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Uncanny Valley: Live-Action TV
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Examples

  • Beginning with the third season, Modern Family has added an extremely unsettling, CGI smile to the face of Baby Lily in the opening credit montage.
  • The Adult Swim show Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! uses this trope for comedic effect. Whenever pictures of children are displayed on the show, there's always something terribly wrong with their face. The funny thing is, it's possible for kids to actually look like that.
    • The careful use of slow-motion, freeze frame and camera zoom makes pretty much every human actor fall deep into the valley at one point or another.
  • In an episode of House, the patient, a painter, is doing a portrait of a man's wife. When the painting is done, her husband goes to look at it, and it is horribly distorted. The same patient later sees extremely disturbing doppelgangers of Taub and Thirteen as a result of the same vision distortion... the two actors were brilliantly cast by the creators of the show. The freaky almost-but-not-quite aspect is nailed perfectly.
  • While not actually eerie-looking (since he's played by a real actor) the robotic sheriff from Eureka has this effect on the townspeople, who are unnerved by him and especially by his creepily fixed smile.
  • The Wiggles: CAN YOU POINT YOUR FINGERS AND DO THE TWIST?
  • Red Dwarf: Holly is generally acceptable because he/she acts just like a normal human, with a lighthearted, "chummy" way of speaking. But on the instances where he/she malfunctions and reverts to Robo Speak it can be damned creepy. "The phrase 'cargo bay doors' does not appear to be in my lexicon," for example. An episode in which it is revealed that Lister is a robot lampshades this trope, with Kryten explaining that some robots were produced that were too close to humans in appearance, which was creepy for some and so they were recalled.
    • Done deliberately with the Data Doctor from Back in the Red, apparently inspired by Max Headroom.
    • The first novelization Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers notes that Holograms all have the big chrome "H" on their forehead to make it more acceptable and less creepy for your dead friend to be walking around and talking to you, as it makes it more explicit that the person you're talking to is not actually the real person.
    • Kryten mentions that his predecessor series was a notorious commercial failure because it looked so much more human that it made humans uncomfortable, while Kryten's "novelty eraser shaped head" (as Rimmer puts it) is sufficiently far enough from human appearance to avoid the valley effect.
    • Invoked in the episode Blue where, in The Arnold Rimmer Experience, the appearances of Cat and Lister are slightly off, with extreme make-up and overly white teeth
  • Doctor Who
    • "The Robots of Death" references the Uncanny Valley effect in the form of "Grimwade's Syndrome", (named after Peter Grimwade, a production assistant who always complained about having to do robot-themed episodes) a mental disorder whose sufferers subconsciously equate highly humanoid robots with animated corpses; the robots in that particular story looked just slightly less human than the animatronic dummies on a Disneyland ride, but the idea of being surrounded by human-sized creatures with emotionless and immobile features is unpleasant enough that the audience could easily accept it.
    • Autons. After they were first shown, some children would refuse to walk past a clothes shop (John Barrowman included.)
    • The clockwork robots from "The Girl in the Fireplace".
    • The Family of Blood from the "Human Nature" two-parter. Perfectly normal-looking people turned to pure terror through a combination of Verbal Tics, Creepy Monotone, unsettling facial expressions and body movements.
    • From "The Beast Below", the Smilers with their fixed expressions and rotating heads. Steven Moffat - the king of Nightmare Fuel in Nu Who - said of them that if you really want to make something look creepifying, make it try to look friendly and fail. By most accounts, the Smilers hit that nail on the head.
    • The infamous Terrifying Pertwee.
    • In the novel 'Nuclear Time', Rory feels this way about a severed plastic robot arm the Doctor tosses to him.
    • The animated episode 'Dreamland' has a crude, stiff style of CG that makes it look unfinished and creepy.
    • In "The Lodger", there was a very strange picture on a wall... and it didn't have anything to do with the episode. You could see a cameraman in the reflection on it, though.
    • The gangers definitely fall into this, especially when they melt... like the fake Melody Pond baby does.
    • The episode never goes there, but "The Doctor's Wife" does feature the sentient consciousness of the TARDIS inhabiting what is, literally, a corpse.
    • The original design for the Cybermen is this, with the mouths that would open and then make no further movements as the monotone voices droned on... the empty eyehole sockets contribute to this as well. The freakiest thing about them might be that their hands are still human. *shudder*
      • Where John Barrowman had the Autons, Matt Smith had these guys. He has said that his favorite monster was that particular version of the Cybermen (who in the old series never looked the same twice beyond the presence of handlebar heads.) They were scary because you could see the remaining humanness.
