Originating as a FOX mid-season replacement in early 2000, Titus is an extremely faithful adaptation of comedian Christopher Titus' one-man show Norman Rockwell is Bleeding. Norman Rockwell itself is closely based on Titus' own life, such as having an alcoholic, five-times-divorced, patronizing, yet caring father; a violent, manic-depressive-schizophrenic mother; and himself having once fallen into a bonfire while drunk.
Titus talked to the audience from a black-and-white room referred to by fans as the "Neutral Space." (It was never verified exactly what that room represented: his stream of consciousness, his thoughts during a therapy session, or a realm where he can literally break the fourth wall and talk to the audience? Hints are given towards each one.) From that room, he detailed his thoughts, feelings and Backstory elements that can better explain the current story. It also allowed a Jump Cut to a Flashback or Imagine Spot when needed.
The show itself was organized in a different method than most sitcoms. They had a studio audience, but they kept the majority of the action on one set and done close to Real Time. Instead of filming throughout a week, they would rehearse throughout the week and perform for the audience on Friday like it was a play. The Laugh Track was genuine and a video recording of the Neutral Space and subsequent flashbacks were also played for the audience in sequence with the live performance. This allowed the studio audience to see the show almost exactly the same way as it airs on TV.
Setting itself apart from domestic comedy sitcoms, Titus called itself a "domestic disturbance." Every episode dealt with life in a screwed-up world with alcoholism, drug abuse, murders, suicides, death, muggings, greed, child molestation, STDs, domestic violence, gun violence, and road rage. While treating such topics with appropriate seriousness when needed, they always found a method to joke about them, calling it "Find the Funny." Each character approaches their life in a different way: Christopher does everything he can to avoid his Father's issues (drinking, smoking, multiple ex-wives...), his girlfriend Erin is eternally optimistic with a bit of forcing a smile, his brother Dave doesn't realize how messed up he is, his friend Tommy is so neurotic he sabotages himself, while Papa Titus only knew that being hard on his kids was the only way they'll learn how to survive.
Because it made fun of such sensitive subject matter (a lot of which was based on Christopher Titus' life), it was considered pushing the envelope too far and was canceled after three seasons. In retrospect, Christopher Titus said that the ratings were always solid but he would prefer it be canceled for how controversial it was rather than being a failure. He later admitted (and explained in detail during his "The Voice In My Head" special) that he antagonized the Network President during a season three meeting, which he calls his greatest regret being as simple as Not Good with People.
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During the US shutdown in response to the Coronavirus in 2020, Titus started uploading the episodes to his YouTube channel, stating that he planned to do so for as long as he can get away with it.
This show provides examples of
- Abusive Parents: Titus took this trope, turned it up to eleven, and played it for both Laughs and Drama.Titus: My dad is a negative, judgmental pain in the ass who destroyed my self-esteem and tortured me my entire life. My mom is a violent, paranoid schizophrenic. God, I love my dad.
- A Day in the Limelight: Ken and Erin got chances to narrate the episode from the Neutral Space (Ken narrated on "The Pendulum," where Titus is in a coma following a racecar crash while Erin narrated on "Bachelor Party," where Titus and his friends help a pregnant single mother deliver a baby at a grungy diner). If the show had continued, they would have had episodes with Dave and Tommy in the Neutral Space.
- Anachronic Order: The pilot episode had a joke referencing "The Fellatio Incident" and in the neutral space Titus slyly said "Episode 11." The final episode of the season was titled "Episode 11" (which was actually episode 9) and revealed what happened. The show only had a mild running story to begin with, but with season two dealing with the fallout of that episode it suggests the events of the pilot episode doesn't take place chronologically until the middle of season two. There are other episodes intentionally Out of Order, resulting in similar but unintentional Call Forwards.
- An Aesop: In all its incarnations and variations. Once Titus took comfort in the fact that he and Erin had a fight and they cheated on each other. Titus said that, for him, good things are just bad things that haven't happened yet. So no matter how perfect their relationship got, Titus and Erin could always take solace in the fact that they once cheated on each other. (And no one could ever take that away from them.)
- More seriously, "Mom's Not Nuts" ends with The Reveal that Juanita had drugged the meal and was hell-bent on killing Ken as she was unmedicated. Cut to the Neutral Space, where he recapped that she got nabbed by the cops after a high-speed chase, only to have the phone ring. He promises not to answer it, turns off the light... then goes to answer it, as she's still his mother, and the episode ends with the hotline number and URL link to the National Mental Health Services Knowledge Exchange Network.
