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Tone Shift

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Over time, works can change in tone. A formerly episodic comedic work can become a dark political satire with a strong plot arc. Or a dark work about a future dystopia can become a lighthearted adventure series.

This can be a deliberate shift in tone that was planned all along, it can be done deliberately because of a perceived advantage to the new tone (almost always financial), or it may be an unplanned and almost accidental shift over time.

This is especially true in episodic media, such as Live-Action TV, Comic Books or Web Comics, where their long-running status and, in the first two cases, changes in writing teams can cause marked changes in tone over time.

This also frequently appears when remaking or re-imagining older media for a modern audience.

Changes to tone are not always permanent, but in order to qualify, they must be long-lasting. A single dark episode in an otherwise light and fluffy show is not a Tone Shift.

A Super-Trope to:

Compare Genre Shift and Mood Whiplash.


Live-Action TV

  • Full House started with some family-friendly undertones but otherwise a run-of-the-mill sitcom. Over time, it brought the family-friendly aspect more and more to the forefront until they were dropping Aesop anvils every episode. Complete with heavy Flanderization and a continual feed of new child actors. Fuller House, its Sequel Series, has more adult content and self awareness than the original, complete with the cast glaring at the camera when the current status of Michelle (who has not returned to the series) is brought up.
  • Roseanne started out as a very witty sitcom with elements of Kitchen Sink Drama with a good deal of Character Development, until behind the scenes drama derailed the entire show into A Denser and Wackier farce of its former self AND a heavy-handed Melodrama subject to Mood Whiplash. The last season plays like one long Gainax Ending, especially with its Tear Jerker—hence why it was Retconned after the reboot and rebranding as The Conners.
  • Downplayed with Taskmaster, which is always a fairly light-hearted comedic variety show that keeps the same format throughout the show's run. However, each series has a revolving door cast of comedians and actors, meaning that the tone and style of comedy can change depending on who's on the show and how they connect with the format and the other contestants. For example, Series 4 is fairly cheery as everyone clicks well and tends to be fairly good-natured and supportive of one another while Series 7 is more manic, chaotic as everyone hurls themselves into the tasks, and a little more fractious as there are more clashing personalities around.

Video Games

  • The first two games in Remedy Entertainment's Max Payne series were noir tales in the style of John Woo set in The Big Rotten Apple, and featured a lot of references to respectively Norse Mythology and Paradise Lost, had rather cartoonish enemies whose chatter which often functioned as comic relief, used graphic novel sequences in lieu of cutscenes, and had a story that was often self-referential and even bordered on Self-Parody a couple of times. Enter the third game by Rockstar Games, which is based rather heavily on Man on Fire and is set in Brazil, features enemies who deliberately are incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't understand Portuguese, and even then their dialogue is clearly not meant to be comical in any way, has normal cutscenes which are again based heavily on Man on Fire's visual style, and while the game sometimes does become self-referential, these moments are fewer and further in-between and are relatively downplayed.
  • The short indie visual novel/dating sim Carpe Diem has an Anti-Escapism Aesop, specifically the girl you are romancing is an advanced AI, and the player character is not a stand-in for the player but a whole character in itself, meaning that it is more fulfilling to look for relationships in the real world than in games. Meanwhile, its sequel Carpe Diem Reboot (which, despite the title, is not a reboot), completely reverses the concept and turns into a typical escapist fantasy: the scientist player character is a lazy otaku but also a world-class hacker and programmer, who gives the AI girl a physical android body so that he can live the romance of his dreams.