      • Ann Lawrence, writing for the Morning Star, commented on the serial "The Tomb of the Cybermen":
      "These were robots in human form with distorted faces, and they gave my daughter nightmares. When I asked her why she was frightened of the Cybermen but not of the Daleks, she replied that the Cybermen looked like terrible human beings, whereas the Daleks were just Daleks."
    • For an example that's just a few steps down from the human side, the alien-ness of the Doctor is normally expressed by casting actors who aren't ugly, but have faces or mannerisms that look... just ever so slightly strange. From the Fourth Doctor's unusually-proportioned body and bulging Creepy Blue Eyes, to the Fifth Doctor's stiff and awkward smiles that never touch the upper half of his otherwise pleasant face, the odd tempo of the Sixth Doctor's speech and motions, the Ninth Doctor's unusual bone structure, the goggle-eyed almost-handsomeness of the Tenth, the Eleventh's face that flickers between gorgeous and ugly within the same second...
      • The First Doctor evoked this slightly personality-wise, in that he often demonstrated a distinct lack of empathy, acted very childish and petulant for his age, and generally conveyed an impression of not thinking or acting like a normal human being. And the Second Doctor looked inherently cartoonish, plus he did a lot of silly gurning, a trait which carried over to the Third. The Eighth Doctor is reasonably normal-looking, but there is the fact his hair is an obvious wig, and he has oddly old-fashioned-looking features.
    • Jack Harkness evokes this for the Doctor as a living fixed point in time, "a fact", which his Time Lord instincts balk at.
    • The horrible CGI Fake Shemp recreations of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton in "Dimensions in Time".
    • Invoked with Susan's dancing to Pop music in "An Unearthly Child". It doesn't resemble any dance anyone would ever do to that kind of music and looks pretty, but freaky.
    • The Fifth Doctor's companion Kamelion, played by a real robot. He's supposed to be fun, but is just terrifying.
    • Actually you can say this about quite a few monsters on Classic Doctor Who due to Special Effects Failure done right. The show was always made on a shoestring budget, especially in the early runs (for obvious reasons) and the 1970's (due to Britain going through a nasty recession). The sheer creativity and ingenuity of the special effects crew was able to rectify the silliness of the monster costumes to a degree, but even then, they were still poorly designed and didn't allow for properly articulate human movement, and the results could be described as "unwittingly terrifying".
  • The George Lopez Show, of all shows has this in George's childhood flashbacks, which take the head of adult George and paste it onto his childhood body.
    • Naturally, it's because they actually "integrated" the head onto child George's body, rather than doing a cheap photoshop AFV-style.
  • Parodied brilliantly on the live action show 30 Rock as the reason why it is impossible to do a porn video game... and then the game Tracy made went on to make $300 million. He apparently figured out a way to avoid the valley after all.
    • Torquemada Software's Video Strip Poker avoids this trope by using actual video clips of actresses.
    • The abundance of nudity mods for popular PC video games seems to indicate that people aren't so creeped out by that as they should be.
    • And of course, this explanation in a way even Tracy Jordan can understand:
    Tracy: Tell it to me in Star Wars.
    Frank: All right. We like R2D2 and C3PO.
    Tracy: They’re nice.
    Frank: And up here, we have a real person like Han Solo.
    Tracy: He acts like he doesn’t care, but he does!
    Frank: But down here we have a CGI Storm Trooper or Tom Hanks in The Polar Express.
    Tracy: I’m scared! Get me out of there.
  • The miniseries adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (the one starring Bob Hoskins) subtly uses this one to make the Australopithacines distinctly creepy.
  • LazyTown. Specifically some of the human characters and their prosthetics. Not to mention that Robbie Rotten looks just a little too close to Bruce Campbell.
  • The three creepiest characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer are generally considered to be the Gnarl, The Gentlemen and Sid. The first two by virtue of exaggerated and odd movement, and the last due to being a self-animating ventriloquist's dummy. A good one.
    • The "lead" Gentleman, played by Doug Jones, famous for the equally creepy performance as "The Pale Man" (also known as 'the creepy guy with eyes on his hands') in Pan's Labyrinth as well as the faun. Also the creepy "Angel of Death" (also known as 'the creepy guy with eyes on his wings'. is there a pattern here?) and much less creepy Abe Sapien from the Hellboy movies. As a trained mime and body artist he clearly excels at placing himself smack in the middle of the Uncanny Valley.
