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"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"
—Clarence Odbody, It's a Wonderful Life
After the movie Its a Wonderful Life, a device whereby an external force (usually supernatural) intervenes in a time of crisis to show the character facing said crisis how things would have been had he or she never been born/entered that line of work/come to town/what have you. May occur as part of a Near-Death Experience, or following Smite Me Oh Mighty Smiter. Episodes with this plot usually take place around Christmas time, because It's a Wonderful Life takes place around Christmas. If a show hasn't done a Yet Another Christmas Carol episode yet, they'll be doing this one.
It is usual that people would be worse off without the character facing this plot. The most common subversion is that everybody's life is better. The world is usually governed by the Butterfly of Doom; regardless of how minor the change, there is rarely a middle ground or a world which is only slightly different, to the extent that the character's absence, no matter how seemingly insignificant or small, will result in a complete Crapsack World in which there is little hope whatsoever. Also closely related to Necessary Fail.
This may be a Discredited Trope already. Nearly half the examples below are subversions of some sort.
- The final episode of Serial Experiments Lain shows a world in which Lain does not exist (in contrast to scenes from the first episode, before all the weirdness)... and then the viewer realizes that this is not a mere possibility, but a reality Lain created by erasing everyone's memories of herself. Although she did leave her BFF Alice with a tiny figment of memory of her, only large enough to make her wonder for a second if she has seen Lain before.
- The Fourth Suzumiya Haruhi novel and The Movie, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, is basically one long Wonderful Life story for Kyon, except he didn't actually ask for it, he's not the one being retgonned, and the "angel" responsible is affected by the changes as well... It does happen around Christmas, though.
- Played straight for a sequence in the final episode of Kimagure Orange Road.
- Rika in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni's "Saikoroshi-hen" wakes up in a new world after a Near-Death Experience, in which none of the tragedies involving Oyashiro's curse happened. Her parents are alive, Satoko's parents are alive, Satoshi is still around, and Rena's parents never divorced. However, as a result, Keiichi never came to Hinamizawa, Satoko and her other classmates bully Rika, Hanyuu is absent, and the town will soon be flooded due to the dam project never being stopped.
- The Big Bad of Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure part 6 uses this as the basis for his plan; he plans to create a world where the Joestar family never existed and Dio reigns supreme.
- End of Evangelion was once meant to contain a much longer Live Action scene. It was eventually cut, but versions of it are still floating around on the Internet - In contrast to the Shojo-esque alternate reality from episode 26, it shows a world where Shinji never existed. Contrary to what he expected, the world is not much better without him - In fact, it's much worse: Asuka is living a bleak, mediocre life and is in a purely physical relationship with TOUJI of all people, the unsually optimistic Misato is resigned and hopeless, and Rei could give Gendo lessons on being bitter and pessimistic.
- J. Michael Straczynski's entire new run of Wonder Woman, "Wonder Woman: Odyssey", is basically "It's a Wonderful Plot". It's surprisingly still fresh ground for comic books. In it, Wonder Woman finds herself in a parallel timeline where Paradise Island was destroyed when she was a child and she was smuggled to Man's World as a baby and raised in the streets and alleys by the few surviving Amazons. Slightly subverted, as instead of just witnessing "the world without Wonder Woman", she'll be living it, and fighting to regain her old status (thereby repairing the timeline).
- Don Rosa did a story about Donald Duck, "The Duck Who Never Was", based on this trope to celebrate his 60th birthday. Donald applies for a job at a museum but is immediately laid off for exceeding the retirement age due to a nearsighted curator misreading his application. He meets a "birthday genie" and wishes he was never born, only to be transported to a hellish version of Duckburg where almost everyone is worse off. However the one person Donald wanted to be miserable, Gladstone Gander, is just as successful as he is in real life. Of course it turns out to be All Just a Dream. Or Was It a Dream?
- Some elaboration on what made Duckburg so hellish and how effective this was: Without Donald, Gyro was caught in a ray that Donald was that lowered him to normal intelligence and a unhappy life as a farmer. Grandma Duck was forced to work for Daisy, who became an incredibly successful romance novelist, but was left a lonely, bitter shell without anyone to love (ie, Donald). Gus, as Scrooge's only nephew left, was hired by Scrooge (which was the reason Grandma Duck had to work for Daisy - she didn't have anyone to help her with running her farm, which she sold to Gyro), but was easily tricked by Magica into handing over the Number One Dime, Breaking his spirit and allowing Gloomgold to take everything from Scrooge, resulting in Duckburg's economy collapsing and Scrooge a bitter old duck living in a barrel and into Daisy buying the Money Bin and using it as a printing room for her novels. Without Donald around, Gladstone got Huey, Duey and Louie who have all both adopted his lazy philosophy of relying on luck and grown ginormously fat, and as mentioned above, Gladstone's still a success who also has the Beagle Boys, who without Scrooge to steal from had no choice but to go straight and become the police, in his pocket. Actually, in the pockets of anyone willing to bribe them. As they explained, with the collapse on Duckburg's economy, Duckburg's police runs in a tight budget, so they survive on tips the Beagle Boy who became Mayor gets from the people they arrest in exchange for slighter sentences. Luckily, Donald returns to the museum and the Genie returns things, leading to one giant Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, with everyone wishing him a happy birthday.
- There was another Donald story with a similar premise, but only in the loosest of terms. For one thing, the story takes the Good Angel, Bad Angel trope and turns it Up to Eleven, with the two actually being depicted as (magical?) creatures living in Donald's brain. The bad angel, fed up with how the good angel seems to always influence Donald, beats him up and ties him into a closet, then disguises himself as the good angel. What does this have to do with this trope? Well, the angels' recent conflicts inside Donald's brain have resulted in Donald demonstrating bipolar disorder-like behavior, so all his friends and family (plus Gladstone) hold a meeting which Donald eavesdrops on and thinks is about how much he sucks as a person. Furious, he wishes that he was never born, and the bad angel (disguised as the good angel) shows him what life would be like without him... and everybody's happier (i.e. Daisy is Happily Married to Gladstone, Huey, Dewey and Louie are in Scrooge's custody). Just as this little tour ends, the good angel breaks free, beats up the bad angel in return, and shows Donald what would really result (Daisy leads an empty life married to Gladstone; Gladstone thinks that Daisy is way too controlling; Scrooge is contemplating putting Huey, Dewey, and Louie in juvenile hall, etc.). And before you ask, no, this was not a fanfiction.
- Huey, Dewey and Louie are preparing dinner for New Year's eve in a geriatric care home using money provided by the Junior Woodchucks. They send Donald with the money to buy food, but he loses the purse. Donald decides Duckburg would be better off without him and seems to prepare to commit suicide, but is interrupted by his guardian angel (not the angel from the previous story, by the way). The guardian angel shows him how a new year's eve in Duckburg would be without him: Huey, Dewey and Louie live in an orphanage, are constantly bullied by their peers and are unable to celebrate new year's eve in peace. Daisy is dating Gladstone (again), but is unhappy with how Gladstone takes her to a horse racetrack rather than a restaurant and feels Gladstone doesn't really care about her. Scrooge has no friends or family and when he decides to invite his staff to a dinner party, he finds that none of them is willing to spend more time than necessary with him.