- Altar the Speed: Titus and Erin try to get married before any of their dysfunctional relatives arrived. It fails - Hilarity Ensues.
- Amusing Injuries: Constantly, ranging from Titus accidentally setting his dad on fire (offscreen) as a kid to blowing himself up by combining gasoline and acetone for a homemade fuel mixture.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Titus names off three massacres in history that started off with "Surprise!": the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive, and...Titus's uncle's 50th birthday party. Turns out the last one isn't as harmless as it should be as Titus's uncle fired a gun in the room and killed two people before Titus stopped him.
- Ascended Extra:
- Erin's teenage niece Amy first showed up in "Deprogramming Erin" in the second season mostly as part of Erin's family. She later showed up in "Hard Ass" where she stayed with them temporarily and was found dealing drugs. The third season had Titus and Erin officially become her guardian when it was made clear her home life was very destructive.
- Tiffany the waitress in the original stand-up act was simply the girl Titus slept with when he and Erin broke up for a day. In this show she shows up several times afterwards, once with a pregnancy scare that it might be Titus' baby and later was dating Tommy for an episode.
- Author Tract: The show always depicted therapists, social workers, and normal people as trying to do good for screwed-up people, but inevitably making things worse. Especially true of the social workers, as one flashback showed Titus being sent to live with his mentally ill mother after his father, a functioning alcoholic/chain-smoker/occasional pot smoker/womanizing divorcé who uses Tough Love-cum-Comedic Sociopathy to make men out of his sons, was branded unfit to care for children. The therapists were depicted more as being lecherous know-nothing-know-it-alls, as one episode revealed that Juanita was sleeping with her therapist — who, in a later episode, was revealed to be an abusive Jerkass who punched her in the face and got shot during Titus's wedding to Erin.
- Autobiographical Role: While parts are fictionalized for the sake of comedy, the show's overall story is overtly based on Christopher's real life, and he plays himself, while his friends and family are played by other actors.
- Bait-and-Switch: As seen under Mistaken for Cheating, "Sex with Pudding" had Titus convinced that Erin was having an affair with a coworker - only to find out that she's being sexually harrassed, which he's relieved by because it just means he can kick the guy's ass. Unfortunately for him, it's a female coworker who believed Erin was flirting with her, and Titus is left dumbfounded on how to respond.
- Beard of Sorrow: Christopher's car shop went under and he pushed Erin away when he went back to the bottle. He seemed to instantly get three days' growth, but him shaving (after accidentally setting fire to a crudely-made dummy version of Erin during a drunken candlelight dinner) was a sign he was trying to get sober again.
- Big "NO!": Dave is prone to this.
- Black Comedy: The show is best described as this. It can't be a Dramedy because the topics are played for laughs nor is it a Black Comedy because the topics are still portrayed seriously. As paradoxical as that sounds it works very well.
- Book-Ends: Most episodes start with Christopher Titus turning on a bare lightbulb in the Neutral Space and starting his monologue on the topic of the episode. The final Neutral Space segment will then repeat one or two sentences of the first monologue while changing its original meaning on its side, then closes by turning off the same lightbulb (usually by Titus clicking the light, but there were times where the light bulb either broke, was turned off in a weird way ["The Perfect Thanksgiving" had Titus use a remote control], or, in the case of two episodes with dramatic endings ["Episode 11" and "The Pit"] the light bulb stayed on).
- Bottle Episode: Pretty much all the episodes take place in one setting (sometimes two, but usually, it's an adjacent room) with a limited amount of actors and actresses. This is probably the only American TV show in which most — if not all — of the episodes are Bottle Episodes that don't double as ClipShows or special, dramatic episodes (though episodes like "Tommy's Not Gay," "The Visit" [where Titus thinks his mom escaped from the mental hospital, but gets a call from the police stating that Juanita killed herself in Missouri], "The Last Noelle," and "The Protector" have dramatic undertones to them to add to the comedy).
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Titus lists off the things needed for a successful intervention for their father:
- Titus: What we need here is love, strength, understanding...Dave: A stun gun.
- Brick Joke:
- A lot of jokes set up in the neutral space (or on a part before the cut to the neutral space) have a punchline either after the neutral space cut or within the neutral space. Example: On the Christmas episode, "Houseboat," after Bob climbs back on the boat, he mumbles, "I have a tiny fish in my pants." After the cutaway to the Neutral Space (in which Titus is overjoyed that his father now learns the true meaning of Christmas and will teach him next year that "...heart attacks are not like women. You just can't keep having them"), Bob can be seen setting said fish free.
