TV Shows/Movies with serious problems in their chronology

In the current MAS*H (or Penobscot) thread I mentioned with other Dopers the impossibility of figuring out how much time has passed on the series. It begins when the Korean War is well under way and covers at most just over 2 years of the conflict in 11 seasons, so it’s almost impossible to deduce whether an episode from 1977 is 1 year or 6 months or several alterna-years different from a 1982 episode.

What are some other shows (or movies) that suffer from serious chronological problems? (It doesn’t count if, as with Groundhog Day or Slaughterhouse 5, time distortion is a part of the plotline.)

I never watched The Waltons religiously (though I’ve caught enough reruns to know that it’s goody-two-shoes/schmaltzy reputation isn’t that deserved- good program/real family/real problems/etc.). I don’t know if there were chronological continuity problems in the series itself, which begins during the Depression and ends shortly after WW2, but there are serious ones in the later TV movies.
In a 1993 reunion movie set at Thanksgiving 1963 (the JFK assassination is an important plotline), much is forgotten about the younger generation of Waltons. There were at least three grandchildren by 1945 in the series, the oldest being a boy born to Mary Ellen before Pearl Harbor (he was a baby when his father was reported killed there), so that child would be at least 22 years old by Thanksgiving 1963 but in fact he’s still about elementary school age, as are the other grandchildren who would in fact be young adults or at least late teens.
In the last reunion movie the year is 1969-1970 and Olivia (the matriarch) has become a schoolteacher. While some mention is made of her age for a new career, it implies she (like the actress Michael Learned) is in her 50s, when judging from the series’ start in the early 1930s when her oldest children were in their late teens, even if Olivia was a teenaged mother she’d have been born in or before 1900, which would make her at least around 70 and probably a few years older by this time- too old to start a teaching career (that’s not ageist- mandatory retirement for teachers in the 1960s would have usually been 65 or younger), and once again the grandchildren who would in fact be old enough to have their own families and careers are teenaged.

HBO’s ROME, but it had some major chronology problems as well. Vorenus returns to his family in Rome between the crossing of the Rubicon (49BC) and the Battle of Pharsalus (48 BC), so the date is rather clearly established within a year. His family consists of two daughters- the eldest said to be 13 and the younger one about 10- and an infant of mystery parentage. By the time the series ends- months after the battle of Actium (31 BC, at least 17 years later) his oldest daughter is a young adult (though not the 30 year old she would have to be), Vorena the younger is still a teenager (though she would be close to 30 herself) and the infant is prepubescant though he would be at least 17; the infant is in fact the same age or younger than Cæsarion, whose birth (47 BC) was a major plot factor and who would be 16 by Actium but again, is prepubescant. Likewise, the characters of Mark Antony, Atia, Cleopatra, etc., do not age accordingly at all, not even gray hair being added to the actors- the whole series feels as if it covers perhaps 5 years.

What are some other series and or movies that have major chronology problems?
(I love the series and accept the historical liberties and omissions it makes, and though I wish they’d included Fulvia and her hairpin I understand why they cut her out, BUT the two things I can’t forgive it for aren’t chronology: the first is having Caesar with a full head of hair and the second for omitting Augustus’s first wife and Livia’s second son [HOW CAN YOU HAVE ROMAN HISTORY WITHOUT JULIA and DRUSUS (and more importantly, their descendants]!?)

I trust we’re not going to count “frozen time” animated shows like The Simpsons, in which the pre-teen children remember events from 1990.

Hogan’s Heroes lasted longer than the U.S.'s involvement in WW2, though they didn’t make any effort to refer to historical events happening in the surrounding conflict.

I’ve always thought the best way to think of MASH’s timeline is each episode occurs over a period of a day, except for the ones that clearly are over several days, and some episodes may actually occur concurrently with others. That way they only last about 18 months worth.

The main problem with that is they experienced at least seven or eight distinct seasonal cycles.

Actually, on reflection, one of the worst examples of this is Law & Order. It takes years for a capital case to work its way through the courts. I know the “chumb-chumb!” title cards typically give dates, but there’s no realistic way to make these line up with a plausible court schedule.

Then there’s CSI’s ridiculously accelerated DNA identification.

The truth is that almost every TV show (except those that feature kids) that isn’t set in real time is going to have continuity problems. (Shows with kids have to have some sort of past-to-future timeline because child actors eventually become adolescent actors.)

The Dick Van Dyke Show was supposed to follow the run of the fictional Alan Brady Show. IIRC, though, there was only one episode that dealt specifically with a Christmas show, and one episode that dealt with the end of the TV season. The series ran five years, but all the rest of the episodes were pretty much interchangable.

With long-running series the problems were multiplied. Was every episode of Cheers designed to show the day after the previous episode? A week later?

The classic example of time discontinuity was the original Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry invented a nifty plot device called the Star Date, so Kirk could make entries in his log (and provide exposition.) Unfortunately, when NBC aired some episodes out of shooting order, the Star Dates went forward and backward – and neither Roddenberry nor anyone else ever figured out how much time a Star Date unit was supposed to represent, anyway.

Blackadder the Third had episodes set during the publication of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary (1755), the election of Pitt the Younger (1783), the French Reign of Terror (1794) and the Battle of Waterloo (1815) - and all were shown as taking place in roughly the same time period.

