Anton Chekhov once famously imparted upon the world his advice for valuing simplicity and specificity in writing, saying that— as an example— if a rifle is said to be hanging on the wall in a character’s home, later in the story, that gun has to go off. The idea of Chekhov’s Gun has become a trope so common, it’s often pretty muddled, either being totally obvious foreshadowing or used as a sort of red herring. But when it’s done well, this can be a fun, surprising, exciting trope. Here are 8 examples of TV going big with the foreshadowing, for better or for worse.
Friends, Monica’s Glass of Fat
This is possibly my favorite Chekhov’s gun in all of television, in my favorite episode of this sitcom’s entire run. Introduced early on as just a funny bit, both Chandler and Joey accidentally drink from a glass of fat in Monica’s fridge. A few minutes into the episode, Joey offers it to Ross. That seems to be the end of the fat glass, though it remains on the kitchen table for the entire bottle episode.
And you know the saying: if a glass of fat is mentioned in Act 1 of a sitcom, it must be drunk in Act 3. When Joey brings it up again as a way for Ross to prove his apology to Rachel, it’s unexpected and absolutely perfect.
Basically All of Arrested Development
This show was chock-full of foreshadowing devices. Chekhov’s hand chair, anyone?
You’re the Worst, Gretchen’s Actual Gun
One of the only actual guns on this list, most of us were on edge as soon as Jimmy’s dad introduced it. SUre, sometimes a gun is just a gun, but sometimes it comes back the following week, letting us know that Gretchen’s illness is spiraling to terrifying new places.
Community, Annie’s Boobs (The Monkey)
What, you thought they were just going to introduce a monkey and let that be the end of it? And not have said monkey be responsible for an entire bottle episode worth of mayhem and mystery. Fools.
Party Down, “Investors Dinner”
When a prop gun was introduced in this episode, it was such a clear example of the trope that Casey even commented on it, saying “Well, you know what they say about a gun in the first act.” When a real gun eventually shows up, that prop gun is a great misdirection.
Mad Men, “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”
If a riding lawnmower shows up in ad ad office, and everyone’s just having a little too much fun with it, you should probably expect some bad stuff to go down.
Breaking Bad, That F*cking Stevia
It was pretty clear that that ricin Jesse Pinkman was agonizing over was going to end up coming up in a big way. But Lydia’s constant requests for stevia were less irritating once it finally TOTALLY paid off.
Lost was the king of introducing Chekhov’s guns, throwing in probably hundreds over the course of the show, and then pissed over their audience by completely forgetting about maybe half of them. You could call these red herrings, if only the dropping seemed deliberate.
RIP, Chekhov’s gun. Lost has killed you.