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Quotes / Strictly Formula

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"They really are all the same, aren't they?" she said to the three-eyed teddy bear. "You know it's going to be Mary the Maid, or someone like her, and there's going to be two men and she will end up with the nice one, and there has to be misunderstandings, and they never do anything more than kiss and it's absolutely guaranteed that, for example, an exciting civil war or an invasion by trolls or even a scene with any cooking in it is not going to happen. The best you can expect is a thunderstorm."
Glenda Sugarbean, Unseen Academicals

    Live-Action TV 
Mandy Baxter: I want to see how that ends.
Kristin Baxter: One dance mom yells at the other dance mom, and then they both get yelled at by that big teacher.
Mandy Baxter: How do you know that?
Kristin Baxter: Because it's every episode.

Roger Ebert: This is a veritable masterpiece! Woody has certainly grown as a filmmaker!
Gene Siskel: What brilliant touches! Instead of Gershwin music, he's using Rodgers And Hart! And instead of Diane Keaton talking in overlapping dialogue, he has Mia Farrow doing it!

"Some crime show. You don't know any of the characters, but you still pay attention to the plot. Abortion doctor murdered. The Christian fanatic is too obvious a suspect. Maybe it's the doctor's wife. Maybe it's his brother; they were professional rivals, and the deceased just won an award. (What does an abortionist win an award for, anyway?) The cop's partner wants him to do something about his anger issues. Isn't that always the way?''

    Web Animation 
Bowser: I figured now would be a perfect time to put my latest plan into action!
Lakitu: Hold onto your seats, Smash fans. It looks like King Bowser is planning to kidnap the princess again!
Bowser: Hey! Cloud boy! How did you know about my plan?! Now spill! Who told you about it?

Dr. Wily: WAH HA HA HA!! I have created—!
Mega Man: Eight Master Robots and you plan to take over the world. Sigh, can we just get this over with? My balls hurt.

    Web Comics 
The first episode of Pokémon that aired on network TV was episode #42, "The Problem with Paras." There are over 700 Pokemon episodes in existence now, so you might not remember this particular one. It's the one where they go somewhere and meet a Pokèmon with a problem, and the gang tries to solve that problem, and Team Rocket tries to mess it up. It's that one.
Platypus Comix , "First Kids WB airing of Pokémon"

    Western Animation 
Fry: Jenny can't get married.
Leela: Why not? It's clever, it's unexpected.
Fry: But that's not why people watch TV. Clever things make people feel stupid, and unexpected things make them feel scared.
Futurama, "When Aliens Attack"

Real Life quotes

    On Films — Live-action 
Quirky underdog meets a hot attractive babe
But some unfunny bullies try to stop my goofy ways
My quirky sidekick and/or grandma help me on my path
While using an annoying voice and jokes about my ass
Come on, guys, you liked it the first eighteen times
Surely you'll like it fifty-six more

The stories had, to the British eyes at any rate, a monotonous similarity about them that went something as follows: two men, one a policeman, one a criminal, come into conflict. They have lots of very badly-choreographed fights. There is a song. Then another fight. Another song. Halfway through, a villain strangles the policeman's saintly mother. Then it's revealed that the criminal and the cop are really brothers separated at birth by the machinations of the evil villain. There is a song. Then there is more fighting of a kind which would make the average playground pretend martial arts game look highly polished. Then another song. The brothers fall in love with two sisters. The sisters are kidnapped. There is a song. They are rescued. The villain is beaten to a pulp. There is a song.
Paul Hoffman on Bollywood, The Golden Age Of Censorship

As with most of Woody’s movies, everyone signed on without seeing a script. There is no plot and there is no title. Like we need to be told what it’s going to be about. We already know it’s going to be about a bunch of nervous white people and their problems.
Michael K., on a casting announcement for the then-untitled Woody Allen movie Café Society

Steven Seagal staked his ponytail on the cultural donkey with Above the Law, his film debut that hit theatres two months after Bloodsport. It set the tone for what was to come, as well as nailing on the trademarked three-word title structure of his many direct-to-video acts of tedium. Driven To Kill, Marked for Death, Hard to Kill, Today You Die''; but even the best Seagal movie is Hard to Watch.
Stuart Millard, Smoke & Mirrors and Steven Seagal

"The plot, in a general sense, involves a villain trying to get a hold of an alien artifact that will give him control of the universe. You may remember this plot from every single fucking plot these goddamn Marvel movies have ever had!"

Survival of the Dead scared me, and not in the good way. Every time I would pass it in my Blockbuster (and yes, I still go to an actual Blockbuster store) I almost flinch as if the box will give me some electroshock if I picked it up. Diary of the Dead was so atrocious and showed how far Romero had fallen that I honestly did not want to see him fall any lower. It is not about seeing Survival and being pissed off, I didn’t want to watch it and be depressed.
Miles Antwiler on Survival of the Dead (2008)

A "reimagining" courtesy of Tim Burton (read: take original material, make it darker yet somehow simultaneously goofier, insert Danny Elfman soundtrack, sit back, make millions)

If you’re like me, you might be suffering from Apatow fatigue. But in 2007, Apatow was still conquering the world of comedic man-children and the hot women who inexplicably love them.
LeBeau, "What the Hell Happened to Katherine Heigl?"

