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Reality Is Unrealistic: Live-Action TV
The more I learn about Mister Lumis, the more he sounds like the figment of someone's imagination.
Bill Gannon, Mister. The story is true.

  • In an episode of Babylon 5, Centauri women (a type of almost Human Alien) were depicted as being completely bald or bald except for a ponytail. They were played by actresses who wore latex caps, except for one extra who actually was bald. Supposedly, one of the production crew commented that her cap looked fake.
    • This criticism was also aimed at Mira Furlan, who played Delenn using her native Croatian accent, leading detractors of the show to complain that the character's accent sounded "fake". Similarly with the new Earth Alliance president late in season 4; like Furlan, the actress used her real accent (Polish) and many viewers complained that it sounded fake. With the new president, though, viewers did at least have one point in their favor; the actress was supposed to be portraying a Russian character—and though both Polish and Russian are Slavic languages, the accents sound very different. So, real accent... just not a real Russian accent.
    • This was picked up on in LOST, when fans asked why the French woman trapped on the Island by herself for 16 years is speaking with a Croatian accent. The producers regularly discuss this on their podcasts for Rousseau-heavy episodes, pondering if her traumatic experiences are responsible for the accent shift.
    • Some complained that Emilie de Ravin (an Australian), the actress who played Claire (also an Australian), was using a horrible accent.
      • She may have been "Anthony LaPaglia-ed" and had to reconstruct her accent. But then maybe the show's use of obviously non-Australian actors or Australians who had clearly been LaPaglia-ed planted the idea in people's heads that she might be American. The accent was either genuine or convincing enough that it's unlikely any Australian would call her on it if they heard it on an Australian show without knowing who she is.
    • In yet another episode, many complained about a villain's "fake" scar. In fact, the actor had gotten that scar while trying to stop a mugging, and as a consequence he'd been out of work for years until B5.
  • The opening episode to the main series of the new Battlestar Galactica deals with how the fleet is just getting by with everyone being sleep-deprived from a relentless chase by the Cylons. During the table read, Edward James Olmos brought in a sleep-deprivation expert to consult with the cast to better inform how they would act for the episode. Olmos was convinced that people would be on the verge of suicide after five days of no sleep. The expert said everyone would just be really irritable after five days, much to Olmos' chagrin.
  • Brainiac: Science Abuse got in a spot of bother for pandering to this trope. The alkali metals (group one on your periodic table) get more reactive as their masses increase. The show demonstrated this by dropping them into water and watching the increasingly loud bangs as the metals liberated and ignited hydrogen gas. Unfortunately when they reached caesium, the large atomic mass meant, pound for pound, it was far less dramatic than the rest. Rather than show this interesting result to the audience, they repeated the experiment with numerous pyrotechnic charges in the tank. "Science Abuse" indeed. Funnily enough on a small scale caesium is far more impressive. While the lower number metals fizz and occasionally burn in water, caesium will quite happily make the tank explode.
    • Theodore Gray, a scientist who built a coffee table in the shape of the Periodic Table - and filled it with samples of all the elements he can feasibly get hold of - was pissed at this and has demonstrated all the stable alkali metals in water, as shown here. He also says that if you want to have some REAL fun... try dropping a two-pound block of sodium into a lake and timing how long it takes to fall back down, and explode again... and again... it's on the same page, under 'Sodium Party'
  • The New York Supreme Court is actually the lowest state-level court in the New York judicial system (county and municipal courts being below it). It's a trial court where felonies, large civil lawsuits, and divorces are tried, whereas other Supreme Courts only hear appeals of issues of major national or statewide legal importance. This all means that to anyone who doesn't know how the New York courts are set up, works that get the name right (like Law & Order) sound wrong, while works that get the name wrong sound right. A few early episodes of Law & Order erroneously referred to the 'superior court.'
    • The state's appellate courts are misleading too; the court of last resort for all state matters is the plainly named Court of Appeals. If you're familiar with the Federal court system, that's just like the mid-level appeals court above the trial court and below the Supreme Court of the United States. The NY version of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals? The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Yeah, good luck with convincing people who aren't legal experts (or haven't been on trial/sued in New York lately) that's real. Oddly enough, originally the court system was like other states': supreme court at the top, a court of appeals below, then trial courts. However, due to its corruption in the 1800s, the New York state legislature demoted the supreme court to trial jurisdiction level, resulting in the current format.
