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Strictly Formula
aka: Recycled Plot

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"They'd put a check after each gag that got a laugh and use it in the next picture. If a gag got a laugh in three pictures in a row, it became a standard and they'd use it in every picture after that. They had a real nuts-and-bolts approach to making films."
Lee Mishkin, a Famous Studios animator

Stories sometimes have a rigidly adhered-to structure. All the beats fall in the same place. All the characters do the things they are expected to do. The bad guys get got. They get got by the good guys, the same good guys as last week.

The good guys did the same kind of things they did last week to get the bad guys. There was one of three results: The bad guys died, went to prison, or were redeemed.

Reading a summary of the story, there is no difference between the last story and the current story, except for a few details about how the bad guys were bad and the specific techniques used by the good guys to "get" them. The Once an Episode events can often be predicted down to the minute.

Pretty dull, huh?

Why, then, is almost every one of the top-rated shows on TV like this? Why do romance novel series and detective novel series outsell works that follow a different pattern? Why do some even receive critical acclaim and awards?

Because people who read/view them are freed up from discerning the structure and can concentrate on the language and the details. The writer has gotten the shape of the story out of the way of the content of the story. Many Something-of-the-week shows express this trope to some extent, which can be both a strength and a weakness of that format. It begins to suck when the substance is so lacking that it seems like the formula is all that's there. And attempts to shake it up? They Changed It, Now It Sucks!

The few who read/view for the shape of the story might be left behind. By way of consolation, they are given everything that is not Strictly Formula.

It should also be worth noting that the inventor of great ideas that are much copied can sometimes retroactively acquire a reputation for being formulaic.

See also Status Quo Is God and Same Story, Different Names. Layout of a Season is the season-wide version of this.

Just watch out. Sometimes the formula isn't there, but just perceived by the general public. A classic case is how every protagonist in H. P. Lovecraft's work dies or goes insane in the end. Except that rarely happens. Then the formula becomes Common Knowledge, without ever really existing.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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  • Alexandre Cabanel:
    • Academicism enforces this trope by requiring perfect bodily proportions, flawless composition, and an idealistic aesthetic from any artwork. At the time, if the Academy rejected a piece, then it wasn't art. Cabanel mostly adhered to those principles in order to be allowed to do art but managed to squeeze originality into his works despite that; that's why he's chosen as the ultimate exponent of Academic Art.
    • The only time where he rebelled against this was during his formative years — when he painted The Fallen Angel as a student, his technique was not yet the absolute perfection the Academy demanded and his imprinting of emotions was deemed more appropriate for Romanticism than for Academicism (aka, The Enlightenment). Mind you, the idealization of emotions meant some degree of dispassion.

    Asian Animation 
  • Every episode of Pisi goes like this: Pisi the cat learns about some human item, such as a vehicle, when the narrator Shushu tells her about it. Pisi actually uses the item to help her friends when they need her to help later on, immediately after learning about the item.
  • Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf often falls into this. Wolffy tries to find a way to capture the goats, he gets really close to winning, and then the goats escape at the last minute. Though later seasons don't follow the formula as much.

    Comic Books 
  • During Brian Michael Bendis' run on Avengers, his formula was, "The Avengers are having a meeting, possibly catered, when someone bursts through the window. Plot ensues."
  • Some strips in The Beano follow or have followed a formula. For example Roger the Dodger always involves Roger coming up with a dodge to get out of something, usually work, and then that dodge fails and Roger ends up doing more work or in the old days getting beaten with a Slipper.
  • Many strips in Whizzer and Chips and other Fleetway comics involved a character with a gimmick eg. Val's Vanishing Cream (with Val and her vanishing cream which made things invisible) which followed a simple formula of Character with gimmick is having fun, a bully spoils that fun, Character uses gimmick to get back at bully and ends with gimmicky character having fun.
  • Jommeke: The series is notorious for repeating the same formulaic jokes again and again, going from Flip the parrot trying to be loved by an actual woman, only to be disappointed that she doesn't want him, to professor Gobelijn accidentally putting something in the town's water supply causing everybody to mutate into something. Jommeke is usually the only one who doesn't get contaminated because he never drinks from the tap.
  • Krazy Kat: Krazy Kat is in love with Ignatz. Ignatz zaps the cat with a brick and gets send to jail by Officer Pup who is sympathethic to Krazy Kat's cause.
  • The Outbursts of Everett True was a two-panel comic with a simple formula. The first panel has Everett running into some mean or annoying person who gets on his bad side. The second panel shows either Everett threatening and/or haranguing the nuisance, preparing to do so, or the aftermath of him giving them what-for.

