Follow TV Tropes

Following

Darkness Induced Audience Apathy / Live-Action TV

Go To

  • American Horror Story: Coven and American Horror Story: Hotel have been widely criticized for having characters that are mostly villains or villainous and having them being propped as heroes by the narrative even though the former ended with the only survivors being good characters. This seems to be an issue with Ryan Murphy, as his latest show Scream Queens (2015) has been heavily criticized for the same problem.

    Surprisingly averted with American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson; in spite of being the story of how a rich man with a history of spousal abuse managed to game the system to avoid jail for killing his wife, it was critically lauded, largely because the writers did a lot to humanize the characters involved.
  • Advertisement:
  • Babylon 5. Can potentially occur early on with the Centauri and the Narns. On one side you have a bunch of pompous drunkards with a declining empire filled with scheming lordlings with a severe manifest destiny mindset. On the other side, you have a bunch of ill-tempered religious fundamentalists who seem to mostly be incredibly proud of just how proud they are and seem obsessed with settling old scores even to their own detriment. Ultimately though, after the shit really hits the fan, it becomes very involving as certain people learn something from the whole sad mess and others fail to. This even gets brought up in the first season. Commander Sinclair is talking to Kosh, who says "They are a dying people. We should let them pass." Sinclair asks "Do you mean the Narn, or the Centauri?" Kosh replies "Yes."
  • Advertisement:
  • This was the reason why Backstrom was cancelled after just one season. The main character was such a gigantic prick that it made it impossible for anyone who tried watching to care, leading ratings to plummet.
  • Bates Motel. Given that the series is mainly detailing the Start of Darkness of Norman Bates' destiny as a Serial Killer, you can't really blame people for getting turned off by the depressing themes featured throughout the show. Some end up so overwhelmed by all the sad, tragic scenes. It certainly doesn't help the fact that Norma Bates is so massively stupid in her decisions from the beginning. This ultimately gets taken Up to Eleven in the series finale where Norman's life slowly begins to fall apart and he ends up mercy killed by his own brother when Dylan realizes that there is no way to save him.
  • Advertisement:
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) slid into this trope as the series went on. Helo is the only character who doesn't at least skid on the edge of the Moral Event Horizon at one point or another. (Well, Kacey, Nikky, and Hera never did anything reprehensible. They were also all under 5 years old.) And speaking of Battlestar Galactica, this trope is probably one of the biggest reasons for ratings failure and cancellation of its spin-off, Caprica. It's really hard to find someone to root for in its main cast.
  • The Big Bang Theory: Not only can it quickly become tiring watching Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj being put down, insulted, and humiliated by everyone around them, it's also really hard to feel any sympathy for them, Penny, Bernadette, and Amy what with them all Taking A Level In Jerkass, near-constantly insulting each other to their faces and acting like whiny jerks.
  • Black Mirror: It can be hard for people to root for the main characters of each episode, because you know nothing is going to go right for them at all.
  • Boardwalk Empire somewhat falls into this, in that nearly every character is corrupt or evil to some extent. It says something that by the third season, some of the more moral and sympathetic characters are a sensitive Shellshocked Veteran turned cold-blooded hitman, a friendly former IRA bomber, and Al Capone.
  • This is the principal complaint aimed at seasons 4 and 5 of Breaking Bad, as the characters on the show who haven't crossed the Moral Event Horizon are either dead, pushed to the sidelines, or The Scrappy.
  • Carnivàle has a serious problem with this trope, being a dark fantasy show on HBO that predates Game of Thrones by several years. Some critics during the first season even pointed this out, feeling little reason to care for its macabre take on an already very dark time, and characters that are morally ambiguous at best didn't endear itself to most. The show's low ratings led it to be Cut Short, being cancelled after 2 seasons of a planned 6.
  • Complications, being the story of a doctor who stumbles into the middle of a gang war, his wife who has been having an affair, and a nurse who exploits the doctor's morally-compromised state to her own ends.
  • Criminal Minds. While it retains a sizable fanbase, it's hard to get new viewers since it's about a group of FBI profilers trying to catch the worst and most horrible criminals and there are several episodes where The Bad Guy Wins and at the end of the episode, the team has to live with these failures which affect their personal lives. It doesn't help that the later seasons introduce the Unsub's identity right away before the team can figure out who it is, which frustrates viewers that the team has to catch the Unsub before it's too late. And on the episodes where It's Personal for the agents of the BAU, the best-case scenario is when it just brings out some personal scars (such as having been abused as a child) to light—on many others it's been either torture of the agents or anybody close to them being hurt or killed by the Monster of the Week or the Arc Villain, and them invoking It's All My Fault. The fact that this overall makes the show feel like there is no real "Breather Episode" material makes the apathy really pile up.
  • Doctor Who:
    • One of the reasons people hate "Underworld" is because it's about a race of deeply depressed immortals who have no feelings, and no desire to participate in their quest beyond the fact that it is there. The Doctor, Leela and K-9 get some jokes to say in the background, but they're so railroaded by the quest plot that they add very little colour.
    • "Warriors of the Deep" has this as one of the many reasons it's a disliked story. It's clear from the beginning that Violence Is the Only Option, yet the Doctor procrastinates over taking that violent option for most of the story while characters drop like flies to give the illusion of the plot escalating. There is a Kill ’Em All ending because the script editor couldn't be bothered to finish off anyone's character development (the original writer left at least two major characters alive). Worse, both sets of monsters, in their first appearance, are strongly not difficult to care about, being well-developed Well-Intentioned Extremist characters open to negotiation in a strong subversion of the idea of doing a traditional monster story.
    • This is a frequent criticism of Season 22, which deals primarily with Darker and Edgier storylines about various groups of horrible and selfish people tormenting each other with the Doctor stuck in the middle. This was not a new formula for Who—some of the most popular Who stories ever fit it—but in those stories the Doctor himself acts resolutely on the side of love and light, whereas the Doctor in Season 22 becomes selfish and abusive after his regeneration. Companions in previous dark stories are active and enjoy the Doctor's company, but Season 22 companion Peri is one of the most hapless, powerless Damsel Scrappy companions in the entire series, with the Doctor bullying her for fun, and that's before you get into how sexually exploited she is.