  • Similarly parodied in Monty Python's Flying Circus. While filming "Scott of the Antarctic" on an English beach, the crew cover up the sand with white foamy mats, which supposedly, "on screen, look more like snow than snow!"
  • When the MythBusters bust a Hollywood myth, like, say, Blown Across the Room, you can be almost certain that there will be a large portion of fans who clamor about having the myth re-tested because they're so used to seeing such myths on the media for so long that they have difficulty believing that real life won't live up to what they expect based on said myths.
    • When testing the method of slowing the detonation of a bomb by cooling it with liquid nitrogen like in Lethal Weapon 2, it turned out that not only did it work, it actually worked a lot better than in the movie. In the movie, cooling the bomb gives Riggs and Murtaugh two or three seconds of time to dive into cover, but in the test they had to wait for the bomb's battery to completely thaw before it would explode 15 minutes later. To quote Adam: "The technique used by the bomb squad is far more effective in reality than it is in the movies. When does that ever happen?"
    • A similar conclusion came about regarding a freefalling skydiver impacting a seesaw, flinging a young girl on top of a seven-story building (unharmed). The impact of such a skydiver would likely break (or bend) most seesaws, and even if the seesaw managed to transfer all the energy to the young girl, the force of such a launch would be enough to kill her on launch. In addition, the force was more than enough to launch her well above a seven-story building. The MythBusters were amazed; usually the more outlandish stories would grossly overestimate the forces involved; this one actually grossly underestimated the forces.
  • How I Met Your Mother:
  • A common source of snickering about Star Trek: The Next Generation is that Picard is supposedly French, but speaks English with a British accent and not a French one. Patrick Stewart is indeed British and not French, but it's common for French people who know English well to speak it in a British accent-Britain is, after all, the nearest English-speaking country to France. A French person speaking English with a British accent is no more unrealistic than is, say, a Mexican person who speaks English with an accent from the American south (and Picard only speaks French in one episode. Even his visit home to France was everyone speaking English).
  • Parodied in Supernatural's self-referential episode "Hollywood Babylon". There's a real black-and-white ghost woman with rope burns on her neck and the producer just says "Not sure about those neck wounds, though. They need to be red."
    • Another version happens in season five's "The Real Ghostbusters": at a haunted Supernatural convention, a patron dressed as season one's Hookman ghost tells a group of real ghost-children, "You look nothing like real ghosts. Just telling you!" Right before they kill him.
  • A group of Native American actors appearing as extras in the series The Wild Wild West were asked to speak in their own language for a scene, only for the director to change the dialogue as it didn't sound 'Indian' enough.
    • This is probably due to the idea that American English picked up some of the accent and flow (in addition to a lot of vocabulary) of Native American speech.
  • As mentioned in the DVD commentary of the U.S. series premiere, the creators of The Office run up against this problem quite a bit. It's a fictional show done in documentary style, which means it needs to look "realistic", but to achieve this, it often needs to look less professional than an actual documentary. Willing Suspension of Disbelief isn't necessary for a documentary filmmaker, because by its very nature a documentary is assumed to be true and uses no actors or sets. Therefore, they often strive to make their footage look as artistic and professionally staged as possible. But if The Office did that it would probably look like a regular show, hence it has to be "behind the times".
    • For the original British version, a common point of complaint from early critics was that the Pointy-Haired Boss David Brent was too obviously incompetent and self-deluding to make it as the manager of the branch. The retort from the series creators was that if these critics were to go into any large organization (such as The BBC) and spend just five minutes looking around, they'd run out of fingers to count the people who were just as bad if not worse than Brent but who had yet managed to make it to senior management level.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Police Boxes are not actually made out of wood. Police Boxes were out of date by the time the series started, and so most viewers grew up much more familiar with the flimsy, clearly wooden look of the cheap TARDIS prop used in the show. The Coconut Effect now means that any attempts to make a clearly cement or concrete TARDIS are usually roundly criticised - because, after all, it's supposed to look like a real Police Box.
