I've watched shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, Spongebob, etc. wherein each episode feels somewhat disconnected. In shows like Arrow, The Flash, and others, each episode builds up to a series finale, and changes made in one episode are often permanent and relevant.

However, in in shows like Spongebob, the titular character and his friends can all be blown up in one episode, but they never mention it (nor show evidence of it) in any future episodes. If Gary died in one episode, he would still be a main character after that episode. So again, what is it called when a show's episodes are not on one continuous timeline, and changes rarely stick?

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    For Simpsons, "somewhat" is an important qualifier, certain aspects of some episodes do stick, e.g. the death of Flanders wife. Dec 29, 2018 at 10:23
  • South Park plays with the two and jumps between them (playing with Kenny’s death) Dec 29, 2018 at 11:32
  • @Henrik I think you mean "Flanderseses" wife. Dec 29, 2018 at 20:53
  • @Henrik I agree, did you know that Homer and Bart got their dog in the pilot episode?? Dec 29, 2018 at 23:21
  • @Bobdabiulder: I didn't remember it being the pilot episode, but I do know they got it in an early episode. Dec 29, 2018 at 23:47

2 Answers 2


Wikipedia describes this as reset button technique.

The reset button technique (based on the idea of status quo ante) is a plot device that interrupts continuity in works of fiction. Simply put, use of a reset button device returns all characters and situations to the status quo they held before a major change of some sort was introduced.


Implicit usage of the technique can be seen in episodic fiction, such as when the results of episodes regularly cause what would seem to be massive changes in the status of characters and their world; however it is understood by the audience that subsequent episodes will not take into account such events. An example is South Park, in which the character of Kenny dies in almost every episode in early seasons, only to reappear in future episodes without explanation.

The Simpsons is one show that generally uses this technique, while occasionally introducing lasting continuity changes. Creator Matt Groening referred to this flexibility as a "rubber band reality".

Tv tropes uses the term Reset Button Ending.

Everything is all wrapped up, the Love Triangle has been resolved, the Final Battle in the Grand Finale has been won, and it's time for the happy ending. But if everything is all wrapped up, then there's no dramatic tension for the OVAs, The Movie, or the next season. And perhaps there's a bit of Executive Meddling going on, just a friendly note from someone upstairs that you just can't let the big payoff actually continue to happen after all this time.

Solution: press the Reset Button at the last minute, subvert the hell out of the dramatic resolution that you've just reached, and leave the characters in the situation that has held for most of the series.


Episodic and serial are the traditional terms.

From Merriam-Webster:

Definition of episodic
1 : made up of separate especially loosely connected episodes

Also M-W:

Definition of serial (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : of, relating to, consisting of, or arranged in a series, rank, or row serial order

2 : appearing in successive parts or numbers a serial story

Television up until the '80s was more-or-less required to be episodic. The thought was that people needed to be able to drop in to a show at any time without feeling lost. Premises had to be simple and everything had to go back to the original stasis by the end. That way, all anyone needed was the show's theme song to figure it out. =)

Then in the '80s, probably not coincidentally due to the rise of VCRs (and possibly the increasing avenues of re-runs), shows started developing their characters and plotlines over entire seasons.

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    Side-note: Soap operas were often called "serials" back in early days of TV because they had these continuities. And if you go back even further, the serials you'd see at the movies were kiddie-fare featuring Batman or Commander Cody, where each episode led from the last, usually ending on a cliffhanger that was utterly undermined by the next episode. So they cheated even back then.
    – moviegique
    Dec 29, 2018 at 2:25
  • This doesn't fully answer the question, which specifies characters dying, then reappearing. That doesn't happen in episodic television, however devoted to standalone plots. Admittedly, don't know if there's a name for the format. Dec 29, 2018 at 2:50
  • I'm up for clarifying, but I don't think the extremity of it matters, particularly. Traditionally, the end of the show would return to the stasis of the premise so that any episode might lead into any other—something parodied in shows like Futurama and Family Guy, where the "reset" is never performed, but the fact remains that even in those meta- examples none of it has any impact on the basic situation. It's still episodic, but just with a wink-and-a-nod at the audience to that fact.
    – moviegique
    Dec 29, 2018 at 3:03
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    Nice answer. I think Presto had a more precise answer, and I think the Reset Button technique is the most clear answer to my question. However, when I set out, I was expecting something more along the lines of what you said, @moviegique :) Dec 29, 2018 at 3:34

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