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  • The 100 frequently has the moral that sometimes there isn't a moral choice. Sometimes the only options available all involve doing something terrible that you'll regret forever.
    Clarke: I tried. I tried to be the good guy.
    Abby: Maybe there are no good guys.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had one early on in the episode "Girl In The Flower Dress." Basically, Daisy's (then known as Skye) prolific hack-tivist partner and boyfriend Miles hacks into S.H.I.E.L.D. and exposes very delicate information regarding a powered person's whereabouts (which leads to him getting kidnapped by an shadowy organization), and a later mission to retrieve him gets an agent killed. At first, Miles uses the excuse that all information should be free and that he's fighting against secretive government agencies and Skye vouches for him due to her trying to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. herself. But then it's found out that he was paid one million dollars by said shadowy organization to hack S.H.I.E.L.D. for that information. Daisy is crushed by Miles's actions, willingly submits to her punishment, which in turn starts her on the path joining S.H.I.E.L.D. Mind you, this episode premiered during the Edward Snowden revelations and still presents the message that government agencies gather information and keep secrets for a reason, and that hack-tivists are not paragons of virtue and can be used for nefarious purposes.
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  • While Babylon 5 ended up more idealistic than cynical, it still had a few sprinkled here and there. Stated outright at the end of "Believers," for example:
    Sinclair: Sometimes doing the right thing doesn't change anything.
  • Battlestar Galactica: Sometimes you have to Shoot the Dog, you can't always Take a Third Option, and you have to Know When to Fold 'Em. You can't get much more family-unfriendly than "suicide bombing is justified."
  • The Big Bang Theory:
    • The episode "The Table for Polarization" has Sheldon get grumpy over a new kitchen table; when he gets his own way at the end, he smugly tells Leonard "Sometimes the baby wins."
    • , Of course, this is really nothing new when it comes to dealing with Sheldon: Season 2's "The Panty Pinata Polarization" sees the gang always (in the words of Leonard) "knuckling under" to Sheldon's demands. When Penny gets banned from the apartment, their ever-increasing prank war only ends when Penny calls Sheldon's mother to tell on him.
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  • The Courtship of Eddie's Father:
    Tom. You can't just go around inviting ladies to stay with us.
    Eddie. But didn't you teach me to not be selfish, and share my things?
    Tom. Yes. But not me, and not our home.
    Eddie. Oh, you mean I should be selfish, about some things.
  • Degrassi frequently has morals that are widely believed by teenagers but are unusual for adults, as well as presenting standard aesops in unconventional ways. This may be a huge part of the show's appeal to teens.
    • Emma is still hurting after being dumped by her boyfriend Sean, so she starts purposely getting him in trouble — from ratting him and his friends out when they steal from a diner, to snitching to the principal that he stole her dad's laptop (an accusation later proved to be correct). While Emma learns that she should just move on and stop trying to make Sean hurt despite his misdeeds, it also has the lesson being that no badly somebody treats you, snitching is way worse.
    • Paige has a completely horrendous experience at Banting University. The next season, she's dropped out and despite working a high intensity fashion industry job, she's a lot happier. In season 9, Emma drops out of Smithdale due to the same issues Paige was facing. Spinner never goes to college and works a standard 9 to 5 restaurant job and couldn't be more content. The lesson of "College isn't for everyone/you can be successful and happy without going to college" flies in the face of almost every show aimed towards young audiences.
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    • Jane is being harassed by the new Degrassi football team since she's the only female player. The coach (who is also the principal) is turning a blind eye. She does the "right thing" - she tells another adult about the harassment but bullying worsens and she's actually assaulted in the hallway. It isn't until she makes a stand for herself (along with a handful of teammates behind her) that bullying goes away. This episode makes the case it's better to stand up against bullies yourself and that telling about an adult could make the bullying intensify.
    • In the episode "Eye of the Tiger", Spinner comes clean and finally confesses that he was responsible for driving Rick over the edge and shooting Jimmy. Jimmy then calls him cowardly and only saying this to make himself feel better, and never should have told anyone about it. Then he loses all his friends. Then he gets expelled. By contrast, Alex, who was also heavily involved in the paint and feather incident but never came clean, spending time happily around Jimmy who was left unaware. The explicit moral of that storyline was basically that sometimes doing the right thing doesn't come with consequence, not to mention the truth doesn't always set you free.
