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Writing drama is hard. Sticking to a popular formula is easy. That's why sometimes you can create a temporary Genre Shift in a series to fill up time in your story. For example, many television shows are general drama, but...with a character who is a doctor. You know that soon enough, there's going to be a central episode for that character, complete with a medical plot.
This trope can be glaringly obvious or just a subtle genre that doesn't fit into the rest of the series. Medical Drama is used as an example because it is difficult to hide.
A good test to see whether something fits this trope: If you turned on the television or opened the book at a particular point, would you be able to guess the main genre correctly?
This trope is often paired with Mood Whiplash. For a permanent genre change, see Genre Shift, Halfway Plot Switch is when the plot starts out as something unrelated leading up to the switch. See Genre Roulette for a more extreme version, and Courtroom Episode for a common subtrope. For the same principle applied to video game genres, see Unexpected Gameplay Change, Mundanger.
- In Catch Me If You Can, con man Frank Abagnale Jr works illegally as a doctor, among other things. This subplot looks almost as if it could be reused as a pilot for a television series. Which is entirely appropriate, since Frank is shown studying hospital dramas for lingo and basic protocol ("Do you concur?")
- Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali's surrealist art film L'Âge d'Or starts as a brief Nature Documentary on scorpions before transitioning into. . . whatever the hell the rest of the film is about.
- Home Alone 3 is an out of genre experience for its bad guys who are more suited for a spy action thriller. One of them even says that it feels like they're having an off-day.
- Lord of the Rings: There is a chapter in Return of the King called The Houses of Healing. Aragorn manages to heal several patients including Faramir and Eowyn because "the hands of a king are the hands of a healer." And because he happens to know herbal medicine unknown in Gondor.
Live Action TV
- Lost is (at least in the beginning) about people stranded on an island. Jack is a doctor. We expect Jack to tend to people on the island. What we don't expect is Jack's flashbacks to become a full-blown medical drama. Never once has Lost been described as a "medical drama".
- Lampshaded in Diagnosis Murder, a series that sticks to two popular genres: medical and crime.
- In the JAG episode Each of Us Angels is about an old man telling stories about his experience on a hospital ship during the storming of Iwo Jima.
- Heroes season two featured a virus that was capable of disabling powers, and then killing the victim. The series had a tendency to shift into medical drama at times when it followed Mohinder, who was trying to find a cure.
- Chuck's sister and brother in law are both doctors, but it dips into "Medical Drama" (or medical comedy, given that this is Chuck) less often then you would think (it still happens from time to time, though).
- The Firefly episode "Ariel," pictured above, has Mal and crew robbing a hospital in the Core while Simon and Jayne smuggle River into the hospital and to an imaging suite so that Simon can find out what the Alliance did to her. Simon, the resident doctor on board Serenity and once one of the best trauma surgeons in the Core before the events which led to him and River becoming wanted fugitives, poses as a doctor and gets some awesome moments, including one where he risks blowing his cover to save a patient's life, and then thoroughly chews out the guy who was treating him.
- The episode of Jericho that dealt with April's death.
- The Community episode "Virtual Systems Analysis" parodied Grey's Anatomy.
- Peanuts had a few arcs in which characters ended up in hospital, including Charlie Brown and Lila (Snoopy's original owner), which were dealt with seriously in comparison to the rest of the series.
Anime & Manga
- The Excel Saga anime is, for the most part, the epitome of a Gag Series. So naturally one of the last episodes was played completely straight.
- Halfway through Mayoi Neko Overrun, the viewer gets an entire episode about Mecha and later about a simple game that was made so dramatic it goes on par with a certain mahjong anime.
- The Slice of Life alternate reality scene in episode 26 of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
- Berserk, for one arc, becomes a grim and gritty medieval story devoid of any demons, aside from the Zodd fight. After the arc, shit starts hitting the fan and we return to the Crapsack World that is the world of Berserk.
- In Hajime no Ippo, a (long) series about the harsh world of boxing, the main characters take part in an light-hearted baseball match for a few chapters. Just after the bloodiest, dirtiest and least funny fight of the series.
- It's arguable whether Tenchi Muyo! is a Harem Comedy that randomly switches to a Space Opera or vice versa.
- Given what it's normally like, seeing Nana to Kaoru briefly turn into a high school sports manga is unexpected. The heroine and her rival are on their separate school's track teams, though.
- Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men was a succession of these instead of the routine superhero stuff: high school drama, sci-fi, murder mystery...