    • "The Underwater Menace" is often criticized for the over-the-top, ridiculous and cheesy Eastern European accent used by the Mad Scientist Professor Zaroff. That was the actor's natural accent.
    • Kettlewell in "Robot" has astonishing Einstein Hair that looks like a bad wig. All of it was the actor's own hair and he didn't even put anything in it to stand up like that, though he preferred a more sedate style for everyday use.
    • The episodes "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon" were criticized by some fans because of the character of Carl Peterson, a black member of Richard Nixon's security detail. While some people claimed this was an example of Black Vikings and Political Correctness Gone Mad, it turns out that in real life Nixon did have at least one black agent.
  • The television show The Nanny featured Niles the British butler working for British Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield. The show would repeatedly get fan mail suggesting that Daniel Davis, who plays Niles and is from Arkansas, coach Charles Shaughnessy, who played Maxwell and who is (a) from London, and b) an honest-to-god member of the British aristocracy) to make his accent more believable.
  • Deliberately avoided by the producers in the HBO adaptation of Generation Kill. No doubt the best example would be Captain America, who is toned down from Evan Wright's account of things as seen in the book, for fear that the audience wouldn't believe it.
    • The series still suffers from this trope played straight; it's not uncommon for viewers to think the show is completely unrealistic and an insult to military personnel when they don't know the characters, Wright included, are real people actually followed around by a reporter. The Marines being more vulgar and shameless than military characters portrayed in the John Wayne-era or even newer World War II films just seem unrealistic to civilians after decades of Hollywood painting the battlefield with an air of civility. Beyond this, some will still justify calling bullshit on it through the idea that Evan Wright is biased at best, and fabricating things at worst, the fact that the real Marines portrayed have no problem sitting down with him and talking about what goes on in the series seemingly irrelevant. The real Brad Colbert actually mentions this trope in one such discussion, he and the other Marines having what is essentially this entry as a conversation.
    • Never mind the fact that one of the actual marines was an actor in the series. "Fruity" Rudy (The marine who played himself in the show) would likely also qualify as reality is unrealistic. Nobody would find a fictional Marine like him believable.
    • One scene that gets a lot of complaints is a part where an Iraqi AA gun ambushes the Marines' humvees as they're driving down the highway. The common complaint is that the AA gun should have ripped apart the Marines' column before they could have taken cover, let alone return fire or direct a helicopter after the gun. In reality, this event actually happened almost exactly like it did in the show - except that unlike in the show, they were being fired upon with explosive ammunition, and there were Iraqi mortars bombarding the column too. Not only was this mentioned in the Generation Kill book, but 1st Lieutenant Nathan Fick's own autobiography One Bullet Away verifies it further.
    • This also carried over to Army of Two, which was based partially on GK and partially on actual accounts from mercenaries.
  • In the early days of Seinfeld, Jason Alexander complained to Larry David of the way George was written, saying that no person could possibly sink so low as to do some particular thing, that it was completely unrealistic for one person to be that selfish and stupid. Larry informed him that he himself HAD done that very same thing in real life. This changed how Jason saw the character when he realized it is possible for a person to sink that low. Also lampshaded in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm- playing himself, Jason complains to Larry that he always gets typecast as schmucks and assholes because of George. Larry asks what he meant, Jason says something like "Well come on, George was an asshole! He did [lists off various misdeeds of George]" to which Larry angrily replies "I did those things!!!"
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Victorious which involves a reality show, and uses stuff they shot to make it look like Tori and Beck were into each other, which then results in Jade getting violent towards Tori. When they go to the show's producers, they claim that nothing that ever happens on reality TV is actually real.
  • There were some viewers who complained about Sleepy Hollow being "too PC" for having a black female cop as the lead character in such a small, largely-white town. In real life there is a black female cop in Sleepy Hollow, and she even ended up being interviewed over the controversy.
  • The laughter track on the pilot episode of The Mighty Boosh is actually a quieter version of the laughter heard on the day. However, the audience who attended felt the laughter track was too much on the filmed episode, despite it being their laughter.
  • British TV show Cardiac Arrest was written by a practicing doctor in a hospital about his experiences as a junior doctor. It was slammed as an unrealistic portrayal of life in a hospital by critics who had never been in one.
