ByM.J. Lennon, writer at Creators.co
Professional binge-watcher. Writer. Gamer.
M.J. Lennon

Have you ever experienced déjà vu while watching an episode of Criminal Minds? Maybe you saw the same plot happen during your Bones binge-watch earlier that day, or you're pretty sure Castle did a similar episode in an early season. Many crime procedural television shows recycle tropes, meaning you might see the same plot line play out across multiple television shows. It's to be expected with the amount of police procedurals crowding the airwaves these days, and it's not necessarily a bad thing either. Many of these familiar tropes are great sources of character and relationship development, and sometimes they're just downright fun.

1. The Frame-Up

'Castle' [Credit: Disney-ABC Television Group]
'Castle' [Credit: Disney-ABC Television Group]

If a frame-up is occurring, a main character will be set-up to look like they committed a murder. They might wake up in a room covered in someone else's blood and have no memory of how they got there, or they may arrive at a crime scene and find evidence connecting them to the murder. Usually they will have to prove their innocence on their own, or else they must convince their detective partner or investigative team of the truth before they will assist in clearing the framed character's name. Eventually the real culprit will be discovered and a confrontation will ensue.

Notable Examples:

  • : "Probable Cause" 5x05 - In this episode, Beckett and her team investigate a murder where the evidence links back to none other than Richard Castle.
  • : "The Main in the Morgue" 1x19 - Brennan goes to New Orleans and while there finds herself in a sticky situation when she wakes up in a bathtub and can't remember what lead her there.
  • : "Profiler, Profiled" 2x12 - Derek Morgan thought he would just be making a visit home, but instead finds himself the prime suspect of a murder investigation when three boys turn up dead.

2. The Circus Episode

'Bones' [Credit: 21st Century Fox]
'Bones' [Credit: 21st Century Fox]

This one is pretty straight-forward. The case of the week will lead our main characters to a circus or a sideshow. There might be a freak show involved, scary clowns, conjoined twins, and sometimes the actors will even get to show off a secret talent deemed worthy of circus spectacle. Circus episodes also often entail zany undercover costumes for the main characters and colorful side characters.

Notable Examples:

  • Bones: "Double Trouble in the Panhandle" 4x12 - Booth and Brennan are forced to disguise themselves as a Russian knife-throwing duo in order to infiltrate a circus and investigate the deaths of a pair of conjoined twins.
  • C.S.I.: "Freaks and Geeks" 12x06 - The CSI team must look into a mysterious slideshow featuring acts such as the Human Candelabra, in order to find a sadistic murderer.
  • Cold Case: "Metamorphosis" 7x14 - This episode features the cold case of a dead circus aerialist and the disturbing flashbacks that help bring her murderer to light.

3. The Quarantine Episode

'Criminal Minds' [Credit: CBS Corporation]
'Criminal Minds' [Credit: CBS Corporation]

The Quarantine Episode is usually a bottle episode where our main characters get trapped in a room due to the release of an airborne toxin, poison, or pathogen of some kind. These episodes are often used as a way to strengthen core character relationships. Sometimes, like in the case of Criminal Minds, only one person is quarantined but the rest of their team must rush to find an antidote and save them.

Notable Examples:

  • Criminal Minds: "Amplification" 4x24 - The BAU has to move quickly if they want to save Spencer Reid after he locks himself in a room with an anthrax leak.
  • The Mentalist: "Code Red" 2x16 - A woman is murdered after being exposed to a harmful chemical and calls Patrick Jane just before she dies, the team must look into the quarantined facility.
  • Bones: "The Man in the Fallout Shelter" 1x09 - Despite it being just two days before Christmas, no one is going home for the holidays this year when the lab is shut down with everyone inside of it due to some questionable fungi spores.

4. The Undercover Lovers

'Law & Order: SVU' [Credit: Comcast]
'Law & Order: SVU' [Credit: Comcast]

Quick team, we have a man and woman who need to go undercover what should we disguise them as? Easy. A couple. This is a trope that has been done numerous times across the board, more often than not it involves the shows alpha couple — the one with all the unresolved sexual tension that the fans are rooting to be together. This allows the show writers to tease their audience by sort of giving them what they want, but not really. Sometimes you might even get a kiss in this episode too but of course, it won't really count as it was all "just to keep their cover" and prolong the inevitable.

Notable Examples:

  • Law & Order: SVU: "Ace" 11x22 - Our favorite SVU duo, Benson and Stabler, portray a couple struggling to conceive to look into a baby smuggling ring.
  • Monk: "Mr. Monk Gets Married" 2x15 - Monk and Sharona pretend to be a married couple in need of counseling in order to spy on a con man.
  • Castle: "The Mistress Always Spanks Twice" 2x16 - Beckett plays the role of Castle's girlfriend as they must infiltrate a BDSM club to investigate a tricky murder.

What other shows have done these tropes? What other tropes do you always look forward to seeing?

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