- Interestingly, Morrison fled from this genre bending as far as he could after a certain point in his run, making the good guys and bad guys as unambiguously traditionally super-hero/super-villain in their morals and adventures, despite still keeping the more exotic outward trappings introduced earlier.
- Sin City is mostly a crime-noir comic series set in a somewhat realistic world (for a comicbook anyway). Despite this, we've had a few departures.
- Shlubb and Klump had their own short story which was a wacky little story featuring Those Two Bad Guys and an ending gag straight out of a Looney Tunes episode.
- The story Hell and Back features genetic tampering, espionage, a guild of assassins with high tech weapons, and a villainess who could easily be mistaken as a straight up supervillain due to her costume and gadgets. It seemed like a Tom Clancy novel, mixed with Metal Gear.
- The Yellow Bastard was operated on by genetic scientists and even voodoo witchdoctors who turned him into what could be mistaken for a yellow Star Trek alien.
- The Farm is often described as affecting the characters mentaly. Every time anyone goes there, they always feel something in the pit of their stomachs and think the exact same thing, "People have died here." It's also believed to be haunted, giving it a weird horror vibe even though we don't see anything.
- And Rats is a creepy psychological horror story about a Nazi conecntration camp guard getting his overdue comeuppance.
- In the 1980s, a story arc in Batman dealt with Batman fighting a villain called Doctor Fang who was an ex-boxer who was trying to take over boxing in Gotham City. One issue (Batman #372 for those of you who are curious) turned into a full on boxing detail concerning a minor prizefighter getting a shot at the title and hardly had the Dark Knight in the issue at all.
- Forrest Gump: Mostly a general drama, but part of the plot is a war story.
- In Master and Commander, the crew rests for a few days on the Galapagos Islands. Dr Maturin explores the island with the help of an eager midshipman and the film turns into a nature documentary for a little while.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is often described as feeling more like a Haunted House / Demonic Possession story than a Slasher Movie.
- Some scenes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly can be mistaken for a war film.
- While all the Resident Evil films were arguably a Genre Roulette, the third one was entirely different from the other 3. It was less a zombie movie and more a Desert Punk film with zombies occasionally appearing.
- To Kill a Mockingbird: The genre of the novel is probably best described as "coming of age". In the middle of it is a courtroom drama. There are some other crime elements scattered throughout, but it would be misleading to describe it as a crime or law novel.
- The film has a higher focus on the courtroom scene and won the award "Best Courtroom Drama" from the American Film Institute.
- And from the American Bar Association...
- The film has a higher focus on the courtroom scene and won the award "Best Courtroom Drama" from the American Film Institute.
- Moby Dick includes chapters devoted to explaining various aspects of whaling life, as well as a cetology (study of whales) lesson that could fit into a biology textbook or encyclopedia. There's also a chapter about chowder.
- Similarly, Les Misérables has extensive sections detailing the Paris sewers, the Battle of Waterloo, thieves' argot, cloistered orders of nuns...
- Until the final chapters, Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince is pretty much a Romantic Comedy occasionally punctuated by fact-finding trips into Dumbledore's pensieve. This was only played up in the movie, which eliminated most of the pensieve adventures. Notably, the filmmakers added the attack on the Burrow because they thought some action was needed in the middle part of the story.
- The Thursday Next books are... sort of an urban fantasy mystery series about literature and the Meta Fiction thereof. Once per book, there's a chapter wherein Thursday teams up with Spike Stoker to fight vampires, ghosts, demons or what have you, usually just so she can pay the rent. The narration shifts to a style that would not be out of place in Dracula or the more serious modern horror novel. And then things are back to normal next chapter.
- There's also a scene where Thursday has to cross the void between two books in the Bookworld, and the book depicts the wordless void by briefly turning into a comic.
- In Mists of Everness, the second book War of the Dreaming, there is a chapter or two which features a switch from the present-day High Fantasy to Beatrix-Potteresque Talking Animal interlude. It's interesting and funny, and ties into the plot later on, but the unexpected change can be jarring.
- Goosebumps is normally a kid's horror series, but "How I Learned to fly" is more of a Romantic Comedy type of thing, abotu a boy who learns to fly to impress a girl, leading to Celebrity Is Overrated
Live Action TV
- Lost: Lost's use of flashbacks and flashforwards allows it to dabble in other genres frequently. Jack's episodes are mostly medical dramas as shown above, other examples are:
- Ana Lucia's flashbacks become a cop/crime drama.
- Kate's flashbacks feature a fugitive drama.