  • A frequent knock on the TV show Survivorman is that the number of times he stumbles onto a useful piece of trash or a food source seems set up. Les Stroud often states, on air, that human refuse is simply a fact of life, no matter where you go. He lampshades this trope during an episode in Alaska, where he runs across half a salmon discarded by an eagle.
    Les: Now, I know what you're thinking: "Ah, come on! That looks set up!"
  • Invoked in Burn Notice when Fiona's brother shows up to help Fiona survive an old foe come back to kill her. Long story short, the brother thinks Michael is Irish from an old operation and Fiona encourages him to maintain the illusion. At a certain point they need to do some recon work and are left to wonder how an Irishman will blend into an American crew. At that point Michael drops his accent and says he's done undercover work in America before. Fiona's brother remarks that Michael's American accent could use some work.
    • This is also a Lampshade Hanging on the fact that Michael has his actor's Massachusetts accent, despite growing up in South Florida, which doesn't seem all that likely, either. However (believe it or not), it is far from unheard-of for born-and-bred Floridians to exhibit their parents' accents—for instance, David Foster Wallace reported (in "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again") a group of four unrelated native-born South Floridians with distinctive Noo Yawk accents despite never having lived there in their lives...but their parents had. Now, Madeleine Westen doesn't have that accent, but we've never heard from his father (him being dead and all)...
    • This trope comes up a lot in the voice-over narrations that Michael gives, explaining how real spy-work differs from the common public perception ingrained by years of action flicks.
  • This is a common problem on Leverage. In interviews and episode commentary, the writers take great pains to point out how few of their villains' atrocities are not things that actual white-collar criminals have gotten away with.
    • In the first season episode "The Mile High Job" the audio commentary points out that the LA Convention Center (where they were shooting) looks much more like an airport than the actual LAX.
    • John Rogers frequently does write-ups and Q&A sessions for each episode on his blog. For episodes that feature a prominent character with an accent (e.g. the antagonist with an Irish accent in "The Bottle Job"), someone inevitably tells Rogers that the actor's accent sounds fake, only for Rogers to reveal that the actor is actually using their native accent.
  • An in-universe example in Stargate SG-1 on the set of Wormhole X-treme where, due to low budget, the producer refuses to finance a spaceship prop. Then a real, awesome-looking, spaceship descends from the clouds. At first, everyone is agape. Then a couple of stagehands are discussing how fake it looks. The other one replies that they can make it look "less fake" in post-production.
  • Tim Minear remarks in an audio comment for Dollhouse that they brought in a blind woman as an expert, so Eliza Dushku could portray blindness realistically. But it turned out that when she behaved like a blind person actually would, then it looked fake on screen. So they went with more stereotypical "blind" behaviour. You can hear them talk about it starting around 38:00 of this podcast.
  • Mark Sheppard - Badger in Firefly - has been criticized for his "atrocious British accent". Perhaps a borderline case - Sheppard is British, but he was laying that accent on rather thick.
    • Similarly, some fans complained about Glenn Quinn's Irish accent on Angel. Quinn was, of course, Irish - and doing his best to done down his accent so American viewers would understand him.
    • More from the Whedonverse — 10+ years after the end of Buffy, James Marsters' real (American) accent is still rather jarring to fans of the show, as is Anthony Head's real accent... which is closer to what James Marsters adapted for the character of Spike than the one Anthony Head affected for Giles.
    • And another set. Alexis Denisof who plays Wesley, does an upper class English accent so well fans tend to find it more realistic than his natural American one. Similarly the accent Amy Acker initially gave Fred in season 3 of Angel was found to be unrealistic by fans. According to Joss Whedon, Acker originally spoke like that (she is a Texas native) and her accent has simply faded from years of doing Shakespeare.
    • With regards to other matters, some negative criticism of Firely involved the fact the makers of the show do not allow sound to be heard in space (engines, explosions, etc). This is of course scientifically accurate, but Firefly was one of the first fiction TV series to actually depict it correctly, but viewers used to hearing sounds in space reacted negatively.
