How does the work present itself? Do the characters appear to treat their current situation with the utmost seriousness and urgency or do the actors seem to be having way too much fun with their roles?
The answer depends on where the series falls on the Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness.
A largely silly series relies heavily on the Rule of Cool, the Rule of Funny, and the Rule of Fun. Much of the dialogue is made up of cheesy one-liners, and emotions and reactions are often exaggerated or otherwise played for laughs. No Fourth Wall and Negative Continuity may also be present, though not required, and it is possible to use both tropes in serious works as well.
A mostly serious series relies more on the Rule of Drama, and the writers at least try to make the dialogue and emotional responses as realistic as possible, though if written or delivered poorly it can still result in Narm. It is possible that there may be moments of comic relief, but in general the series will retain its serious tone throughout.
It should be noted that when a creator creates a piece of media, they often take their work very seriously and want it to be good. But that doesn't mean that the work in question has to take itself seriously.
It should be also noted that this scale is completely independent of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. It is entirely possible to have a work be idealistic but retain the same level of seriousness throughout, such as in The Dark Knight. Likewise, it is equally possible to have a very silly and campy work be downright cynical throughout, such as Family Guy.
Careful fact-checking might be a good indication of where the show lies on the scale. If the person clearly did do the research and the situation presented on the show at least closely resembles how it would happen in Real Life, then most likely the show takes itself seriously. However, it should be noted that just because they didn't check their facts, doesn't mean that the show was supposed to fall on the silly side. It could just as easily have been the result of carelessness or ignorance as to how things actually work on the part of the writers, thus leaving the series still serious, but filled with plot holes and factual errors. On the other hand, if the presentation is clearly done as a parody, or presented in such an outlandish and over-the-top manner, then the show itself probably doesn't take itself too seriously.
Works So Bad, It's Good generally fall more toward the silly side, while works So Bad, It's Horrible could fall on either side of the scale. Many works that are on the serious side but are considered So Bad, It's Horrible have been criticized for taking themselves TOO seriously, thus becoming humourless, po-faced and pompous on top of their other faults, and many people believe that such works would have been more enjoyable had they been more camp, sometimes leading the creator to attempt a Parody Retcon. Conversely (although relatively rarer), it is possible for a show to not take itself seriously enough, which can affect the audience's ability to immerse themselves in the drama; if the writers and characters obviously don't take what's happening seriously, why should the audience? True to form, works that are So Okay, It's Average can fall on either side of the scale, with slight silliness being moderately prevalent.
Of course, it is entirely possible for a work to be silly and campy, yet still be genuinely good on its own merits. Many fan bases tend to take the object of their fandom more seriously than the casual viewer and often vocally demand that the show reflect this; see Maturity Is Serious Business for more on fans of this mindset. Pandering to the Base can pose a problem, however, if as a result of this a show initially quite 'silly' begins to take itself too seriously, with the result of turning off casual viewers. If silly scenes and serious scenes are back-to-back to each other, beware of Mood Whiplash. Cerebus Syndrome can occur if the work starts out on the silly side, and eventually ends up on the serious side over time. Some concepts can confuse the scale, such as Black Comedy — comedy is generally more silly, but the subject matter of Black Comedy is dark and serious.
Some people consider Fullmetal Alchemist too silly because even when the story gets serious, visual gags abound and the characters manage to crack jokes in the middle of the most adverse of situations, causing immense Mood Whiplash. Possibly the only part that does without any measure of humor is the lengthy flashbackabout the war in Ishval. And halfway through an episode of Brotherhood (its direct anime adaptation), a very excited and cheerful announcer will sometimes yell "FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST" in the midst of a gory battle. Mood Whiplash twice within 15 seconds. The 2003 anime version, on the other hand, while often mixing deadly serious and completely farcical elements just like the source material, took itself much more seriously and included allusions to very adult themes (most infamously, gang rape). Given this, it seems strange that Brotherhood received a higher rating of R-17, whereas the 2003 anime was a PG-13.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni can go from one length to the other without any warning, but when the going gets serious, it usually stays serious until the end of the arc. This creates a good effect of Mood Whiplash.
Elfen Lied also has some extremely radical shifts from silliness to seriousness and back again and gives off plenty of Mood Whiplash of its own. Overall it probably doesn't take itself too seriously.
MD Geist takes itself very seriously and many have criticized it for doing so, given how poorly made and ridiculous it was. The fact that it manages to keep a straight face while talking about an Ultimate Evil called DEATH FORCE stored in an impenetrable fortress called BRAIN PALACE is part of the reason why it's So Bad, It's Good.
Trigun starts off very far on the silly side and although it gradually becomes more serious as the series progresses, it never completely loses its sense of humor.
The Berserk manga for the most part takes itself pretty seriously. The main exceptions are the scenes involving either Puck or Isidro, who both tend to be extremely silly and have even broken the fourth wall a few times. Puck and Isidro are not present in the anime due to the anime mainly taking place during the Golden Age arc of the manga, which has the Band of the Hawk bringing their occasional moments of humor to the series — right up until they die horribly when the Eclipse goes down.
Gintama owns this trope. It's mostly a gag comedy but it can seesaw into dark and sentimental territory.
Serious fight scenes are interspersed throughout but there is always witty dialogue to accompany them. Characters are really good at ruining serious moods.
This series often serves to deconstruct various (and more serious) genres in a humorous way.
One Piece is a series that can be shockingly violent and dark at times (a good example is the Alabasta arc), while being ridiculously silly near-simultaneously. The same fight scene where Usopp, the lovable comic relief, gets his skull cracked and nose broken by a 4-ton bat (among other painful things), features a gun-dog hybrid who sneezes exploding baseballs.
Another example of One Piece's ambiguousness in this is the Arlong Arc. During the flashback to the death of Bellemere, her fall to the ground following being shot is cut through a few times with other brief flashbacks of giggle-inducing footage of young Nami and Bellemere's relationship. Very hard to cry and giggle at the same time.
FLCL and Rahxephon: both music-themed mecha shows, both very clever, both on opposite ends of the scale. For one thing, FLCL uses modern rock and Rahxephon uses classical music.
For an animated feature film, Princess Mononoke is decidedly serious. It has comic-relief moments, but only one real laugh line ("No, it's still broken.").
Fist of the North Star is extremely serious... Or was created with the intention to be, anyway. Most people today watch it for the narm that results.
The series also has quite its fair share of (intentionally) silly moments, moreso in the TV series than in any other version (where they tried to give Bat more focus by making the Plucky Comic Relief). There's really no way that characters like Juza, Ein, Gyoko, and the whole Fang Clan were meant to be taken too seriously in the first place.
Death Note is very serious. Most of the humour is subtle and the kind that makes you chuckle, not laugh out loud. It doesn't cross over into narmtoo often in the anime...and almost never in the manga.
Most notably, Ryuk's hijinks, especially when apples are involved, Misa's shennanigans, and almost everything about L, and Mello's chocolate eating habits.
Excel♥Saga spends exactly 2 episodes being serious. When you have a living Reset Button as part of the cast, it comes with the territory.
By contrast, the manga features a sliding scale that is all over the place: with hectic silliness interlaced with looming seriousness. It tends to hit the serious end when dealing with Il Palazzo and Kabapu's origins, motivations and encounters. Also worth noting the fact that Excel's past and first encounter with Il Palazzo is hinted to be a dark one. Last but not least, the daily life of Excel and other ACROSS operatives are presented to be dire - dirt-poor and always near-starved, at some points imprisoned and/or homeless (to the point where Excel considers imprisonment to have the advantages of 'three hot meals a day and a cot'
The Twelve Kingdoms is very far on the serious side. It's realistic in that a few characters can see the humorous parts of life as well, though.
