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Commitment Anxiety

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Deep-running continuity is both a blessing and a curse in television. It rewards long-time viewers with a satisfying story and the feeling that somebody really is paying attention. However, a series that weaves itself together too intricately risks making itself inaccessible to new viewers because "you really have to see it from start to finish."

Fear of being dropped into the middle of a plotline they'll never understand without information that's already been given, or fear of investing their time in a series they'll have to get through hundreds of episodes to get a satisfying ending from (assuming it'll actually have one), can keep even the most interested hanger-on from tuning in, a risk that can keep a series with borderline ratings from reaching its full potential. Less common now in the days of DVD and Internet file sharing (and trade paperbacks), where back episodes are available to anyone with the time, money and/or bandwidth. Many networks are also making back episodes of their more popular shows available for viewing online. Yet even these resources may not be enough to attract a casual fan who still has to invest sometimes serious money and/or time (hours or even whole days) to catch up on a given plot.

Commitment Anxiety can also occur as a result of Continuity Lockout and Continuity Snarls within the work; even with the ease of availability of this material, if the writers make the continuity too impenetrable or convoluted, it can cause people to give up in frustration.

Networks frequently try to draw new viewers despite this anxiety by using a Recap Episode.

See also Audience-Alienating Ending and Archive Panic. For reluctance to commit to a new show lest it be Screwed by the Network, see The Firefly Effect.

Not to be confused with Commitment Issues which is about a character's fear of committing to a significant other.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • One Piece is infamous for having over 1000 manga chapters and over 900 anime episodes, making it very daunting to get into. Seriously, you'll likely end up debating with yourself whether the sheer amount of time you'll have to wait for the end of the story (which is about four-fifths of the way done) and the time it takes to tie up loose ends is worth the emotional investment. Take note: Toei is fully aware of this and puts out as many recap episodes and specials as it can to get new viewers up to speed, and that's not getting into the times where they put out reels of all the iconic moments to shorten that length as well. But even those get new content occasionally, which ironically just adds them to the overall episode count to understand the context.
  • Naruto is a funny instance. Sure, the series pre-timeskip is about 200 episodes long... but barely over half of them are actually canon. This is an example where it's faster to just read the manga to get caught up on the main plot. And there's a good reason many fans referred to the second half of the first series as the Filler Hell.
  • Case Closed: decades worth of murder mysteries, and few episodes in between that deal with the main plot. If one just wanted the plot-based episodes and important scenes, it would cut the mysteries down by half; but considering the 900+ episode count, that's not saying much. Even reading the manga will take long to catch up.
  • The Gundam franchise is notorious for being rather unwelcoming to newcomers. The Universal Century timeline has been around since 1979, new installments of it are still being made to this very day, and it's necessary to at least watch some of the earliest shows to really understand all the history, and the character dynamics in later parts. This can be a problem, since Gundam practically invented Real Robots and the earlier series are seen as dated by today's standards, which means "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny is in full effect. Couple this with the fact that Gundam shows usually run up to 50 episodes, and it makes even the standalone Alternate Universe shows a lot to commit to.