    • The Russell T. Davies revival sometimes veers dangerously close to this trope Almost every series ends with some sort of complication despite the day being saved, and the Doctor is often forced to realize that humans can be just as bad and sometimes worse than the monsters he fights, with the Series 3 ending taking it to what is probably the darkest extreme: After the end of the universe, humanity cannibalizes itself to become a species called the Toclafane, who ultimately kill and maim because it's fun. While the Doctor and his companions generally remain sympathetic, the endings can make it rather tricky to care about what happens to the other characters.
    • While Eighth Doctor stories are mostly in the Expanded Universe, knowing that his life is an extended Break the Cutie that he never recovers from doesn't exactly entice readers/listeners who don't believe True Art Is Angsty; only the Doctor he regenerates into — the War Doctor, who by Eight's design discards the character's standard moral code — has it harder.
    • The show can be pretty tiring in the fact that no adventure comes along that doesn't leave behind a tremendous amount of people dead and/or traumatized both before and after the Doctor comes along (including the Doctor himself). There is a reason why this show is the Trope Namer for Everybody Lives-it's just obscenely rare for the episodes to end in a happy ending (or leaning towards the sweet side of Bittersweet Ending—even then, a number of them have a share of Fridge Horror). It is no wonder that people accuse the Doctor of being a Walking Disaster Area. And the scary part? "Turn Left" demonstrates that things would be even worse without him around.
    • In the new series, with the sole exception of Martha Jones, every companion's departure is played for drama. After a while, it can get frustrating.
    • A common complaint about the Twelfth Doctor era (Series 8-10) is that he rarely gets a break from angst. There's a lot of humor and whimsy, but he's a Byronic Hero with No Social Skills who finds it hard to relate to humans save for his companion Clara Oswald, who is also significantly flawed and has trouble adjusting to him as opposed to his far more amiable eleventh self. In Series 8 they endure serious trust issues and even a brief estrangement, and the two-part Season Finale again ends with separation. The Christmas Episode brings them back together and they become platonic lovers. Alas, Series 9 has no Breather Episodes and wraps up with him temporarily going insane after Clara dies before they're separated for good. While the next Christmas Episode "The Husbands of River Song" is a breather, it still involves one of the more emotionally fraught ongoing storylines of the revival on the way to its Bittersweet Ending. (And then comes Class, a Darker and Edgier Spinoff that Twelve has a hand in.) Early episodes of Series 10 are a little more lighthearted, but then "Oxygen"'s last lines reveal he is now blind due to a Heroic Sacrifice and from there it's the usual drama, with the penultimate episode seeing new companion Bill Potts getting a hole blown through her chest, spending years apart from the Doctor due to Time Dilation, and then being converted into a Cyberman by the Master! Sheesh! However, Bill gets to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence with her soulmate in the Season Finale, and while the Doctor is put through the wringer in that episode, he also is at his most noble and selfless, and the Ray of Hope Ending leads into an uplifting sendoff of a regeneration story — even though it ends with his metaphorical death.
    • One of the main reasons "Voyage of The Damned" is so often derided is this; you have mass-death, senseless sacrifices, most of the likable characters randomly killed off, while the Jerk Ass lives to the end—and did we mention this is a Christmas Special?!? (One wonders if "The Husbands of River Song", which also involves an intergalactic luxury ship, was partially written to invert this: All the over-the-top villains get what they've got coming to them, the goofy but nice secondary characters suffer but make the best of their strange fates, and at the end the Doctor and River spend twenty-four happy years together before parting, even though River isn't headed for a happy ending.)
  • Drake & Josh is an interesting example. While the show itself generally doesn't suffer from this, one specific character seems to be trying to instill it, and succeeds in some episodes. The titular duo's younger sister, Megan, who, by constantly humiliating and bullying her brothers (often using outright illegal means), is clearly meant to be a negative force in the show, almost always comes out on top, no matter what the circumstances. A few episodes go smoothly with Megan only making a cameo appearance or two, then suddenly appearing at the end and getting the last laugh by humiliating her brothers anyway. This is especially true in any episode where Megan plays a central role, because you simply know that she'll be winning out in the end, even if she does a reprehensible thing. There's a reason why it's difficult to find people that really like her that much.
  • Empire runs heavily on Black and Gray Morality, with almost every single character in the series being a back-stabbing, irredeemable scumbag who often do all they can to screw everyone else over, and even the ones who actually have a conscience either end up committing some morally dubious actions at one point or another as well, or just end up getting killed by those who don't have any moral convictions, making it fairly hard to root for anyone in the series.
  • The Following has issues with this from the start, and it only gets worse over time. The villains are Ax-Crazy homicidal maniacs who gleefully commit very brutal on-screen murders and we see a lot of the story from their point of view; by and large they are selfish, unrepentant and prone to Moral Myopia, and their competence ranges from Invincible Villains to Big Bad Wannabes (Joe Carroll himself starts as the former and devolves into the latter). The heroes, though, are not the most comfortable people to follow either: Ryan Hardy is a vengeful Knight Templar prone to Protagonist Centred Morality who allows the villain to dictate his moves; the FBI has many fair What the Hell, Hero? critiques to make of him, but they tend to be incompetent and stupid in their own right as both they and Hardy get many minor characters killed; Agent Mike Weston and others become steadily more brutal due to Hardy's influence; and civilian characters (whether major like Claire Matthews or one-shots) are out of their league and make dumb decisions to varying degrees. It becomes difficult to root for anyone the longer the story goes on, particularly since the series so often relies on Fridge Logic, Idiot Plots and Diabolus ex Machina to move things forward. As a result, the ratings, which were high enough to make it the only hit rookie of 2012-13, took a big knife to the gut in season two, albeit no more so than anything else that aired on Fox in calendar year 2014, which is the only reason it got a season three. That third season bombed so badly in the ratings that The Following was Cut Short by Fox.