Full Metal Panic! swings between both ends of the scale, which results in a fair bit of Mood Whiplash - especially if you're having an Archive Binge and watching Fumoffu and The Second Raid back to back. Given the way later installments in the light novels are going, expect more of the same.
Naruto seems light-hearted at first, but after the Wave arc Starts, it can get very serious even by Shōnen standards, especially after the time skip. Dear god where to begin there.
Naruto the character himself also exhibits this trope. In Serious mode, he has the "I want to be stronger than all Hokages", "I will never give up", "I have to catch up to Sasuke and bring him back", sennin mode, kyuubi mode, and now the rikudo mode. In Silliness mode, he has the sexy technique, farting humour, stupidity, ramen obsession, pervert. This was nearly lampshaded once, when Naruto went into the Kyuubi mode and started a rampage, and Sakura sees a flashback of Naruto smiling with his hand on the back of his head, and remarks, "Is he really that Naruto?"
He often does both at the same time (and make it effective), in one of the first episodes Kakashi sticks his finger in Naruto's ass with so much strengh it sends him flying, several arcs later, when Naruto is fighting against his (until that point) stronger enemy he decides to use the same technique, except that instead of a finger he sticked an explosive, Gaara states that his sand armor was the weakest in that part.
Eyeshield 21 is a series that's very aware it's a sports manga and has no problem poking fun at itself; whether it's lampshading particular cliches, cracking jokes during moments that would be played as tense in any other series, or having characters so over-the-top and fun that any flatness they may have is forgiven.
The franchise has usually placed itself far at the serious end of the scale, with Gundam 00, Gundam SEED, and Gundam Unicorn, the most cinematic Gundam shows thus far, probably at the farthest end of the serious side of all of the series. The ones that go closest to the silly side include Gundam ZZ and G Gundam.
Gundam Build Fighters is for the most part a very silly and fun show. It does, however, tend to dip into the serious side of things, namely when it involves the Cyber-Newtype expy, Aila. Especially episodes 20 and 21.
In the beginning, Dragon Ball was pretty silly but starts getting more and more serious over time. By Dragon Ball Z, it's mostly serious but still has quite a few humorous aspects to it such as the Ginyu Force, Mr. Satan and a lot of things in the Majin Buu arc.
Battle Angel Alita is a noften very serious manga, with gory deaths and no character being safe from getting killed; however this doesn't stop it from constantly adding jokes or over the top elements. Even the normally very serious main character Gally/Alita has moments in which she cracks jokes, does silly things or accidently reveals that she is not as smart as she pretends. Last Order drives the point home when one character got heavily injured and the distraction to get him away results in a super sonic thumb fight between two martial arts fighters.
Tank Girl is set in the Australian outback in a dystopian future. The main character is a girl who drives a tank. And drinks beer. And snogs kangaroos. On the silly side, most plots are very thin and resolved in some ridiculous way.
Bone creates a perfect balance here. The heroes could be walking through the dark forest, right into a very serious and threatening ambush of two rat creatures. The next thing you get is the two arguing about whether they should capture them alive or make them into a quiche.
Perfect case in point: Marv. Any action he takes could apply, but possibly the most wildly ludicrous: Marv flat-out torturing a series of seemingly random, shady people in his search for information. This culminates with an image of him in a car, holding an unfortunate face-down in the asphalt, driving at a speed fast enough for the unfortunate's legs to be up in the air. In essence, he is using the street as a grindstone and holding a dude's face into it. Marv's line, also captured in The Movie, is "I don't know about you, but I'm having a ball." This sequence captures this trope masterfully, as not only is the situation extraordinarily insane, not only would this guy have not survived through the first two seconds of this abuse, not only could Marv never hope to actually get information out of this guy afterwards, but Marv is one of the good guys. With zero irony, Marv is a sympathetic hero searching for truth and justice AND ALSO a psychotic madman who murders and tortures freely in this horrible Crapsack World. The seriousness and silliness is completely interwoven throughout all of the Sin City stories, with varying degrees of success.
Every run of Deadpool before the Daniel Way relaunch was a balancing act of serious plot and character development, and wacky humor, black comedy, and comedic "caper"-esque scenarios. Gail Simone's Agent X, being an extension of her Deadpool run, was identical in tone to these, while her similarly-approached Secret Six was a seedier, more depraved version of that. The comics launched in 2008 with Daniel Way's run are almost exclusively focused on setting up scenarios for the purpose of laughs, making Deadpool more of a Looney Tunes cartoon that interacts with the more straight-faced Marvel Universe. An exception to that is Deadpool as he appears in Uncanny X-Force, where for comedic purposes he's batshit insane, but for drama purposes he displays more poignant humanity (such as a sequence where he calls out the other members of the team for killing a child, an issue that happens to parallel a moment in Frank Tieri's Deadpool run). Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan's 2013 run, however, marks a return to the pre-Way approach, balancing serious and silly.
Moulin Rouge! could be considered the perfect representation of this scale because it begins serious, goes silly for a long time and then, at the second act, smashes onto seriousness.
Resulting in serious Mood Whiplash. The opening scene is Christian James at his typewriter, obviously quite depressed and a little teary at Satine's death and having to write their story, which was her last request, as he writes about how a narcoleptic Argentinean man crashes through his ceiling, followed soon by a midget dressed as a nun. It's followed by Zidler dressed as a bride singing Madonna's "Like a Virgin" done as a Gilbert and Sullivan number, complete with Busby Berkeley choreography. But before that, we learn Satine has tuberculosis and hasn't told anyone, a sure sign that's she's going to die, probably in the final act.
Given its extremely bizarre plot, the creators decided to make Snakes on a Plane as campy and silly as possible, and they even reshot certain scenes to make them sillier.
Despite their differing feel, each of the Alien movies have maintained a consistently serious tone throughout. That was until Alien: Resurrection, which many fans are all too happy to disown.
The Predator movies, on the other hand, take themselves slightly less seriously, with a high level of machismo throughout the first movie, along with one-liners peppering the dialogue throughout both films.
An ongoing debate over the Star Wars series is how silly or serious the two trilogies are in comparison to each other. Many long-time Star Wars fans were outraged by the silliness and slapstick in the prequels. Other fans, including Lucas himself, insisted that the original trilogy was quite silly as well. The age at which you originally watch each trilogy may be a factor in how you perceive them on the scale.
One could say that the original Star Wars trilogy was an example of Cerebus Syndrome, depending on how much you buy the theory that the more dramatic, character-driven sequel The Empire Strikes Back was largely the doing of director Irvin Kirshner and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan rather than George Lucas.
Shaun of the Dead lost a lot of viewers who were not expecting the slapsticky horror film parody to play the horror and drama of the Zombie Apocalypse so straight at times in the second half. The filmmakers insisted that the film was not intended to be a parody, but a real zombie movie that also had a lot of humor.
The Batman films could go toward either end of the scale, depending on the director.
The Tim Burton films were dark and gothic and had a very morbid sense of humor. The first was successful but many people felt that Batman Returns went way too far in this direction.
Bonus points to Octopussy for being a serious Clancy-style thriller one moment and a ride through Sim Sim Salabim land the next. Both worlds collide when Bond deactivates a nuclear bomb...while wearing a clown suit. It seems to vary more from actor to actor.
Sean Connery's Bond was generally on the more serious side, although not afraid to have fun, go on grand adventures, and crack jokes. As his era went on, things slid more into super spy camp.
Sir Roer Moore's Bond was frequently the silliest and campiest of them all, with films like The Man with the Golden Gun and Moonraker being considered the silliest in the series. They stepped down the silliness somewhat, but Moore's gift for comedy, as well as campy writing, stopped him from ever having films that were ever more than briefly serious.
