he could stay the night, to which the monk replied that their order would gladly shelter him, as long as he stayed out of the tower with no doors. As he settled down for the night he suddenly heard an ungodly noise coming from the tower the monk mentioned, a cross between screaming and the wind on aluminum foil. Then suddenly it stopped and he soon fell asleep. He awoke refreshed and asked one of the monks about the sound, but the monk replied that only monks of their monastery may know what is in the tower. He thanked the monks for their hospitality and went on his way. About a year later he returned to the monastery and asked about becoming a monk. The head monk replied that if he would aid the monastery in small ways they would consider him. So for the next five years he helped tend the gardens, clean the windows, and learn of the monks' religion. He even once helped them recover a holy relic to be housed in the monastery. Eventually the head monk told the traveler he was ready to become a monk and initiated him. The monks recited a prayer for such an occasion and provided him with a robe of their brotherhood, and the head monk said it was time to see what was in the tower. The head monk led the new initiate down into the catacombs, deeper and deeper until the head monk found and pressed a loose brick. This opened a secret passage leading to a spiral stair. Up, up they went. Their legs grew tired until the head monk opened a trap door leading to a room surrounded with ivy covered trellises. They were inside the tower now. The head monk opened a door leading to another spiral staircase leading to the room at the very top of the tower. The head monk pulled out a key and unlocked the wooden door, pulling it aside to reveal a rusty iron door. The door clattered as the head monk pulled it open, and behind it was a titanium door. The head monk pressed a six digit PIN on a panel on the door and it slid open. The room was at first too dark to see anything. The head monk flipped a switch and a dim light bulb flickered on. Finally the traveler saw with his own eyes the source of that mysterious sound which he had spent all those years laboring to discover.
But I can't tell you what it was because you're not a monk.
There's this: A guy goes to the doctor because of a stomach ache, and the doctor gives him some pills, and warns him of the side effect, headaches, so he gives him tablets for headaches, but these would give him a sore throat, so he gives him a syrup for a sore throat, and lastly warns him of the syrup's side effect:
There once was a knight dressed in black and white garb, riding a black and white horse. He decided to get married to a princess and therefore approached the king to ask him for his daughter's hand. But before arriving at the castle, the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, encountered a guardian. The guardian said: "I am the first guardian! Who are you?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I am the black and white knight, riding on my black and white horse!" The guardian asked: "What do you want?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I want to marry the king's daughter!" The guardian said: "You may proceed!" So the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, rode on. Soon, the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, encountered another guardian. The guardian said: "I am the second guardian! Who are you?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I am the black and white knight, riding on my black and white horse!" The guardian asked: "What do you want?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I want to marry the king's daughter!" The guardian said: "You may proceed!" So the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, rode on. Then, the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, encountered yet another guardian. The guardian said: "I am the third guardian! Who are you?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I am the black and white knight, riding on my black and white horse!" The guardian asked: "What do you want?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I want to marry the king's daughter!" The guardian said: "You may proceed!" So the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, rode on. Finally, the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, reached the castle. The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, was let to the king. The king asked: "Who are you?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I am the black and white knight, riding on my black and white horse!" The king asked: "What do you want?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I want to marry the your daughter!" The king asked: "Do you have a castle of your own?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "No." The king said: "You cannot marry my daughter without a castle of your own!" So the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, left the castle and spent some years amassing the wealth needed for building a castle. Then, he re-approached the king's castle. Again, before arriving at the castle, the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, encountered a guardian. The guardian said: "I am the first guardian! Who are you?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I am the black and white knight, riding on my black and white horse!" The guardian asked: "What do you want?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I want to marry the king's daughter!" The guardian said: "You may proceed!" So the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, rode on. Soon, the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, encountered another guardian. The guardian said: "I am the second guardian! Who are you?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I am the black and white knight, riding on my black and white horse!" The guardian asked: "What do you want?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I want to marry the king's daughter!" The guardian said: "You may proceed!" So the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, rode on. Then, the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, encountered yet another guardian. The guardian said: "I am the third guardian! Who are you?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I am the black and white knight, riding on my black and white horse!" The guardian asked: "What do you want?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I want to marry the king's daughter!" The guardian said: "You may proceed!" So the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, rode on. Finally, the black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, reached the castle. The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, was let to the king. The king asked: "Who are you?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I am the black and white knight, riding on my black and white horse!" The king asked: "What do you want?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "I want to marry the your daughter!" The king asked: "Do you have a castle of your own?" The black and white knight, riding on his black and white horse, said: "Yes!" the king then said: "Get lost, all my daughters are married already."
A man is on vacation in France, and is enjoying his dinner at a restaurant. Suddenly, a man rushes in, leaves a note on the table, and then runs away. The man picks it up to see what it is and what it says, but the note is in French, which he doesn't understand. When the waiter gives him the bill, the man asks him "excuse me, but what does this note say?" and gives him the note. Upon seeing what it says, the waiter instantly goes into a rage and tells the man to leave the restaurant at once. He does, and brings the note with him, wondering what he got so angry about. Throughout the joke, the man continues showing this note to various people, but gets a worse punishment every time: he gets beaten up, put in jail, and forced to leave the country. When finally at home, he puts the note away in a drawer, seeing how it has brought him nothing but bad luck. Still, he's more curious than ever to what the note says. Later, he befriends a guy that's fluent in French, and after being friends with him for several years, he decides to show this man the note. He puts it in front of him, asking him to translate it for him, but makes him promise that whatever it says, he must not get mad or stop being his friend, just tell him what the note says. ...As his friend goes to pick the note up, a strong gust of wind blows by and takes the note with it.
A world famous conductor, a marvelous conductor, has decided that he's finally had enough, and he's going to retire. He announced his final performance, and as always, the theatre is completely packed. The performance is amazing, and he decides it's a fitting farewell. He leaves after the performance, but is approached by a group of large, intimidating men. They tell him that he can't quit now, he's just too good, and if he retires, they're going to break his legs. Frightened by the threat, he tries to figure a way out of it. He announces another performance. Again, the theatre is packed, and the performance is marvelous...but at the end, he whips out a pistol and shoots a violinist in the head, killing him instantly. He's arrested and brought before a judge, who asks "How do you plead?". He says "I'm guilty, everyone saw me do it." The judge replies, "Then I have no choice but to sentence you to death by electric chair." Before he's brought to the chair, he's asked for his last meal, and he requests a dozen bananas on a silver platter. He's led to the chair, strapped in, and the machine turned on. It looks like he's dead, but as they're unstrapping him, he twitches a bit, before appearing to come back to life. The executioner says "It is a sign from God to set you free! You may go." This process is repeated several times, each time he commits a bigger crime (bringing out a flamethrower and torching his entire orchestra, throwing a grenade into the audience), going into more detail about his prison stay (his cellmate, the condition of the cell), increasing the amount of power given to the chair (much longer than usual, then enough to short out the entire prison building), and the appearance of the man's death lasting longer (he comes back to life when being taken out of the prison, then scratches are heard from inside his coffin). The last time, the minister giving his eulogy opens his coffin after hearing the scratches and out pops the man, good as new. "How do you keep doing this?" the minister asks. "This is incredible!" To which the man replies: "Didn't you hear? I'm a bad conductor."
Three men were driving down a lonely country road one night. Suddenly, the car broke down. One man was a mechanic, but try as he might, he couldn't get the car to start. They checked, but there was no cell phone reception for at least a hundred yards in every direction. Looking around, they saw a dim light far in the distance, and with no other option, they headed towards it. About halfway there, the wind was becoming fierce. A storm was brewing. They had a brief debate on whether or not to go back to the car, but decided if they were to go back, the wind would be against them, and so continued on. As the rain started to come down, they found the light was from a bed and breakfast. The proprietor was a skinny old woman, so deaf the men needed to shout to get her attention, but polite enough, and was not at all unhappy about them checking in so late. They decided it was late, so they would call a tow truck in the morning, and went to bed. They woke up the next morning and went downstairs for breakfast. The first man ordered Corn Flakes, the second man ordered Corn Flakes, and the third man ordered Fruit Loops. What's the moral of the story? Two out of three people choose Corn Flakes.
The lion and the elephant are arguing over who's really King of the Jungle; the lion says he's traditionally King, therefore he should be King, but the elephant argues he's stronger, so he should be King. Eventually, they decide to have a football game to settle the matter, and they pick other animals to be on their team. The elephant picks, among others, the rhinoceros because he's big and strong and tough to tackle, while the lion picks, among others, the donkey, because he can kick the ball far with his hind legs. The elephant's team wins the toss and elects to receive. The lion tells the donkey, "Just kick it as high and as far as you can. Oh, and don't kick it to the rhinoceros; he's good." The donkey promises not to kick it to the rhinoceros. The donkey then kicks a beautiful kick...right to the rhinoceros, who runs it back for a touchdown. The lion's team is able to drive back and tie the score, since he has a good team. The lion tells the donkey, "Listen, that was a mistake, and I'll let it go, but don't kick it to the rhinoceros." The donkey says he won't. Once again, he kicks a beautiful kick...right to the rhinoceros, who runs it back for a touchdown again. Once again, the lion's team is able to drive back and tie the score. Dissolve to the 4th quarter. The score is tied. It's being going like this the whole game. The lion is so angry right now steam is coming out of his ears, and says to the donkey, "Listen, if you kick it to the rhinoceros one more time, I'm going to have you for dinner tonight." The donkey says he won't. Once again, he kicks a beautiful kick...right to the rhinoceros. The rhinoceros has it at the 40, the 30, the 20, and he's got no one to stop him, when all of a sudden, he trips and fumbles. The lion's team recovers, and has a chance to win the game. The lion looks around to see what caused the rhinoceros to trip, and that's when he notices the centipede. "Centipede, is that you?" "Yes." "Nice tackle." "Thanks." "Where have you been?" "In the locker room." "The locker room?!? What the hell have you been doing all this time in the locker room?" "Tying my shoes."
A man who liked travelling once went to Africa. While exploring the picturesque landscape, he saw a roaring elephant. The man went closer and saw a spear stuck in the elephant's leg. The man felt pity for the poor animal, pulled the spear out and bandaged the wound with his own shirt. Many years had passed since then. The man was going for a walk in his home town and saw a poster which said that a circus famous for its trained elephants was coming to the town. The man, interested, decided to go to the show. During the performance on of the elephants suddenly broke the fence surrounding the cirque, ran towards the man, grabbed him with his trunk and smashed him against the floor. It wasn't the same elephant.
Billy lived in a boring little town, the only attraction being a run-down old zoo with nothing but run-of-the-mill farm animals. One day, when passing by the zoo, he spots a huge, shiny, brand new enclosure. Running towards it he discovers it houses a bright purple gorilla. The zookeeper sees him admiring it, and he tells him, "Ah, this is the Pan-Pan Fandango Gorilla. Imported him for Nicaragua only this weekend. He's a great animal, and very intelligent: cleans his own enclosure, builds his own shelters, sometimes I think I see him reading the signs! He's really friendly too, you can wave at him and he'll wave back, he plays ball with visitors. Amazing creature. Just one thing - don't touch him." And the zookeeper walks off. Naturally intrigued, Billy sneaks towards the enclosure, and the bright purple gorilla walks up to him. Billy reaches out to touch, and the gorilla reaches back... But the zookeeper arrives and shouts, "What did I tell you! No touching!" and chases him out of the zoo. Billy comes back late that night while the zookeeper's asleep, and finds the purple gorilla just sitting there in the cage, waiting for him. They reach out, and finally touch, and the gorilla lets out a huge roar, suddenly ferocious. Billy runs in terror, but the gorilla leaps out of the enclosure and gives chase. Now, here's where the really long part comes - essentially, the joker describes a round-the-world trip, the gorilla chasing Billy. Maybe he gets on a plane, only to see the purple gorilla piloting a biplane after him. Perhaps he hides in a cave and speaks to friendly animals, but the purple gorilla brings his own animal friends and the boy only just escapes. Maybe they go to China and battle ninjas on the Great Wall. Anyway, eventually they reach some suitably climactic dead end - Billy's stuck on a rock jutting over Niagara Falls as the immense and angry purple gorilla closes in, maybe they make it back to Billy's hometown where he falls into the enclosure, maybe they make it to the very edge of the universe and the final confrontation happens on a space station. The purple gorilla finally closes in, and this time Billy cannot see any way out. The purple gorilla closes in, eyes ablaze, taps him lightly on the arm and shouts, "Tag! You're it!"
Bob worked at a soda bottling plant. One day, Bob decided that there should be new markets for soda. So he packed up what he thought we would be the best selling product — Fresca — and set sail for Africa to try and sell it. Just before he left, he said to his trusted friend Steve, “If I do not return from Africa in six months, I want you to come search for me.” So Bob sailed off to Africa with lots and lots of Fresca. Six months came and went, and Steve did not hear from Bob. The six months turned to seven, then eight, and finally a whole year went by without a single message from Bob. So Steve packed his own boat and sailed off to Africa. The trip was a long one. Just as Steve arrived to shore, he spotted a fisherman along the coast with a rod and reel in one hand, and a can of Fresca in the other! So Steve asked the fisherman if he had seen Bob. The fisherman replied “Yes I did. And boy, is he a good salesman. Fish tastes good with Fresca.” Steve then proceeded along a trail that led into the woods. About a day later Steve encountered some large bird hunters. They would alternately shoot their rifles into the air, and take a swig of Fresca. Steve asked if they had seen Bob. The hunters answered that they had, and that “birds taste good with Fresca”. Steve continued on, alternating between woods and plains, and finally a savanna. At that point, he encountered a steel trap on the ground but got away just in time. But the trap was sprung anyway, alarming a group of gazelle trappers hiding behind a nearby hedge. When they saw that it was just a person they were mildly disappointed it wasn’t their usual prey, but they chatted for a while. Steve asked them, how in the world does one eat gazelle meat. They answered, “why, with Fresca of course.” Steve was puzzled for a moment before they continued with “Gazelle tastes good with Fresca.” Relieved to know that he was on the right path, Steve continued on his way. After another couple days, Steve was well into the jungle when he spotted a group of bushmen, complete with tribal bones in their faces, ceremonial body paint, spears in hand, along with, quite out of character, bright green cans of Fresca carried on wooden platforms between pairs of men. Steve carefully approached, but the bushmen were friendly and said “berries taste good with Fresca”. So Steve continued on through the jungle. (Steve keeps encountering different groups of native tribes, missionaries, explorers, etc. all of whom met Bob and all of whom think stuff tastes good with Fresca) After three days, and about to give up hope, Steve came to a primitive tribal village, complete with mud huts like you see on TV. But unlike the Tarzan movies, these huts had stacks of cases of Fresca all around. Upon hearing a horn-like sound, Steve was suddenly approached by the tribe’s leader, with nearly all of the village behind him.
Steve: Have you seen Bob?
Tribal Leader: Yes. He a good man.
Steve: Oh, you mean a good salesman? He sold you all this Fresca?
Leader: He a good man.
Steve: How was he a good man?
Leader: He taste great!
Steve: (with a mixture of surprise and horror, as he noticed the huge metal cauldron perched on wooden sticks) You mean you ate Bob?
Leader: Yes. Bob taste good with Fresca. (as the rest of the villagers nod and make approving sounds)
Steve: You mean you ate his... nose?
Leader: Yes. Nose taste good with Fresca.
Steve: You... you ate his... eyes?
Leader: Yes. Eyes taste good with Fresca.
Steve: You...you ate his... ears?
Leader: Yes. Ears taste good with Fresca.
Steve: You ate his... arms?
Leader: Yes. Arms taste good with Fresca.
Steve: You ate his... legs?
Leader: Yes. Legs taste good with Fresca.
Steve: You ate his... lungs?
Leader: Yes. Lungs taste good with Fresca.
Steve: You ate his... heart?
Leader: Yes. Heart taste good with Fresca.
(etc. etc. etc.)
Steve: Uh... wait a minute. Wait one minute. You don’t mean to tell me you, you ate his...., you know, his, uh, THING?
Steve: (pauses a few seconds) You ate his, THING with Fresca?
Steve: Huh? But I thought...
Leader: No eat THING with Fresca. “Things” go better with Coke. (Note: for younger readers, that was an advertising jingle for Coca-cola in the 1960s.)
