On the CW reboot of Beverly Hills, 90210, Annie is in a coma and dreams she stayed in Kansas with her family rather than move to Beverly Hills. Her parents still divorced while Dixon is a wild rap star with Devin his agent. Naomi never got her trust fund back and is a real estate agent while dating a still closeted Teddy. Adrianna is a star who's also a party girl mess, Silver a celebrity blogger and Liam a drug dealer for Dixon.
Amy and the Angel, an Afterschool Special that aired in 1982, plays with this: the Clarence was Driven to Suicide before the story's events and was forced to roam the earth for years. At the end of the special he gets a second chance at life by making sure Amy doesn't make the same mistake he did.
The ALF episode "Stairway to Heaven" had this plot device. At one point he wishes that he never crashed into the Tanner's garage, then is knocked unconscious. Then ALF enters a world where the Tanners never met ALF and ALF never met them. The Tanners are rich, snobby people who own the entire neighborhood and have the Ockmoneks be their servants, but are also bored out of their minds and dull. ALF landed in a cosmetic factory where some blue fluid from his spaceship turned out to be great perfume and he became a very rich CEO and has no fear of the Alien Task Force. ALF decides he likes his new life, until the Angel tells ALF in order for him to go through with it, he will have to forget all about his previous life. ALF doesn't want to forget about the Tanners and decides it's not worth it. But then he wakes up. It is never stated whether the whole thing was a dream or a vision, but as Alf and Kate learned the hard way, the blue stuff in his spaceship DIDN'T make great perfume.
ALF's guardian angel tells him, "Anyone who wants a new life gets one. It's the Capra Amendment," a reference to the Trope Namer.
Angel features an alternate reality in the third-season episode "Birthday". A demon gives Cordelia the chance to enter a world in which she does not have the prophetic visions, which after three years are near the point of killing her. In this parallel world, Cordy has become the rich and successful actress she always wanted to be - but the sight of a one-armed Wesley, and an Angel driven insane from getting the visions in Cordy's stead, quickly convince her to go back to the real world (though changed to become part demonic so she can survive the visions).
The 100th episode of Arrow has Oliver, Thea, Sara, Diggle and Ray all captured by the alien Dominators who put them into a device for a shared dream where Oliver never went on the yacht and crashed on the island. Robert and Moira Queen are alive and Robert about to become mayor of Star City; Oliver is engaged to an alive Laurel and set to become CEO of Queen Industries; Ray works for Queen Industries and is engaged to Felicity, who's helping Diggle (who unfortunately is a Shell-Shocked Veteran) as the Hood; Sara never became a killer and is happy; Malcom Merlyn's wife was never killed so he never became a villain, or no one knows he is at least; and his son Tommy is alive and a a doctor in Chicago. Eventually, the five realize what's happening and reluctantly leave for the real world. In the next episode, Oliver even subtly compares it to It's a Wonderful Life.
One episode of The Big Bang Theory does an interesting variation wherein the character who becomes the subject of this trope isn't involved at all: The nerds and their girls (and Stuart) are excited about the opportunity to celebrate a Christmas without Insufferable Genius Sheldon, who had to drive to Texas because his sister is expecting the birth of her baby. But then Amy remarks that without the existence of Sheldon, the lives of them all would have developed in quite different directions. (Specifically, they wouldn't all have relationships close enough to celebrate Christmas together.) This causes the friends (sans Sheldon, remember, he is in Texas!) to ponder over this for the rest of the episode, via a series of Imagine Spots.
Subverted in A Bit of Fry and Laurie. An important media mogul (a clear Anonymous Ringer for Rupert Murdoch) is about to throw himself off a bridge when his guardian angel appears to show him how the world would be without him. It turns out that without him, everyone live together in peace and harmony, and are well-educated and cultured, since he wasn't able to create his media empire which would profiteer heavily on creating divisions in society through glorification of violence and spreading bigoted discourses against minorities. When they return to the bridge, the media mogul tells the angel that he wants to be brought back to life in this universe, because it is ripe to be exploited for his own profit. At this point, the guardian angel, realizing that he is a lost cause that who will never improve, pushes him off the bridge. And calls him a twat.
Blackadder: In "Blackadder's Christmas Carol" Blackadder is the kindest most generous man in Victorian London. He's visited on Christmas Eve by a spirit (Robbie Coltrane) who tells him how wonderful it is that he's so nice. Unfortunately, by showing Blackadder what his descendants would be like if he were mean (rich and with power over the entire universe) he changes into the man we know. He then wreaks vengeance on all the awful people who have been taking advantage of him. More unfortunately, that's the time Queen Victoria and Prince Albert show up to give the nicest man in London a great gift and he tosses them out - assuming they are the winners of the shortest, fastest, ugliest people in London contest.
The penultimate episode of Brimstone, "It's a Helluva Life", uses this to some extent. Since Ezekiel Stone is already dead, it involves the Devil showing him how all the things he'd done during his life had led to bad outcomes, and doomed him to Hell, even without him killing his wife's rapist. Luckily, an Angel turns up to point out all the good he'd done as well.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer's season 3 episode "The Wish" did a Wonderful Life variant, in that Cordelia wishes that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. In this reality, Cordelia doesn't manage to come to an Aesop-style revelation, because she is killed half-way through the episode before Giles manages to reverse Cordelia's wish, turning the rest of the episode into a For Want of a Nail situation.
Castle: The seventh season episode "The Time of Our Lives" covers this plot. Thanks to an Incan artifact that the Killer of the Week was trying to steal (or maybeIt Was All A Dream) Castle finds himself in an alternate reality where he and Beckett never met. In this reality, his star faded after the Derrick Storm novels ended because he never created Nikki Heat, and he never outgrew his Casanova phase. Martha is now supporting him and Alexis is now a goth who regards her dad with mild contempt. Meanwhile Beckett is now a police captain, but she never solved her mother's murder and long ago learned to compromise her principles. She also admits to Castle that she is chafing behind the captain's desk and wants to be a detective again. Once reality is restored, Castle, realizing how he and Beckett complete each other, convinces Beckett to marry him that evening in an intimate family-only ceremony.