Timothy Dalton's Bond had no silly films. This version of James Bond was dark and remorseless. While never really silly or campy, he wasn't quite the most serious one.
Pierce Brosnan's Bond started out fairly seriously in GoldenEye, but did often retain some camp elements and comedic bits. However, his films got sillier and stupider as they went along. Unfortunately, it wasn't the like the sort of fun, goofy, warm, affectionate camp that came to embody the Roger Moore era. They did try to keep the serious tone from GoldenEye, despite the plots becoming more convoluted and ridiculous. Really, it was just plain bad writing, which often tried to awkwardly marry together silly plots with the insistence that it was all Serious Business.
Daniel Craig's Bond is by far the most absolutely serious one of them all, to the extent where one could reasonably argue that he is a deconstruction. Craig plays Bond decidedly Darker and Edgier than any of his predecessors. This incarnation of James Bond doesn't joke, rely on gadgets, or save the world; he's a government-employed contract killer, and he absolutely is comfortable with it. Casino Royale was, in many ways, the absolutely most gritty, realistic film in the entire series. Skyfall was dead serious, too, and apart from the somewhat improbably machinations of the villain, is pretty damn grounded.
Contrast The Rocky Horror Picture Show with the film often cited as its Spiritual Successor in audience participation, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Both are musical comedies with queer overtones and an obsession with glam rock, but Rocky is absolutely devoted to the Rule of Funny, with no character really possible to "read" except as a pastiche of other archetypes, the events not bound by logic so much as what would make the best song or Shout-Out, and frequent theatrical musical numbers; Hedwig, on the other hand, takes itself generally seriously (with a bit of Bellisario's Maxim), being heavily a character study with musical numbers that come without exception from the titular band's playlist (although not always being played by them), and a sense of humor that comes mostly from Deadpan Snarker Hedwig. It may tell of the difference in times that Meatloaf nearly quit Rocky upon realizing just what he was getting into until being assured everything was Played for Laughs, and is now a noted influence on the music in Hedwig.
From Dusk Till Dawn goes all the way from the serious end, as it starts out with two thieving brothers on the run from the law (along with the family they kidnap), but halfway through it switches into an extremely campy vampire movie set in a debased Mexican bar.
Airplane! took its entire plot and much of its dialog from a completely serious movie called Zero Hour!, then turned the silly knob up.
Airplane is serious. And don't call it Shirley.
The Evil Dead films go from serious to silly as the films go on.
The screenwriters of Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen stated that when they knew the sequel called for larger-scale and more intense violence and death, they decided to try and balance it out with more outrageous humor. In other words, they tried to go down both sides of this scale at once. Needless to say, fans were not pleased.
The Room. Every time Johnny is on screen, whatever seriousness the movie might have built up with the other characters is lost and his scenes quickly become hilarious.
And pretty damn campy in every other format it's been done in, too.
It also lambasts the serious end of this trope with the Roary, a small silver award given for the most gratuitous use of the word "fuck"note In the American version, this was changed to the word Belgium. in a serious screen play.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is another example of a work which is cynical but not "serious". It's set in a Crapsack World full of bizarre conspiracies and senseless tragedy, but the style of Lemony Narrator (himself a tragic figure) lends everything a lighthearted and over-the-top tone. Besides, many of the actual details, like the costumes adopted by the villains, can be accurately described as "cartoony".
The Princess Bride. Its setting, which is "before Europe" but "after America", is a good indicator how seriously it takes itself. And "after Paris", which is lampshaded by both the editor and Goldman in one of the asides.
Catch-22: often shifts suddenly from absurdist humor to depressing realism. A good example of this is the chapter following Doc Daneeka, which first describes a series of events that happen to the doctor in such a way as to make them seem hilarious, only to then describe how they essentially ruined his life, leaving him a shadow of his former self.
The Discworld books are an interesting case; they started out mostly being silly, but while they have shifted to being more "realistic," they haven't actually stopped being funny.
Part of this is probably thanks to where it falls on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: four of the most important characters (that's Vetinari, Vimes, Weatherwax and Rincewind) are all cynics - living in a world that, on the whole, is pretty idealistic. Thanks mostly to Death.
Death is actually pretty cynical as well.
Ipslore the Red: And what would people be without love?
The books slide internally as well. The Fifth Elephant, for example, begins with the fool's guild trying to put out a fire via slapstick, and ends with Carrot promising Angua that he'll kill her if necessary. Beginning silly and ending serious is the most common pattern.
In his acceptance speech for an award for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, Pratchett points out that, contrary to popular belief, funny is not the opposite of serious.
Discworld's place on the scale can be summed up as "silly, but not from the characters' point of view".
This funny-serious thing is also very prevalent in Good Omens. Case in point: Crowley. Wears sunglasses, drives a Bentley, Deadpan Snarker, terrorises his houseplants, questions God's grand plan and speculates on the paradoxical good and evil within humanity...
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant takes itself very seriously. Silly moments are few and far between, although not completely absent. Tragedy is far more common. This is writer Stephen R. Donaldson's trademark. Fantasy is Serious Business (though he does it rather well, and improves over time).
Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is mostly dark and serious, even tragic, but the mood is lightened by a number of comic relief characters, such as Kruppe and Tehol Beddict.
Most Kurt Vonnegut novels seem to work by piling absurdity and silliness upon absurdity and silliness until somehow you're left with something quite serious and profound.
J. Robert King's trilogy about King Arthur completely fudges this. It's supposed to be an epic adventure but contains scenes too bizarre to be taken seriously. This in fact plagues nearly everything that King writes, both tie-ins and original fiction. No matter how hard he tries to write it a serious fantasy epic, it will be filled with bizarre, nonsensical and inexplicable events, sometimes going into downright silly and ridiculous and coming dangerously close to a Random Events Plot strung together from BLAMs.
Kids' book Jennifer the Jerk Is Missing starts out as a suspenseful tale of a kidnapped 8-year-old and the desperate attempts of a tall tale-telling boy to get his babysitter to believe him, then turns into the exciting attempt to rescue the girl but, once they get there, the mood swings over into silly territory. The kidnappers are ridiculous, one of them pointing his hand through his jeans so as to fake having a gun. Jennifer herself is so over-the-top bratty that it's hard to feel sorry for her being Bound and Gagged, especially when she lets a disdainful "ha ha" under her gag. If not for the suspenseful elements of the plot still continuing during the silly phase, it would easily be Mood Whiplash.
The Harry Potter series as a whole demonstrates a gradual shift from silly to serious. For example, in only the first book do the characters sing the extremely silly school song, which would feel rather out of place by Book 5.
The Dresden Files features some very serious situations, ranging from magical drug trafficking/murder to destroying the world, but our hero inserts quite a bit of silliness into these situations. He does become more serious as the series progresses, but the silliness does show through every now and again.
It's interesting to chart P. G. Wodehouse's progression from serious to silly over his career. He was never seriously serious, of course, but his early works are more-or-less realistic school stories about chaps playing cricket and foiling burglars. Then he stirred things up by inventing the flamboyant Psmith, with his monocle and tendency to 'jaw', and as Evelyn Waugh said, that was the moment that the 'divine spark' struck Wodehouse. Yet he continued writing realistic novels, including numerous romantic comedies in the 1920s. It was only when he was in his fifties that he dedicated himself entirely to silliness, concentrating on the Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings Castle novels and the various other farces that represent his best work.
Stella Gibbons began at the silly end of the scale with Cold Comfort Farm. Her subsequent novels tended to be much more serious, and not nearly so successful, a fact that depressed her.
