From time to time, someone starts up threads to list/bitch about cinematic and/or television cliches. Inevitably these threads come to include arguments that a poster has listed something that isn’t truly a cliche, but is something else again.
Let’s see if we can come to terms. I’m going to list some specific examples that are often cited as cliches, and others can judge which category my examples fall into. Try to explain why you’ve put an example in one category or the other, and feel free to add your own.
First, let me define my terms. A formal necessity is an element of a work of fiction that is used over and over because it’s a logical or practical requirement of the genre in question. For example, the fact that virtually every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation takes place on in outer space is, obviously, a formal necessity; it’s a fricking space opera. Cliches, by contrast, are oft-repeated elements that are (a) not necessary to the form and (b) draw undue attention to themselves by their lack of freshness. Using TNG again, the fact that so many episodes include a space anomaly, unrelated to the emotional plot, that the crew escapes with some meaningless technobabble is cliche.
All clear? Good. Here’s five to start things going:
In the first act of Lethal Weapon, Riggs demonstrates that he can dislocate and un-dislocate his shoulder at will; in the third act, he uses this ability to escape from captivity.
On House, the simplest diagnosis of the patient of the week is invariably wrong.
In the last ten minutes of most episodes of Xena, Buffy, and Angel, the heroes typically get into a battle with a villain they’ve been pursuing for the rest of the episode, dispatching said villain in a creative way rather than using brute force.
On the original Law & Order, if the detectives and the squad commander are having a meal and discussing a case, any interruption will come from someone with specific information on the case they’re talking about.
For most of the first four seasons of Buffy, if a member of the Scooby Gang was kidnapped by the baddies, it would be Willow, the most sympathetic character.