- And another time (Donald Duck comics will ruminate any trope to infinity) there was an Inversion where Donald made the wish that he were alone without all his friends who were annoying him. No points for guessing he didn't like it when the wish came true, though there was more to the plot than that.
- Mad Magazine is fond of this trope. They tend to favor people with political power, especially the current president of the time.
- Speaking of Mad Magazine, the Monroe comic had a chapter with this plot. In it, everyone is happier and better off without Monroe; even the guardian angel admits absolutely everything is better for everybody. In the end, Monroe decides to continue living, because "misery loves company."
- Hilariously double-subverted in the post-Zero Hour Legion of Super-Heroes: Brainiac 5 gets a view of what the Legion would be like without him, and it turns out to be an idealized Silver Age-style world in which the other Legionnaires are just kids in a "hero club." After confirming that, yes, their lives are in fact better without him, Brainy chooses to go back anyhow in order to go on making their lives as miserable as they make his.
- A Flintstones comic had Fred find that he hadn't received a Christmas bonus. Fred gets depressed about this, somehow gets even more depressed and starts going on a walk without knowing where he's headed - toward a tar pit. The Great Gazoo then yanks Fred out of time at the last minute and takes him to a world to show Fred what things would be like if he never existed (Fred protests along the way that he didn't wish that he was never born, Gazoo retorts saying Fred posed an interesting "what if" and didn't want to pass it up). They arrive in a world where Bedrock is a lot larger and is now known as Slaterock, Barney has an administrative position at Mr. Slate's business and Wilma is married to Mr. Slate. Gazoo then shows that all is not as it appears to be. Slaterock grew up "too big, too fast" and crime is now way up. Betty is single and homeless because she never met Barney (because Fred introduced her to him) and Barney is quite lonely and spends his nights in the office depressed. Pebbles is a spoilt brat and Wilma is unhappy with her marriage. Gazoo then takes Fred back to his own time, where he declares that he's alive...and in pain having fallen into the tar pit. He returns home now more appreciative of his family and Mr. Slate arrives with Fred's bonus, saying his secretary forgot to put it in his pigeonhole.
- In Grant Morrisons Batman story "Last Rites", set between Batman RIP and Final Crisis, Bruce is given false memories of a life in which his parents weren't killed. Jim Gordon and Dick Grayson are dead. Bruce is a dilettante doctor, coddled by Martha and a disapointment to Thomas, especially when he falls for a patient who turns out to be Selina Kyle, distracting him while she robs the surgery.
- Issue #16 of Cartoon Network Presents featured a Top Cat story, "It's a Wonderful Strife", in which both T.C. and Officer Dibble, tired of putting up with each other, wish they'd never come to the city. The both of them are then shown alternate realities by their guardian angels, played respectively by Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss. Huck shows T.C. that, without guidance from a crafty leader, his gang has to resort to crime for sustenance, and Snagglepuss shows Dibble that if he never became a police officer, T.C. would be an anarchist bossing around the entire police force.
- In Nodwick, a plot like this appears when a well-meaning but somewhat naive angel attempts to save Nodwick from his henchman existence by offering to take his soul for good, and tries to convince Nodwick by showing what would happen if he were to die for good. Bad Future ensues. He then attempts to invoke this trope by replacing members of the party one by one to find a better Alternate Universe for Nodwick (replacing Nodwick put another henchman in an even worse stew than Nodwick, since he was taller and therefore a better Human Shield, replacing Yeagar put an Ogre in the party who ate Nodwick on a regular basis, and Arthax was replaced with a necromancer, who heavily reduced Nodwick's death count with some unfortunate implications). The angel is eventually forced to acknowledge that Nodwick is a Cosmic Plaything designated to deflect misery from everyone else around him, and leaves things as they were.
- The angel is even called Clarence, like in the original film.
- Richie Rich's Christmas Wish has the entire plot of the film based on this, as Richie wishes (with a wishing machine) that he never existed.
- Bedazzled is maybe an unconscious parody - a poor shlub is tired of his nowhere life, tries to end it all, the Devil (an angel of sorts) intervenes and offers the chance to wish up an alternate existence (not once, but seven times) which gets him to see his old life is better than the alternative. The Devil was a Jackass Genie, that's why the alternatives were so bad.
- Mr. Destiny, an '80s comedy starring Jim Belushi, Linda Hamilton and Michael Caine in the Clarence role, subverted this trope a little; Jim Belushi's character always bemoaned the fact that he blew a game-saving play in high-school baseball, and Caine changed history so that he made the game-saver instead. Belushi then sees his life changing; he's now the Vice-President of the sporting goods company he's working for, and married to the boss's daughter, but it turns out he's having an affair with a psychotic temptress, and his real wife from his old life (Hamilton), the one woman he truly loved, is married to someone else.
- This is the plot of the fourth Shrek movie, Shrek Forever After. Shrek is tricked by Rumplestilskin into signing a contract that gives him a day as a real ogre in exchange for a day from his past. Unfortunately, the day taken away is the day he was born.
- The Nicolas Cage film The Family Man has the subverted/inverted version. His character is shown how much fuller and happier his life would be had he stayed with his girlfriend after college rather than moving to London and starting his rich-but-lonely life and career as a high-powered stockbroker.
- The plot of The Butterfly Effect is one of the most famous (and cruelest) subversions/deconstructions of this trope.
- The educational short A Case of Spring Fever (Seen on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 1012-Squirm) features a Wonderful Life plot where the missing element is springs. Yes, it's exactly as dumb as it sounds.
- NOOOOOO! SPRIINNGS! * beep-boop!*
- What's interesting is that MST parodied this particular short in two different episodes. In the first one, it's just a skit during a host segment--Tom Servo eats so many waffles that he never wants to see another one again, and Crow shows up as the Waffle Sprite to spell out just how terrible a world without waffles would be. Squirm, the episode featuring the "Spring Fever" film itself, aired several seasons later, so the reference was simply a Genius Bonus.
- Of course, the Squirm episode featured another host segment, where Crow and Tom Servo wonder if every object in the universe has its own sprite, just waiting for the chance to pull a Wonderful Life plot. They test this by having Crow announce that he never wants to see Mike again for as long as he lives; sure enough, Mikey the Mike Sprite appears to show the 'bots the horror of a world without Mike. The 'bots don't miss Mike at all, but they wish for him back anyway just to humor the sprite. Then Servo says he never wants to see Mike's socks again; enter Mikesocksy...
- Second Glance is a Christian youth film where the protagonist wishes he wasn't a believer. The next morning an angel shows up to let him experience his life as if he'd never been a Christian. HollywoodAtheists and Values Dissonance aplenty, natch. First prize in the Unfortunate Implications competition goes to the divorce of his parents because he didn't pray for their marriage. Remember kids, if your parents divorced, it's all because YOU didn't pray enough.
- And bonus points for the protagonist supposedly having to live as a non-believer, while his new life is being explained to him by an angel.
- The Trope Namer is loosely based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern called The Greatest Gift.
- The Sweet Valley Twins series played the trope entirely straight in a Christmas special book, in which Elizabeth wishes she'd never been born and promptly receives a visitation from a quirky guardian angel who shows her a vision of what life would be like. It's heavy on For Want of a Nail scenarios based on Elizabeth's actions in previous books, but also contains a couple of more nonsensical changes: the club of shallow, popular rich girls is transformed into a vicious girl gang, and Elizabeth's sister Jessica goes from bubbly, stylish, and popular to shy, geeky, and pathetic.