- Two episode titles seem very out of place: Episode Eleven and Episode 27, which are not actually episodes number 11 or 27 (They're numbers 9 and 21). The titles (and entire episodes) themselves are the punchlines to brick jokes set up by a couple of throwaway lines said in the neutral space in previous episodes.
- On "The Protector," in the Neutral Space cutaway, Titus explains that a reckless accusation can ruin a person's life, like his high school rival, Mario Capono of Fremont, California (who, according to Titus, prances around in women's underwear). Another Neutral Space scene later has Titus give a serious speech about how protecting children is hard, especially if they sleep over at a stranger's house and come back physically, sexually, or emotionally scarred. He then ends the speech with, "So, whatever you do, don't let your kids visit the home of Mario Capono of Fremont, California."
- "Sex with Pudding" mentioned that the last time Titus and Dave visited Erin at her office Dave accidentally set a trash can on fire. In the wrap-up of the episode, Dave is seen inching away from another trash can fire.
- "The Pendulum" has Ken Titus tell viewers the story of how he kidnapped Christopher after the court ruled that he was an unfit father. To cover up the kidnapping, Ken tells his son that he's going to get him a Hot Wheels Laguna Beach car set at the toy store...but he never does. When Christopher comes out of the coma and returns to the Neutral Space, he finds the Hot Wheels car set his father promised him years ago.
- Titus drunkenly falling into the bonfire is mentioned frequently, as well as the few times he lived with his deranged Mom as a child.
- Call-Forward: A literal one, as the pilot had Dave refer to "The Fellatio Incident" - cut to Titus in the Neutral Space bluntly stating "Episode 11."
- Cloud Cuckoolander: As stated, Dave. Justified in that he is also The Stoner and most of what he says could be the marijuana talking.
- Comically Missing the Point: Overlapping with The Last of These Is Not Like the Others, Ken is asking after some old friends at the police station in "Dave Moves Out".Ken: Where the hell are Billy and Joey and Dan?
Officer: Well, Billy retired and Joey retired and... Dan blew his brains out.
Ken: [Beat] Retired? But they're my age!
- In "Locking Up Mom", Titus relates how he was watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with his mother when he was seven, who burst into tears when the electroshock therapy scene happened, explaining to a speechless Christopher that it reminded her of her life. Titus was stunned...because he never knew his mom was nominated for an Oscar (like Jack Nicholson was for that scene).
- Compensating for Something: A one-off flashback shows Ken and Titus in a gun shop, where a customer is being helped by the owner.Young!Titus: Dad, I want a gun!
Ken: Oh, you don't need one of those, son. Men in our family have penises!
- Creator Cameo: Co-creator Jack Kenny had a semi-recurring role as Principal Wells, who was there when Titus was in high school and also shows up in modern-day scenes taking place at the high school. Also, Erin's brother, Michael, was played by one of the writers.
- Dead All Along: Juanita at the end of "The Visit." Just as Titus, Dave, Tommy, and Ken are about to attack Juanita, thinking that she escaped from the mental hospital again, Erin comes in with a phone, telling Titus that his mom was found dead four hours ago in Missouri from a suicide.
- Defensive "What?": A Running Gag on the show, especially in the flashbacks of Titus's childhood where Ken does something to humiliate Titus and/or Dave, a stranger stares at Ken in shock, eliciting this response from Ken.
- Dinner and a Show: There was the episode where Titus' family and Erin's family came for Thanksgiving and wound up in the hospital, twice with his mother making dinner (one time drugging the entire family and trying to kill his dad, another with her psychiatrist fiance showing up and punching Papa Titus), and once when Tommy was dating a woman Titus had slept with and they went to her restaurant. Ken even used the trope title as things got more and more awkward.
- Distracted by the Sexy: How Erin helped Titus win a street race.
- Domestic Abuse:
- Titus dated a woman named Noelle who was a crazy, jealous girl who punched him in the face for inconsequential things (like the fact that Titus loved watching Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer every Christmas) and used sex to manipulate him into staying with her.
- Titus' schizophrenic mother Juanita (who also was abusive to Ken, often threatening his life and using sex to lure him back to her) was abused by her psychologist fiance ( until she shot him).