Ladies and gentlemen, the Depressed Guy Joke. So there's this guy. He's really, really depressed. He's too depressed to even commit suicide. That's how depressed this guy is. Because he's just so very depressed, he lives in his mom's basement and just sits there being depressed. Well, one day, his mother noticed that the circus was in town. She figured she would buy him a ticket to try to cheer him up, because he's just so depressed, it's depressing. She gives him a ticket for seat 53B, and sends him on his way. Because he's so depressed and has nothing better to do, he goes ahead and arrives a couple of hours early, while the circus is still setting up. Everyone else is really busy, so he wanders over to a nearby giraffe and starts talking to it for a few minutes before wandering off elsewhere. When he came back, the giraffe had fallen over dead. Its long neck was flopped over the side of the enclosure, its tongue was hanging out of its mouth, and flies had already gathered around the body. [Note: This part of the joke should ideally continue for as long as the patience of the teller and listener will allow, along with the creativity of the teller.] The circus finally opens, so the guy goes in, finds seat 53B, and sits down. The show soon starts, and there are acrobats, and jugglers, and magicians, and lion tamers, and everything else that makes a circus worth seeing. At the very end, after the other acts have cleared off the stage, this tiny little car drives out. The door opens, and this massive, morbidly obese, practically spherical clown steps out. The clown asks, "Would the person in seat 53B stand up, please?" The depressed guy goes ahead and stands up, because he has nothing better to do. The clown then says, "Well, there's one end of the horse, but where's the other?" This just makes the guy even more depressed. He goes home and doesn't come out of the basement for thirteen years. All that time, he is planning his revenge on this fat clown. Well, thirteen years after he first went, his mother notices that the same circus is back in town. She goes ahead and buys him another ticket for seat 53B, because she figures that the third time's the charm, and there is no third time without a second time. So the depressed guy returns to the circus, just like the last time. The skeleton of the giraffe is still there, as a modern art piece for some reason. There are a bunch of art critics gathered around it, debating its meaning. The depressed guy listens for a while, before going to take his seat. Well, the show goes just like it did thirteen years ago. The list of performers is exactly the same. The depressed guy gets a little less depressed at the anticipation of getting his revenge on that clown. The show goes on, until finally, the same tiny car comes out onto the empty stage. The same gargantuan clown comes out of the car, and asks, "Would the person in seat 53B stand up, please?" The depressed guy stands up, ready to really give it to the clown. Once again, the clown says, "Well, there's one end of the horse, but where's the other?" The depressed guy takes a deep breath, and shouts, "Screw you, clown!"
Latvian jokes seem to be this. Their humor stems from the fact that they are written in broken English, but are also quite depressing and horrifying. An example:
"Three Latvian are brag about sons. 'My son is soldier. He have rape as many women as he want,' say first Latvian. 'So?' second say, 'My son is farmer. He have all potato he want!' Third Latvian wait long time, then say, 'My son is die at birth. For him, struggle is over.' 'Wow! You are win us,' say others. But all are feel sad."
Nate and the Lever is a story that can take very long amounts of time when done right. A popular example of it is hosted here. A shorter version: One night a man was driving along an old country road in his beat up old car. He was a decent man, though no where near rich and barely able to keep one month's rent in savings. The car was more rust than anything and he was afraid to have it washed and buffed, not that he could afford to, because the rust might have been the only thing holding the beat up pieces together. The car broke down on a particularly deserted stretch of the road. The man called for a friend to pick him up because he could not afford to be towed. He figured he could come back out with a mechanic he knew the next day when it was light out. While waiting for his friend, he heard a gravely voice "Tough luck pal." The man looked around. There was nothing but darkness in any direction, nothing but darkness and what looked to be a branch sticking from the ground. "Down here." The voice said. The man looked down and saw a green snake at his feet. He jumped back and landed on his rear in the dust. "Relax friend. Just making conversation." The snake said. "My name's Nate." The man sat up and pulled himself to his feet. "Andrew." He replied, edging closer to the snake. "I can't believe it. Are you really talking?" "Of course." The snake said, slithering closer. "And glad to have a reason too. It gets boring out here." "What are you doing out here" Andrew asked. "Have to guard that lever. Its the lever that can end the world. Though, there isn't a whole lot to guarding it and people rarely come through here, and never stop. Well, except for you of course." Andrew shook his head, still not convinced this was really happening. But there was nothing to suggest it was anything less than real. "Have you thought about leaving? I mean, could someone else guard the lever?" Nate curled into a ball and tilted his narrow head. "I have thought about leaving. Just for a while. But I have no guide." "I could take you." Andrew replied. So when Andrew's friend arrived, Nate left with them. One of the first acts upon introducing Nate to the world, they had a road closed sign put up on the road going by the lever. After that, Nate toured the country and then the world with Andrew. Andrew's money troubles ended with a talking snake in his company and the man who had once been two paychecks away from facing possible eviction and driving a rust heap that barely ran became an international star and was given more money then he had ever imagined for interviews and speaking engagements. Nate was more than happy to accompany Andrew and the two of them became good friends, with Nate happy to help enrich the man who showed him the world and Andrew never pushing Nate into exposure the snake did not want. After a few months though, Nate became anxious and decided it was time he go back to the lever. He argued that it would only be a matter of time before someone ignored the sign and ended up near the lever. A year or so after Nate went back to guarding the lever, Andrew decided to drive out and see his old friend, the one responsible for his wealth and comfort and his travels. Nate's chauffeur drove him out to the desert, and cut down the road that was barely a road. When he rounded the bend to where Nate was, he over turned due to avoiding a coyote in the road. As a result, he skidded towards where Nate and the lever where. Andrew was hurt in the accident and blacked out for a few minutes. When he came too, the driver and a paramedic were standing over him. "How is everything?" Andrew asked, his mind slowly becoming less groggy. "Everyone is okay, you'll be fine after a night in the hospital." The paramedic responded. "There is some bad news though." The driver said. "I hit Nate. He didn't make it." Andrew hung his head. He felt bad for the little snake that had done its duty and only wished to see the world a little. He sighed, remembering the good times they had shared. Then, remembering Nate's refusal to stay gone for too long and eagerness to return to his post, he said "Oh well, if something had to be hit, better Nate than lever."
There was a young boy who had a terminal illness. Despite being bedridden, he was a cheerful boy, and his father did everything he could to make his son happy. One day, shortly before the boy's birthday, his father asked "What would you like for your birthday?" With barely a pause, the boy responded "a green golf ball." The father said, "Well, of course, son, but why do you want a green golf ball?" "Please, father" the boy said, "don't ask me why, just get me a green golf ball." (The teller can stretch it out at this point as far as his audience will stand, with each successive birthday the boy asking for one more golf ball than he had the year before, and the same conversation occurring each time). One day, the disease finally became too much for the boy to bear, and he lay on his deathbed. With the last of his strength, he called his father into his room. The father rushed in, and sat at his son's bed and held his hands as they both wept. After a long time, the boy said "Father, I know you've always wanted to know why I wanted green golf balls every year for my birthday. Now I think I must finally tell you, since I am not long for this world." The boy's voice had become little more than a hoarse rasp at this point, and his father had to lean in close to hear him. "Whisper it in my ear, my dear son," the father said. The boy leaned forward, until his lips almost touched his father's ear, and died.
A common Troll online is to create a long, rambling story like those above, but instead of finishing with a punchline, it ends with lines from the theme song to The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air.
One night a bunch of teenagers were having a party while their parents were out. It got stormy and the power went out. The phone rang and one of the teenagers picked it up. The voice on the other line said "I am the Bloody Finger, and I am only ten miles away." The kids got freaked out, but decided it must be a prank caller, and tried to call their parents but none of them would pick up. After a while the phone rang and the kids were a little scared to pick it up, but they thought it might be some of the parents. A boy picked it up and the voice on the other line said "I am the Bloody Finger, and I am only 7 miles away." the kids were getting scared, but thought it was still the prank caller, and tried calling parents again, but none of them would pick up. Soon the phone rang again and the voice on the other line said "I am the Bloody Finger, and I am only 5 miles away." By this time they were starting to think it might not be a prank caller, because a prank caller would have gave up by now. Soon the phone rang again and the voice on the other line said "I am the Bloody Finger, and I am only 3 miles away." By this point some of the kids hid in the basement. Soon the phone rang again and they were really scared to answer, but a brave boy picked it up and the voice on the other line said "I am the Bloody Finger, and I am only 1 mile away." Soon all the kids were hiding in the basement and there was a knock on the door. They didn't want to answer it and the person kept knocking for a long time. Soon they decided it might be someone's parents, so they went upstairs and opened the door. The man at the door said "I am the Bloody Finger, can I get a band-aid?
A teenage boy is getting ready to take his girlfriend to the prom. First he goes to rent a tux, but there’s a long tux line at the shop and it takes forever. Next, he has to get some flowers, so he heads over to the florist and there’s a huge flower line there. He waits forever but eventually gets the flowers. Then he heads out to rent a limo. Unfortunately, there’s a large limo line at the rental office, but he’s patient and gets the job done. Finally, the day of the prom comes. The two are dancing happily and his girlfriend is having a great time. When the song is over, she asks him to get her some punch, so he heads over to the punch table and there’s no punchline.
An exemplary use of this trope is in Thomas Bangs Thorpe's The Big Bear of Arkansas. The eponymous character seems to follow the archetype of the romanticized American frontiersman, engaged in an epic struggle against nature. The narrator of the story sits in rapt attention while "Big Bear" regales him with the tale of his pursuit of a legendary giant bear; the story meanders pointlessly for a while, and ultimately Big Bear fails to kill the bear before it dies of shock. Why did it die of shock? Because it entered Big Bear's property while Big Bear was taking a shit, and died at the sight of it. That's right, the whole point of the story was to get the reader to listen to a twenty minute story about the narrator voiding his bowels. It gets better - the entire story of his "chasing the big brown bear" may have been nothing more than an extended metaphor for Big Bear's attempting to move a particularly bulky "load." Big Bear of Arkansas is effectively nothing more than a prank against the credulity of New Englanders who over-romanticized life on the frontier.
Finnegans Wake, if it even has a plot, is this. Due to possibly being All Just a Dream, the "story" winds through its almost incomprehensible brogue only to begin on a sentence fragment and end on the other half of the same fragment. If anything at all was accomplished, it was probably the dreamer waking up and thus the book ending where it did.
Lawrence Sterne's The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy is probably literature's most famous example of this - the gist is that the book contains precious little of his life (it starts years before the narrator's birth and only ever gets to the stage that Shandy is around 6 months old before heading off back into the period before his birth again) and none of his opinions (his family get plenty of room to air theirs though). It's also very funny.
In the final book of His Dark Materials trilogy it is revealed that The Authority (AKA God) is so old and fragile it takes only a light breeze to destroy him.
Also, a number of plot points and much buildup from the first two books is casually tossed aside in favor of a tear-jerker endingenforced by destiny, despite all that talk about it being Lyra's job to overthrow destiny in the first book. The third Shaggy Dog of the books is then tied to the second, since after all the character buildup and romantic subtext, the two main characters are each put on a separate bus, never to see each other again, and with no sufficient reason why they feel the need to go along with this, so the third book of the series is a shaggy dog to the third power.
Guy De Maupassant's 1884 short story "The Necklace". A young, lower middle class couple borrows some nice clothes and jewelry from an upper class friend to wear to a party. During the course of the party, the lady loses a nice necklace. Hiding the truth, the two buy a duplicate of the necklace, are forced to sell their house and all their possessions and basically work as slaves for the next twenty years to pay back all the loans, only to be told at the end it was only costume jewelry, and worth only a couple of dollars at the most, resulting in a horrifyingly despicable Know Your Place Aesop that almost borders on Shoot the Shaggy Dog.
Readers today can also see the Aesop as "Honesty is the Best Policy". If the borrower had simply told the truth at the beginning, they would have avoided all their problems.
An alternate Aesop overlaps with Character Development - the woman in question was bitchy, and used money that her husband would have used to go on a holiday to buy a dress for herself for the party (she didn't borrow it, just the necklace), and borrowed the necklace because she couldn't stand the thought of people seeing her in anything less than stunning attire — all her self-worth came from her appearance and what people thought of her. After having to move down a couple social classes to pay back their debts, she learns to sympathise with others, to value herself for who she is, not what she looks like, and becomes a much nicer person as a result. An alternate Aesop could easily be that hard work builds character and looks aren't everything.
A particularly Downer Ending version is found in the Warhammer 40000: Gaunt's Ghosts book Necropolis. The Ghosts, Vervunhive Primaries, Bluebloods, North Cols, and scratch companies all endure horrendous losses in the ultimately (if just, just barely) successful defense of Vervunhive... and at the end, Vervunhive is abandoned, as the city has been damaged virtually beyond repair and no survivor wants to return. Still, at least the Ghosts got some new blood in the end, as many of the Vervun defenders were impressed by the Ghost's heroism and elected to join them after the battle ended.
Also, the Chaos troops would probably have moved on to attack other hive cities had they succeeded in destroying Vervunhive.
In the Dragon Age: OriginsPrequel novel, Rowan is in love with Maric, who she's been politically arranged to marry. Turns out that Maric doesn't love her that way and falls in love with an elven woman, Katriel. Rowan is understandably upset by this turn of events but it gets worse. She gets over Maric and falls in love with his best friend, Loghain instead. However, near the end of the book, Maric kills Katriel for being an enemy spy and Rowan finds herself going along with the original betrothal agreement and ultimately marries Maric out of duty and not out of love. What was the entire point of that?
Probably to introduce King Cailen, the son of Maric and Rowan, who is apparently ruling Fereldan by the time the Game starts. (and not doing a very good job, from the looks of it.) Loghain doesn't seem to have a very high opinion of the new king.
Yeah, but Cailen would have been born anyway had circumstances been different. Only this time Rowan wouldn't have been in a position she hated. So I ask again: What was the point of that?
To emphasize just how far Maric and Loghain value duty over their personal feelings and desires, and giving each of them reasons to become bitter at old age. In case you missed it, it's not a love story, and it isn't supposed to be.
The short story "God's Hooks" by Howard Waldrop, in the spirit of all stories about catching improbably large fish, ends with the fish not being caught, making the whole story pointless. (Assuming you think that whether the fish gets caught is the point.)
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (and the film adaptation) - Patrick Bateman becomes increasingly insane and homicidal and a lot of people die at his hands, culminating in him confessing to his lawyer... but in the end, no one believes him, and the book and film end as they begin, with him making boring small talk with boring, self-absorbed people. Patrick himself says at one point: "There has been no reason for me to tell you any of this. This confession has meant nothing..."
The Andromeda Strain; the entire book is spent trying to find a cure for said strain, only to reveal at the end that it had already mutated into a non-infectious form. Because of breathing quickly (but that's another matter entirely) Granted, it's still dangerous, but...
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, particularly the climax. Harry and Dumbledore go to an extremely dangerous seaside cave in a cliff, fight off inferi (like zombies but not) that are trying to drown them, and Dumbledore has to drink a potion that physically tortures him, all so they can get one of Voldemort's horcruxes, a locket. Dumbledore is then murdered by Snape, and Harry opens the locket to discover... It's not the real horcrux. Somebody else got there first and planted the fake one to mess with Voldemort.
Also, take note that this actually does something in the plot. Dumbledore not being on the castle at that time makes it possible for the Death Eaters to enter, and gives Harry (and the readers) even more reasons to hate Voldemort. I doubt anyone couldn't feel bad about Dumbledore's dying wish being unfulfilled, and everyone hated the villains more.
Further, it may have been according to plan and it allowed things to happen for the "good guys": it gave Harry a lead on tracking down the other horcruxes (R.A.B) and allowed Snape to finish off Dumbledore allowing Voldemort to be tricked into thinking Dumbledore's wand was bound to Snape when it was actually bound to Malfoy.
My Sisters Keeper by Jodi Picoult: Anna was conceived to be a donor match for her sister Kate, who has had aggressive leukemia since she was 2. When her parents ask Anna to donate a kidney when Kate's kidneys fail, she sues them for medical emancipation. It is successful and she gains medical emancipation, only to be in a car accident on the way back from court one day with her lawyer. Anna is brain dead, so they pull the plug and give Kate her kidney anyway, thus rendering Anna's court case useless.
Made even worse in the movie adaptation in that Kate asked Anna to take her parents to court so they would let her die. Jodi Picoult writes this a lot.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway: Santiago spends the better part of the book fighting one fish as a classic stoic Hemingway Hero. In the end, he does manage to catch the fish, but it is simply eaten by sharks. To add insult to injury, a white resort guest simply mistakes the greatest fish he ever caught for the skeleton of a shark washed up on the shore.
In the Geronimo Stilton book, Geronimo Stilton, Secret Agent, Geronimo has to chase after the deed to The Rodent's Gazette, which was carried off by a very strong wind. Over the course of his search, he ends up going through the wharf, the dump, the sewers, and even his archrival's office, and only succeeds in nabbing the deed with help from his Secret AgentChildhood Friend. He gets the deed back to his grandfather's office by the exact deadline, only to find out the whole thing was just a test set up by his grandfather, who had the real deed in his office the whole time.
