Every Bubblegum Crisis episode ever has essentially the same plot: An old friend to one of the team is introduced, and some backstory about how the old friend and the teammate know each other is exposited. The old friend goes away just long enough for something bad to happen to him/her. Irrespective of which teammate's friend it was, Priss gets all pissed off about the situation and decides to take matters into her own hands. As she is suiting up, however, the rest of the team shows up because they've always got her back. The team suits up, and goes off to kick the problem's ass. There's a heartfelt apology from the old friend who is ultimately never seen again, and a wry signoff/joke. THE END.
Most of Cardcaptor Sakura involved one of the Clow Cards attacking or causing chaos in Sakura's neighbourhood, leading her to neutralise and capture it (a occasional variation in the anime version involved Syaoran sometimes stopping the card and earning it instead). The final arc after she becomes Master Of The Cards mostly involves Eriol sending some magical force up against Sakura so she must upgrade one of her cards to stop it. The formula was occasionally put aside to focus on the personal lives of the main characters along with several romantic side arcs.
Almost every TV episode of Doraemon falls into this with Nobita crying about a problem and begging Doraemon for a gadget of the week whether it is getting revenge from the bullies Gian and Suneo, solving his school struggles, or showing off over Suneo's wealth. Nobita will abuse said gadget or it will end up stolen by Gian and Suneo and both misuse it themselves. Doraemon has to get it back and morale is taught or not.
Fairy Tail follows the same formula whenever a new dark guild or evil organization rears its ugly head: Fairy Tail mows down all the Mooks with no effort, while the Quirky Miniboss Squad gives them some trouble before getting taken out, all leading up to the climactic battle against the Arc Villain, who (most often) Natsu takes down after being pushed to the brink. Pepper it with some tragic backstories for new villains or known characters, a Heel-Face Turn or two, and at least one of the heroes' new enemies/allies exclaiming how insane Fairy Tail is, and you have your standard story arc.
Franken Fran gets a patient who wants something. She gives it to them through super surgery. It comes back to bite them in the ass. Fran tries to fix it, and ends up making it worse. Fran shrugs it off and moves on to the next patient.
Hell Girl: Introduce Victim and their problems. Victim contacts Hell Correspondence. Ai leaves them a straw doll and states the terms of the contract. Victim mulls it over. Target comes back to make their life hell. Victim pulls string near the end of the episode. Flashy torture sequence. Victim shown living with the consequences. This is the fundamental formula for pretty much all three seasons of the anime. There is an over-arching plot (particularly in the second series) that is sandwiched in, but usually doesn't take up too much time until the season finale. However, the more creepy and/or unusual episodes, like the abandoned hospital in Episode 17 of the first season shake up the formula. In the manga (which came later), most of the series plot is reduced, further invoking this trope.
Most One Piecestory arcs: the crew end up in some location they have a reason/are forced to stay at, they get a look around the place whenever there's anything especially interesting about it, find out trouble's brewing, new characters get their stories told, crew heads to confront bad guys, Luffy is indisposed, rest of crew fight similarly skilled opponents, Luffy comes back and beats the Big Bad, crew says their goodbyes to anyone they might have helped or been helped by (often taking the form of a huge village-wide party).
Every episode of Pokémon that isn't a Gym battle, catch/release of a Pokémon, personal development episode for one of the characters, or plot point from the game follows the formula: Meet person of the week with Pokémon of the week, this person/Pokémon will either have a problem or cause someone in Ash's group to see a problem in themselves, Team Rocket will plot to steal Pikachu and/or Pokémon of the week, Team Rocket unleashes their plan and is defeated in short order, the problem of the week is solved either by Team Rocket's defeat or some unrelated event.
The anime also seems to enjoy having Ash collect badges, go to the league and defeat his rival then immediately lose to someone he met a few episodes prior. The loss is excusable since he needs to have an excuse to keep on travelling, but the method is the very essence of this trope. Oh, and he always stays 10 years old.
The first two seasons of "Best Wishes" did give Team Rocket a bit of competence and much less screentime, though, the implication being they had their hands full with special directives or other serious business, leaving Ash and co. alone. They didn't show up once per episode, and they didn't have much bearing on Ash's side of the plot. The half-season of Filler before Pokémon X and Y came out turned them back to normal, though they still get a couple episodes of non-absence. Additionally, the Gen 5 arc also altered the "Ash catches five Pokémon in a region, releases or otherwise gives up one, and then catches another Pokémon to replace it" gimmick, where he instead had a team of eight (not counting Pikachu) with no releases, though out of those, four got shafted in terms of screen time to make room for the starters, Scraggy, and the Merchandise-Driven rejoining of Charizard.
Sailor Moon: One of the girls makes a new friend or had the friend without ever mentioning it, the friend has some kind of problem (romantic 99% of times), the Big Bad decides that — OMG, coincidence! — said friend is definitely the person who has... whatever the Big Bad is looking for, the Big Bads send a monster of the week, Sailor Moon and company start losing, Tuxedo Mask throws a rose and makes a small speech regarding the problem of the victim of the week, Sailor Moon uses her overly long attack to defeat the monster, figures out the victim didn't have whatever the Big Bad is looking for and the friend's problem is solved by the end of the episode, thanks to the fight or not. Also, the new friend will seem to have formed a strong, meaningful bond with one or all of the senshi... and then they are never seen or spoken of again. This was in the anime version, the manga and live action version was more about the senshis.
The Saint Seiya movies (with the exception of the second one) generally follow the same format as the Posidon arc of the manga - Greek God X arrises, proclaims they will destroy all of mankind; Athena confronts said god by herself and is promptly set up for a slow, tortuous death as a human sacrifice and her bronze saints (as the main characters) are given some arbitrary time limit to fight through the bad guy's minions and rescue her. Inevitably, they are all defeated at least once until Seiya (and sometimes Ikki) manages to struggle into the main baddie's chamber, whereupon he focuses all his and his friends' energy into the single punch that he's learned and blows the baddie to space dust. Athena is rescued, roll credits, the end. You could set your watch by it. Some of the other consistent guideposts: Hyouga will get curbstomped ala Worf. Shiryu will get beat within an inch of his life, but triumphs after shedding his armor to unleash his true power, and then collapses. Shun will fight defensively, get ripped apart, and call for his Big Brother with his last conscious breath. Ikki will then teleport in and avenge his little bro by viciously one-shotting the offender, but then gets Worf-stomped by the Dragon or Big Bad. Seiya will get debilitated somehow (blinding or poisoning, usually) and get thrown down a cliff or stairway, or into a ravine, which he will slowly and painfully make his way back up from, for the final confrontation as described above. Like clockwork.
Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei: Mr. Itoshiki is all riled up about some aspect of society. He lists a bunch of examples, taking the class on an impromptu field trip to do so. He declares that the aspect of society has left him in despair, possibly attempting suicide. Then, either Kafuka or Chiri shows up to show the positive side of the aspect of society or comment on the aspect of society's proper/ improperness. Then there might be some sort of punchline or something. This formula is followed all but the most surreal episodes, with the exception of some of the character introductions.
Yakitate!! Japan fell into this during the Yakitate 25 arc, with the basic plot elements of every match pretty much just repeating themselves after a while. This might be the reason it was eventually aborted to quickly switch to the final battle instead (and the anime version made it Yakitate 9 instead).
Some strips in The Beano follow or have followed a formula. For example Roger the Dodger always involves Roger coming up with a dodge to get out of something, usually work, and then that dodge fails and Roger ends up doing more work or in the old days getting beaten with a Slipper.
Many strips in Whizzer and Chips and other Fleetway comics involved a character with a gimmick eg. Val's Vanishing Cream (with Val and her vanishing cream which made things invisible) which followed a simple formula of Character with gimmick is having fun, a bully spoils that fun, Character uses gimmick to get back at bully and ends with gimmicky character having fun.
During Brian Michael Bendis' run on Avengers, his formula was, "The Avengers are having a meeting, possibly catered, when someone bursts through the window. Plot ensues."
Sleeping with the Girls and its sequel Sleeping With the Girls: Chaos Theory play it semi-straight, but avert this. The Self-Insert (keep reading) is hopping between worlds that typically operate under "Strictly Formula" rules. Being from the "Real" world, he can see these conventions playing out and has played with them in order to accomplish his goals. To prove this, he was able to talk Washu through one of the oldest perverted jokes in anime history, the Perverted Walk Innote where someone walks in on another person while bathing, or while in a compromising position. He is able to do this to the second, pointing out every single part of the joke and how it works.
No matter what you think of him, fanfiction author Shadowlugia249 (infamous in the fanfiction mocking community) seems to follow a very strict formula in many of his stories: loner protagonish hates his life, buys a toy in the form of an animal from a video game and gets transformed into said character by magic. After his transformation, said loner is always happier with his life. This is a more jarring example, especially to those outside the small niche he's aiming these fics at.
Films — Animated
During the 1990s, Disney had a very succesful run from 1989 till 1994, but after that they were often accused of enforcing this trope. Rebellious princesses who want to marry for love, heroines looking for something beyond what they know, bumbling or fantasy-forbidding fathers, bad guys falling off great heights. Pocahontas especially was accused of adhering to Disney formula, which admittedly is not entirely untrue. Ironically though, the problem seems to have been that all these movies came out in succession, as every single movie of the Disney Renaissance has been Vindicated by History and is now well-loved (some more than others: Pocahontas is still not thought of as a great movie, and The Rescuers Down Under has gained a cult following but isn't anywhere near mainstream).