    Fan Works 
  • Conversed about in relation to comic books in Calvin and Hobbes Get XTREME!:
    Hobbes: The heroes could write to the editor and request new plots. If they refuse, the editors get fried and killed.
  • Many of the chapters of My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic, especially in the first half of the fic, all go the same route: Lightning has to help a friend, one of Titan's minions and the Monster of the Week appear, Lightning charges at the monster and fails to even scratch it, his friend figures out a way to weaken it, Lightning finishes it with the Rainbow Rod, the minion flees and is scolded by Titan, "Everybody Laughs" Ending, and The Grand Ruler spells out An Aesop.
  • A Red Rose in the Blue Wind deconstructs what living life in a strictly formula way would feel like in its first chapter. It starts off with Sonic and friends engaging in their usual escapades with Eggman. When Sonic reaches Eggman, he lays out the basic formula of how their adventures have been going lately.* The deconstruction is that the excitement-craving Sonic no longer finds fighting Eggman fun now that he think he knows exactly how it will play out while Eggman is also sick of how he can never beat Sonic and is attempting to move to another planet just to actually have a chance of starting the Eggman Empire.
  • Sleeping with the Girls and its sequel Sleeping With the Girls: Chaos Theory play it semi-straight, but avert this. The Self-Insert (keep reading) is hopping between worlds that typically operate under "Strictly Formula" rules. Being from the "Real" world, he can see these conventions playing out and has played with them in order to accomplish his goals. To prove this, he was able to talk Washu through one of the oldest perverted jokes in anime history, the Perverted Walk Innote . He is able to do this to the second, pointing out every single part of the joke and how it works.
  • No matter what you think of him, fanfiction author Shadowlugia249 (infamous in the fanfiction mocking community) seems to follow a very strict formula in many of his stories: loner protagonist hates his life, buys a toy in the form of an animal from a video game and gets transformed into said character by magic. After his transformation said loner is always happier with his life. This is a more jarring example, especially to those outside the small niche he's aiming these fics at.
  • Eogrus, who made a lot of semi-Slash Fanfics pretended to be Rated K+ or T.
    • Sometimes that have some same plot, that either a character wants to have sex because they have permission, they are old their final wish is to have sex, or "fate" says so, or reversed or zig-zagged with other characters doing the same thing but with different types of sex.
    • If it's a Slash-Action fanfic, they may turn evil and tortured their main character with their crap over some Freudian Excuse that didn't happen in their Canon.
    • If it's Drama with some Slash elements, it may have a character have a sex change for unknown and unexplained events, and have some sex at the end.
  • Later episodes of The Loud House: Revamped go in a very specific plotline:
    • After the intro (which often includes Lincoln adopting someone), Team Loud Phoenix Storm rescues someone with Curb-Stomp Battle, led by Nico. Then Lincoln rescues several girls with his team. The girls immediately fall in love with him. Then the team goes into Gym, performing impossible amount of excercises, followed by Lincoln going on a date with his harem. Throughout the chapter, the team reads at least one page of villains from the Wiki with the team being shocked and horrified. Then, the team proceeds to curb stomp enemies with several "usual battles", followed by defeating the main villain. After the villain is defeated, the team enjoys the rest of their day and goes back to sleep. Transformation sequences happen in almost every chapter and they play out in very similar fashion.

    Films — Animation 
  • During the 1990s, Disney had a very successful run from 1989 up until 1994, but after that they were often accused of enforcing this trope. Rebellious princesses who want to marry for love, heroines looking for something beyond what they know, bumbling or fantasy-forbidding fathers, bad guys falling off great heights. Pocahontas especially was accused of adhering to Disney formula, which admittedly is not entirely untrue. Ironically though, the problem seems to have been that all these movies came out in succession, as every single movie of the Disney Renaissance has been Vindicated by History and is now well-loved (some more than others: Pocahontas is still not thought of as a great movie, and The Rescuers Down Under has gained a cult following but isn't anywhere near mainstream).
  • Four consecutive Disney films had a formula of their own: Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia all ditched the classic, Obviously Evil Disney villains in favor of keeping the identity of the Big Bad as a climactic plot twisting reveal, which fans eventually began to expect. The latter three films added to the formula by having another character serve as a decoy villain to further obfuscate the Big Bad's true identity. The trend was broken by Moana, which had a different kind of villain twist: the Big Bad (established as such early on rather than being revealed at the last minute) turns out to be the Big Good, corrupted into a monster for want of the very Macguffin Moana is trying to replace.
  • DreamWorks Animation has also been accused of enforcing this trope in most of their CGI-animated movies during the 2000s: in the beginning, the main character is an outcast (or at the very least is "different"). Throughout the film he becomes a better person. In the end, he saves the day and everyone accepts him for who he is. Add bonus points for pop culture references, fart jokes, gratuitous Celebrity Voice Actors, and the occasional DreamWorks Face, and you're good to go. They later outgrew it, but it's since been adopted by every other CGI animation studio, while DreamWorks has joined Disney and Pixar in the ranks of companies that know there's more to an animated film than that.
  • While this doesn't apply to the films themselves, the teaser posters for Sony Pictures Animation films have followed the formula of main-character(s)-looking-at-main-setting-or-plot-point-with-backs-turned-toward-the-viewer. The poster for the first Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs shows Flint joyously looking at the falling food. The poster for The Smurfs features Papa, Smurfette, and Clumsy spectating New York City from the top of a building. The poster for Arthur Christmas shows Arthur and Evie staring up at his dad's sleigh. The poster for Hotel Transylvania shows some of Drac's friends looking at the titular hotel. The teaser poster for Smurfs: The Lost Village shows some of the Smurfs exploring the Forbidden Forest.