  • Friends was massively popular during its run, but it has some issues with the Ross and Rachel characters that prevented some people from fully enjoying the show. The Will They or Won't They? trope is so run into the ground between Ross and Rachel that it can feel like the writers wanted to pair them up for as many shenanigans as possible for the sake of giving the audience a laugh; neither Ross nor Rachel are ever able to stay in a relationship with other people because they somehow still hold feelings for each other and try to resist on acting upon them. Even when Ross manages to (somehow) get Rachel pregnant and raise the child with her, the two of them still refuse to officially get back together until the series finale where they decide to give each other another chance. For many, Ross and Rachel getting back together in the end had already lost its appeal.
  • Game of Thrones actually gets hit even harder by this than the already dark and bleak source material. The typical way it's summarized is that the books refuse to cheat to let the heroes win, while the show cheats to let the villains win using contrived Diabolus ex Machina.
  • An issue with the Netflix Indian miniseries Ghoul. The main characters are a military torture unit working for a totalitarian, dystopic government, their prisoners are a group of muslim terrorists responsible for several deadly bombings, and the villain is an ancient demonic entity impersonating the jihadi leader. With everyone being various shades of deplorable, there are no real stakes.
  • One of the problems with the Gormenghast miniseries is that the most sympathetic, proactive character (Titus) doesn't appear until well after things get underway. Those unfamiliar with the books might initially be turned off by the endless, unsavory antics of a weird, menacing royal family and the Affably Evil man trying to exploit them. Only when Titus appears does the audience really have someone to root for.
  • Gotham is a prequel series to Batman. Pre-Batman Gotham is a Wretched Hive, where crime is rampant and corruption runs so deep that a mob assassin can casually stroll into a police precinct and order everyone out so that he can kill one of their own in private - and they will obey, because most Gotham cops would rather keep their heads down than make waves in a city ruled by organized crime. The few decent people working within the system are either beaten down by apathy or get Reassigned to Antarctica... before getting beaten down by apathy. Most of the storylines focus on the schemings and machinations of the mafia families that run Gotham, and the most brutal and murderous incarnation of The Penguin we've ever seen is most likable of the bunch. Nearly every episode ends on a downer note, with our heroes winning a small yet meaningless victory while things slowly get worse around them. And since the show features many characters from the Comic Book before they became superheroes or supervillains, it can be hard to get invested in their lives and struggles, because it's all a Foregone Conclusion. We know what's going to happen to most of them. We know that idealistic detective Jim Gordon will fail in his crusade to clean up Gotham, and that organized crime figures Falcone and Maroni will survive and only grow stronger. We know this will happen because it has to happen, because it will set the stage for Bruce Wayne to turn himself into the one thing capable of taking back Gotham... and since Bruce Wayne is only about 10 years old right now, this status quo will continue for at least the next ten years.
    • Except... it soon becomes clear that Gotham is a show which is willing to play fast and loose with what is a Foregone Conclusion and what isn't. By the end of the first season, Maroni is dead, Falcone's power is broken and Gotham's underworld is in the hands of Token Evil Teammate Penguin.
  • Grey's Anatomy, of all things. As the show goes on the main character winds up going through numerous life-threatening, traumatizing hazards that would permanently break a normal person, has several friends and loved ones die on her while others leave her, and it seems like the show has her fated to wind up just like her mother did and end up alone while losing her mind. The death of her husband near the end of the show's eleventh season was the last straw for many longtime fans, feeling that the show's become too unnecessarily bleak to continue watching anymore.
  • For most of the first season of Halt and Catch Fire, every single victory that the protagonists experience seems to be immediately followed with a crushing defeat, and since the three main characters are assholes, it's hard to argue that they don't deserve those defeats. Consequently, the first season had terrible ratings and almost ended with cancellation. Thankfully, the second season tones down the grimdark and allows the characters to have more moments of happiness.
  • While Hannibal was never fluffy, a part of its audience found it incredibly hard to be still sympathetic to Will Graham after his dark turn, or to Hannibal Lecter's disregard for human life being a conscious choice, and reducing the moral compass Alana Bloom to someone Darker and Edgier to make her interesting. It's hard to find something to root for besides the increasingly abusive Foe Yay.
  • The Heart She Holler is a Black Comedy set in The Deep South, so this is inevitable. The one resident of the Holler who isn't evil is severely mentally-handicapped, and he dies.
  • Hemlock Grove: EVERY character is reprehensible. Of the two main characters, one rapes two women (one of whom is a relative), and the other kills a supposedly beloved pet for essentially no reason and without a twinge of emotion. Another character is supposed to be Too Good for This Sinful Earth, but shows little regard for other people.
  • The last few episodes of Hex fall into this, with practically every sympathetic character totally corrupted, killed off, or both.
  • In History Bites, almost no era in history is depicted in a positive light. Instead, virtually every episode shamelessly depicts the era in focus as a Crapsack World of Jerkass. Everybody is a victim of bias, and everybody is a carrier of it, even if they don't even realize it. At worst, the characters are blatant about their biases. It's as though Rick Green never learned to honor the past.
  • Both versions of House of Cards can be described as more-or-less what Game of Thrones would be if set in the present day. The few characters with any sense of honor or decency have either have their lives destroyed by the main characters in their ruthless pursuit of power, have their lives outright taken by the main characters in their ruthless pursuit of power, or both. And the fact that the main characters attain so much power means they're very unlikely to ever face justice for the horrible things they do.
  • From the beginning, the so-called "heroes" in Inhumans are established as terrible people, and they do not go through any kind of Character Development to overcome their flaws. Instead, the show reveals Maximus as having committed more and more acts of over the top villainy, which just kills off any chance of rooting for him short of just wanting to see the protagonists die.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia follows in a similar vein to Malcolm in the Middle. All the principal characters (and most of the secondary ones) are selfish, unlikable assholes. To its credit, it, like Malcom, is a (very dark) comedy, so at least you're not expected to root for any of the characters. In fact, you're supposed to laugh at whatever situation they've wound up in and enjoy watching karma bite them in the ass, which happens far more frequently than it does to unpleasant characters in dark dramas.
