Yeah, been awhile since I did one of these but this was one I had to talk about eventually. I loved this plot device when I was young, even though it is completely ridiculous. In real life Amnesia is memory loss due to a severe head injury, and can last for an unspecified amount of time.
On TV, not only does amnesia come about through simple bangs on the head but the amnesia can do all kinds of fun things. Sometimes it causes memory loss, but other times it can cause radical personality shifts so that people will think they are totally different person! I suppose it is a clever way to see a character in a different light, but it’s used so inaccurately! The best part is that the solution is very often to bang the person on the head again. In real life I really don’t see how that would do anything more than make the head injury worst. But in sitcoms, it’s a cure all which instantly restored the persons memory and or original personality.
I will never forget being in a Psychology class and the instructor brought this up, and started to get so irrirtaed. I guess I can’t blame him, not enough this is everywhere but it’s almost always used wrong!
Now before I list the sitcoms that have done this, I have to mention the other TV genre which really beat this to death. That of course is Soap Opera’s! I mean amnesia is such a favorite plot device! I don’t even have to list the shows, just name a soap opera and I will bet anything there was an amnesia strory line at some point. This goes for daytime and primtime soaps. Amnesia is used more than the evil twin plot device,which I could do another whole article on!
Now, let’s talk about sitcoms. This isn’t scene as much these days, but was HUGE in the old days.
The Addams Family-Yep, it goes back that far! In this episode a bang on the head causes Gomez to lose his memory and change him into a normal guy. The family spends the episode ready and able to bang him on the head to restore his memory.
I Dream of Jeannie-Jeannie gets a bump on the head andforgets she is a genie, and one my least favorite episodes of Bewitched had Samantha suffering from memory loss while in the clutches of Henry VIII.
Green Acres-Lisa hits her head and has a complete personality change. She thinks she is a different person entirely with a whole backstory and everything!
Mr.Ed-Yeah this one sounds weird. Mr.Ed gets amnesia and Wilbur has to fake having it to find out how to treat Ed.
Gilligan’s Island-Mary Ann thinks she is Ginger after a bump on the head, and I imagine hilairty ensued! Another episode involved the Skipper suffering from amnesia.
The Jeffersons-Louise thinks her life has become routine until she is brutally mugged and hits her head which gives her amnesia.Â George then tries to find ways to get her to remember. Itâ€™s his yelling and screaming that finally does it.
Fraggle Rock-Is this a sitcom? Ah well, Boober loses his memory and begins thinking he is a Gorg.
The Flintstones-Hey why not, right? In one episode Fred gets hit on the head with a bottle and becomes â€œFrederickâ€
Threeâ€™s Company-This series did something clever. Jack gets into an accident with Janetâ€™s new car. In the hospital he pretends to have amnesia. Nice change of pace, of course Janet figures it out in the end. Letâ€™s just say it wasnâ€™t Jackâ€™s best idea.
Charles in Charge-Ah, another favorite example! Charles is kind of a do-gooder on the show. When he bumps his head, his whole personality changes into a macho jerk in a leather jacket named Chaz.Â This was taken seriously, or as seriously as this show could be, in this multi-part episode which had Charles getting married before he was restored. The marriage ends up being illegal.
Perfect Strangers-When Larry falls down a flight of stairshe loses his memory and itâ€™s up to Balki to help him. Larry regains his memorynaturally which is a switch. But before he does we get some funny scenes ofBalki trying to teach Larry how to say his name. He ends up having a problem with his short term memory in the episode.
Married..With Children-Peg bumps her head on a table after slipping on a candy bar wrapper and Al starts to mold her into his version of the perfect housewife. When they have sex her memory is restored.
Mama’s Family-Just like Married, Naomi gets hit on the head by a door and Mama takes advantage of her condition to turn her from slutty wife into perfect homemaker. The funny thing is that Naomi is incredibly annoying like this! Another hit on the head restores her normal personality.
Alf-After an electric shock Alf loses his memory and doesn’t believe he is an alien. In fact he thinks he is an insurance salesman being held hostage by the Tanners. The episode is the family trying to get him to remember,via clips from the previous season. I love the end, when they bring the cat in,Alf suddenly remembers him!
