5 Reasons Why The Reset Button Fills Serialized TV Fans With Trepidation


The Reset Button is a popular Serialized TV plot device. But why does it fill fans with such trepidation?

Note: this article may contain mild spoilers for specific serialized TV shows that have used the reset button technique.

What is the Rest Button?

The Reset Button (or simply “reset”) is a plot device that breaks the continuity of a story. When hit, the button returns characters and events to their status quo prior to the introduction of a major change or event.

If you enjoy serialized TV, chances are this mercurial button has been pressed on you at some point.

Here are just a handful of examples of Seriable TV resets:

In the following clip from the season 5 finale of LOST, “The Incident”, Jack and Kate discuss changing their destiny through a reset technique:

Commentary: What’s interesting about the above example is that the reset is actually a diversion (from a storytelling perspective). It’s one of the most non-resetty resets of recent times, but the message is inherent to the show’s endgame.

The above examples tease various reset techniques. It should be noted that the level of viewer trepidation can hinge on how long the reset lasts. For now let’s look at general reasons why the Reset Button can cause so much worry for devoted fans of Seriable adventure.


1. All been for nothing

More than any other, serialized TV requires dedication and commitment from viewers. Hitting the big red reset button can make viewers feel as though they’ve wasted their time, that everything they’ve seen in the story to date has been for nothing.

2. Character and story investment

Continuing stories enable viewers to invest in character relationships and ‘story’. Unlike the average procedural where everything pretty much resets on an episode-to-episode basis, serialized stories invite viewers to journey with characters through evolving plots. Resets represent a certain emotional break in continuity, if not handled effectively they can be seen as a threat to the ongoing story, with the words ‘jump the shark’ being uttered at water coolers and online gathering spots.

3. Uncertainty & Risk

Serialized TV often means high-concept; pushing the boundaries of small-screen storytelling. Employing a plot device as elaborate as the Reset Button carries huge ‘story’ risk, particularly as many serialized TV shows live on a ratings knife-edge. There’s little room for failure and there’s no guarantee that the reset will be successful.

4. Fear of Change

Fans become familiar with established relationships and surroundings. Any threat to that is often met with cynicism or fear. Viewer trepidation is often borne from the fear of seeing their favorite seriable story do something that breaks away from the established ‘safety zone’.

5. Can they pull it off? Fear of being let down

Often it’s simply the fear of disappointment coupled with the anxiety of seeing whether their favorite serialized show can satisfy an awesome storytelling feat.

These are just some of the reasons behind Reset Button trepidation. This certainly doesn’t mean that serialized shows shouldn’t execute the Reset Button if it serves the story and characters — it merely provides considerations as to why viewers often treat this exciting plot twist with worry.

Do you have any favorite (or least favorite) serialized TV Reset Button moments? Do you smile or frown upon the execution of the reset technique?

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  1. Clark says

    Just found this article, a Fringe example has turned into a point where they might kill the show, because so many people dropped out until Peter would return. However, because they turned it into an obstacle, something the fans could feel dismayed over, then watch the characters attempt to defeat, however that would happen, it turned into something amazing. So few shows deal with big issues, but if you think of it, every time they start a new case in Law & Order it’s like the last one didn’t happen. Meanwhile Fringe is saying Peter is here, what does that even mean? So they are setting up something big. Lots of fun, hopefully.

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  2. says

    My trepidation depends on the show, with Lost I had no fears at all because I enjoyed that show so much that almost anything could have happened and I would have loved it (I realize I sound like an brainless fanboy but it’s true, there were so few things on Lost that I didn’t like).

    I guess it’s not really possible but if Breaking Bad had a reset button I wouldn’t be worried for the same reason, that show is so good I’d have complete faith they would get it right.

    A reset I’m fond of was 24’s TV movie Redemption, they had Jack Bauer travelling the world calmly and relatively happily so when he came back to the US in season seven it allowed the show to get right back to the good stuff instead of Jack going on a killing spree at CTU like it seemed like he would after season six.

    The best reset as far as I’m concerned though is, no surprises here, Lost’s nuke. I just loved that they used it as a diversion so we would assume the flashes in season six were because they were all in an alternate universe. Using a whole time travelling season as a diversion? Awesome.

    God I miss Lost.

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