    Comic Books 
  • This is a complaint frequently brought against mainstream superhero comics, especially the X-Titles. How bad is it? Let's put it this way: It's perfectly reasonable for a comic book fan to say to somebody trying to understand the latest issue of Uncanny X-Men, "Okay, so you've read every issue that's ever been published, and you remember them all perfectly. It's not like that means you'll understand what's going on." The tendency towards Continuity Snarls does not help. Marvel produces special "Point One" (the number of the previous issue, with .1 added to the number) issues to address this problem. However, feelings are mixed. While some do a good job of introducing readers to a series, most fare far worse. Most of them occur right in the middle of a story arc, completely contradicting the point of the issue, are completely irrelevent, or just plain bad.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Twin Peaks, as it's the usual David Lynch insanity spread across various episodes to improve the anxiety.
  • Lost, with many Foreshadowing elements, and an ever-complicating plot.
  • The X-Files. The series is nine seasons long plus two movies, and the "arc episodes" are spread along Monster of the Week ones.
  • Babylon 5, less because of length than because of very tight continuity that makes it inadvisable to skip the weak first season.
  • The Wire HBO series, notorious for being nigh-impossible to follow if you didn't start from the beginning.
  • Game of Thrones: A complex plot and large cast means that you've at least got to read some summaries of the earlier seasons if you start watching the show at a later date. It's based on A Song of Ice and Fire, so reading the books also works - though each book ranges from 700-1000 pages long.
  • Heroes, with its large cast and an infamous Seasonal Rot reputation.
  • Ron Moore has cited fear of this syndrome as being behind the Breather Episodes on the new Battlestar Galactica.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for most of its run. Seasons one and two were rather diligent about sticking to Star Trek: The Next Generation's Monster of the Week Formula with the Gamma-quadrant and Bajor-Cardassia back stories being secondary to what ever conflict came through the wormhole that week. Once The Dominion was introduced, every episode had to start with a recap.
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was doomed after two seasons by its interesting but "narratively inhospitable" (to new viewers) tight story arc.
  • Veronica Mars, which abandoned the season-long mystery arc in season three, but didn't make it to season four. Support from those who did watch it was strong enough for a Kickstarter campaign to finance The Movie a decade later, and five years after that the show itself was Un-Cancelled.
  • FlashForward (2009), which avoided this by inserting a special episode just before it came back from its mid-season hiatus. That's one whole hour for just thirteen episodes.
  • Arrested Development was a rare Sitcom example for the time.
  • The prospect of watching Doctor Who in its entirety is terrifying if you're a completist. note  (This is mostly an irrational phobia, though. The pre-1989 show very rarely did long-term plot arcs, and they lasted a season at most. Even the post-2005 show tends to wrap up all its arcs and start completely new ones whenever there's a change of showrunner.)
  • Breaking Bad, given it's five seasons long and deals with really dark themes.
  • Night and Day may well have suffered from this. Unusual for soap in that it demanded not only that viewers turn on each week, but that they pay reasonably close attention, especially in order to follow the central plot surrounding Jane Harper's disappearance. Character motivations and plot points are often glossed over or otherwise obscure - sometimes seemingly for stylistic reasons, and other times as a result of the condensed night-time omnibus, which would often by necessity do away with scenes from the daytime version that provided helpful, if not crucial, context.
  • The Shield due to its relentless pace (where literally every scene moves the plot along in some way) can make it intimidating to follow along with as there are many "blink and you'll miss it" moments where you have to be paying close attention to understand certain things.

  • This is regarded as one of the reasons why LEGO canceled BIONICLE. Little kids that got into the toys just couldn't be expected to read up on the preceding 8-9 years worth of continuous backstory and characters. Especially since it was told through several different media, most of which weren't even made available everywhere.

    Western Animation 
  • The Star Wars exapnded universe of shows get this a lot, particularly the animated works in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, both kids shows that happen to have compelling stories. Not helping is that the main numbered films never acknowledge these works or make them important to the stories they tell, diminishing the need to watch them for many viewers. Much of this has been mitigated by all these works being included on Disney+.
    • The Clone Wars is hit the hardest for several additional reasons: it begins with a poorly-received and mostly-inconsequential movie, the animation quality doesn't pick up until Season 3, the storylines are incredibly episodic due to the "tales of the war" format that obscures the grander Myth Arc and prevents many important events from being properly followed-up on, episodes can frequently turn out to be set before a story from two seasons earlier, and many episodes (including entire multi-part stories) can turn out to be completely inconsequential. There's a very good reason why the first thing many new viewers do is look up an episode watch guide first. But if you can figure out an approach and stick with it, you're treated with one of the best finales in the entire franchise.