- Subverted in a Sweet Valley High Super Edition, "Winter Carnival" where Elizabeth becomes annoyed with Jessica's forgetfulness/selfishness when it causes a rift in her budding romance with Jeffrey French during a winter festival at a ski resort. Elizabeth is upset and leaves, angrily wishing that Jessica wasn't around to mess things up. When she arrives home, she finds out that Jessica is dead. With Jessica gone, everyone in Sweet Valley is depressed and spends a lot of time remembering Jessica's bubbly personality and forgetting about Elizabeth. She wakes up and realizes that it was All Just a Dream and makes up with Jessica and Jeffrey.
- Animorphs did this in one book, with Jake making a Deal with the Devil with Crayak to Cosmic Retcon the timeline so that the Animorphs never received their powers in the first place. Subverted slightly in the fact that the kids end up winning the war with the Yeerks FASTER without their powers, although most of them die in the process.
- Parodied in More Information Than You Require, and given as Prince Albert's motivation for introducing Germanic pagan influences onto the English Christmas and becoming a Funny Foreigner.
- A variant in the Discworld novel Jingo, when Vimes accidentally picks up his Dis-Organiser from the wrong timeline immediately after making a difficult decision. The Dis-Organiser gives a running comentary on what's happening in the universe where Vimes stays in Ankh-Morpork and tries to work within Rust's regime. The Klatchians invade and the entire Watch gets killed, ending with Vimes himself. (Presumably, made even worse by the Dis-Organiser in that universe telling Vimes how much better things would be going if he'd gone to Klatch.)
- It happened on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Without Carlton driving the family to greed and materialism, as well as countering Will's laid-back attitude, they sink into laziness and poverty.
- Oh, and Carlton's Clarence/guardian angel is Tom Jones.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Tapestry, Q shows Captain Picard what he would've become had he not gotten into the bar fight as a cadet that gave him his artificial heart. Needless to say, he wasn't the same lovable stoic Badass we remember. Can you say, Lieutenant j.g. Picard?
- Married... with Children had a subversive Wonderful Life episode centered around Al, with Sam Kinison as his "Clarence". The world turns out much better without him (Peg is a model housewife who's married to a rich man named Norman Jablonski (portrayed by the same actor who would later portray Jefferson D'Arcy) who has saved up enough to move the family into a mansion, Bud has respect for women and isn't driven by greed or lust, and Kelly is in college and still a virgin), and he chooses to return out of spite.
- He was infuriated when Peggy said she had saved her self for marriage screaming "What? When she graduated, the football team retired her number.
- An episode of Providence, aptly titled "It's a Wonderful Providence," involves Sidney's mother's ghost showing her what her life would've been like had she not moved back to Providence after her mother's death.
- With some mild parody, Night Court had Judge Harry Stone led through a Wonderful Life vision by his guardian angel, Herb. Subverted somewhat when Herb (assuming the image of Mel Torme) admits that the reason the vision was in black and white was not (as Harry suggested) because his absence took color out of the world, but nothing more than an artistic device meant to cater to Harry's love of Film Noir and that Harry needed to get over himself.
- In addition to the requisite For Want of a Nail changes (sleazeball lawyer Dan Fielding becomes a truly diabolical villain without Harry's friendship), there were a few totally random changes. For instance, in the Film Noir Alternate Universe, Jack the Speakeasy Owner has no sense of taste, whereas in the main universe Jack the Shopkeep is blind.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer's third-season episode "The Wish" did a Wonderful Life variant, in that Cordelia wishes that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale. In this hellish reality, Cordelia doesn't manage to come to an Aesop-style revelation, because she is killed half-way through the episode before Giles manages to reverse Cordelia's wish, turning the rest of the episode into a For Want of a Nail situation.
- Angel features an alternate reality in the third-season episode "Birthday." A demon gives Cordelia the chance to enter a world in which she does not have the prophetic visions, which after three years are near the point of killing her. In this parallel world, Cordy has become the rich and successful actress she always wanted to be - but the sight of a one-armed Wesley, and an Angel driven insane from getting the visions in Cordy's stead, quickly convince her to go back to the real world (though changed to become part demonic so she can survive the visions).
- In The Secret World of Alex Mack, when Alex wishes herself to never have been born, her mother instead got the GC-161 powers, was easily found, and was captured and became a lab specimen. Alex then finds her mother, rescues her, teaches her to use her powers, and wishes herself back into existence. Of course, it turned out to be All Just a Dream...
- To keep Alex's father from finding out the truth, Danielle Atron demoted him into menial labor, thus reducing his income. To help with expenses, Alex's sister got a part-time job, which left her no time for any accomplishments that'd give her a chance to get into her college of choice.
- The popularity Danielle Atron got with the development of GC-161 allowed her to run for Governor. The odd part about this was that, aside for a brief conversation with Vince in the mainstream universe, she had never shown any interest into becoming a politician in the whole series.
- Ray Alvarado got a job at the plant and became best friends with Vince despite the age gap pointed out by Alex.
- In Moonlighting, Maddie wished she'd never kept the office open. A "guardian angel" by the name of Albert, showed her what would have happened if she hadn't. A twist is that others' lives might be the same or better, but her own life is headed for destruction.
- Also done in Highlander the Series, where Duncan McLeod sees his friends' unpleasant deaths that he averted.
- Subverted in A Bit of Fry and Laurie. An important media mogul (a clear Anonymous Ringer for Rupert Murdoch) is about to throw himself off a bridge when the angel appears to show him how life would be. It turns out that without him, everyone would live together in peace and harmony, since he wasn't able introduce his violent media. When they return to the bridge, he wants to be brought back to life because he can exploit this universe for his own profit. The angel then pushes him off the bridge.
- In Chappelle's Show, Chappelle (as an Almighty Janitor) shows a big-breasted woman how the world would be if her breasts were smaller after overhearing her complain about being ogled and harassed over her big boobs. In that world, she was turned down for a raise and fired, her friend never invited her to her wedding as a bridesmaid, and the world was destroyed by an insane man who used to masturbate to her when she was large-chested. The woman then decides to get her breasts enlarged. It takes a comedic twist when it's discovered that the janitor isn't magic; he's high on PCP and was wondering why the woman was following him around.
But, then how did you show me all that stuff?
- Saturday Night Live had the ghost of Richard Nixon (played by episode host John Turturro) as the "Clarence" for Newt Gingrich. In a world without Newt, he's horrified to learn, abortions are safe and legal (Ted Kennedy never having gotten the case of scotch Newt sent him to keep him from showing up for the vote) and Hillary Clinton is President.
- SNL had a couple more "It's A Wonderful Life" parodies, including the infamous one from season 12 (on the episode hosted by William Shatner) in which Mr. Potter finally gets what he deserves, one from season 26 in which episode host Val Kilmer sees what the show would be like if he chickened out at the last minute, and a reimaging of the movie (from season 36) as a Hanukkah movie rife with Jewish stereotypes and examining the tension and stress of a Hanukkah celebration.