- Dope Slap: Titus frequently did this to Dave, to the point where when Titus was unconscious in the hospital, Dave would hit himself with Titus' limp hand, crying "It's not the same!"
- Double Entendre: Often. Dave frequently hears things as one, or his goofiness will make things that aren't double entendres into one for the audience. Papa Titus also frequently makes them, especially when he hits on women or makes fun of Tommy's supposed homosexuality.Titus: "Dad, you're not in love with her; it's the heart attack rebound thing. It's the angina talking!"Dave: (gasps happily) "It talks?!"
- Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Deconstructed or averted, depending on the episode.
- On "The Last Noelle," Titus told of how every woman he dated was either unfaithful (like Dakota, who made out with a busboy) or mentally deranged (Taylor, who was so depressed over her dead dog that she cut Titus's hair in his sleep, Chastity, a Satan worshiper with telekinetic powers, and Noelle, a seemingly sweet girl who threatened to kill Titus if he ever left her or looked at other women). Erin explains that the only reason he ever stayed with those women was because he was secretly attracted to women who were as mentally ill as his mom.
- The episode where Titus and Erin try to have their wedding without any members of their respective dysfunctional families coming had Titus, Dave, Ken, and even the priest threatening to kill Juanita's fiance after hearing that he slapped her for not taking her medication. Juanita's response: She shoots him. In the next episode ("The Trial"), Juanita is acquitted of all charges, but ends up taking Ken and the judge hostage because she was sick of Titus condoning her abusive behavior to the men in her life.
- Tommy had a restraining order on him from an ex-girlfriend because he tried surprising her in her room naked. The group learned that she was claiming Tommy tried to rape her, while the truth was they were already having regular sex and she was doubting the relationship because he was too clingy, using the "naked surprise" as a scapegoat. Titus points out that using a rape accusation and restraining order instead of actually breaking up with someone properly is a horrible thing to do.
- Driven to Suicide: Titus' mom at the end of "The Visit." At the beginning of "Insanity Genetic, Part One," the first thing Christopher and Ken asked when news of Juanita's death hit was "Did she take anyone else with her?" Fortunately for them, she didn't.
- Dysfunctional Family: The point of the show, best encapsulated in this exchange from Season 2.
- Dysfunction Junction: See above.
- Everyone Has Standards:
- On "The Perfect Thanksgiving," Ken Titus reprimands Erin's dad, Merritt, for physically abusing his son, Michael (telling him that hitting Michael doesn't make him a man; it makes him a "drunken Irish loser!"). Slides right into Hypocritical Humor when Ken berates Titus for jumping a dangerous criminal (Michael) in front of two cops, then informs Merritt that emotional damage is much more effective at keeping your kids in line.
- The person who has to be held back when Bill is caught by Titus beating Juanita for arguing with him? Ken. It took the three guys who were ready to hand Bill his ass a minute prior to hold him back.
- The Faceless: Most of Papa Titus' ex-wives and girlfriends, including Juanita in episodes where Juanita isn't prominently featured, but Titus does mention the insane things she did when he was a kid (like putting Titus in a germ-free bubble to protect him from a brain-eating virus and wearing a green Army jacket and white go-go boots sans pants or underwear).
- Failure Is the Only Option: "For me, the greatest hurdle to success has always been failure."
- False Rape Accusation: Addressed when Tommy encounters an old girlfriend with a restraining order against him. They had sex when they were together and she was debating on breaking up with him. When he approached her (naked) to have sex again she used it as an excuse to break up with him and filed the restraining order. When talking to her in the present she claimed he tried to rape her. Titus picked apart the trope by telling her that claiming rape when they already had regular intercourse is not a substitute for telling Tommy that she hated him and never wanted to see him again.
- Faux Yay: In the episode "Tommy's Not Gay," Dave decides to prove that Tommy's not gay (by kissing him), among other things.Dave: Now if you're not sure, there are two other things I can try...
- Flashback: A lot of the ImagineSpots in the Neutral Space are flashbacks of Titus's (or Erin's) Hilariously Abusive Childhood.
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": Christopher went to an ex-girlfriend's funeral not because he was saddened, but because he wanted to make sure she was really dead. Considering how he introduces her at the beginning of the series:Titus That's Erin, always taking care of me. Not like my last girlfriend. Case #264-B. She was a little less thoughtful.Titus (on Psycho Bitch Cam): (gets punched) She was a 5', 100 pound Jewish girl. (gets punched) And I still haven't forgiven the Jewish people. (gets punched) I'm almost spent a night in jail because of this woman. But they don't let you stay in jail because [jeering, appearently the cops were mocking him] you're afraid of your girlfriend. (gets punched) (gets punched)
- Gallows Humor: A lot of the show's humor makes fun of things considered too cruel or serious to be mocked.