Full House-The series finale had Michelle fall off a horse and suffer temporary amnesia. I like this one because it isn’t played for laughs.Michelle is genuinely freaked out by her memory loss while the family tries to help her anyway they can. And the way her memory gets restored isn’t a silly stunt, it happens naturally in a very cool scene. I think this was one of thestronger episodes of that show.
The Nanny-After getting into an accident while riding a cab,Fran wakes up in the hospital with no memory. Yetta of course tells Fran the wrong thing, leaving Fran thinking she is Maxwellâ€™s wife. Well, hijinks ensue before Fran gets her memory back. This was part of an episode involving Elizabeth Taylor.
Family Guy-I have never seen the episode but knowing the show I imagine itâ€™s more of a parody of this trope. But in the episode Peter hits his head and forgets everything about his life. He then believes he is free to have sex with other women. This causes Lois to take the kids and leave him. Donâ€™t worry, it all works out in the end.
Ellen-On one episode Paige takes Spence to Las Vegas where he develops Amnesia. This episode aired as part of a Vegas stunt which was really bad, but thatâ€™s a discussing for another day.
I feel like I am leaving off a bunch. but you get the idea. This clichÃ© has been all over the place, even video games and RPGâ€™S! Letâ€™s talk about other genreâ€™s which have beaten this to death. Yes cartoons have even done this. One episode of Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers has Dale thinking he is Rambo aftera bump on the head. An episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had Splinter suffering from amnesia and the turtles have to help get his memory back. Even Garfield isnâ€™t immune, suffering amnesia in the comic strip and Garfield & Friends TV series!
This has happened big time in drama’s and action shows. Here is just a sample:
Star Trek-Kirk’s memory is erased and he thinks he is a tribal god in “The Paradise Syndrome”
Star Trek TNG-“Condundrum” an alien wipes out thepersonal memories of the crew but not their technical skills. In another episodean accident causes Data loses his memory and is on a planet with apre-industrial society.
Miami Vice-On a season ending cliffhanger, Crockett gets amnesia while boarding a drug dealer’s boat. He is rescued by a shady drug dealer and Crockett is left believing that he is his undercover drug dealeralter-ego Burnett.
Knight Rider-In a unique twist when Michael his hit on the head he forget his whole Michael Knight persona, only remembering his first life. I think they did something like this with K.I.T.T. too.
Dukes of Hazard-I loved this one. Luke is hit on the head and turns evil! To be fair it was all Boss Hogg’s fault since he convinces Luke that he is his son. There is even one dramatic moment when Luke and Bo almost have a fist fight. But donâ€™t worry, Boss Hogg has amnesia himself in another episode and becomes a good guy. Until Roscoe hits him on the head to restore Boss Hogg to normal.
Lois & Clark and The Adventures of Superman had the same episode called “Panic in the Sky” which had Clark losing his memory as an asteroid was crashing to Earth. Lois & Clark had a horrible story arc about Lois being cloned; getting amnesia and thinking she is a lounge singer,and then getting total memory loss and getting manipulated by an evil psychiatrist.
Smallville-They did this a few times, I think every character had memory loss at one point or another
Charmed-Is it really a surprise that this show would use the amnesia plot device? I think I will refrain from discussing it since Obscurus Lupa will probably have plenty to say about it in her next Manic Episodes.
Dr.Who-Yeah, I ainâ€™t going anywhere near this one. If someone else wants to explain how and why this was used, please comment below.
These aren’t even a fraction of all of them, I could be hereall day listing these! Sometimes the illness is portrayed accurately, and sometimes the writers just make whatever they want up. Either way, this trope has been around a lot!
And of course this has been used in movies from Desperately Seeking Susan to Total Recall to Overboard with Goldie Hawn to 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler to Finding Nemo to, of course, Spider-Man 3! My favorite example is what happens to Kermit in Muppets Take Manhattan. He gets hit by a cab and forgets his life and friends and turns into a business, er frog . How does his memory get restored? After he offends Miss Piggy she knocks him across the room and against a wall! It’s a great moment.
Lately it seems as people become more educated that plot device has either faded or at least is being portrayed a little more accurately. I don’t understand how that even started, serious head injuries are nothing to make light of. But leave it to sitcoms to make it funny and soap operas to use it a regular plot device. I guess it is a fun way to shake things up and since people are so familiar with it they can just throw out the word and avoid a lengthy explanation for why the good guy is suddenly a bad guy, or whatever. Guess that’s what makes it such a reliableÂ and overused plot device.