    • Perhaps even more notable to Buffy fans is that actor Camden Toy portrayed both the Gentlemen and the Gnarl, as well as the Übervamps let loose by the First in Season 7, and the Prince of Lies in an episode of Angel. Other notable roles include Creepy Guy, Red (described in the casting announcement only as "tall" and "evil"), and Fresh Dead/Dead Raoul. Not that he's experiencing any Type Casting.
    • What about April the Robot from I Was Made To Love You? She's an in-universe example, as the main characters all slowly realize there is something wrong with the super-cheery way she talks, the way the she walks, and eventually her huge amounts of strength.
  • Feast your eyes on Dinosapien
  • Max Headroom: The voice! The face! The eyes! The arrogance! (example)
    • However it doesn't completely qualify as Max is played by a live actor (although at the time, this fact was underplayed in the media as a fiction that Max was an actual CG construct was maintained for a while, though this was dropped once the TV series started and the actor started to become known on his own merits).
    • Creepier is the Max Headroom WTTW pirating incident.
      • And to this date, no one has caught the perpetrator, let alone learned why they did it. That makes it even worse.
    • Speaking of Max Headroom, some viewers apparently found the mid-1980s video for "Paranoimia" by The Art of Noise sufficiently creepy to leave them in vague fear of it for decades.
  • The special 200th episode of Stargate SG-1 featured the SG-1 team as marionettes and as this link shows, it certainly qualifies as Uncanny Valley.
    • Human form replicators definitely qualify. They look perfectly human, and even come off as human for the first thirty seconds they appear in the series. But soon it becomes pretty clear that there's something off. Fifth comes off as much more human and is (originally at least) a sympathetic character as a result.
  • A very good example is FRAN, the replicator created by Rodney McKay in Stargate Atlantis. She acts perfectly human, friendly, yet is willing to completely obey orders (meaning suicide) and is even slightly enthusiastic about it. It is very much the Uncanny Valley. The notable thing is that she is actually unsettling to the other characters (such as McKay himself) because of this, too.
    • Another Atlantis example is the first few appearances of the Wraith. In an attempt to avert Rubber-Forehead Aliens, their eyes and mouths were noticeably slightly too big (apparently with CGI), leading powerfully to this effect. It was apparently too creepy, or else just too expensive, and they abandoned it later on.
  • Mr. Data, the android in Star Trek: The Next Generation, sometimes slips a little ways down the right side of the Valley — though, as he's played by a person, he never gets very far down. Though the grimace-lockjaw-rictus-smile he had during the dancing scene in "Data's Day" greased the slope quite effectively. This trope was cited in all but name when it was revealed to Data that he was designed to not perfectly mimic humans as it tended to creep people out.
    • Switching him off also had this effect, though for the opposite reason (the character we were expected to believe was a machine looked disturbingly human when he was deactivated and effectively, dead.)
      • Of course, since Data spent so much time out of the Valley, the scene makes the audience sympathise with him and make Riker look like a jerkass. Turns out he felt like one too.
    • Which may be a big reason why the Amargosa scene in Generations willied out a lot of people. Especially when his emotion chip overloaded and he couldn't stop laughing.
    • In the episode "Clues," everyone on the ship but Data is knocked unconscious after going through a wormhole. He tells them they were out for only a few seconds, but strange hints that he may be lying begin to appear. Picard gets increasingly frustrated as he — and the audience — realize just how hard it is to figure out what's going on inside Data's head, and how unsettling that can be.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Odo's face slips into uncanny valley. As a Changeling shapeshifter, Odo normally takes the form of a humanoid man, but he has difficulty mimicking humanoid facial details. The result is that his face has very blunted features with unrealistically smooth skin. Fortunately, he does not seem to trigger an uncanny valley response in the other characters.
  • In Star Trek: Voyager, one could infer this is the reason why the Emergency Medical Hologram ended up being an utter failure. It seems that Starfleet crews found it difficult to trust medical care in someone "not real" and would often forget they were a sentient, self-aware hologram, leading them to treat them as though they were not even there. They also seem to have been designed a little too lifelike for people's tastes; the EMH Mk1 was too pompous, while it's replacement, the EMH Mk2 was scathingly sarcastic, etc. As of "Life-line", the Doctor's creator reveals they were up to a Mk 4 and still running into this problem.
  • Similar to Data, Cameron of The Sarah Connor Chronicles sometimes slips into the Uncanny Valley, such as one scene where she perfectly repeats a deceased classmate's last words, word-for-word and inflection-for-inflection. In another, equally disturbing example, while she is being crushed between two trucks, her face is covered in cuts and burns, and her head is being sliced open, she starts talking to John in a completely normal tone of voice that shifts into frantic pleading and crying just like a normal person.