  • The game show QI (hosted by the genius Stephen Fry) lives and breathes this trope. For example: Jesus probably wasn't born December 25th; there are words that rhyme with "orange", "purple" and "silver"; goldfish have respectable memories; and they say of the Acropolis, where the Parthenon is, that there are no straight lines... though they later admitted that wasn't actually true.
  • The character of Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones was introduced skinning a stag. Viewers heartily criticised the silly fake stag and ridiculed the scene. It was a real freshly killed carcass and Charles Dance was actually skinning it on camera.
    • During the making of the episode "The Watchers on the Wall," D.B. Weiss thought Jon Snow's movements as he entered the epic battle scene were sped up in editing and requested that he be slowed back down—only to be told that Kit Harington really was moving that fast.
  • Arguably, every episode of every 'ghost hunting' show ever - except for England's Most Haunted, which was revealed to be a fabrication. (Cast and crew members of shows such as Ghost Hunters, Paranormal State, and Ghost Adventures absolutely insist that no fakery is involved.)
  • While some elements of Viva La Bam were scripted in advance, some fans have claimed that Vince "Don Vito" Margera was acting, and that his over-the-top, incomprehensible manner was a put on. This is untrue, though April Margera has stated that the show made Vito out to be a bigger jerk than he actually is.
  • Any mention of the character of Spearchucker Jones on M*A*S*H - including multiple pages on this very Wiki - inevitably includes the "fact" that he was written out when producers were told no black surgeons served in Korea. M*A*S*H is based on a real unit, the 8055th, which did indeed have an African-American surgeon on staff.
  • Parodied in an episode of One Foot in the Grave, when a woman writes a play based on a typical day with the Meldrews... that is, a day when everything goes wrong and a few surreal things happen that they never manage to figure out. Her backer protests that there isn't a proper story, and it's not convincing.
    Backer: The bottom line is I don't believe it.
  • In the early years of The Adventures of Superman, when it was in black and white, Superman's costume was actually white and red, because blue would have looked wrong (you can see it in the movie Hollywoodland). A normal version was created for later seasons that were shot in color.
  • Season 5 of Mad Men opens with a rival agency throwing water bombs on protesters. The scene was criticized for being unrealistic and having bad dialogue, but it was actually lifted word for word from a contemporary New York Times article.
  • Invoked in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia when Mac and Charlie get a hold of a hand grenade and use it to blow up Dee's car. There's a small explosion which blows out the windows but doesn't do much other visible damage. They start complaining that they were expecting a fireball that would lift the car in the air.
  • As Badass as Omar Little is, there's no way he would really be able to survive a leap from a fourth-floor window, right? Except for the fact that Donnie Andrews, one of the real-life Baltimorians Little is based off, pulled off a similar feat with a sixth-floor drop.
  • Heroes fans routinely complain about Claire being Made of Plasticine, and there is generally a good deal of validity to that. But one of the examples frequently cited is the time she broke her neck after being accidentally tackled to the ground by a football player. In reality, people suffer horrific and crippling injuries from being tackled on a fairly regular basis (it's what makes football such a dangerous sport), and those people are often trained athletes wearing helmets and proper padding, which definitely does not describe Claire in that scene.
  • Horrible Histories loves pointing out how our perceptions of history are often misguided or influenced by anachronistic sources that came later, such as the works of Shakespeare influencing how Richard III is remembered. Their two greatest sources of sketches are commonly held misconceptions and things that sound so ridiculous that no one would believe they actually happened. For example, if someone named a Victorian era character "Never," or a 17th Century character "Silence," the vast majority of people probably would think it was something out of a bad fanfic as opposed to a completely real name used in England at the time. They've also pointed out plenty of weird things that would seem trite or like a contrived plot convenience in a story that have happened in real life, such as dying on stage or having Dick Turpin be caught by having a kind of mentor coincidentally deliver a letter from him and recognise his handwriting.
  • Terence Winter, creator of Boardwalk Empire, discusses this trope in this interview with the AV Club, using the example of a wire-mesh fence as something that existed in the 1920s but would appear incongruously modern.
  • Students and younger alumni from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee often believe the red and white UWM pennants and paraphernalia used on Happy Days are a mistake, but during the period in which Happy Days takes place (late 50s and early 60s), UWM's official colors actually were white and cardinal red. The university didn't adopt its current colors (black & gold) until 1964.