DreamWorks Animation has also been accused of enforcing this trope in most of their CGI-animated movies during the 2000s: in the beginning, the main character is an outcast (or at the very least is "different"). Throughout the film he becomes a better person. In the end, he saves the day and everyone accepts him for who he is. Add bonus points for pop culture references, fart jokes and the occasional DreamWorks Face, and you're good to go.
Films — Live-Action
Justified and deconstructed in The Cabin in the Woods, where there's a massive conspiracy making people follow the strict formula of horror movies because that formula is actually the guidelines for a human sacrifice ritual, and all the right beats need to be hit in order to keep the Ancient Ones satisfied.
Indiana Jones films: It starts in the middle of a quest that ties into the film's main adventure, which revolves around finding a supernatural MacGuffin. Along the way Indy picks up a girl and has at least one comical sidekick, gets grossed out by creepy creatures, and kills the worst of the henchmen. He gets the MacGuffin and the Big Bad gets it too. The MacGuffin eventually shows its true power, the Big Bad is killed by their own greed, Indy gets a heartwarming ending, and the MacGuffin is once again lost. According to film critic Leonard Maltin, the formula had already gotten old by the time they got to the third installment.
The James Bond movies. Teaser (which might not be related to the plot), credits with dancing sillhouettes and a song from a popular artist, mission briefing, Bond gets involved with a Bond Girl and a female henchman, Bond gambles with the villain, henchmen ordered to kill Bond, female henchman dies, Bond enters the villain's base (voluntarily or captured), the villain reveals his plans (sometimes over dinner), and Bond foils the plans and gets away — along with the Bond Girl — from the Collapsing Lair. Sometimes he must survive one final confrontation with a surviving henchman. And there's always a Chase Scene, many times involving a helicopter.
Every American Girl gets a series of 6 books written to formula down to the titles. The formula has been getting a little more fluid as of late: Kaya's (the Nez Perce girl) books hardly follow it at all.
The Anita Blake novels are immensely formulaic. Just read the work's page on This Very Wiki. The sex scenes also follow a general formula: Anita is propositioned by one or more people, but refuses on moral grounds. The arduer takes over, hair is pulled and mutual screaming orgasms are achieved.
Daniel Handler's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Books 2-7 are all of the same basic pattern of the Baudelaires being sent to a new guardian and Olaf arriving in disguise to try and steal their money. Surprisingly, the formula is broken halfway through the series after the VFD subplot takes over.
Isaac Asimov's Azazel stories have a specific formula to them. One of George's friends wants something impossible (to be able to fly, to never have to wait in line, etc.) Azazel uses magic (or superscience, if Asimov was trying to sell the story to a sci-fi outlet) to solve the problem. This, in turn, ruins said friend's life. The only exception, "A Dim Rumble," has Azazel's intervention instead leave a world-shattering super-weapon on the loose.
Actually, one story (where the friend wishes for a great talent with words) is told specifically to point out that there is a formula, but it's that _George_ can never benefit (the friend realizes that his contract with George to give him half his earnings 'as a novelist' has a loophole because of his new way with words, so he becomes an ad copywriter instead and George never gets paid). So it's always George getting screwed, even if it's usually just by losing the friend (whose life is often fixed in the end, but for obvious reasons never talks to the guy again).
The Brother Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters have fairly formulaic romance subplots — as soon as the young lady is introduced, you know she'll be one half of the meant-to-be-together couple, and ditto with the young man; and you know that despite everything that threatens to keep them apart, they will get together in the end, one way or another. This predictability and warm fuzziness are part of the "cozy mystery" genre, and it doesn't get boring because the writing is good and the mysteries themselves don't get stale.
The Dresden Files has a formula that seems to be followed to the letter in books one, two, three, and five:
Harry is working on a low-key wizarding (that is, consulting) job or personal business when two problems develop more or less simultaneously: a police investigation with a supernatural side and a client hiring him for his magical expertise. The two cases almost always turn out to be connected. He butts heads with the police frequently even if he's working on something with their blessing, because they don't know or don't like how the magical world works and he can't tell them. He also butts heads with and insults local crime lord Johnny Marcone, but they're never actually enemies. He is tied up and/or gets his ass kicked several times by Mooks as he's hunting down his two cases. He will do something awesome to save a woman. By the time he and his allies in this story finally find the Big Bad, he is already in bad shape but wins by throwing a Spanner in the Works.
The sixth book appears to follow the formula at first but turns out to be a subversion. The later books go completely off the formula. The author says that this was a conscious choice which he did not initially believe would work, but which he made in an attempt to prove his writing teacher wrong. And then came Changes...
This is taken to a ridiculous extreme in the Encyclopedia Brown books. The first few pages of every book are word-for-word identical. Chapter 1 is always a case from his father, Chapter 2 is always a case he solves by himself in which he proves that the culprit is Bugs Meaney, and Chapter 3 always features Bugs's attempt at revenge for being foiled in Chapter 2, introducing Sally (cue more verbatim passages) as the explanation for why said revenge is "attempt to frame Encyclopedia" rather than "beat the crap out of Encyclopedia."
Meta example: In All the World is a Stage, the theater director reveals that he writes all his plays based on the same 10 dramatic character archetypes, and the public loves it. The protagonist himself ends up writing a play based on the same formula (but IN JAPAN) to make an impression on the actress he fell in love with.
The first three Harry Potter books play this fairly straight - Dursleys, Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, Quidditch, Christmas, the big plot issue, end of year feast, everyone goes home. Some formula stays for the later books (Harry always starts out at the Dursleys in the books, no matter what) but Rowling then breaks these down as the universe gets darker and more complicated - and Harry matures.
A lot of the Haruhi SuzumiyaLight Novels, most of which have not been animated, follow a formula when dealing with the entire Brigade: Haruhi gets a hair up her ass about doing some sort of activity. Kyon complains, Koizumi agrees, Nagato says nothing, Mikuru is confused, and they all go along with it. Something strange is going on with whatever activity they are doing, but Haruhi remains oblivious to it, either enjoying whatever they are doing or getting bored. Koizumi and/or Nagato explain whatever is going on, then Koizumi and/or Nagato fixes it, possibly with help from Kyon, though sometimes Mikuru From The Future shows up to settle the matter. In the end Kyon finds out that if the weird event wasn't obviously caused by Haruhi, then it had some connection with her anyway.
Their songs are on the whole very simple and mostly follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being under a silvery moon which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.
In Death: Each story in the series follows this basic formula: A murder occurs. Eve Dallas is called in to investigate the murder. She works the case to figure out who the murderer is. When she does, she goes and gets the bad guy. The series does play around with this formula, like the bad guy might actually get away somehow, the murderer is already identified, or the murderer goes after Eve first. Also, the series focuses on the developing relationship between Eve and Roarke, as well as other characters.
In the Nero Wolfe books, this and the character interplay between Wolfe and Archie is generally considered one of the big draws of the series. They generally follow a pattern like this:
Wolfe gets a case, either because Archie has talked him into accepting a client, because money's low and he's gone hunting for one, or because a matter of honor has compelled him to take the case without payment. The case is almost always a suspicious death that, despite the attitude of the police, is most likely murder. Archie is 'given instructions', which usually revolves around either taking a look at the crime scene, interviewing a person of interest and / or getting persons of interest in the case to Wolfe's office so he can interview them. After the above has taken place a couple of times, Inspector Cramer or some other police officer / authority figure shows up to try and bully / cajole information out of Wolfe; it's usually unsuccessful, although Wolfe may throw out an often-ignored hint or play with Exact Words. Another murder — often with the best suspect so far playing the victim — occurs. Wolfe has a Eureka Moment and Archie is often frozen out of the investigation so that Wolfe can employ other operativesnote and so that Archie can't reveal the guilty party to the reader too soon although Archie may have deduced (or at least have strong suspicions) about who the murderer is anyway. One of the other operatives (often Saul Panzer) digs up a vital piece of evidence which clinches the matter, at which point Wolfe summons the suspects and / or the police to his office to outline his theory and expose the murderer.
Monk inspired a series of novels written by show writers Lee Goldberg and later Hy Conrad. Many follow the same formula: Natalie introduces Monk and Monk quickly solves an unrelated murder. The real murder occurs. Monk accuses someone out of pettiness. Monk determines the real killer, who has an airtight alibi; only Natalie believes him. Monk is proven right. End of story.
A few stories don't necessarily follow it: in Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse, the unrelated murder case happens midway through the story, after the investigation for the main murder starts. Also, Monk accusing Lucas Breen of being the killer is not done out of pettiness.
In Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu, the first murder investigation shown is part of the novel's first subplot (the Strangler serial killer). The unrelated murder happens after the second subplot starts (an astrologer's stabbing, and two very improvised murders, all committed in the span of 24 hours).
In Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop, there is a variant: many of the threads that set up the main murder mystery's plot occur within the first 14 chapters (Monk and Natalie meeting Bill Peschel and Paul Braddock, the two eventual murder victims), but in the first half, there are two unrelated subplots: a small university shooting that Monk solves on the spot, and the assassinations of two judges.