  • Zaphod Beeblebrox's second head in the miniseries of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Sometimes it talks, but mostly it just sits there on his shoulder, motionless and eerily realistic. It was originally intended to be more animated than it ultimately was, but the prop head worked only intermittently, leaving it looking more like a shoulder-mounted pinata.
  • Peppermint Park, an obscure kids' show, used some very creepy-looking human puppets, as seen here, here and here.
  • A program on the Military Channel about the Gettysburg Address features a mix of live actors, with a mostly-to-completely CGI Abraham Lincoln. The CGI Lincoln squarely falls into the Uncanny Valley.
  • David Lynch filmed several scenes in Twin Peaks within the Black Lodge. All the apparitions in the lodge were characters who did their scenes, all speech and movement backwards. Then the filmed result was displays in reverse, giving all the action an unsettling tone.
  • For Tony's stag party on Coronation Street, they all wore "Tony" masks - flat unmoving faces with little cutout eyes peering out.
  • For some, the Generic Man sim used to illustrate animal traits on The Most Extreme avoids this by being just slightly cartoonish, especially the goofy surprised looks whenever he gets overrun by something. In other cases, this cartoonish defiance from a normal human's appearance drives this into the deepest part of uncanny valley.
  • The Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch "It's a Tree" features pieces of wood and plastic talking through their lips.
  • The Bionic Woman/Six Million Dollar Man featured several episodes with these lovely Fembots.
  • Though he doesn't play an alien, robot, or supernatural creature, Michael Emerson's performance of Ben Linus in Lost has a hint of Uncanny Valley, as one of his techniques he uses to achieve his magnetically compelling creepiness. He sometimes goes for a long time without blinking, then blinks very slowly at a carefully chosen moment.
  • "Floyd", the agent from "Department 44" in the NUMB3RS episode "Dreamland". He looked perfectly human, but his affect was rather like an android with a better-than-average speech program. The bouts of "invisible cell phone" had me looking for the spinning blue ring, and the tendency toward Stealth Hi/Bye (Amita called it "materializing"), just added to the wierd factor. You would think that an agent with such a secretive group would want to blend more.
  • One episode of the season 5 of Criminal Minds has for title "The Uncanny Valley. Young women are abducted and paralyzed before being transformed into living dolls, giving them a surreal look. The creepiest part is that the eyes are often shown, being the only thing that they can still move.
    • For those of you crazy curious, here are some pictures. Sorry, they somewhat overlap...
  • Craig Ferguson's Craig Puppet.
  • Though not alive (or meant to be alive), Buster from Mythbusters fame falls squarely into this category, considering all of the things Adam and Jamie have done to him to get a more "human" response out of him during tests, including giving him a "spine", "brain", and even breakable "bones" for testing injury. Special mention goes out to the "death balls" used for the Plywood Builder myth, which shatter upon a lethal impact, releasing stage blood. All used for effect, of course.
    • This is also the reason why a myth about fooling people with a mask was busted. Even after getting the best masks money could buy, Adam and Jamie couldn't convincingly fool anybody unless they stood very far away and didn't speak. Even complete strangers pointed out that upon closer inspection, something wasn't quite right about the faces they were looking at and they quickly deduced what was going on. Oddly enough, they apparently did fool someone: Jamie's dog.
  • In the Aamerican version of Big Brother, at least once a season, often a veto later in the game, producers take pictures of the contestants (it can be any of them) and then morph them together into one picture. The houseguests in the competition then have to identify which two houseguests's facial features are represented in the picture. It can sometimes actually be a bit funny, such as in 10 where the one featuring Jerry (Who was in his 70s) was morphed together with another houseguest signifcantly younger than him was described as a "Demon", or rather disturbing when you see Laura in 11's mouth look significantly bigger than the rest of the face.
  • One episode of Wife Swap featured a New Jersey woman as one of the wives who owned a huge and ever-growing reborn baby dolls. She is shown carrying out a daily routine of brushing their hair, changing their diapers, and carrying them around with her constantly. She even brought one of them with her to her swap family's home, and the wife of the other family was understandably freaked out when she encountered the dolls.
    • Want an example? Look here if you dare... [1]
  • The Seventies husband and wife mime duo "Shields and Yarnell" did a recurring bit on their variety show where they played robots.
  • The first joke in this The Colbert Report Threat Down relies on the Uncanny Valley.