    • After a terrible bus accident, Miles's boyfriend Tristan is in a coma and his prognosis is bleak. While Miles is there for Tristan, he starts to get closer to Lola and they lean on each other and they end up having sex. Miles feels terribly guilty about cheating and when Tristan awakes, Miles tells him that he did cheat but because he was so distraught and lost without him and worried that he would regress back into opioid addiction that he may have actually committed suicide if Tristan never woke up. Tristan absorbs this and after finding out that Miles didn't actually fall in love in Lola, he is fine with Miles having someone there for him and they pick up their relationship from there. Sometimes there are situations where infidelity can exist in a gray area and not always the most devastating thing that can happen in a relationship.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Dominators". Pacificism, even if war-hungry ways have nearly wiped out the planet and left an island a whole island a nuclear wasteland full of corpses, is bad, because the first attacker will destroy you.
    • "Planet of the Spiders". The desire for knowledge is a form of greed; even seemingly benevolent actions can become unhealthy obsessions. The events of the serial happened due to the Doctor's insatiable desire for scientific knowledge.
  • An In-Universe example Played for Laughs in an El Chavo del ocho episode. El Chavo, La Chilindrina, and Quico are playing a game, but Quico intends to cheat:
    El Chavo: I'll tell you one thing, Quico. Do you know what happens to the kids that cheat in games?
    Quico: Yes, they win. (cue Evil Laugh)
  • The Expanse is ''full' of these, but probably the best example is one that is outright stated in season five. Just because someone is unfairly treated, abused, ignored, and picked on by a much stronger party, does not necessarily mean they are good or innocent. The citizens of the Asteroid Belt receive nothing but hatred at worst and apathy at best from the Inner Planets, but they often use this abuse to justify horrific cruelties - which they show every sign of actively enjoying.
  • In-universe example: Martin states one in the appropriately titled Frasier episode "Bully for Martin." He essentially says that "You should put up with any amount of unreasonable and even disrespectful crap from your supervisor because it's respectful to the chain of command." Naturally, Frasier disagrees.
  • Freaks and Geeks could deliver one on occasion:
    • In the episode "I'm With The Band", the underlying message is that sometimes your biggest dream in life is nothing more than a pie in the sky fantasy.
    • "Chokin' And Tokin'" has the underlying message that, sometimes, people bully you because they personally feel burned by a nasty thing you might have done to them previously. Granted, Alan's reason for bullying the geeks was pretty petty, but the point still remains.
    • The entire Nick/Lindsey arc has the underlying message that, sometimes, simply being "nice" doesn't cut it when you're interested in somebody.
  • The George Lopez Show gives the moral that sometimes bullying can get so bad, you have to run away from the situation. Carmen was called a whore at her first high school, due to her ex-boyfriend telling everyone that they had sex. George and Angie get the leader of the bullies suspended, and get the ex-boyfriend to tell the truth. However, the episode ends with Carmen still getting bullied (and groped), and George and Angie making the conclusion that Carmen can never get her reputation back, and that she must leave the school and transfer to a new one for her own safety. Unfortunately, all of this is Truth in Television.
  • The Good Place
    • Being a good person is difficult and often thankless, especially in a rough world where most individuals don't have much control over the circumstances of their lives.
    • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Eleanor's parents undoubtedly were rotten excuses for parents, but Eleanor didn't have to become terrible like them.
    • Good actions done for Secretly Selfish reasons are ultimately hollow.
    • You can't save everyone. Sometimes, a person is too prideful, thickheaded and self-absorbed to see their own faults and accept help to become a better person.
  • Growing Pains has one that comes as quite a surprise. Plenty of shows do episodes about not idolizing celebrities, so it comes as no surprise to see an episode in which Ben walks in on his favorite singer having an affair. However, most such episodes end on the note of the celebrity being a Broken Pedestal... instead, this episode continues with Jason explaining to Ben that the morality of a celebrity is not what causes us to enjoy their art, so it should not be a consideration in whether or not we continue to do so. They end up going to the singer's concert anyway.
  • House is rife with these. Common ones are "Everybody lies","Nobody ever changes", "You can't always get what you want."note 
  • A recurring theme in How I Met Your Mother is that the perfect person is out there, and settling for anything less is a mistake. Ted refuses to even give a relationship a try because he thinks relationships should be easy, and you should love everything about your partner. As it turns out, the intention behind this was to deliver a very harsh message: The series finale reveals that after Ted meets The Mother, who is the perfect woman for him in every way possible, she dies a few years into their marriage. Even if you are lucky enough to meet your soulmate, things may still not work out after that. The series then ends with Ted deciding to give his relationship with Robin another try since, despite their differences, they both know that they could be happy together.