- Something interesting but, for all of the gay jokes on the show (mostly centered on Tommy being Ambiguously Gay according to Titus's dad), the two executive producers Brian Hargrove and Jack Kenny were gay themselves. "Tommy's Not Gay" even won a GLAAD award for its hilarious, yet realistic approach to homosexuality and homophobia.
- Cynthia Watros said that nearly every episode she would approach Christopher and ask "This actually happened to you?" and hug him.
- Go Look at the Distraction: "Dave, cow!"
- Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Flashbacks during Titus' high school days had Principal Snell with an afro, while he was quite balding today. Titus himself had long, unkempt hair in high school (which probably was shortened thanks to the bonfire incident and dating a girl who was so depressed over her dead dog that she cut his hair in his sleep).
- Hammerspace: Granted the Neutral Space was not exactly reality, but it did often have random things appear. Video editing equipment, giant wall safe, food and of course hammers showed up often.
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: The entire series is based around this.
- I Hit You, You Hit the Ground: From "After Mrs. Shafter": "There's gonna be three hits — me hitting you, you hitting the floor, then you hitting on the paramedic."
- Innocent Inaccurate: On "Locking Up Mom," Titus tells about the time he was five and watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with his mom. When the scene of Jack Nicholson's character getting electroshock therapy came on, Juanita started crying and told Titus it reminded her of her life. And, being five years old, Titus was stunned...because he never knew his mom had won an Oscar.
- I Take Offense to That Last One!: When Christopher starts drinking again, he calls himself an alcoholic. Papa Titus' reply was "You're not an alcoholic; you haven't earned it."
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: People like Papa Titus will do it straight, people like Dave though...
- Lightswitch Surprise: Titus's uncle walks in, then the lights switch on to reveal a birthday party for him. The uncle was startled enough to fire his revolver, only to realize shortly after.
- The Load: Titus frequently had to bail Dave out of whatever crap he had gotten himself into.Christopher: "Dave's my brother, and I love him with all my heart...no matter how many times I'm charged as an accessory."
- Magical Security Cam: The Neutral Space would introduce some film clips of past events, sometimes realistically done like a stationary security cam, and sometimes done like a camcorder. Other times, it would show something from an impossible point of view with a subtitle for humor ("Biological Mom Cam," "Dad Cam," "Minimum Wage Cam," "Marijuana Task Force Cam," "Back of Dad's Hand Cam," "Fist Cam," "Stripper Girlfriend Cam," "Miracle of Life Cam," "Psycho-Bitch Cam", "NASCAR Cam," and "Van Damme Fan Cam")
- Meaningful Echo: Papa Titus' Catchphrase is "Quit being a wussy!" and when Titus' shop went under, he turned to alcohol. Papa Titus gave him a rare moment of genuine concern but also explained the concept of a Crapsack World and finished it with:Ken: "All of this crap is going to work out. You've just got to quit being a wussy!"
- Mercy Lead: Spoofed. In "The Protector" once the man who molested Amy is exposed, Amy is about to go to town on him with a baseball bat. Then the school principal walks in...Principal: I am going to have to call the authorities.Titus: Oh come on, man!Principal: I'm going to take about five minutes. [beat] Maybe thirty. [beat] Call me when I'm "done".
- MetaphorgottenTitus: (holding a glass of water) If sex were water... Tommy hasn't had sex in two years. (shrugs and takes a drink)
- Mistaken for Cheating: "Sex With Pudding" has Titus believe that Erin is cheating on him after finding notes, emails and gifts addressed to her. She's actually being sexually harassed by someone at her workplace. Titus is actually relieved to hear that, since it means he can now play to this strength: kicking people's asses.
- Mistaken for Terrorist: Titus having a nervous breakdown about his deceased Mom after smelling a turkey dinner (Juanita, despite her mental illness, was a Supreme Chef and knew how to make a great Thanksgiving meal) and rambling about how he's connected to his mom from turkey (the food, not the country), Dave with a towel on his head and speaking unintelligibly after brushing his teeth, Tommy emphatically saying "a la" without adding "chicken" or "king" (since the flight attendant wouldn't stop calling the meal "Chicken King")...perfect recipe.