  • An in-universe example in The LEGO Movie with the hit TV show "Where Are My Pants?", which consists entirely of a minifigure asking "Honey, where are my paaaaants?". It's the #1 show in Bricksburg (although, as far as we know, it's the only show).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Justified and deconstructed in The Cabin in the Woods, where there's a massive conspiracy making people follow the strict formula of horror movies because that formula is actually the guidelines for a human sacrifice ritual, and all the right beats need to be hit in order to keep the Ancient Ones satisfied.
  • The Daimajin trilogy follows the same plot in all three films: in feudal Japan, a tyrannical warlord is terrorizing some poor village(s), who call upon their stone guardian god, the titular Daimajin, for help, and he awakens and proceeds to effortlessly demolish their enemies.note 
  • The Indiana Jones films. They start with Indy on an adventure to acquire a treasure that's unrelated to the MacGuffin. After this he will receive a briefing that kicks the main plot into motion, detailing a supernatural object of myth and why it's important that the villains don't get it. He will then visit various exotic locales and use clues to discover the whereabouts of the aforementioned object, fighting the villains as well as picking up a girl and sidekick as he does so. The sidekick or girl (or both) will get captured at some point and Indy will have to rescue them. Indy himself will also be captured at some point, but escape. There will be a prolonged one-on-one fist fight with a guy working for the villains, as well as a chase scene. The Big Bad will eventually get their hands on the MacGuffin, generally by following Indy to it, only to be killed by their own greed or recklessness. Any remaining plot points will then be resolved, and the film will end on an upbeat note.
  • The James Bond movies. First, there's the gun barrel, then a teaser (which might not be related to the plot and often instead depict Bond on another mission); credits with dancing silhouettes and a song from a popular artist; mission briefing by M or a surrogate character; a further briefing with Q regarding gadgets and weapons available for use (though this was averted for the first Daniel Craig Bond film); Bond usually gets involved with a Bond Girl and a female henchman; Bond gambles with the villain; henchmen ordered to kill Bond; female henchman dies; Bond enters the villain's base (voluntarily or captured); the villain reveals his plans (sometimes over dinner); and Bond foils the plans and gets away — along with the Bond Girl — from the Collapsing Lair. Sometimes he must survive one final confrontation with a surviving henchman. And there's always a Chase Scene, many times involving a helicopter. There are numerous Bond films that break the formula, of course:
    • There is no romance with the Bond girl and no female henchman in Quantum of Solace.
    • There is no actual Bond girl in Skyfall beyond a briefly seen secondary character.
    • The Bond girl dies in On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Casino Royale (2006).
    • Q does not appear in Live and Let Die, Casino Royale (2006) or Quantum of Solace. It is perhaps not a coincidence that most aversions to the Bond formula have taken place during periods of reinvention for the character.
    • The World Is Not Enough has Elektra King as the first Bond Girl who's also the main villain.
    • Licence to Kill has one of the biggest breaks from formula in having it take entirely in the US and Latin America, having Bond be motivated entirely by revenge in bringing down Sanchez, and Q having a larger role beyond his usual one-scene cameos.
    • Q getting a larger role beyond a One-Scene Wonder became a standard feature beginning with Ben Wishaw's Q in Skyfall.
    • The Bond girl is always a one-off character who appears for that movie and never returns again. For a long time, the sole exception to this was Sylvia Trench, who was in Dr. No and then had a small part in From Russia with Love. Madeleine Swann became the first time a main Bond Girl returned for a second movie, coming back for No Time to Die after appearing in Spectre.
  • The Bourne Series:
    • Jason Bourne (or Aaron Cross) is constantly on the run from corrupt CIA bosses who want him dead to tie up loose ends about yet another unethical black ops program.
    • They hunt him down from a command room with multiple people spying on cameras anywhere in the world, but he always manages to outsmart them and disappear.
    • There's a chase on foot with some Le Parkour.
    • Then a vehicular chase with intense Car Fu.
    • Then an intense Improv Fu fight with the main killer the CIA sent after him.
    • The dirty laundry of the corrupt CIA boss gets exposed.
    • Moby's "Extreme Ways" plays in the ending credits.
  • Star Wars
    Lucas: It’s like poetry, it rhymes.
  • The folks at RedLetterMedia noticed something remarkable about Michael Bay's Transformers movies - if you start the first three at the same time, they sync.
  • As a rule, even avowed non-fans of the genre can effortlessly summarize the plot of any modern Romantic Comedy (eg. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Hitch, et al), purely on the basis that it's... a Romantic Comedy. After just enough setup to introduce our couple and whatever negligible flaws they might (supposedly) have, they'll Meet Cute, then some misunderstanding will drive them apart just long enough to raise the Will They or Won't They? question, which is answered at the end of the film with a definite and invariable They Will. The most critically well-regarded movies in the genre are those that break from the formula in some way:
    • (500) Days of Summer features romantic leads with flaws much deeper than simply being charmingly clumsy or comically workaholic, deconstructs many of the genre's common devices, and ends with both main characters breaking it off and choosing other partners.
    • Celeste and Jesse Forever has the couple already broken up when the film starts, but still living together and being almost in denial about it. They both get some Character Development with the guy becoming less immature and the woman becoming less of a control freak, but ultimately grow too far apart to rekindle things and move on to different people.
  • The Friday the 13th series didn't actually settle down into its formula of "Jason shows up to kill a bunch of horny teens" until about the third entry, as in the first film Jason wasn't the killer at all, and in the second film his identity wasn't revealed until quite late on, and he looked significantly different to his later appearances. After that the formula generally held true with some small variations for the following films.
  • Every Final Destination movie features someone getting a vision of themselves and other people dying in a big accident. They save themselves and about eight or so other people from it, only for them all to die in horrible ways in the order they would have died in the accident. Failure Is the Only Option because puny humans can't cheat Death.
  • Live action movies based on cartoons (or in some cases, video games with cartoon-style characters in them) tend to follow the same formula and have the same features:

