When TV shows break continuity: The Chuck Cunningham Syndrome

What TV shows have you noticed break continuity, as in a character mysteriously disappearing or acting wildly out of character?

What got me thinking about this was Arrested Development. Attorney Wayne Jarvis has photographic evidence that the Bluths were building in Iraq. As it turns out, the photo is of balls. Tobias’s balls. Tobias the never nude.

On MASH, pshychiatrist Sidney Feeman was originally named Milton.

And Hawkeye, an only child whose mother died when he was a child, wrote in a letter to his father “Say hi to mom and sis.”

What else?

Also on MASH, Col. Blake’s wife’s name was originally “Mildred” before it was changed to “Lorraine”, and then Mildred was recycled as Co. Potter’s wife’s name.

There are tons of examples. The Golden Girls was one of the worst. The continuity was really bad. The Lucy Show once it moved from New York to Los Angeles was probably the worst. It became almost a new show each week. The plots came and went with no connection.

A few I can think of:

On Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda twice mentions a brother and a sister. And when she gets her own show her sister Debbie, who got married, changed to Brenda and her brother was never mentioned again.

On Seinfeld, George has a brother, but is really portrayed as an only child in a lot of episodes. George’s mother mentions she had to have the “super” call for an ambulance, but George lives in a house. It’s also unclear whether Geroge is Jewish or not. It’s never state he is. His father isn’t but if his mother is, then George is too. So that is kind of left up in the air.

On All In The Family, Mike mentions he has a brother-in-law who is a lawyer, but we never hear about his sister again. Archie has a sister Alma, but in one episode Edith say he has no sister.

Wildly inconsistent makeup on Klingons from TOS, although to their credit they made an effort in future franchise shows of explaining it away.

In the Friends pilot, Rachel leaves Barry Finkel at the altar; in later episodes, he’s Barry Farber.

In Buffy S2, “I Only Have Eyes For You,” the original couple was said to have suffered their tragedy in 1955, but the song “I Only Have Eyes For You,” was a 1959 hit.

This is hardly an example of the Chuck Cunningham syndrome as Tobias conquered his “never nude” problem earlier in season 1 and this incident drives him back.

Ah, OK. I guess I need to watch the entire series again.

Oh well.

Mama’s Family had a few as a result of switching from network to first-run syndication with a two year gap in between. Some things were explained, some weren’t. Take Vinton’s two kids, Buzz and Sonia. They never appeared in the syndicated episodes and were only even mentioned in the sydicated premire when Thelma laments that they aren’t there for Aunt Fran’s funeral. By the last season when Naomi is pregnant they act as if it’s his first child. Eunice was explained away as moving to Florida (without telling Bubba), and Ellen appeared in once episode.

Iola Boylan is an example of Reverse Chuck Cunningham Syndrome. She’s a spinster still living at home with her parent’s right next-door. Thelma’s best friend, and has known the Harpers her entire life. Yet where was she during the NBC episodes?

The Harper house itself changed without any explanation. In the NBC episodes it had three bedrooms; Mama, Fran, & Sonia got those. Buzz lived in the attic and Vinton (& later Naomi) lived in the basement. Naomi hated this. When Aunt Fran died her & Vinton were supposed to move in, but Thelma gave it to Bubba. What happened to Sonia’s room? For that matter where did Vinton sleep growing up; the basement, the attic, or with his sisters?

On Cheers, Frasier mentioned that his parents had died, and that his dad had been a doctor. On the series “Frasier” however, his dad is a retired cop and is alive and well.

Dare I?


Warning: TV Tropes Link. Hope you didn’t have anything else planned for the week.

Brilliantly lampshaded on Frasier, IMHO. Turns out he just didn’t want everyone to know about his blue-collar dad.

In Carey Lowell’s first appearance on Law & Order, she’s very pro-death penalty, eager to see it used on a carjacker who killed his victim. Later episodes reinforce this. Oddly, in one of her character’s last appearances, she abruptly and casually announces that she’s against the death penalty. I could understand if her attitude changed when she had a chance to personally witness how capricious and error-prone the process was, even if the DAs don’t mean it to be, but this wasn’t shown and her opinion change comes without warning (and is presented as rather smug).

In Frasier, when it comes up, he says they just had a fight and he was angry with him.

The original “Melrose Place” did this all the time. In season three Dr. Peter Burns tries to kill Amanda. But he gets out jail, having done some community service, and by the next season he and Amanda are dating.

“You called me a stuffed shirt and hung up!”
That Cheers/Frasier conflict was resolved, but there was others left untouched. I recall a Frasier ep that had Martin, Frasier and Niles pointing out how they’d always criticized each other’s choice in women (this occasioned by Frasier and Niles objecting to some women Martin was dating, and them recalling that Martin had disliked both Maris and Lilith) and how Hester Crane (Martin’s late wife, F & N’s mom) never did. But in Hester’s one appearance (that wasn’t a flashback or something similar) on an episode of Cheers, she was very clearly trying to break up Frasier and Diane.

I stand corrected.

In an early episode of NCIS, Kate references an old movie and notes its relationship to the case, while Tony basically acts as if he’s never seen an old movie. For the rest of the series, Tony is the movie buff, constantly comparing current cases to movies he’s seen.

In the two-part pilot for Buffy, Xander and Willow have a best friend named Jess(?) who gets vamped. He is never mentioned again. Willow and Xander are the worst friends imaginable.

In Family Matters, Judy Winslow (Laura’s younger sister) went upstairs to play Nintendo and was never seen again.

Her actress later turned up in a porno.

In That 70’s Show, Donna’s little sister, Tina, was afflicted with Chuck Cunningham syndrome, passing after only one appearance. Eric’s older sister, Laurie, also suffered from the syndrome before fighting it off (although only for a short time) after going through a The Other Darren procedure.

By the way – props to Roseanne for a brilliant way of handling The Other Darren situation, when Sarah Chalke took over the role of Becky to accommodate Lecy Goranson’s college plans. It was a return to the show for the character, who had also been away at college, and not only does Roseanne have a line about how Becky’s been away so long they hardly recognized her when she got back, but the end-credits sequence has the whole family watching an episode of Bewitched and commenting on how ridiculous it was to attempt to replace a well-known actor in the middle of a popular sitcom.

In my view, this doesn’t quite fit. While it strains credulity that the Cunninghams have an alive-and-well family member that’s never mentioned at all, even in circumstances that the whole family would be naturally together or an absence commented upon, it’s not difficult to imagine that a deceased friend – indeed, a dusted, deceased friend – wouldn’t come up again where we, the viewers, would hear it. That is, we weren’t privvy to each and every waking moment that Xander and Willow lived, so we don’t know if occasionally Xander might have mused about Jessie, but there’s no particular reason we’d have seen it.