  • Malcolm in the Middle:
    • In "Malcolm's Job," Malcolm is written-up by his mother for not following a silly rule at his new job (the Lucky Aide grocery store where his mom Lois also works). He later discovers Lois smoking on a break (after supposedly quitting) and he's furious with her hypocrisy and yet promises to keep the secret from the family. Later, an accident (regarding the same silly rule) happens to Malcolm and Lois writes him up again, despite her asking him to keep her smoking a secret (the write-up is later revoked). He's again furious and confronts her and threatens to spill the smoking secret. Lois calmly tells him that he won't because she is his mother. She also tells him while the treatment is unfair, she is his mother and will always be no matter how old he gets and he doesn't get to ever challenge her authority. This also runs concurrent with the mindless Lucky Aide job and Lois and Malcolm's superiors plot with Malcolm learning there's only so much anyone can do to challenge authority figures and the rules they put in place, no matter how silly and unfair they may seem and to get used to it when he gets older.
    • Spoofed in the episode "Lois Strikes Back" where four girls play a mean prank on Reese and the school does nothing to punish them for it, so Lois takes matters into her own hands and gets revenge on the girls. Malcolm attempts to deliver the Aesop that two wrongs don't make a right and Lois seems to accept this, only for her to sneak out the window to get revenge on the last girl.
    • In "Lois vs. Evil" Dewey steals a $150 bottle of cognac from the store Lois works at. When she makes him return it, her boss fires her.
      Lois: You know, I hope you are at least learning something from all this.
      Dewey: Yeah. If you do something bad, don't tell!
  • My Name Is Earl: Earl was roped into marrying Joy when she was eight months pregnant despite the fact they had just met, and then her second child turned out to be from another man. A flashback episode showed that he did nearly leave her because of her infidelity but his own father, also hoping to keep Earl from moving back in, coerced him to go back to her. The reason was that despite all of Earl's flaws he was halfway decent at supporting a family and those kids didn't deserve to be abandoned like that. So Earl found himself raising two kids that weren't his with a wife that cheated on him, but he understood his father's lesson and considered that part of his life the one decent thing he did before he found karma.
  • A subplot throughout Murder One was associate Arnold Spivak's quest to first chair a major case. Arnold is a brilliant lawyer but has zero charisma and is incredibly socially awkward, so he cannot connect with juries or bring in clients. Eventually, he decides to give up and focus on research and motions, the stuff he's actually good at. The message is that some people just aren't suited for certain things no matter how much they want it or how hard they try.
  • The horror anthology Night Visions usually had these as the moral when the moral wasn’t a Space Whale Aesop. The most notable example was “Cargo”, which has the moral No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, and if you try to help people, they’re probably just taking advantage of you and will screw you over hard at the soonest opportunity, and trying to pull a Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! will backfire, since people higher up in the chain of command will make sure that you get screwed over for doing this.
  • A major story arc in the final season of Outnumbered was youngest child Karen's adjustment to secondary school. Karen is a Precocious Child who spent most of her life questioning authority and offering unasked opinions to adults, which was tolerated in primary school. When she submits a list of suggestions to the office, the headmistress sits her down and informs her that challenging the administration like that won't be tolerated in the future, both in school and in most workplace settings, and Karen begins to act more maturely and respectful. The Aesop being "As you grow up, you need to learn to conform to society, or you're going to be crushed by it".
  • The Orville is a Spiritual Adaptation of Star Trek and tends towards optimism...most of the time. However, a strong moral stance won't necessarily win the day.
    • "About a Girl" - Just because a culture's laws are backwards and cruel and you put up a good fight, doesn't mean you'll win said fight.
    • "Majority Rule" and "All the World is a Birthday Cake" - You can't change people's beliefs, but you can use those beliefs to manipulate them.
    • "Cupid's Dagger" - Sometimes, sexual assault is difficult to prove and the predator will happily use the guilt, shame, and doubt of his victims to merrily escape any fallout for his actions.
    • "Deflectors" - Being different, in many places, is a crime. Being an utterly bigoted asshole is not a crime, unfortunately. And Being Good Sucks.
    • "Sanctuary" - Realpolitik often means having to capitulate to another nation's demands, even if those demands are to let them abuse their own people. Also, political compromise deals mean no one gets what they want.
  • Penn & Teller are often prone to opposing mainstream Aesops in Bullshit! Perhaps an especially memorable case is Holier Than Thou, wherein they had some memorably harsh criticisms of such popularly revered figures as Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama, but especially Mother Teresa. They've also argued that polyamorous couples can successfully raise children and that teen sex isn't that big a deal.