  • AC/DC is often accused of being formulaic, but they actually embrace it. Once they defended themselves: "People say all our ten albums are the same. They actually mean eleven, because they always forget our live album."
  • Played for Laughs in The Axis of Awesome's songs "How To Write A Love Song" and "4 Chord Song" where they point out the long standing formula for R&B-style love songs and pop songs, respectively.
  • Britney Spears avoids this for the most part, but the biggest hits from her first two studio albums, "...Baby One More Time" and "Oops!...I Did It Again", follow a similar structure even if the songs themselves are entirely distinct. Each one features a classic verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge pattern with so many different songs. What makes the songs noticeably similar is how they end. After the bridge, there's a revamped version of the chorus followed by the main chorus, and then the very last is the two versions of the chorus being sung at the same time. Even better is that in both songs, the ends of each chorus perfectly sync together.
  • In the over 30 years that Cannibal Corpse has been releasing albums, they have had no real meaningful stylistic shifts. When someone buys a Cannibal Corpse album, they know what they're getting: a bunch of fast, thrashy death metal songs plus a few slower, more groovy or atmospheric tracks, and (depending on what Pat O'Brien was feeling during the writing process) maybe a Technical Death Metal song or two, all set to lyrics describing all sorts of depraved deaths, tortures, and mutilations. While most albums have some sort of individual motif or feel to distinguish them, that largely depends on who did the bulk of the writing, and they won't feature any major deviations from their established style. They have been accused of being formulaic due to this, but the typical fan response is that while they may be predictable, they're so good at what they do and have such strong chemistry as writers that it doesn't matter.
  • Dismember had only had one major change in their career, that being focusing a lot on Melodic Death Metal. And even then it only became slightly more noticeable as they kept their famous buzzsaw-like guitar tone throughout the years.
  • The Ramones made formula into a concept. Throughout their entire career they played the same kind of Three Chords and the Truth songs about similar topics and wore the same leather jackets and ripped jeans. This was also a decision on behalf of Joey, who suffered from OCD and needed things to be the same.
  • Rare in-universe music example with KMFDM, whose lyrics frequently joke about how they’re releasing the same album over and over again (“Nothing new, it’s the same old shit / if it works this good why fuck with it”). It’s kind of an Informed Attribute since they do evolve their sound, but it’s done gradually enough (they have a whopping 22 studio albums, so if they stick with a sound for a few years that may well be three entire albums) that you might not notice how much they’ve changed until you compare two albums from eight years apart.
  • The Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller song "Along Came Jones" is a gentle mocking of this trope, with the Dastardly Whiplash villain Salty Sam menacing the heroine Sweet Sue and being thwarted by the eponymous cowboy hero over and over again. Ray Stevens' version includes this comment from Sue:
    Sweet Sue: He's tyin' me up again, same routine...
  • Weezer's Green Album uses extremely similar song structures throughout. A lot these are things that are typical of pop songs in general, but there are specific repeated quirks like having the guitar solo reiterate the verse melody note for note (every song on the album) or starting the song with a guitar lead that is later echoed as a vocal melody in the bridge later on (six out of the album's ten songs). Even B-Side tracks from the same era tend to do this.
  • All of Wesley Willis' songs are essentially the same song, just with different lyrics. They all follow the same structure; intro, first verse, chorus consisting entirely of the song's title repeated four to six times, second verse, chorus again, long instrumental section, third verse, final chorus, "Rock over London, rock on Chicago", random advertising slogan, outro. Most of his songs also carry the same pattern from Technics KN-2000, specifically named "Folk Rock 1", which later became the reason for some fans to buy that exact keyboard to perform his songs.
  • Kurt Cobain used to say that all his sins followed the same format: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Solo, Bad Solo, Verse, Chorus.
  • Nightrage definitely fit this trope. If you turn on an album from them, you know exactly what you're getting each time: blazing fast melodic death metal emulating the style of 90s In Flames with sparse clean vocals and soaring riffs. Their sound has not changed at all in the over 20 years they've been releasing music, and though they've been criticized for being derivative and outdated thanks to this, many fans love them due to finding their adherence to a bygone sound nostalgic and being one of the sole big names in death metal still playing the Gothenburg style completely unaltered.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Its first ten years saw Zenjo become known for having foreign 'outsiders' brutalize the local wrestlers to championship acquisition, especially in tag team competition. Other perpetrators of this formula included Capitol Sport Promotions in Puerto Rico, specifically in matches with Carlos Colon, staring with Canadian\Sudanese champion Abdullah the Butcher and that other All Japan with its "Four Pillars"(Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Kenta Kobashi, Akira Taue) during the 1990s.
  • Since its inception, Ring of Honor has recruited wrestlers who were either fans of or trained extensively in Japanese strong style. This leads critics to complain about singles matches following a feeling out wrestling process-high impact pro wrestling moves-exploit opened weaknesses-go for pin formula. Of course when someone different comes in, such as British chain wrestlers Douglas Williams and Nigel McGuinness or the Capoeira of TaDarius Thomas, a different set of critics will complain about how "awkward" they look and count down the number of shows it takes them to adapt to strong style wrestling.
  • The main angle of TNA is that operating unhindered is simply the time in between the sieges of the promotion, which include Sports Entertainment Xtreme, "The Kings Of Wrestling"* to Planet Jarrett, the Main Event Mafia, Immortal, Aces And Eights, The Director Of Wrestling Operations to the Almighty Beat Down Clan and GFW.
  • Dragon Gate is known for actively promoting division in the ranks of its roster. Unfortunately, because Good Is Dumb, the common formula is that The Bad Guy Wins over the baby face power stables only for further division in the victorious group via heel face turns.
  • One of the central reasons why WWE's The Authority angle is so unpopular is the feeling that they induce this on every show they take a prominent role on, which has been almost all of them since they formed in 2013. Almost every episode begins with a member of the Authority, or occasionally the face they're feuding with, cutting a promo, which will usually be interrupted by their enemy, usually setting up both the episode's main event, and the next match. Then the show ends with the main event, which will almost always end with the Authority heel either scoring a cheap victory or a disqualification/no-contest when a different heel interferes. Even in the occasional event that the face actually wins, the episode will almost always end with the Authority beating down the faces and standing tall.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss: Every Season 2 episode follows this format:
    • The Cat in the Hat invites the viewer inside.
    • The Cat visits Terrence McBird, whom he and the Little Cats then get him to participate in an activity of some sort they are doing, but he refuses to try. In the middle of this, the Cat in the Hat presents two stories that either take place in Seussville, the Jungle of Nool, or the Kingdom of Didd.
    • At the end of it all, the Cat in the Hat sings "Just Shout Hooray", sometimes being accompanied by the Little Cats and/or Terrence.
  • The Hoobs, another UK Henson preschooler show: The Hoobs have a problem which leads to them asking a question. Hubba-Hubba appears on screen to declare that an answer to this question would make an excellent entry in the Hoobipedia. They attempt various solutions, inspired by (in order) asking the Tiddley-Peeps (children), reading an animated story Hubba-Hubba found on Hoobnet, asking Roma the roving reporter, and asking some different Tiddley-Peeps. This final suggestion proves to be the correct one, and the Motorettes sing a song about it before the Hoobs give their report to Hubba-Hubba. Some episodes play with the formula; for instance when the question was "How can we get the Hoobmobile from the island it's stuck on?", it was Roma who talked to the Tiddley-Peeps, because the others were trapped.
  • Quite a few recurring Sesame Street segments, both classic and contemporary, tend to follow a basic plot formula, usually with little or no variation, though there are often exceptions:
    • The Super Grover segments usually were played out in the same way: Super Grover detects a problem while flying in the air (it could be two kids fighting over something, a boy being afraid to get his hair cut, or even a girl's computer not turning on), then dives down to the "problem," often crashing into something in the landing, and when he is told of the problem, he usually comes up with a ridiculous explanation or solution (sometimes like dancing around going "Wubba Wubba!"), only for the child to solve his or her problem by him/herself. Naturally, Super Grover takes the credit.
    • In at least two of the books, Super Grover made things worse. In one he attempted to save one of his friends from an evil witch that was threatening her. The problem? The witch wasn't real, it was a play, and he utterly ruined it for her. She is shown to be extremely angry at him at the end of the story. In the other, he is fishing with friends when he notices that the boat is leaking very, very slightly. His solution? Pick the boat up out of the water and deposit it back on Sesame Street, wrecking it.
    • The Sesame Street News segments also followed a basic formula to many of them: after the "NEWS FLASH" intro logo and music, we fade to the "news scene" where Kermit the Frog, clad in a reporters' trenchcoat, hat and microphone, is talking to someone off-camera or facing the wrong way or doing something else not related to his duty, before realizing he is on camera and begins his report. Everything goes smoothly as he interviews who he is supposed to, but then halfway into the report, things begin to go wrong (usually with the fairy tale/nursery rhyme being parodied in the sketch not going as it traditionally does), and something bad typically happens to Kermit. The segment then ends with Kermit, usually embarrassed or somewhat shaken up, returning the viewers to the "regularly-scheduled program."
    • Elmo's World has such a strict formula that the main Sesame Street segment has parodied it as "Cookie's World".
    • Since the "Blocks" era (2002–2006), each episode has followed the same distinct pattern (which varies by season). The street stories are condensed into one block and shown at the beginning, while either Elmo's World or Elmo the Musical is shown at the tail end. Starting in Season 38 and lasting until Season 45, Murray opened each show by talking to real people who demonstrated "the Word on the Street" and, starting with Season 40, would announce the sponsors at the end.
  • Sesame Tree, the Northern Ireland co-production of Sesame Street: Potto and Hilda have a problem (or in season two, Archie arrives with a problem). The Big Whizzing Machine receives a message from a kid asking about something related to the problem. The Bookworms find a book that sends Hilda to visit a school. Potto uses his computer to watch a relevant Sesame Street "kids around the world" segment and Muppet sketch. Potto gets a phone call from Hilda leading to a segment about how the kids at the school she's visiting deal with the problem. They realise they can now solve their problem, and answer the question.

