The opposite of Jumping the Shark, Growing the Beard is the definitive moment when a series begins to become noticeably better in quality. This often involves a new writer or other creative person coming on board, the happy discovery of a popular character, or the exit of a meddling executive or less popular characters. In general, this is where a franchise is realizing what works and starts to find its voice.
If it is a comedy, then this is usually when it deviates from an overall lighthearted tone and reaches an impressive emotional depth. If it is a drama (or something in between), this would be when the character dynamic is spelled out clearly and starts to resonate with the storyline. In the case of science fiction, another major characteristic of this trope is that the show will begin to develop actual continuity (generally spanning the lifetime of the series once begun), rather than just spending its time on one-off episodes which don't mean anything outside each individual episode itself. While there may not be a true Myth Arc as such, there will still be some form of memory, and you can expect to see events from episodes referenced by characters later.
The key to this trope is seeing a dramatic "before and after" difference along the life of a series. The element can sometimes be attributed to a single, outstanding episode that defines the show. Other times it is just a general improvement, like the Trope Namer Star Trek: The Next Generation. Fans of the series noticed a sharp increase in the quality and consistency of stories and the show really starting to gain its own identity, and this coincided with Commander Riker, Jonathan Frakes, growing a beard — even though it still took a little more time before it really took off.note The term has spread into internet vernacular to the point that Frakes himself has even brought it up. History repeated itself a few years later when fans noted a marked improvement in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine after lead actor Avery Brooks grew a beard (and shaved his head, to boot).note
It's almost worthwhile to call this "Finding the Beard", because nearly every serial media that persists has some degree of change from its initial variation. Continuity Creep, Story Arc and Myth Arc are all strong reasons why this can happen, helping the audience grow more interested in this new show. See also Surprisingly Improved Sequel.
Take note that this is not a requirement with every series. They may have just fallen away unnoticed. Maybe it started at a high quality and there is no dramatic difference in quality as mentioned, unless it only went downhill from there.
In general, this happens only once during a series' run. But there are times where long after Growing the Beard a show starts to hit a low point like an Audience-Alienating Era or Strictly Formula. A second Growing the Beard can occur with a refreshing of ideas and hitting a new high. We might well call this variant "Greying the Beard".
Also note that just because a series eventually grows a beard doesn't mean it was actually bad to start with. Getting a new viewer into a series with an abysmal beginning can be difficult, as they only have one's word that "it gets a lot better, really". Sometimes though it's just a case of smoothing out any elements of Early-Installment Weirdness. Being So Okay, It's Average is sometimes the worst offense a show can have before it evolves, or it takes a season or two of being just "good" before it develops the myth arc it became famous for. For example, Calvin and Hobbes may have needed some time to develop into a truly great piece of work, but it was still an excellent and clever strip from the very beginning.
Also note that fans can be starkly divided as to whether a change is Growing the Beard or Jumping the Shark. Usually such judgments cannot be made objectively or definitively at the moment it happens.
A beard growing moment is also called a Riker's Beard moment.
See My Real Daddy, if a specific person causes a work to grow a beard.
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- While Seasons 1 and 2 of Happy Heroes are by no means considered terrible, Season 3 is notable in that it establishes lore and running gags that would go on to become series staples (such as Doctor H.'s missing father and Big M.'s vomit-inducing ugliness), and it benefits from introducing the fan-favorite character Kalo.
- For some people, Lamput got better when its episode runtime increased from 15 seconds to two minutes, giving it more room for good jokes and stories.
- The first season of Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf is just a Road Runner vs. Coyote story about Wolffy trying and failing to catch the goats every day. For some people, the show is much better in its later seasons when it begins to have continuous stories and larger plots, some of which (Marching to the New Wonderland and War of Invention) stretch across multiple seasons.
- Many fans of Escape from Vault Disney! believe the podcast considerably improved after the 5-month long hiatus imposed by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Reasons include a new intro and intermission music replacing the generic banjo music with impactful licks based on the "Walt Disney and You" VHS promos from the 80's, the transition from in-person only guests to Zoom allowing a more diverse and fun group of guests than whoever's near Tony Goldmark in Southern California, and the inclusion of the State of the Parks segment leading to interesting theme park discussion when needed.