In Chappelle's Show, Chappelle (as an Almighty Janitor) shows a big-breasted woman how the world would be if her breasts were smaller after overhearing her complain about being ogled and harassed over her big boobs. In that world, she was turned down for a raise and fired, her friend never invited her to her wedding as a bridesmaid, and the world was destroyed by an insane man who used to masturbate to her when she was large-chested. The woman then decides to get her breasts enlarged. It takes a comedic twist when it's discovered that the janitor isn't magic; he's high on PCP and was wondering why the woman was following him around.
But, then how did you show me all that stuff? Girl, I am high on PCP! But I love me some titties!
Charles in Charge has an episode like this: without Charles, the Powell family (and Charles's mother) end up with a lot more money, but they've all turned into spoiled jerks.
Charmed (1998)'s Milestone Celebration "Centennial Charmed" shows how crappy the world would be if Paige hadn't ever met her sisters; Piper is on a vendetta against Shax for killing Prue and she and Leo are divorced, Phoebe is in an unhappy marriage to Cole that she only stays in to try and protect Piper, Darryl is forced to work for Cole as an alternative to being executed, and all the demons the sisters have vanquished with Paige in the original timeline are still alive, which means all the innocents the Halliwells would have saved are dead.
One Christmas around 2010, YTV's former Saturday programming block Crunch had a serial called "It's a Wonderful Crunch" in which the host found out what it would be like if he never worked at YTV - which in this timeline is called "Villain TV".
The final episode of Dallas showed what the world was like without J.R. Ewing. In some cases, it's worse: Without J.R., Gary would have driven Ewing Oil into the ground, which killed thier parents earlier. Jason (the brother who would have existed without J.R.) then sold Southfork to become a housing development. Bobby would be a bitter and divorced gambler, Ray ekes out a poor living as a ranch hand (having never discovered he was Jock's son) and Cally is arrested for shooting her abusive husband. However, some folks are better off: Sue Ellen is sober and a successful actress; Kristin is still alive (albiet a con artist); and J.R.'s mortal enemy Cliff Barnes is happily married with good kids and about to become President of the United States. It had a twist ending:
Adam (the guardian angel except not really): Angel? Who said I was from Heaven?
We were left with the impression that J.R. shot himself in the end.
However, the reunion movie revealed that he had merely shot his own reflection in a mirror.
A variation occurs in The Dead Zone episode "Zion". Bruce experiences what life would have been like if he had stayed in Indiana and helped run his father's church. Bruce's life isn't that great since he's unhappy and regrets having stayed. True to the trope, Johnny ends up crazy and alone, Sarah and Walt are divorced due to the strain of dealing with Johnny, and Johnny dies after attempting to assassinate Stillson to prevent tragedy.
"Rise of the Cybermen"/"The Age of Steel" could be considered a variant with an Alternate Universe, showing what might have happened if Pete Tyler had never died and Rose was never born. Pete and Jackie have a dog named Rose instead, and they did consider having a baby but put it off as Jackie was more concerned about her image, ultimately leading to them secretly divorcing.
"Turn Left" has an alternate history where Donna never met the Doctor, so he was killed beyond regeneration by the flooding of the Racnoss tunnels when the Thames broke through. In the following couple of years, every single alien menace that the Doctor had thwarted hit home with full force, reducing the Earth to a Crapsack World. Things got downright awful. It's also (in part) set over two Christmases. Interestingly, although the perspective focuses on the consequences of the Doctor not being there, the way the scenario is set up puts Donna in the role of George Bailey, and the Doctor in the role of perhaps Harry Bailey (who in the original movie became a WWII pilot who saved the lives of every soldier aboard an Allied transport ship, years after George saved him as a child).
In the 30th anniversary Doctor Who Magazine story "Time and Time Again" by Paul Cornell, the Black Guardian creates an alternate timeline where the Doctor never left Gallifrey, meaning Earth has been invaded many times by various aliens. The 7th Doctor, while travelling back through his timestream to find the means to stop this, meets the 6th Doctor who wonders whether it is worthwhile leaving Gallifrey.
Much of the Eleventh Doctor's run could be considered this. Series 5 and 6 had ideas of the Doctor undergoing He Who Fights Monsters syndrome, with some of the Universe's most vicious beings joining against him. "The Wedding of River Song" has him realise how much the Universe likes him, with many replies when a message is beamed saying he is dying. The Series 7 finale, "The Name of the Doctor", has the Alternate Timeline part. When the Great Intelligence enters the Doctor's timestream to reverse his victories the Universe starts collapsing and people disappear from existence.
The 50th Anniversary story, "The Day of the Doctor", could be seen as this. In an effort to convince the War Doctor not to commit genocide to end the Time War, the Moment shows him two of his future selves (Ten and Eleven) and how they'll be affected by his taking fatal action. It seems to backfire, as the War Doctor sees their guilt lead them to seek a peaceful solution to a Human/Zygon conflict, and decides to use the Moment, believing it will lead to a better future. Then, Ten and Eleven show up to aid him, lessening his burden. But the sight of Clara's disapproval leads Eleven to come up with a better solution to the Time War and convince the War Doctor not to use the Moment, which is just what the Moment had been planning.
"Twice Upon a Time" has the Doctor, mortally wounded, refusing to regenerate. The TARDIS brings him to the North Pole to meet his first self, who also refuses to regenerate. The two Doctors embark on an adventure with a British soldier and a facsimile of companion Bill regarding the Testimony, an entity that plucks people from just before their deaths to preserve their memories. The Twelfth Doctor tries to persuade his first self to regenerate, knowing that through the course of time he'll be needed, which helps the future Doctor recognise that he is still needed.