- There was also a "What if Al Gore had won in 2000?" sketch released at the height of George W. Bush's unpopularity. In this universe, global cooling is the problem rather than global warming, gas is so cheap that the oil companies are hurting, and America is so well-loved that Americans can't go to other countries without getting hugged.
- When Andrew Dice Clay hosted an episode, the opening sketch shows what would have happened to the show if he hadn't been born. Among other things, Sinead O'Connor(who backed out in protest of the raunchy comic's hosting the show) died from being crushed by a falling amp.
- The TV show The Wayans Bros both played it straight and subverted it at the same time. Without Marlon around, Pops owned a gourmet restaurant, Dee was married to the soap hunk of her dreams, and Shawn was rich and owned everything. However, everyone was unhappy: Pops only kept getting the same gift from Shawn and was ignored, Dee's husband was cheating on her, and Shawn was going to destroy Grandma Williams' nursing home to build a Yogurt World.
- Charles in Charge has an episode like this: without Charles, the Powell family (and Charles's mother) end up with a lot more money, but they've all turned into spoiled jerks.
- A first season Mork and Mindy episode had Mork embarrassing Mindy's dad in front of his new girlfriend. Mork tells Orson he wishes he'd never met Mindy because he screws up everything, so Orson shows Mork what Mindy's life would be like if they hadn't met (and on top of that, says he actually CAN erase the year they had together). In the alternate year, Mindy is married to a deadbeat gambler and her father has sold the music store and traveled the world (the latter of which turned out to be a lie). Mork decides he doesn't want to undo the year he's had with Mindy and that if anyone's going to screw up her life, it should be him. And then they kiss and make up. Awwww.
- Lampshaded when, immediately after returning from the vision of a world without him, Mork exclaims, "Hey, it's a wonderful life!"
- My Family did one where Ben wondered how his family would be without him. He then realized they would be exactly the same and was naturally pleased since it meant their problems weren't his fault after all. This occurs after an older man, who just happens to be named Clarence, "saves" him from committing suicide.
- At the end, Ben seems to be in a much better mood than his usual vile-tempered demeanour, so it almost looks like he's actually had some kind of revelation...then it turns out it wasn't the fresh perspective, but Nick having been locked out of the house all night. (Mind you, Nick leaving didn't chirp him up meaningfully...)
- Done well in an episode of That 70s Show. Eric and Donna have broken up and Eric is so miserable that he wishes he and Donna had never been together in the first place. An angel (Wayne Knight) shows up and offers to grant his wish. He shows Eric an alternate reality where Donna and Hyde got married, Hyde goes to prison and Eric is still a spineless wimp who only ever dated Big Rhonda and never moved out of his parents' house. At the end, Eric says that he's OK with all that, but when the angel shows him the good memories he would also lose, Eric changes his mind.
- Done with a twist (similar to That 70s Show) on Mad About You. After finding out that the newspaper stand where they met had burned down, Jamie freaks out because if it weren't for that stand, they wouldn't have met and would never have fallen in love. Paul insists they would have found each other anyway. A magic wind shifts the world to what it'd be like, only both of them quickly lose all memory of what was lost, and start remembering their new lives. Both are unhappy with their current romantic situations and after wandering around lost, find each other at the burned out remains of the newspaper stand and go home, the world now fixed.
- Done in the "Apocalypse" episode of Smallville. Clark starts wondering if his friends would be better off if he had never made it off of Krypton, and he suddenly finds himself in a world where just that happened. As usual, at first he's justified to find out that all of his friends are better off, but ultimately realizes that his absence would leave the world in great danger. There some problems with this episode, since without Clark, all of his friends should have died anyway, most of them having been saved from mundane situations by him at one point. Most notably, Lex's brush with death in the first episode (since he would not have known Clark at all prior to that moment) should have still happened, with a more fatal outcome.
- Of course, considering it's LEX FREAKIN LUTHOR, you have to wonder at whether this would be a bad thing.
- Another Smallville episode around Christmastime had Lex shown a possible future by the ghost of his mother. In this one, he gave information to the Daily Planet exposing his father's crimes. This caused his father to disown him, but Lex ended up married to Lana with kids, and Lex is working a low-paying job. Then Lana gets sick and, because Lex doesn't have money to pay her hospital bills, she dies. Lex says that he can't live in this world where he literally has nothing left, and it's better to have power so that he can have what he wants. It's supposed to show Lex's descent into evil, but the intended Aesop was really Broken Aesop.
- Something of a Chekhov's Gun to boot, since a later episode has Lex contact his mother via new age means, and she's angry that he ignored her Wonderful Life warning.
- The Doctor Who episode "Turn Left" did this, with an alternate history where Donna never met the Doctor, so he was killed beyond regeneration by the flooding of the Racnoss tunnels when the Thames broke through. In the following couple of years, every single alien menace that the Doctor had thwarted hit home with full force, reducing the Earth to a Crapsack World. Things got downright awful. It's also (in part) set over two Christmases.
- If you take this theory of Supernatural's "What Is And What Should Never Be" episode, then things tend to get a bit vicious. It Makes Sense in Context but the message to Dean is basically "Be thankful for all your abuse and parentification because without it, you would be worthless with no good qualities." Ouch. And also subverted in the fact that it's pretty clear at the end of the episode that Dean would have rather stayed and, in the next episode, things go even more to hell and his mental state gets worse.
- Season 4's "It's a Terrible Life" showed that even if the boys weren't Winchesters, they'd still end up as hunters somehow, which is pretty awful when you think about it. Zachariah serves as their Clarence-figure, disguised as Dean's boss.
- The Facts of Life had an episode in which Beverly Ann wished that she had never come to town to become the girls' den mother (or whatever she was). In a dream, Santa appeared to show her what would have happened without her. Jo was killed in some kind of accident, and bad things happened to all the other girls as well.
- ICarly has an example where it's not a complete Crapsack World. Carly, after becoming upset with her brother Spencer when his metal tree accidentally burns down her Christmas gifts, wishes he were more normal. Her angel appears and grants the wish. Spencer is turned into a straightlaced lawyer. Sam goes to jail because Spencer refused to let Carly be her friend and become her Morality Chain, Carly ends up as Nevel's girlfriend, Freddie loses his hope that he will get together with Carly and winds up being bossed about by a girl who is completely unsuitable for him, and finally Spencer marries Mrs. Benson. And there is no iCarly webshow anymore.
- It's a Crapsack World by the standards of the show. Carly's dating a borderline sociopath (as opposed to merely being friends with/the Morality Chain of one like normal). Freddie's still an Acceptable Target of abuse, except that he now takes it from a girlfriend instead of Sam. Spencer has gone from being reckless but loving to being preppy, boring, and aloof; not only that, but he's dating a completely smothering psychopath. And Sam is an even worse person than she is in their regular lives and is in prison — and considering how bad Sam can be in a regular episode, the possibility of what she might do without Carly's calming influence borders on Nightmare Fuel. The lack of web show is just Author Existence Failure, because Carly never had the opportunity to do it.
- In a Popular episode at the end of the arc centered on Harrison's battle with leukemia, he is prevented from committing suicide by being taken on a Wonderful Life by the spirit of his deceased hospital roommate who returned as his guardian angel. Keeping with the somewhat parodic nature of the show, said roommate is even named "Clarence". Making it even funnier is the fact that his actor was previously the star of Teen Angel.
