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Clean Up the Town

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"You can tell all your scum friends that things are gonna change in this town. I'm not just another pretty face."
Toxie, The Toxic Avenger

A new person (or an old inhabitant returning after years away) comes to a town suffering from lawlessness and corruption. They are appointed to a position of responsibility, such as The Sheriff, and proceed to reduce crime, establish the rule of law, and topple the corrupt powers that kept the town from prospering. The Drifter on the other hand does this chronically, switches between towns and repeats the feat.

A stock plot in The Western, although easily transplanted to other settings. Often, it may be a corrupt organization that needs cleaning up instead.

In more cynical works, the would-be reformer ends up succumbing to the corrupt system, dying or worse, becoming just as corrupt as the people they replaced.

In comedic works (particularly cartoons, it seems), may entail a broom and/or dustpan, a pointy stick and garbage can, or other literal interpretations of the phrase.

Contrast with the Tyrant Takes the Helm story arc, where the villain may believe that they're in this plotline, but are actually making things worse.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • One Piece: Occurs almost every major arc, with the Straw Hats arriving on a new island and ending up overthrowing some villainous tyrant that has taken over or is attempting to take over. It's usually not their original intent, but circumstances end up forcing their moral intervention (usually either the villain picking a fight with them or the villain's actions threatening one of their new friends).

     Comic Books  

  • Batman, to varying success; the recent franchise reboot emphasized this aspect, as Batman himself hopes that someday he won't be needed.
  • Jesse Custer in the Salvation arc of Preacher.
  • Deconstructed in Southern Bastards. Earl's father Bertrand once famously ran organized crime out of the town, but it doesn't go well when he tries the same years later.
  • Played straight in Copperhead by new Sheriff Clara Bronson. The town has a problem with corruption from the mine owner commiserating with the local government, and criminals and the Natives are constantly preying on the weak.

     Films — Live-Action  

  • Example of comedic use: Back to the Future:
    Goldie Wilson: You wait and see, Mr. Carruthers. I will be mayor! I'll be the most powerful man in Hill Valley. And I'm gonna clean up this town.
    Lou: Good. You can start by sweeping the floor. [hands Goldie a broom]
  • Jimmy Cagney does this with, of all things, the Bureau of Weights and Measures in Great Guy.
  • Played straight to hilarious effect in Blazing Saddles when the new sheriff has to clean up the town and resorts to unorthodox methods. Candy Gram, anyone?
  • In Hot Fuzz, Nicholas Angel has been so effective at cleaning up London that he's making the other cops look bad, so he's transferred to the quiet town of Sandford. At first it looks like there's nothing for him to clean up, but then unusual deaths start happening...
    • And when all the crime stats back in London go off the charts in his absence (making the Police look even WORSE than they did when Angel was just showing them all up), they come crawling back to beg him to return.
  • Road House (1989). Dalton starts off acting as head bouncer at a bar, but is forced to Clean Up the Town to save his own life.
  • Happens in (of all places) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, after Mean Mr. Mustard's theft of the magical musical instruments turns the town of Heartland into a crime-ridden cesspool. How does the eponymous band clean things up? With a musical carnival!
  • Dodge City: Wade Hatton comes back after years away and takes the job of sheriff of Dodge City to rescue the town from the violent misrule of evil Jeff Surrett.
  • The Untouchables (1987), like the original series, is about Elliot Ness and his titular team going after the gangsters who rule Chicago.


     Live Action TV  

  • The Untouchables, as explained above.
  • Many episodes of Stargate SG-1. Often, the SG-1 team arrives on a planet to discover that an enemy force (Goa'uld or otherwise) has enslaved or is otherwise tormenting the local population, prompting the team to clean up the town.
  • The entire cast of Angel was eventually assigned to run the uber-evil law firm they had spent the last four years fighting. Everyone angsted a lot about whether they were up to the task, or would be corrupted themselves.
    Angel: You hired Harmony as my secretary??
    Wesley: I thought we could use a familiar face.
    Angel: Hmm. You turned evil a lot faster than I thought...
  • Once Upon a Time: Emma came to Storybrooke when her long-lost son showed up and said she was The Chosen One. She didn't believe the kid, but when she got a good look at the town and the crooked mayor, she decided to stay put and be a professional pain in her side, eventually getting the job of sheriff. As such, she's untangling all of the town's dark secrets.
  • Pretty much every new ER chief showed up with the attitude of getting the faltering, disorganized department into top-notch shape.
  • Robert Stack name drops this trope in an Unsolved Mysteries segment about the murder of small-town police chief Robert Hamrick, who was the third man to take on the position in 6 months, his predecessors having been driven away by a local gang.
  • The Mandalorian:
    • At the end of season 1, former Republic soldier Cara Dune starts working for Greef Karga on Navarro. Halfway through season 2, it's revealed that she drove out the Imperial remnant and the criminals, making the planet a reasonably safe place. By season 3, it's become one of the largest trade hubs on the Outer Rim.
    • This is part of the backstory of Cobb Vanth. His hometown of Mos Pelgo (a mining settlement on Tatooine) was enslaved by the Mining Guild, but he escaped, got ahold of Mandalorian armor and weapons, and drove the guild out of Mos Pelgo. He's protected the town ever since.
  • Riverdale: This becomes the main plot of Season 5 after the Time Skip: After some time overseas in the Army, Archie is sent to his hometown to establish an ROTC club. But when he gets there, he finds out that Hiram Lodge has run the town into the ground. He calls up his friends in order to fight back and fix things.