It took a while for me to figure out the dates in the alternate universe of “The West Wing”, where Presidential election years are two years off from ours. But they really threw me when, in the last season, they abruptly skipped a year. That was just confusing, though, and not a glitch in the show’s internal timeline.

The Cate Blanchett movie Elizabeth telescoped about twenty years’ of events into what looked like a year.

I feel like they’re running into a slight problem with that on “Big Love”–the actress playing Barb’s youngest daughter, Teeny, is only supposed to be a few weeks older. (I.e., between season one and two, only a couple weeks elapse.) But obviously, the actress is getting a little older. I think they’re “solving” that by giving Teeny less screen time.

Long running shows with historical settings run into the MAS*H problem. For instance, the WWII drama Combat! ran for five years. The US involvement was 3 1/2 years. Worse, it follows a unit starting after the Normandy Invasion, after which the war ran under a year.

Similar to Walt aging in Lost - only two months have passed in the show timeline, but three years have aged an adolescent boy to mid teens.

Book series have this problem also. When I was reading Nancy Drew to my daughter, we noted that she has about 30 adventures, many taking place over a period of weeks or months, in about 1 year. There are the seasonal issues also. We figured that Nancy eventually would be walking out the door and see herself coming in.

There is one MASH tie to reality - the show when the Chinese invade, and “it’s a whole new war.”

The Babysitters Club had similar problems. The girls entered and left the eighth grade at least…ten times. Maybe more.

The Simpsons, I know, we shouldn’t critique. Bart and Lisa are never going to age. But it does sort of get to me that Apu and Manjula are inspired to have kids when they see how cute Maggie is. Manjula gets pregnant and has octuplets, and Maggie doesn’t age at all. Fair enough. But now their kids have gotten older than Maggie–they’re walking and I think talking a bit. They’re clearly in their toddler stage, when Maggie is younger and the inspiration for their very existence. Gah!

Well, there at least two other examples during the Potter/Winchester period. One episode (“A War for All Seasons”) started on New Year’s Eve 1950 and ended on New Year’s Eve 1951. Also, one episode was based around Winchester making huge bets that Brooklyn would win the 1951 National League pennant (triggered by, I thought, some rather dubious advice from Klinger and generally out of character for the sports-indifferent Winchester), That episode ends with the camp watching the game on film, climaxing with Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard round the world” home run that clinched the pennant for the New York Giants on October 3, 1951.

Asking the Simpsons to make sense isn’t really fair- I think Matt Groening used up all of his chronology-brain-bits (I’m sure I knew how to phrase this intelligently a second ago) on the little details in Futurama. The shadow on the floor in the first episode of Futurama (I don’t want to be too specific, in case someone doesn’t know about it), for instance, showed a lot more time-line planning than a whole season of The Simpsons.

Brisco County Jr had plenty of chronological errors, but as they were mostly intentional and tongue-in-cheek I’m not sure if they count.

Xena: Warrior Princess, on the other hand, has glaring chronological errors. She helps Odysseus string his bow AND hangs out Cleopatra, and that’s just the start of it.

You mean his temporal lobe?


I didn’t recall there had been a MASH episode set at the time the Chinese attacked. If it was anything other than one of the very first episodes it was a chronological problem like we’re discussing here. MASH was clearly set after the Inchon landings (prior to this the only American presence in Korea was the small besieged garrison at Pusan) in September 1950. The Chinese attacked in October - so any episodes set before the “whole new war” episode must have been in this brief four week period.

MASH never seemed to fit in the early months of the war which was very mobile. It seemed to take place after the winter of 1951 when the front stabilized and the two year long stalemate began. Of course there were several references on the show to MacArthur, who was removed from command in April 1951.

I recall an episode which research indicates took place in November or December, 1950, after the Chinese marched south in huge numbers. The surgeons were operating while the PA announcer described what was going on, mentioning “33 Divisions” / “300,000 men” and quoting MacArthur’s November 28 comment that “[w]e face an entirely new war.”

Pierce’s quip: “That’s for those of you that were tired of the old one.”

Later O.R. conversation in that episode, as I recall:

Burns: I’m glad the Chinese are involved. We’ll obliterate 'em all.

Hunnicut: All 600 million, Frank?

Burns: Well, most of them don’t want to be communists, anyway.

Hunnicut: They why kill them?

Burns: [brief confused pause] Well, they can’t have it both ways.
Although some (if not most) of the episodes take place over a day or two, I’m pretty sure there isn’t any way to reconcile the few times they named actual historical events with changes in the cast.

I don’t see it as any problem, unless you assume for some reason that offscreen time is the same as onscreen time. Do two-hour movies depict events that occurred only within two onscreen hours? Rarely. We understand about time telescoping in the movies; why do we have a problem understanding time telescoping on television?

I dunno, there’s something about mashing a horse into an hourglass that gives me the creeps.

Similarly, on Family Guy, Stewie meets his potential younger brother Bertram while Bertram is just a sperm cell. The next year, Bertram gets donated and implanted into the wrong woman, gestates, is born and (somehow keeping the name Bertram) reaches the same stage of development as Stewie.