Even Stevens had an episode where Louis was shown how different life would've been if he was never born. Ren became a rebel and Donnie had an inferiority complex. Since Louis was never born, another boy was born in his place and he turned out to be an arrogant jerkass who loves to belittle his siblings.
The Facts of Life had an episode in which Beverly Ann wished that she had never come to town to become the girls' den mother (or whatever she was). In a dream, Santa appeared to show her what would have happened without her. Blair lost her fortune due to a bad investment (Beverly never advised her not to), Tootie and her fiancee broke up (Beverly never gave her a safe way to carry her things to meet his mother), Natalie was arrested for bank robbery (she wore an outfit similar to the robber's because Beverly never fixed what she was going to wear), and Jo was killed in a motorcycle accident (Beverly never let her borrow her RV).
The BBC short Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life (which went on to win the 1994 Live Action Short Film Oscar) manages to avert this trope while still qualifying as a Whole Plot Reference. The trick is that it spoofs the realistic plot developments instead of the fantastical ones: the broody Kafka (Richard E. Grant) is struggling to write a story and bothered by a man who has a large quantity of knives on his person and a noisy family of dancing women. Instead of the hero driven to the breaking point over misplaced/stolen bank funds, only to see them subsequently replaced by donations by the people's he's touched over the years, he seemingly kills the knife man's pet cockroach out of fright, and the man is rather upset. But the women arrive to celebrate Christmas with him and as a present give him many cockroaches, one of which is actually the pet. With Kafka's life spared and spirit lifted, he writes "The Metamorphosis".
Referenced by Chandler when he's forced to spend a day pretending he and Monica have divorced. When he comes home he says he's seen how lonely his life would be without her. Of course she promises she'll never leave him. As Chandler was weighed down by truckload of emotional baggage / Commitment Issues and Monica, his best friend, was the only woman who supported him and who he trusted enough to change for, his life would have been pretty crappy without her.
There's also, of course, the much clearer example with "The One(s) That Could Have Been" two-parter where the Friends all imagine their lives if things had gone differently. Ross never divorced (the first time), Rachel married Barry, Monica stayed fat, Joey never lost his job on Days of Our Lives, Chandler gave up his boring office job to be a comedy writer, and Phoebe became a stock broker. Each and every one of them (except Joey) was miserable and by the end of the episode they all (again, except for Joey) ended up pretty much where they were in the series: Phoebe became a free spirit again, Rachel left Barry, Ross left Carol (upon realising she was a lesbian), Monica stayed fat but she and Chandler were back in love. And yes, it's just as heartwarming as it sounds.
The Glee episode "Glee, Actually" has a sequence with Artie dreaming about a world in which he had never been paralyzed.
In the Hannah Montana episode "When You Wish You Were a Star", Miley wishes upon a star that she could be all Hannah, all the time. In this life, Jackson is a hermit, Robbie Ray is married to a Gold Digger, Lilly has become the Alpha Bitch (with Ashley and Amber as her Girl Posse), and Oliver and Rico have gone into business together as sleazy paparazzi-wannabes.
A twist in the Haven episode "The Trouble With Troubles". After Cliff's wife Susie is killed, Cliff wishes that The Troubles (a time period every 27 years when people get strange powers) never existed. The town of Haven becomes a crime-free paradise. Unfortunately, while Susie is now alive, she is married to someone else and doesn't know Cliff. Because of Audrey and William's Anti-Magic, they were unaffected by the wish, but now nobody else remembers them. Unfortunately for the town, because it had been so safe, nobody is prepared for the arrival of an Axe-Crazy killer like William. Despite his misfortunes, Cliff still prefers the new Haven solely because Susie is alive. In the end, the wish gets canceled when William kills Cliff.
The 100th episode of Hawaii Five-0 has Steve tortured by Wo Fat and imagining a world where his father wasn't killed in the pilot episode. Going to see him, Steve enters a different Hawaii: A still-married Danny has embraced the Hawaiian lifestyle and the sort of rule-bending cop Steve usually is. Chin was never kicked off the force and is now the captain. Kono never suffered her knee injury and is a champion surfer doing TV ads. Grover is still with the Chicago PD, on vacation in Hawaii. Jenna is still alive and checking in on her fiancee at the hospital where Max is a doctor. Jerry is a homeless nut on the streets while Kamekona is an imprisoned gang boss.
Done in Highlander: The Series, where Duncan McLeod sees how drastically different the world would be without him. The biggest change is that Horton would have been able to take control of The Watchers and turned them into an organization that hunts down Immortals. After they kill Methos' mortal lover in an attempt to get to him, a furious Methos responds by teaming up with his old partner Kronos, and the Immortals following Methos and Kronos wage war against the Watchers. Also, Amanda would have never had her HeelFace Turn, (and been murdered by the Watchers in the midst running a con) Joe Dawson would be homeless with his faith in humanity shattered, and Duncan's well meaning sidekick Richie would have been recruited by Methos and Kronos... until he got hit with a You Have Failed Me for not being able to go through with an assassination on their behalf.
The "Elliot's Wonderful Life" episode of British hospital drama Holby City which has suicidal consultant Elliot Hope being shown what the world would have been like without him by a mysterious old man called George.
A famous episode of Australian soap Home and Away featured long-standing character Alf Fisher having a near-death experience whilst on the operating table. He met up with his dead wife who took him on a tour to show him what their town would become if he gave up and died now.
Repeated later with Sally and the ghost of Tom, her foster-father.