  • Jessica Jones (2015):
    • Besides the questionable likeability of the cast (with Trish Walker as really the only one of the main heroic characters who isn't habitually rude, an opportunist or a downright Jerkass), season 1 was hit with this even worse than Daredevil (2015). While in Daredevil, it was understandable that Wilson Fisk took so long to topple thanks to all his supporting pillars, Kilgrave is essentially one man, yet so many people die or have their lives shattered to catch him that it's easy to scream Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?, which some characters even bring up In-Universe. Even worse is the fact that the reason they can't kill him turns out to be All for Nothing at the end. It's possible for the audience to feel numb to Kilgrave's atrocities after a while because there's just so many victims and he screws them all over in so many over-the-top ways that some viewers plateau in their disgust. For example, Hope goes through such a Trauma Conga Line that some people flat out checked-out halfway through it all and those that didn't felt that her suicide was a blessing.
    • Comes full circle in Season 2, where Trish—the most unambigously good character in Season 1—relapsing on Simpson's inhaler and turning into an asshole who is as broken and fallible as the rest of the cast. Some viewers did not enjoy having the last character they could root for and identify with taken from them. With the series now a complete World of Jerkass, it becomes a little bit harder to care.
  • Kamen Rider during the Early Heisei (that is from 2000-2008) was heavily criticized for this, partially due to the writing direction started by Toshiki Inoue. This started out balanced with Kamen Rider Agito, that while cynical still has moments of optimism within. Post-Agito however, the show gets to the point where almost all main characters are either an anti-heroic jerk or an idealistic Butt-Monkey, and nobody is willing to actually solve any personal conflicts they have with each other. This was later changed after Kamen Rider Decade, when Toshiki Inoue wasn't involved with the franchise anymore.
    • Even Inoue himself started to move away from it. 2008's Kiva has a lot in common with 2003's 555, to the point of feeling like a Spiritual Successor or Remake at times, but it's also got more comic relief, more non-jerk characters, and it ends with humans and Fangires coming to terms, and a wedding followed by And the Adventure Continues where 555 ends with half the cast dead and the main hero's life expectancy quite low.
      • It's worth noting that while Inoue may have written some of the darkest parts of the franchise's early Heisei era, the one who seems to have initiated the shift is Yasuko Kobayashi, the head writer of Kamen Rider Ryuki - Inoue's only involvement with that series is the summer movie, Episode Final. Ryuki is a Deconstruction of a few tropes associated with Kamen Rider and a few others, and has one of the highest body counts of any Kamen Rider series, possibly only topped by Gaim. It also introduces the first truly evil Kamen Ridersnote , and the first actual deaths of riders on-screennote . Ironically, the next series she wound up writing for the franchise is accused of going too far in the complete opposite direction, although this was reverted back with below-mentioned Amazons.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim, written by Gen Urobuchi, aka "The Urobutcher," makes Ryuki and Faiz look light and fluffy. Urobuchi even made Tweets acknowledging this, saying (in reference to the series' fruit theme in general and the main character's orange theme in specific) "By December, a lot of little kids will probably never want to drink orange juice again." That said, The Hero is still pretty idealistic and there's still a lot of lighthearted moments. However, that's the only thing kept unchanged after the Wham Episode. Several characters are Killed Off for Real, almost no one sides with Kouta, and if they do, things inevitably go awry. And that's not getting into how The Rival and Kouta's friend evolve. Both of them grow villainous in some regard, though The Rival is more heroic due to his honor. Did we mention that the show, as early as episode twenty, begins to dip into Gen's more... familiar territory?
      • Ultimately though, Gaim swings back in the other direction. Even though their situation looks very bleak at times, most of the heroes still hold onto their kindness and idealism, and come out of the experience older and wiser, battle-scarred but not broken, and still having hope for the future. Even Mitsuzane, who pulls a full Face–Heel Turn and is looking to become the show's Big Bad, is ultimately spared and given a second chance Kouta's understanding and forgiveness, and in the Post-Script final episode is shown to be on the path to redemption.
    • Kamen Rider Amazons (also penned by Yasuko Kobayashi, mentioned above) is by far the worst contender in this regard, surpassing any Darker and Edgier entries of the entire franchise, early and modern alike. Apart from awesome but brutal and bloody fight scenes (which is appropriate because this is a modern reimagining of the classic Showa series with the same name), it's hard to sympathize with some characters who are Jerkasses or Too Dumb to Live at best and truly abhorrent at worst. Chihiro, who is supposed to be the new main lead for the second season, is actually The Ingenue and a Decoy Protagonist all along. Meanwhile, some good individuals like Mizuki and Mamoru become more jaded and cynical, with the latter trying to exact revenge on humans while the former returned to it's nicer self in the end. To make it worse, the Big Bad who is responsible for every single mess in the whole series gets away scot free and seemingly tries to resurrect the Sigma-type Amazonz project, hinting a Sequel Hook. Coupled with excessive amount of moral ambiguity with a good dose of Tragedy and you have a good recipe for "I don't care what happens to these people", even by Kamen Rider fans' standards.
  • Just about every character on Little Britain is either repugnant or weak. The Prime Minister seemed to be the only exception, until it was revealed that he cheated on his wife, illegally sold weapons to Iran (and tried to have the evidence destroyed), and was eventually flanderised into sleeping with everyone except Sebastian. With nobody to cheer for, audiences understandably got tired of watching horrible people get what they want while honest people suffer.
  • By the fifth season of the Chilean series Los 80, fans were growing bored with all the misfortune heaped on the protagonists. Some TV critics even accused the writers of putting Juan and his family through the wringer because they hate him and the story more than anything else.
    "They [the writing team] very obviously don't love the series anymore."
  • The American version of Low Winter Sun is an extreme example of this, and shows what happens when this trope is taken too far. Possessing all the dark subject matter of fellow crime dramas like The Shield and The Wire without any of their interesting characters or flashes of dark humor, the relentlessly oppressive, nihilistic tone, complete lack of levity, and morally bankrupt protagonists alienated audiences and left critics lukewarm at best. After it finished its 10-episode first season, it was quietly cancelled.
  • While most of the main characters of Luther are sympathetic, all of them have committed some morally dubious acts, the atrocities the criminals commit each episode are always horrific with some outright getting off scot-free for their crimes, Luther usually fails at saving the victims, and the whole outlook gets more and more cynical by the second, which can really make it hard for someone to try and get invested in the show.