In Mr. Monk in Trouble, the unrelated murder at the beginning doesn't have Monk even visit the crime scene but identify the killer based on what he's wearing. Gets an Ironic Echo when Natalie reads an entry in Abigail Guthrie's journal where Artemis Monk identifies a killer in the same way without ever going to the crime scene or seeing the dead body. The mysteries in that journal turn out to be Chekhov's Gun for the main plot.
In-Universe, in Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants, Monk is quickly unimpressed with Ian Ludlow's novels because the way Detective Marshak catches the killer in each story is the same: the killer is given away by a personality quirk. It's the fact that the killers in the stories are always dropping an Orgy of Evidence so that Ludlow's protagonist can wrap things up tightly, and they're always given away the same way, that allow Monk to nail Ludlow for killing a shoe salesman and framing Natalie for the crime: Ludlow kills people and acts like the very killers he creates for his books - drops excessive clues to make sure the least likely individual takes the fall for the murder, and betrays himself because he can't resist signing his own books whenever he goes into a bookstore that sells them, which ends up proving that he was actually in San Francisco committing a murder when he was supposedly in Los Angeles.
A typical Point Horror book will follow a teenage female character, who falls in love with another teenager boy, set amidst seemingly paranormal occurrences. As mentioned above, the spooky happenings usually turn out to be perfectly explainable.
Every set of Rainbow Magic books follows the same formula: Jack Frost steals/misplaces seven magical items, and Rachel and Kirsty have to find them with the help of seven fairies that guard the items.
Brian Jacques' Redwall series runs on four plots: the siege, the kidnapping, the land quest, and the sea quest. All will also need a puzzle/rhyme/prophecy to be solved. All with lots and lots of Food Porn.
Piers Anthony's Xanth novels, by his own admission, tend to follow the same basic formula every time: Random person has random problem, random person goes to the Good Magician to ask a Question about how to solve that problem, random person gets sent on a seemingly arbitrary quest, seemingly arbitrary complications occur, at the end of the story, it turns out that going on the seemingly arbitrary quest solved the original problem, or the character finds out that the problem they thought they wanted solved wasn't actually the real problem, or they actually wanted something different, either way, they get what they "really" wanted and everybody lives happily ever after.
Agatha Christie used this trope to sell millions. She may not have invented the mystery formula, but she is the reason you know it.
You know exactly which character is going to be evil in the end after reading the first few paragraphs (i.e. the character that either has no apparent logical reason to be the villain and/or the one that appears to aid the protagonists the most).
Also, the plot of the book is generally predicated around an object, discovery, piece of computer code, etc, which all the sensible characters insist should not exist such as the uncrackable security code in Digital Fortress, the meteorite in Deception Point, the existence of the Illuminati in Angels and Demons, etc. More often than not, this turns out to be the case; the conspiracy or whatever turns out to be a hoax, or a smokescreen hiding the villain's true intent.
And the stock Unusual Assassin: Albino Fundamentalist, Deaf Portuguese Man, etc...
David Eddings has written several multi-book series of high fantasy adventure. They're all identical. In The Malloreon, even the characters note that it seems like they've been through it all before... Which may be true, since they did The Belgariad before. It is eventually explained the universe became "stuck" when its Purpose was split in two, so people keep acting out the same patterns until things get set to rights. He set out to write the most formulaic fantasy series ever in the The Belgariad, to see if he could still make it interesting.
Edgar Rice Burroughs: A handsome man of physical strength and skill, of high birth — though he may be ignorant of it, and the reader may be too — travels to far-off land and meets a heroine, beautiful, spirited, and prone to be kidnapped. She is also of high birth, though the hero and reader are even more likely to be ignorant of that, and she may be. He has adventures, several of which revolve about rescuing the heroine, and there are misunderstandings between the two of them. In the end, the misunderstandings are resolved, the dangers are dealt with, and they marry. Sometimes he diverged from this. The results were often unhappy.
Jodi Picoult: All her books have the same (general) formula: People (usually centering on the woman) living a normal life (in some New England town), something big happens/happened to them (i.e. husband is cheating, child is arrested) and there ends up being a court case either involving family members (i.e a family member committed a crime) or involving family members suing each other. Usually the court case involves children or teens. Expect one child to be severely ill and wiser than their years. The parents will/already did forget about the other child, if there is one. It is often a Tear Jerker, but is successful because of that (the judge/jury feels sorry for the defendant). Usually there is a Shocking Swerve near the end. Glaring examples include My Sister's Keeper and Handle with Care, the latter of which has been criticized for being nearly identical to My Sister's Keeper. Most of Picoult's books written before My Sister's Keeper actually are more fluid with the formula, with Harvesting the Heart not following it at all.
A common criticism of John Green's books — all but one or two of them are about a nerdy, highly intelligent teenage boy who has his eye on a quirky, mysterious girl, eventually going on a Road Trip where he has a mind-blowing revelation about life. His latest book The Fault in Our Stars reverses roles, telling it from the quirky girl's perspective as she falls in love with the nerdy Teen Genius who is fawning over her.
Many of Philip K. Dick's short stories followed the formula: Man invents technology. Technology turns on man. Man fights technology. Technology defeats man. Technology turns on itself.
Romances do this too, although there are several categories of romance and the beat list differs based on what sort of romance you're writing. In fact, many publishing companies who specialize in romance have their specific formulas, and if you stray too far outside their guidelines, you're not going to get published by them. This allows the reader to treat a new book as a familiar comfort food, differing in the details but not outside the form they've become accustomed to.
Live Action TV
According to Jim: Usually Jim does something that he doesn't want his wife to know. His wife finds out about this. Rather than confront him she will try to maneuver him into having no choice but to confess.
The UK version of The Apprentice has a very clear formula that every episode follows (with the exception of the interviews and final task). Namely:
We see them in the house, they get a call from Lord Sugar, they go to some famous building to hear him explain the task, get split into teams, choose a leader/come up with a product/brand/whatever, get split into two sub teams for two tasks (which it splits between every few minutes), they complete the 'task', the day ends, they go to the boardroom to hear the results. And then we get to see the winning team enjoy a treat, the losing team stuck in the Bridge Cafe, three people (including the project manager) end up in the firing line with their strengths and weaknesses outlined and someone eventually get fired (complete with catchphrase and walk to taxi). Cue 'next time on The Apprentice' clip montage.
Castle: Victim of the week gets killed, Castle talks with Martha and/or Alexis about their problem of the week, Beckett calls, UST begins, Lanie and/or Perlmutter give us the gory details, questioning, more UST, lots of looking at the white board, plot twist, Martha and/or Alexis chime in on the case while working on their problem of the week, more questioning, more UST, Castle epiphany, they get the bad guy (chasing optional), Castle goes home and sees how Martha and/or Alexis solved their problem of the week. And did we mention the UST? Unless it's a two-parter or about Beckett's mother. Then all bets are off. But not the UST.
Starting with Season 4, when the UST was finally resolved, those scenes in the formula got switched with Castle and Beckett attempting to hide their relationship from someone. And the plot is always resolved by genre-savvy and there's usually a red-herring genre-not-so-savvy moment where novelist's instinct leads them wrong to justify the continued skepticism of the force as a whole.
Another mandatory ingredients: Beckett talks in the interrogation room with Suspect Number 1, tells him with absolute confidence: "That's why you killed her", he denies, surprised, outraged or smug, in the next scene Ryan or Esposito confirms that the Suspect #1 has a rock-solid alibi. Most likely the sequence will be repeated at least once in the same episode, with another suspect(s).
The Beginning: To musical accompaniment related to the era, the Victim of the Week is shown in his/her time period doing whatever he/she does for a living, then cut to the corpse. Flash to present, where Rush & co. get their first lead on the case (either through previously-buried evidence, or a relative of the deceased with new information.) Cue One-Woman Wail and credits.
The Middle: The detectives interrogate a chain of suspects, each one revealing another plot development in the flashback. Almost every flashback is preceded by accusing the person of the murder, who then denies it, briefly flashes to their younger self, and reveals another side of the story. They return to the precinct at least once to study evidence, and multiple times for good ole Perp Sweating. The last 20 minutes proceed to deconstruct the suspects' original motives until the person they return to with 5-7 minutes left, who confesses (with this flashback recreating the murder scene.)
The End: As another piece of time-period-appropriate music plays, the killer is marched through the precinct, usually seen by another character. Vignettes are shown of the key players of the case going on with their lives in the present, in both their "past" and "present" appearances. A cardboard box marked "Case Closed" is filed in the evidence room. Someone who was really close to the victim sees an apparition of him or her, who turns and slowly fades away. The detectives resolve their romantic tension. Roll end credits.
Episodes follow the same basic pattern: a murder victim is found, after which we get a cavalcade of people who just happened to be at the murder scene shortly before or after the murder ("I was never there", "We have evidence to show that you were", "OK, I was there, but I didn't kill him", repeat at least 2 or 3 times), and by the end of the episode they get the person who did it to confess. The original CSI was at least a bit more varied than this (in that only maybe 40% of episodes follow this format).