Very subtly done (because there was no dream sequences or supernatural elements) in the How I Met Your Mother episode "False Positive", where Marshall, Lily, Barney, and Robin all make poor decisions for their future after considering better alternatives (Marshall and Lily quit trying to have a baby and decide on a dog instead, Robin takes an easy job as a game show bimbo instead of an ambitious respectable one in journalism, and Barney buys an extravagant suit instead of giving the money to charity, connecting with his half-brother's father, and starting to turn his life around). Ted promptly rips them all a new one and forces them back on track, causing substantial and lasting changes for all the characters for the rest of the show's entire run that wouldn't have happened without him. The ending explicitly parodies the movie, with snow suddenly starting to fall on Ted after everything is made right again. It's subtle enough that if the episode didn't center on the group seeing a showing of It's A Wonderful Life it could very well have been a coincidence.
iCarly has an example where it's only a Crapsack World by the standards of the show. Carly, after becoming upset with her brother Spencer when his metal tree accidentally burns down her Christmas gifts, wishes he were more normal. Her guardian angel appears and grants the wish. Spencer is turned into a straitlaced lawyer. Sam goes to jail because Spencer refused to let Carly be her friend and become her Morality Chain, Carly ends up as Nevel's girlfriend, Freddie loses his hope that he will get together with Carly and winds up being bossed about by a girl who is completely unsuitable for him, and finally Spencer marries the completely smothering psychopath Mrs. Benson. And there is no iCarly webshow anymore, because Carly never had the opportunity to do it.
In the Christmas special of I Didn't Do It, Logan, fed up with his twin Lindys goodie-goodie tattling on him and obsessive perfectionist ways over how they should celebrate the holidays, says, I wish you werent my sister!, before falling backwards into a tree. He wakes up in a world where he was born an only child. But now that Lindy and her obsessive love of Christmas isnt here, his parents dont even bother to celebrate it. Not only that, but in addition to his friends NOT being his friends in this alternate universe, theyre now completely different people. Without Lindys influence, Germaphobe Garrett is now a slob with no concern for hygiene, wonderfully overly quirky Delia is desperate to fit in, and good girl Jasmine went bad.
A big difference from most specials like this is when Logan wished Lindy away, she didnt cease to exist. Instead, she was born into another family with a brother who was smarter than her, so much so that she became insecure and gave up studying, leading her to become unintelligent and dropping out of school to work at a smoothie shop.
A Laverne & Shirley episode has Laverne feeling sorry for herself while nursing a broken leg, then falling asleep while watching It's a Wonderful Life on TV and dreaming that she'd never been born.
On Legacies, Lizzie meets a genie who starts granting her wishes for different worlds:
"I wish Hope Never Came to the Salvatore School": Because Hope never came to the school, her father Klaus never had a reason to finance it. Thus, the school is rather run-down without any of the great benefits Lizzie is used to and the student body is smaller. They eventually track down Hope, who's a ruthless killer in New Orleans but convinced to join the school.
"I wish the Salvatore School never existed": Lizzie and Josie are now students at Mystic Falls high school. Lizzie is shocked to realize that in this world, Josie is the ultra-popular student dating the star quarterback while Lizzie is considered a friendless loser. Alaric teaches at the school but constantly drunk. Lizzie finally acts up and exposes the girls' powers...at which point Hope shows up as an agent of the very successful Mikaelson School and offers them a place there.
"I wish Hope was never born": Without Hope to ground him, Klaus went on a murderous rampage that exposed the supernatural to the public. Now, all supernatural creatures are being hunted with Josie having died when Lizzie's powers went out of control.
A variation in an episode of Legend of the Seeker. An attempt by Zedd to reverse Cara's indoctrination to Darken Rahl, accidentally alters the timeline. In the new timeline, Cara never became a Mord-Sith and lives the quiet life of a peasant widow with children. However, since Cara was instrumental in trying to stop Richard from using the Boxes of Orden to gain Mind Control powers, Rahl arrived there too late, and the ritual was completed. Thus, Richard is now the benevolent ruler of D'Hara with his loyal brother Darken Rahl by his side. Moreover, Richard is about to marry Kahlan. Everything seems idyllic, except the Keeper has Ripple Effect-Proof Memory and orders his servants to undo the magic of the Boxes. They do, resulting in Rahl and his people instantly turning against Richard. Luckily, Zedd manages to use the same spell to change the timeline back with minor alterations.
Lost, Season 6, did a fairly subtle extended version of this trope, with an alternate reality playing out in which the Island was destroyed in 1977. Most of the main characters' lives aren't merely better, but the characters themselves are also generally better people.
The Lucifer episode "Once Upon a Time" examines a world where Chloe's policeman father was never killed. Thus, Chloe never became a cop and is now an actress in a series of action movies whose character "inspires" Ella to become a street mechanic and crook rather than a crime lab tech. Lucifer is the arrogant club owner planning a move to Vegas with Maze leading a pack of folks who encourage people to sin so Maze can have more fun with them in Hell (including Charlotte, Lucifer's lawyer). Because Dan and Chloe never met (let alone get married), Trixie doesn't exist and Dan is now a fully corrupt cop. Linda hosts her own talk show but troubled at things like ruining an actor's marriage for ratings. Amenadiel does nothing but follow Lucifer around and refuses any human interaction.
The episode does show an In Spite of a Nail scenario: When a friend of Chloe's turns up dead in Lucifer's club, the duo end up working together to catch the killer. Afterward, Chloe decides she's going to give being a real cop a try and an intrigued Lucifer offers to help her out.
Done with a twist (similar to That '70s Show) on Mad About You. After finding out that the newspaper stand where they met had burned down, Jamie freaks out because if it weren't for that stand, they wouldn't have met and would never have fallen in love. Paul insists they would have found each other anyway. A magic wind shifts the world to what it'd be like, only both of them quickly lose all memory of what was lost, and start remembering their new lives. Both are unhappy with their current romantic situations and after wandering around lost, find each other at the burned out remains of the newspaper stand and go home, the world now fixed.
A Malcolm in the Middle episode has Lois imagining what her life would be if she'd had all girls. She goes to the mall and alternates between reality and daydreams about her 'perfect' life with her daughters. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a mess. Mallory (Malcolm) is in love with a lazy guy and manipulates Hal to get what she wants, Daisy (Dewey) is a know-it-all, Frances (Francis) works at Hooters and is married to a much older man, and Renee (Reese) is pregnant. And Hal has become grossly overweight due to the anxiety caused by raising four daughters. It's something of a subversion, however, since by the end of the episode Lois is still hoping her next child will be a girl.