- A Laverne and Shirley episode has Laverne feeling sorry for herself while nursing a broken leg, then falling asleep while watching It's a Wonderful Life on TV and dreaming that she'd never been born.
- A Malcolm in the Middle episode has Lois imagining what her life would be if she'd had all girl children. She goes to the mall and alternates between reality and daydreams about her 'perfect' life with her daughters. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a mess. Mallory (Malcolm) is in love with a lazy guy and manipulates Hal to get what she wants, Daisy (Dewey) is a know-it-all, Frances (Francis) works at Hooters and is married to a much older man, and Renee (Reese) is pregnant. And Hal has become grossly overweight due to the anxiety caused by raising four daughters. It's something of a subversion, however, since by the end of the episode Lois is still hoping her next child will be a girl.
- Weird Science has an episode called "It's a Wonderful Life... Without You", so you can guess how well it goes when they try to do this. Not only is everyone better off without Wyatt, he and Lisa get stuck in the world where they don't exist and have to find a way back.
- In the Hannah Montana episode "When You Wish You Were a Star", Miley wishes upon a star that she could be all Hannah, all the time. In this life, Jackson is a hermit, Robbie Ray is married to a gold-digger, Lilly has become the Alpha Bitch (with Ashley and Amber as her Girl Posse), and Oliver and Rico have gone into business together as sleazy paparazzi-wannabes.
- Lost, Season 6, did a fairly subtle extended version of this trope, with an alternate reality playing out in which the Island was destroyed in 1977. Most of the main characters' lives aren't merely better, but the characters themselves are also generally better people.
- An episode of 80s Britcom Sorry! had this plot. Notably, the library was a less welcoming place without Timothy's influence, and his mother was a lonely old woman who kept talking to her lapdog, Timothy.
- Lampshaded in the series finale of Quantum Leap. When Sam expresses a desire to stop leaping to the Bartender (a character who is strongly implied to be God), explaining that he did not intend to make the world a better place by improving only one life at a time, the Bartender replies that the lives Sam has touched in his journey have touched others, and those lives in turn have touched others; by traveling through time, Sam has done a large amount of good simply by helping individuals in need.
- The ALF episode "Stairway to Heaven" had this plot device. At one point he wishes that he never crashed into the Tanner's garage, then is knocked unconscious. Then ALF enters a world where the Tanners never met ALF and ALF never met them. The Tanners are rich, snobby people who own the entire neighborhood and have the Ockmoneks be their servants, but are also bored out of their minds and dull. ALF landed in a cosmetic factory where some blue fluid from his spaceship turned out to be great perfume and he became a very rich CEO and has no fear of the Alien Task Force. ALF decides he likes his new life, until the Angel tells ALF in order for him to go through with it, he will have to forget all about his previous life. ALF doesn't want to forget about the Tanners and decides it's not worth it. But then he wakes up. It is never stated whether the whole thing was a dream or a vision, but as Alf and Kate learned the hard way, the blue stuff in his spaceship DIDN'T make great perfume.
- ALF's guardian angel tells him, "Anyone who wants a new life gets one. It's the Capra Amendment," a refernce to the Trope Namer.
- A famous episode of Australian soap Home and Away featured long-standing character Alf Fisher having a near-death experience whilst on the operating table. He met up with his dead wife who took him on a tour to show him what their town would become if he gave up and died now.
- Repeated later with Sally and the ghost of Tom, her foster-father.
- The final episode of Dallas showed what the world was like without J.R. Ewing. It had a twist ending:
Adam (the guardian angel): Angel? Who said I was from Heaven?
- We were left with the impression that J.R. shot himself in the end.
- Done with a twist on Psych: after a particularly embarrassing screw-up, Shawn wonders what life would be like if he never returned to Santa Barbara and became a detective. The twist being: 1) that he's fully aware that it's all just a dream, and even manipulates things to comedic effect; and 2)the lesson he learns is not how much better he's made everyone else's lives, but how much better THEY have made HIS.
- The penultimate episode of Brimstone, "It's a Helluva Life," uses this to some extent. Since Ezekiel Stone is already dead, it involves the Devil showing him how all the things he'd done during his life had led to bad outcomes, and pretty much doomed him to Hell, even without him killing his wife's rapist. Luckily, an Angel turns up to point out all the good he'd done as well.
- In the 2011 Christmas episode of Warehouse 13, Stern's brush inflicts this trope on Pete. Turns out that without him Myka is still with the Secret Service, Artie is in jail, Claudia is institutionalized, and MacPherson is alive and in charge of the Warehouse.
- Heartily lampshaded: Stern's brush inflicts this trope because it belonged to Philip Van Doren Stern, the author of "The Greatest Gift", which was adapted by into It's a Wonderful Life. The episode is even called "The Greatest Gift".
- In one season's Christmas Episode of Raising Hope, Jimmy hallucinates what his life would be like if Hope had never been born. Turns out it would be pretty bad. Played with when Jimmy realizes that this is very similar to that movie... Inception!
"Because I have no idea what's going on!"
- Very subtly done (because there was no dream sequences or supernatural elements) in the How I Met Your Mother episode "False Positive", where Marshall, Lily, Barney, and Robin all make poor decisions for their future after considering better alternatives (Marshall and Lily quit trying to have a baby and decide on a dog instead, Robin takes an easy job as a game show bimbo instead of an ambitious respectable one in journalism, and Barney buys an extravagant suit instead of giving the money to charity, connecting with his half-brother's father, and starting to turn his life around). Ted promptly rips them all a new one and forces them back on track, causing substantial and lasting changes for all the characters for the rest of the show's entire run that wouldn't have happened without him. The ending explicitly parodies the movie, with snow suddenly starting to fall on Ted after everything is made right again.
- In "Blackadder's Christmas Carol" Blackadder is the kindest most generous man in Victorian London. He's visited on Christmas Eve by a spirit (Robbie Coltrane) who tells him how wonderful it is that he's so nice. Unfortunately, by showing Blackadder what his descendants would be like if he were mean (rich and with power over the entire universe) he changes into the man we know. He then wreaks vengeance on all the awful people who have been taking advantage of him. More unfortunately, that's the time Queen Victoria and Prince Albert show up to give the nicest man in London a great gift and he tosses them out - assuming they are the winners of the shortest, fastest, ugliest people in London contest.
- The Sweet Valley High TV series played the plot somewhat different from the above literature example. An angel comes to show them what the world would look like without both of them. The sports team has no cups (no cheerleaders), one of the girls is a fanatic Greenpeace activist, someone's a computer nerd... it gets worse.
- The storyline of the Billy Joel music video for his song "Second Wind".
- Beethoven himself gets this in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concept album Beethoven's Last Night. There's also a tenth symphony and Mephistopheles.
- The Gwen Stefani song "Wonderful Life" plays with a less fantastical version of this trope, referencing the impact a now-missing lover had on the narrator's life.
If you only knew what you gave to me / Now you can't be found
- In It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, an angel shows Kermit what would happen to The Muppets in a world where he never existed. Unfortunately, he's not too sure how to bring them back.