CSI and CSI: Miami both can be boiled down to: Murder victim and initial interviewee, most of the episode is focused on a Red Herring who turns out to be innocent, and wait, it turns out to be the first person all along.
Every single interrogation goes the exact same way: suspect is initially uncooperative, Horatio removes his shades and makes a smoothly intoned threat, cut to the suspect looking down, beat, suspect reveals everything they know. Every single one.
Terry Nation's Dalek stories in Doctor Who became notorious for having the same virtually identical plot about the human resistance taking on the Daleks and winning. When Philip Hinchcliffe pointed out to him that the Dalek episode Nation had written for the new Doctor was exactly the same as several of the old ones ("we like it, but we like it so much we think we've already bought it multiple times before") Terry Nation completely broke all of the rules when he wrote "Genesis of the Daleks", the best story of his career and one of the best Doctor Who stories ever. Unfortunately, the addition of Davros just meant Dalek stories from that point on were a different identical plotline which now had Davros getting backstabbed by his own Daleks at the end.
Eureka follows a pattern that is similar to House.
The TLC Reality ShowFour Weddings is formulaic by design (four brides attend each other's weddings, rate them in various categories, top bride wins dream honeymoon), but even who they have is formulaic. They will usually have someone who has a traditional wedding, someone who has a traditional wedding WITH A TWIST (she's wearing sneakers, they're all going to dance), a Sassy Black Woman who has something unusual (i.e. praise dancers, a rapper), a destination wedding, and a foreign wedding. Something will go wrong in one of the weddings, and there will be one that the other brides hate.
Highlander: The Series tends to follow a general formula, with a few variations: Duncan meets an immortal he met some time in the past, and ends up decapitating him.
Home Improvement has to be one of the most formulaic shows ever aired. The layout: Tim makes fun of Al on Tool Time and later does something stupid to upset Jill, who is dealing with the latest parenting issue; Tim goes to Wilson (who doesn't show his face in a new and clever way) for advice, parrots back a mangled apology to Jill, and all is well.
House has the main character go through almost the exact same pattern every episode to find the solutions everybody else misses. This was much truer of House in seasons one through three. After the mass firing at the end of season three, things were mixed up just a bit for a while, returned to normal, but went off the rails (in a VERY good way) once House started seeing dead people. Many episodes still fit into the basic formula of the show from before, but they have also done others that completely break the mold. House's moment of realization was even lampshaded in one episode, when House stopped talking in the middle of a conversation and the other party said, "You're about to run out of here, aren't you?" He did. It was lampshaded another time when Cuddy asked him how he was going to come up with the diagnosis, and House said he'd go and talk to Wilson about something completely unrelated.
Parodied in the "Did you try the medicine drug?" story, which has been turned into a GIF.
In the documentary series I Shouldn't Be Alive, the story is always: people go on a trip, their technology fails and/or they make a stupid mistake, and they get lost in the wilderness. The searchers usually miss them the first time, and they see an opportunity for rescue but aren't spotted. They fend off depression, a dangerous animal, and/or a medical condition, and are found just hours before death. The story ends with The Reveal: Real Life rescue photos.
Law & Order: There's always a plot-irrelevant prelude leading to the discovery of a corpse, the cops questioning irrelevant characters, a plot twist at the 20-minute mark, an arrest at 30 minutes at which point we switch from the cops to the DAs, and another plot twist 45 minutes into the show where the DA finds out what really happened.
Every episode of Life After People is pretty much the same. About two or three prominent cities / buildings and a selection of animals (usually household pets, farm animals and / or pests) and plants around a certain theme are selected. Every episode then jumps forward one day, several days, a week, a month, a year, a century and so forth to show how they cope without human care (spoiler: the buildings eventually collapse or crumble away; the animals and plants usually thrive, albeit undergoing lots of changes in the process) until a point is reached several centuries or millennia in the future where there's nothing left. Each episode also features a brief look into a real-life location which has been abandoned by people to see what effects nature has had on it.
Tabloid talk show Maury has a pretty limited set of episodes, e.g. people with congenital defects (or "heroes" as the show often refers to them), paternity tests ("That baby looks nothing like me!"), disrespectful teenagers who are cured of being brats by boot camp ("You don't know me!") and "Jack Hanna brings animals that pee all over the stage". Not only are the topics limited to about a dozen options or so, each topic itself is played strictly to formula: if you've seen one "Who's the daddy?" episode you've seen all of them.
Medium: 1) Alison has a dream with an obvious twist which anybody but her would be able to guess. 2) Allison has breakfast with her family and some small but endearing drama develops. 3) Alison meets up with her boss or that cop, and they present a case and she tells them that either a) she's either been dreaming about and which she knows something is wrong or b) there's another more important case which is tangentially related. Alison knows they have the wrong suspect. 4) The small family drama reaches its head. 5) Alison takes some small step to hunting down the killer herself. 6) The police's first suspect proves to be wrong. 7) Alison has her life threatened as a result of her stupidity during step five. 8) Alison survives and solves her mystery. 9) The small family crisis resolves itself. 10) Alison has another dream confirming that everything will be fine now. 10) Alison makes some sort of glib, self-satisfied comment to her husband.
Mission: Impossible. Nearly every episode begins with Jim finding the tape and getting the mission, picking out the photos of the team he's using and then explaining part of the plan to the team in his house while they sit around testing the gadgets they're going to use.
Monk: While solving a murder is the main plot for most episodes, there are a few episodes in which Monk helps investigate other crimes, such as kidnappings in the season two episode "Mr. Monk and the Missing Granny" and the season three episode "Mr. Monk and the Kid", or a failed murder plot in the season six episode "Mr. Monk and the Daredevil". There are a number of times where the episode is not about the murder itself but about finding evidence to arrest the killer, e.g. "Mr. Monk Goes to a Rock Concert", or "Mr. Monk and the Genius", and episodes where the murder is related to the main plot, e.g. in "Mr. Monk on Wheels". And some episodes actually start as a totally different type of case, but eventually a murder happens, e.g. a suspected abduction turns into a murder case in "Mr. Monk Gets Hypnotized".
Episodes generally follow one of four plot lines:
The killer is known, and how the crime was committed is known. The episode is spent trying to find evidence to arrest that person, and these episodes are hence patterned similarly to many episodes of Columbo.
Monk knows who the killer is, and knows what the motive is, but the killer has a seemingly air-tight alibi. The episode is spent trying to break that alibi and find out how the killer did it.
In a number of episodes, the plot involves trying to find out the killer, how the murder was done, and why.
In some episodes, the killer's M.O. is known, but not who did it or why.
Murder, She Wrote always followed the same formula. There's a murder, and the victim had several possible enemies. One of the suspects is Jessica's niece, nephew, long-lost friend or love interest of the same, and the police always zero in on that person. Jessica must then catch the real killer, usually by Engineered Public Confession or by using something only the killer would know. If the murderer's story is particularly tragic, it ends with Jessica shaking her head sadly, otherwise there's a Mood Whiplash cut to the Everybody Laughs Ending. The pacing was also always the same. Expect the body to fall at about the 20 minute mark, and the wrongful arrest of the obvious suspect at the 40. On the rare occasion there was a dead body before 15 minutes, there's going to be a second death in the show later.
The first couple seasons of Power Rangers (before they left Earth), outside of season premieres and finales, generally followed a fairly strict formula. A minor dilemma involving the civilian identities of the rangers pops up, the Big Bad (Rita/Zedd/King Mondo/Divatox/whoever) takes inspiration from it and have their monster creator design the Monster of the Aesop around it, a Mook attack occurs for whatever reason (no morphing just yet), this escalates into the Monster of the Aesop attacking (requiring the Rangers to morph), Big Badmakes it grow (sometimes without bothering to wait for the Rangers to fight it on foot), the Rangers call forth their Humongous Mecha, Monster of the Aesop gets squished by Stock Footage, and the plot ends with the Rangers solving their civilian issue. Sure, sometimes it swaps things up (some episodes have the Rangers defeat the monster on foot), but it almost always followed that general formula.
The show 7th Heaven always seemed to feature the same plot: kid makes mistake, kid must pay for mistake, kid's mistake affects overly righteous parents, righteous parents forces kid to learn from mistake. And to make matters worse, the kids always seemed to suffer from Aesop Amnesia as they would commit that very same mistake in the next episode.
The Sifl and Olly Show: Each episode is broken in the same segments, which are announced beforehand. The Precious Roy segments also follow a very strict formula.
That '70s Show got pretty bad for this when Eric and Donna were dating. A dozen episodes a season of "Eric says something jerk-y, Donna freaks out, both talk to their respective groups, Donna realizes she overreacted, they make up, the end".
Time Gentlemen Please follows the same formula every episode. A plotline is introduced, usually involving a recurring character entering the pub and talking to Al Murray. He attempts to resolve the situation, which usually results in him annoying other characters. Throughout the episode, the characters say their catchphrases, constantly. Somebody tries to touch Lesley's Tigger, which results in Leslie almost beating them up but being bribed free crisps just in time. At some point the plotline is resolved. Usually, all of this takes place within the pub. If there ever was a show that is the archetype of strictly formula (namely being built entirely around catchphrases and one location) this is it.
Wizards of Waverly Place: To a point. However, when maximum possible mileage has been obtained from a gag (eg: Harper being in the dark about magic), they stop doing it.