  • Scrubs:
    • In one episode most of the cast is brought before an ethics committee to determine their culpability in the death of a patient. That day they seemed to be diverted from their jobs into wacky adventures until the patient suffered complete organ failure with only the interns around to help. They all got off the hook because of a mistake made in his lab work-up done by a one-off character, meaning no one would have had the right information to save him. When the cast go to a bar to celebrate Dr. Cox berates them for their behavior, as even though they weren't punished they were still guilty of neglecting their jobs. JD notes in the epilogue that they should take that failure to heart so that it doesn't happen again.
    • JD was having trouble dealing with a smart new intern Denise who had horrible bedside manner and was really apathetic to her patients, but because of that hard-nosed attitude (ordering an invasive test) she was better able to diagnose and treat them. JD apologized to her knowing now she was doing her job, which she got offended over because she believed that as her attending physician it was his job to "fix" her of those bad behaviors. He lays it out to her that you never really get over your own personality flaws, no matter how much Character Development, and it's just something you have to work on one day at a time. And, being an adult, that was on her now.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has a lot of rather family-unfriendly deconstructions of Gene Roddenberry's ideals, often spotlighting cases where the Villain Has a Point.
    • Quark, the conniving and greedy Ferengi bartender, often makes a good case for unbridled capitalism nevertheless.
    • Odo, shining beacon of justice that he was nevertheless often learned the value of letting Quark get away with some of his shady deals in order to apprehend the truly dangerous criminals with whom he does business.
    • For his part, Garak is basically the Token Evil Teammate, yet is most effective at Cutting the Knot right when everyone else needs some dirty business done and yet can't bring themselves to do it.
    • "In The Pale Moonlight" has sometimes you need to lie, bribe, cut shady deals, and even commit murder for the sake of the greater good.
  • On one episode of Step by Step, college-age Dana moves into her own apartment and goes too wild with her first party, getting drunk and making a fool of herself. When she wakes up hung over the next morning, her mother comes to visit and they have a talk about Dana's behavior. You'd think this would be where Carol advised Dana to use better judgment and give her some tips on how to let loose without going overboard, but clearly, the previous night meant the adult Dana wasn't ready to live on her own. So Dana happily agrees to move back home, having learned her lesson.
  • Taxi:
    • Latka's dreams of becoming a wealthy cookie baron like his hero Famous Amos are crushed when he learns that the secret ingredient in his grandmother's extremely popular recipe is coca leaves. While undergoing cookie withdraw, he hallucinates the real Wally Amos (playing himself) descending into his living room to give an unorthodox inspirational speech:
      Famous Amos: I came by because I wanted to say that success, fame, fortune... all that stuff. It's truly over-rated. I wanted to tell you that the really important things in life are the simple things: the sunset, the smelling of a flower. I'd like to tell you all of those things, Latka, but I can't. 'Cause it's a crock... Hey, man, success is wonderful. Cash is out of sight. Do whatever you can to be successful, because it's great. And if it happens overnight, it's even better! Hey, your cookies went down the tubes? Big deal. Try cupcakes... jelly rolls... aluminum siding... What's the difference, man? Just get rich.
    • In the episode "Crime and Punishment": when Louie is caught stealing parts from the cab company to sell, he frames his assistant Jeff, convincing him to accept the blame with the promise that Louie will get him his job back. When Jeff is arrested for the crime, Louie is forced by Alex to tell the truth but his boss, Mr. Ratledge, doesn't believe his confession and thinks he's just covering for Jeff. Mr. Ratledge then agrees to rehire Jeff, dropping all charges against him and then also invites Louie to his golf game. At the end of the episode, Louie sits musing to Alex that he stole, lied and betrayed a friend but not only does he face no consequences, his boss now thinks more highly of him than ever. He can only come to the conclusion: "Let's face it, Rieger, crime pays."
  • You Can't Do That on Television, the show that popularized the Adults Are Useless trope in children's television, was conceived when Roger Price realized that damn near every family-friendly show on at the time depicted situations where there were always kind, reliable adults for kids to fall back on for help and advice. He wanted to teach kids that adults can be unreliable or even downright cruel and you need to be able to get along on your own in the world.
  • Any time a police procedural uses wanting a lawyer as evidence of guilt. This message is prevalent enough to have earned a trope of its own, "Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers." This is subverted, surprisingly, by Dexter, where an innocent man is suspected of murder, and when he realizes that it looks like he's going to be arrested for it (there was some very compelling evidence that linked him to the murder scene), he asks to speak with his lawyer before answering any questions. Many of the other characters take this as a sign of guilt, but he ends up proving his innocence, and everyone else wrong.

Alternative Title(s): Live Action TV


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