  • Mad Men can get like this for some viewers. There's hardly a single character that isn't a selfish asshole. The first season is essentially just watching the main character drink and cheat on his wife without any consequences.
  • Mad Dogs slips into this in the extremely short last season (Two episodes!) - The series goes out of the way to invalidate everything the main characters worked for, and they all decide to go right back to where their lives were at risks after spending most of the previous series trying to get away from it. It then goes into a massive downwards spiral that is so unendingly bleak that the average person becomes utterly desensitized to it. It is so mean-spirited, bleak and unnecessary that many fans choose to just take the ending of series 3 as the true ending.
  • The Magicians has a tendency to end seasons on a very dark note. The first season ends with what looks like the bad guy winning, and the second season ends with the protagonists accidentally causing the complete removal of magic from the world. Then at the end of season three, a main character attempts a Heroic Sacrifice only to have it fail and unleash an untold evil upon the world, and the Library gains control over the flow of magic. While plenty of victories are had along the way, it's been a downward trend for the good guys.
  • Malcolm in the Middle, to a tee. Virtually every character (the titular Malcolm included) is, at the very least, a horrible human being who either corrupts or screws over people for the most petty and shallow reasons, and by the time the show's inevitable Bittersweet Ending comes along, The Evil Matriarch reveals her plan to control Malcolm's life even after he leaves home, and her sadism continues unimpeded. Life is unfair, indeed.
  • This was one of the biggest reasons that Millennium never caught on, along with The Chris Carter Effect taking hold. The unrelentingly bleak tone along with the complete lack of levity made it hard to watch. While it earned the respect of the viewers able to handle it, most ended up alienated. Vince Gilligan, the man behind Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, would reference it as being "instructive" regarding this trope (see the Quotes page).
  • This trope, along with the producers sacrificing story for scientific accuracy, is generally believed to be the reason Moonbase 3 was cancelled after only six episodes. Much of the series consisted of directionless conflict among the main cast, something further exacerbated by the claustrophobic environment and general aura of hopelessness.
  • Narcos. The most common criticism about this show is that the characters are hard to root for. While Pablo Escobar had some sympathy points, he's a drug lord who committed many heinous crimes. The DEA agents themselves crossed several lines as well, particularly Murphy. Of course, the show is based on the Real Life ongoing drug war in Columbia and Mexico and it's a Foregone Conclusion that despite Escobar's death, there would be other drug lords who would take his place. The apathy gets hammered in the end of Season 3 where one of the DEA agents quit his job after discovering that his own government is also involved with the drug trade, making him lose hope.
  • Nashville always had dark moments to go with the lightness but it started to take this tone in season three, with the characters seemingly forced to carry one burden after another - Gunnar's endless love woes, Will's sexuality, Maddie's Bratty Teenage Daughter tendencies, Deacon's liver cancer, Juliette showing signs of mental instability after giving birth... and it went From Bad to Worse in season four with seemingly no one allowed to be happy, especially Deacon's sister/Scarlett's mother Beverly becoming a liver donor and winding up dead (with the mourning continuing for several episodes and Beverly being posthumously raised to sainthood) and Juliette's postpartum condition dragging her (and the show's ratings) down in an endless spiral to the extent of being Driven to Suicide, which resulted in Jeff taking a fatal plunge after saving her. Hayden Panettiere's real-life health issues in that regard don't make it any easier to watch in the least.
  • Once Upon a Time has fallen into this since midway into its fourth season, with the main heroes always having to fight villains, endure trauma, and basically never being allowed to have any moment of peace and happiness. The mantra of "having hope" starts to wear thin when Big Bad after Big Bad keeps on disrupting the cast's lives with no end in sight.
  • The Outer Limits (1995) fell into this trope with some viewers due to its frequent use of the Cruel Twist Ending (a trope that was, in fact, once named Outer Limits Twist.)
  • Oz takes place in a hellish maximum security prison where rape, backstabbings, torture, murder and mutilation are all regular occurrences, only a fraction of the truly evil inmates ever get their just punishment, and the handful of relatively decent inmates get put through more hell than anyone else. While it does have the occasional funny or heartwarming moment to lighten the mood, any of the characters' triumphs are diminished by the ever-present horror of prison life, and the knowledge that many of them will never get out. There's a unique kind of horror in meeting irredeemably evil characters in a prison drama, as we learn the hard way that there are very few ways to punish them once they're already behind bars.
  • Person of Interest is in danger of this after an incredibly bleak season four. At the beginning of the season, the team was on the run, down to five (six if you count the dog) members, and isolated from the Machine that helps them with their We Help the Helpless mission. By the end of the season, they've lost one of their own, they're even less safe than they were before, the Machine is been destroyed other than a single strand of code, and the Big Bad is even more powerful than it was at the beginning of the season. The lack of progress (and the From Bad to Worse) has made quite a large portion of the fandom worried that the show will never lighten up again. The following year, the show only received a 13-episode season to wrap up the story before it was cancelled.
  • The Practice. At the beginning of the series, the attorneys are bright, fresh-faced and idealistic. By the end, they've completely sold out their standards and principles, end up representing drug dealers and undeniably guilty clients with money to keep the firm running, hire an anti-trust attorney who was fired from his previous job for embezzling money, and rely upon several questionable defenses (patriotism, doubt) in order to bolster their cases.
  • This is a big problem with Revolution on NBC. The bad guys start out as heartless, totalitarian monsters, and only go downhill from there. The good guys... well everyone who could reasonably be considered 100% good has been killed by mid first season. What we're left with is a collection of people who are at best amoral unlikeable jackasses, willing to torture, maim, and murder in the name of expediency and surprising pettiness. Not helped in that the Sorting Algorithm of Evil is regularly invoked in this show, meaning that the guy who was kicking puppies to practice his field goal game, will at some point end up on the good guys' team proper, while a new, more reprehensible puppy punter is rotated into his place as Head Bad Guy In Charge. Rinse and repeat. Then there's the fact that easily 60% of the good guys (pretty much every main good guy older than Jason) are either a) directly responsible for the thing that caused The End of the World as We Know It, or b) directly responsible for creating the armies of killers that go around oppressing the rest of society. Cementing its status is the addition of the nanotech as a bonafide villain: said nanotech was able to kill all electricity on Earth, and as pointed out by one character, is effectively God in that environment, having similar attributes, such as being everywhere, having all the power, and knowing everything everyone does (the one "weakness" that the nanotech allegedly has is clearly a case of Forgot About His Powers). Said antagonist has shown the ability and will to be able to kill anyone, anywhere, at any time. This leaves us with a story filled with despicable bad guys, unlikeable good guys, and an arch-nemesis that can't be stopped.