Some works of the Strugatsky Brothers, namely those not part of the Noon Universe continuity, while still quite serious in intent, fall on the silliness side in execution, notably Monday Begins on Saturday, a very lighthearted fantasy parody with a hard science spin on it (the core idea is: magic obeys scientific principles and can be studied), with lots of stuff added for Rule of Funny and Rule of Cool, lots of witty banter and snarky one-liners and the occassional campy character or two. Tale of the Troika is much more cynical in both versions (censored and non-censored), being a covert satire of Soviet bureaucracy, and is much more weird than silly, but Rule of Funny and camp are still present. The same can't be said for the Noon Universe cycle - it started out serious and stayed that way throughout. While the first novels did contain humorous elements (the Strugatsky style, especially their humour, are something of a trademark among Russian SF fandom), they could hardly be classified as silly. All of this disappeared almost completely as Cerebus Syndrome kicked in in full gear, with the later novels being on the utterly serious (and fairly dark) side of the scale, and their last novels, a few of which had no connection to the Noon Universe anymore, being utterly depressing barrages of Grim Dark.
The works of Mikhail Zoshchenko, the flagship of Soviet satire, come off as extremely cynical, while at the same time being utterly silly. The characters and the situations described are so absurd that the reader can't help but laugh nearly constantly. All the while, like with most good satire, it should actually NOT be funny - Zoshchenko, who lived and wrote his stories during the Bolshevik revolution and the early Soviet era in the post-revolutionary period, stressed several times that he did not understand why people were laughing like mad when reading his stories, since the appropriate reaction would be to break down in tears - because, according to him, almost all of the stories were based on real events he witnessed in early Soviet society, the absurdity thus being shockingly real.
The X-Files has gone to both ends of the scale throughout its run. During Seasons 1-5 it generally took itself very seriously, except for the Darin Morgan episodes, which had a very surreal comedic feel to them. While Seasons 6 and 7 had their share of serious episodes, they also had quite a few episodes that went even further with the surreal humor to the point of making the episodes downright campy, such as the two-part "Dreamland" episode from Season 6 and "Hollywood AD" from Season 7. Season 8 returned the series to the more serious end of the scale, while season 9 once more had a mixture of serious episodes as well as lighthearted and really campy episodes as well.
Millennium, also created by Chris Carter, was serious throughout its first season but as with The X-Files, fluctuated between seriousness and camp during seasons 2 and 3.
Tales from the Crypt usually fell very far on the silly side of the scale, with intentionally hammy acting and very over-the-top characterization and often plots that present a sort of grotesque parody to sitcom plot conventions and other very outlandish stories.
Many Hispanic Soap Opera take themselves very seriously, no matter how silly the "tragedies" appear after being subjected to Fridge Logic. Because of that, doing comedic (or at least Dramedy) soaps, such as Yo soy Betty, la fea and its Mexican spinoff La Fea Mas Bella, is tricky and difficult. There have been interesting experiments where the producers follow the conventions, but present them with a slight farcical tone, where the main love story is treated seriously but the rest... not that much.
The Batman TV series of the 1960s not only rests at the "silly" end of the scale, it jumps off that end and keeps swimming. Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb.
Supernatural fluctuates between the two extremes so much it could you give whiplash. It's certainly done the homework for the Urban Legends, the psychology and what crappy (long-term) consequences could come from the characters' actions but not so much for the seriousness of wounds or how long it takes to get from one place to the other. And just when you think it's getting far too grim and bleak and disheartening for its own good, along comes a gimmicky episode like "Tall Tales" where Sam and Dean are raging bitches to each other and all their quirks and flaws are heightened to the point of absurdity. It started around the third season (with "A Very Supernatural Christmas" and "Mystery Spot", some of the season 4 episodes focused a lot on comedy (blended with angst), and season 5 took it to the extreme, since it was basically an alternation between very serious episodes, like "The End", "Abandon All Hope" and extremely silly episodes, like the one with Paris Hilton, or "Changing Channels", the latter of course being an example of this sliding scale all on its own, much like "Mystery Spot." Most of the Gabriel episodes tend to be like this.
Doctor Who jumps between the two so much that the entire series is one long example of Mood Whiplash. An example is Seasons Seventeen and Eighteen of the classic series. Seventeen is often criticised as being an example of a show not taking itself seriously enough; an increased emphasis on humour (thanks in part to script-editor Douglas Adams, best known for his work on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), a low budget mixed with some truly mad ideas and the production team's willingness to let series star and Large Ham Tom Baker off the leash entirely lead to a great deal of camp, which many fans felt ruined the drama a bit (of course, for other fans, this was all part of the charm). Conversely, Eighteen saw a new production team take over, and they promptly dialed back on the comedy, put Baker on a tighter leash and tried to introduce more gravity, seriousness and scientific earnestness into the show. However, it could be argued that they went too far the other way; fans began criticising the show for being po-faced and taking all the fun out of it. Then again, the Doctor Who fan base is notoriously unpleasable.
One of the goals in Scrubs was to create a show that combines comedy and drama without looking stupid.
Seinfeld is cynical but generally very silly. The only events treated with any real seriousness are Susan's death (possibly not even that) and the series finale. The series finale was a Deconstruction, showing how terrible all the characters' behavior within the confines of a comedy series would actually seem in Real Life. The episode never became particularly serious, though.
Strangers with Candy, as a parody of after-school specials, naturally handles very serious issues such as drug abuse, prostitution and racism - but is about as silly as is humanly possible. When one character is hit by a car, his face is torn off and sticks in the car's radiator grill. The hit-and-run driver is later seen washing the car with it. Crossing the Line Twice doesn't even begin to describe it.
Desperate Housewives is considered to be a comedy series, but unexpectedly switches between being silly and being serious several times in a single episode. The fact that (at least) each housewife has their own storylines allows the show to have silly and serious plotlines in the same episode.
Stargate SG-1 started off being pretty serious and gradually slid down the silliness scale over its run, nearly becoming a self-parody by the eighth season. The producers tried to push it back up the serious scale by introducing a new Big Bad for the final two seasons. Jack O'Neill, the leader of the SG-1 team, was a frequent source of silliness for the first eight seasons. He often provided moments of comedic relief and Mood Whiplash. At the same time, he was a very competent, pragmatic, and sometimes tragic leader. He was one of the reasons the show could often seamlessly switch from one end of the Silliness Scale to the other, and back again, to great effect.
There's also the Ted & Ralph sketch where Ralph has to give Ted some rather terrible sad news... via a drinking game.
Power Rangers is somewhere in the middle. The stories are sometimes pretty serious, but rarely allowed to go far into the dark side, and sprinkled with lots of one-liners and the like. Super Sentai is at the same time far more serious and far more silly than Power Rangers, sometimes causing tons of Mood Whiplash. Juken Sentai Gekiranger switches back and forth between Rio and Mele's dark background story... and Jan wrestling pandas in the jungle.
Kamen Rider is generally more on the serious side than Sentai (except things like Den-O, but let's not get into that). Some series, though, especially Kabuto, have Mood Whiplash-inducing moments of stupid humour.
Monty Python's Flying Circus was constructed entirely from silliness. While some of their more satirical sketches were no doubt intended seriously on some level, having a large flashing sign reading "SATIRE" appear over it neatly drained away anything serious whatsoever. They lampshaded the ludicrous nature of their humour with a certain Graham Chapman character, who would stop a sketch by pointing out that it's getting extremely silly, at which point it would move on to something just as ridiculous. There's also the election night sketch, where the results of various elections were announced, mostly between the Silly Party and the Sensible Party, with a few third party candidates from the Slightly Silly Party and the Very Silly Party, taking the title of this page quite literally.
It gets pretty strange when the happy-go-lucky characters (especially Shawn) have to investigate what are increasingly horrifyingly violent murders. The characters themselves have even pointed out the weird contrast on occasion.
Specifically lampshaded when chasing a serial killer, when Shawn tells Gus that he has to be silly or he won't be able to deal with what he's facing. Truth in Television, to an extent, as morbid humor is often a coping mechanism.