Married... with Children had a subversive "Wonderful Life" episode centered around Al, with Sam Kinison as his "Clarence". The world turns out much better without him (Peg is a model housewife who's married to a rich man named Norman Jablonski (portrayed by the same actor who would later portray Jefferson D'Arcy) who has saved up enough to move the family into a mansion, Bud has respect for women and isn't driven by greed or lust, and Kelly is in college (and still a virgin), and he chooses to return out of spite. He was infuriated when Peggy said she had saved her self for marriage screaming "What? When she graduated, the football team retired her number."
The angel figures he's failed as "I wanted to show you why you should live but I can't think of one damn good reason." To his surprise, Al says he wants his family back.
Al: Look at them. They're happy. Not a care in the world. You think I'm going to let that happen after all they've put me through?!
Misfits plays with this trope as early as the first season. After his ex-girlfriend is released from prison, Curtis (on probation for possession of drugs) uses his power to travel back in time to stop the deal from going down, which results in his ex's death. Going back a second time sees him prevent the deal and stay with his ex, but because he isn't arrested, he secures the deaths of Kelly, Alisha and Simon at the hands of the enraged probation worker because he wasn't there to prevent it. Going back a third and final time in order to restore the original timeline sees him arrested for possession... except his (ex-)girlfriend was never arrested, meaning he is still in a relationship with her, and is cheating on her with Alisha.
In Moonlighting, Maddie wished she'd never kept the office open. A "guardian angel" by the name of Albert, showed her what would have happened if she hadn't. A twist is that others' lives might be the same or better, but her own life is headed for destruction.
A first season Mork & Mindy episode had Mork embarrassing Mindy's dad in front of his new girlfriend. Mork tells Orson he wishes he'd never met Mindy because he screws up everything, so Orson shows Mork what Mindy's life would be like if they hadn't met (and on top of that, says he actually CAN erase the year they had together). In the alternate year, Mindy is married to a deadbeat gambler and her father has sold the music store and traveled the world (the latter of which turned out to be a lie). Mork decides he doesn't want to undo the year he's had with Mindy and that if anyone's going to screw up her life, it should be him. And then they kiss and make up. Awwww.
Lampshaded when, immediately after returning from the vision of a world without him, Mork exclaims, "Hey, it's a wonderful life!"
Further Lampshaded when Mork asks Mindy the setup of a joke he tried when she couldn't see or hear him. She immediately comes back with the punch-line and Mork gasps, "How did you know that?" Mindy replies she doesn't know and Mork starts humming the theme to The Twilight Zone.
My Family did one where Ben wondered how his family would be without him. He then realized they would be exactly the same and was naturally pleased since it meant their problems weren't his fault after all. This occurs after an older man, who just happens to be named Clarence, "saves" him from committing suicide.
At the end, Ben seems to be in a much better mood than his usual vile-tempered demeanour, so it almost looks like he's actually had some kind of revelation...then it turns out it wasn't the fresh perspective, but Nick having been locked out of the house all night. (Nick leaving didn't chirp him up meaningfully...)
Technically referenced in My Hero; the episode "Time and Time and Time Again" sees hero George Sunday/Thermoman learn how to travel in time, using it to prevent an incident where his wife Janet broke her arm as a child and retains a twinge of pain into adulthood, but he learns later that this accident also lead to the discovery that she had a medical condition that would have caused her to go bald in her teens. As a result, George goes back to stop her arm being broken and leave her a note to get her scalp checked, but this creates a world where Janet is happily married to George's rival, Doctor Piers Crispin, after he treated her condition, with Janet's bitter parents and the cynical Mrs Raven now far happier people, and George's would-have-been neighbour Tyler is now in a relationship with the gorgeous blonde who lives in what would have been Janet and George's flat. Witnessing this, George initially plans to leave forever now that everyone appears to be happier without him, but when he sees that Piers and Mrs Raven are having an affair, he goes back in time once again to restore the original course of events.
In Viking Women and the Sea Serpent, it's just a skit during a host segment—Tom Servo eats so many waffles that he never wants to see another one again, and Crow shows up as the Waffle Sprite to spell out just how terrible a world without waffles would be. This was seven seasons before the show actually featured Spring Fever itself, so the reference was simply a Genius Bonus.
In Squirm, they actually watch Spring Fever, and in the host segment after, Crow and Tom Servo wonder if every object in the universe has its own sprite, just waiting for the chance to pull a Wonderful Life plot. They test this by having Crow announce that he never wants to see Mike again for as long as he lives; sure enough, Mikey the Mike Sprite appears to show the 'bots the horror of a world without Mike. The 'bots don't miss Mike at all, but the sprite badgers them until they pretend they've learned their lesson and wish for Mike back. Then Servo says he never wants to see Mike's socks again; enter Mikesocksy...
Mike: C'mon man, I really need my socks. Mikesocksy: NooooooooOOOOOOOooo Mike's Socks. (whistle)
One episode has Crow travel back in time to convince young!Mike to persue his dream of rock 'n roll stardom, thus preventing him from getting the temp job that leads to him being trapped on the So L with the bots. However, when Crow returns, he discovers that the temp job went to Mike's abusive older brother, Tom's been reduced to a snivling lackey/ash tray, and that Mike himself was killed during a concert when a fan beaned him in the head with a keychain.
The NCIS episode "Life Before His Eyes" has Gibbs facing a near-death experience and seeing how his life would've turned out had certain events happened differently:
Had he saved Kate in "Twilight," she and Tony would've gotten married and had a son, but Ziva would never have joined NCIS and would've gotten arrested at some point.
Had he not killed Pedro Hernandez for killing his wife and daughter, he would've regretted it and later turned into a reclusive and antisocial drunk.
Had his wife and daughter not been killed, he would've stayed in the Marine Corps—and come home in a box.