  • Ringer is full of awful people. Bridget is the protagonist simply because she's the one telling the story. The most likable character is a former drug addict who is aiding and abetting a fugitive, accepted a bribe, and is covering up murders, while everybody else is having affairs, lying and manipulating people, pretending to be somebody they're not, running a Ponzi scheme, murdering people (or at least hiring hitmen to do their dirty work), falsely accusing a teacher of rape just so they can turn around and sue for defamation of character and split the settlement, faking deaths, etc. Everybody is corrupt in one way or another. The situation is interesting enough, but it's hard to care what happens to any of the characters. It's fun to see how they make things worse for themselves by continuing to be such terrible people.
  • Rome is full of ambitious, petty, and murderous "heroes".
  • Scream Queens (2015) is centered on a sorority menaced by a serial killer... too bad most of the sorority is made up of exceptionally nasty and petty girls and the few 'good' characters are dull as dishwater, because of a clear author bias (Ryan Murphy thinking the Chanels are oh so funny and edgy). Many people are also growing tired of the fact that the main characters are never put in any danger, being that only very minor characters and day-players end up dying, and BTS photos confirm it's not going to change until the final episodes, which might explain its live viewership steadily dropping.
  • seaQuest DSV. The original premise of the story starts out with humans having wrecked the surface world, and needing the Sea Quest to protect various miners and nations from undersea terrorists, so we start with an unhappy ending. Most of the stories in the first season are monster-of-the-week bottle episodes, and we never really see if anything the Sea Quest crew is making the surface world any better. Indeed we rarely ever see the surface world, and when we do it's usually a building, some barren compound, or a barren field somewhere that establishes the surface world as a hopeless place to live. In both the first and second season finales, Sea Quest is seemingly permanently destroyed in hopeless gambits to save the world. And then there's the second season itself, which shows that the surface world is dabbling in genetic engineering and outright slavery, thus pitting the benevolent crew of the Sea Quest against a group of Designated Villains, and dragging the plot thread through the rest of the series with constant reminders of how poorly the surface world that they're trying to protect treats people. Season 3 takes the show firmly into this trope, as it is revealed that most members of the Sea Quest have been killed offworld, and while they have been gone, the world has gone even further to the dogs, terrorists and rogue states have become superpowers unto themselves, and in addition, the good guys have no way to build another Sea Quest to remedy this. By this point in the story, the idea of saving the world or making it any better has been thrown completely out the window, with the primary mission simply being to maintain the awful status quo.
  • Many found the series finale of Seinfeld unsatisfying and upsetting because it forced audiences to confront the fact that the four main characters were all rather awful human beings who had inflicted a great deal of emotional damage on a great number of people over the years — but had largely escaped any consequence themselves. The show ends with the characters sent to prison.
    • The other common interpretation, which is the exact opposite of the above, fits the trope equally well: The two-hour finale makes it a point to parade some of the worst secondary characters from the show's entire run into that courtroom (of whom none could really be called better people than the protagonists), and shows them ganging up on the protagonists and punishing them for their character flaws.
  • The Shadow Line has this problem as even likable characters are hugely flawed and Anyone Can Die.
  • Six Feet Under features characters who are not exactly evil, but tend to be so weak, neurotic, or just apathetic that the events of their lives are at least as doomed as anything in a Soap Opera. The series drifted away from quirky deaths and focused more on the Fishers' love lives, which took a lot of variety out of the show.
  • The Sopranos. While still praised critically and hailed as one of the shows to help kick off the Golden Age of TV, more than a few people end up irritated by its massive amount of unsympathetic characters (intentional or not so) and how dark this underworld really is. When the series' protagonist is a murderer, an outright prick towards everyone, a mob boss and a rather reprehensible person combined, this is inevitable.
  • Stargate Universe: It's hard to care about the characters in a show whose first episodes exude an aura of hopelessness and mostly contain directionless conflict among the team. This is only compounded because its predecessors were thematically about adventure and prevailing over other adversaries.
    • More to the point, the main characters in both of its predecessors bond fairly quickly as teams, and by the end of their respective series', view their teammates as family, with Stargate SG-1 in particular getting to that point less than a quarter of the way through their ten-season run. In Universe, the main characters mostly just despise each other, which bludgeons the fandom with this trope far harder than the hopelessness of their situation.
  • Star Trek: Discovery: No doubt, the show is very dark and has only gotten more so with the introduction of the mirror universe arc. Even a positive review of the show's twelfth episode, "Vaunting Ambition," commented that "We know “Discovery” is dark. It’s the darkest of all the Treks. It’s also wildly unpredictable. But is anyone having fun watching it? .... The crew members seem merely to tolerate one another (Culber and Stamets notwithstanding). No one is having fun. This means the audience doesn’t have fun."
  • Supernatural has become this in spades. Among other reasons:
    • Sam and Dean are never, ever allowed to be happy. It's actually kind of a theme for hunters, as it's a common belief that most of them are fated to die early on the job, but it eventually gets dead depressing to watch. It's getting hard to root for them, too, simply because quite a few of their issues could be worked out—or could have been avoided entirely—if they would just sit down and talk to each other like adults for five minutes.
    • The sheer amount of damage caused by the heroes in later seasons is just baffling. By season 11, Sam, Dean, and Castiel are directly responsible for starting no less than four world-threatening scenarios, either through stupidity or selfish decisions. They usually manage to fix things in the end, but not without a significant amount of bloodshed, and eventually the audience starts to think that the world might be better off if they just stayed out of it.
    • The series has started to reach sadistic glee at playing the Back for the Dead card, where several characters from early seasons are reintroduced in later seasons just to be horribly killed, which not only has upset fans for killing off several fan favorites, but has the effect of making the few successful accomplishments Sam and Dean have made completely pointless. It's gotten to the point that viewers are hoping that the few popular characters from earlier seasons who are still alive won't ever make return appearances, just for fear that the series will give them the death kneel too.