Pushing Daisies works like this: you try to pour as much silliness as possible in a single episode and try to treat it with seriousness. The strangest part? It works.
Miami Vice started out in the first two seasons by being a fairly serious cop show but with 80's glamor and pastel colors. Then it got darker around the third season and had some pretty ridiculous plots during the fourth and fifth season but eventually tried to get back to how it was at the beginning in the fifth season.
How I Met Your Mother, while always keeping some measure of comedy, fluctuates all over the place with this trope. Pretty understandable, as it's a guy telling stories about a section of his life to his kids, and the events of peoples' lives have a tendency to fluctuate between serious and silly, without much regard for how appropriate the preceding context is. So we get stuff like Marshall and Lily's reproductive health specialist looking exactly like Barney, Lily refusing to be examined unless Barney is in the same room in case it really is Barney, Marshall being too neurotic to produce a sperm sample at the doctor's office and trying to do it at home while his oblivious visiting parents loudly inundate him with Fetish Retardant, getting conned by Barney pretending to be his doctor, and ending with Lily informing him out of the blue that his dad just died.
JAG kept a balance between the serious and the silly.
Red vs. Blue was born out of the idea of using the standard 'bottom rung employees bitching about work' theme and applying it to the military of the future. While The Blood Gulch Chronicles are all out silly, the two miniseries are played completely seriously. The following series Reconstruction splits the difference. In general, it seems that the simulation troopers are silly, and the Freelancers and AIs are (mostly) serious. Those involved with both shift on the scale depending on who they're interacting with.
Pink Floyd's The Wall, believe it or not, does this from time to time. The message of the album—shutting yourself off from society is not a good idea—is quite serious, but moments of pure silliness shine through. "In the Flesh," for example, plays the hero as an Evil Overlord type, which is outright cartoonish in and of itself, and the lyrics are so over-the-top that they sound like the ravings of a frothing-at-the-mouth lunatic. And then there's "The Trial," which plays Pink's moment of clarity as a vaudeville show, complete with a judge that resembles an enormous, disembodied human backside that wears a judge's wig. And yet it only enhances the message: "Shutting yourself off from society is not only a bad idea, it is also a very silly and ultimately pointless one."
Captain Beefheart's work frequently goes from surreal and often sexual imagery to his rather serious environmental concerns. The best example of this is on the album Trout Mask Replica, where the rather serious (albeit cryptic) "Well" is sandwiched between the bizarre "Pena" and the hilarious "When Big Joan Sets Up". Another example is on the album The Spotlight Kid which features the song "Blabber N' Smoke". The lyrics of the song go from him making fun of his wife telling him not to smoke to insisting that we "clean up the air and treat the animals fair".
Iron Maiden have recorded serious songs as singles and released joke songs as B Sides for quite a while now.
Microdisney's "Money for the Trams" seems like serious commentary on yuppie culture... until Cathal yells "Take your stupid clothes off!"
Horse Overboard. In the past when a ship was carrying too much cargo they would have to put something overboard to stop it from sinking, and the horses would be the first to go. With that in mind the line "My wife is a horse" makes sense (it's about leaving your wife). Out of context however, it is a hilarious line, made funnier by the fact "horse" is of course a derogatory thing to call a woman.
Looked at from an out-of-universe perspective Warhammer 40,000 has the tongue so firmly planted in cheek its punching through, in-universe it is so serious and depressing its rather surprising you have productive people at all considering how depressing it must be to be in charge of anything in 40k.
It also depends on which perspective it's coming from. For example: a battle between the Imperial Guard and the Orks. If the story is from the Ork's perspective, the dialogue and descriptions take an amusing and humourous tone, talking about "takin' da biggest, baddest shootas and choppas ya can get 'old of, and spendin' da rest of da havin' a bit 'o' fun, krumpin' 'umie gitz with da boyz and tryin' not ta get zogged yaself". Take the point of view of an Imperial Guardsman, and the same battle is a terrifying fight for survival with your woefully inadequate lasgun and body armour, against hordes of hulking tough-as-nails green-skinned horrors brandishing monstrous cleavers and improbably-sized machine guns and flamethrowers.
The Illuminati University setting for GURPS actually makes the Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness adjustable, from "Silly" through "Weird" to the (more or less) serious, paradoxically named "Darkly Illuminated". The current edition of Paranoia does much the same thing, with Straight, Classic, and Zap.
Most editions of Gamma World are pure slapstick. However, 3rd and 6th Edition both rein in the madness and look at the setting from a more serious perspective (though even so, many of the monsters are still just plain weird).
Space 1889: Victorian times and Victorian literature, in particular Victorian science fiction, which is the basis of the game, often seem rather silly to the modern mind. The game, however, takes itself seriously, with there being very little humor. The adventure Canal Priests of Mars has a rather silly person as one of the passengers, but thatís about it. Generally speaking, historical Victorians took themselves seriously.
Of Thee I Sing was the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize; for a satire on politics, it's quite idealistic. It's also gleefully silly, with the nine Supreme Court judges appearing to rule on such Serious Business as:
"Which is more important: corn muffins or justice?" (The answer is corn muffins, because Feminine Women Can Cook.) "Will it be a boy or a girl?" (The Supreme Court decides the sex of Presidential infants by a strict party-line vote.)
Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You In The Closet And I'm Feelin' So Sad is both cynical and silly.
Jason Robert Brown has written on the more serious side of the spectrum, but 13 is on the sillier side.
Cirque du Soleil shows are idealistic but all over this spectrum — ranging from whimsically comic (KOOZA, OVO) to bittersweet and melancholy (Quidam) or grand and stately ("O", KA), with such shows as Mystere, Alegria, Varekai, and Corteo occupying a middle ground. A good indicator of where a show falls on the line is its clown acts — how much time they get, how important the characters are to the rest of the show, the style of their humor, etc.
Wicked is much lighter than the novel it was based upon, especially with songs like "What Is This Feeling?" and "Popular" in Act 1, but still remains fairly serious on the whole.
The early Tomb Raiders didn't take themselves seriously at all, with a heavy dose of Rule of Fun and Rule of Cool, even Breaking the Fourth Wall at the end of Tomb Raider II as Lara shoots the player for trying to watch her in the shower. Last Revelation onwards, the series has become more and more sensible and mature.
This trope wouldn't be complete without Serious Sam. Despite constantly claiming to be serious, the games are always far on the silly side of the scale. To show just how serious the game is, this quote from the man himself: "Now I'm seriously serious!"
Sam: (on picking up the atomic powered chainsaw): LOOK MA! I'M A LUMBERJACK!
Doom, which was one of the pioneers of the First-Person Shooter genre remains serious as the unnamed Player Character runs down the dark and gloomy corridors of Hell, blowing away the evil demons and never so much as cracking a joke (or saying anything at all) while doing so.
Contrast to Duke Nukem 3D, which doesn't take itself seriously at all. Duke constantly spouts off one-liners and making homages to movies and other video games as he explores each new brightly-lit level, saving naked babes and blowing away the alien scum.
Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri, with its unbelievably hard science and its completely consistent stories about the survival of Mankind in a Death World is one of the most serious videogames ever created by man. Despite this, there's a good number of jokes scattered throughout the Encyclopedia Exposita. Especially the Morganite quotes. On the subject of black holes: "Yes, yes, we've all heard the philosophers babble about 'oneness' being 'beautiful' and 'holy'. But let me tell you that this kind of oneness certainly isn't pretty and if you're not careful it will scare the bejeezus out of you."