- Nikki and Paulo became a one-time relationship comedy. Or rather, tragicomedy.
- Ben and Sayid had a James Bond/Die Hard episode.
- Sayid had flashbacks about his time as a torturer in the Iraqi army and his later attempts to lead a normal life after the war
- Another Sayid flashback had him infiltrate a terrorist group that was planning a bombing in Australia
- Desmond's episodes had him involved in a Mental Time Travel back when other characters would dismiss the thought of that nonsense outright.
- And some consider the Sun/Jin flashbacks to be a full-fledged Soap Opera.
- The flash-sideways frequently switch genre. Flash-sideways Locke appears to be in some sort of dramedy about coping with his disability, Ben's are a drama set in a high school (yes, a canon High School AU), Sawyer and Miles are in a buddy cop movie...
- House, which is actually a medical drama, has an arc in which Dr. House hires a private investigator to spy on Wilson. Instant detective drama!
- Two seasons before that, it also dipped into courtroom drama for part of an episode for the conclusion of the story arc featuring Detective Michael Tritter.
- And then the two-hour Season Six opener was a psychology/rehab drama? Either way, definite genre change.
- The Season Six episode "Lockdown" was a character-driven mystery drama.
- Ever since the mass-firing/departure of House's fellows at the end of season 3, the show has done a fairly consistent job of mixing in genre-bender episodes that break with the standard format it had established. Since the end of season 5, in particular, this has become more and more common. These writers really know what they are doing in terms of keeping the show fresh.
- Heroes is a sci-fi drama, but has a tendency to shift to different genres depending on who is being focused on. It can be a political drama when following Nathan Petrelli (in season one and late season three), it can be a high school/college drama when it follows Claire, or a cop show when following Matt.
- Torchwood, a show in which aliens and the supernatural are commonplace, has the episode "Countrycide" in which the killers turn out to be nothing more than humans. Cannibals, but humans nonetheless.
- Similarly, Supernatural has the episodes "The Benders" and "Family Remains".
- And "Ghostfacers" and "Monster Movie"
- Season 5's "Changing Channels" shifts genres throughout the entire episode.
- For one episode of The Prisoner, "Living in Harmony," the series' plot is transplanted onto a Western setting.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a hilarious musical episode. There's also the episode "The Body" which is a "pure" drama with no supernatural elements until the last few minutes. Really, Buffy's eclectic combination of "Horror-Comedy-Romance-Action-Drama" meant that it felt a little unusual for any individual episode to lean hard on any one genre.
- The episode "Helpless" left Buffy without her super Slayer strength for an episode, preventing her from just beating down the villain as usual. This made the episode have much more of a "horror" feel than any other episode in the series.
- Scrubs also did a musical episode. Usually they're a medical dramedy.
- Hercules and Xena did this rather frequently, with the latter being by far the worse offender. This tendency would eventually be lampshaded later in the latter series.
- "The Rescue Mission", a mid-season episode of Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, features Terra Venture answering a distress signal left by an alien spaceship - as a result, there are no Zords, Sentai footage or regular villains, and most of the fight scenes are unmorphed.
- The flashbacks in The Sarah Connor Chronicles episode "The last voyage of the Jimmy Carter" look more like scenes from a Darker and Edgier version of Sea Quest DSV.
- Community does this for about quarter of their episodes. They've covered alot of ground from mafia movies to The Western to Zombie Apocalypse.
- Tech N 9 ne's "Devil Boy" jumps from Hip Hop to Thrash Metal for a one-line Crowning Moment of Funny:
- The first half of Laserdance's The Guardian of Forever was their usual synthdance, but the second half completely abandoned the style and switched to progressive trance. It was thought that this was going to be a permanent Genre Shift, but they returned to form for their final album, Laserdance Strikes Back.
- Anoraak normally does minimalistic synthpop, but "Long Distance Hearts" has a more trancy sound.
- Limp Bizkit's "Douche Bag" starts off in their usual Nu-metal style, then becomes a Jazz song out of nowhere at the end.
- Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody abruptly breaks into Heavy Metal for about a verse before returning to its faux-operatic style.
- Candorville, a strip with just enough Magical Realism to avoid fitting into Slice of Life, made a temporary switch to dark Urban Fantasy in February of 2009. It seems the author liked the effect, because later he made another such switch. And another one. At no point has the strip completely shifted over, and only in late 2010 were the urban fantasy strips finally mixed in with the other strips rather than segregated into a few story arcs.
- Mother Goose and Grimm can't make up its mind whether it's going to have continuity with its title characters, or be an absurd gag-per-day strip without recurring cast members á la The Far Side.