One of the (many) criticisms against the Magic: The Gathering novel The Quest for Karn is that it comes off as an unintentional example of this. "Karn is the only hope of saving our world from the invading Phyrexians! We have to find him! Yay, we spent a whole book finding Karn and we saved him! Only the Phyrexians won anyway. Huh."
A previous Magic: The Gathering novel, The Darksteel Eye (Which takes place on the world Karn created, incidentally) revolved around the search for three artifacts which will summon the Kaldra Champion who is expected to win the day for the good guys... Aside from never ever explaining what the Kaldra Champion is or where he came from, the Champion is turned evil very soon after being summoned by the bad guy Memnarch and very shortly after that is destroyed by the ascent of the green sun.
In Michael Crichton's Sphere, the main characters are investigating a most-likely alien ship that landed on the bottom of the ocean. Inside they find a perfect sphere with strange markings on them, and after they've entered the Sphere, they can do stuff with the power of their minds! Which results in the underwater research facility being attacked by among other things, a giant squid. All but three of them die and at the end they figure out what's happening. When they are finally rescued, they decide that the power to do anything with just your thoughts is too dangerous, so they decide to forget everything that's happened, explain the deaths of everyone by a leak or something and just by thinking this, it becomes reality. So basically, everything that happened in the entire book has become irrelevant in the last paragraph or so.
Not really. It ends on a subtle hint that implies that at least one of the characters didn't actually give up the power after all.
The War Of The Spider Queen is a series of six novels set in the Forgotten Realms world. The plot revolves around a small group of elite warriors, priests, and wizards who are sent to investigate the sudden and total disappearance of the chief dark elf goddess Lolth. After traveling the world for months and visiting no less then three hellish dimensions, they have finally located her whereabouts. But as they approach the demonic temple in Hell, where her physical form is located it turns out that she was just undergoing a metamorphosis, from which she awakens all by herself only minutes before the protagonists reach her. Without anything that happened on the last two thousand pages having anything to do with it. After they've returned home, even the leader of the group is completely frustrated about the fact, that all she did was for nothing.
Splinter of the Mind's Eye. The Kaiburr Crystal, which amplifies a Force-Sensitive's power many times over, was sought by Luke, Leia, and Vader. And it worked all right. But it also lost power the farther it was from a specific site on the planet, and was almost completely useless offworld, just making a lightsaber marginally more effective. All that fuss and Brother-Sister Incest vibes for nothing.
Jedi Apprentice: The Fight for Truth: The Benevolent Guides of Kegan have prophetic visions. They become Well Intentioned Extremists to try and prevent the worst ones from coming to pass - implementing constant surveillance, cutting the planet off from the rest of the galaxy so that diseases easily curable elsewhere run rampant on Kegan, assigning people to careers without determining what they would prefer, not letting the people vote on anything the Guides haven't set up, not allowing pets, creating mandatory boarding schools in which children can't contact home, are fed propaganda and terrible food, and aren't allowed to make close friends, putting children who stand out in some way - having chronic illnesses, keeping pets, asking too many questions, being Force-Sensitive - in solitary confinement, and erasing the records of said children. A couple, worried that their baby daughter O-Lana will be taken away, manage to send word to the Jedi Temple that they think she may be Force-Sensitive, and a few Jedi are able to visit the world. There they promptly discover the ugly truths and despite the protests of the Guides they expose said truths. The people rise up, change things, reestablish contact with the rest of the galaxy. O-Lana's parents give her to the Jedi to be trained. Happy ending, right?
Here's what makes it a shaggy dog story, if not worse. O-Lana becomes a promising young Jedi Knight... who is killed by Darth Vader cleansing the Jedi Temple. The visions the Guides had were of masked soldiers - stormtroopers - bringing ruin and despair to Kegan, but they also had even worse visions of some kind of device that caused the entire planet to be destroyed - Death Star testing? One of the other superweapons? Maybe if they'd stayed isolationist they would have been ignored, they were very obscure and backwater, but O-Lana had some measure of fame, and through her world was known.
Just in general a lot of Clone Wars-era books of the Star Wars Expanded Universe are this trope, because of Order Sixty-Six and Anakin/Vader and the clone troopers turning against the Jedi, and the corrupt Republic that at least tries to be fair becoming the far more oppressive Empire. The majority of the Jedi who strive so hard and survive in those books will be betrayed by those they trusted.
The tragedy of Daisy Miller ultimately (intentionally) comes from this trope. Winterbourne realizes he misjudged Daisy and should have trusted his own opinion of her rather than everyone else's after she dies. There is nothing left for him to do but return to Geneva and continue to live just as he was at the beginning of the story.
Neil Gaiman's novella collaboration with Yoshitaka Amano, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, concerns a tale where a monk is cursed by a onmyoji to die from an entrapping dream, so that the onmyoji can find peace with himself. A fox, who had earlier fallen in love with the monk after trying to trick him, attempts to save the monk. In the end, the fox, with the help of Dream of the Endless (or as he is referred to in the novella, the King of Dreams), usurps the monk's dream so that he may live. However, the monk travels to the realm of dreams so that he may claim his own dream and save the fox. By sacrificing himself, the monk rendered the fox's quest in vain, much to the chagrin of the fox.
With the exception of one chapter entirely about how two natural enemies in the party become best friends. The ending, in which the crew was apparently transformed by witnessing the Baker's heroic efforts, might have gone somewhere if it hadn't ended at that exact point... which is very clearly why it ''did'.
Older Than Dirt: The Epic of Gilgamesh is not only one of the oldest written stories still in existence, but also an ancient Shaggy Dog Story, in which we learn about this epic (if often cruel by modern standards) hero, who slays monsters, challenges gods, dares seek immortality... then fails in his quest due to sloppy packing, and dies of old age.
Neil Gaiman's American Gods concludes, after countless chapters of the protagonist not really doing anything proactive towards the main plot, with a minor side character being literally told, in person, by the three fates, how to stop The Chessmaster. Then, she does it. Unsurprisingly, it works. Our hero, thus freed from the cumbersome narrative demands of the Big Bad, goes on to face a trivial side villain who apparently wants to die anyway, watches as no fewer than four potential love interest characters head off their separate ways, and... that's it. The book ends on neither a bang nor a whimper, but a note so soft, you could swear it was waiting for a moment to unleash all the epicness inherent in its premise to this day... but it's not.
There has been at least one short story published since then, which features Shadow taking a much more proactive role in his life in general, so there's that.
Isaac Asimov wrote a short story about an idealized future floating city, ruled by an emperor-like leader, that in the end is brought down under the weight of a bunch of military spaceships - all in service of setting up the last line of the story, which is a fairly bad pun. The title of the story? "Shah Guido G." As Asimov himself admitted in commentary, it's all there in the title. (If you don't see it, split the title between the "i" and the "d." Now read.)
Oddly enough, despite the lampshade it isn't actually all that good an example - sure, the entire point of the story was to set up a bad pun, but as the other character in the framing story points out, the narrator did bring down the floating city (it just happened to be by manipulation), and that led to a better, more vibrant society being established. In other words, the struggle of the story is not unexpectedly rendered moot when it ends.
In the Callahan's Crosstime Saloon series by Spider Robinson shaggy dog stories and puns are the common thread through the entire series. Most shaggy dog stories in the series are elaborate build-up to a mindnumbingly horrendous pun to the delight of the crowd (once the BSOD wears off).
While Catch Twenty Two itself is not a Shaggy Dog Story, it's made of them. For example, the protagonist Yossarian is a bombardier in WWII. He asks his friend Doc Daneeka to ground him. Yossarian has flown dozens of combat missions and is due to be replaced, but his Pointy-Haired Boss of a commander insists on sending his men into greater danger and more missions than any other bomb group. Yossarian asks on the grounds that he's crazy. Doc Daneeka points out that anyone who is crazy must be grounded. Of course, they have to ask to be grounded in order to be grounded. Asking to be grounded in the face of danger is a sign of sanity. Anyone asking to be grounded must therefore be sane, which means they ''cannot'' be grounded. Doc Daneeka informs Yossarian of all this and sends him back up to fly. This is where we get the colloquial expression Catch 22 for a situation where the rules of an organization result in damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't. The book is full of similar scenes. It works as a rich source of Black Comedy and as a means of delivering the book's Aesop.
Otherland, by Tad Williams, has a layered use of this trope. One of the main protagonists, !Xabbu, is an African Bushman (San for the overly pedantic) who is close to, if not the Last of His Kind, and relates many of his tribe's stories to the other characters throughout the novels. These stories lack the narrative structure one would expect of Western literature and frequently have endings that are only tangentially related to their beginnings. Loop back to the main plot: the Other, the quasi-sentient operating system of the eponymous network, which the protagonists are trapped inside of, also appears to have developed a warped sense of narrative causality and keeps trying to steer them into its vision of how its "story" should play out, which is disturbingly random at times. The final blow comes when, after the protagonists have solved the Win to Exit plot, it's discovered that the Other's deepest secret is completely unrelated to any part of the plot which has been revealed to this point, and the resolution of that secret threatens to render everything else that's happened in the story irrelevant. This is discussed extensively by the characters.
In True Grit and the 2010 movie based on it, Mattie goes to great effort to see Rooster Cogburn for the first time 25 years after he saved her life and vanished into the night. Would have been a touching reunion if he hadn't died three days before.
Kevin J. Anderson's Darksaber. At least, the part about the eponymous superweapon. To make a long story short: the Big Bad built it using shoddy labor and substandard material, and the first time he tried to use it, Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies (literally, in this case). All the good guys had to do was show up, and their contribution to the finale was complete.
Niel Hancock's Circle of Light series. Much of the plot revolves around the heroes' efforts to keep the Arkenchest out of the hands of the Big Bad. At the end, when she finally gets it and all hope seems lost, the Arkenchest's sheer goodness transforms her into an angel of light. They could have ended the conflict faster by just giving it to her.
In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Ford Prefect, three Pan-Galactic Gargleblasters into drinking himself senseless, tries to explain how the universe was made in the first place (which is essential to understanding how it ends). He gets Arthur to picture a film of a black ebony conical bathtub draining of sugar (or fine sand) threaded through a projector backwards so it looks as though the sand is spiraling into the bathtub from the bottom.
Arthur: And that's how the Universe began, is it? Ford: No, but it's a marvelous way to relax.
In The Wise Mans Fear, Kvothe introduces the mercenaries he's traveling with to this trope, with a story of a child born with a golden screw for a belly button, who goes in search of why he was born that way. It takes an entire page to tell, and the end of the story is that he finds the screwdriver that fits the screw, and when it's unscrewed, his rear end falls off. As none of his companions have ever heard a shaggy dog story before, their reactions are... amusing.
The Patchwork Girl of Oz is all about Ojo's quest to gather the ingredients needed to cure his uncle of a curse. He fails, because one of the ingredients is under the protection of the Tin Woodsman, who won't give it up since it requires a living thing to be harmed. But Glinda the Good can do magic, so she can totally just cure Unc Nunkie anyway, and a lot of trouble could have been saved by going straight to Quadling Country for a visit.
To make it even worse, the quest for the ingredients was endorsed by both Dorothy and Ozma, who the characters met about halfway through the story. The two characters know both the Tin Woodsman and Glinda well, yet the fact that Glinda can do magic and the Tin Man is a Actual Pacifist apparently do not occur to them, or at least are not worth mentioning.
In Animorphs Book #28, "The Experiment", the group spends most of the time investigating the Yeerks' efforts to make a drug that will eliminate free will. As it turns out, the drug doesn't work, and the results were falsified in order to delay the wrath of Visser Three. However, it is subverted at the end, when Cassie points out that they still saved people and animals from being subjected to Yeerk experiments
Another example is in Book #14, where the Animorphs and the Yeerks investigate Zone 91 to find evidence of alien technology. It turns out to be an obsolete Andalite toilet. However, this is another subversion, because it's still an alien toilet, and the Yeerks will want to make controllers out of people there to investigate what it is (they don't know what it is).
David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest is one of these in its entirety. The narrative is famously long, and doesn't appear to be going much of anywhere until the last third, when the action finally picks up. Then the last hundred pages or so are occupied with a description of one of the protagonists having a fever dream. The closest thing to resolution occurs in a throwaway flashback in the book's first chapter. Some readers think this is brilliant, others hate it.
Tolkien's The Children Of Hurin has shades of this. Turin spends the whole book trying to fight against his curse and even kills the dragon Glaurung who has been destroying his life, only to find out that his wife is actually his sister and both kill themselves. The shagginess is only compounded in The History of Middle-earth material The Wanderings of Hurin where Turin's father, having been forced to watch the curse destroy his children's lives, tries to avenge them and his wife's deaths... only for him to ultimately make things worse and is basically told that he isn't helping anyone. Then he kills himself.
Robert Anton Wilson's Schroedinger's Cat Trilogy ends with the revelation that the three volumes were just the set-up for a single dick joke.
In the Spellsinger novel The Day Of The Dissonance, Jon-Tom travels hundreds of dangerous miles to fetch medicine for the ailing wizard Clothahump. Not only does it turn out that the "life-saving" medication is just ordinary aspirin, but Jon-Tom already had several identical tablets in the pocket of the jeans he was wearing when he arrived in Clothahump's world.
R. J. Rummel's Reset — Never Again is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The entire book could have been excised from the series and it would not have affected the overreaching plot at all.
The first chapter of Wayside School is Falling Down has Louis carry a heavy and fragile package from the first floor of Wayside School, to Mrs. Jewls' classroom, located on floor 30. After he climbs 30 flights of stairs and reaches her door, he has to hold it up for several more minutes, while the kids decide who should open the door. After Louis finally brings the package inside the room, Mrs. Jewls unpacks a computer from inside it, and proclaims that the computer will help her students learn new things more quickly. She then demonstrates the concept of gravity by dropping the computer out the window and letting the kids see how quickly it can fall to the ground and smash.
In Chuunibyou Demo Koi Ga Shitai, Yuuta spends most of the first novel going through a lot just to help Rikka review for her remedial exam in Mathematics, only for her to fail spectacularly at the end of the book. By the start of the second novel, Rikka still hasn't gotten any better, with her highest exam score a pathetic 30 out of a hundred.
The Agatha Christie novel A Pocketful of Rye. Miss Marple learns that a maid who used to work for her was murdered as part of a scheme that also included the poisoning of a Corrupt Corporate Executive. Miss Marple goes to investigate. She eventually figures out that the maid was the one who put the poison in the Executive's breakfast, acting under the orders of her boyfriend who had told her that the poison was actually a truth drug. The entire thing is rendered pointless by the last chapter: Miss Marple returns home to find that the maid had sent her a letter confessing the entire plot. It was nice to get some confirmation that Miss Marple's theory was right, but it also means that the story would have had exactly the same outcome if Miss Marple had just stayed home and checked her mail.
Most of the Tide Lords tetralogy is about the political conflicts between two kingdoms, which get complicated by each country being taken over by a faction of immortals who wish to rule the world. The whole matter becomes moot when in the fourth book a third faction blows up the entire planet, killing everyone other than a handful of the immortals.
While it doesn't seem so if you read the book as a standalone, to anyone familiar with The Riftwar Cycle, the novel Murder In Lamut is one. This is due to the fact that the murder is largely irrelevant to the plot, and in fact happens roughly three quarters of the way through the story. The actual plot of the story is about three mercenaries trying to survive the various intrigues of a group of Barons who have realized that since their Earl is engaged to the only child of their elderly Duke, he's going to be the next Duke, which means that he'll have to appoint a new Earl (Presumably one of them). Unfortunately, anyone who has read the first novel in the series, which was published thirty years prior, already knows who the next Earl of Lamut is going to be - somebody who isn't in the book, and who none of the squabbling Barons have ever heard of or knowingly met.
Several of Oscar Wilde's short stories amount to shaggy dog stories.
In "The Star-Child", the title character is a foundling who is adopted by a poor woodcutter, and grows up beautiful but vain, cruel, and arrogant, convinced he is the son of a king and queen. When a beggar woman shows up claiming to be his mother, he rejects her and is turned into a hideous cross between a frog and a snake. He becomes an outcast and frantically tries to find his mother again. Eventually he is sold into slavery, and on three successive days his master tasks him with finding a piece of gold in a forest. Each time he fails in his quest until a rabbit (whom he springs from a trap on the first day) leads him to the gold, and each time he encounters a beggar on his return to the city whom he decides needs the gold more than he does. On the third day, he is told he will be killed if he fails in his task, and once again he gives the gold to the beggar instead of his master, but upon his return, his looks are restored and he is acclaimed as the heir to the throne of the unnamed country in which the story is set, and is not only re-united with his mother (who is both the beggar woman he rejected and the nation's queen) but discovers that the beggar to whom he gave the gold is his father (and the nation's king). His reign as king is described as a happy one... but he dies after just three years, and is succeeded by a sadistic tyrant.