Starcraft falls somewhere in between. The Terran footsoldiers and commanders are fond of cracking jokes, throwing one-liners and being portrayed in a Duke Nukem-esque style (the Confederacy is even the Deep South Recycled IN SPACE!); the Zerg, however, are portrayed as a Chaotic Evil force of destruction and assimilation, while the Protoss are portrayed as strict but virtuous and disciplined heroes, who occasionally crack a really good joke. This is a game where if you click often enough on a Protoss observer, it'll replay lines from other units, as well as "One small step for man", and the sequel's Viking unit is a Transforming Mecha that's slated to say "Transform and roll out!". It also has cutscenes in which people get claws shoved through their faces.
Kingdom Hearts whips up and down the scale. The plot is generally serious (albeit impenetrable), but on occasion the series does have to lighten up...because, after all, it's impossible to be fully serious when most of your cast comes from Walt Disney Studios.
The villains in the Rayman series have been steadily going from serious to silly as time goes by: The first game featured Mr. Dark, a more serious character (as serious as Rayman 1 could be) with no funny bits at all. Rayman 2: The Great Escape featured the Robo-Pirates, genuinely scary-looking monstrosities but with their own funny moments. Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc had the Hoodlums, about as scary as the Robo-Pirates but much more cartoony, with lots of slapstick humor throughout the game. Finally there's the Raving Rabbids party game series, featuring the psychotic but overall stupid Rabbids, who seem somewhat creepy at first until... "BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
The main reason why Shadow the Hedgehog, both game and character, are such sore spots of contention amongst Sonic fans is most likely the fact that both take themselves deadly seriously, in contrast to the light-hearted and cartoonish tone of previous games and most of the rest of the cast. This turn to the serious side was Played for Laughs in the All-Stars Racing games, where all of the other characters (save for Sore Loser Eggman) sound like they're having fun whereas Shadow is taking the races seriously (and may not even fully comprehend the silliness going on around him).
The first game in the Donkey Kong Country series was definitely on the "silliness" side of the scale, featuring a wide variety of cartoony enemies and bright, colorful locales. The second game took a few steps towards the "seriousness" side, with more realistic colors and settings and more ominous music, but took an equal amount of steps backwards for the third game.
In La-Mulana, Elder Xelpud starts off as a cheery, screwy old man who rambles about MSX games. Also, in the village, Lemeza's cheerful theme music will play. Then when you beat the eight Guardians, he stops saying them for the rest of the game, the village music gets changed to the dark title screen music, his theme music no longer plays when you enter his tent (instead continuing to play the title music), and his random lines all get changed to the following:
The Wario Land series is the most extreme representation of the silly end of the scale. You've got WarioWare which is rule of silly and fun defined, which is in turn random character stories with even more random microgames which deliberately make as little sense as possible, and Wario Land which does away with a story so to speak and has Wario exploring extreme Theme Park Versions of places and fighting some extremely weird bosses (Evil cuckoo clock, basketball playing rabbit, what looks like a French duck chef riding a frying pan and randomly attacking the character from the ceiling or the side of the screen, etc.) And with treasure that includes literal metaphors and random items with punny names.
Super Mario Bros. represents the silly side of the scale in the Nintendo lineup, aside from some occasional serious elements in certain games.
The concept of the Super Smash Bros.. series - Nintendo characters fighting each other on a variety of quirky stages for no discernible reason beyond it being cool - is fundamentally silly, and the games revel in this goofiness. The "Subspace Emissary" mode in Brawl takes itself a little bit more seriously than the rest of the game, but only just enough that the sheer ridiculousness of the story loops around to become legitimately awesome at points.
Up until Days of Ruin, Nintendo Wars lived happily way down the silly end of this scale. Days of Ruin has suddenly shifted the series right to the serious end. The transfer is handled reasonably well, but it's easy to miss the goofiness (saying that, the American version still has plenty of goofy moments, even in the post-apocalyptic setting). Also, one of the complaints leveled against the Battalion Wars games is that while the character and unit designs lean towards the silly side, the action and carnage are played entirely straight, making this part of the series on the part of the line between the two sides that runs right through the Uncanny Valley.
Outside of a few Joke Characters, Samurai Warriors is fairly far towards the serious side in its storytelling, while Sengoku Basara is fairly far towards the silly end. Both are pretty far out-there on the "historical accuracy" scale, though.
The first game is quite serious, but is quite willing to get silly at frequent intervals, sometimes blending dead seriousness and hammy silliness into the same moment, i.e. the Dehuai arc. Dehuai is quite the large ham, but his plots have deadly consequences and he is a seriously difficult boss to beat when the time comes. The events following this skew towards the serious, what with Yuri being in an internal battle trying to dominate the soul of a Demi-God called Seraphic Radiance, but still manages to find breaths of comedy. The endings of the game also reflect both ends of the spectrum.
Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Despite starting off by establishing the first game's bad end as canon, once the initial characters are introduced, things are quite clearly presented in a lighter and softer tone. Silly villains are sillier (but still deadly), hamminess is hammier, and combat is more bombastic and over the top. Even so, the scale of conflict and dark dangers presented here are much larger than those presented in the first game, and throughout the game Yuri must deal with the loss of his love, Alice Elliot, who exchanged her soul for his in a tragically unsubverted Deal with the Devil, and a curse that will eventually either steal his soul or his memories. However, once again, the possible endings reflect the Sliding Scale in that one ending has Yuri losing his memories to the curse, dying and possibly lost in Limbo, while the other establishes him being time-travelling to shortly before the events of the first game, memories intact. As there is no direct sequel to this game, neither ending is officially canonical, but fanon has it that the continuity flows as such: Shadow Hearts bad ending -> Covenant good ending -> Shadow Hearts good ending.
Shadow Hearts: From the New World. This game does not share direct continuity with the previous two games, and as such is viewed as a Gaiden Game within the series. This game lies FAR closer to the silly side of the scale then either of the previous two games. In fact, roughly half the characters who join your party are fairly comical in and of themselves. These include a super patriotic geriatric ninja loyal to the USA, a Mega Neko with dreams of Hollywood stardom, and a Mexican musician with an instrument that doubles as heavy armament.
Command & Conquer is an interesting example of two series, both of which are traveling along the Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness - however, in different directions. The Tiberium series started out fairly seriously although with a fair bit of camp. Tiberium Sun moves the series into Darker and Edgier territories and Tiberium War is downright Black and Grey Morality depending on your mileage. Red Alert on the other hand started out serious with the premise of the Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act. Red Alert 2 on the other hand had psychics, telepathically controlled squids and dolphins and female assassins in latex as well as an overall notching up of the camp in the cutscenes. Red Alert 3 is downright silly: Armored bears shot out of cannons, mechas, Magical Girl assassins, an overall plot that doesn't make sense whatsoever and of course Tim Curry.
The Mega Man series starts off as silly, with Mega Man stopping Wily and his bunch of googly-eyed robots. It gets more serious with Mega Man X, where reploids are trying to destroy humanity with moderate success but there are bits of robot cartoonishness here and there. Mega Man Zero is even more serious, set After the End and trying to stop villains from making it even worse. Mega Man ZX seems to have lightened the series back up again though. The two spin-off series, Mega Man Legends and Mega Man Battle Network are definitely on the sillier side. And then you have Mega Man Star Force which the serious factor in the game is evident by looking at Mega Man Geo-Omega's expression on theboxcover
The Soul Series has always displayed both at the same time. For instance, the first game, Soul Blade. On one hand you have Li Long, whose story is utterly tragic, yet believable. Then, on the other hand, you have Voldo, who is ridiculous. Sophitia has a move where she kicks her opponent in the balls and says "Oops". As the series goes on, it reveals more fantasy elements, which mean that the story is a lot harder to follow seriously. The fourth game features Darth Vader and Yoda as playable characters, their inclusion in a historical game being extremely silly.