Done without a dream sequence or magic in Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide episode "Boys". Ned's friends tried to cheer him up and convince him to write tips again by getting help from fellow students, younger kids, Gordy, and Mr. Sweeney to act out Ned's past which caused him to start the guide and a present showing school with and without his guide. Gordy is still dressed in a robe like the ominous ghost of Christmas future while riding on a float through the school.
With some mild parody, Night Court had Judge Harry Stone led through a "Wonderful Life" vision by his guardian angel, Herb. Subverted somewhat when Herb (assuming the image of Mel Torme) admits that the reason the vision was in black and white was not (as Harry suggested) because his absence took color out of the world, but nothing more than an artistic device meant to cater to Harry's love of Film Noir and that Harry needed to get over himself. In addition to the requisite For Want of a Nail changes (sleazeball lawyer Dan Fielding becomes a truly diabolical villain without Harry's friendship), there were a few random changes. For instance, in the Film NoirAlternate Universe, Jack the Speakeasy Owner has no sense of taste, whereas in the main universe Jack the Shopkeep is blind.
The The O.C. episode "Chrismukk Huh?" has Ryan and Taylor falling off a ladder and sharing a dream of a world where Ryan never came to Newport. Sandy is the uptight mayor and married to Julie; Seth is still a loser nerd pining over Summer, who's now a full-fledged party girl bimbo engaged to Che, who's having a fling with Julie. Marissa died of an overdose in Mexico while Johnny Harper is alive. Also, Taylor's doppelganger in this world is an overweight boy chastised by their mother for his size.
In the final season of Party of Five, Bailey is in a coma after a car accident and dreams of a world where the Salingers' parents were never killed by a drunk driver. It shows that without having to grow up and accept responsibility faster, the kids have turned out for the worse. Bailey dropped out of college and is a hard-drinking roadie. While Charlie is successful as a graduate and a good job, he never met Kristen and pressures his girlfriend to get an abortion as he can't handle fatherhood. Julia has been engaged to Justin for years but then loses her virginity to Griffin. Claudia is a home-schooled violin star who wishes she could have a normal life. While their parents may be alive, the Salingers aren't as happy in this world.
A vision Lucifer shows Vanessa in Penny Dreadful offers a brief glimpse of a world in which Vanessa is a normal Victorian-era woman and not the fated Mother of Evil. She is shown to be happily married to Ethan Chandler and the mother of his two children. Her personality, and that of Ethan's, is quite content and upbeat instead of both their usual tendency towards angst and broodiness. Her best friend, Mina, is also revealed to have never been turned and killed by Dracula, instead being alive, well, and happily married to Jonathan Harker. The rift in the two women's friendship never happened and behind-the-scenes extras show that in this reality Mina is the godmother of Vanessa and Ethan's children.
The penultimate episode of Person of Interest has the Machine showing Finch simulations of what would have happened if he had never created the Machine: Finch would never have met the love of his life, Grace. Reese would have saved the life of past love Jessica but she would have been afraid of his dark side and leave him, leaving a broken Reese homeless, drowning and buried in a potter's grave. Fusco would turn informer on HR to get immunity but lose his badge and now a hard-drinking low-level private eye. Carter would have been praised for helping bring HR down and become Lieutenant but it's hinted that without the team to support her, she'd still meet a harsh end. Samaritan would have been built but without the Machine to stop it, would have gotten even more powerful. Root would be working for Greer while Shaw a cold agent eliminating targets and not caring for the reasons why. Finch realizes the Machine was needed and these simulations are The Machine telling Finch it's okay to unleash a code that will kill both it and Samaritan.
In a Popular episode at the end of the arc centered on Harrison's battle with leukemia, he is prevented from committing suicide by being taken on a Wonderful Life by the spirit of his deceased hospital roommate who returned as his guardian angel. Keeping with the somewhat parodic nature of the show, said roommate is even named "Clarence". Making it even funnier is the fact that his actor was previously the star of Teen Angel.
An episode of Providence, aptly titled "It's a Wonderful Providence", involves Sidney's mother's ghost showing her what her life would've been like had she not moved back to Providence after her mother's death.
Done with a twist on Psych: after a particularly embarrassing screw-up, Shawn wonders what life would be like if he never returned to Santa Barbara and became a detective. The twist being: 1) that he's fully aware that it's all just a dream, and manipulates things to comedic effect; and 2)the lesson he learns is not how much better he's made everyone else's lives, but how much better THEY have made HIS. Shawn initially tries to convince himself that everyone's lives would have been terrible without him, though his superego (played by Tony Cox) doesn't let him get away with it.
Lampshaded in the series finale. When Sam expresses a desire to stop leaping to the Bartender (a character who is strongly implied to be God), explaining that he did not intend to make the world a better place by improving only one life at a time, the Bartender replies that the lives Sam has touched in his journey have touched others, and those lives in turn have touched others; by traveling through time, Sam has done a large amount of good simply by helping individuals in need.
Another episode was actually called "It's a Wonderful Leap". This was something of an aversion, however, because it did not feature anybody being shown what would have happened if anybody had not been born. It did, however, feature a woman who claimed to be Sam's guardian angel, and was apparently telling the truth.
In one season's Christmas Episode of Raising Hope, Jimmy hallucinates what his life would be like if Hope had never been born. Jimmy's a loser with a criminal record, Burt and Virginia are divorced, Virginia is morbidly obese, Burt's a lecher, Maw-Maw (who's playing the Clarence role here) is dead, Barney owns Howdy's, which is now a liquor store where the workers are all prostitutes in their 20's, including a much larger-chested Sabrina, Shelley is homeless, Frank is mayor of Natesville (and apparently so bad at it that his re-election campaign is "I'll do better next time"), and Lucy is Barney's gold-digging girlfriend who made him buy and convert Howdy's. Hoping to set things right, Jimmy (with Sabrina's help) tries to reenact the events of the pilot to get Hope back, but is thwarted by his dad stealing her away and by the news revealing Lucy as the Boyfriend Killer, and snaps back to reality when he takes a TV to the head that Virginia had intended for Lucy. Played with when Jimmy realizes that this is very similar to a movie he watched...