In "The Nightingale and the Rose", a university student has been told by a professor's daughter that she will accompany him to a dance if he brings her a red rose, but there are none in his garden. A nightingale overhears the student lamenting his misfortune, but when she asks a rose tree for a flower, the rose tree replies that the flower must be built out of music by moonlight, and stained with the nightingale's lifeblood. The nightingale decides her sacrifice will be worth it if it ensures the student's happiness, and spends the night singing of love while pressed against a thorn on the rose tree, and by the next morning, the nightingale has died but a bright red rose has blossomed from the tree. Though unaware of the nightingale's sacrifice, or even of her interest in his plight, the delighted student picks the rose and hurries to give it to the professor's daughter... only to be told it doesn't go with her dress, and she is already going to the dance with the Chamberlain's nephew after he gave her a gift of jewels. The dejected student swears off love and goes back to his books.
"The Remarkable Rocket" features the title firework, the planned centrepiece of a display in honour of a royal wedding. However, while boasting to the other fireworks about how much greater he is than they are, he proves his "sensitivity" by bursting into tears, so that his fuse is soaked and he doesn't go off as planned. The next day he is thrown into a muddy ditch by the disappointed palace staff, and after several encounters with unimpressed forest animals, he is found by two boys, who mistake him for a piece of firewood. He stays on the fire for long enough for his fuse to dry out, and he finally soars high into the air and explodes in a magnificent shower of gold... before an audience of precisely zero (even the two boys have fallen asleep by the time he goes off).
Live Action TV
Played for Laughs a few times in Monty Python's Flying Circus. Notable is the Cheese Shop sketch, wherein a man enters a cheese shop and rattles off several kinds of cheese he wants to buy, only for the store owner to tell him at the end of the sketch that the shop, in fact, doesn't have any cheese at all. Another is the audio-only Book Shop sketch, wherein a bookstore owner gets increasingly frustrated and desperate to find a book that a customer will buy. The owner finally finds one the customer wants, but the customer doesn't have a way to pay for it. So the owner buys it for the customer... but the customer can't read.
Law & Order frequently uses serious shaggy dog stories, where the suspect avoids being convicted only to be caught for another crime, dying unexpectedly (and sometimes spectacularly), or otherwise being punished by the forces of Fate. Also, frequently the controversial issue of the day which the defense attorney's scheme is hinged around ends up being irrelevant when a simple, personal motive appears in the last five minutes.
Doctor Who. Fans who did dislike RTD's stint as Head Writer usually complain about these. One noted example built up the return of a Dangerous species, and then dismissed them with hardly any time on air.
In an episode of Gilmore Girls, Richard and Emily are drawn closer as they try to find the owner of a stray dog that had happened upon them, leading the audience to expect that the experience will lead them to end their separation. In the end, though, the dog's owner claims it and it's back to status quo. The only real revelation to come from the affair is the gender of the dog, which was not what they had thought — it was a very shaggy dog.
New characters Nikki and Paolo from season three of LOST turned out to be one big Shaggy Dog Story; after an entire episode spent setting up their circumstances and motivations, they are killed off (horribly) before they can affect the plot in any way. This is mostly the viewers' fault, though- they'd been planned to be more important but nobody liked them so they were quickly written out.
Depending on who you talk to, the show has quite a few examples, up to and including the entire thing.
In an episode of Red Dwarf, Lister tells Rimmer a story that at first seems to be a serious example of why it is cruel to give machines personalities. He discusses a pair of artificially intelligent shoes that are discontented with their existence and try to escape it by stealing a car. They then accidentally drive it into a canal and "die". A priest, however, comforted the shoes owner by telling him that the shoes had gone to heaven. Turns out the entire lecture was just an excuse for Lister to deliver the Incredibly Lame Pun "Shoes have soles". Rimmer, however, doesn't get it.
Rimmer: What a sad story... wait a minute. How did they open the car door?
On Babylon 5, the character of Talia Winters was set up for a big arc from the first season. Kosh copied her fears, she was granted telekinetic powers, and she was growing increasingly disillusioned with the Psi Corps. When the actress wanted to leave, they wrapped up the "implanted personality" arc in one episode where her only significant role was in the last 10 minute "big reveal". She was then Put on a Bus and was never heard from again, except for the implication she was killed off screen.
This one's a big case of Real Life Writes the Plot: Talia's actor, Andrea Thompson, had recently divorced Jerry Doyle (who played another major character, Michael Garibaldi), and was being offered a much juicier gig on JAG. She dropped out, and Talia's arc (except for the relationship with Ivanova) was picked up by Lyta Alexander (who had been established in the Pilot Movie but hadn't joined up for the first season over some contract dispute).
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Ending Happy features a dead guy who five other people attempt to murder in a single night, but it eventually turns out that he died accidentally due to a lawn chair collapsing.
An example with a twist from The Torkelsons: One character is in a contest to spend time in Paris with a family. As would be expected, she loses. But it's how she loses that makes it a Shaggy Dog Story: She had the highest scores... but the French family wanted to have a boy spend time with them, and there was only one boy in the finals. Meaning the finals had been meaningless before they had even started (Which counts as a Crack Defeat as well).
The Wonder Years, the entire damn show. An important part of the plot, if not the most important part, was Kevin being in love with Winnie Cooper. How does the show end? The epilogue voice over said he married someone else.
The Two Ronnies' famous monologues by Ronnie Corbett in his chair. Ostensibly all about telling a single, usually only moderately funny joke, the real joy was in the meandering way he eventually got to the punchline over five minutes, wandering off on a variety of bizarre tangents in the process.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: "America's Next Top Paddy's Billboard Model" is this from the perspective of the modeling contestants (especially the ones who had a threeway with Mac in order to win). The winning model's prize was supposed to be a place on the bar's new billboard, but it turns out that before the contest even began, Frank had already put the billboard up with himself on it.
A two-episode arc of Power Rangers RPM focuses on Tenaya 7 trying to steal a rare diamond to power up her Monster of the Week, which she claims will ensure easy victory for Venjix. Even though she does steal the diamond, the Rangers destroy the monster in their Megazords within 10 seconds without breaking a sweat.
In an episode of Charmed, a summoner spends the entire episode working on a spell that would bring back a very powerful Big Bad from earlier seasons, the Source. It succeeds, but then Piper hits the summoner with her power three times and both the summoner and the summoned Source are vanquished. In less than two minutes.
Charmed was made of this trope. In the 1st season, there was an episode in which they meet their male counterparts, supposedly as powerful as they are, only evil. They died in the last 30 seconds of the episode.
An episode of Seinfeld details Kramer's quest to return a pair of pants. However he falls on the way, ruining the pants (which he had worn). Elaine later asks what Kramer was planning to wear back after he returned the pants, but as a Cloud Cuckoolander, he doesn't understand the question.
NCIS's episode "SWAK" has a character contract a variation of Yersina pestis (bubonic plague). They spend the entire episode running around trying to find who did it and why, so they can get a cure, only to eventually find out that there is no cure. However, one wasn't needed; it had a suicide gene, and killed itself off anyway, so what they were doing in the meantime... treating the symptoms... was actually the only treatment necessary.
To make matters even worse, the whole affair happened because a mother wanted NCIS to reopen her daughter's rape case, only for the daughter to admit at the end that she made up the whole story.
The Joey-Rachel relationship in Friends. There's a few episodes centering around Rachel secretly having feelings for Joey. The cliffhanger of Season 9 has Joey and Rachel kissing. In the first two episodes of Season 10, there's some serious drama about how Ross will feel about the whole thing. And the episode after that... they decide they're better off as friends. The fact that they even went out at all is only mentioned once in the rest of the season.
Charlie's little sub plot in Season One of Heroes. Hiro witnesses her die brutally, so he goes back in time six months to prevent the whole thing. Several months take place as the two of them fall in love. When Hiro tries to tell her that she will die, she tells him that she has a blood clot in her brain and will die shortly anyway. Oops. Waste of six good months.
Not really, if only from the perspective that what he went through with Charlie forced Hiro to grow up a little bit and fully realize the ramifications of his powers. Would that he had remembered this AFTER the first season...
It's also not that much of a Shaggy Dog story if you read the novel Saving Charlie, where the relationship is developed further. Also, Hiro's "accidental" teleports keep carrying him back to the task of saving Claire Bennett and Charlie eventually calls him on the fact that Hiro is neglecting his destiny just to spend time with her. That doesn't stop the two of them from losing their virginity to one another on the night before Charlie is supposed to die though.
Of course that wonderful story was tossed in the garbage and this really DID become a Shaggy Dog story as of Volume 5 when Hiro went back to save Charlie and was successful. He somehow managed to get his past self to go back in time to fall in love with Charlie, get Past Ando to hang around until Past Hiro gets back AND talked Past Sylar into using his powers to cure Charlie's blood clot (Don't Ask)... only to have Charlie get "lost in time" by this Volume's Big Bad!
To cap off in a way that probably reaches Shoot the Shaggy Dog levels, in the season (and series) finale Hiro meets Charlie again. She's old, and asks Hiro not to go back in time, because she's built a family during 65 years and doesn't want to lose that. Doubleyoo. Tee. Eff.
The search for a virus that occupies much of the first third of Season 3 of 24. The virus was a decoy. Also, Jack's jailbreak was all part of a sting operation against the Salazars.
On one episode of Taxi, Ascended Extra Jeff gets fired when he gets blamed for Louie's theft. Alex eventually guilts Louie into confessing to the boss... except the boss doesn't believe his confession, and yet is so impressed by Louie's "sacrifice" that he re-hires Jeff.
The Scrubs episode "My Princess". Dr. Cox tells his son a story about a patient from that day, but as a fairy tale. The patient is referred to as a maiden who is being attacked by a monster who can not be killed, and the entire episode is about JD and Elliot's search for a cure for her. At the end, Cox tells his son when asked that the "maiden" lived happily ever after - only to walk out and strongly hint to his wife that in reality the girl died.
The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Move Along Home" has several main cast members struggling to escape from an incredibly lifelike game — only to eventually fail, and end up back in reality with no consequence except that Quark doesn't get to keep a bunch of gems he would have won from the aliens of the week. Said aliens are rather surprised at their relief to still be alive; after all, "It was only a game!"
iCarly: Both plots in "iSpaceOut". Carly gets Space Madness and the trio lose the chance to go into space, whilst the mute freaky little girl that spooked Spencer just leaves without talking or any explanation about who she is or where she came from, except that Carly could see her ruling out the previous ideas of a hallucination or vision from Spencer.
"'iBust A Thief" spends an episode on the plot of a stolen laptop. In the end the so called 'thief' of the laptop didn't steal it (wrong colour, and Sam wrote the serial number incorrectly). The end is Sam finding her laptop in a pizza box in the fridge.
Victorious: The "Flour Bomber" plot in "Robbie Sells Rex" ends in an anti-climatic reveal that the bomber is some random kid from another school who was doing it because he was bored. He gets caught, everyone walks away after finding out.
A throwaway joke in an episode of M*A*S*H details Hawkeye telling a story about his tent mate B.J. Hunnicut (in a smoking jacket with a zipper down the back) and Lana Turner (in a pink angora sweater with a zipper down the back).
Hawkeye: She throws her arms around you, but you push her away!
BJ: I-what? I push her away? Why?
Hawkeye: Your smoking jacket is covered in angora lint.
Hawkeye: In a fit of pique, she leaves.
BJ: But what about the zippers down the back?
Hawkeye: They didn't catch on.
In the episode "For Want Of A Boot", Hawkeye goes through an elaborate Chain of Deals to acquire a new pair of boots. At the end of the episode, the entire chain collapses like a series dominoes, making it so all of Hawkeye and Trapper's efforts were for nothing.
Whose Line Is It Anyway? did this in one of their Improbable Missions. Ryan and Colin had to wash the Emir of Groovefunkistan's burnoose. They had to go through all sorts of things—climbing the outside of the hotel using Ryan's hair, dealing with a bomb on the faucet of the bathtub, the cat being wet, and so on. Colin had a spare burnoose the whole time.
In general, a Game Show contestant hitting a Whammy in a Golden Snitch or All Or Nothing situation tends to result in this trope. However, a couple shows deserve special mention because they're set up to make this happen so often, it has to be an intentional budget-saver:
The British show Golden Balls consists of nearly an hour of bluffing and random money distribution to determine the size of the pot and to eliminate 2 of the 4 contestants. At the end, the two contestants left each have to decide whether to share or steal the prize fund. The rules full explanation
If both share, they split the pot 50/50. If one steals and one shares, the one who steals gets the entire pot. If both steal, the pot is lost and both leave empty-handed.
give zero incentive whatsoever to share, and if both players opt to steal (the only Nash equilibrium in the decision table), then nobody wins a single quid, and the entire hour was moot.
Another British show, The Million Pound Drop, and its American spin-off Million Dollar Money Drop, after taking most of an hour with plenty of Padding to go through about 7-10 questions, require players to answer a final question (which they cannot opt out of) to win anything at all. The final question is multiple choice with two answers to choose from; if the players pick the correct one, they keep their winnings, and if they pick the incorrect one, they lose all their winnings at the very last second and they leave with zilch. The final question is always an Unexpectedly Obscure Answer which may as well be a coin flip, leading to many teams taking a considerable sum of money into the final question only to lose it.
Also from Britain was the very short-lived (canned after 4 episodes) Shafted, which ended with the two winners facing the same Prisoner's Dilemma as Golden Balls, mentioned above.
Take It All on NBC also ended with a "Prize Fight", which was the same old Prisoner's Dilemma.
Dollhouse: It's amazing just how unimportant Alpha ends up being.
In an episode of Father Ted, Dougal asks Ted if he's ever seen a ghost. Ted starts telling a story of how he was staying at his great-aunt's spooky old house in the middle of nowhere, and was staying in a bedroom where a heartbroken girl had allegedly hung herself many years before. He describes how the room was icy cold, lit by a single candle, and then suddenly he heard a creak.
Dougal: Was it a ghost?
Ted: No. So no, I've never seen a ghost.
The season one How I Met Your Mother finale "Come On," ended with Ted coming back to his apartment and finding Marshall, engagement ring in hand, as Lily had broken up with him to go to an "art fellowship" in San Diego. Since it was a Foregone Conclusion that the two would end up together, Lily's art fellowship thing petered out for no particular raisin. Why needlessly make Marshall angst for six episodes?
The Barney/Robin romance also falls prey to this. After an entire season of Barney pining silently over Robin after a Love Epiphany, involving a lot of Character Development for both of them, they finally get together... and break up seven episodes later over almost nothing, to allow Barney to revert back to his whorish ways and Robin to revert back to her commitment-fearing, career-driven lifestyle. This one is still going back and forth.
This actually gets revisited/resolved in later seasons as it's revealed that Barney and Robin end up getting married. Meanwhile both Barney and Robin undergo much character development with both of them growing up and becoming less commitment-phobic.
Pretty much every girl that Ted falls in love with and hooks up with. Particularly Robin. We know right from the first episode that Robin is not the mother but a large part of Season 1 and 2 and in a few other seasons is dedicated to Ted pining over Robin, Robin pining over Ted, getting together and breaking up, thinking of restarting their relationship, having a non-strings attached relationship and then deciding they are Better as Friends.
In-Universe, there's an episode where Marshall, Lily and Barney spend the entire time trying to guess which Canadian celebrity invited Robin over to look at which collectible and propositioned her to engage in which sex act. At the end, she finally tells them. They probably would have been more impressed if they had known who The Frozen Snowshoe was, what Harvey's trays were or how one performs an Old King Clancy. And then, the audience is shown that Robin was being an Unreliable Narrator anyway.
In one episode of The Walking Dead, the group, on Hershel's farm, must clear a well of a rather disgusting bloated zombie. Unable to shoot it because it's blood would infect the water supply, they are forced to perform a dangerous winch operation which almost costs Glenn his life. After noosing the zombie and taking great effort to pull him up and busting the water pump in the process, the zombie simply splits in half, sending it's guts into the water and infecting the supply anyway. The group are... annoyed to say the least.
Weird Al's song Albuquerque is a long, rambling story about the singer's escape from his mother "who tied [him] up and force-fed [him] nothing but sauerkraut until [he] was twenty-six-and-a-half years old" (because "IT'S GOOD FOR YOOOOOOOOOOOU!") and his subsequent escape, journey to Albuquerque, plane crash, battle with a hermaphrodite with only one nostril, encounter with flesh-eating weasels, donuts, marriage, kids, divorce, job at Sizzler, and so forth. Near the end, he loses his train of thought after telling a few vaguely related anecdotes and then remarks that the only thing he was trying to say with the story was that he just really hates sauerkraut.
