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Alternate Reality Episode

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An Alternate Reality Episode is slightly different from an episode that incorporates an Alternate Universe.

In an Alternate Reality Episode, the usual main characters are absent. The main cast is still here, but they're playing "themselves" in a different role. Maybe Alice is now a Dot Com boom millionaire instead of a lowly research assistant, or the other way around. The point is that it's our heroes being different people, not the same people visiting a different place.

Typically, the "normal" situation may get a look-in for a couple of scenes at the start or end of the episode, but there should not be any clear link between the characters — Alice the millionaire should not wake up as Alice the research assistant, or have Bob her millionare buddy visiting her, asking why everything is different.

Compare with Parody Episode (this trope could be considered the serious side of the coin) and Elseworld. This may be a Mirror Universe episode where we see what the cast would be like if they were evil (especially in Star Trek).


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    Anime and Manga 
  • One Piece has several anime-only episodes that presents the characters living in Feudal Japan instead of their own world.

    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Productions produced the Doctor Who Unbound audio drama "Deadline", a Doctor Who story on the question "What if Doctor Who had never existed?" It's ... meta.

    Comic Books 
  • Star Trek (IDW):
    • Mirrored, the IDW comics' New-Trek-Movieverse version of "Mirror, Mirror" had more in common with Star Trek: Enterprise's "In A Mirror Darkly" than the Original Series episode. It opens and closes with "our" Scotty and McCoy discussing the concept of alternate universes, and the rest of the story is set entirely in the Mirror Universe, with no "real" characters. (Well, Old Spock seems to have come from [a version of] the regular universe rather than the mirror one, but he's still not the same Old Spock.)
  • DC Comics pretty much specialized in this form of storytelling, publishing dozens of stories from the 1950s onwards where, either as a one-off "change of pace" storyline or as a back-up story "filler" (common in the days when some issues ran for 80-100 pages without ads in some cases, and needed to be filled). In the 1980s, DC launched its "Elseworlds" line, with followed the same concept, except usually with more serious stories.
  • Marvel Comics' take on alternate reality storytelling was its long-running What If? title.