The ghost of Richard Nixon (played by episode host John Turturro) as the "Clarence" for Newt Gingrich. In a world without Newt, he's horrified to learn, abortions are safe and legal (Ted Kennedy never having gotten the case of scotch Newt sent him to keep him from showing up for the vote) and Hillary Clinton is President.
SNL had a couple more "It's A Wonderful Life" parodies, including the infamous one from season 12 (on the episode hosted by William Shatner) in which Mr. Potter finally gets what he deserves, one from season 26 in which episode host Val Kilmer sees what the show would be like if he chickened out at the last minute, and a reimaging of the movie (from season 36) as a Hanukkah movie rife with Jewish stereotypes and examining the tension and stress of a Hanukkah celebration.
There was also a "What if Al Gore had won in 2000?" sketch released at the height of George W. Bush's unpopularity. In this universe, global cooling is the problem rather than global warming, gas is so cheap that the oil companies are hurting, and America is so well-loved that Americans can't go to other countries without getting hugged.
When Andrew "Dice" Clay hosted an episode in 1989, the opening sketch addresses the issues of cast regular Nora Dunn and musical guest Sinead O'Connor refusing to participate in the show by doing this, with Jon Lovitz in a devil costume playing Clarence. Because Dice was never born, Frank Zappa hosted the show and ratings were so bad the show got cancelled. Nora Dunn was crushed under one of Sinead O'Connor's amplifiers and Sinead was so traumatized she gave up singing. Dice decides he wants to live after finding out that The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was a box-office smash for its star... Jon Lovitz.
They do it again in season 44 at the tail end of 2018, at the height of the legal shitstorm Donald Trump had gotten himself embroiled in, with the simple premise of "what if Donald Trump never became president?"
The 100th episode of Scandal has Olivia imagining what might have happened if she had never agreed to fix the Presidential election for Fitz. Fits does indeed lose and Olivia is setting up a much more low-rent OPA with a bearded Huck and helping Marcus with Congress. Fitz leaves Mellie and he and Olivia get married. Cyrus is with James but still in the closet. Fitz soon hosts his own news show. Quinn never got into the ugly mess involving Defiance and thus is a contestant on a Bachelor type reality show. Mellie and Cyrus get married although she knows the truth he's gay and this is just to help his own political career. While it looks rough, it still seems Olivia and Fitz stay together in this world even as everyone else appears lost and miserable.
Scorpion did this in their 2017 Christmas Episode with Walter imagining what the team would be like if they never formed. They're all more successful, but unhappy, and Walter is now married to Florence. However, there's a couple of twists: the injury that rendered Walter unconscious is also threatening his life and Walter mentioning he was married to Florence in his dream causes friction in his relationship with Paige.
In The Secret World of Alex Mack, when Alex wishes herself to never have been born, her mother instead got the GC-161 powers, was easily found, and was captured and became a lab specimen. Alex then finds her mother, rescues her, teaches her to use her powers, and wishes herself back into existence. It turned out to be All Just a Dream...
To keep Alex's father from finding out the truth, Danielle Atron demoted him into menial labor, thus reducing his income. To help with expenses, Alex's sister got a part-time job, which left her no time for any accomplishments that'd give her a chance to get into her college of choice.
The popularity Danielle Atron got with the development of GC-161 allowed her to run for Governor. The odd part about this was that, aside for a brief conversation with Vince in the mainstream universe, she had never shown any interest into becoming a politician in the whole series.
Ray Alvarado got a job at the plant and became best friends with Vince despite the age gap pointed out by Alex.
Done in the "Apocalypse" episode. Clark starts wondering if his friends would be better off if he had never made it off of Krypton, and he suddenly finds himself in a world where just that happened. As usual, at first he's justified to find out that all of his friends are better off, but ultimately realizes that his absence would leave the world in great danger. There some problems with this episode, since without Clark, all of his friends should have died anyway, most of them having been saved from mundane situations by him at one point. Lex's brush with death in the first episode (since he would not have known Clark at all prior to that moment) should have still happened, with a more fatal outcome. Considering it's LEX FREAKIN LUTHOR, you have to wonder at whether this would be a bad thing.
Could be explained by events in other stories; as an example, the Elseworlds series JLA: The Nail depicted a world where Kal-El was never found by the Kents and thus Metropolis developed a high-tech police force funded by Lex Luthor to deal with metahuman threats in Superman's absence, making it possible that something similar happened in Smallville to protect the people in Clark's absence.
Another episode around Christmastime had Lex shown a possible future by the ghost of his mother. In this one, he gave information to the Daily Planet exposing his father's crimes. This caused his father to disown him, but Lex ended up married to Lana with kids, and Lex is working a low-paying job. Then Lana gets sick and, because Lex doesn't have money to pay her hospital bills, she dies. Lex says that he can't live in this world where he has nothing left, and it's better to have power so that he can have what he wants. It's supposed to show Lex's descent into evil, but the intended Aesop was really Broken.
Something of a Chekhov's Gun to boot, since a later episode has Lex contact his mother via new age means, and she's angry that he ignored her Wonderful Life warning.
An episode of 80s Brit ComSorry! had this plot. Notably, the library was a less welcoming place without Timothy's influence, and his mother was a lonely old woman who kept talking to her lapdog, Timothy.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Tapestry, Q shows Captain Picard what he would've become had he not gotten into the bar fight as a cadet that gave him his artificial heart. Needless to say, he wasn't the same lovable stoic badass we remember. Can you say, Lieutenant j.g. Picard? As Q explains it, without his near-death experience, Picard never realised how fragile life was, and thus never pushed himself as far as he did in canon, playing it safe and never standing out so that he would actually accomplish anything. Although, oddly enough, everything else seemed to remain exactly the same, except for the unseen Captain Thomas Halloway being in command of the Enterprise. Though that was fulfilling Picard's request when he first took up Q on the offer: only Picard could be affected by the change.