''Trapped in the Drive-Thru'' deserves a mention as well. A husband and wife argue over what to have for dinner, and finally decide to go to a fast-food place. At the drive-thru, another argument ensues over what to order, followed by the husband realizing he doesn't have his wallet. Wife offers her credit card but they don't take credit, and she only has $3 in cash on her. Husband scrounges through the car looking for loose change to cover the difference, doesn't have enough and is ultimately forced to cancel the wife's chicken sandwich ("I wasn't even really hungry in the first place"). A 10-minute-long buildup that ultimately culminates in the husband biting into the burger at a red light only to realize they forgot the onions..
Arlo Guthrie's classic folk/parody "Alice's Restaurant" clocked in at about nineteen minutes on the original record; about five of them are strictly necessary to tell the story (and the title of the song isn't actually related to the point of the whole thing). Later versions, updated to reflect how times have changed since, are longer still; one performed shortly after Richard Nixon's death is about twenty-six and a half minutes long, though not all of the added material is completely extraneous. This is lampshaded by Guthrie in most recordings and performances.
Arlo:(after finishing the initial story) "That's not what I come to talk to you about, though. I just thought I'd mention it."
He even lampshades that it's a Shaggy Dog story later on, when he asks the audience to sing along:
Arlo: That was horrible. If you want to end war and stuff, you've got to sing loud. I've been singing this song for twenty six minutes; I can sing it for another twenty six minutes. I'm not proud ... or tired ..
Robert Fripp once penned a Roald Dahl-styled children's story called "The Saga Of Rodney Toady", about a man who is constantly picked on for being fat and ugly. Neighbors would make fun of him behind his back, girls would ask him out to dates just so they can stand him up and his parents would tell him to find a fat and ugly girl to marry. The end of the story just has Rodney buying "rude books with rude pictures in them". It can be found on the 1968 album The Cheerful Insanity Of Giles, Giles & Fripp, which includes, among otherthings, other Shaggy Dog Stories in the form of songs like "Call Tomorrow", "Digging My Lawn" and "The Elephant Song".
Rap group Atmosphere has a song called "Hair", in which rapper Slug details the story of a fan trying to seduce him at a bar. The song progresses through the night as Slug and the girl go back and forth, with the fan's advances eventually winning over Slug. They get into her car, and as they're driving to her place, the song ends "Her drunk ass turns to look at me and she says/You're so beautiful from the hair to the soul/I can't believe that I never met you before/It feels like I've been waiting for you me whole life/She missed the red light, we hit a pick-up truck and we both died.
This is followed up on a later album by a song called, appropriately enough, "Scalp". The narrator is asked by a shady friend to pick up a mysterious package at a warehouse and drop it off at another location. He gets into his car but has an internal struggle as to whether or not he should do such an obviously morally dubious thing. Deciding against his better judgement, he starts driving to the warehouse... "Pulled out on Lindale/Killed by a couple of drunks, broadside of my pick up truck"
"Billy The Mountain" by Frank Zappa, which details a destructive roadtrip of the titular mountain and his wife Ethel (a tree). One Studebacher Hoch tries to stops Billy, but when he threatens Ethel, Billy laughs, causing Hoch to fall to his doom, which ends with the moral of the story being "a mountain is something you don't want to fuck with".
Another Zappa example is the "Yellow Snow" suite from Apostrophe. The story starts out with Nanook the Eskimo getting into a fight with a fur-trapper, after which the two go to St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast to heal their wounds. The plot then suddenly shifts to the daily dealings of the restaurant's customers and chefs.
The Fiery Furnaces. Pick a song. Any song.
Special mention goes to "My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found" for being a literal shaggy dog story.
The Velvet Underground song "The Gift" is a long, detail-rich spoken-word story about a guy who mails himself in a crate to his ex-girlfriend. The ending is very sudden.
Tom Waits' spoken word piece "Missing My Son", which is apparently his telling of a well-traveled shaggy dog joke: Tom relates a long, involved story that starts with him getting in the checkout line at a grocery store and being convinced by a woman ahead of him, who thinks he looks like her late son, to tell her "Goodbye, mom" before she checks out. After he does so, he brings up his own small amount of groceries, and it turns out the woman stuck him with the bill, telling the cashier that her son was in line behind her and would pay for everything. The story climaxes with him running out of the store, seeing the woman just about to climb into her car, grabbing her leg, and pulling on it... just the way that he's pulling yours.
When the extended flashback in the strip Nine Chickweed Lane began, it was promoted as being the story of how Gran fell in love with her husband; it finished as being how marrying O'Malley was a consolation prize because her true love and Juliette's birth father had to return to Austria.
The Luann story with her latest Love Interest Quill seems to be ending up as one of these. After constant Will They or Won't They?, they finally decide to get romantic... and just then his phone rings with news that he has to move back to Australia. He leaves to pack, and decides not to even see her again to say goodbye.
In a bizarre invocation of the Fleeting Demographic Rule, WCW's Halloween Havoc 2000 pay-per-view featured a Sting vs. Jeff Jarrett match, with Jarrett dressed up in Sting face paint. Throughout the match, several fake versions of Sting interfered in the match (reminiscent of 1990's Halloween Havoc, when Sid Vicious fought Sting and was later attacked by a fake), and the real Sting easily handled all of them. One would expect there to be a big payoff from all the fake Sting madness, but the match ended with Jarrett whacking the real Sting with his guitar to win the match.
WWE one - John Cena made a shocking comeback to win the 2008 Royal Rumble just four months after an injury that was said to put him down for at least seven months to a year. He invoked his title match against Randy Orton (who was awarded the WWE Championship upon Cena's injury) at No Way Out instead of Wrestle Mania... and then won by DQ, wich meant he didn't get the title. Then he got another two title shots, and lost both of them before moving into another feud without ever getting any revenge on Orton.
The 1/21/13 episode of RAW held a "Beat the Clock Challenge," the winner of which would choose their own entry number in the upcoming Royal Rumble match. The winner was Dolph Ziggler, however when he goes to turn in his victory and choose his place as the last guy to enter, Vickie Guerrero informs him that he would only have his choice of entering the Rumble first or second, which function exactly the same except for how it goes into the record books. So it turns out that after three matches to determine the winner, the winner's prize is literally being given the worst possible entry in the Rumble.
The rules of the Royal Rumble state that a competitor is eliminated when both feet hit the floor. In 2012 Kofi Kingston walked on his hands to the steel steps and was able to reenter the match. In 2013 he leapt onto the back of another competitor and ended up on the announcers' table. He struggled to think how to get back to the ring and finally figured he could use a rolling chair. Only this time, Cody Rhodes eliminated him before he could get back in.
Gyorgy Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre: Death (called Necrotzar) announces the end of the world. People prepare for the final moment. At the end: nothing happens, except Death dies. Cue Epileptic Tree justifications.
Futurama. The Stable Time Loop has Farnsworth selling Planet Express and getting his crew killed - because Mom tossed in a Nice Hat sombrero. No matter what happens.
Arc Rise Fantasia has one happen to Paula and Luna, the We Challenge You! sidequest involved running around all over the world searching for hidden clues, at the end of the search, the whole thing was revealed to be a prank left behind by Zamuel meant for anyone who happens upon his clues.
The plot of the Tower Defense game Immortal Defense is a Shaggy Dog Story of truly epic proportions. At the end of the game, after nearly a hundred missions of defending your beleaguered home world against increasingly impossible odds, you finally learn that the enemy really did wipe out all life on your planet at the end of the second campaign, your character has gone insane, all the "transmissions" you've been receiving from the planet were in fact hallucinations, and you've spent the past million years defending a lifeless ball of rock.
The game's creator has said that some or all of the last campaign is a hallucination, so the enemy isn't really wasting ships or lives at that point (it also explains how so many of the unique boss enemies reappear).
Original The Longest Journey was this so much, it hurts: April goes on an epic quest, discovers that she is supposed to become the Physical God to Save Both Worlds, sees all her friends and acquaintances killed or maimed in process, screws up all her previous life... only to discover that she was, after all, only mistaken for The Chosen One and is, after all, not really needed anywhere. Of course, one could argue that she did save the Twin Worlds but...
The sequel Dreamfall The Longest Journey gives us a rare glimpse of how the protagonist of a shaggy dog story acts after their meaningless quest. April is understandably depressed and cynical. The series then doubles-down on the shaggy dog aspect by having another character be told throughout the entire game to SAVE APRIL RYAN, only to show up just in time to see April stabbed to death.
In Hellgate London, the humans are trying to kill Sydonai and expel all the demons from Earth. After you kill Sydonai, Murmur appears to tell you that he use you to kill Sydonai so he can get his position, and there's no indication that the demons are leaving just because Sydonai was killed.
To elaborate a bit, here's how the ending plays out - when you pick up Elika's body and slowly walk outside while carrying it, the credits start rolling. When you put Elika's body back down outside the temple, the credits stop. The official strategy guide for the game even states outright that this is a good place to stop if you don't want a bad ending. The player still controls the Prince, but there's nothing left to do aside from destroying the tree of life and freeing Ahriman - which the player must do themself, without any coaching from the game. Doing so leads to the downer ending where The Prince frees Ahriman and revives Elika, who responds to this by asking "Why?"
The epilogue expansion turns this around. The prince does not believe that Ahriman can be properly sealed anymore so the choice ultimately came down to fight Ahriman now with Elika and Ormazd's help, or fight him later without them. Elika still thinks he's an idiot for making that choice.
Prince Of Persia 1 allows you to play to the end after you run out of time, to find the Princess's room empty, with her either dead or married to Jaffar.
Diablo 1 did this. The protagonist finally defeated the Big Bad, only to become corrupted by it's Soulstone and become the new Diablo himself.
And this is because the protagonist believes that they are strong enough to fight the spirit of Diablo.
The plot of the Neo Geo shooter Cyber-Lip has the protagonists being sent to a space colony in order to destroy an insane supercomputer who controlled an army of androids supposed to protect humanity from marauding aliens. After destroying the eponymous computer, the ending shows that your Mission Control is actually an alien spy who sent you there to clear the way for an alien invasion.
In the first game, Guybrush spends a lot of time searching the potion which can destroy ghosts: but the potion is actually root beer, which can be found in the vending machine on the very island where the game begun!
There are only two things that are clear from the ending of Contact: The bad guys weren't really evil, and- despite deceiving both Terry and the player- the Professor isn't either. So... why all the drama?
Every entry in the Geneforge series, except possibly the last. Each game concludes its plotline with the player victorious- and usually on a hopeful note for the world at large, if you play right. But then the next game rolls around, and the world has gotten more crapsack, the bad guys more threatening, the good guys less sympathetic, and your achievements in the previous games are barely mentioned. An air of hopelessness and futility hangs over the proceedings by the end of Geneforge 3, and never goes away.
The ending of the obscure, bizarre PC-Engine game Legendary Axe II. You finally claim the throne from your ne'er-do-well brother, but shortly afterwards a topless assassin chick with purple hair and a scimitar the size of Shaq jumps out of literally NOWHERE and... it cuts to the credits! WHAT.
At the end of Ultimate Spider Man, you as Peter Parker/Spider-Man have to fight Eddie Brock/Venom to the finish to keep him from killing Bolivar Trask, the man who apparently had something to do with both of your parents' deaths and get your hands on the file which tells you the truth about the incident. During the cutscenes after beating Venom you don't actually get to find out what was in the file and Eddie tracks down and murders Trask in prison anyway. And then the game got retconned.
It's only a Shaggy Dog Story for Eddie, not Peter and the player as we do get to see what was in the file during the final cutscenes. Eddie's father took a sample of his and Richard Parker's (Peter's dad) research, then tried it on the plane, which transformed him into a Venom-like creature and caused the plane to crash. Also, Eddie cites his captivity by Trask and Trask only getting three years as his reasons for killing Trask.
In the brilliantly-written Time Hollow, the intrepid hero finds himself in a completely altered reality, with no memories whatsoever of how it happened and no idea how to set things right. All he has is a mystical pen with the ability to alter something that happened in the past, each time changing his present reality in drastic and unpredictable ways. Sometimes solving a problem creates an entirely different problem, which he must then seek out and fix. After countless twists, turns, harrowing confrontations, and narrow escapes, the pieces ever-so-gradually fall into place (with several pieces falling out in the meantime). It turns out that if the hero goes to a certain location to save a certain person's life, this will avert the long chain of events which caused time to go out of whack, and everything will return to normal. Of course, by then it should be readily apparent that had he just known that beforehand, he could've just done that right away and saved several weeks of trouble. Even better, once you finish the game, you can start a new one and do just that! Meet your enemy on the street, let him know that you're onto his scheme, and offer to set things right. He'll grudgingly give you one night to make good on your offer, which is more than enough. Go to the school, get the pen from your dad, save the girl, done. You even get a special ending for your trouble.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). A lot of levels (especially Sonic's) have absolutely no story relevance. Furthermore, the whole story feels like one for the player since in the end Elise pulls out a Cosmic Retcon.
Although actually, most of the characters, including the player, survive, allowing for the sequel Mask of the Betrayer. However, one of the endings of that is also a Shaggy Dog Story, as you send the curse back into the world, after you were given it in the first place for the sole purpose of getting rid of it. Fortunately, the other three endings do have varying degrees of meaning to them.
A better example is your trial for the Ember massacre. Whether you're found innocent or guilty, the losing side appeals to trial by combat. The developers themselves have admitted you shouldn't have to fight Lorne if you were found innocent.
Then there's the Third Crusade, depending on how invested you are in bringing down the Wall of the Faithless. Two of your companions are bound for it, and another was kicked out of one of the Realms' "heavens" for trying to go against it. Agree with Kaelyn, gather Akachi's old generals, storm the City of Judgment... and then Kelemvor shows up and goes "Nope."
Every ending of Covenant of the Plume is some variant of this. For summary purposes, the hero Wylfred has made a deal with the dark goddess Hel that will help him slay the other goddess Lenneth, who he blames for the death of his father. He's still just an ordinary guy—in no ending can he actually kill her. The degree to which the trope applies varies, however: ending B is straight-up shaggy dog, with absolutely nothing achieved. In ending A, Wylfred decides on his own to give up on vengeance, and kills a powerful servant of Hel. Hel herself remains untouchable, despite the revelation that she was responsible for all the suffering and death that occurred after the first fifth of the game. C fits into another trope...
In the A Crystalline Prophecy add-on scenario for Final Fantasy XI was a cross between a Shaggy Dog Story and All Just a Dream. You can get some actual decent gear rewards from the missions, but the story itself would have resolved in the same manner had you not been involved, not to mention that none of the NPCs involved remember anything that happened or mention it ever again.
Final Fantasy XII, the overarching plot of the game concerns rising tensions between two opposing Empires just waiting to be sparked into a war by a third party's intervention. Ashe, princess of a subjugated country under the Archadian Empire and the focus of the playable party's story, wants to acquire the power to challenge the Empire herself, or to weaken their power. But other characters are constantly warning her that revenge is a pointless goal and her efforts are only increasing the air of paranoia around the larger nations, and ultimately Ashe accepts that yes, revenge is meaningless. However this revelation has only come at the end of the game, and up until then the party ventures into dungeons looking for ancient relics of power, only to find them useless for various reasons and go looking for another one.
In The Lost Crown, you can have Nigel collect photos and recordings of various hauntings, as well as find the legendary Saxon crown. In the end, he not only has to return the crown, but all his hard-sought ghost evidence is sabotaged.
At the end of Nelson Tethers Puzzle Agentthe foreman you were trying to save is taken away screaming by the Hidden Ones. Tether's superior doesn't care about this in the least since the eraser factory is open again... despite the fact that the President (the factory was the main eraser supplier for the White House) didn't even notice the eraser shortage.
This is averted in the sequel where you go back and finally solve the mystery of the Little People and the astronaut
Episode 3 of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People starts with Strong Bad's game console breaking. He then sets out to form a "Battle of the Bands" to raise the repair money. After getting all the local bands, having to enter himself with two characters he hates, and barely managing to etch out a win, he spends all his prize money on the machine, only to find there was a piece of cheese wedged inside, and all he had to do was pull it out.
Episode 1 also qualifies: while Strong Bad literally achieves his goal of beating the snot out of Homestar, his briefly successful efforts to ruin Homestar's life - specifically, turning him into a publicly disgraced criminal fugitive without a girlfriend - are undone by Strong Bad himself when he has to kick Homestar out of his house.
At the end of the second episode of Hector Badge Of Carnage you find out that you had all the needed evidence from the beginning and all you needed to do was to wait a few hours for the forensic examination to finish. This annoys Hector since it means that he did not have to drug a restaurant full of people and burn down a church
Touhou Project has this in several storylines. Several times, the incidents Reimu and Marisa set out to stop are just some people they don't know temporarily doing something fairly harmless for personal reasons, and didn't bother to tell others, and the plot would have been resolved if nobody had ever tried to resolve the incident. Of course, since there's a climactic (if pointless) battle, and Defeat Means Friendship, the only real result of the story is "Reimu meets new friends".