  • Believe It!, Richard Wilson's "radiography" on BBC Radio 4. Every episode of the first season opens with Richard describing a scene from his childhood. This is then enacted with Young Richard played by David Tennant, and leads to someone's death. This death haunts Richard, leading to an event in his adulthood (playing himself) involving someone famous, which almost certainly didn't happen. The second season shakes it up a bit.
  • Bobby Pickett and Peter Ferrera's Star Drek mercilessly lampshades the conventions and formulas of Star Trek:
    Captain Jerk: Into the elevator, Mr. Schlock. Let's beam down to the planet's surface so I can find an alien to fall in love with before the program's over.
    Schlock: You usually do.
    Captain Jerk: (laughs) Ain't I something?

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Joyce Grenfell's "Writer of Children's Books" monologue, in which the author explains how she writes her books and seems entirely unaware she's just described writing the same book twice, only the children have different names and are on holiday in a different place. The implication seems to be that all her books are like this.

  • LEGO BIONICLE in its early years ('01-'03). The six heroes are a given - the Big Bad unleashes something bad - the village elders somehow know all about said bad things - heroes collect stuff - they go underground to defeat the current boss. Thankfully later years did away with this concept, and gave justification for the elders' secret knowledge. This argument is also frequently brought up when someone berates Bionicle's "replacement" line, Hero Factory for being too darn formulaic and predictable, though in the latter's case, that was the point, since LEGO wanted to avoid another overly-complex and difficult to follow storyline.
    • One of the Bionicle comics from 2003 even lampshaded the stories becoming a little formulaic:
    Lewa: Has anyone else noticed that every time we go underground, something really bad happens?
    Tahu: Yes, Lewa, we have all noticed.
    • The toys also changed noticeably back then (it was part of a general shift at Lego due to bankruptcy). Bionicle toys started shifting a lot away from the rest of Lego, with tons of unique, space-filling parts that meant that they couldn't be rebuilt into many things. That took a lot of the wonder and excitement out of it.
    • Another entry for the toys is the dreaded "Inika build", named after the Toa Inika sets from 2006. Almost all Toa and various other canister sets released between '06 and '09 followed the same general body-plan, using mostly the same LEGO pieces, while earlier series tended to variate the builds every year or so. Hero Factory did away with this almost entirely with its second set-line.