  • On True Blood, the humans opposed to vampires are invariably portrayed as nasty, mean-spirited, narrow-minded, bigoted, and unpleasant. But when it comes to vampires, it all too often seems like they're completely right. The overwhelming majority of vampires on the show treat humans with ill-disguised contempt or don't even bother hiding their contempt, regularly murder humans for food or pleasure, and have their own laws and punishments they inflict on humans despite having no bearing on human laws and punishment (translation: they kidnap and murder people for "vampire crimes" and call that arrest and sentencing). Every character who started out on the show as human and later got turned into a vampire has murdered people, so there's now no vampire we can definitely say has never killed a human. Instead several of the "good, sympathetic" vampires (Bill, Eric, Jessica, even "saintly" Godric) have been shown murdering humans who weren't trying to harm them. So that leaves us with a conflict where both sides are murderous assholes, while making the humans who support vampires and vampire rights as simply Too Dumb to Live.
  • Two and a Half Men, good God. While having a genuine fanbase and funny moments, all the characters are selfish and the supposed heroes Alan and Charlie really have no difference from Judith, Evelyn and Rose.
  • The Vampire Diaries had a number of fans feeling like the show crossed this in the later seasons. Just about every character in the entire main cast has committed acts so reprehensible that they're no better than the villains of the show. This probably accounts for the popularity of Big Bad Klaus and his family, who were granted their own spin-off series.
  • Veep has a very dark take on american politics - virtually every character suffers from Chronic Backstabbing Disorder or is incredibly naive and clueless. The title character, Selina Meyer, is willing to do anything to get elected, including supporting genocidal dictators abroad. The last season suffers from it even worse - Selina alienates her allies when trying to secure the nomination, and she's still considered the lesser of two evils when compared to Jonah... She nevertheless accepts him as her running mate. The last episode sees all of her friends abandon or betray her, with the exception of her assistant, Gary...on whom she pins some fiscal misdeeds of her late husband, without even having the heart to tell him. The last scene shows us her funeral, which is quickly overshadowed when Tom Hanks dies the same day.
  • Vikings starts to veer in this direction during season 3. Ragnar goes from an egomaniac but ultimately well-meaning ruler to an extremely cunning, ruthless king that resorts to murder to further his own plans.. The absolute nadir is mid-season 4; with the downfall of Ragnar, innocents are dying left and right, including two unborn children and a toddler that dies of neglect, and you cannot really root for anyone anymore: Ragnar is now a decrepit junkie, Floki has become a paranoid wreck, Lagertha is no less ruthless than her ex-husband, Aslaug only cares for herself and her children... and the Franks and the English are not better at all.
  • The Walking Dead: Granted, a Zombie Apocalypse show is hardly a walk in the park, but the series' relentlessly grim, if not downright nihilistic, atmosphere can eventually wear down on viewers after a while.
    • Season 3 showrunner Glen Mazzara cited averting this trope as the reason behind Judith being Spared by the Adaptation — good things need to happen to the characters too, not just bad, or else the show will become too depressing and the audience will lose interest. For many, it's too little, too late.
    • Season 7 begins with new Big Bad Negan brutally murdering fan favorites Abraham and Glenn, kidnapping Daryl, and psychologically torturing Rick, culminating in Rick finally breaking when Negan threatens him with a Sadistic Choice: Cut off his son Carl's arm to prove his loyalty to Negan, or watch everyone he cares about, including Carl, be executed. And that's just the premiere. The following episodes are all about Negan forcing the heroes to serve him, taking half (or what he says is half) of their supplies, and crushing every attempt made at resisting him. It takes until episode 8, the midseason finale, for Rick to even consider fighting back again. Many fans thought this was just too depressing, even for this show — while the heroes had been in bad situations before, this was the first time they'd ever been rendered completely powerless for an extended period of time.
    • It seems that the apathy has set in as of Season 8, as is evident by the show's rapidly falling viewership. And with the death of Carl, it's only bound to get worse.
  • Westworld gets hit with this very hard as of the end of Season 2. A lot of characters (host and human) are morally shady which makes the audience care less on them. Then, there's the misanthropic narrative that "humans are simple-minded and violent assholes" which is repeatedly invoked many times by the characters. And despite there are some sympathetic humans, they either ended up dead or turned out to be a host. It doesn't help that the showrunners keep on insisting that humanity have no chance against Dolores.
  • The Wire, excellent show as it is, can get this way the further the series goes. The overall range of characters aren't entirely unsympathetic or irredeemable, but the circumstances that force most of them to commit reprehensible actions for the sake of getting up on the social ladder, or even simply to survive, will make even the most cheery optimists feel despair at some point. Not only that, the fact that the characters themselves have a tendency to act like complete jerks one scene after another, makes it hard to empathize with them. Although the series isn't entirely absent of happy endings for a few characters (and given their rarity, they stand out a lot), it's in such stark contrast with everyone else's pyrrhic victories and downer endings, the show can be disheartening and occasionally very depressing. It was stated in one of the commentary tracks that part of the reason why the show has the genuinely funny scenes and entertainingly humorous dialogue to the extent that it does is simply because the show would be too soul-crushing to watch if it didn't have these moments of levity.
  • 24 was always dark, even from the beginning. But as the show went on, the writers seemed to go out of their way to make sure that every character suffered as much as possible, and then casually killed some of them off. On top of that, so many characters ended up dying that some viewers found it impossible to care about newer characters, since there was a good chance they would eventually join the death pool as well. Not helping matters is Jack's predicament - while he's the one character immune to the risk of death, the fact that it's a mandate that his life must always suck no matter what he goes through and he can never, ever get some sort of happy ending from the deal often makes people go, "why bother?" The writers seemed to be aware of this, too. More than once, characters have pointed out to Jack that anyone he gets close to comes to a bad end.