Immaterial and Missing Power features a plot based around finding out who was causing mysterious parties to take place. When they find out it was just a Hard Drinking Party Girl oni looking for an excuse to get drunk, they just go ahead and have the parties anyway.
Imperishable Night involves exiled lunarians trying to hide the Earth in a bucket, but failing at making it work properly, so they were going to just abort the plan, anyway.
Phantasmagoria of Flower View revolves around a very large cast of playable characters, many of whom don't even care about the event or want to stop it, anyway, finding out that the incident is a natural occurrence and harmless to begin with.
Mountain of Faith's plot is a new shrine appearing on top of the youkai mountain and telling the Hakurei Shrine that they'd be absorbed. Not a major incident, but certainly cause for some concern. Except that when you get to the god of the shrine they turn out to be perfectly reasonable and the whole 'you will be assimilated' thing was her miko being over-eager.
Undefined Fantastic Object has youkai subordinates of a sealed priestess rescuing her... but she turns out to actually be fairly nice, and was sealed for wanting humans and youkai to get along. Since the modern era is one of peace to begin with and the totality of her plan is establishing a temple, the characters don't really mind letting her go free.
Ten Desires sees hordes of divine spirits appearing. It turns out that this is a side effect of someone powerful reviving... and she finishes doing so before the PC gets there.
Silent Sinner in Blue is probably the most egregious example, as the entire thing is a giant Gambit Pileup where one of the plotters decides at the last moment that she'd rather just get drunk than actually achieve her objective, and steals the lunarian's booze instead of their legendary treasures.
Silent Sinner in Blue is a Shaggy Dog Story. The overall story, Bougetsushou, is not. The full ending is in Cage in Lunatic Runagate, where it turns out that this was all a plot to put the fear of youkai (mostly Yukari, really) into Eirin, and the sake was a perfect choice for doing that.
Happens at the end of every chapter of Wacky Races NES game.
The first Doom. You fight through hordes of monsters, including literally going to Hell and back... only to find on your return to Earth that the aliens have already invaded. And their first victim was Daisy, your pet rabbit.
Played for laughs in Rex Nebular And The Cosmic Gender Bender. The titular protagonist is sent to a Gendercide-ridden planet to retrieve a valuable vase. Over the course of the game, he loses his ship, destroys a large city, causes the deaths of several people, kills a small dog, suffers through repeated bouts of gender-bending, and gets kicked in the nuts, not to mention averting several deaths by a hair along the way. In the end, he accidentally breaks the vase in front of his customer while arguing about payment. Which they had already agreed on, note.
By Word Of God (there would have been a sequel-TC, but it seems to be Vaporware), the Voinian story in Escape Velocity Override is this: all storylines happened, but where all the others had a big impact in some way, the Voinian storyline is effectively rendered moot by the UE storyline — you kill one of the UE's Admirals, but Vice Admiral D'Erlon is talented enough to pick up the slack, you bomb the Emalgha's mining planet into dust, but they still maintain enough production capacity to help the UE offensive, you devastate one of the UE's colonies, but it isn't important enough to cripple the UE... all culminating in the Voinian officer you report to making references to a superweapon project sure to bring the UE to its knees, but it is too important to let humans in on the project — Word Of God is said project is the Voinian Dreadnaught, which you destroy in the course of the UE story before it even reaches UE space.
Mass Effect 3: There are cases where the resolutions to various sub-plots either get overwritten by the impact of the ending or are completely ignored from having any real resolution explained.
Themost visible case involves The Geth War-The Destroy ending kills all Geth and any other synthetic intelligence in the universe.
The Expanded Cut DLC expanded upon the endings, making them better. However, it added a new ending that is a TRUE Shaggy Dog Story: The Reapers win, meaning that essentially all the crap Shepard goes through was for nothing. At least in this cycle.
In Kid Kool, the goal is to save the king, who is dying by finding the "seven wonder herbs." If the player doesn't finish the game quick enough, the king dies before you even GET to the end. Bonus points since the game's controls are so bad, that it's virtually unplayable.
The first Pikmin (and only the first game) probably counts in a way. After Olimar spends up to 30 days struggling to survive and get repair his ship, he returns to his home planet, only for the ship he spent the entire first game reconstructing to get sold for scrap less than 30 seconds into the opening cutscene, at which point he finds out that his company has gained a debt they can't possibly pay off. Then the it turns out the bottle cap Olimar brought back is considered massively valuable on this planet, at which point the president sends Olimar back to Earth without giving him a chance to do anything else.
In the Gameboy game Final Fantasy Legend I, the heroes live in a world that's a giant tower climbing to heaven. They decide one day they want to see what's at the very top. They spend the entire game climbing the tower, and eventually defeat the Creator at the gate to Heaven. Then they decide to just go back home.
While Mondo Medicals was a Shoot the Shaggy Dog story, the sequel, Mondo Agency, settles for just a plain old Shaggy Dog Story instead, with the player going on a mission to stop an assassination attempt on the president and ending up accidentally killing him themself and getting fired.
In the Modern Warfare mission "Heat", you fall back from the enemy's counteroffensive to a planned landing zone at a farm, only to find out that it's too heavily guarded by SAM sites, then you have to trek back down the hill you just surrendered to the enemy to reach the new LZ.
In Fallout, the whole Great War, brought by a lack of ressources, turned out to be this. A few weeks before the nuclear bombs fell the Big Mountain research institute had developed matter replicators that would have made lack of ressources a non-issue.
Bioforge: Not at the end, but late in the game, once the hero finally learns his past identity, he concludes that it doesn't matter, as - by this point - he can never be that person again.
In retrospect, Might & Magic VIII moves towards this. You save the world... which is then destroyed for unrelated reasons a couple of years later (likely as little as one or two).
The plot of Dragon Age II might qualify, as Hawke never instigates any events, only reacts to them. Even saving the city from the qunari doesn't really count, as the rest of the Free Marches would have stepped in soon. Regardless of whether Hawke sides with the mages or templars—and that comes down to only one decision—you can be as pro-mage as you want in the first three acts and still join the templars, the ending is still the same: Hawke on the run, Meredith and Orsino dead, war between mages and the Chantry.
In The Old Republic, the Imperial storyline on Taris (a planet which was basically wiped out by orbital bombardment in Knights of the Old Republic) apparently happens sometime after the Republic storyline- but in the same place. Which means that after your Jedi character single-handedly saves the Taris restoration project, you go back with a Sith character and learn that everything you did has been completely undone. Notably, Republic characters have the option of sending a Jedi to teach a group of Force-sensitive rakghouls how to use their abilities, nicely subverting the rakghouls Always Chaotic Evil characterization in the process. Imperial characters can go to this same group, defeat the Jedi, and convince the rakghouls to go straight back to evil.
The ending of the seven year long webcomic Bob and George shows that pretty much the whole comic was a plot by the title characters' mother to make George willing to kill Bob (his super villain brother) if necessary and for Bob to be aware of it. In a subversion or at least avoidance of Shoot the Shaggy Dog, however, a comment during the finale prevented the deaths of just about everyone in the Cataclysm.
In GastroPhobia, almost all the chapters end with the plot getting humorously undermined.
Not quite. There are indeed a number of Shaggy Dog Stories in 8-Bit Theater, such as the Chocobo Breeding arc and the random town arc from right before the Orb of Air quest, but most of the story arcs don't fit the definition. They tend to end in anticlimaxes, but the anticlimaxes themselves do further the plot.
Turns out the entire plot is one of these; while the Light Warriors are arguing with each other yet again, the Big Bad is killed by a minor character using a strategy Black Mage had scoffed at in one of the series' first comics. After nine years and 1200 comics, the main characters end up basically where they started off without really accomplishing anything outside of causing problems wherever they went. According to the author, this was his plan from the very beginning.
The first season of Ansem Retort ended like this. After a demon invasion, fighting through FOX headquarters, one character fighting Ansem, another getting god-like powers, and using said powers to summon a dragon with a nuke on its back, the president of FOX was defeated by a stab in the back. Of course, this is lampshaded:
Marluxia: That's it? Axel stabs the guy and we all go home?
Zexion: Screw you. They're dead, we're alive. We win, they lose, end of story. Who's up for Chinese food?
One story arc in Blip. K is speaking with Bang over the cell phone, and she hears as he gets attacked by someone with a knife. Fearing the worst, K enlists a friend and drives from San Francisco to Los Angeles to make sure Bang doesn't bleed to death in a parking garage. They can't find him at the parking garage, nor at any hospitals. When they finally check Bang's apartment, they discover that he's completely okay, and they needn't have worried about him at all.
Susan's uniform crusade was cut short when The principal revoked the dress code after parents complained about having to wash them daily.
The race through Swedekia in the Temple of Swedish Furniture arc also qualifies. The last TV stand that Elliot and Noah were racing for had already been purchased the previous day, and the store's online inventory didn't register that piece of information.
Some PvP's storylines in the last couple of years have been massive buildups leading to either tremendous jokes or epic storylines, only to fizzle out on a short, mediocre anticlimax.
Much of the humor in Pictures For Sad Children revolves around awkward, drawn out, just uncomfortable (and usually surreal) conversation with no conventional punchline at the end.
Irregular Webcomic!: In the Fantasy arc, in strip 516, the heroes receive their epic quest to find the Ruby of Dwarven Might. About 2500 strips later, they finally locate the Ruby: one of them had been wearing it around his neck since the beginning of the quest, completely unaware of its true origin.
The Electric Wonderland comic "Day of Fools" has Trawn race to warn Aerynn of a scan for hackers and magicians. She fails to warn Aerynn in time, but it turns out the scans never detect Aerynn's brand of magic.
Brawl in the Family has comic number 260. This has Princess Peach actually do something instead of just sitting around in a game but... see it for yourself.
Frequently used in Mountain Time, but most notable in one instance that took 12 episodes to reach its shaggy conclusion — notable because Mountain Time stories hardly ever last more than one episode.
DM of the Rings, a webcomic running the plot of The Lord of the Rings, is resolved in exactly the same way as the book... Except Frodo and Sam aren't Player Characters at that point. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are, and are essentially railroaded into distracting the Big Bad and doing nothing of value while an NPC wins the campaign by succeeding at a Will Save. The players are underwhelmed.
This strip of Something of that Ilk even references the trope in its title.
The Story Guy videos from LoadingReadyRun are based almost entirely around this trope. Installments such as Gilled Cheese and Rare Book have the Story Guy go on at great length for what is eventually revealed to be no point at all.
This story is the best and most perfect incarnation of this trope. Be warned, it's a very long read.
In Survival of the Fittest, this occurs more often than not, due to the brutal nature of the game. Entire arcs can be left either unresolved or rendered entirely meaningless when someone integral simply dies.
This is more or less Simon Wood's entire arc is one of these. Poor guy couldn't even pull a Heroic Sacrifice off right.
Alex Rasputin; killed two people in v4, and was on the path to redemption. Suddenly, Liz Polanski destroys a camera, and Danya blows his collar.
In his review of Taylor Swift's Fifteen, Todd In The Shadows tells the story of a heart wrenching break up from his past. He then destroys the mood of the story by revealing that it never happened to him but was instead the plot of an episode of Saved By The Bell.
The Simpsons provides an example is in "The Day The Violence Died", in which the original creator of Itchy and Scratchy sues the animation studio that stole it from him. Bart discovers the key piece of evidence that wins the trial and bankrupts the studio, which - the kids realize too late - means the end of Itchy and Scratchy cartoons. Bart and Lisa desperately try to solve this new problem, and after nearly giving up (and starting on trying to get Apu out of jail), Lisa finally discovers something in a legal textbook, and the kids rush to the studio only to find everyone celebrating the return of Itchy and Scratchy, the release of Apu, and Krusty's reunion with his estranged wife, all thanks to Lester and Eliza, two kids who strongly resemble Tracy Ullman-era Bart and Lisa.
Marge: You kids must be so happy, your cute little cartoon friends are back on the air! Lisa: Yes, well, technically everything worked out alright, but... Marge: But? Bart: Well, I wasn't the one who solved the problem, and neither was Lisa. There's something unsettling about that.
Another episode parodied the phrase: Moe comments on how tired he is of hearing the barflies' shaggy dog stories, which prompts an offended Barney to leave the bar - a literal shaggy dog in tow.
Another episode, "Missionary: Impossible", started with Homer attempting to make a bogus $10,000 pledge to PBS anonymously, being found out, being chased by an angry mob when he can't pay, begging Reverend Lovejoy for salvation, and getting sent to a remote island mission for his trouble. The rest of the episode focuses on his hambrained attempts to bring religion, and later gambling, to the natives (with a minor subplot involving Bart taking over as man of the house). It ends with Homer accidentally triggering a natural disaster, and just as he's about to plunge into lava... the episode cuts to a donation request, ending with Bart (out of character) pledging $10,000 and saving the network. In short, the whole zany misadventure was nothing more than an elaborate Take That at (take your pick) PBS/Fox's programming/Rupert Murdoch/alt.tv.simpsons, yes, friggin' again/anyone who takes this show too seriously.
This is the current mode of practice of the strike-busters from "Last Exit to Springfield":
Grampa: We can't bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell stories that don't go anywhere. Like the time I caught the ferry to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for m'shoe. So I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt. Which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. Gimme five bees for a quarter, you'd say. Now where was I... oh yeah. The important thing was that I had an onion tied to my belt, which was the style at the time. You couldn't get white onions, because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones...
The GI Joe episode "The Viper is Coming" featured the Joes discovering several COBRA bases and plots around the world based on cryptic phone calls from someone calling himself "The Viper". Characters on both sides try to discover who the Viper is as he seems to predict COBRA's every move. Finally, the Viper's latest call warns them that: "This is the Viper. I be there at noon today. Be ready." The Joes call in reinforcements and barricade the house where the calls were being received. Right at 12 PM, an old immigrant in overalls shows up. In a heavily accented voice, he declares: "I'm the Viper. I've come to vipe your vindows."
An episode of Animaniacs which spoofed the Three Musketeers used the same Vindow Viper gag.
In the episode "The Spy Who Rooked Me", a team of Joes plus a secret agent try to deliver a vial of deadly nerve gas to a waste disposal plant while fending off COBRA forces trying to steal it. In the end, the vial breaks, but there's nothing in it but soda. The agent explains that they were a Decoy Getaway to distract the bad guys so the real vial could be delivered. While their mission was important, it certainly felt like a shaggy dog story to the Joes, who had not been told about this plan and were very angry about having to go through all that trouble.
The Fairly Odd Parents, "Odd, Odd West": Timmy steals a deed to a ghost town "Dimmesdale Flats" from "Vicky the Kid" in order to save the town (a childhood memory of Dad's) from bulldozing, and gives it to his dad. The town still gets torn down anyway after Dad then sells it to the bulldozing people for $8, and Dad tells Timmy that he's realized that his childhood sucked (after spending a day in the local jail).
Spongebob Squarepants, after 10 minutes' screen time of "Procrastination", frantically writes a 800-word report for Mrs. Puff's driving school on what not to do at a red light and runs off to school to send it in. He encounters Mrs. Puff who tells him two things: There's a field trip to a red light today, and the assignment has been canceled. Probably a good thing, since the resulting report (filled with things like "karate chopping the TV" and "shooting the breeze with the mailman") would probably get him an F if it actually mattered.
In another, Spongebob and Patrick start their own business selling chocolate door-to-door, and one customer in particular goes crazy on them, yelling "CHOCOLATE!" over and over, and chases them throughout the episode. The two otherwise have no luck getting rid of the chocolate. By the end, the customer finally has them where they can't escape, and then politely says, "I'd like to buy all your chocolate."
Actually, Spongebob and Patrick did succeed in selling most of their chocolate by "stretching the truth". Unfortunately, a Con Man who previously tricked them into buying too many bags for their bars, deceived them into buying even more while taking all the money they had made. Fortunately, that guy was the only person they hadn't sold any chocolate too.
"Good Ol' Whatshisname": Mr. Krabs tells SpongeBob and Squidward that he'll give a prize to whoever finds out the name of every customer at the Krusty Krab. Squidward, thinking the prize is a tropical cruise, goes out of his way to win the contest, even winding up in jail in the process— only to find out that the prize was just a brochure for a tropical cruise.
Even better is that the titular character shouts his name at Squidward right from the start. however, his name turns out to be Whatsittooya, which is exactly what it sounds like. Didn't help matters that he literally shouted this in Squidward's face, so the latter never realized this until he stole Whatsittooya's wallet.
