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:
- Dallas: Bobby Storyline 1985-86
- Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Wish.
- Doctor Who: The Big Bang, The Girl Who Waited.
- Fringe – The Day We Died. (initiated)
- LOST: The Incident. (initiated..seemingly)
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.
RESET BUTTON TREPIDATION: 5 REASONS
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?