The X-Files seem to follow this pattern: Something creepy happens on a remote location, followed by the opening montage and theme. Mulder and Scully are informed, he tells her about existing X-files like this and reveals his crackpot theory; she offers a scientific explanation. The duo travels to the site and encounters several witnesses/survivors. They run around the woods/darkened rooms and bicker a lot. One or more of the survivors are killed in a grisly fashion. If it's a Myth Arc episode, Mulder meets with his current Mysterious Informant. Scully does the science but finds nothing. Mulder, meanwhile, witnesses something that completely confirms his earlier theory. The culprit is killed, captured, or destroyed if it's not human. Any evidence the duo uncovered is mysteriously destroyed or not-so-mysteriously confiscated by The Government. Scully or Mulder writes a report saying that the evidence of supernatural is inconclusive, and the file is closed.
Disney Channel is probably an even worse offender than Nickelodeon. Since the huge success of Lizzie McGuire and That's So Raven, almost all of their shows have had some teenager(s) living a normal life with a TWIST, with their one same sex friend and one friend of the opposite sex (possibly a future love interest). There's almost always a ditz and person who's an absolute jerk, usually because they're a popular kid at school. Also, the star will be (either in-universe or in real life (as so much as Disney tries to insist they are)) a singer who sings the theme song of the show and/or gets shoehorned into singer as much as possible in the show.
The USA Network has a habit of creating shows with Strictly Formula individual episodes that integrate into a far more interesting Myth Arc via B-plots. This allows them to establish a dedicated following while avoiding Continuity Lockout—which means that casual viewers can tune in to most episodes and still be entertained enough to stick with it. Juliet Litman of Grantland noted the system and has a series of reviews dedicated to it.
Burn Notice: The standard week-to-week plots are this; the overarching Myth Arc isn't. In the standard plots, someone comes to Michael who needs... extralegal assistance. Mike will usually have to go through plans A through C, with a little bit of Indy Ploy, before saving the Client Of The Week, often while having to work around the client's good-intentioned "assistance". The Myth Arc tends to be a lot more chaotic, usually merging with the usual plot in the season finales.
Monk. Every. Episode. Which is fitting: he has so many phobias that need his life to go completely according to schedule, and the show shows his life.
Every single brazilian Soap Opera (which usually have a 6-8 months run), specially the ones aired by TV Globo, can specially Egregious at this. 90% of the main plots are about a forbidden love between a lovable underdog and a lovable rich, and the antagonist in these cases is always a Rich Bastard who is "in love" for the aforementioned rich part of the Official Couple, and spends the whole run of the show using one gambit after another to try and break them apart. There's a Foreign Background for a couple of episodes (usually Europe, Middle East or Asia) and a set of Plucky Comic Relief characters. In the last episode, the main couple get married and the villain is killed or goes to jail. Sometimes the villain will be killed by an unknown murderer some 20-30 episodes prior to the end, and the subsequent episodes will completely revolve around the mistery of who killed the villain.
Pretty much all game shows follow the same formula from day to day.
Dave Barry wrote a book about his family's trip to Japan, and describes how his wife was able to accurately describe what was happening in an episode of a Tokyo Soap Opera without knowing a word of Japanese, just through knowledge of soap tropes.
The Hoobs, another UK Henson preschooler show: The Hoobs have a problem which leads to them asking a question. Hubba-Hubba appears on screen to declare that an answer to this question would make an excellent entry in the Hoobipedia. They attempt various solutions, inspired by (in order) asking the Tiddley-Peeps (children), reading an animated story Hubba-Hubba found on Hoobnet, asking Roma the roving reporter, and asking some different Tiddley-Peeps. This final suggestion proves to be the correct one, and the Motorettes sing a song about it before the Hoobs give their report to Hubba-Hubba. Some episodes play with the formula; for instance when the question was "How can we get the Hoobmobile from the island it's stuck on?", it was Roma who talked to the Tiddley-Peeps, because the others were trapped.
Quite a few recurring Sesame Street segments, both classic and contemporary, tend to follow a basic plot formula, usually with little or no variation, though there are often exceptions:
The Super Grover segments usually were played out in the same way: Super Grover detects a problem while flying in the air (it could be two kids fighting over something, a boy being afraid to get his hair cut, or even a girl's computer not turning on), then dives down to the "problem," often crashing into something in the landing, and when he is told of the problem, he usually comes up with a ridiculous explanation or solution (sometimes like dancing around going "Wubba Wubba!"), only for the child to solve his or her problem by him/herself. Naturally, Super Grover takes the credit.
In at least two of the books, Super Grover made things worse. In one he attempted to save one of his friends from an evil witch that was threatening her. The problem? The witch wasn't real, it was a play, and he utterly ruined it for her. She is shown to be extremely angry at him at the end of the story. In the other, he is fishing with friends when he notices that the boat is leaking very, very slightly. His solution? Pick the boat up out of the water and deposit it back on Sesame Street, wrecking it.
The Sesame Street News segments also followed a basic formula to many of them: after the "NEWS FLASH" intro logo and music, we fade to the "news scene" where Kermit the Frog, clad in a reporters' trenchcoat, hat and microphone, is talking to someone off-camera or facing the wrong way or doing something else not related to his duty, before realizing he is on camera and begins his report. Everything goes smoothly as he interviews who he is supposed to, but then halfway into the report, things begin to go wrong (usually with the fairy tale/nursery rhyme being parodied in the sketch not going as it traditionally does), and something bad typically happens to Kermit. The segment then ends with Kermit, usually embarrassed or somewhat shaken up, returning the viewers to the "regularly-scheduled program."
Elmo's World has such a strict formula that the main Sesame Street segment has parodied it as "Cookie's World".
Sesame Tree, the Northern Ireland co-production of Sesame Street: Potto and Hilda have a problem (or in season two, Archie arrives with a problem). The Big Whizzing Machine recieves a message from a kid asking about something related to the problem. The Bookworms find a book that sends Hilda to visit a school. Potto uses his computer to watch a relevent Sesame Street "kids around the world" segment and Muppet sketch. Potto gets a phone call from Hilda leading to a segment about how the kids at the school she's visiting deal with the problem. They realise they can now solve their problem, and answer the question.
Believe It!, Richard Wilson's "radiography" on BBC Radio 4. Every episode of the first season opens with Richard describing a scene from his childhood. This is then enacted with Young Richard played by David Tennant, and leads to someone's death. This death haunts Richard, leading to an event in his adulthood (playing himself) involving someone famous, which almost certainly didn't happen. The second season shakes it up a bit.
LEGOBIONICLE in its early years ('01-'03). Whenever Fan Dumb starts an it went downhill in '04 topic on an online forum, someone always points out that all of those years followed the same formula: the six heroes are a given - the Big Bad unleashes something bad - the village elders somehow know all about said bad things - heroes collect stuff - they go underground to defeat the current boss. Thankfully later years did away with this concept, and gave justification for the elders' secret knowledge. This argument is also frequently brought up when someone berates Bionicle's "replacement" line, Hero Factory for being too darn formulaic and predictable, though in the latter's case, that was the point, since LEGO wanted to avoid another overly-complex and difficult to follow storyline.
One of the Bionicle comics from 2003 even lampshaded the stories becoming a little formulaic:
Lewa: Has anyone else noticed that every time we go underground, something really bad happens?
Tahu: Yes, Lewa, we have all noticed.
The toys also changed noticeably back then (it was part of a general shift at Lego due to bankruptcy). Bionicle toys started shifting a lot away from the rest of Lego, with tons of unique, space-filling parts that meant that they couldn't be rebuilt into many things. That took a lot of the wonder and excitement out of it.
Another entry for the toys is the dreaded "Inika build", named after the Toa Inika sets from 2006. Almost all Toa and various other canister sets released between '06 and '09 followed the same general body-plan, using mostly the same LEGO pieces, while earlier series tended to variate the builds every year or so. Hero Factory did away with this almost entirely with its second set-line.
Ace Combat, from the second game on (at least outside Japan). The protagonist's nation is under attack by another nation, almost always reaching Back from the Brink, then after a series of skirmishes one or more enemy ace squadrons appear. The good guys usually take back their capital or some other important city by half-time. At least one superweapon will be deployed and destroyed. A twist will reveal that the apparent enemy is just a Disc One Final Boss. An Airstrike Impossible mission will occur. The enemy ace squadron(s) will be shot down. Another superweapon will appear and be destroyed, along with the true enemies. Peace is achieved once more. The first game is missing the enemy aces and the major twist, as well as deviating in a few other ways.
Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War doesn't deviate from the formula, but it plays with it a bit by having your squadron unwittingly work for the villains until the major twist. The true enemy is a cabal run by both countries' former mutual enemy, which has infiltrated them and manipulates the pro-war extremists on both sides to prolong the war and cause suffering out of a desire for revenge.
Ace Combat 5 also plays with the formulaic mission progression - as in 04, the first twelve or so missions of the game involve pushing the enemy out of your country, followed by invasion of their country. By the 18th mission (which was the last level of 04), you're pushing deep into enemy territory... but it doesn't feel as climactic as the previous game's 18th mission. Then you get surprised with mission 18+, and it turns out you've still got a third of the game to go.