Tekken has always taken itself far less seriously than many games in the genre. Its long running nature means that characters will develop over time, sometimes getting sillier as they go along. The best example is Paul, who started off as a serious fighter before descending into joke character mode. Part of the reason for this is because of the game's makers noticing how much he looks like a combination of Ken and Guile from Street Fighter, which meant he would have to do something unique or parody them not to be seen as a ripoff. So naturally, his gimmick is that he is an arrogant American fighter who enters the tournament every year only to lose it nearly every time, has a special move that is a fire punch, and that his rival is a bear, Kuma. Despite this he has always been one of the best fighters in the game and simply doesn't have much bearing on the main story.
The Grand Theft Auto games have some elements that can go either way. The world around the protagonists seems gritty and corrupt, but the radio stations seem reluctant to take themselves seriously, suggesting a somewhat more frivolous world.
Oblivion, on the other hand is quite silly at times, such as a Daedric Prince giving you a quest to cast a spell that strips everyone in a room naked, in the name of good fun. And then there's Sheogorath, who will threaten to kill you if you fail him, in a deep voice...only to notice, one line later, that he just made a pun.
Skyrim lampshaded it. When you ask Barbas, a talking dog, if he just talked, he responds:
'Barbas:' Skyrim is now host to giant, flying lizards and two-legged cat-men... and you're surprised by me? Yes. I just talked. And am continuing to do so.
The Zork games vary widely: on the silly side, there's the Large Ham Grand Inquisitor, magic words like "Hello, sailor," and everything being manufactured by a company called Frobozz (tm). On the serious side, there's also some moments of genuine Nightmare Fuel, such as an Eldritch Abomination in a maze, topiary stalkers, and a dark ur-grue that can possess the unwary player.
Sakura Taisen 2 tracks the player character's position on this scale (based mostly on dialogue choices.)
Worms lives way down the silly end of the scale, and loves every second of it.
Konami's two popular shoot 'em up franchises, Gradius and Twinbee, lie far at opposite ends of the scale, with the cinematic Gradius at the serious end and the cartoonish Twinbee far at the silly end. And then came Parodius where Konami cranked up the silly and tore off the knob.
Metal Wolf Chaos is way at the silly end of scale, being an affectionate parody over both the Japanese mecha anime and the American blockbuster action movies!!! Practically an Americanized, manly version of Parodius.
Bug!- Definitely at the end of the silly side. You know that when the "hit an enemy" sound is a wacky cartoon sound effect. Also, Bug's silly humorous quotes when he kills an enemy or when he takes damage show it too.
Dead Rising manages to cover the entire scale gameplay-wise while keeping its serious story elements. At one point, you can dress yourself as a fat old lady with beard, and at another point, costumes homaging the Mega Man franchise spawn up to goof up the zombie massacre (Frank as Mega Man; Chuck as Dr. Wily).
The Mass Effect series, which loves to hammer home the fact that War Is Hell, stays extremely serious most of the time, but is willing to get silly from time to time, especially when it comes to Joker and Garrus. A special mention goes to the "Citadel" DLC for Mass Effect 3, the first half of which is a rather grim story involving terrorism, hijacking of the Normandy, Shepard's clone, and An Aesop about the Power of Friendship driven in with iron nails, while the second half is basically most of the (surviving) characters of the series bumping into each other for massive hilarity, ranging from Grunt's drunk antics, to Zaeed hitting on Samara, to Shepard and Javik participating in the shooting of a Blasto movie as themselves.
The first half of Citadel was pretty hilarious in its own right, it basically slid whichever way it wanted, but it was pretty silly, especially with regards to the numerous jokes once they find out Shepard has a clone.
Kid Icarus: Uprising is for the most part, an enormous farce, but it occasionally dips into serious drama: Every character's a chatterbox comedian, the game's filled to the brim with Mythology Gags and Nintendo-centric Shout Outs, and the art style and character designs are bright and cartoony. Yet the plot twists are entirely serious and set up in advance, the major villains are genuinely menacing, and there are parts where characters are in realistic peril, sometimes more than you might expect in a E-10 + rated game. It's probably comparable to the Zelda series in that extent.
Half-Life is a more or less serious first-person shooter about aliens invading and enslaving all of humanity and driving them to near extinction, and the player character's battle to liberate humanity is played pretty straight. At the same time, there are still undertones of wry silliness throughout. A few specific examples:
The many scientists in the first game are exaggeratedly nerdy eggheads, and many of them are shown dying in morbidly hilarious ways.
One of the major supporting characters of the second gamenote who's one of said nerdy scientists keeps a de-fanged pet headcrab affectionately named LaMarr, which he feeds watermelons as a substitute for violently latching onto human heads.
Possibly one of the most cartoonish elements of the second game is Father Grigori, a shotgun-wielding religious madman who escorts you through his zombie-infested town while fanatically uttering Biblical references.
Portal is a darkly humorous puzzle game with more prominently overt silliness involving a cheerfully insane A.I. forcing you to solve deadly puzzles with the promises of cake and grief counseling, all while cute robots and a Companion Cube keep you company. Some elements of it are just plainly dark, like the depressing back-story of both the player character and the main villain, but it's otherwise Black Comedy full-stop.
The Saints Row series began fairly seriously as a GTA competitor and drifted further into silliness as each game is released. In the first game you played as a member of what was essentially a vigilante gang. Pretty gritty. In the second game you tried to remake that gang into a criminal powerhouse while also engaging in some nonsensical antics, like spraying shit from a septic truck. In the third game you turned that gang into a multi-media empire and are essentially a criminal pop-culture icon and one of the weapons you can have is a giant purple dildo. In the fourth game, you are the president of the United States when Earth gets attacked by aliens who trap you in a virtual reality simulator that gives you superpowers. At that point it's pretty clear the series didn't just go off the rails, it gleefully jumped off the rails just before nuking them and didn't even look back at the explosion.
Star Control 2: The Ur-Quan Masters somehow manages to still be quite serious despite being very silly. The scale setting could generally be determined based on what alien race you were talking to at the moment. Talking to [[Cloudcuckoolander the Pkunk]]? Expect a very silly conversation. Talking to the Ur-Quan, expect things to be very, veryserious. And for all the silliness, even the silly parts were often important to helping you complete the game.
Compare After Burner to Ace Combat. The former takes air combat to the silly, arcady extreme, while the latter takes it much more seriously - even with its relatively lighter-hearted first two installments.
Sluggy Freelance is on the silly end of the spectrum roughly 95% of the time, but every so often something like "Fire And Rain'' comes along and the series dives head first into seriousness. This seriousness is usually mocked later on. And yet, one of the reasons why Ian McDonald's guest Saturdays gained some hatedom seems to have been that he went over some invisible line in making the Dimension of Pain a bit more silly than usual.
The Insecticomics has never really taken itself seriously, to the point where the fourth wall has a hinge on it, but there have been a few dramatic storylines to add an element of seriousness to the business—the current Unicron-related one being the most dramatic yet.
Despite being known for a solid and serious storyline, Girl Genius hits the silliness switch every second we step out of canon (even inside canon, sometimes). Case in point: the Ferretina arc.
Schlock Mercenary, despite being one of the more cynical works out there, is quite silly, looking mostly like a normal gag a day strip at first glance.
The Order of the Stick began on the silly side, slid slowly but surely towards the serious side, reached some major extremes during the Azure City battles and the split party arc, and has slid back noticeably since that story wrapped up, going back to self-aware joke-a-day strips, though still remaining within the story.
Gunnerkrigg Court: A mostly serious story-telling comic, but with entire chapters with non-stop funny, like Chapter 24.
The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! is generally quite silly (e.g., one of the main characters is a Muppet-like furry monster spontaneously generated from a jar of peanut butter), but that doesn't stop the characters from having emotional depth and experiencing some quite moving moments of pain, love, regret, and redemption amidst all the absurdity of the storylines.