  • On Pair Of Kings, the protagonists are a pair of twins born to a mixed race couple; one black and one white. Though it is rare, this has been known to happen.
  • In Derren Brown's Apocalypse (which stages an insanely elaborate fake Zombie Apocalypse, with common archetypal characters of such films being played by actors), the "hero" of the story (who is an unsuspecting member of the public who doesn't realize it's fake) uses extremely stilted or cliched dialogue that would be laughed at in a B-movie, despite it being completely natural. It's unsurprising really; given that he's a very-definitely-fazed everyman totally out of his depth he's not going to be thinking up witty or creative things to say, and will be drawing on the only things that will give him any familiarity with that scenario (ie zombie apocalypse movies).
  • While police dramas or dramedies featuring police consultants like Psych, Castle, The Mentalist, and White Collar do play with the boundaries of reality, they're not quite as unrealistic as one would initially believe. Real police departments, military organizations and government agencies hire consultants all the time, prime real life example being Frank Abignale, who after several years as one of the world's greatest conmen, was hired onto the FBI as a consultant and stayed for decades. Other examples include military embedded reporters, film crews who follow real police around, and laypeople with special skills hired or consulted by police in solving particularly difficult cases.
  • Sherlock took flack for a murder attempt audiences saw as too far-fetched in "The Sign of Three": an extremely sharp and narrow blade is used to stab through the very tight belt of a military dress uniform, which acts as a pressure bandage and prevents the victim from bleeding noticeably until the belt is removed hours later. Both attempted murders fail, as even once the belt is removed the bleeding is slow enough to be stopped by prompt medical attention. The method is very similar to the successful real-life assassination of Empress Elisabeth of Austria. The Empress' extremely tight corset impeded circulation so much that she survived for about half an hour after being stabbed through the heart because blood didn't enter the pericardial sac until the lacing was cut to allow her to breathe more freely.
    • Steven Moffat mentioned during a panel at the summer edition of the 2014 London Film and Comic Con that back in Victorian times, the "221B" wouldn't have actually been on the door as shown in several older movies and TV series (the 2009 and 2011 movies actually garnered criticism for not showing it on the door, amazingly), so with the show being modernized, this time he actually had a reason to do it.
  • The producers of The Borgias knew enough about the real period that they could have portrayed things like the Cardinals openly living with mistresses and their bastard children accurately, but chose not to since they feared this reaction from the audience. Meanwhile, another series, Borgia: Faith and Fear played the Deliberate Values Dissonance for all its worth. As one analysis put it:
    I think [Showtime did it] because they were afraid of alienating their audience with the sheer implausibility of what the Renaissance was actually like. Rome in 1492 was so corrupt, and so violent, that I think they donít believe the audience will believe them if they go full-on. Almost all the Cardinals are taking bribes? Lots, possibly the majority of influential clerics in Rome overtly live with mistresses? Every single one of these people has committed homicide, or had goons do it? Wait, they all have goons? Even the monks have goons? It feels exaggerated. Showtime toned it down to a level that matches what the typical modern imagination might expect.
  • Community has the in-universe example of the phone number for Jeff's legal practice. It starts with 555, which bothers Abed because it sounds fake.
  • The actors portraying Fitz and Simmons in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were criticized early on for their British accents sounding "fake". Both actors are indeed British: Iain De Caestecker is from Glasgow, Elizabeth Henstridge is from Sheffield. But, since regional British accents are rare on American shows, a lot of viewers apparently assumed they were American actors trying for more familiar Edinburgh- or London-based RP accents and getting them slightly wrong.
  • Blake's 7 is often criticised for Fashion Dissonance concerning its plethora of perms. No-one on the show actually had permed hair besides Jan Chappell - Gareth Thomas and Steven Pacey were just very naturally curly.
  • In the first episode of Sharpe, a Spanish partisan chief sets fire to a document using a strange item which looks like a barrel-less pistol. Very few people know that flintlock lighters of that type were very fashionable among wealthy Napoleonic Wars-era smokers, and cal it a scriptwriter's cop-out.

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