Most 32-map long Game Mods of Doom II ape the original game's level progression: the first third of the levels is set in a futuristic high-tech base; the second third is set in cities, castles and other "Earth" locations; the final third is set in Hell. Also, map 7, just like the original, typically involves killing Mancubuses and Arachnotrons. The only real deviation from the formula is that the secret levels are actually connected to whatever bare-bones Excuse Plot the mod has, rather than the completely random Wolfenstein 3D interlude from the original game.
Monster closets in these mods also follow the same general formula, in that 9 times out of 10 they are filled with as many Revenants as possible and open as soon as you grab either a key or a helpful item, which will likely happen every five minutes. Apparently the only way to make a level harder is to spawn a million Revenants in it.
Daggerfall does deviate a bit in a few ways, however. You're an Imperial Agent and friend of the Emperor, rather than a prisoner at the beginning. In addition, there are some parts of the main quest that are timed and that you can't Take Your Time with at all.
Each dungeon in the series is typically preceded by being forced to perform some task in the Overworld in order to open the door or access the dungeon. The dungeons themselves follow the pattern of "Enter dungeon, defeat the miniboss to get new item (or possibly just finding the item in the dungeon and using it to beat the miniboss), use new item to defeat boss, use new item to open/get to next dungeon, lather, rinse, repeat".
Aonuma and Miyamoto went out of their way to change up the Zelda formula for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Not only is the rest of the overworld dungeon-like, most of the dungeons themselves sport the format of a more compact space, but a higher density in puzzles, enemies and obstacles. This is best appreciated with the first three dungeons, whose goal of completion isn't even on the Plot Coupons (you do collect some in the first two, but finding Zelda is the main focus). Also, half the boss fights take place outside the conventional dungeons - this includes the airborne battle against a Bilocyte-controlled Levias, the finale against Ghirahim, the Final Boss and all three battles with the Imprisoned. Also, the first fight with Ghirahim breaks formula even further- you actually can't use the dungeon's item (the Beetle) to even inflict damage on this guy, let alone defeat him. Straight-up swordplay time!
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, while being quite old-school otherwise, breaks the formula regarding dungeon items, as you rent them from a shop instead of finding them in the dungeons themselves. This means there are fewer Broken Bridges and linearity than in previous installments.
To an extent Wily escapes and comes back with another plan to take over the world once more in the Mega Man series. Any new villain is really Wily in disguise, or is being manipulated by him. Wily is always the villain, and there's always 8 robot masters. (Except in the first game, where there were six)
The Mega Man X series to an extent. New reploids are introduced and they turn out to be evil or just backstab people. Usually Sigma is involved. In fact, it's a plot twist in the last game when he really wasn't secretly behind it all.
Metal Gear Solid 2 breaks out of its deja vu in an extremelyshockingmanner which subverts this trope. It turns out, all of the events leading up to the end were constructed to make the new protagonist, Raiden, become as great a soldier as Solid Snake via the "S3" program, to train a super-soldier.
But in reality the S3 Plan isn't a "Solid Snake Simulation" but a program to test the Patriots' capacity to manipulate events; this add another level on the gambit pileup to the point of the trope's namer parody. Making it a Magnificent Bastard training simulation.
In most games, the heroine lands on a planet or spacestation and something happens to her powers: They're either lost, damaged, or simply absent, so she has to rebuild her gear gradually, and make her way through the various areas and locales by using the powerups she gains (often by defeating big bosses) until meeting the final boss.
Each game in the Metroid Prime series follows a sub-formula on its own. The first game is more or less like the 2D games in terms of progression, as you're randomly exploring a world that just happens to be divided into visually distinct regions, occasionally fighting bosses. In the second game, the objective in each of the three main areas is to find a temple, located in the Dark World counterpart of said areas; each temple is locked and three keys scattered through the areas are needed to get access to them, and inside lies a Marathon Boss that guards a large percentage of sacred light, the game's Plot Coupon. In the third game, the objective is to disinfect entire planets, three of them again, and each planet has a Phazon-infected bounty hunter as a Mini-Boss; in addition, the three planetary bosses are fought in nearly identical chambers. Last, but not least, each of the three Prime titles culminates with a Fetch Quest of 9-12 items related to the access to the final stage, where the Final Boss awaits.
Metroid: Other M seeked to change the formula in various aspects, like being more story-centric (a trend first seen in Fusion and Corruption, but never to this extent), and Samus having all of her powerups since the beginning, but only using them when she's given the permission to do so.
Pokémon: Kid gets his or her starter and Pokédex from the local professor, battles his or her rival whose start has a type advantage, goes on a journey to get all 8 badges and become champion, runs into and defeats a evil team, maybe fights a few legendary Pokémon, and finally defeats the Elite Four and current champion.
By the time Pokémon Black and White came around, the developers caught on. The games are a Deconstruction of the classic Pokémon formula, and needless to say, therefore also follow the pattern (with a few key differences).
Professor Layton's formula is as follows: Layton gets a letter telling him to go to a certain town, town has secret of some sort, Evil Tower of Ominousness is present, Layton unmasks disguised villain, town secret is revealed (it's always completely insane), Layton does something really fucking badass, other villain is thwarted (usually this villain is sympathetic in some way), player is left crying for one reason or another, then one last puzzle. Not always in this order, so the degree to which it's strictly formula is debatable. There are three minigames, you unlock extra content for these minigames by solving specific puzzles, beating these minigames 100% unlocks a trio of bonus puzzles each.
Ken Levine's three Shock games (System Shock 2, BioShock and Bioshock Infinite) all follow the same general narrative structure (as described by Ben Croshaw: "An oblivious man with a significant history arrives in a large residential environment in an unconventional location and must piece together a backstory involving a discovery that corrupted the people."). System Shock 2 and BioShock even use the same mid-game twist (in which Mission Control is revealed to be the game's actual villain). They are likewise very similar in terms of gameplay: all three games are first-person shooters with prominent RPG Elements, affording the player a creative and deep blend of gunplay and sci-fi superpowers.
3D Super Mario Bros. 120 collectible items (Stars or Shine Sprites). Every so often this unlocks a new world, you fight Bowser three times including the final battle, some form of coin collecting mission is involved somewhere and you can always reach the final battle with around half the stars/shine sprites you need for 100% completion, although it gives you a shorter ending.
With the Mario series' rigid story structure being so set in stone, the RPG spinoffs have gone out of their way to hang lampshades on it in the style of "The princess got kidnapped? That's the third time this week!", usually putting some kind of spin on it.
The Super Mario Bros. fan game/ROM hack formula; take the same formula for the 2D games listed above, then add 'after Bowser is defeated, there's a plot twist as this [new villain from some other franchise] takes over, go stop him in his own dimension'. Every single VIP Mario game follows this. Brutal Mario mostly does. An SMWC Production does. A Super Mario Thing does (except with Bowser replaced with King Charles). It's very likely the bonus world will be some surrealistic crazy fourth wall breakng area with lots of gimmicks too.
Most GameMods of Super Mario World work like thus: You've got eight worlds, with the Koopalings in world 1-7 and Bowser in world 8 (which have the same themes as most actual Mario games). Then once you beat Bowser, a plot twist happens and you end up in an extra world or two with super hard levels with either a space or crossover theme. Examples include Brutal Mario, A Super Mario Thing, The Second Reality Project (both 1 and 2), VIP 1-5 and damn every other hack in history.
A case where either the lawyer the player controls being new, gaining amnesia or otherwise rusty who covers a case of utmost importance that leads to a plot point that will become very important later on. Justified in that this is the obligatory Tutorial Mode.
Two cases that are almost always unrelated to said plotpoints from the first case the player has to solve, one of which involves defending/prosecuting someone famous or is otherwise very high profile.
Another case that either related to the regulars or the player, will almost always throw back to the plot point in the aforementioned first case and usually has something to do with some kind of dilemma the regular in question has, solving it by the end.
Charley the plant. Or (step)ladders.
Sometimes a bonus case that either further relates to, or shoots a throwback of, the aforementioned plot point.
Sometimes having one of the regulars be accused of some kind of crime the player will have to defend them for or prosecute against with an exception or so that the regular had really did it, which may overlap with points 1-3.
At least one villain of the final case is always pure evil.
The same is always done with all the characters too, as they will always be one of the following:
Normal, uninvolved; usually an assistant or protagonist with wacky hair. (e.g. Phoenix, Maya, Trucy, etc.)
Enemy prosecutor/detective; aggressive, has a defining characteristic (e.g. famous guitarist Klavier, coffee addict with visor Godot, German sadist with a whip Von Karma, etc. etc.)
Dim Judge; only serves to give you a game over, always take the side of the obvious big bad and give the defense/prosecution an excuse to spell everything out.
Normal, bland; usually defendant or common witness who is uninteresting (but still has a wacky personality), only exists so you have a case or so you have more than one person to tear apart in court. Only notably subverted for Matt Engarde, who is actually the villain hiding behind a dumb persona. (e.g. attention seeking Larry Butz, who only occasionally proves useful).
Minor but antagonistic; obviously guilty of something, if there's a reveal of their actions/past/M.O. they'll serve as a red herring for the real killer or padding out plot. (e.g. Wendy Oldbag claims to be a key witness, actually only a time wasting, attention seeking old gossip in all of her appearances).