  • The first appearance of the Drakh in Babylon 5 were mouthless ghost-like creatures with glowing eyes that appeared distorted as though they were only partly in one place. They were later changed to be Rubber-Forehead Aliens with a reptilian look, and future appearances of the mouthless "soldier" caste Drakh were more rendered solid rather than distorted.
  • Series three of Merlin features an elderly version of Merlin, portrayed by Colin Morgan in age make-up. Eerily realistic age make-up. The effect is... unnerving.
  • The educational children's show Téléfrançais has a rather...erm...uncanny puppet character named Pilote. If you're curious, start watching around 4:45 on the first episode.
  • The Peter Serafinowicz Show: Michael-6, a robotic talk show host.
  • The mascot from Community falls under this trope. Having been designed to have no ethically distinguishing features, it ended up being an androgynous White Mask of Doom.
  • On the show River Monsters, host Jeremy Wade investigated some attacks on people in Papua New Guinea. One victim told him it felt like a person was biting him. Wade eventually catches the culprit, a fish called a pacu. Native to South America, the pacu were imported about fifteen years earlier and had seriously disrupted the ecosystem. Though related to piranhas, pacu were herbivores, and their flat teeth were normally used for crushing seeds and nuts. After being transplanted, though, they were unable to find enough of their regular diet and had expanded to meat-eating, including, apparently, humans. (They were far too small to eat a human whole, but could bite off chunks, including some... painful areas). When Wade catches a big one, he pulls back its lips to reveal the teeth, which at that size were eerily human-looking.
  • Space: Above and Beyond features the Silicates, robots who, based on outward appearance, are nearly indistinguishable from humans, except for three things:
    1. They have not been properly maintained since they Turned Against Their Masters, so bits of their "skin" have flaked off.
    2. All Silicates (even the Sex Bot models) have crosshairs for eyes.
    3. The odd physical tics and the occasional st-st-stuttering of speech.
  • The opening theme to Here's Lucy has always freaked me out.
  • Walking with Cavemen's human ancestors, who are actually People in Rubber Suits. Especially Australopithecus, because they are supposed to look weird, but their human proportions make them just slightly less weird than they should.
  • Gerry Anderson's puppets for Thunderbirds and other shows are creepy - Peter Cook and Dudley Moore doing a live-action parody are even creepier. Or funnier.
    • The creepiness of Gerry Anderson's puppets arguably reached new levels with the 80s series Terrahawks. The tried-and-tested "supermarionation" puppetry technique was swapped out for the newer "supermacromation", and these new puppets somehow managed to look even more disturbing than anything that Thunderbirds and its ilk could produce (they looked a lot more realistic than the older puppets, but there was still something distinctly "off" about them). See the intro for yourself here.
  • The History Channel documentary Ancients Behaving Badly focuses on famous historical figures, forensically reconstructing their personalities (pathologies and all). Unfortunately, these segments always include a CGI rendering of the subject's face — which more often than not looks like an embalmed Gelfling that wants to dine on your tasty, tasty soul.
  • In the live-action The Fairly Oddparents movie, Timmy's mom and dad are this. Despite being real people, they act a bit too cartoonish.
  • In the Japanese comedy show Vermillion Pleasure Night, the viewers are given Cathy's House.
  • Rainbow, the British answer to Sesame Street, features two muppets who look perfectly alright...yet Bungle, a guy in a suit, falls right into the Uncanny Valley with his realistic movements and his unfortunate design.
  • Jay Jay The Jet Plane is infamous for being in the Uncanny Valley. All the planes have human faces for some reason. It's even worse with the original puppet based version. All the humans are figures, the planes have an empty glazed stare, and their expression never changed.
  • Welcome to Pooh corner!
  • The majority of Power Rangers villains were far enough away from human that this rarely applied, but any time they veered toward human-like, they hit this full-force. Take, for example, Madame Woe or Lipsyncher.
  • Sliders has a Big Bad in the form of the Kromaggs. The first time they appeared, they were just sufficiently not-quite-human to make them uncomfortable to look at. Subsequent returns of the Kromaggs make them look more human.
  • Csi Ny has an uncomfortably zombie-like woman who's lying comatose in a hospital in the first episode "Blink".
  • If you watched Toddlers And Tiaras, you'd know how wrong and "off" underaged children wearing makeup, sexy clothes, and spray-on tans' are. Especially after seeing pictures of heavily photoshopped pictures. Those freakin EYES!
  • Played for Laughs in the recurring Saturday Night Live sketch, "The Merryville Brothers."
  • On Extant John says that the uncanny valley issue is not with his robots' appearance (which he's solved, as they cannot be outwardly distinguished from humans'). Rather it's their behavior, which is still inhuman.

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