- Mood Whiplash:
*gunshot*Erin (scared): ....He's shooting at us.
- In the episode where Ken's narrating, Chris is in a coma on life support. Ken makes an impassioned plea to the heavens, swearing to give up drinking, smoking, and womanizing if his boy will just wake up...then waits about 10 seconds, shrugs, and goes, "Well, I tried," and lights up a cigarette.
- In Episode Eleven, Titus humiliates his dad and starts joking at him. Then, in the middle of Ken's stuttering rebuttals, he suddenly goes into cardiac arrest, while the doctors come rushing in to help him
- In "Red Asphalt", Titus and the crew are being stalked by a gun-toting motorist after a bout of road rage exchanges. The gang's call to 911 is played in the neutral space, where it's initially played for laughs as they fail miserably at it ("Is this going to be on TV, 'cause if so, I'd like to send out a shout-out to Suzy!"). Then:
- Ms. Fanservice: Several of Erin's outfits, especially in season 3, had her breasts more out than in. Justified in that Cynthia Watros was pregnant for a couple episodes of season two (it was hidden, naturally) and had just given birth in between seasons two and three.
- MST3K Mantra
- My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: Subverted - Titus' consists solely of his father calling him "Wussy!" at three stages of his life.Titus: That was it? Can I see it again?
All Three Kens: (Harmonizing) Wussyyyyyyy!
- No Fourth Wall: In the Neutral Space cutaways.
- Non Sequitur Distraction: Erin is chewing Ken out for being a bad father, at one point calling him a "Motard". When her rant ends, he just looks at her funny and says "Motard?"note
- No, You: In "The Pendulum" Tommy is too upset and responds to Ken's common insult with "No! You are gay!"
- Once an Episode: There is usually an open fire or the threat of something being set on fire every episode. The shows' logo includes a flame decal.
- Only Sane Man: Erin. Sure, she has her "If you can't beat them, join them" moments and her family is more dysfunctional than Titus's, but she's the only one who tries logic first. Tommy tries it too, but he's such a wet sack nobody listens to him.
- Out of Order: The first episode "Dad is Dead" was replaced with "Sex with Pudding," which erroneously put the series focus on Erin and Titus rather than Titus and his family. Season two's "The Wedding" was held off to the end of the season, which was put right in between Titus getting into a car accident and recovering at the beginning of the third season. The third season "The Protector" was similarly held until the end, when several prior episodes made reference to the episode events (and other things, like Amy being a lesbian, were not known yet). On a more intentional Anachronic Order, some episodes reference upcoming stories, such as Ken's "heart attack" while driving ending the first season but was referenced earlier.
- Reality Ensues: Christopher and Dave get into a fight at a custom car show, and their fight ends up on the cover of a Hot Rod magazine. Christopher tries claiming No Such Thing as Bad Publicity, but one by one all their customers pulled out. Being a specialized custom car shop they couldn't afford an unprofessional reputation.
- Real Time: With few exceptions, each episode's main story took place in real time on one set. If not, then in a close time frame (like an afternoon). They kept up the energy by using the neutral space for flashbacks and imagine spots.
- Remember the New Guy?: Played with in the case of Shannon, Titus' sister where even Erin was wondering why she never heard of her before then. But there were a handful of references to her before she actually appears in the third season, the most obvious being a discussion between Titus and Ken about how Shannon moved to Africa to get away.
- Rule of Three: Mentioned in the DVD Commentary that they always tried to work in one particular joke three times. Dave's breath spray in "Tommy's Not Gay" is an example.
- Running Gag:
- Every episode had either actual fire or had the threat of someone or something being set on fire, including the story of how Christopher got drunk during a school beach party and fell into a bonfire (which actually happened to him, according to the comedy special, "Norman Rockwell is Bleeding.") In fact, the final shot of the series finale uses fire. Titus pulls the chair used in the Neutral Space to the middle of a street and sets it on fire, then starts walking away while whistling the show's theme tune.
- In "Hard Ass," (the episode where Amy stays over with Erin and Titus) there's a running flashback gag where every time Ken finds teenage Titus's marijuana stash, Ken punishes teenage Titus, then keeps the marijuana for himself.
- Sadistic Choice: Titus being asked which parent he wanted to stay with.Ken: "Choose. Who do you want in your life, her or me?"Titus: "I don't have to choose between you. I'm not 5... 7, 12, or 16 anymore."