'I'm With Stupid', there, Spongebob pretends to be dumb so Patrick will look good in front of his parents. However, Patrick takes it too far and believes Spongebob really is dumb. He, and his parents, then start to openly mock Spongebob, leading to him turning insane and leaving Patrick's house in frustration. Then, it is eventually revealed that those two weren't even Patrick's real parents, the real ones are in Squidward's house, asking him where Patrick is.
The Sealab 2021 episode "7211" is pretty much an old Sealab 2020 episode redubbed exactly like before, with the crew helping repair the nuclear submarine Aquarius, captained by a man who held a grudge against Murphy. Sounds odd for an Adult Swim comedy, huh? Well, until the end, where the only joke of the episode has Aquarius ram into Sealab, blowing it up, and making all the work the crew did pointless... as well as stranding them at the bottom of the sea.
The South Park episode "Stanley's Cup" involved Stan coaching a pee-wee hockey team. One of the kids has cancer, and requires a victory for the team to recover. At the end, after grueling training, during which they believe they will be put against another pee-wee team, the team is instead pitted against the Detroit Red Wings and beaten horribly, the kid with cancer dies, and the episode ends with their opponents celebrating as if the episode had been about them, with one of them (for example) being congratulated by his hard-ass father.
This is made even more frustrating when compared to the earlier episode "The Losing Edge", which not only was already a subversion of these movies (wrapped in an inversion), but it was much more clever and satirical about it.
In "Douche vs. Turd", Stan doesn't believe his vote between a Turd Sandwich and a Giant Douche for school mascot is important, and in the course of being shown the importance of voting he is exiled from the town, hunted down by P. Diddy and his posse (Vote or Die and all that), and tries to live with PETA until Diddy and his boys shoot them all. When he goes back and finally casts his vote, it turns out the result would've been the same if he had voted or not. He proclaims his vote didn't matter, and gets a speech about how it still was important. The news of PETA's death then reaches town and the old mascot is brought back instead, with the punchline "Ok, now your vote doesn't matter."
Made brilliant by the fact that it was actually Stan's refusal to vote that really mattered. Might count as a Broken Aesop.
Even more metaphorical, as in the end it's the actions of a single person (Stan or P. Diddy, depending on how you look at it) that renders the votes of everyone else null and void.
"Willzyx" a parody of "Free Willy" in which the boys set out to free Willzyx, a captive killer whale, from an amusement park and send it back "home" - believing the Willzyx to be a sentient creature from the moon. They are completely unaware that this was just a prank being pulled by two park employees. The boys subsequently spend the entire episode going through extraordinary lengths to free Willzyx and launch him to the moon. Naturally of course, Willzyx ends up suffocating and dying on the moon. The boys go home happy, never learning that - far from rescuing the killer whale - they've ended up killing it instead.
A Looney Tunes short featuring Porky Pig had him being "hounded" by a stray dog throughout the picture. When he finally gets home, he sees a news report asking for the return of the dog and offering a big reward. Porky gets the dog (who reversed himself from jumping over a bridge) and head over to the mansion where the owner lives. The dog replaces himself with a toy dog while Porky isn't watching, and Porky is told that the dog is not the owner's, additionally saying that the missing dog was a talking dog. As Porky ponders over this revelation, the lost dog, who up to this moment didn't talk, lifts up Porky with his arms and says, "Well buddy, you've got yourself a dog!"
The third Futurama movie had this when the entire place shifts into a fantasy world. The villains win and it's back to normal with NOTHING coming out of it.
Of course, one might argue that the Professor gained the important knowledge of who his son actually was, something he learned in the fantasy world rather than the real world, although this was never really made perfectly explicit.
Also, Bender's plotline in "The Prisoner of Benda". He attempts to steal Robo-Hungarian Emperor Nikolai's jewels while in possession of his body, and once everything is resolved...
Nikolai: So long, filthy commoners. Bender:¡Adios! And I'm left with the real jewels safely inside... (Looks inside his chest cabinet.)his compartment! All right, I'll need accomplices.
The Weekenders, "Tickets": Tino spends the entire story agonizing on who (out of the other three) to take to a concert after winning two tickets for it. After he makes his choice, the two find out that the two slips they're holding... can be redeemed for 4 tickets, and thus all four get to enjoy it. Moral of the day: Always read the fine print! (BTW, Carver got picked.)
In "Party Planning": The gang prepares for a party by taking dance lessons. "Lateral gravity" takes effect at the actual party, meaning that the boys and girls stay on opposite sides of the room the whole night and those lessons were a waste of time. At the end Tino notes how they walked away from this party with no humiliation.
Codename Kids Next Door: "Operation ROBBERS" sees Numbuh 5 rounding up a bunch of kids who are robbing them of their homework, but then Numbuh 4 (fighting another robber) crashes into the bus they're on making her heroics meaningless as the robbers escape.
Although, at the end of the episode, the villains turn in everyone else's homework in an attempt to get on the teacher's good side. (Since everyone else didn't even turn any in, but they turned in 20 something copies.) The teacher reads one paper, NUMBUH 4'S and the worst in the class, and goes ballistic, telling them she'd rather they turned in nothing at all. So in the end, the villains lose, even though the heroes' actions had nothing to do with it. At least directly.
Ben 10 gets one in an episode where Ben breaks Gwen's computer and enters a wrestling competition to get the money to replace it. At the end of the episode, he discovers that the computer was never broken. Gwen had put a security system on the computer so it only looked like the computer was completely dead. Result? An utterly wasted episode.
Also, the episode where Grandpa sets out to find the Sword of Ekchuah, in the Mayan temple. They fight off Enoch and his forces constantly through the episode and even a Mayan guardian alien type thing. At the end, however the sword turns to dust as soon as Enoch touches it. What a waste of time.
That part is lampshaded by Max who jokes that "that's what happens when your weapon is 5,000 years old".
An episode of My Gym Partners A Monkey had Adam and Jake joining the hall monitors. It turns out that the force is TOTALLY corrupt, useless and tries to get rid of Adam when he tries to stop the corruption. So Adam goes and tries to get rid of their Dirtnuts by bribing the truck driver not to get rid of them to stop them from being corrupt. However, the force has Dirtarts and then Adam is blamed for the corruption, since the bribe was caught on video so the force gets away scot free.
Used beautifully in the "Winter" part of the Samurai Jack episode "Four Seasons of Death". A tribe of yeti-like humanoids harvest a giant crystal from a cave and forge it into an Infinity+1 Sword. They do battle with each other for the right to wield it, the most powerful of their tribe coming out on top. He stands on a mountain pass, bearing the mighty sword, and awaits Jack's arrival. Jack arrives... and defeats the yeti-man with one hit, shattering the sword. He walks on, oblivious to the effort the tribe had expended in trying to stop him.
Done again in an episode focusing on a group of Bounty Hunters that gather and discuss their plans and reasons for going after Jack. When the moment of truth arrives, Jack defeats them all in the time it takes for a drop of melting ice to fall.
Done yet again in "The Tale of X-9", where the entire episode is seen through the eyes of X-9, a retiredrobot assassin with an emotion chip that led it to question the morality of its actions on Aku's behalf. One day after a job X-9 found a stray dog, adopted it, and stopped working for Aku. That is, until the day when X-9's creator told Aku about the dog and the chip. Aku promptly kidnapped the dog, saying that X-9 would get it back if he managed to kill Jack. Jack wins. X-9's last words are asking Jack to take care of Lulu (the dog). The episode ends there.
One episode of Kim Possible features Kim, Monique, and Ron on a mission to recover some top secret clothing designs. When they finally return the designs, at the end of the episode, the designer says he changed his mind.
Another episode features Ron going on a global trek to find an overdue library book he borrowed from Kim. In the process, he trounces the plans (and hideouts) of several of Kim's major enemies...only to eventually discover the book was in his backpack the whole damn time.
Yet another episode involves Drakken attempting to take over the world with the stolen "Energy Ray X". Unfortunately, Kim has a severe cold, so she can't stop Drakken. So Ron sets out to stop Drakken. But then Drakken comes down with a cold. So he sends Shego...who also catches a cold. So she sends out Duff Killigan...and I think you know where this is going. Eventually, Kim decides to take some cold medicine and drag herself out of bed to try and bring back the stolen Ray X. In the resulting fight with Shego (who tried to shoot Kim with Ray X out of desperation), Ray X is destroyed. Kim and Ron return to the scientists who had originally built Ray X, asking it actually did, and why it was so important to get it back. The scientists immediately reply, "The ray was a cure for the common cold." Ron then lampshades pretty much the entire episode.
Ron: I hate irony.
The Tale Spin episode "A Spy in the Ointment" invokes this trope twice in the same story. Baloo and Becky meet Jack Case, a fellow who claims to be a spy, and who has to get to Thembria (a fictional Soviet Union analogue country) as soon as possible. Baloo isn't convinced Case is telling the truth, but Becky insists he's a spy because "look at his trench coat! That's a SPY'S trench coat!" After risking their lives to get him to Thembria, our heroes discover Case is not a spy, but a mailman, assigned to deliver a package to the Chairman. But it turns out said package had been switched by mistake; instead of a gift of rare expensive fishing worms, the Chairman is going to get a frilly jewelry box. Fearing an international incident, Baloo and Becky reluctantly risk their lives again to try and switch the boxes, only to fail in the end. But it turns out the Chairman mistook the jewelry box for an antique tackle box, so no harm was done in the end; and as Baloo points out, even less harm would have been done if they had never gotten involved in the first place.
One example is the Family Guy episode "The Juice is Loose", where Peter meets OJ Simpson, and, at first, attempts to prove that he murdered his wife and Ron Brown. But then, when he finds out, he despairs that he is innocent and can never get away from the accusations. So Peter lets him stay at his house, but the family is suspicious of him. The entire episode is set up as a twist on the normal narrative about OJ, with him actually being innocent. At the end, the town comes in an angry mob to kick him out, but then O.J. makes an emotional speech about how nobody is perfect, and we shouldn't judge people for making a few mistakes. It works, and the whole town is on his side. But then, he stabs and kills three people for absolutely no reason, and runs off. After which, Peter just nonchalantly says "Oh, I guess he did do it.", and the episode just ends.
The "Stewie Kills Lois"/"Lois Kills Stewie" two-parter, which turns out to just be a simulation Stewie was operating to find out what would happen if he killed Lois and took over the world, lampshades it.
"Partial Terms of Endearment" was about Lois becoming a surrogate mother for her college girlfriend and her husband, but after becoming pregnant, said girlfriend and husband end up dying, leaving her and Peter with the conflict over having an abortion. The final scene of the episode is made as though it's about to introduce a "new member of the Griffin family", only for Peter to break the fourth wall and say, "We hadthe abortion," and the episode ends on that abrupt note.
Transformers Animated episode "Decepticon Air" focuses on the Elite Guard returning to Cybertron with the Decepticon Prisoners. Sentinel Prime orders Jazz to fly at full speed through an ion storm in order to get there faster. What results is Swindle, who was previously Mode Locked, becoming free, who frees the other Decepticons, who take over the ship. This leads to Optimus Prime, answering Sentinel's distress signal, transwarping onto the ship as the Autobots and Decepticons fight which leads Lugnut being knocked away and Swindle escaping with parts to the Elite Guard's ship. The episode ends with Optimus being dropped off back on Earth (Implying that it took them even longer to get back), and Sentinel's coronation as Magnus on Cybertron. What makes this a Shaggy Dog Story is that not only did taking the shortcut to get back to Cyberton become meaningless, but they're now missing two Decepticons.
The Penguins Of Madagascar, "Crown Fools": Skipper accidentally bumps King Julien's crown into a sewer and has to go in after it. After having to fight a giant rat for it, Skipper finally returns the crown to Julien, who discards it for being smudged and then asks for his spare crown.
Marlene, who had spent all that time trying to find a replacement crown, was not amused and ended up chasing Julien with a crowbar she borrowed from Rico.
One of them in particular, "Super Birthday Snake", plays it straight while also inverting it. Meatwad gets a giant snake as a birthday present from Shake. Meatwad wanted a bunny, so Shake tells him to staple some ears on to it. This understandably pisses off the snake, who then eats Meatwad. Shake laughs it off, then gets promptly eaten by the snake as well. Frylock tries to rescue them by blowing up the snake with his laser eyes, which kills the snake along with Shake and Meatwad. This causes him to spiral into a life of debauchery and murder, killing their neighbor Carl in the process. Fed up with himself, Frylock begins to burn his house down around him, only to be interrupted by the zombies of Shake, Meatwad, and Carl. The scene then pulls out to show Meatwad in a virtual reality simulation Frylock had designed to show him that he wasn't ready to have a pet bunny.
Meatwad: Frylock is that what you think? Frylock: Well, it's what the computer and I both know. Meatwad: Well then know this! (cocks shotgun and blows Frylock's brains out)
Meatwad then eats Frylock's brains until the scene pulls out to reveal that Frylock is in a virtual reality simulation designed by Meatwad to prove that Frylock "Doesn't know what I like, and what I don't like, and you better get me that bunny or I'm gonna eat your brain!
Goof Troop has multiple, with either Pete (his fault) or PJ (not his fault) as the butt:
Pete is given money to pay a contractor to renovate a lakeside house his wife Peg was selling. Pete spends it on a harpoon gun for his boat instead, kicks out the contractor and tries to fix the house himself with help from Goofy. Naturally, the house gets destroyed, and Pete has to buy an identical house from across the lake - which belongs to the contractor, who asks for Pete's boat in return. After going to all the trouble of replacing the house before Peg arrives with the buyers, the sale is made, only for the new owners to demolish it immediately afterwards because they were only interested in the land. Cue Pete having a nervous breakdown.
Yet another episode involves Pete stealing Goofy's mortgage money. When Peg lets Goofy stay at their house as a result, Pete tries to give back the money only to find it lost. He spends the rest of the episode trying to pay Goofy back with his money with Goofy refusing out of decency. When he finally gets Goofy to take the money, PJ and Pistol earn that exact same amount in their work program Pete established. Pete pays them the money, and they give it to Goofy. Then Goofy finds his actual mortgage money in a device that's been around the whole time. Cue Pete having another nervous breakdown.
Pete tells PJ he has to pass his math test or else he'll be Grounded Forever. Despite spending all night studying, PJ is convinced he failed anyway. Then Max convinces him to play sick so he can get one last day of freedom in. Because Pete is so strict, Max has to make him look very sick, which alarms Pete to such an extent he takes PJ to the hospital. After he escapes, he and Max run around town as quickly as possible doing all the things on his list. Then Peg opens his report card and reveals he got an A. PJ collapses.
Max tells PJ, even more reluctant than usual, to tell his dad to take them fishing. He is talked into it and does, in order to find the treasure of the lake. The treasure of the lake turns out to be entirely worthless, so PJ just went through the torture he considers worse than eating glass for no reason. And to top it all off, Goofy had already found the quarter Max needed, though the audience knew this, which was why he wanted to find the lake treasure in the first place. PJ, again, collapses.
PJ, less reluctant this time, is convinced by Max to ditch his ping-pong ball based science project in favor of a science fiction video. Pete says no, but Max finds a loophole. He plugs into the machine and accidentally plugs into a satellite dish instead of the videotape, convincing everyone in town of an alien invasion of aliens who look like Goofy in his mime costume. After Max and PJ manage to free Goofy and fix the alien problem, PJ just decides he's going to start his first project over.
In an episode of I Am Weasel, Weasel and I.R. are astronauts terraforming a planet to prepare it for colonization. Their robot goes on strike, so they spend the next four years terraforming the place and building a huge futuristic colony. When the colonists arrive... they are revealed to be a termite colony who immediately proceed to trash the place. Weasel then breaks down crying.
One episode of Hey Arnold has Arnold accidentally dropping his grandpa's favorite pocket watch down the sewer where it is stolen by a crazy man called "The Sewer King". After a battle of chess and a long chase sequence through the sewer, Arnold finally returns home, exhausted and filthy, with his Grandpa's pocket watch. Grandpa then accidentally drops the watch into the garbage disposal and it falls down the drain (how? God knows). He then just grabs another pocket watch... from a drawer full of identical pocket watches. Cue Arnold taking a long depressing walk outside, as well as fetching a quart of milk for Grandpa.
The Jimmy Two Shoes episode Cerbee in Love has Jimmy trying to set Cerbee up with Jez's dog. At the very end, he finally gets them together. They each lick each other once before losing interest.
Wakfu's first season revolves around a certain troubled time mage trying to turn time back to prevent the whole arc from happening. He succeeds, though only managing to turn time back 20 minutes out of the about 200 years.
This happens a few times in Dave The Barbarian. One in particular is where a pair of nomads put a curse on the hero's town where it would get hotter and hotter all because the eponymous hero asked an innocent question about their merchandise. Dave was then forced by his older sister to go a journey to find the artifact that could break the curse. After a perilous quest where the heroes are captured by a gang of dragons and their own pet temporarily turns against them, they return with the artifact only to find that the sister who made them go on the quest in the first place had managed to convince the nomads to remove the curse.