Jay: The Marine 1: U.S. Marine John Triton returns home, his very attractive (citation needed) wife Kate is kidnapped, and he busts some heads to rescue her. The Marine 2: U.S. Marine Joe Linwood returns to his hotel room, his very attractive (citation needed) wife Robin is kidnapped, and he busts some heads to rescue her.
V1: I can see where this is going.
OSW Review on The Marine 3: Homefront

    On Literature 
It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words. No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell. The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.
Lester Dent, The Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot (originally published in Writer's Digest Yearbook, 1936)

Tarzan is always knocked on the head and taken captive; he always escapes; there is always a beautiful princess or high priestess who loves him and assists him; there is always a loyal friend who fights beside him, very much in the Queenpeg tradition... But no matter how difficult the adventure, Tarzan, clad only in a loincloth with no weapon save a knife (the style is comforting to imitate), wins against all odds and returns to his shadowy wife.
Gore Vidal, "Tarzan Revisited"

Three of Mr. Fleming’s favourite situations are about to come up one after the other. Bond is to be wined and dined, lectured on the aesthetics of power, and finally tortured by his chief enemy.
Kingsley Amis

In some ways, there is a certain inflexibility about my scheme for writing Black Widower stories. There is always the banquet and the general conversation; then the grilling and the presentation of the mystery; then the discussion and solution.

    On Live-action TV 
"You could just sort of look at it while your mind went into screensaver mode. And that proves it's good drama."
Barry Shitpeas on The Three Musketeers, Charlie Brooker's Weekly Wipe

"I don't read the scripts any more very often because I know what's going to happen. It's all been done before. It's a variation on a variation on a variation, so consequently when I show up on the set I know my lines just long enough to say them and forget them immediately. So if we need one or two takes more than I'd planned for I'm in trouble, and the other actors know this and they're like, 'Say the lines perfectly or they'll make us do it again!' But what can I say? If you're not inspired to learn the lines, it doesn't matter. Because you can't tell from the final product... I'm sure there's some guy in a factory in Detroit whose sees a little nick on the bolt and goes, 'Shall we start the car all over again?' It's the same thing. It's a factory."
Robert Beltran on Star Trek: Voyager

"The reason that we ended up doing so many rehashes of episodes was there was a point where Brannon — whether he was tired, or it was just the pressure of trying to get the show done — was not really willing to hear a variety of ideas. He would hone in on a story. Somebody would pitch a story, and then all of a sudden we’re breaking a story that’s very similar to a Deep Space Nine or a Voyager...because — quite rightly — they’d had success doing the characters the way they’d been doing them, and really getting into real conflict with our characters was not something Rick and Brannon were interested in."
David A. Goodman on Star Trek: Enterprise Uncharted Territory

But if there's one good thing I can say about Voyager, it's that it reached such a predictable level of sameness, that it became like comfort food television. Just like ordering a Big Mac, you always knew what you would see when you opened that box. Unfortunately, this is only good for certain situations, like when you have an hour to kill and don't want to think too hard.
The Agony Booth on Star Trek: Voyager, "Threshold"

It seems like six years of growth can be reduced to the addition of some monitors to the bridge, an adjustment of T'Pol's hairstyle and the inclusion of a name tag to the familiar jumpsuits.
Darren Mooney on the supposed Distant Finale to Star Trek: Enterprise

I find the rigid visual schematic and the close-cropped A-B-C framing and editing of Adam-12 to be beautifully spare and clean, matched by the almost kabuki-like scripting that turns the most mundane actions into stylized rituals, repeated over and over again until they achieve mythic, iconic status. When Malloy and Reed drop down into their new, more powerful 1973 AMC Matador, solidly chunking those doors closed, and begin to roll down the mean streets of L.A.―over and over again, episode after episode, with little variation―the effect eventually becomes hypnotic.
Paul Mavis on Adam-12

On the one hand they insist that they don't want to patronize the audience and want to leave things for them to figure out. On the other, when Chibnall complains that the story was cliched monsters and corridors stuff, Jane Baker rather icily notes that she thought Doctor Who fans liked traditional stuff. There's something really unsettling about this. It's difficult to see how feeding Doctor Who fans a steady diet of generic and traditional adventures could be called challenging. Indeed, 'here's the same thing you've been enjoying for decades done with no changes' seems the very definition of patronizing television.
Dr. El Sandifer on Pip and Jane Baker, "The Mysterious Planet"

Wow, listen to David Duchovny in the first scene Mulder and Scully share. After his riveting turn in "Max" he sounds bored already, fully aware of the functional episode that is about to play out...He can’t wait to get away from this case and into something more interesting. At the end of the episode, Scully is so jaded by the tedious events that have taken place that she can't even bring herself to argue with Mulder over the idea of time travel. She’s almost like "sure, time travel, whatever you like...can we go now?"
Joe Ford on The X-Files, "Synchrony"