- An episode of The Basil Brush Show has this happen. After Basil spends all of the money on cosmetics (namely, for looking after his "brush") he and his friends risk having to stay in the flat without electricity or heating. Whilst the others go off carolling he starts feeling sorry with himself on a bridge. An old man (later shown to be Santa Claus) shows up and shows Basil that he makes lots of people happy, but Basil doesn't get it and wishes he was never born, so the old man sends him to a reality where his thieving cousin now does his show and where the people he helped and now in worse situations. Basil learns his lesson and after begging to exist again ends up in his own reality again. He goes home and finds everyone celebrating Christmas as one of his flatmates found a note with a large sum of money, conveniently.
- Adventures in Odyssey two-parter "It's A Polkenberry Christmas" did this to George Barclay (fittingly enough, as the Barclay family were based on the characters from It's a Wonderful Life). The first part has George's life in tatters - the church can't pay its bills because Ellis (the clerk) has mislaid the cheque; the landowner refuses to sympathize; Stuart (his youngest son) falls off his bike and has an injury, prompting George to chew out the mother of the boy who was teaching him to ride the bike, which in turn leads to him being chewed out by the husband afterward. George eventually ends up on a bridge wallowing in his thoughts of pity. Meanwhile Mr. Whittaker and Eugene who are visiting the family find that George has gone out and, fearing the state of mind he's in, decide to look for him. They go their separate ways and Eugene finds George on a bridge, thinking he's about to throw himself into the river. Ironically, Eugene slips on the ice and falls into the river, and George has to go in and save him. After doing so Eugene takes George back to the motel where he's staying with Mr. Whittaker, only to find their clothes are now dry as if they'd never been in the water at all, the receptionist doesn't remember Mr. Whittaker ever checking in with Eugene (and he isn't on the computer record either) and the receptionist, a classmate of Jimmy's (George's eldest son), doesn't remember working with him on a class project. Things go downhill from there: no one recognizes George, Ellis is a thieving street bum and the church has been turned into a golf course. Eugene postulates that George's attitude and the incident with the river is what sent them into this version of reality. They then phone up Mr. Whittaker, who tells George that he lost faith in God, is estranged from his wife, is himself missing and Stuart was never born. Unable to accept what is happening, George chews out Eugene, who refuses to take any responsibility. Enraged, George attempts to find his family using phone books in a library, only to attract the attention of the police. Evading capture, George wishes he was alive again, and ends up back in the river with Euguene, realising the experience was All Just a Dream. They return to the household where the church congregation has gathered the money required to pay off the debt and George celebrates Christmas with his family. And the "Everytime a bell rings, an angel gets its wings" line get parodied as well.
- A previous episode features Donna wishing Jimmy was never born, and ends up having a day where Jimmy was never born at all. Donna finds that being an only child isn't all it's cracked up to be.
- Old Harry's Game subverts this in the second episode of series two, in which Satan, an ex-angel, asks Thomas if he has seen the film before taking him to see "all the crap things that did happen because he was born".
- In the February 2, 1947 episode of The Jack Benny Program, Jack goes to see It's a Wonderful Life and calls it improbable. Of course, later that day he hits his head and has a dream sequence in which he sees what the world would be like if he'd never been born. Don Wilson is a farmer, Phil Harris is playing at crummy dives, Dennis Day works for Fred Allen, and Mary Livingstone, who had been flirting with Jack before the dream began, is married--to Frank Nelson!
- Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge, Christopher Durang's Affectionate Parody of classic Christmas stories, features the typical subversion, with the title character learning that everyone's much better off without her.
- Chrono Cross screws around with this, and other Alternate Universe tropes, there are two mirror alternate history universes and in one the protagonist is dead, so among other things you can see how things play out with his absence.
- Or would that be you get see how things play out with him NOT absent, since the reality where he died is the "real" one?
- Subverted in the webcomic Megatokyo, because the guardian angel Seraphim did not have enough funds.
- Predictably enough, used in Sluggy Freelance around Christmas 2009, with a short shown on a dystopian alternative Earth, called "It's a Wonderful Life, Citizen". It's about someone who is miserable and wishes he was never born. Because happiness is mandatory in that place, his desire in the sense of no longer existing (in that universe, anyway) is granted, and everyone agrees they're happier without him. The story has An Aesop: Report anyone who's unhappy to the authorities.
- Sexy Losers hilariously skewers it with the aptly titled "It's a Wonderfully Shitty Life". I was supposed to help somebody?
- One of the Bug's irrational fears is that this trope will be subverted for him.
- Housepets has the arc "It's a Wonderful Dog's Life" where the human Joel (a PETA member who helped kidnap a dog) was turned into a Welsh corgi named King. The arc is more a deconstruction, as the supernatural force who transforms him, "Pete", has no intention to change him back. And with subsequent events, it's unlikely he'll ever be changed back.
- Butch of Chopping Block had a dream about this, in which he discovered how much better the world would be without him. (The dream ended with him violently killing the angel.)
- The short video It's a Wonderful Game by Loading Ready Run is a silly take on this trope. The protagonist, in a rage about not being able to defeat the original Super Mario Bros.. for NES once he ran out of new games to play, wishes that Mario had never been made. The result? "Bring him back! Bring Mario back!"
- Captain Estar Goes to Heaven — A young woman who leads a hellish life finds a world that may actually be Heaven. She is offered a "Wonderful Life" that she never had ... can she deal with it?
- The 2010 Nostalgia Critic Christmas Episode You're A Rotten Dirty Bastard parodies this plot. The Critic quits his job due to being angry about there being nothing to review for Christmas. Roger, his guardian angel, comes in to show how other people on the That Guy With The Glasses Team live without his existence, only for everyone to be much better off without him. The Cinema Snob is a giant porn star, Linkara owns both Marvel and DC Comics, The Nostalgia Chick is married and is a major director of films such as Twilight: The Good Version, Angry Joe is the president of the United States, blows up the evil Canada (naturally, killing Phelous) and publicly executed Tom Green, and Spoony has taken the Critic's job, gives positive reviews to Last Action Hero and Junior, and is loved even by the trolls. When Roger discovers he could have been God's greatest angel and successor without the Critic, he tries to kill him, only to learn that God lied about angels being Immune to Bullets. The Critic realizes he improved his own life and goes back to his old self. All narrated by Santa Christ.
- Not everyone's lives were better. Technically Joe did blow up Canada. So the critics existance actually prevents more than 33 million deaths. And Phelous's, but that happens all the time anyway. Though if we take Joe at his word, Canada was an evil empire in this alternate world.
- Doug Walker said in commentary that he was disappointed to find out this trope had been subverted numerous times before, but still hopes that this is the only rendition where they look at the Angel's life without him.
- Doreen and Maureen's Christmas special merges this plot with Yet Another Christmas Carol, lampshades the frequency of this stock plot, and possibly double subverts it by having Doreen realise that the whole world would be much happier without her...and then taking joy in making everyone miserable.
- My Friend Martin. It featured a group of kids who want to prevent Martin Luther King's assassination. So they go back in time, kidnap him as a child, and bring him back to the present day... only to find segregation and racism still in full force, and many of the main character's best friends are affected. Young Martin, who guesses that the changes the others observe are For Want of a Nail, bravely decides to return to his own time. The end of the show featured the animated King time-lapse aging as he walks through the portal, while in the background a montage of his achievements plays.