Big Bad; behind it all, obviously guilty not far into court questioning, will quickly jump between "innocent" and "angry" emotions, will always pull the evidence card on you even though they confess with their exaggerated responses - for some reason, changing back to innocent mode and demanding evidence instantly removes all suspicion. Almost always hoist by their own petard by confession only, whether it's an unintentional (e.g. breakdown) or intentional (e.g. Engarde giving confessing for protection)
In most games about characters' relationships and adult games, the main character will get a (reverse) harem of three or more people. A while after the main character chooses one love interest, the story will wind down. If it's presented as a Visual Novel, then it will often be a slice of life story. If it's presented as a Simulation Game, then it will often have an ordinary setting and mundane themes. In order to distinguish run-of-the-mill content from exceptional content, one should look for quality writing, visuals, music, and gameplay (where applicable).
Each of the Romance Games of Voltage Inc assembles its cast of potential love interests from a pool of seven established archetypes: the confident alpha male, the Defrosting Ice Queen, the Nice Guy, The Quiet One, the Handsome Lech, the immature Keet, and the older guy. Each archetype has its own sliding scale of variations, and types may overlap or combine depending on the size of a given game's cast, but it's very rare indeed for any of the company's games to feature a love interest who can't be easily and accurately identified as one of the seven - often before the game is even out.
The Annoying Orange A new character is introduced to the kitchen, Orange annoys the new character, then the new character gets killed.
Suicide for Hire has a clear pattern of story arcs. Arc and Hunter come across their next client, client tells a long and sordid tale of why they want to die, Arc tries to get the client to reconsider, client does something stupid that convinces Arc that they're hopeless, Hunter plots their client's Karmic Death and makes sure they follow through.
Most episodes of American Dad!, particularly in later seasons, revolve around Stan doing something callous to a family member (usually in some ill devised attempt to improve their lives after observing some supposed defect about them) and, after causing an escalating amount of chaos in his stubborn goals, eventually learning a lesson about being more considerate and tolerant. On rarer occasions another Smith member gets an Aesop, usually Steve revolving around his own formula of gaining popularity or impressing a girl.
The Buttons and Mindy shorts of Animaniacs were extremely formulaic. The parents leave their preschool child Mindy in the yard while they go out for some reason with no supervision other than Buttons the dog. Mindy gets out of the yard and starts following some random thing, while Buttons gets into danger trying to protect his charge. Eventually Mindy ends up right back where she started from, where the parents find the two and see no evidence that their child has been out and about and considerable evidence that Buttons have been misbehaving in some manner, getting the dog in trouble.
This was deliberately lampshaded in Mesozoic Mindy, where all the dialogue except for a few key words was reduced to grunts: "Buttons! UG Mindy! No OOG tarpit!"
As bad as the Buttons and Mindy shorts could get when it came to repetition, they had nothing on the Chicken Boo and Katie Ka-Boom shorts. Each of these were so formulaic that eventually they were combined into one short together.
Downplayed with Avatar: The Last Airbender , which is one of the least formulaic animated series ever made, and certainly the least formulaic of all shows ever spawned by Nickelodeon. Anyhow, the series was like this for most of Book 1 with: Team Avatar needs to rest/ran out money/bending practice so they stop somewhere, they run into someone who will not be part of the main plot until much later, Zuko/Zhao/Fire Nation finds where they are and tries to capture them, they fight but Team Avatar escapes. That or some kind of conflict ensues, Team Avatar fixes it and they move on.
Some kid/environmentalist/native is doing something good.
The Rogue's Gallery villain of the day shows up, saying politically and environmentally incorrect things while destroying the environment/eroding moral values/polluting.
Cut to Hope Island/the Geocruisernote This plane that the Planeteers used where the Planeteers are going to wherever the plot happens to be. Odds are good that one of the Planeteers will know/be related/is fascinated by the subject of said kid/environmentalist/native in point one. Gaia calls and says that ecovillain of the week is doing bad stuff.
The Planeteers try talking it out with the locals. With the exception of the kid/environmentalist/native mentioned earlier, everyone is for the ecovillain's plan, as it seems to be good for the time being because it draws in tourism/stimulates the economy/the natural thing that the planeteers are trying to save is annoying.
The kid/environmentalist/native is now an ally of the kids and they try to talk to the ecovillain to make him stop. He/she tries to kill the heroes.
The Planeteers get captured, Wheeler's fire ring does nothing. Someone comes along and saves them as the Ecovillain revs up their doomsday/mining/invention.
They summon Captain Planet. He flies in and is almost immediately incapacitated by the pollutant of the day. The Planeteers and the ally of the episode help wash him off. Captain Planet saves the day while making incredibly bad jokes.
Everyone learns a lesson about (INSERT MORAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL LESSON HERE.) These people never have a problem again.
Also the whole "Jeremie thinks it's XANA", "Odd think's it's not", "Aelita or a Tower Scan shows it is" and so now "One of the Lyoko Warriors must stay behind to be in danger and make the Return to the Past more dramatic".
It does have a continuity/Myth Arc, but the general formula of Danny Phantom is followed in a strict pattern: Danny and co. have some personal problem, a ghost appears and somehow meddles in their personal problem, Danny goes ghost and beats the crap out of it, sends it to the Phantom Zone, and solves the personal problem, usually inspired by the battle.
One of the most gratingly obvious examples of this trope in preschool-aimed TV is the British series Boo! which adheres to the exact same format every episode. The only difference between each episode is the setting, where the viewer has to play a "game" similar to hide and seek and find the eponymous main character, a blue puppet... thing... that seems to have the power to transform to match its settings the third time it is "found". Boo's three friends, the stuffed animals Growling Tiger, Laughing Duck and Sleeping Bear, also tag along Every. Single. Episode. It then ends with one of a few stock songs that teach the viewers about colours, sounds, etc. And then Boo's hiding again and the narrators say, "We have to find him next time when we all play BOO!" However, for all these shows this trope is justified since it has been proven children around a certain age generally learn best through repetition.
The general story for each episode of The Dreamstone; Urpgor invents a device for Zordrak to help capture the stone, Sgt Blob and his men are sent to the Land Of Dreams with device in hand, the Urpneys steal the stone but screw things up (either due to their incompetance, the heroes' intervening or some other horrible twist of luck) and the Noops retrieve the stone from them just in time to prevent Zordrak sending nightmares to the Land Of Dreams. Oh and Frizz moans something for the final line. A handful of exceptions exist (usually when Zordrak finds a method of sending nightmares different from stealing the stone) but they are outweighed by the usual formula.
The Fairly Oddparents goes by this formula: Something in Timmy's life sucks, he makes a wish to change it, it works out great at first. At this point, crap hits the fan, and Timmy has to overcome the wish to bring everything back to normal. In the end, Timmy learns some sort of life lesson. And then forgets it.
And then there's the movie specials. Every movie would involve Cosmo and Wanda (and in more recent specials, Poof) being separated from Timmy, but they get back together in the end.
Parodied in the Futurama episode "When Aliens Attack" (see quote page).
Grojband: Each episode follows a certain pattern. Some new music gig opportunity shows up and Corey and the gang announce that there going to play the gig in question, Trina overhears and tries to ruin it, a problem comes up, Corey and the gang make Trina "Go Diary"(Make her feel a certain emotion strong enough to make her write it down in her diary)They steal the diary(or sometimes it just somehow falls into Corey's hands) They play a song based on what the center of the episode was about, The Problem is resolved and Corey gives the band a parody of an inspirtational Speech and Corey says "Thanks for coming out everyone!" and closes a garage door symbolizing the end of the episode.
Inspector Gadget. Gadget receives a classified assignment in the form of an exploding message from the chief of police. The message blows up in the chief's face after Gadget is done reading it. His niece, Penny, and dog, Brain, secretly get involved in the mission. Brain tries to keep Gadget alive from the assassins out to get Gadget, who in turn mistakes Brain for a criminal, while helping the villain agents he thinks are doing innocent civilian deeds. Meanwhile, Penny snoops around, gets in danger or captured and tied up, gets rescued or free, and ultimately solves the case. Gadget receives credit for the case that his niece had solved. A dumb joke is made, and we get an Every Body Laughs Ending. Repeat Next time, Gadget!. Finish with the And Knowing Is Half the Battle epilogue.
The first season of the 1990s Iron Man TV show went this way. Tony Stark creates some fantastic new invention, the Mandarin has it stolen, his minions play with it or chat, Iron Man's team is watching TV, they get into action, Iron man saves the device and saves the day.
Johnny Test is very similar, except that his super-genius twin sisters invent something. Also, the Voice Of Reason is a talking dog.
Pepe Le Pew chasing the accidentally white-striped black cat, who runs in terror from his stench.
Wile E. Coyote using physics-defying ACME devices in inevitably failed attempts to catch the Road Runner. Lampshaded in a fake Cartoon Network commercial for ACME devices. "We put rockets..." (sound of explosion) "... on everything."
Different directors also often created opposing formulas for particular characters, for example Bob Clampett interpreted Daffy Duck as a Screwy Squirrel, Chuck Jones recreated him as a Fake Ultimate Hero in various genre parodies, Friz Freleng made him a show biz fanatic (usually in bitter rivalry with Bugs Bunny) while Robert Mc Kimson often utilized him as a Loveable Rogue.