    Fan Works 
  • The Punch-Out!! fanfic Ma Fille, which is about the lives and relationship of Glass Joe and his daughter Katrina, has a chapter titled "If He Threw It All Away", which details what would have happened if, instead of the lovable weakling-turned-fantastic father we know, Joe turned out exactly like his own father and abandoned Katrina at the hospital. In this alternate reality, while Joe is the Major Circuit champion, he is a horrible bully (thus meaning he never marries Von Kaiser, either), while Katrina was being raised by her deceased mother's two best friends before her Evil Aunt took her away from them.
    • This reality (dubbed "the Iron Bastille AU" by the wiki, after Joe's alternate title) was revisited in "Iron Bastille vs. Spitfire Moon", where Katrina enters the WVBA under the name Spitfire Moon (in the main reality, her boxing title is Chaton Cheri) after escaping her aunt to find her father. She and Iron Bastille have a spat with each other, where Bas denies ever having a child.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Austin & Ally called "What Ifs and Where's Austin", Ally, Trish and Dez imagine what their lives would have been like had they never met Austin.
  • On season 7 of The Big Bang Theory in the episode "The Cooper Extraction", the main characters explore the ways that Sheldon has changed their lives through a series of "What if" clips.
  • Bones has done two. In one, Booth and Brennan were married and owned a nightclub (called "The Lab") where many other series regulars worked. A murder takes place there, and we get to see Brennan squicked out by death. This is actually a dream of Booth's, while he is in a coma. It's actually his perfect world and based on Brennan talking out loud to him in his coma while she works on her next book. The other recast Brennan and Booth as, respectively, a police officer and a jewel thief in a 1950s Hollywood-style setting who forge an uneasy alliance in order to catch a murderer. Other series regulars appeared as coworkers and acquaintances of Booth's and Brennan's, with Brennan's father cast as the police chief and her boss as well as her father.
  • An odd variation on this trope occurs in the Community episode "Remedial Chaos Theory". Jeff throws a dice to decide who goes to get pizza, and the time-line splits into seven different realities. While some of the differences are relatively small (e.g. in one reality Troy and Britta fall for each other much earlier, while in another Britta hooks up with the pizza delivery guy) one of them is extremely horrible. When Troy gets the pizza, Pierce gets shot in the leg and dies, the apartment catches fire, Troy eats a flaming troll doll and loses the ability to speak, Jeff loses his arm, Shirley succumbs to alcoholism, Annie gets committed to a mental institution, and Britta dyes a streak of her hair blue. Abed dubs this "The Darkest Timeline" and makes everybody fake beards.
  • Friends:
    • "The One That Could Have Been" is a two-parter where the teaser has each of the Friends imagining something that could have happened differently in their lives and the rest of the story drops into an Alternate Reality where these things happened. Monica never lost her teenage weight and is still fat as an adult, Joey is still on Days of Our Lives and has become famous and wealthy, Rachel married Barry and is quietly miserable (and considering having an affair with Joey the celebrity), Phoebe is a stockbroker, Chandler is a (failing) writer and Carol has not come out of the closet and is still married to Ross (Though she is very interested in having a threesome with Ross and another woman).
    • There's a sequence in "The One With The Truth About London" where Monica confesses that the night she hooked up with Chandler in London, she actually went to the room to seek out Joey. They imagine what life would've been like with those two together, in which Joey is fatter than young Monica, thanks to her cooking.
      Joey: *looking at food* "How YOU doin'?"
  • Grey's Anatomy has the episode "If/Then", revolving around Ellis Grey being both alive and lucid. There are fairly significant ripple effects (Alex has proposed to Meredith; Callie and Owen are married; the Shepherds are still together; Cristina has no friends) but Because Destiny Says So other things come back to bite them (Alex is still an inveterate womanizer; Mark and Addison are still carrying on; Meredith still can't please her mother; she and Derek are attracted to each other; she and Cristina become Fire-Forged Friends whilst struggling to save a patient, Callie and Arizona are drawn to each other), turning the whole thing from "For Want of a Nail" into "In Spite of a Nail" instead. Incidentally, the episode's theme is "Because Destiny Says So."
  • Season One of Heroes had "Five Years Gone"; an alternate timeline that spiralled off from the explosion in New York, turning the United States into a prejudicial dystopia who regards almost everyone with abilities as terrorists. Claire has dyed her hair and got engaged in an effort to stay in hiding, Noah Bennett has left the Company and become an almost Underground Railroad-esque assistant for people with abilities, Hiro Nakamura becomes an icy, sword-wielding vigilante while Nathan Petrelli becomes the President... until it's revealed that he was actually killed shortly after his inauguration by Sylar. By this point, he had gained possession of Candice's illusion ability and set about using it to take Nathan's place and drive the country into the ground to eliminate his "competition".
  • Las Vegas: There's an episode where Danny imagines himself and his co-workers working at a Las Vegas casino in the 1960s instead of the 2000s. Ed Deline is basically a mobster-turned casino boss as opposed to an ex-CIA agent turned casino manager, Mike faces racism from a Jerkass diner owner, and Sam Marquez is a hooker operating out of the casino.
  • Half of each episode of Lost Season 6 is devoted to a alternate reality where the plane never crashed, which apparently resulted from the cast's attempt to change history in season 5, while the other parts of the episode continue as normal. The two timelines seemed totally independent for a while, but now certain people in the "flash-sideways" timeline, particularly those with love interests, have begun having visions of the island timeline... Ultimately, the alternate universe proves to be a cross between a Dying Dream and Mundane Afterlife.