Could be argued that it was invoked in the Star Trek: Voyager episode Non Sequiter; Harry Kim falls through a rift to a parallel universe where he never joined Voyager, but while almost everything else is the same apart from his best friend being the one who was lost in the Delta Quadrant as he and Harry essentially got each other's posts, another key difference is that Tom Paris was never on the ship as he got into a bar fight with Quark, instead of saving Harry from being conned by the aforementioned Ferengi as he did in canon, and the man who would be Voyager's chief pilot is now a lonely drunk living in Sandrine's.
If you take this theory of the episode "What Is And What Should Never Be", then things tend to get a bit vicious. Tracking a djinn, Dean makes a wish the boys' mother had never died. He finds himself in a world where Mary lived, John never became a hunter, Dean is a baseball star and Sam happily engaged. Dean is happy at first... until he reads how the various people the Winchesters saved over the years all died. He talks Sam into tracking the djinn down but then finds that this is not alternate world; rather the djinn puts his victims into a dream where their wish comes true and feeds off them. It Makes Sense in Context but the message to Dean is "Be thankful for all your abuse and parentification because without it, you would be worthless with no good qualities." Ouch. And also subverted in the fact that it's pretty clear at the end of the episode that Dean would have rather stayed and, in the next episode, things go even more to hell and his mental state gets worse.
Season 4's "It's a Terrible Life" showed that even if the boys weren't Winchesters, they'd still end up as hunters somehow, which is pretty awful when you think about it. Zachariah serves as their Clarence-figure, disguised as Dean's boss.
An alternate reality without the Winchesters plays a key role in the events of the Season 12 finale "All Along the Watchtower" (and features in some Season 13 eps), when the Winchesters, lost for a better solution to defeat the released Lucifer, trap him in a rift that leads to a post-apocalyptic world where their mother never made a deal to save their father from death in 1973, with the result that Michael and Lucifer found other vessels to wage their war in.
The Sweet Valley High TV series played the plot somewhat different from the above literature example. An angel comes to show them what the world would look like without both of them. The sports team has no cups (no cheerleaders), one of the girls is a fanatic Greenpeace activist, someone's a computer nerd... it gets worse.
The series Switched at Birth has this pop up whenever one of the characters imagines what their lives would've been like if the switch hadn't occurred:
In one episode, Daphne has a brief dream where she grew up with the Kennishes and never got the sickness that caused her to lose her hearing (with Bay having that stuff happen to her instead).
In the episode "Ecce Mono", John imagines that instead of keeping her discovery of the switch quiet in 1998, Regina tells the truth but ends up losing custody of both girls due to her drinking. Daphne is raised by the Kennishes with a cochlear implant and becoming spoiled and shallow, with Bay in her shadow, Toby is still into gambling, and Katherine is having an affair. The girls eventually discover that Regina died on their birthday.
In a Christmas episode, the girls, tired of the family traditions, wish together that the switch never happened. Daphne wakes up as Bay, able to hear, a star athlete pushed by John to become pro and Toby is a moody musician. Bay wakes up as Daphne, deaf with a younger brother (her father Angelo still died in this world but earlier), Regina still drinking and Emmett is just a good friend. Interestingly, when they wake up with things set right, each girl assumes she alone had this odd "dream".
Done well in an episode of That '70s Show. Eric and Donna have broken up and Eric is so miserable that he wishes he and Donna had never been together in the first place. An angel (Wayne Knight) shows up and offers to grant his wish. He shows Eric an alternate reality where Donna and Hyde got married, Hyde goes to prison and Eric is still a spineless wimp who only ever dated Big Rhonda and never moved out of his parents' house. At the end, Eric says that he's OK with all that, but when the angel shows him the good memories he would also lose, Eric changes his mind.
In the 2011 Christmas episode of Warehouse 13, Stern's brush inflicts this trope on Pete. Turns out that without him Myka is still with the Secret Service but her father died and is a cold woman with no connections; Artie is in jail as his attempt to stop an artifact being used in the pilot was mistaken as a Presidential assassination attempt; Claudia is institutionalized as the team could never be around to help her break her brother out of his other-dimension prison; and MacPherson is alive and in charge of the Warehouse, putting on a show of being reformed but in reality selling off artifacts to the highest bidder.
Heartily lampshaded: Stern's brush inflicts this trope because it belonged to Philip Van Doren Stern, the author of "The Greatest Gift", which was adapted by into It's a Wonderful Life. The episode is even called "The Greatest Gift".
The TV show The Wayans Bros. both played it straight and subverted it at the same time. Without Marlon around, Pops owned a gourmet restaurant, Dee was married to the soap hunk of her dreams, and Shawn was rich and owned everything. However, everyone was unhappy: Pops only kept getting the same gift from Shawn and was ignored, Dee's husband was cheating on her, and Shawn was going to destroy Grandma Williams' nursing home to build a Yogurt World.
Weird Science has an episode called "It's a Wonderful Life... Without You", in which Lisa creates for Wyatt a world where he does not exist. While at first Chett and Gary initially look better, they soon find how their new lives are actually worse, as without Wyatt, Chett is under pressure and Gary is a thief. But when Wyatt wants Lisa to return him to the world where he was born, she can't, because she was never created, so they have to find a way to communicate with Chett and Wyatt so they can create Lisa in their world.
An episode of Season 2 of Xena: Warrior Princess had a variation of sorts, wherein Xena accidentally wishes to the fates that she had never become a warrior and done all the horrible things that haunt her with guilt now. In a partial subversion, for most of the episode Xena actually prefers this alternate universe- even after the fact that she never stood for her village gave a chance for three notorious warlords to join forces and Gabrielle was enslaved by them (she still intends to find a way to stop them, to her it's just like any other problem she's run into). The only thing that finally convinces Xena not to stay in this universe is Gabrielle accidentally stabbing a man, thus getting blood on her hands.