  • The first album by The Protomen largely takes place some time after Dr. Light created Protoman to do this, and Mega Man decides to follow in his footsteps. Mega Man ends up discovering that Protoman grew so disgusted with the inhabitants of The City and their unwillingness to fight for themselves against Wily's tyranny that he turned on them and became Wily's Dragon.

     Newspaper Comics  

     Table Top Games  

  • Shadowrun adventure Harlequin's Back. In one of the mini-adventures in the book, "A Fistful of Karma", the PC's must defeat a cruel tyrant who oppresses the people of a mining town.
  • Dragon magazine #71 (back when it wasn't just Dungeons & Dragons) had a Boot Hill module called "The Taming of Brimstone", in which the player characters had to clean up the eponymous town.


  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas starts off and ends up being about CJ and Sweet cleaning up their crack-ridden 'hood.
  • The original Saints Row, drawing a rather obvious inspiration from San Andreas, opens with the Vigilante Man Julius Little forming the 3rd Street Saints (so named after their original turf, the Saints Row hood in Stilwater) for the express purpose of bringing down the three massive gangs currently warring over the city. The Player Character is an innocent victim of said gang war who is saved by Julius and offered a place with the Saints. Unfortunately, combating gang violence with even more violence, while eventually stopping the gang war, only makes the Saints fill the resulting power vacuum. This Heel Realization prompts Julius to disband the Saints and try to kill the protagonist in the finale, as he realizes that, having tasted blood, the "Playa" will never go back to civil life.
  • The Nameless Mod's Trestkon is this — if the player wills it.
  • In Crackdown, the city's police force barely is able to hold the line at their own headquarters. The Agent must go through the city, killing the leaders of the three gangs who rule the city and their lieutenants. It becomes a subversion when it's revealed the Agency allowed the gangs to run roughshod, so they'd be able to assert a despotic regime once they clean out the gangs.
  • This is the plot of all the Streets of Rage games. Somehow, the crime syndicate keeps coming back.
  • War Dogs: Red's Return: When Red returns to his old neighbourhood, it's been taken over by a gang called "The Slaughter Club". Red decides he needs to take it back from them.

     Western Animation  

  • Looney Tunes short "Drip-Along Daffy": Daffy Duck comes to "clean up this one-horse town", and in the end he does... as street-sweeper. His Hypercompetent Sidekick Porky Pig, who's been made the new sheriff, quips "Lucky for him, it is a one-horse town."
  • Similarly done (by the same writer) at the end of the Quick Draw McGraw cartoon "Double Barrel Double," but without the double entendre line. Possibly because Quick Draw himself is a horse so the joke wouldn't work.
  • The Spongebob Squarepants episode 'Pest Of The West' has Spongebuck immediately being appointed sheriff so he could save the town from Plankton's ancestor, Dead Eye Plankton. He does exactly that.
  • The Critic's "Frankie and Ellie Get Lost" has Jay decide, when his wealthy parents are lost at sea and presumed dead, to turn his inheritance towards literally cleaning up New York City's garbage and graffiti. It works so well that the city officials decide to thank him with a ticker tape parade...and the celebration leaves the city just as grimy as it was before.

     Real Life  

  • Name a political challenger, this is almost guaranteed to be one of their platforms.
  • City Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire was brought into El Paso to clean it up as the previous 5 marshals in the last 8 months were either incompetent, corrupt, or killed. He proceeded to kill at least 10 criminals in the next year, dropping the crime rate significantly.