  • Northern Exposure: "Cicely" begins with an aged visitor telling the story of the town's founding in 1909, and the rest of the episode depicts the story with the main actors playing various roles therein.
  • Mad About You: In "Up In Smoke" the newsstand where Paul and Jamie first met has burned down, pushing them into a reality where they never meet, though Jamie briefly dates Paul's cousin John.
  • NewsRadio:
    • An episode takes place in space and parodies many sci-fi films.
    • The season after finds them operating on board the Titanic.
  • The second season of Nip/Tuck has an episode where Julia dreams what life would be like if she'd married Christian instead of Sean. In the alternate reality, she and Christian are partners in the "Troy/Troy" plastic surgery firm, Matt (still raised by Sean) is a nerd, and Sean is married to a still-living Megan O'Hara.
  • Season 6 episode "The Decision" of Scandal has Olivia imagining what life would have been like for the main characters if she hadn't made a critical decision prior to the beginning of the series.
  • Stargate Atlantis: "Vegas", the penultimate episode of the series, takes place in an Alternate Reality where John Sheppard is a Las Vegas detective and never joined the Atlantis expedition. There is a brief crossover (a message sent from that universe enters the main one), but no characters crossover. It is sometimes referred to as CSI: Atlantis, which was actually its working title during production.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Yesterday's Enterprise", the USS Enterprise-C is flung into the future thanks to a temporal anomaly while fighting off Romulans attacking a Klingon planet. The Enterprise-C finds that thanks to the time warp, the Federation is in a losing war with the Klingon Empire, who were insulted by the apparent cowardice of Starfleet. In this timeline, the Enterprise-D is a full-fledged warship without any civilians aboard, except Guinan, who's the only one who realizes that something's wrong, and Tasha Yar, who'd died in season 1, is alive in Worf's place as chief tactical officer.
    • The Star Trek: Enterprise episode "In a Mirror Darkly" is an Alternate Reality Episode set in the Mirror Universe right down to having a different Title Sequence (there is a crossover from the regular universe driving much of the plot, but it's not from Enterprise, and it's not a regular or even a character as such), whereas the Original Series' "Mirror Mirror" and the DS:9 Mirror Universe Episodes are not, instead featuring one or more of the regular cast crossing over and interacting with the Mirror Universe.
  • Supernatural: Season 6 features an episode where Sam and Dean drive a Mustang, Cuban is not communist and Jo and Ellen are still alive, with Ellen happily married to Bobby. It turns out that the Titanic never sank in this timeline and that led to numerous small changes that are arguably better than their normal Crapsack World. Unfortunately, this leads to the fates becoming enraged so the timeline must be set right.
  • Switched at Birth
    • In "Ecce Mono", John imagines that Regina came clean about discovering the switch in 1998 but lost custody of the girls due to her drinking. Daphne is raised with the Kennishes, getting an cochlear implant to help her hear and not identifying as Deaf - but is a manipulative brat. Bay is now a studious young woman who falls in her sister's shadow; Toby is still gambling, and Kathryn is having an affair with another man (Chip Coto) The girls grow up thinking that Regina stopped contacting them altogether. She actually has tried to make contact with them their entire lives, but the Kennishes stash away the letters and presents instead of giving it to the girls. When they find this out and go to find Regina, they instead only find Adrianna; they find out from her that Regina died of drinking on their birthday.
  • The Ugly Betty episode "Million Dollar Smile" (Season 4, Episode 17) has Betty getting knocked out and dreaming of a world where she has the "perfect smile" and never needed braces. In this world Ignacio is a wealthy gambler, Hilda is the ugly sister, Justin doesn't exist, Amanda is married to Daniel but sleeping with Tyler, Marc is a homely receptionist and Betty is Wilhelmina's Alpha Bitch assistant.
  • On Wings, an episode features fantasy sequences in which the cast enacted "When I Grow Up" letters that their characters wrote when they were children.
  • Young Sheldon S4 E17 "A Black Hole" shows three alternate realities:
    • A black hole forms at the Waxahachie Supercollider, destroying the Earth.
    • Everyone in the Cooper family is their opposite: Mary is a partygirl, George is a pastor, Georgie is bald, Missy is super smart, Connie is a therapist from New York, Dr. Sturgis is a stereotypical Texan, and Sheldon is a normal kid.
    • There are two Sheldons, who work together to solve physics equations twice as fast, but think of each other as dumb and end up fighting each other.

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10 has an episode, "Gwen 10" where it's Gwen who gets the omnitrix, not Ben (though weirdly, he's still aware of the events he experienced throughout the rest of the series). It's framed by a benevolent narrator explaining how stories can be told different ways.
  • The 2003 animated serial spin-off of Doctor Who, Scream of the Shalka, is now considered this as it features a very different version of the Ninth Doctor than the parent series introduced two years later. (The animation was produced before there was any inkling of Doctor Who returning to TV and was in fact intended as a long-term replacement. When the TV revival was announced, all future animations featuring the so-called "Shalka Doctor" were cancelled.)
  • Flying Rhino Junior High's final episode, Seeing Double includes an alternate version of the school with punk versions of the main characters and a good guy version of Earl P. Sidebottom aka "The Phanthom".
  • Phineas and Ferb did this several times, usually with the characters being born in a different time period. Or in a Galaxy Far Far Away.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes has "OK AU" where it has K.O., Enid and Radiles are the Box More robots while Shannon, Darrell and Raymond are organic Bodega employees.
  • Summer Memories: The episode "Bummer Memories" sees the show explore alternate universes where Jason and Ronnie never became friends, only for each reality to ultimately reach a point where the two meet each other and form a friendship.