- Jim Davis intentionally did this for a few Garfield strips in which Garfield is in the midst of an abandonment nightmare. Suddenly the strip is entirely creepy and not at all funny.
- Metal Gear Solid 3 has an interesting experience with this trope. While in prison, Naked Snake can fall asleep if you save and quit. When you load it back, a hack-and-slash minigame starts. After a few minutes of slicing up giant mutant prison guard monsters, Snake wakes up from his nightmare, evoking a hilarious radio conversation from Para-Medic when called.
- Jagged Alliance 2 is a squad-based strategy/RPG, set in a Banana Republic, where you assist an uprising against an evil queen and... WHERE THE HELL DID THE HUGE MAN-EATING BUGS COME FROM!?
- A certain village in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess puts you right into a Spaghetti Western (or a light-gun FPS, depending how you play it).
- A DLC pack for Red Dead Redemption, "Undead Nightmare" turns the game into a Zombie Apocalypse story in a new campaign mode. Oh, and it add mythical creatures, too.
- The Ryu ga Gotoku series, known as Yakuza outside Japan, is a crime drama about life in the Japanese underworld. The upcoming fifth game, Ryu ga Gotoku Of the End, is set during a Zombie Apocalypse. Oh, and Ryuji Goda has a Gatling gun arm.
- Mass Effect 2 is pretty much a straight Bioware RPG Space Opera. Commander Shepard wanders around the galaxy performing quests and beating up bad guys. Then there are two quests worth of downloadable content which turn the game temporarily into a heist movie and a detective movie respectively, with the appropriate mood, camera work and tropes.
- Kingdom Heartscoded does this in several chapters, taking an action-RPG game and twisting it into a 2D platformer, a hall-running railshooter, and even a turn-based RPG at times.
- In Fable III, once the King/Queen first sets foot on the streets of Aurora, there is a rather abrupt (and effective) switch from dark humor/fantasy to full-blown horror and it just gets worse from there.
- Each of the Fallout: New Vegas add-ons are this. Dead Money is a slice of Survival Horror in a Art Deco resort (not unlike Bioshock), Honest Hearts swaps the struggles of the Mojave out for a religious conflict in Utah, Old World Blues is a zany romp with the Mad Science and humor typical of the Fallout series magnified. Lonesome Road is a road through a true apocalyptic wasteland while on a journey to discover your past and a final confrontation with the man who's had some involvement with all the other add-ons as well as your own history.
- In the NES ice hockey game Blades of Steel, the first intermission entertainment is a short, simplified game of the space-shooter Gradius on the arena scoreboard. Then the puck drops for the second period.
- The Gargoyles episode "Sentinel" marked a brief foray into Space Opera, when Goliath and Angela go to Easter Island and run into an alien warrior who mistakenly believes that the Gargoyles are aliens as well. Though we don't see its direct consequences, the episode makes it clear that Earth is an outpost in a massive intergalactic war.
- Word of God says that the aliens the sentinel are guarding against invade Earth two centuries from now with the descendants of the main characters (and some the cast that are still alive) forming a resistance against them. Honestly, the show was already such a Fantasy Kitchen Sink it wasn't that big of a stretch to have aliens, too.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender has a couple of episodes like this. "Zuko Alone" is a random Western, complete with a Showdown At High Noon. "The Beach" is a random Teen Drama, complete with Fan Service and a Wild Teen Party. "The Puppetmaster" is a horror, conveniently aired near Halloween.
- They even lampshaded their pre-finale summation episode; when the Gaang takes a break from training to go see a play based on their previous adventures, Sokka comments that this exactly the kind of random time-wasting activity he misses since the show shifted to more serious and plot-driven/driving episodes.
- In American Dad the alien Roger once pooped out a turd made of solid gold; pretty standard fare for the show. But then a couple scenes in two different episodes were devoted to people finding the golden turd and engaging in Film Noir style crime out of greed over it, without a joke to be heard. These scenes would even switch to a widescreen format back when the show was still aired in fullscreen just to make them look more cinematic.
- The Recess episode "Schoolworld" adds Sci-fi to the comedy-drama.
- Dan Vs., a show focused on wacky revenge schemes has "The Dentist" where Dan and Chris fight a dentist supervillain.
- Dexter's Laboratory, a sci-fi gag comedy, has the episode "Cracked". It's very dialogue-heavy, Dexter's titular lab isn't even mentioned, and feels more like a school slice-of-life story.