  • The 1980s War of the Worlds series was guilty of this by its very nature, as the main conceit of the plot was that the world at large couldn't know that the aliens from 1953 had come out of suspended animation and were once again trying to take over the planet. As a result, the heroes usually achieved a Pyrrhic Victory, at the cost of innocent lives. The second season took this to extremes, as half of the supporting characters from the first season (including Colonel Ironhorse, Norton Drake and the general who was overseeing the Blackwood Project) were killed off in brutal ways, the Blackwood Estate was destroyed and the main group was driven into hiding. This, coupled with the 20 Minutes into the Future/Always Night aesthetic and downright oppressive atmosphere, led to many episodes where most or all of the supporting characters were killed in gruesome ways while the main group suffered from emotional or mental trauma. This continued all the way to the finale, where it somehow tried to be upbeat just minutes after a teenage boy was shot to death by the leader of the Morthrai (who in turn was shot by the boy's friend), and the remaining aliens were left to figure out what to do with their lives.
  • Joss Whedon's shows are sometimes in danger of falling into this, due to his admission that angst is the driving factor in much of his writing. This tends to be the reason some Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans call Fanon Discontinuity after season five. You had Buffy Summers Wangst throughout the majority of the sixth season, had a mutually destructive and degrading hookup with Spike, and then became a complete Jerkass. It had gotten so bad that Buffy's close circle of friends would rather have Faith, a once Ax-Crazy rogue Slayer, lead the Potentials because she looked saner than Buffy around that point. The Scoobies themselves are no better, if they're not on a Wangst fest then they're doing something that makes them look unlikable to the viewer’s eyes and they are supposed to be the heroes of the series. Whedon has acknowledged this is an issue with season 6 of Buffy, as he signed off on a bunch of dark story ideas he liked, without considering that having them all happen at the same time might be a bit much. Also, Whedon's self-admitted tendency to kill off the most beloved characters in his shows discourages many from getting too attached to any one character. His other family members' work don't differ much from this Signature Style, either.
    • Season Five introduced the idea that previous Slayers tended to die after a few years because they got weary of constantly fighting and trying to save the world. After reaching this despair horizon, they would start to give less than 100% and would eventually die by letting their guard down. Towards the end of the season, Buffy has a mental breakdown because she also experiences this weariness and realizes that it may end up costing not her own life, but that of her sister. This belief that her not giving 100% may have contributed to Dawn's capture and possible death drives her into a coma. Fast forward a couple of years, and after Buffy is unable to save the life of a doomed teenage girl, she spends nearly the remainder of Season Seven going through the motions and becoming apathetic towards whether anyone around her suffers or dies, even her close friends or sister.
    • Dollhouse suffered from this right from the start, with even many of Whedon's existing fans finding the show's basic concept to be just too unpleasant, the whole idea of what the (mostly female) Dolls are subjected to teetering far too close to outright sex trafficking.
    • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. suffers as well. The first series, while it had its Darker and Edgier moments, especially towards the end, kept up jokes and heartwarming moments, including plenty of Fitzsimmons flirting. Season 2, however, starts off with Fitz having suffered brain damage, he and Simmons snapping at each other most of the time, and loads of politicking between different factions of SHIELD, with the "Real" SHIELD folks almost grabbing the Idiot Ball thanks to their sheer paranoia and distrust of Coulson. Then there's all the angst over Skye getting superpowers...
      • This hits a new level on Seasons 4 and 5, where the show doesn't seem to care much about politics and spying plots anymore and just wants to try new ways of making the cast miserable. The protagonists are replaced by robot versions of themselves, one of which ends up being Driven to Suicide, while their conciousnesses are placed in a virtual reality where H.Y.D.R.A. won and half of them became nazis themselves. Then they are kidnapped and forced to spend months in a post apocalyptical future enslaved by aliens, and then come back to find out they are in a Stable Time Loop where they are all doomed to very painful deaths. And all of that to learn the only way to win is allowing their leader himself to die.
  • Pretty much the case for most FX Network shows, which tend to feature awful people doing awful things to each other:
    • The reason Damages never got a wide audience could very well be that its main character often seems to lack a conscience, as do her competition.
    • Nip/Tuck was especially guilty of this, most characters either being assholes, hypocrites, idiots, or criminals, with the added bonus of graphic plastic surgery sequences.
    • Deconstructed with The Shield. The writers went out of their way to reaffirm the black and white morality in the final season's resolution by having the Strike Team called out on their shit and pay a karmatic price for their crimes.
    • And now we can add Tyrant to the list. We have the titular tyrant, who is a Stupid Evil bully with too much power to be stopped (and his atrocities are showcased with no discretion), we have a Blood Knight General Ripper that wants everything to go to hell so he can freely commit murder via war, we have the tyrant's Lady Macbeth of a wife who hates him but loves the power, and the tyrant's White Sheep brother (who has been shown in flashbacks to not be all that good, definitely foreshadowing a He Who Fights Monsters Story Arc to come), who is trying with some (for the most part feeble) effectiveness to keep everything from going to hell. And a few scrappies.
    • In American Horror Story: Coven, almost every character is a combination of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder and Heel–Face Revolving Door, making it hard to root for anyone. Even Naïve Newcomer Zoe had no qualms killing a rapist in cold blood when he just barely survived Madison crashing his party bus. And while Marie LeVeau's crimes at first seemed justified given that she lived through the slavery era and the Civil Rights Movement, and the people she went after really deserved it, we later find out how she has maintained her immortality over the centuries.
    • American Horror Story: Freak Show is even worse. At least the ladies of Coven were able to come together in the face of a common enemy, even if they went right back to backstabbing each other after the threat was handled. Freak Show, on the other hand, has all the backstabbing of Coven but no uniting thread whatsoever.
  • One of the reasons British historical dramas of the 1980s (like The Borgias and The Cleopatras) flopped so badly was because they were trying to reproduce the success of I, Claudius. But whereas I, Claudius had evil characters who were partly sympathetic and always entertaining to watch, the shows that came after it featured much weaker, less sympathetic villains. The Cleopatras was especially bad in this regard, as it was essentially a drama about horrible rulers murdering their equally horrible family members. If a character started out decent, there was a good chance he/she would be forcing their subjects into costly wars for their own selfish benefit and dismembering several of their own children by the time their story arc was over.

Top

Example of:

/

Feedback