- A subversion of the trope can be found in an episode of the cartoon Little Shop (an Animated Adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors from 1991); capping it off is the following exchange of dialogue:
Seymour: Hey, this isn't right! You're supposed to show me how miserable everybody is without me!
- Rugrats did this for Chuckie, where Angelica took over the town.
- This was actually a surprisingly dark, almost disturbing episode (yes, of a show involving talking babies). Even if you just included what happened to Chuckie's father, it's rather bleak. He ends up unemployed, sitting alone in his house, surrounded by tons of empty pizza boxes he's been hoarding, a sock-puppet his only friend.
- Scooby Doo did this in the "Thirteen Ghosts" series. The impact of Scooby's refusal to answer the Call to Adventure was shown to him by Vincent Van Ghoul.
- A rather subversive treatment of this story was The Fairly Odd Parents episode "It's A Wishful Life", where everyone's shown as being better off without Timmy Turner, even though he's a decent kid (and this drew flak from many viewers).
- It should be pointed out that the whole thing turned out to be a test being given to Timmy by Von Strangle, even if he was pretty sadistic about it.
- The same thing happened to Dagget from Angry Beavers, but the clueless Dagget wound up messing up the "improved" lives of his friends in the alternate reality.
- An episode of Johnny Bravo did the obvious subversion, in an episode where an angel shows Johnny what life would be like with out him, despite his protests he wasn't interested in seeing it, and everyone was better off. Pop's Diner was replaced with an extremely chic restaurant. Carl was a martial arts master and a software millionaire (Pop claims Carl is the reason Aaron City was on the map), Bunny Bravo was the head of a spy organisation.
- Not exactly everyone - the little girl next door was apparently a terrorist...
- Even his angel confesses he's just a 'hunk of meat with a mouth'. The only reason he came back was because he had put his face in cement that morning. He believed his friends' success didn't make up for not having his beauty around.
- Beavis and Butthead did a somewhat predictable reversal of the plot of It's a Wonderful Life, with an angel coming to Earth on Christmas to show Butt-head how much better the world would be if he had never been born. Neighbors, classmates, teachers, and even Beavis (mainly because he'd never had the chance to screw up) are shown to be happier and more successful without him. Naturally, Butt-head fails to grasp the lesson.
- Daria was one of the neighbors who was happier. This proves that without Butt-head's intervention, her show would not have been as interesting as it was.
- The Simpsons has Homer visited by his guardian angel, who initially appears to him as Sir Isaac Newton. When Homer fails to recognize him, he instead shows himself as Colonel Klink of Hogan's Heroes, and shows Homer what the world would be like if he had never married Marge; Homer is a millionaire and is married to Mindy from the plant, and Marge is president of the United States. Oddly enough, the angel seems to consider this state of events worse than the "real world" — probably because the angel's remit is to make sure that Homer doesn't cheat on Marge now, and this example doesn't really help his case.
- Of course, Homer doesn't get the message and instead spends his time asking "Klink" if he knew about the tunnels under the camp and the radio in the coffee pot. But of course, he manages to stay faithful to Marge on his own.
- And another recent episode used a variation, where Homer looked into magic sauce (seriously) to see what life would've been like if he had won class president. Everything's extremely similar...except he lives in a mansion and doesn't have kids.
- They also parodied the use of this trope in A Case of Spring Fever (see the Mystery Science Theater 3000 entry) with an educational film about a world without zinc. At one point, the protagonist attempts to shoot himself because the world is so terrible.
Jimmy's Dad: Think again, Jimmy. You see, the firing pin in your gun was made out of... yep, zinc.
- Also, in "Grift of the Magi," Moe sees what the world would have been like had he never been born (offscreen) and stops his suicide attempt.
- Parodied on Robot Chicken, where Wimpy (from Popeye) is shown how much better the world is without his existence. Incidentally, hamburgers are free in that world. Seeing this, his guardian angel then kicks him off the bridge himself.
- The Phineas and Ferb episode "Phineas And Ferb's Quantum Boogaloo" involves the boys traveling through time 20 years to the future, and running into future Candace, who, after some crazy antics, goes back to the events of the very first episode of the series. The roller coaster is terminated, and the boys get busted. Future Candace returns to the future, only to find everything industrial and bleak. In this world, everyone is named "Joe", and Doofenshmirtz is the ruler.
- What Candace didn't learn was that, because of her interference, it was Perry, not Doof, who got harmed by the huge ball; and that Doofenshmirtz became the ruler because Perry didn't recover on time to stop him.
- One episode of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series follows this trope: the Turtles wonder if the world would be like without them, and then they wake up in a world in which they never existed and Shredder succeeded in his plans to taking over the world. It's a mess, and not even Shredder is happy. In the end, it turns out to be All Just a Dream.
- The newer version has an episode where Donatello goes into an alternate future where Shredder has taken over the world because he never returned from the future.
- Perhaps more accurately, the Turtles' brotherhood falls apart without Donatello to act as the "level head" and peacemaker. Shredder would very likely have taken over the world anyway. This leads to something of a missed opportunity when various later events in the series echo aspects of that Bad Future, and Donatello never even bats an eye.
- The newer version has an episode where Donatello goes into an alternate future where Shredder has taken over the world because he never returned from the future.
- The cartoon spinoff of Beetlejuice played with this in an episode wherein the depressed trickster Beetlejuice accidentally wished himself out of existence, and he's shown what the Neitherworld would be like without him. His friends in the Neitherworld are relatively better off without him, except they've let their success go to their heads and become jerks, but what really gets to BJ is how in the mortal world, Lydia is miserable without him as a friend.
- Here's a odd one: Captain Planet and the Planeteers — "Two Futures" two-part episode, which takes place on New Year's Eve Wheeler ends up trapped in a cave with Dr. Blight and her time machine. Upset with Gaia, Wheeler makes a Deal with the Devil with eco-villains' female mad sciencist Dr. Blight to go back in time to prevent himself from getting his Fire Ring. Gaia, shows him the future of each area, including Hope Island in bad shape, so he goes back in time and changes things to allow things to return to normal. The eco-villains escape into the time line, but end up in a better future thanks to the Planeteers.
- What, polluting streams wasn't enough, now the villains have to pollute time streams too?
- That's those wacky Planeteer villains and their utter obsession with the evil that is polluting for you.
- What, polluting streams wasn't enough, now the villains have to pollute time streams too?
- At first, Wade Duck's take on this plot in a U.S. Acres episode of Garfield and Friends looks like a standard parody, as he learns that if he hadn't existed, everyone else's life would be exactly the same. But in the end, this becomes even more subverted: he comes back in time to prevent a robbery, using knowledge that he only gained because he had been a bodiless observer at the time!
- The Donkey Kong Country cartoon had an episode with the same name in which DK gets everybody upset with him and decides to run away, but falls unconscious during his trek. He has a dream where Eddie the Yeti, as his guardian angel, shows him a Kongo Bongo Island where he doesn't exist, in which Diddy is an evil dictator, Candy's married to Bluster, and K. Rool is protecting a papier-mache lilypad.
- Played straight with the Christmas special of Kappa Mikey, where Mikey never visited Japan and everyone's life is worse. This coincides with a Yet Another Christmas Carol subplot.
