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. Often used in science fiction television series, animated series, soap operas, and comic books, the device allows elaborate and dramatic changes to characters and the fictional universe that might otherwise invalidate the premise of the show with respect to future continuity. Writers may, for example, use the technique to allow the audience to experience the death of the lead character, which traditionally would not be possible without effectively ending the work.

Effective use of this device depends on the audience being unaware of the continuity status, or successful suspension of disbelief that continuity is or will be interrupted, and the eventual communication of the status of continuity to the audience. It is usually employed as a plot twist that effectively undoes all the happenings of the episode. Common uses of this technique draw liberally from science fiction and metaphysical ideas, perhaps contributing to its widespread use in those genres.

Examples of the reset button technique include dream sequences, alternate-history flashbacks, parallel universes, "alternate realities", "alternate timelines", daydreams, time travel and hallucinations. Occasionally, a character will find himself in a situation that seems familiar but during the episode some things seem odd, and then something major happens such as a lead character having a significantly different position or dying. By the end of the episode or story arc the character learns he has been placed in a copy of his normal surroundings, usually to try to obtain information from him, and the mastermind behind the plan made a few mistakes in fashioning the copy environment.

The CBBC television series Hounded features a literal version of the reset button technique; at the end of each episode, having been foiled by Rufus Hound, the evil Dr. Muhahahaha presses an actual "reset button" that rewinds the entire day's events back to the beginning. As such, every episode of the series is in fact the same day, only played out differently, a situation Rufus himself is aware of and repeatedly attempts to prevent.

Perhaps the most famous example of the reset button technique is the 1986 season premiere of Dallas in which it is revealed that Bobby Ewing's death in the previous season was merely a dream in the mind of one of the characters. This was parodied in the "Y2K" episode of Family Guy. Also in Spiderman storyline Spider-Man: One More Day, the decision of suddenly finish the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson was heavily critized due to the continuity issues, some critics even comparing it to Dallas.

Episodic shows are not generally examples of the reset button technique, but merely lack of continuity. In many adventure oriented series, the characters are defined essentially by what they do and encounter in the course of their adventures. Character development is kept to a bare minimum in favor of action and adventure. In some long-running series, characters do not appear to age, but are instead revised to fit the times. Examples of this include cartoon characters such as Scooby Doo, series movie characters such as James Bond, anime such as Lupin III, and serial novel characters such as Mack Bolan and Nancy Drew. However, more explicit usage of the technique can be used in episodic fiction, should the results of episodes cause irreparable harm to the continuity (such as massive destruction, death, imprisonment, or other calamity); examples of an episodic series that uses the reset button technique after almost every episode are the American series SpongeBob SquarePants and South Park, which features frequent major events that would otherwise alter the nature of the series if they were to be allowed to stand, only to have said events effectively erased in the next episode as if they had never happened. The science fiction show Red Dwarf frequently uses this technique, often ending episodes on a major change and never addressing them again.

Similarly, simple failure to maintain continuity is not use of the reset button technique, although in some cases such a failure can be considered a reboot. For instance, when the Superman movies came out in the 1970s, the screenwriters largely ignored the decades-long comic book storyline and frequently contradicted previous "facts." For example, in the comic books, Krypton, Superman's home planet, had a climate similar to ours, but in the movie series it had an icy climate.

Famous quotes containing the words technique and/or button:

    The more technique you have, the less you have to worry about it. The more technique there is, the less there is.
    Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

    What is the life of man! Is it not to shift from side to side?—from sorrow to sorrow?—to button up one cause of vexation!—and unbutton another!
    Laurence Sterne (1713–1768)