Many pairings between Speedy Gonzales and Sylvester (including "Speedy Gonzales", "Canery Woes", and "Here Today, Gone Tamale") involve starving mice wanting to get cheese from a factory, building, or ship being guarded by Sylvester, leading one of them to get help from Speedy Gonzales, who's friends with his sister (to which another mouse will reply, "Speedy Gonzales is friends with everybody's SEE-STER!"). This was repeated odd times with Daffy, though variations were more common.
Mike The Knight: Mike is given a quest by his mother the queen. He decides there's a better way of doing it that the way he's supposed to, and undergoes his Transformation Sequence, ending with his drawing his sword and being annoyed that Evie's magic has turned it into something apparently random. Eventually, everything goes wrong because of his bad decision, and he declares "It's time to be a knight, and do it right!" Whatever his sword has become turns out to be useful in sorting everything out. Fernando the Bard then sings a song about the Aesop Mike has learned.
In the first season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, characters learn a valuable lesson about friendship pretty much every episode (usually after one of the characters causes a problem or conflict by acting ignorant or confrontational), and then Twilight Sparkle writes a letter to her mentor PrincessCelestia summing the lesson up in a few sentences. As of "Lesson Zero" other characters can write letters to Celestia as well, and a few episodes involve no closing letter at all, but An Aesop about friendship is still always present.
A side formula is always present in episodes involving the Cutie Mark Crusaders, with the three fillies trying to take up some new activity or talent in order to earn their cutie marks (with inevitable failure). Usually this causes some problem or embarrassment that merges into the Friendship Aesop formula above.
Another common formula is one of the main characters having a problem, and going to each of her friends in turn looking for a solution.
Phineas and Ferb: The title characters decide to take on a ridiculously ambitious project, while their pet Perry the Platypus slips away to adopt his Secret Identity and thwart his Mad ScientistArch-Enemy Dr. Doofenshmirtz. There's a song, Doofenshmirtz captures Perry. While Perry is trapped Doofenshmirtz explains his Evil Plan to Perry, along with the motivation. Perry escapes and they fight, the boys and their friends enjoy their creation while their big sister Candace runs herself ragged trying to bust them to their mother. Doof is thwarted, the results of his scheme coincidently hide the evidence of P&F's activities, and Candace is left with nothing except maybe a Throw the Dog a Bone moment. Having established this formula, the show then riffs around it, subverting or double subverting parts of it, and leaving it behind for the odd episode.
Most of the Popeye cartoons have Bluto taking Olive Oyl hostage or just chasing her around demanding that she lets him kiss her, and ending with Popeye eating spinach to beat him. The ones that don't have Olive generally have Popeye and Bluto in competition over something, Popeye always uses spinach to win.
Redakai boasts an oddly rigid structure where a fight must happen at act one, and then another fight as the climax for each episode which the good guys win. Sadly, they are often poorly done and prevent the episodes from setting up any atmosphere, partly thanks to the power-up scenes that go into each one. It is particularly obvious in some episodes that the battles are just shoehorned in and destroy otherwise salvageable plots.
Regular Show plots tend to follow a formula; a character has a conflict, initial attempts to resolve the conflict fail and eventually characters trying to resolve the conflict leads to a bizarre confrontation with a supernatural, ultra-powerful and/or over-the-top obstacle or monster. Usually between the second and third stages there's a montage.
And the solution is explained in each episode using clues that weren't revealed to the audience until the end.
Subsequent movies and revival series departed from this formula by featuring actual monsters.
In Sheep in the Big City, General Specific needs to capture Sheep for his sheep-powered ray gun. Every episode has the same plot: General Specific gets another chance to capture Sheep. Chase Scenes occur as the secret military organization tries to grab Sheep. Each episode changes how General Specific tries to nab Sheep, and what else Sheep was doing in the Big city. But the outcome is always the same: The military surrounds or captures Sheep for a moment, but Sheep always escapes, and by the end of each episode, Sheep is always out of danger.
While The Simpsons isn't a strictly formula show, there is a pattern in many episodes.
The creators have a lot of material to work off of with their characters, so what usually happens is that a member of the Simpsons family (usually Bart or Homer) purposefully or inadvertently destroy the life of a secondary character and are then driven by guilt to help them, though it isn't always the fault of the family. Sometimes the character will even end up staying at the Simpsons' home until their life is put back in order. Some examples include: "Krusty Gets Busted", "When Flanders Failed", "Like Father, Like Clown", "Bart the Lover", "The Otto Show", "Brother Can you Spare Two Dimes?", "Krusty Gets Kancelled", "Homer and Apu", and "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song". And that is just from the first five seasons, as it gets more prevalent in later seasons, to the point where it is the basis for The Movie.
The formula "the Simpsons visit X state/country/continent" is used frequently, often lampshaded with Homer announcing, "The Simpsons are going to X!"
A number of episodes, from all eras of the show, involve Homer and Marge breaking up, or nearly so, over something especially boorish, selfish and thoughtless that Homer does. Occasionally there's a variation in which mutual stubbornness is the cause. They inevitably reconcile by the conclusion.
The Show Within a Show, The Itchy and Scratchy Show, also revolves around the strict formula of Itchy playing psychotic pranks on Scratchy that inevitably leave him comically disemboweled or killed. The show seems to poke fun at cartoon writers' inability to diverse from the formula, with several episodes revolving around the cartoon taking a new direction or gimmick, and being significantly poorer in quality.
Special Agent Oso: Oso does a training assignment and fails. He is then called away to help a child by Mr. Dos and Paw Pilot assigns Oso "three special steps" to complete the task. Paw Pilot then starts singing about the mission as a strange music video is shown. When he arrives, Oso follows the steps carefully when helping the child, needing the audience's help for very simple tasks. As the final step is completed in the nick of time, Oso returns to complete his training exercise, using the knowledge he got from his mission to earn his training award. Oso then receives a special assignment digi-medal for helping the child. The episode finishes off with a corny one-liner.
Super Why! is extremely formulaic even for an Edutainment Show aimed at little kids. In every episode: One of the kids will have a (mundane) problem; the Super Readers gather in the clubhouse to discuss it; they (magically) choose a book to find the answer; they enter it in their "Y-Flyers"; they read the story and decide to help its characters; they do it in the SAME order (first Alpha Pig, then Wonder Red and/or Princess Presto, and finally Super Why, each one giving a spelling/reading lesson in the process with the help of "Super You" -the audience) and then solve the story by changing its ending (by swapping a word in the text); they then return to the clubhouse, where, with the 'Super Letters' they gathered in their Super Duper Computer along the way, they spell a phrase that gives the answer to their problem as well. And then they dance the same victory dance. It's so repetitive that they use the same animation and catchphrases all the time!
The 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series follows this formula in many episodes that don't involve Shredder and Krang causing havoc with their fully powered Technodrome or appearances of minor villains. Most episodes involve Shredder and Krang steal a state-of-the-art equipment or a power source which the turtles defend and save the day.
In fairness there were variations, especially in the later shorts. Sometimes a third member would come into the fray, which either became a common foe the two teamed up against, or one of them tried to play against the other. In some cartoons they are even allies who try to avoid a mutual dilemma (eg. playing Badly Battered Babysitter to a runaway infant).
Most Total Drama episodes start with some sort of conflict between two or more campers, a challenge which plays off that conflict (which takes up most of the episode), and an elimination ceremony that will resolve it unless the conflict is over several episodes (except for when they didn't do an elimination). It makes it extremely difficult to vary the amount of screentime, leading to Ensemble Dark Horse and Spotlight-Stealing Squad for multiple characters.
But this time, they're playing strictly formula because that's exactly how it works on reality TV, which they're parodying.
Totally Spies!: Meet villain of the episode, girls having some problem in their personal lives, Jerry whoops them away and explains the situation, go on mission, run into villain, one or all girls get captured or discovered, one or all of them gets mutated / brainwashed etc, break free, confront villains, beat them, change back to normal. End episode. Sometime the plots factor into the daily life problems, sometimes not.
Wallace & Gromit: Not all of them, but mostly it's: Wallace and Gromit opens new business. Business don't go so well. Wallace invents crazy new device to help business. Gromit makes a face. New invention goes awry/falls into the wrong hands/etc. Big action chase scene at the end. Gromit makes Aside Glance.
Wunschpunsch manages to take this trope to Scooby-Doo-like levels. Each episode follows this pattern: We see the villains shower attention upon their pets or going about their daily business (Bubonic commonly cooks, Tyrannia works on her appearance). Maledictus T. Maggot shows up and berates them for not having cast any evil spells lately and forces them to cooperate. The villains berate each other for their lack of achievement before coming up with an idea for a spell. They use their combined power to cast the spell. Their pets witness the resulting devastation and plot to stop it before it becomes permanent. They fail to find a solution and seek out the aid of a wise turtle who gives them a cryptic riddle. Meanwhile, the villains take jabs at each other as they revel in their wickedness. The animals figure out the riddle and reverse the spell at the last minute. Maggot shows up and gives the villains their Cool and Unusual Punishment. The animals rejoice.