- Subverted when Ken's fiancee demands he make her father (who was currently slumped over in a nearby chair) the Best Man rather than Titus. Ken makes the decision easily, rationalizing that "She does sex with me".
- Tough Love: Ken Titus speciality. Titus tries it on Dave on the episode "Into Thin Air".
- Samus Is a Girl: In one episode, Titus's girlfriend's niece and ward Amy is distraught over her breakup with "Charlie." After an episode-long flashback to the title character's high school days, Titus' girlfriend shows "Charlie" in. It's a girl.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules! and Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Subverted. In "Titus Integritus," Titus broods over a request from a customer to make an ugly modern attachment to a classic hot rod which brings him into conflict with everyone else who wants to get paid. Just as he brings some of the others to his side, the customer gives him a check with a lot of 'zeroes.'
- Self-Immolation: Papa Titus dismisses a woman that Erin introduced to him because he was too sober to be his usual womanizing self. When he asks how she took the rejection, a cutawag gag shows that she set herself on fire in a parking lot.
- Sink-or-Swim Mentor: Papa Titus throws Dave into the water to teach him how to swim. When he turns out to be too much of a "wussy", he throws Titus in to "save [his] brother." Then he eats Titus' sandwich. The kids were around 10 at the time.
- Social Services Does Not Exist: Downplayed. It does exist, but social service workers are universally portrayed as either incompetent or actively malicious. At best, they're making a bad situation even worse. The Hilariously Abusive Childhood that Christopher went through is played for humor more than drama, but it's shown to be something Chris just had to grin and bear more often than not.
- So Proud of You: The one time Papa Titus told Christopher that he was proud of him after he did a good job repainting his dad's truck, Chistopher was so taken aback by it that he thought Ken was actually dying.
- Special Guest: A few over the three seasons, but they weren't hyped up too much. Jay Leno (as himself in the two-parter where Titus crashes his racecar and ends up in a coma), Frankie Muniz (as a car executive in "Too Damn Good"), David Hyde Pierce (as a motivational speaker who tries to help Titus around the time that his hot rod shop went out of business), Alex Borstein (as the pregnant single mother in "Bachelor Party"), and Elizabeth Berkley (as Titus's sister, Shannon).
- Stepford Smiler: Erin. She was frequently shown as trying to be optimistic despite the horrible surroundings, only to have it all blow up in her face, time after time. This show being what it is, it was always Played for Laughs.
- Survival Mantra: Erin's "HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY..."
- Taking You with Me: Subverted. In a flashback one of Ken's past wives says that she's breaking up with him and is "taking everything with me" when she shows up with a bomb strapped to her waist. Ken asks her if she can at least get him a beer. She obliges and promptly blows up in the kitchen.
- Taught by Experience: Papa Titus favored this teaching method. When his son was ready to jab a fork in an outlet, his mother tried to stop him. Papa Titus let him go through with it, then simply tells his son, "You won't do that again, will you?"
- Unbroken Vigil: Played for laughs with Erin. After Titus almost dies in a racing accident, she refuses to leave his side or even let go of his hand, causing her to almost drag him out of his hospital bed.
- The Unfair Sex: Comes up in one of the flashbacks, where the social worker claims "A boy should be with his mother"... despite the fact that Ken has a house and stable job (even though Ken is an functional alcoholic who has marijuana growing in his backyard and a history of hilarious child abuse), while Juanita is pantsless and lives in a cardboard box under the freeway, and says as much right in front of the social worker.
- Very Special Episode: The entire show was also a Deconstruction of the very idea. Every episode had something most TV shows either wouldn't do because it's too controversial or would do, but would make it more dramatic than comedic. The closest it's come to something more traditional were "Tommy's Not Gay" (where Tommy gets angry at his father after his father confesses that he's gay), "The Last Noelle," (where Titus goes to the funeral of his abusive ex-girlfriend), and "The Protector" (where Amy recognizes the father of the boy who sexually harasses her at school as the man who molested her as a kid).
- Viva Las Vegas!: Subverted in an episode where Titus and his dad Ken are on their way to Las Vegas, but then their car breaks down outside of a road diner and they spend the rest of the episode dealing with a Maternity Crisis.
- We Want Our Jerk Back: "Intervention" centered around getting Ken to resume drinking after he'd stopped.
- WHAM Episode:
- "The Visit". After Titus, Dave, Tommy, and Papa Titus have Juanita cornered in the closet — thinking that she escaped the mental hospital again, Erin comes in with a call from the Missouri police, stating that Juanita Titus was found dead four hours ago from a suicide. Titus doesn't believe Erin until he opens the closet and finds no one there.