    Visual Novels 
  • So far with the Ace Attorney series, you have:
    • A case where either the lawyer the player controls being new, gaining amnesia or otherwise rusty who covers a case of utmost importance that leads to a plot point that will become very important later on. The culprit is usually shown in the intro in addition to being completely obvious. Justified in that this is the obligatory Tutorial Mode.
    • Two cases that are almost always unrelated to said plot points from the first case the player has to solve, one of which involves defending/prosecuting someone famous or is otherwise very high profile.
    • Another case that either related to the regulars or the player, will almost always throw back to the plot point in the aforementioned first case and usually has something to do with some kind of dilemma the regular in question has, solving it by the end.
    • Charley the plant. Or (step)ladders.
    • Sometimes a bonus case that either further relates to, or shoots a throwback of, the aforementioned plot point.
    • Sometimes having one of the regulars be accused of some kind of crime the player will have to defend them for or prosecute against with an exception or so that the regular had really did it, which may overlap with points 1-3.
    • At least one villain of the final case is always the worst in their respective entry.
    • The same is always done with all the characters too, as they will always be one of the following:
      • Normal, uninvolved: usually an assistant or protagonist with wacky hair. (e.g. Phoenix, Maya, Trucy, etc.)
      • Enemy prosecutor/detective; aggressive, has a defining characteristic (e.g. famous guitarist Klavier, coffee addict with visor Godot, German sadist with a whip Von Karma, etc. etc.)
      • Dim Judge: only serves to give you a game over, always take the side of the obvious big bad and give the defense/prosecution an excuse to spell everything out.
      • Normal, bland; usually defendant or common witness who is uninteresting (but still has a wacky personality), only exists so you have a case or so you have more than one person to tear apart in court. Only notably subverted for Matt Engarde, who is actually the villain hiding behind a dumb persona (e.g. attention-seeking Larry Butz, who only occasionally proves useful).
      • Minor but antagonistic; obviously guilty of something, if there's a reveal of their actions/past/M.O. they'll serve as a red herring for the real killer or padding out plot. (e.g. Wendy Oldbag claims to be a key witness, actually only a time wasting, attention seeking old gossip in all of her appearances).
      • Big Bad: behind it all, obviously guilty not far into court questioning, will quickly jump between "innocent" and "angry" emotions, will always pull the evidence card on you even though they confess with their exaggerated responses - for some reason, changing back to innocent mode and demanding evidence instantly removes all suspicion. Almost always hoist by their own petard by confession only, whether it's an unintentional (e.g. Villainous Breakdown) or intentional (e.g. Engarde confessing for protection).
  • Danganronpa has one for the murders/cases:
    • Chapter 1/1st murder: A heavily advertised character, one presented as important to the plot and/or who seems to have ties to previous casts and has Plot Armor, gets killed/executed. (The first game has Sayaka, who was played as the Deuteragonist and Love Interest; the second has Togami, who was a survivor from the previous game, or so the fans were led to believe; the interquel has Yuta, sister of Aoi from the first game; the anime has Chisa, who is important in Side:Despair but is the first to die in Side:Future; the third game has Rantaro, who is played up as a suspicious person and has an unknown talent in a similar way to past survivors such as Kyoko and Hajime. The third game also has Kaede, who turns out to be the first murderer (except not) and a Decoy Protagonist.) The first attempt at murder doesn't kill the intended target (Sayaka was trying to kill Leon but got killed herself, Teruteru was aiming for Nagito, Kaede tried to kill the mastermind). The first execution is usually one of the most brutal to set the tone.
    • Chapter 2/2nd murder: A murder occurs because someone flew off the handle, sometimes because of their past (Mondo/Chihiro, Peko/Mahiru, Kirumi/Ryouma). Usually tragic. The killer tends to have connections with a criminal gang. A Serial Killer/multiple murderer becomes involved but turns out to be innocent (Genocide Jack/Jill/Syo, Sparkling Justice, Maki and/or Korekiyo).
    • Chapter 3/3rd murder: Double murder, two victims are found (Kiyotaka/Hifumi, Ibuki/Hiyoko, Seiko/Sonosuke, Angie/Tenko), with one of the victims being a comic relief character getting shooed out. Character with Nonstandard Character Design is dead by this point (Hifumi, Teruteru, Bandai, Ryoma). The killer tends to be the one unsympathetic killer (Celeste kills for her selfish dream and money, Mikan kills for despair-induced "love", Ruruka kills her own boyfriend to save her own ass, and Korekiyo kills for his... relationship with his dead sister.)
    • Chapter 4/4th murder: Big Guy Fatality Syndrome is in full effect (Sakura, Nidai, Gozu (though he was only the second death) and Juzo, Gonta), with The Big Guy accepting their death. The trial ends in a Tear Jerker and the death was committed for a noble cause (end the internal conflict of the group, get the group out of the funhouse, save Kokichi's life and protect everyone from the truth about the outside world). In addition, The Big Guy can be considered a victim and a culprit of the case at the same time, as Sakura commits suicide, Nekomaru becomes the victim as a part of a Suicide Pact duel with Gundham, and Gonta, in spite of murdering Miu, is merely an Unwitting Pawn of Kokichi, the true mastermind behind the murder, with the game making it clear that Gonta was a victim as much as Miu was.