To make matters worse, Dave, upset that he went through all that hell for nothing, accidentally smashed the nomads again with a door and they angrily cast another curse which caused the episode to end.
One that happens to be both serious and comedic is Total Drama World Tour. This third season ends with Heather (more or less the good guy in this scenario) defeating Alejandro and winning the prize of $1 Million. Good so far, but then the volcano where the final challenge ended begins to erupt, Ezekiel (now a feral shell of his old self) tackles Heather and grabs the briefcase with the prize money as he and it both fall and sink into the volcano. The ultimate outcome? Everyone has to swim out of Hawaii, Heather loses the million, Ezekiel shoots down like a comet from the volcano (sinking Chris and Chef's boat in the process), and Alejandro, who got caught in the ensuing lava flow, has to be put in a protective suit in an homage to Darth Vader. Well, see you again next season!
The Venture Brothers has a lot of these, usually disguised as actual plots. For example, in one first-season episode, Rusty and Brock are kidnapped, and Hank and Dean seek out their dead grandfather's Retired Badass team to rescue them. In the end, despite all the cool things they do, they get beaten up by Brock as he's breaking himself out. In this case, it's simply to highlight the Crapsack World.
Two Stupid Dogs loves this. One episode has them cross the Grand Canyon to find someone who called them jerks (actually it was just their echo). The episode ends with them finally reaching the other side, only to hear the echo coming from their previous location, prompting them to go back. Another episode has Little Dog travel around the world, looking for his lucky bone, even though it's painfully obvious it's on his head. When he finally finds it by accident, he puts it somewhere he'll be sure to remember: back on his head (something he would allegedly never do, because it's so stupid). Then there was an episode where he wants change for a public phone, just because the voice in the phone says so. After a long chain of deals, that even involves Big Dog getting arrested for attempted bank robbery, he finally acquires a quarter, inserts it in the phone, and uses it to call his partner, who is now in the prison. Also possibly worth noting is that Big Dog is, in fact, quite shaggy.
The Invader Zim episode "Zim Eats Waffles" is all about Dib trying to catch Zim working on his Evil Plan using a hidden spy camera... But he has no recording capability and whenever anyone else looks at the camera image, Zim is busy eating waffles and doesn't do anything that would expose him. In the end, Dib fixes the recording drives only in time for the camera to get ruined and his computer lab wrecked by an army of Cyborg Zombies Zim unwittingly released earlier in the episode (during a time nobody else was watching, of course).
In "Germs", Zim asks the "burgerlord" why McMeatie's food is completely germ-free. The clerk gives a lengthy explanation about the government engineering "Space Meat" to feed astronauts on long voyages. Not having access to that technology, McMeaty's food is made of napkins.
One episode of The Powerpuff Girls features the heroines trying to solve riddles quickly, lest the one known as HIM make the Professor pay! At the end of the episode, they finally reach the location of the last answer, a Greasy Spoon style restaurant. Oh no! They're in the wrong restaurant, they want the one across the street! By the time they get there they are seconds too late, and the Professor MUST PAY... full price on the breakfast cooked by HIM because they bet the Professor could eat for free if the girls solved the riddles on time. The Professor agrees to pay, but says he'll never come back because the food was lousy anyway, and HIM chases after him, trying to win back his patronage. At the end, the girls are left blinking in confusion and the narrator cannot even say his catchphrase, and ends with a "so, um... yeah."
A recurring motif in the children's series Towser, with each episode building up to a blunt final line voiced by Roy Kinnear, delivered totally deadpan and highlighting a strange pointlessness about everything that had just happened. Most obvious is when Towser attempts to give his friend Sadie the moon for her birthday, but resorts to fooling with a white balloon. Thinking himself terribly clever, he leaves, the episode ends with Sadie explaining to a friend, 'It's a balloon. Towser seems to think it's the moon...'.
In "Slam Dunk", Mordecai and Rigby wage an escalating basketball war with Muscle Man and High-five Ghost for the rights to use the computer so that Mordecai can make a website for Margaret. After a climactic duel for control of the basketball in space leading to a from-orbit slam dunk for the final point, Mordecai approaches Margaret... and finds out Margaret already had it made, since she asked two months ago
Basketball coach: Time goes faster in space.
In "A Bunch of Baby Ducks", Mordecai and Rigby have to find someone to whom they can give a bunch of baby ducks that have been following them around so that they can clean the park fountain. In the end, they fight a climactic battle with a duck poacher to help reclaim the ducklings with the help of their rightful mother. As they reported to Benson, the good news was they got rid of the baby ducks, but the bad news was that the fountain was destroyed
The Storm Hawks episode "Thunder Run" has the gang rush to save their friend after he pissed off a mob boss. The mob boss asks for "Rosen Yoga" and gives the team until sundown to retrieve it. They do, and "Rosen Yoga" turned out to be Frozen Yogurt (the Mob Boss has an incredibly bad lisp that makes him mispronounce things). What really makes this a shaggy story is that the mob boss later got impressed with Junko's eating habits, and filled up on food after an eating contest before the Storm Hawks got back, not to mention giving his respects to his new-found friend. Piper was understandably pissed after learning all of this.
In one episode of Doug, Patti invites Doug to a dinner party she'll be hosting that weekend, with liver and onions on the menu. Doug is horrified, but doesn't dare back out for fear of offending her, so he spends the entire week trying and failing to make himself eat liver and onions so he'll at least know what he's in for. When he finally forces himself to try it at a restaurant on the night before the party, he realizes that it isn't anywhere near as bad as he thought it'd be. The next evening, he arrives at Patti's house, ready to chow down, only for her to tell him that she was joking about the liver and onions; everyone's eating hot dogs instead.
Another episode has Doug and Skeeter playing with a Frisbee Expy that belonged to Patti (they continued playing after she left for practice), and lost it over a fence with a big nasty bulldog behind it. After going through all this trouble to rescue the Frisbee, they finally end up just going in for it and getting attacked by the dog. Later, they return the now-beat-up Frisbee to Patti and apologized for its poor condition... only for her to reveal that she has a whole box of them because her dad gets them free from work.
In an episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, similar to the tickets episode of The Weekenders, Twilight Sparkle is given two tickets to a major event. Naturally, her friends fight over who will get the second ticket, giving justifiable reasons to attend (and resorting to bribery). After enduring an entire day of her friends' bribery attempts, being chased by others who wanted the tickets as well and not having anything to eat, Twilight's friends apologize for their actions and she learns the lesson of sharing of wealth amongst friends while not having enough to share. She returns the tickets to her mentor. Said mentor immediately sends her enough tickets afterwards for all her friends, stating that she could have asked.
In "Just for Sidekicks", Spike eats all the gems he was hoping to use in a cake, then seeks to earn more gems by offering to petsit for the mane six. He initially neglects the pets, then tries to pass them off on someone else, and winds up getting put through the wringer and losing or giving away the gems he was paid with. By the end of the episode, he only has one gem left, and Spike has learned his lesson about not half-assing important jobs... then, in a moment of forgetfulness, he eats his last gem, leaving him right where he was at the start of the episode.
Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: When a bust of Madam Foster's is broken, the main characters spend most of the episode hiding it from Herriman out of fear he'd punish them. When Herriman finds out, he simply picks another bust from a closet full of them. Apparently, he's been doing it so many times it doesn't surprise him whenever he has to do it again.
In an episode of Black Dynamite, the title character goes to the moon in order to get the kids at the Whorephanage the moon rock they want for Christmas. He gets it and returns to Earth only to flush the rock down the toilet when the orphans do not express enough gratitude to meet his satisfaction.
In one episode of Peter Pan And The Pirates, some mermaids steal Wendy's laughter, and Peter Pan and the Lost Boys must get it back since without it, she would die. During the adventure, the bubble containing Wendy's laughter is popped, rendering it lost. However, when it seems all hope is lost, Tinkerbell reveals that she knew of an alternate method of restoring Wendy's laughter the whole time. When Peter expresses frustration at discovering that Tinkerbell knew how to heal Wendy the whole time, Tinkerbell points out that she did try to tell them, but they all rushed off to the adventure to retrieve Wendy's laughter before she could get the chance to explain.
The first Recess episode, "The Break In". After getting busted by Miss Finster as he's trying to get the cafeteria's "good food", T.J. has to spend his entire recess in detention. So for the entire episode, the rest of the Recess Gang try asking the other kids for help, to no results. After a talk with King Bob, they finally rally up all the kids of the playground to free T.J...however, all the time they spent trying to find ways to free him, he used to free himself. Taken even further as once he finally gets out, recess ends in the next minute.
The "Wakko's America" song in Animaniacs was framed by Wakko being on a parody of Jeopardy!. He's asked to name the capital of every state in the USA, does so in the form of the song, and this didn't count as a right answer because it wasn't in the form of a question.
The Great White Sheet Game: Typically played at co-ed college parties with some amount of alcohol, often on road trips where the participants have multiple hotel rooms. One person who has never played before is chosen as the Player, while all those who have played before take on the roles of "Master" (for the leader of the game) and "Others". The Player sits on a bed, and has a sheet tented over him. The Master then explains that this is a test, and that the Player must follow the instructions that the Master or the Others give, to the letter. The game then proceeds, first with the Master describing a scene: "You are walking through the desert. It is hot, and you are thirsty. You realize you don't need to be wearing as much as you are. Take something off, and pass it to me." Usually, the Player removes something inconsequential—jewelry or shoes. The Others then continue in the same vein—embellishing and otherwise confounding the statement, but always with the admonition to remove something the Player is wearing needlessly. As time goes on, articles of clothing start coming off and getting passed out. The game ends when the Player figures out he's supposed to take off the damn sheet. If he's already naked underneath, well, then the Master and Others won the game.
Boy Scouts of America has a version where a number of newer scouts stands before a crowd and all place blindfolds on themselves. They are ordered not to make a sound for the duration of the game and are told to take an article of clothing off. The ones who take the blindfold off are quietly told to remain silent and the game is ended when the boys all have their blindfolds off or there are any boys reduced to their undergarments.
There are cards in Munchkin that can make a battle this: say you've encountered a Plutonium Dragon and its Evil Twin, facing painful death should you fail to beat them or run away. After numerous bonuses and anti-bonuses have been played on the monsters, the dragon's Baby Clone, and its Mommy, have been introduced to the fight, multiple one-shot items have been used to help or hinder you, several different methods of backstabbing have been employed, lengthy negotiations of teaming up have been had, and you're ready to reap your whopping eight levels and twenty-five treasures... Some asshat plays a few cards, making the dragon and its twin, clone, and the clone's mommy already dead (and dead broke), or something to the effect, leaving you without any levels or treasure, and everyone many cards poorer. Which is, of course, very munchkinly indeed, and highly recommendable in the spirit of the game.
Use Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment when adding examples here. Please avoid adding examples related to religion, politics, or any other topic that could rile people up.
The balloon boy hoax: a balloon built for science experiments flew off, and the police were tracking it over several hours because they thought a six-year old boy was trapped in there. It turned out the boy was hiding in a box in his home the whole time. Not only that, but the family staged the entire thing just to get on TV.
Dreams are often this. You know the kind — you dream up an entire parallel universe with a Lord of the Rings-style epic plot with several crucial subplots, tons of characters, and that takes place over what feels like a lifetime... only to build up to a cheap Jump Scare at the very end, and/or to vanish into total oblivion within a few seconds of waking up.
Incidentally you will try to invoke this whenever something particularly bad happens.
The infamous twelve year 'Split' from 1996 to 2008 between rival series CART and the Indy Racing League for control of IndyCar racing ended with one unified Indycar series again.
The River City Relay. The 2003 New Orleans Saints were 7-7 going into their second-to-last regular season game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, needing to win both of their remaining games and get some help from other games going a certain way to make the playoffs. The Jaguars were up 20-13 with seven seconds left in regulation and the Saints had the ball on their own 25-yard-line. Saints QB Aaron Brooks threw a pass to Donté Stallworth at midfield, bounced off a Jaguars defender, and broke two more tackles as time expired*
if the quarter runs out of time in the middle of a play, the play gets to finish
. Stallworth lateraled to Michael Lewis at the Jags' 34, who ran to the 25 before pitching to Deuce McAllister. McAllister got to the 20 before pitching it to Jerome Pathon, who made it to the end zone for a touchdown after getting one last block from Brooks. Every lateral was reviewed by officials for several minutes before they signaled touchdown. Saints were now down 20-19, needing only a John Carney extra point*
Carney's career XP percentage is 98.8%
to tie the game and go to overtime...which he missed wide right. Saints lose and can't make the playoffs.
Saints play-by-play radio announcer Jim Henderson: NOOOO!!! He missed the extra point wide right! Oh my God, how could he do that?
More Shaggy Dogs: the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks won that day, which would have eliminated the Saints from the playoffs even if they had won.
When programming in assembly language, it's common practice to copy register values into a stack at the beginning of a procedure so you can restore them to their original values later. A common newbie mistake is to accidentally overwrite the register you were planning to use to return your answer while doing this, making all the other work the computer did in that procedure completely pointless.
Similarly, in C++, it's easy for newbies to forget that unless you send the address of a variable to a function rather than its value, you're just working on a copy of the variable, not the original one you passed. Changes to it won't affect anything outside the function.
This code snippet, which expends quite a bit of effort calculating a value minScore before throwing it out the window and setting it to 2.
Also, this quote from bash.org, where a person ran a program that calculated one billion digits of pi for over 7 years... but forgot to output the result.
Bayer Leverkusen in 2001/02. On course for a treble, when they hadn't even won the Bundesliga once before, they lost a five point lead with three games to go to Borussia Dortmund, the Champions League Final 2-1 against Real Madrid, and even the German Cup 4-2 against Schalke. They then lost their two star players to Bayern Munich, and never recovered.
Three of the four major North American team sports - baseball, basketball, and ice hockey - structure their post-season championship playoffs to involve seven-game series (first to four wins advances to the next round). On just four occasions, a team has recovered from losing the first three games by winning the next four, and while two of those have been achieved by national champions (the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs recovered from a 3-0 deficit against the Detroit Red Wings in the finals of the Stanley Cup, while the 2004 Boston Red Sox overturned a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees and followed this by sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series), the other two have ended up as shaggy dog stories.
The New York Islanders, having joined the NHL in 1972, finished dead last in their first two seasons and squeaked through to the 1975 Stanley Cup playoffs by winning a three-game series against the New York Rangers to reach their first ever best-of-seven series. Their opponents were the Pittsburgh Penguins, who stormed to a 3-0 series lead with wins in which the Islanders were never ahead in the scoring. In the four games that followed, the tables turned and it was the Penguins who never took the lead as the Islanders won the series 4-3 to advance to the Cup semi-finals. Their opponents this time were the defending champions, the Philadelphia Flyers; once again, the Islanders lost the first three games but managed to win the next three, and everyone wondered if they could pull off another miracle. Unfortunately for the Islanders, the Flyers proceeded to win Game 7 by a score of 4-1 (they went on to retain the Stanley Cup with a 4-2 series win over the Buffalo Sabres); the Islanders had to wait another five years for their first championship.
The Flyers themselves were on the receiving end of this turnaround in 2010. Having lost the first three games in their NHL East conference semi-final against the Boston Bruins, they proceeded to win the next three, then found themselves trailing 3-0 in Game 7 before scoring four goals in reply, the first time a team had overturned a 3-0 series deficit and a 3-0 Game 7 deficit. After beating the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 in the conference final series, the Flyers met the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final series... and lost 4-2.
In the 1982 Stanley Cup playoffs, at a time when the NHL was split into four divisions and the playoffs began with five-game division semi-finals, the Smythe Division semi-finals saw the top-seeded Edmonton Oilers, a team very much on the rise with a young Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier just the tip of the iceberg of their player roster, facing the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Kings. After splitting the first two games in Edmonton, the Oilers and Kings met in Game 3 at the Forum on Manchester Boulevard in Los Angeles; the Oilers raced to a 5-0 lead in the first forty minutes, only for the Kings to score five goals in reply in the last twenty and cap it all with an overtime winner. The improbable comeback is known as the "Miracle on Manchester". The teams split the remaining games to give the Kings an upset 3-2 series win and put them in the Smythe Division final series... where they lost 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks.
William Henry Harrison was elected President of the United States in 1841, gave the longest inaugural address in history in absolutely hideous weather, started in on his campaign promise to reform executive appointments... then caught pneumonia three weeks later and died. Since his VP, John Tyler, completely opposed the party Harrison was hard-line for, the only thing to come out of his Presidency was an amendment to the Constitution clarifying what happens if the President dies in office.