- To elaborate, because Mikey never won the contest, someone else became the new star of Lilymu!, the overweight and past his prime Speed Racer. The ratings tanked and the show was cancelled. Guano became a chimney sweep with a stupid accent, Lily married Yoshi the cameraman and adopted several kids (Becoming very cranky and ugly), Gonard, because the show was cancelled during a take and no one yelled "Cut", terrorizes the city as his Lilymu! role, and Mitsuki tried to be a serious actor, but quickly became a White Dwarf Starlet.
- Parodied in an episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, where after a tribute episode to Zorak gone horribly wrong, Zorak wishes he was never born, prompting his nephew Raymond from the episode "Hungry" to appear as a wingless angel to show what life would be like without Zorak: Diff'rent Strokes would still be on the air, Lokar would be the bandleader of SGC 2 C, and Space Ghost himself would find huge success on his show, going on to become governor of California, then president of the universe. Upon this revelation, Zorak wants to live to make Space Ghost miserable, and Raymond gets his wings.
- Tiny Toon Adventures did this for their Christmas Special, with Buster wishing he didn't exist after a loss of confidence. He's shown an alternate Acme Acres, where Plucky is the star of the show and using his position to make life miserable for Babs. Meanwhile, Monty has taken over the school and uses it for his own purposes. It's a particularly memorable version of the trope, because the special is littered with clever allusions to the real It's a Wonderful Life — among others, Porky lassos the moon for his girlfriend Petunia, Pepe Le Pew uses a perfume called "Zu Zu's Petals," and when Buster gets back to his own reality, he runs around wishing Merry Christmas to various local landmarks.
- Another allusion to It's a Wonderful Life was Monty being wheelchair-bound like his counterpart from the original story. He claimed it was an accident he suffered while skiing. And his alternative self, while not wheelchair-bound, was about to go in the same skiing trip that got the mainstream Monty.
- Subverted in the Superjail season finale: the Warden is sentenced to spend eternity locked up, because his existence would culminate in his world domination. It's only when he escapes and gets a chance to see what happens without him there to horribly enslave the world that he's able to show the alternative (which isn't remotely as bad as world domination, but quite a bit freakier). The force responsible for his fate doesn't buy it, leading to two very unsettling minutes of Continuity Nod as the two realities combine.
- The basic plotline of the LeapFrog educational release A Tad of Christmas Cheer has Tad thinking that his family doesn't care about him anymore, so a "fairy godbug" transports him to an alternate reality in which he never existed.
- Used in a 13th season episode of Arthur called "Silent Treatment." George feels that his friends are ignoring him and decides to stop speaking. His dummy, Wally, then shows him a world without him in a fantasy sequence. George even Lampshades it, noting that there's a movie like it.
- Hey Arnold uses the subversion in which Helga dreams of what the world would be like if she disappeared. Everybody celebrates that she is gone; Arnold, who caused her to disappear with a magic trick, is famous for it; and her parents' lives are much better. Eventually she wakes up and tries to fix all the bad things she did in that episode before falling asleep.
- In an episode of The Emperors New School, Kuzco realizes he makes everyone miserable as he is and wishes he were never emperor in order to fit in. Without him, Yzma has taken over the empire, and everyone is even more miserable.
- A particularly awesome example in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Over The Edge": because of a Scarecrow-induced nightmare, Batgirl actually dreams she gets killed during costumed adventuring. Commissioner Gordon discovers then that Batgirl was his daughter Barbara, and actually orders a manhunt on Batman. Things go downhill from there. Gordon goes so far as to enlist BANE to help him hunt Batman. A surprisingly dark episode, and probably one of the best of an already excellent series.
- Another is "Perchance to Dream", in which Bruce wakes up to discover his parents are alive, he's engaged to Selina Kyle, and there's even a Batman to fight crime. Sounds like a perfect life, huh? Of course, like it says in the title, it's all Only a Dream and he's been put in a Lotus Eater Machine by the Mad Hatter.
- And then there's Justice League's "For the Man Who Has Everything".
- There was a pretty good episode of Superfriends called "The Krypton Syndrome" where Superman falls through a portal, winds up on Krypton, and manages to save it. He returns to the present, but finds Earth a burning ruin, with Robin one of the only survivors. After realizing what happened, he goes back and ensures Krypton's destruction.
Superman: When Krypton was saved, my father never sent me to Earth. So, to this world, there never was a Superman.
- The upcoming Veggie Tales DVD It's a Meaningful Life has this as a plot, as is it obviously based off of It's a Wonderful Life.
- A variation occurs in the Maryoku Yummy episode "A Day Without Maryoku," with Shika so frustrated at Maryoku not following the rules that he takes it up with Tapo Tapo, insisting that their world would be better off without her. Tapo Tapo uses magic bubbles to show him how the day went down and then how it would have gone down without Maryoku. Apparently, a lack of Maryoku not only left him watching all the wishes, but kept Bob's van from starting.
- Played straighter in the episode "It's a Yumderful Life," when Maryoku, feeling the pressure of being "the greatest wishsitter," wishes she had an easier job, and then suddenly finds herself as not a wishsitter, but Bob's official clipboard holder. There's even a direct Shout-Out to the movie with "Yuzu's pedals," a pair of lucky bike pedals Yuzu gave her earlier in the episode, disappearing, and then reappearing when she's back to her regular life.
- Exaggerated in an episode of Futurama which explores what would happen if Fry wasn't sent into the future. The universe implodes.
- Well Fry was sent into the future specifically to prevent the universe imploding.
- "It's the Pasadena Star Trek Convention all over again!"
- In an episode of the Powerpuff Girls, the titular superheroines accidentally travel fifty years into the future after overusing their superspeed for a race home. Fifty years of a world without the Powerpuff Girls, who get to see it taken over by Him.
- Family Guy did an interesting take on this trope. Peter gets killed in a car crash after getting drunk at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting . Death then shows up to show what Peter would be like if he continues on his path of alcoholism. In this future, Peter is a Complete Monster who tortures his family and has sex with his boss. Horrified by this, Peter wishes he had never taken a drop of alcohol in his life. Death then shows him what his life would be like WITHOUT alcohol. In this future, Peter is happy, educated, and cheerful, but he has uptight friends, doesn't know Joe, Cleveland, or Quagmire, and thinks they're uncouth. The Aesop is "use moderation."
- The Life and Times of Juniper Lee: In the episode "Te Xuan Me", Juniper and her classmates were captured by time wraiths. Whenever time wraiths capture anybody, they rewrite history so their captives would have never existed. In the alternative world, Ray Ray became the Te Xuan Ze; Monroe said he had never met a Te Xuan Ze who accepted the role as much as Ray Ray did; and Dennis behaves like the mainstream Ray Ray. The only people (other than the captives) to remember the original timeline were Ray Ray and the magical creature that caused the whole mess by provoking the wraiths. Ray Ray eventually learned the truth and rescued everyone, restoring the original timeline. For a while, Ray Ray believed it was All Just a Dream since even Juniper didn't remember anything, but a photograph he had with him clued him to the fact it really happened.
- Mega Man once went to the future. A future that shows him what the world will be like if he doesn't return to his own time. Without him to stop Dr. Wily, the villain took over the world.
- In the Teen Titans episode "How Long Is Forever?", Starfire is thrown into a dark future where the Titans have split, becoming embittered with each other, which just goes to show how important she is as The Heart of the Titans.