    • Chapter 5/5th murder: Played up as the final chapter, complete with remix of the investigation theme. Two of the main characters are in danger, pretty much sought out by the mastermind (Kyouko and Makoto, Nagito and Chiaki, Maki and Kokichi). The murder is part of a trap/larger plan rather than an end in itself (stop Kyouko's investigation, kill the Despair members, fool the mastermind). The class trial is blatantly unfair (Monokuma himself is the culprit, and he forces a premature voting time; the blackened "culprit" is randomized and unidentifiable; the victim is unidentifiable and the primary suspect is allowed to remain anonymous in the class trial). The death of the final victim is always the most brutal and gruesome one, but it sets the stage for the Killing Game ending once and for all. (In the first, Mukuro is impaled several times all over her body by spears and then her corpse is blown up. In the second, Nagito maims himself, which includes stabbing his thighs several times, cutting off a part of the skin in his arm and stabbing his other hand, just so he can be poisoned and then impaled in the gut by a spear. In the third, Kokichi Oma is crushed to death with a hydraulic press). The trial ends in the execution of a character among the main group (Makoto, Chiaki, Kyouko, Kaito), which doesn’t go as planned (Alter Ego hijacks the Death Trap and saves Makoto, Chiaki and Monomi are A.I.s so they can’t really die, Kyouko has an antidote handy, and Kaito succumbs to his illness before the execution is complete) and the last victim is the secondary antagonist (Mukuro, Nagito, Kokichi).
    • Chapter 6/Final trial: The Mastermind is revealed, and the truth of the Ontological Mystery comes out. It's usually a person that no one expected (Junko Enoshima, Hajime/Izuru Kamukura and Junko again, Monaca Towa and Shiro/Kurokuma, Kazuo Tengan, Tsumugi Shirogane and Team Danganronpa). Said mastermind is the leader of, or affiliated with, an evil organization (Ultimate Despair, Remnants Of Despair, Warriors Of Hope, Future Foundation (or some parts of it, anyway), Team Danganronpa). Junko turns out to be behind it all, directly or indirectly. The rug is pulled out from beneath the surviving cast, leaving them close to the Despair Event Horizon by the revelation of what led to the killing game, which reveals the setting and plot to be completely different from what it seemed. The Hero uses the power of hope (or disappointment in Shuichi’s case) to defeat the villain anyway.
    • In a grimly amusing example, even the very first killing game shown in Side:Despair runs through the above plot points in the 5 minutes that it lasted. Ikuta, the most outspoken member, gets shot point blank by Mukuro to get the other kids to play along. Karen goes off the handle once when she figures out her mom's been kidnapped. Tsubasa and Taro get killed by a very bitter Kurosaki. Hino actively antagonized Kamukura, and had the grimmest death out of the cast through getting his head torn up by falling on his own chainsaw. The mastermind was once again Junko, a girl who wasn't involved with the student council at all, and it's revealed afterward to Kamakura that the whole thing was being used to brainwash people into despair through an altered video of their deaths. They even have a missing member; when it was all over, Murasame managed to escape without anyone noticing.
    • There are also some general Once an Episode occurrences/character archetypes that aren’t limited to a single chapter. In each installment, the protagonist can be identified as the one with an ahoge, to the point where a previously-non protagonist character (Toko Fukawa) gains one upon being Promoted to Playable, and Shuichi’s ahoge was obscured underneath his hat just to hide his status as the true protagonist. Other character archetypes include: a character with a Non-Standard Character Design who dies early in the story (Hifumi, Teruteru, Daisuke, Ryoma); a sexy dark-skinned girl who’s name starts with an A (Aoi, Akane, Angie); a Gentle Giant who dies eventually (Sakura, Nekomaru, Gozu, Gonta); a character who doesn’t remember their talent (Kyoko, Hajime, Rantaro); a “nerdy” character (Hifumi, Chiaki, Komaru, Ryota, Tsumugi); a character who gets executed despite committing no crime (Alter Ego, Monomi, Kaede); and a Cute and Psycho female Big Bad, usually Junko but also Monaca and Tsumugi, though they are not necessarily the only Big Bad.
  • Each of the Romance Games of Voltage, Inc. assembles its cast of potential love interests from a pool of seven established archetypes: the confident alpha male, the Defrosting Ice Queen, the Nice Guy, The Quiet One, the Handsome Lech, the immature Keet, and the older guy. Each archetype has its own sliding scale of variations, and types may overlap or combine depending on the size of a given game's cast, but it's very rare indeed for any of the company's games to feature a love interest who can't be easily and accurately identified as one of the seven - often before the game is even out.
  • Choices: Stories You Play:
    • The releases in 2019 have turned into this, especially from April onward. Each new series is released every month, always stars a female protagonist (with only three new releases featuring a gender customizable protagonist) and each one is heavily (if not, purely) romance-based. There are three love interests for the main character: a white male that is usually forced on our protagonist and receives the most screentime, a less prominent second male love interest that usually fits the role of "best friend" and a token female love interest that receives the least screentime (and when she does appear, she's usually paywalled). The plot revolves around something generic involving the protagonist (reporting for a news station, being a singer, visiting family for a summer vacation, attending a bachelorette party, parenthood etc.) that could have worked just as well with a male protagonist (but every "gender-locked" book always has to have a female protagonist for some reason). Each book has reused character designs for many characters (even the main character) and each book is a standalone (with only two new releases ending up being serialized).
    • 2023 saw its releases slip into this as well. Not only do most books star an always female protagonist (with only three new releases featuring a gender customizable protagonist) and each one is heavily (if not, purely) romance-based, this time there is only one love interest who is gender customizable (even in the new releases with gender customizable protagonists, with only two new releases featuring more than one love interest). Also, most books are rated 17+ for sexual content, especially in the second half (with only four not having this rating) and the plot for most books with gender-locked protagonists revolve around Forbidden Love.