    On Music 
"I'm sick and tired of people saying that we put out 11 albums that sound exactly the same. In fact, we've put out 12 albums that sound exactly the same."
Angus Young of AC/DC, in a 2000 interview with Jim Farber

"People like to think everything is art. Arranging flowers, writing poems, making a latte—these are just actions, not art. Plugging in an electric guitar, playing four chords, adding bass and drums, and singing words in key is no more 'art' than a guy opening his tool box, putting on a 9/16 socket, replacing a belt, and getting the lawn mower running again."
Matt Johnson interviewing Starflyer 59, Bandoppler, "The Cool War"

    On Video Games 
Yahtzee: Turns out a big chunk of this "online-multiplayer"-focused game is a single-player campaign. Oh, Nintendo, you poor sod! Someone suggested making an online shooter and was smart enough not to stand on the trapdoor to the piranha tank, so you had to reach a compromise, but you just couldn't fight the old instincts!
Nintendo exec: *cries aloud as his hand refuses to shake the dev's*

"What's this game about then? You play as Link and you have to rescue the Princess Zelda? Wow, across the meadows of fresh ideas, you stride like a colossus, don't you? Oh, but it's very innovatively evoking A Link to the Past on the SNES, the same way I 'very innovatively' crawled up my mum's vagina and stuck my thumb in me mouth... Oh! A Boomerang and a Hookshot!? SLOW DOWN, STANLEY KUBRICK! Zelda? More like Smellda! Fart. I Smellda fart."
Zero Punctuation (lampooning himself) on The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

"In one of the behind-the-scenes featurettes, the developers flat out admit that they think up the spectacular set pieces first and then come up with the plot around them, and by Christ, does it show, because these games are getting as formulaic as a Scooby-Doo episode. Who wants to bet the lost treasure at the end will turn out to have been deliberately lost because there's some negative effect surrounding it that the bad guys want to weaponize? And that Drake will pull off the main villain's face and it'll turn out to be Old Man Withers!"
Zero Punctuation on Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

The gimmicks are all old. The enemy who turns out to be a front of the real enemy. The mentor who turns out to be your enemy. The companions who turn on you forcing a showdown. The companions who make you choose which of them is going to die. The dark secrets of your companions. It was innovative in its time, but it's all been done over and over again.

    On Western Animation 
"All The Little Mermaid did was put that godforsaken Disney musical 90s formula in place."

"Tom & Jerry is about as uninspired a cartoon series as was ever created. It's pure generic cartoon thinking of the time. What is a cartoon? Uh... it's where a cat chases a mouse and there is lots of hurt and noise and mayhem. It's hard to be more basic than that, so Bill and Joe didn't fix something that wasn't broken for 15 or 16 years."

Most features follow the basic structure and trappings of Snow White and have turned it into a blind formula. The original Grimm's fairy tale of Snow White has about 4 pages of story (about 10 minutes worth of screen time). The movie added about 50 minutes of filler: animals cleaning plates with their rear ends, comedy relief, romance between two lifeless people...

Most cartoon features begin on the plot set-up, usually a revelation of the villain (or villainess) and their plan (usually take over a kingdom, or kill a rival, or get rich or a combination of all three) then establish your hero or heroine, usually a likable loser if male (Aladdin, the guys in Treasure Planet or Atlantis, that dumb panda that's already showing up everywhere), a comically-scattered, sweet, smart, ugly duckling type if female (Belle, Anastasia, the girl in Enchanted) and the obligatory wacky sidekicks, always one, sometimes as many as three (Flounder, Scuttle, Timon, Pumba, monkey, flying rug, etc., etc.). The villain also usually has a sidekick, either the bungling nincompoop type (Kronk) or the loudmouthed asshole (Iago) or very rarely, some actually sort of threatening creatures (the hyenas in "Lion King."). The screen action lumps along for 80 minutes or so, consisting of initial skirmishes between hero and villain, the set-up of the traditional hero/heroine love story (these days they usually hate each other at first sight, snark back and forth until the end, then inexplicably fall into each other's arms), songs that explain what the hero, the villain and the heroine each want, a vomit and/or fart joke or two from the sidekicks, and action sequences designed to pad out what could usually be a story told in 10 minutes. Your primary objective as a modern animation feature storyteller is to get the audience members emotionally charged (i.e., distracted from logic gaps and not thinking too much) so they will be ready for your big finale.

The TV producers' pedagogical theory is that young kids really like repetition, because they’re more comfortable watching a show if they know exactly what to expect. And that’s a really convenient pedagogical theory to have, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on writers.

One of the most popular '90s shows was Batman: The Animated Series. In this show, our caped crusader Batman would confront a villain/minor life event of the week, scowl at it, use something on his utility belt, learn a valuable life lesson and then he would share a private joke with his faithful butler before the credits rolled. It was all very tidy, and there was no argument that this was how the world worked. Children everywhere aspired to be Batman, and to one day share private jokes with butlers of their own.


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