- Also, "The Pit." After finally getting his drag car working for the big race, Titus starts it up and drives it down the track, only to have it burst into flames. The episode ends in the neutral space, focusing on the wrecked car and the light bulb as we hear EMTs move a nearly-dead Titus into an ambulance.
- Wham Line: In "The Last Noelle", Titus, in the Neutral Space, is dressed as Santa and locking a door while keeping his left cheek to the camera.
- Wham Shot: At which point Titus turns, showing the bruises and cuts Noelle inflicted on him.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Even the network was a little confused about it; Christopher and Erin were not the primary relationship of the show, like most other sitcoms. It was actually Christopher and Papa Titus. Because of that, the second episode, "Sex with Pudding", aired before the pilot "Dad is Dead"note . Being a pilot episode, it introduced the characters, the dysfunctional family theme of the show and, most importantly, Titus' relationship with his father. "Sex with Pudding" was a "more traditional" sitcom story about Titus being overprotective of Erin and, as such, you were already expected to know the characters.
- What the Hell, Hero?: The season 2 episode 'Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!'. The editor of a national magazine looks over the car that Titus, Dave and Tommy are presenting and is more impressed with the paint job than anything else. Titus ends up claiming that he did all the work, getting on Dave and Tommy's bad side. They respond by dismantling the car, with Erin mockingly asking him to use the bikini-clad models at the other cars to help him put it back together, throwing a remark that he made back in his face. Even Papa Titus gets in on it, saying he'll recognize Titus's face on the latest issue of 'Screw Your Friends Weekly.
- Whole Episode Flashback: Most episodes feature a handful of flashbacks, but the main story is in the present day story. "Errr" focuses mostly on a story Titus is telling Amy about his efforts to woo Erin back in high school.
Affectionate!Mom: Hello Kenny. It's 'nita. I've never stopped loving you. Call me - let's work it out.
- One of Titus's girlfriends, Noelle, who blamed her bouts of anger and abuse on a "sugar imbalance," which Titus tried to temper by offering her Twix. At her wake, her brother delivered a letter to him.Titus: "Dear Christopher, I love you too much - that's the problem. Be mine forever, and I promise I'll never punch you again. Love, Noelle." (Chuffs) God bless us - everyone.
- Most of the women Ken Titus dated/married were either this or just plain crazy. Juanita (Titus's mom and Ken's second wife) qualified for the latter, which is justified as she was a manic-depressive schizophrenic. "Locking Up Mom" has her leave a series of messages.
Murderous!Mom: Listen, you son-of-a-bitch, I know you have a contract out on me, well I got one out on you too. And anothe-
Affectionate!Mom: Me again! Sorry, I guess the machine cut me off. (Murderous!Mom) You're a dead man! You're gonna leave that house in a body-bag!
Ken: File it with the others.
- One of Titus's girlfriends, Noelle, who blamed her bouts of anger and abuse on a "sugar imbalance," which Titus tried to temper by offering her Twix. At her wake, her brother delivered a letter to him.
- You Are a Credit to Your Race: Papa Titus is racist but in a genuine way.Christopher: (introducing his new Black Best Friend) Hey Dad, this is Roger. He just moved in down the street.Papa Titus: Oh well, that makes sense. First time I saw a black guy take a TV into a house.
- Also:Papa Titus: What's your rush? Your fifteen kids will still be there when you get home!Castro: (in a sarcastic, stereotypically Mexican voice) Si, senor. But I have to go feed the donkey. Put on a big sombrero and go sleep underneath a tree. [loses the accent and grumbles]: You racist Irish drunk. (walks away)Papa Titus: That's my kind of Mexican!
- And:Christopher (to Tommy): Look, Tommy, if you do anything to hurt Shannon, you're gonna have to deal with that Swede [Shannon's boyfriend, Stefan], and...(points to himself, then looks over Tommy's shoulder and addresses Papa Titus): Dad, what are we, German-Irish?Papa Titus: White. That's all that matters.(Erin stares at Papa Titus in shock as the audience groans)Erin (genuinely hurt by the racist comment): Papa Titus!Papa Titus: In society's eyes, I'm saying!
- You're Not My Father: Parodied in an Imagine Spot when Titus is asked how he'd react if Ken were gay.Titus: I won't call him "Mommy".Ken: I call him "Daddy".