  • Suicide for Hire has a clear pattern of story arcs. Arc and Hunter come across their next client, client tells a long and sordid tale of why they want to die, Arc tries to get the client to reconsider, client does something stupid that convinces Arc that they're hopeless, Hunter plots their client's Karmic Death and makes sure they follow through.

    Web Original 
  • The Annoying Orange: A new character is introduced to the kitchen, Orange annoys the new character, then the new character gets killed.
  • Geography Now: Paul first talks about the flagnote , and then in order political geography, physical geography, demographics and international relationships.
  • GoAnimate "grounded" videos: a person gets into trouble, and the viewer always knows how it turns out: "OHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHOH! [troublemaker's name]! How dare you [troublemaker's misdeed]! That's it! You are grounded, grounded, grounded for [abnormally long period of time]! Go to your room now!" "Wah-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-ah."
  • Life Hacks For Kids: There's always three hacks per episode, except when she feels like adding a fourth hack. "That's it for this episode - oh wait! I still have one more!"
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic parody video "Friendship is Magic, bitch" is this, at least for the first one. Complaints are filed, and Celestia listens. Then she asks a simple question that determines how she responds, which all lead to the same outcome: "Do you like bananas?"
    • Yes: "So you're a bitch that likes bananas? Well guess what? YOU'RE ABOUT TO GO BANANAS, ON THE MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONAH! BEEEEEEEEYITCH!"
    • No: "So you're a bitch that doesn't like bananas? Well guess what? YOU WON'T FIND ANY BANANAS, ON THE MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONAH! BEEEEEEEEYITCH!"
    • No answer: "You're a bitch that doesn't know whether or not you like bananas? Well guess what? I KNOW WHERE YOU CAN FIND OUT! ON THE MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONAH! BEEEEEEEEYITCH!"
  • Phelous: Phelous talks in a monotone, sarcastic voice about a video that irritates him. Occasionally he puts on a goofy face.
  • Most SuperMarioLogan videos follow two simple, sometimes click-bait formulas:
    • Mario and Jeffy, and sometimes Rosalina, sitting on the couch with Jeffy doing something annoying, then they talk for a while. Throw in some stuff in there, like Mario taking Jeffy to someplace like McDonald's, Jeffy getting a new toy, you get the idea. Then Jeffy causes some sort of bad thing that contributes to the plot, and Mario has to fix it in time. Then the video ends with a plot twist or Here We Go Again! scheme. In the case of the babysitter videos, Mario hires some character to babysit Jeffy while he takes care of a problem or emergency, and Jeffy starts annoying the character with his usual shtick.
    • Junior and his friends Joseph and Cody sitting on the couch, sometimes watching TV. Then they get into a conversation, with some repetitive savage Running Gags and fillers here and there (e.g. Joseph mentioning his dead mom/poor home life or Junior making fun of Cody's mom and calling her a pig/whale/cow), and Junior does something stupid. Then there's more filler where they ask Chef Pee Pee for help or try to fix it or Brooklyn T. Guy comes over or something, and to top it all off, the video ends with a plot twist spoiler or, to a lesser extent, another savage joke. In the case of the "KEN" videos, Cody's imaginary boyfriend Ken gets lost or is split from Cody, which causes him to break down into tears, and Junior and Joseph try to fix whatever happened that caused Cody to cry uncontrollably.
  • Thrilling Adventure Hour: The "Captain Laserbeam" and "Moonshine Holler" segments.
    • The Adventures of Captain Laserbeam start with the Captain doing some bit of charity work for Apex City only to get called to action by the Adventurekateers. With the Adventurekateers, Captain Laserbeam rattles off various possible villains of the week trying to work out who actually is there, in the process going through various random bantering with the Adventurekateers. Teaming up with other heroes is discussed, as is the Adventurekateers going into action and being flatly rebuffed before Captain Laserbeam goes after the villain himself. Villain puts Captain Laserbeam in a deathtrap, only for the various ramblings of the Adventurekateers to give the Captain a burst of Heroic Resolve. The villain cries This Cannot Be!, and gets arrested by Captain Laserbeam.
    • Down in Moonshine Holler starts with Banjo Bindlestuff and Gummy riding the rails to the wherever the Hobo Princess was sighted last. There, Banjo sees a Damsel in Distress he may or may not initially mistake for the Hobo Princess he seeks. He seeks to help her with her problems, but runs into the dilemma of whether or not to access the vast wealth he renounced, knowing it would doom his chances with the Hobo Princess, and having to resolve the problems in the Hobo Way. Upon doing so, the saved Damsel gives him a kiss on his sooty cheek, invites him to stay with her, only for Banjo to politely refuse and continue his journey. Also, at least Once an Episode, Banjo will insist he absolutely is not vanished millionaire Jasper Manorlodge.
  • Creepypasta tend to be fairly similar to each other, largely due to Follow the Leader being in play. This is especially notable in the case of "haunted video game" creepypasta, which copy so heavily from the most famous stories that they are all nearly the same. Expect to see the story begin with the main character buying a beat-up old copy of an old game they played as a kid to experience a bit of nostalgia, then find that the content on this particular copy is unusually dark or violent. Expect to see bodies of water replaced with blood by default and for the main character to assume everything is a glitch at first, only to realize everything is caused instead by some kind of supernatural force. These stories ended up being so similar to each other that several creepypasta-hosting sites outright disallow them.
  • Fandango's Brian the Minion shorts follow the same basic formula: The titular minion sits down to watch a Universal movie, old or new. Kevin, Stuart, and Bob come in and disrupt his experience, causing Brian to get angry. The usher comes in and, always jumping to the wrong conclusion, kicks Brian out, to the other three minions' mocking laughter.
  • The works of Tim Burton are so formulaic that both College Humor and Honest Trailers have made videos parodying this.
  • The Nostalgia Critic's reviews have adopted a very predictable formula since the reboot happened. To wit:
    • Opening skit that makes an extended joke about the movie that will be lampooned throughout the review; may (or may not) contain an Original Character of his.
    • "Hel-looo, I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to!"
    • What follows is a plot summary of the film, typically glossing over any subplots, with jokes inserted at every major plot point, with usually threenote  more skits at around the middle to close to the end of the video.
    • In certain reviews, there will be a skit involving his original characters at strategic points; often entirely unrelated to the film in question.
    • Many pop-culture references, internet memes, lame puns, jokes related to the actors in the movienote , jokes lambasting the writers/actors/directors/etc., will be made.
    • If the movie is particulairy heinous, he might have a skit or two in which he rants at the writers/actors/directors/Hollywood in general, and so on, for not putting any effort into their craft/being Totally Radical/only caring about money, etc. Unlike the rest of the video, this will be played completely seriously.
    • After the plot summary/review is over, he makes a short critical appraisal of the film, e.g., "The moral isn't bad for kids, but the acting was terrible and the jokes were really lame", ending it with a pun relating to the film.
    • "I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to!"
    • Finally, there will be a short wrap-up skit tying into, or finishing off, the skit from the beginning. If the skit involves his original characters, it might end in a cliffhanger and continue on in the next review.
  • Analog Horror videos follow the exact same basic formula: a mundane VHS recording that quickly turns into Nightmare Fuel-inducing horrors with tons of cryptic imagery. Many involve an Emergency Broadcast, tend to be Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane about what's going on, and nearly every video includes many an Ominous Visual Glitch and many a Freeze-Frame Bonus.
  • Kitboga is a scammer popular on Twitch and YouTube. Among the scams he covers are tech support scams. These scams are considered so formulaic that for a long time he had a ticker at the top of each video displaying various elements of the scam. It would show where the scammer was currently within the particular scam alongside with a comparison against a previous call and read as follows: "Initial Bait, Connect to PC, Find Virus/Hack, Explain, Pricing/Options, Payment Details, Transfer To Boss and Reaction," with an overall clock showing the total time of the call on the right. However, as he began branching out into exploring more types of scams, as well as specializing more often in "refund scams," he eventually dropped all elements of this ticker except for the clock at the far right. During the Adam and Alex saga, "Baited," in which he wasted over 36 hours of scammer time, he still had this ticker but eventually stopped bothering with the various elements, such that by the end the entire 36+ hours was displayed under "Initial Bait."
  • Some YouTube channels about people's working lives can be very repetitive, because a lot of work involves doing the same stuff every day.
    • The Hoof GP: Man uses an angle grinder and special knife to trim overgrown and infected cow hooves.
    • Ocean Conservation Namibia: The team spot a seal on the beach with something tangled around its body, catch the seal in a net, cut off the entanglement, and release the seal.
  • Tom Scott Lampshades his own tendency regarding the weekly videos he puts out in "The Islands With Too Much Power".
    I'm standing somewhere windswept and talking about infrastructure. Yes, I have a style.
  • Unlimited Steam: Each episode has Seymour greet Superintendent Chalmers, burn his original dish, replacing it with something else, and covering up the fire in his kitchen with an outlandish lie.

Alternative Title(s): Formula Fiction, Recycled Plot


Samurai Jack

"See what I mean?"

How well does it match the trope?

5 (23 votes)

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Main / StrictlyFormula

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