Butterfly Effect in Popular Culture - Television


In The Simpsons Halloween episode, "Time and Punishment", Homer repeatedly travels back to the time of dinosaurs with a time machine (à la Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"). Each time there, Homer's actions (involving intentional and unintentional violence) drastically alter the current universe. Some of the changes include: A totalitarian society with a world dictator (which was Ned Flanders), a universe where his family is rich and classy and it rains donuts, and a seemingly normal universe, with the exception of everyone having long reptilian tongues.

In the Family Guy episode "Meet the Quagmires", Peter, with the help of Death, repeatedly travels back to the 80's to live up his teenage years and cancel a date with Lois. This leads to her marrying Quagmire and Peter marrying Molly Ringwald among other things, causing two drastic changes of the present (Chevy Chase is host of The Tonight Show, and Al Gore is president of the United States) and finally when things seem normal again it turns out Roger from American Dad! is living with them.

In a 2004 television episode of comedy sitcom Scrubs called "My Butterfly", the episode is shown in two parts: The first in which a butterfly lands on a woman sitting in the hospital's waiting room, and the second where time is rewound and the butterfly instead lands on the man next to her. Both halves of the episode show the noticeably (albeit sensationally) different outcomes that stem directly from the original choice of landing locations of this butterfly.

In a first-season episode of the stop-motion animation show Robot Chicken titled "Operation: Rich in Spirit" there is a sketch where a young boy tries to explain the butterfly effect to a young girl. When the young girl squishes the butterfly, it causes earthquakes in Japan. A Japanese woman retaliates, stepping on a butterfly, which causes a volcano to erupt behind the children. The boy retaliates as well, ripping a butterfly in half, which causes Godzilla to terrorize Japan.

In a second season episode of CSI titled "Chaos Theory", the entire CSI team investigates a disappearance of a young woman at a local university. Forensics leads them to possible suspects, and possible suspects all have probable motives, but nothing seems to pan out. This leads the team to discuss the "Chaos Theory": when combined, many seemingly innocuous events may have a deadly outcome, and closure is not always within reach.

In a third season episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled "The Wish", Cordelia, upset after catching her boyfriend Xander kissing their friend Willow, wishes "that Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale" while talking to the vengeance demon Anyanka. She fulfills that wish and the world changes: now they're in an alternative reality in which Buffy has not come to Sunnydale (becoming instead the resident slayer for the Hellmouth in Cleveland) and the vampire population has multiplied and gained in power, to the point that Xander and Willow are the Master's lieutenants. Giles meets with Cordelia before she dies and manages to discern what has happened. He subsequently summons Anyanka and destroys her necklace. As a result, Anya is made mortal again and the world returns to normal.

A Malcolm in the Middle episode shows Hal and Lois arguing about which one of them will take Malcolm and Reese to bowling and which one will stay at home with Dewey. After that, the episode will show two timelines: one where Lois takes them and another one where Hal takes them. An event from the timeline where Lois goes to the bowling is shown as a flashback in a later episode, implying that timeline to be the one in canon.

The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Year of Hell" features a large starship that is capable of erasing objects of various sizes from time, often introducing other consequences into the timeline. The original timeline is restored by causing the ship to erase itself, and therefore preventing all the erasures it had caused from ever happening.

In the series 3 episode of Doctor Who called "The Shakespeare Code", Martha says that she's worried about that she can change the future of human race by stepping on the butterfly after landing in Elizabethan London (à la Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder")- which The Doctor acknowledges as " I'll tell you what then, don't.... step on any butterflies. What have butterflies ever done to you?" In the season 4 episode called "Turn Left", Donna has a parallel universe created around her where she turns right instead of left, at the request of her mother, thus taking a different job that results in her not meeting The Doctor. As a result The Doctor dies fighting the Racnoss, and millions of people die from events The Doctor prevented in the original timeline. It is not until Rose Tyler, with the aid of UNIT and the TARDIS, sends this alternate Donna back in time to before the choice was made. Donna proceeds to jump out in front of a lorry, causing a traffic jam making it impossible for Donna's car to turn right, so she turns left, and correct time is restored.

In an episode of Frasier entitled "Sliding Frasiers", the story switches off between the possible two storylines/outcomes if Frasier was to wear a sweater vs. a suit. The title is a play on "Sliding Doors" (see above).

An episode of the third season of Heroes was entitled "The Butterfly Effect", in which the character of Peter Petrelli travels from the future to alter the timeline caused by his brother Nathan revealing the existence of humans with special abilities. His mother, Angela, who has the power of precognitive dreams, is aware of his actions, and warns him that his seemingly minor alterations to the timeline can have major consequences, alluding to Ray Bradbury's short story "A Sound of Thunder" to explain the butterfly effect to Peter. Later episodes also have Hiro Nakamura refer to Samual as 'Butterfly Man' after he convinces Hiro to go back in time and change things for the better

In the television show Primeval, the entirety of seasons 2 and 3 are the results of the butterfly effect, caused by Cutter time traveling in the first-season finale. The changes include replacing a character named Claudia Brown with a nearly identical woman named Jennifer Lewis, and causing the team to be based in a headquarters called "The ARC". Being the ones who time traveled, only Cutter and Helen were aware of these changes.

Dennis Miller touched on the issue in an episode of Dennis Miller Live, linking the flapping of a butterfly's wings, dislodging some dust, which makes a monkey sneeze, which startles a herd of gazelle into a stampede, which causes a nearby dam to break, sending increased moisture into the air, causing a powerful storm in the upper atmosphere, which causes his cell phone signal to deteriorate and drop calls (which he immediately blames on the butterflies themselves).

The CBS series Early Edition used the butterfly effect in many of its story lines, as the lead character would get the next day's newspaper before events happened and would try to change them.

In the SciFi Original Series Eureka 4th season premiere, titled "Founder's Day", five people are sent back in time, and when they return, they bring the town's founder with them, causing a change in the timeline.

In the sci-fi anime series and game, Steins;Gate, the butterfly effect is used extensively in the gameplay and plot, and is the device the main character, Okabe Rintarou, uses to save his friends from their fated deaths. It is also one of the core explanations for the series' science, along with the Many-worlds interpretation.

An episode of the NBC sitcom Community entitled "Remedial Chaos Theory" revolves around the concept of various existing timelines, each set up by the character Jeff rolling a die to determine which character will pick up a delivery pizza. The episode's plot follows how each timeline differs and remains the same depending on which character is chosen to retrieve the pizza. This episode of Community has been called one of the greatest sitcom episodes ever aired.

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