Sci-fi and occult dramas became so pervasive in the wake of Buffy's success they're not even a guilty pleasure anymore, just mainstream entertainment with a nerd slant. Whether you tune in to paranormal thrillers like Lucifer, Grimm, or Sleepy Hollow, or are doing your annual marathon of favorite DVD box sets like Buffy, Angel, or Charmed, you'll notice there are things every supernatural show does, points at which the narrative gets predictable. As loveable as the genre is, it's filled repetitive themes in need of a switch-up. Here you'll find a host of tropes that are way overused in sci-fi and fantasy. Dear show runners, like, seriously, as fans, not haters, can we stop using these tropes now?
Unlike deathfests such as The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, supernatural dramas don't traffic in the veneration of cruelty. Fans of the likes of Heroes aren't subjected to a litany of favorite-character deaths or forced into situations in which heavy choices must be made, at least not until the end of the show's run. It’s a genre you can consider safe, the fans of which viewers get their jollies without being emotionally destroyed. That said, your patience might be shredded; the genre is plagued with tropes that just won't die.
Ah, but, counter argument: tropes are (perhaps a very large) part of why audiences love these shows. The comfort of the familiar, the epic journey of the hero, the satisfaction of seeing obstacles overcome and lessons learned. Don't forget to add your favorite trope in the comments below, if it didn't make its way on here.
Sooner or later, supernatural dramas turn to the trusted It's a Wonderful Life trope of investigating what might happen if one of the main characters, maybe even the main character, died. This character won't actually die, no matter how dramatic the show gets about it. But what if?
When Piper Halliwell of Charmed caught a killer bug from a crate of smuggled exotic fruit, there was no way that she would really die. When Buffy gave her life to destroy The Master at the end of Season 1, the series wasn't over. Whenever Supernatural's Dean and Sam were separated, one staying on Earth, the other ending up in Hell or Purgatory, there was no doubt they would be reunited.
The only exceptions are Shannen Doherty and Nicole Beharie of Charmed and Sleepy Hollow, respectively. The former was written out because she and co-star Alyssa Milano couldn't stand one another. The latter’s circumstances are shrouded in mystery.
Prophecies are a writer’s safety net. Typically, the audience never gets the fully skinny on a prophecy, which is so vaguely worded it could mean anything (and therefore ultimately means nothing). The trope, which often includes mistranslation of ancient texts, is a great tool for writers, because it allows them to make things up as they go along. Foretelling a prophecy is a surefire strategy to squeeze out enough episodes to meet quota.
This was most memorably used in Angel, with regards to the Shanshu prophecy. The mistranslation of a single word kicked of several episodes of turmoil, during which Angel lost his son and fractured friendships, while the bad guys basked in the glow of sweet chaos. When things settled, the prophecy was relegated to a source of musings on whether Angel might become human again, which was never fully explored until the comics readdressed it after the show’s cancelation.
The Charmed Ones from Charmed lived within their prophecy, providing versatility for when things needed to change. Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills from Sleepy Hollow, meanwhile, have learned all about vague, ambiguous soothsaying from the prophecy of The Witnesses.
When you spend a lot of time messing around with intelligent, humanoid non-humans, you're bound to get freaky with one (or a few, or a boat load) of them. Interspecies romance or sexual deviancy was originally used for character development and, at times, to make statements on interracial dating.
The practice got ridiculous well before Twilight and Warm Bodies made it exceedingly awkward (if not endearing). It’s commonly used for shock and cheap laughs, but tends to lacking meaning. In Supernatural, Dean and The Darkness’s steamy magnetism was built for ages, then dropped at the end of Season 11. Hank Griffin, from Grimm, had a thing for a Wesen, only for it to be revisited later as a cheap plot device. Then there’s Cordelia Chase of Buffy fame, who was impregnated three times by demonic forces.
Be it a collection of ancient tomes, The Book of Shadows, the Grimm Journal, or just plain old Internet, whenever there’s a monster wreaking havoc, all the heroes have to do is gather around for a research session, find out how to kill the big bad, and, like a Megazord sheathing its sword, the day is won.
Supernatural has changed things up in this department with episodes involving ghost hunting. The brothers learn salt, iron weapons, and burning corpses don’t always cut it, and routinely research the personal history of a target’s previous life, which sometimes leads to the realization that they’re chasing the wrong ghost.