Also known as One's A Plot.
Many TV shows are based around a High Concept — a simple, intriguing premise that can be explained in one or two sentences — a "hook" which attracts the interest of everyone from producers to advertisers to viewers. One very common way to get a build a high concept is to take two characters who are very different from each other, quirky, or somehow odd, and then team them up to accomplish some objective. In 'the Biz' this is called a "Wunza plot". Put in its simplest form, a Wunza Plot is "One's a [X]; one's a [Y]. Together they [Objective Z]" note Hence, the name: "One's a" = "Wunza"
Oddly, even the most bizarre premises can end up rather mundane in execution, with the strange characters — despite initial weirdness — ending up in fairly stock show formats like workplace comedies/dramas, quirky sitcom family hijinks, or, yes, fighting crime as private detectives or freelance do-gooders.
Animation obviously has great potential for silliness, especially if it's an Animated Adaptation of a live-action show.
A silly premise isn't always fatal, and the mention of a series below is not necessarily a criticism. With the right casting and writing, some shows which sound totally ridiculous have been hugely successful and even critically acclaimed.
See also In a World. Compare and contrast with Odd Couple. A necessary ingredient of They Fight Crime. Not to be confused with Kudzu Plot.
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Anime and Manga
The premise of Dirty Pair in which the impulsive tomboyish Kei is paired up with the more cerebral and mannered Yuri. Of course it's all right since They Fight Crime...
Saint Young Men: Buddha and Jesus share and apartment in Japan. They do ordinary day-to-day stuff.
Tiger & Bunny. A down-on-his-luck, goofy single father and an icy-cold pretty-boy upstart are paired together as a corporate-sponsored superhero duo. They Fight Crime.
Referenced in The Sandman: Matthew (a servant of Morpheus who happens to be a raven who used to be a man) describes his brief adventure with the Corinthian (a serial killer with fanged mouths in place of eyes) as being "like a bad TV show." Borders on a Lampshade Hanging, except that unlike most of these examples, the weird team-up was only a small part of a much larger story.
G.I. Robot., he's a robot. His buddy's a hard bitten G.I. They fight dinosaurs and Japanese giant robots until the robot is sent into space with military werewolves, vampires, etc. and the comic's creator. Bob Kanigher, man..
Duplicity: On its movie poster - "She's ex-Cia. He's ex-MI-5, together they are stealing a fortune." She is Julia Roberts, he is Clive Owen.
Steel Justice: Twenty Minutes into the Future a cop loses his son to a car bomb and the boy is reincarnated as a toy robot dragon. That can shapeshift into a giant robot dragon and help his dad bring his killers to justice. Apparently the purpose was as an extended advert for the toy dragon in question. Perhaps the best bit is that this truly outlandish premise is paired with one of the blandest, most generic titles imaginable.
The Rush Hour trilogy. According to Roger Ebert, "Wunza legendary detective from Hong Kong, and wunza Los Angeles cop. And wunza Chinese guy, and wunza black guy. And wunza martial arts expert and wunza wisecracking showboat. Neither wunza original casting idea, but together, they make an entertaining team."
The Gotrek and Felix novels, set in the Tabletop Game/Warhammer world, began life in very much this way. One's a massively-muscled, shaven-headed, axe-wielding Dwarf in search of a glorious death, the other's a ne'er-do-well poet, minor political agitator and the son of an Altdorf wool merchant. Together they fight... well, anything and everything they can really - glorious deaths are hard to find when you're as good at fighting as Gotrek Gurnisson. The only thing keeping them together, or so Felix says, is a drunken oath Felix swore many years ago to record Gotrek's doom in an epic poem (and Dwarfs take both oathing and drinking very, very seriously). In fact Felix often muses on the situation he's found himself in, and wonders whether he really could go back to a different life if Gotrek did eventually meet his doom, so long have they been adventuring together.
Live Action TV
Friends featured the example of 'Mac & Cheese' (Joey's starring role)- one's a hard-bitten detective, one's a robot. They fight crime.
Blood Ties: She's a Canadian police detective who is slowly losing her sight. He's a vampire. They fight crime!
Psych: A devious young man with uncanny detective skills pretends to be psychic in order to solve mysteries. With his nerdy, put-upon Black Best Friend.
Being Human: A nerdy werewolf, a charismatic vampire and a sexy ghost are roomates. They try to have a normal life.
Constantly parodied in Mystery Science Theater 3000 when reading the title credits for the movies they watch. e.g. Tom: "Body Care and Grooming! They're cops!"
"He's a cop. He's a rabbi. They're cops! Except for the rabbi."
The Middle Man Superhero with android secretary hires art student with crazed activist roommate as Side Kick and heir apparent.
Heat Vision and Jack was a show pitched by Ben Stiller whose pilot (the only episode ever made) is a bit of a cult classic that parodies this whole trope. The premise is that a former astronaut with solar powered super genius (Jack Black) and a talking motorcycle (voiced by Owen Wilson) cruise the country as drifters on the run from NASA. They Fight Crime!
Whose Line Is It Anyway? had a game revolving around this trope. The performers had to act/sing the opening sequence of a comedy whose title was supplied by the audience. Some of the fictional comedies:
This Morning with Richard Not Judy mercilessly parodied this often. Such as this example:
Ian Roll is a driving instructor, Ian Reversal is a baker. Due to some kind of accident they are forced to swap jobs. With hilarious consequences.
Or this one:
Ian and Iain Bent are brothers who are policemen. One is corrupt and the other is homosexual. They both suffer from curvature of the spine, and they're made of copper - they're robots in the future.
Dark Angel doesn't fall under this trope so much as leap into it headfirst from the roof of the Space Needle:
She was designed to be the perfect soldier. She was trained to be a human weapon. But then she escaped. They came after her, and she knew they would never stop looking. [...] She's found an unlikely ally in Logan Cale. Born to a life of privilege, he's now an underground cyber-journalist crusading against a corrupt government. He wants to save the world, or what's left of it. She just wants to find the others like her. Together... who knows?
BJ And The Bear: Wunza hunky truck driver, wunza chimpanzee. Together they solve other people's problems.
AlanPartridge follows this trope faithfully with the majority of the ideas he pitches to a senior BBC executive for new shows.
Set List, a show where stand-up comedians improvise bits in front of a live audience, featured the prompt "15th-century sitcom" during Robin Williams's set. He responded with "He's a Grand Inquisitor. She's a Jewish schoolgirl!"
In Scrubs after JD notes that hospital lawyer Ted and The Janitor should get their own sitcom, he has an imagine spot of them having having one called Legal Custodians, in which they adopt and raise a child together.note For more information see the Quotes page