Homestuck : The webcomic is on both ends of the scale so frequently and rapidly, it must have broken it by now. Can overlap with Mood Whiplash at times.
Besides a few pages of seriousness (dealing with a character's Final Death), the NSFW La Mouette Noire resides permanently in the Silly end. Fitting, as it's about a video game where many characters know that they are VG characters.
The Transformers Wiki usually has the facts you need to know, but it does so with a sense of humor. It has to be so, really: it's a big cross-linked, meticulously collated encyclopaedia covering the details of a universe that doesn't exist and was created to sell toys and entertain kids. Being too serious about their work would be fairly ridiculous. Tropers might see something a little familiar there. (This clearly occurred to editor David Willis: in his webcomic Shortpacked!! one of the characters gets into Edit Wars with him on the TF Wiki.)
The Whateley Universe is usually nearer the Silly Side, but it really varies by author. The Phase novels are Serious Side but funny too. The Jade stories are likely to be hysterically funny and silly, with occasional ventures into brutal seriousness (which don't stick long for this protagonist). The Chaka stories are on the silly side, with a character who never angsts (and seldom looks before leaping into trouble). The Carmilla stories are definitely serious, and set in Lovecraft Country with a protagonist who is a Cosmic Horror.
Freddie Wong's videos are also often very silly. Who knew firefights and mowing down mooks could be so hilarious?
Cartoons like The Simpsons, South Park, Futurama, and Family Guy are, on the whole, pretty cynical, but also flippant and often deliberately silly. However, on the occasion where they're slightly serious, they're usually less cynical.
Contrast to the Spawn HBO animated series, which ran from 1997 to 1999. It remains dark and gritty throughout, everything is taken seriously, and about the only thing one might find laughable is some of the random nudity in the first season as well as the barrage of profanity constantly spewed from everyone's mouths.
The DCAU takes itself seriously, especially whenever Darkseid shows up, but when the spotlight is on The Flash then it usually crosses over to the silly side. It's the same in the comics and their respective influences on mood are used very deliberately by authors. Santa delivering coal to Darkseid? Hysterical. Horrific things happening to the various Flashes (Heroic Sacrifice, children murdered, wife murdered)? Utterly tragic.
Two Batman shows spanning the scale: Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The Batman falls squarely in the middle, and has a seesaw between light-hearted and deadly serious too. The episode where Batman finally tracks down Joe Chill - the man who killed his parents, springs to mind. He's every bit as dark and terrifying as his Batman: The Animated Series counterpart was, even edging close to The Dark Knight Returns territory. Another example is a shockingly dark Batman Cold Open involving the Spectre, who's entire gimmick is dealing out poetic justice, in this case turning an obcure Batman villain into cheese, only for him to be eaten by rats.
Avatar: The Last Airbender fluctuates wildly between the two sides of the scale depending on the episode. The extent to which each side of the scale is travelled is equally extreme; the silly moments are incredibly silly (for example, a hammy play based on the characters' exploits) and the serious moments are incredibly serious (for example, revealing that Zuko obtained his scar from his own father who shot him in the face).
There have been two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series so far (with a third on the way) and they both represented opposite takes on the material. The first, made in 1987, was everything the original comics were not - hammy, Totally Radical, entirely light hearted and harmless, family friendly fun with an eye on selling The Merch. The second one, made in 2003, took the serious plots of the comic (often literally), and replaced its somewhat dry characterizations with the more realized turtles from the previous show and live action films to deliver something very comparable to Avatar: The Last Airbender. There were campy superhero stories, and alternate universe tales where everyone dies. There was even an episode that was a straight-up H.P. Lovecraft send-up. When Executive Meddling retooled the show, it become a lot more like the first cartoon and stayed that way until the Turtles Forever crossover movie, which plays up the differences between the two shows for laughs. The 2007 CGI movie was in line with the 2003 series' tone. The 2012 series so far has been fairly balanced, and many episodes have both serious and silly moments. It helps that it's pretty self-aware of its roots in both shows and the original comic.
Much like Avatar above, Danny Phantom is all over this scale. It goes from various degrees of complete silliness (the Box Ghost in general, Danny being split into two stereotypical and wacky Flanderizations of his personality) to incredibly serious (anything involving Danny's alternatefutureself for a start, Vlad's cloning, Danny becoming Public Enemy Number One). Many times, the scale fluctuates repeatedly in a single episode, where humor will be placed into an extremely serious episode.
Head Injury Theater even notes that seasons tend to go up and down the scale correspondingly. For example, Season 1 was relatively low on plot, and the episodes tended to mostly stay in the middle. Season 4 was heavy on a dark and apocalyptic plot, but the episodes not having to do with that plot were about Control Freak leading them through TV shows, Cyborg going back in time to fight with barbarians, the other members dressing like Robin while he trains with animals, tofu aliens, a redneck who can duplicate himself, and a bizarre re-enactment of Hansel and Gretal.
Dr. Light was an interesting case, as he was a complete doofus but he seemed to have been written with a wink and a nod toward the darker stories the modern DC comics have written about him, as evidenced with Raven mind-raping him and him kipnapping a teenage girl (Dr. Light of the comics was revamped as a rapist and mindwiped by the heroes in the Identity Crisis mini series).
By contrast, Young Justice is almost uniformly serious, with most of the comic relief coming from snark rather than sillyness.
Invader Zim is an interesting case, basically being about ridiculously silly characters in a total Crapsack World. Episodes tend to lean on the side of silly, but it varies; often they mix the two, which can result in bizarre aspects of a very dark plot (such as in "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy," where Zim uses the titular toys to mercilessly maim and almost murderDib as a small child).
During most of the first three seasons, Daria was firmly silly. Starting with the season three finale, the Daria/Tom/Jane Love Triangle brought the show closer to serious territory, although most elements not related to it remained silly.
Samurai Jack could jump genres as easily as it jumped degrees of silly: moving from a slapstick Alice in Wonderland parody in one episode to outright undead horror in others.
The Boondocks is another "Silly yet Cynical" work. For example, "The Passion of Uncle Ruckus" is about a man with re-vitiligo note The opposite of what Michael Jackson had. who hates black people founding the "Church of White Jesus," who believe, among other things, that smacking black people is good for both the slapper and "slappee." He demonstrates this on people who come up to the altar. Meanwhile, Huey tries to break an innocent black man out of prison. Said innocent man had a ton of evidence that said he did not commit the murder, up to and including the gun license that had the full name and other identification of the real culprit, as well as a confession letter signed by the culprit himself.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is already a silly show in itself, with lampshades being hung all over the place, and deliberate violations of disbelief being made in favor of coolness, funniness; etc. When Pinkie Pie enters the scene, however, the show drops any sense of seriousness and shoots off the silly end of the scale. Even the "serious" moments in the show are still done in tongue-in-cheek and propped up by gags and silliness by the characters themselves to keep things from getting too heavy and dramatic, including the villains (Especially Discord). The only aversion to the trope has been King Sombra. When he's described as made of pure darkness and evil For the Evulz, the viewers couldn't help but expect a hilariously over-the-top villain. It made him all the more chilling when he appears, and is played as a deadly serious and frighteningly competent villain that is given such little characterization he comes off as an impending force of destruction rather than a character. Even his cheesy line "My crystal slaaaaaves..." somehow sounds intimidating after the build-up he's been given.
Adventure Time in general lies on the silly end of the scale even later in the series after Cerebus Syndrome kicked in and gave it a more serious nature. However it can go all over the scale, sometimes shifting within an episode. It can be unbelievably silly (like "Slumber Party Panic") or go VERY serious (eg "I Remember You"), and ANYWHERE in between. You would expect a series like this to stick to the silly side exclusively due to its art style alone.