List of nonlinear narrative television series

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Nonlinear narrative is a storytelling technique in which the events are depicted, for example, out of chronological order, or in other ways where the narrative does not follow the direct causality pattern of the events featured, such as parallel distinctive plot lines, dream immersions, flashbacks, flashforwards or narrating another story inside the main plot-line.[1]

In television, there are several examples of works that use this kind of narrative, although not all of them use it in the same way. In spite of it being more commonly used on dramas, it can also be found on comedies.

This technique is used for different purposes, such as serving as a narrative hook, to mimic human memory or to explore the past of the story without leaving its present completely aside. In addition, not all television series use this technique in the same extent; some of them use it only in certain episodes, e.g. Fringe, others only in certain seasons, e.g. Breaking Bad, while others do throughout their entire run, e.g. Lost.[2]

1950s[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
1959―1963 The Untouchables Crime drama ABC

1980s[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
1989―present The Simpsons Animated sitcom Fox Features flashback and flashforward episodes, dream immersions and scattered narrative. Characters do not age and few things fundamentally change between episodes, although episodes refer to one another's events in complex ways. Continuity is deliberately broken, with minor characters' backstories being revised frequently. [3][4][5]

1990s[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
1990―1991 Twin Peaks Drama ABC [6]
1994―2004 Friends Sitcom ABC Features several flashback episodes such as The One with the Flashback, The One With The Invitation, and The One with All the Thanksgivings [7]
1997―2003 Buffy the Vampire Slayer Supernatural teen drama The WB Features nonlinear narrative particularly from season 2 onwards [8]
1999―2004 Angel Supernatural drama The WB Features flashbacks [9]
1999―2007 The Sopranos Crime drama HBO Features flashbacks in certain episodes, such as Down Neck [10]

2000s[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2002 Firefly Science fiction western Fox Only in episode Out of Gas [11]
2000―2006 Malcolm in the Middle Comedy Fox Mainly through the use of flashbacks, especially episodes Flashback and Bowling [12]
2000―2004 Coupling Comedy BBC Two
2002 Boomtown Action-drama NBC
2003―2006
2013―present
Arrested Development Comedy Fox (season 1-3)
Netflix (season 4-present)
Especially season 4 [13]
2004―2010 House Medical drama Fox Features flashbacks in certain episodes, such as Two Stories, Three Stories, and Lockdown. [14]
2004―2010 Lost Drama ABC Features three main storylines; the past, the present and an alternative present [15]
2005―present Doctor Who Science fiction drama BBC Features time travel and flashbacks [16][17]
2005―2014 How I Met Your Mother Comedy CBS Features flashbacks, flashforwards and unreliable narrators [18]
2006―2013 30 Rock Comedy NBC Mainly through the use of flashbacks and smash cuts.
2006―2012 One Tree Hill Drama The CW Particularly season 5 [19]
2006―2010 Heroes Drama NBC
2007―2012 Damages Drama FX
2008―2013 Breaking Bad Drama AMC Only Pilot, season 2 and season 5 [20][21][22]
2009―2011 Ezel Crime drama Show TV
ATV
2009―2010 FlashForward Drama ABC [23]
2009―2017 The Vampire Diaries Fantasy drama The CW Features flashbacks and flashforwards [24][25]

2010s[edit]

2010[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2010―2014 Boardwalk Empire Period drama HBO Only episode Under God's Power She Flourishes and season 5 [26][27][28]
2010 The Event Science fiction NBC
2010―present The Walking Dead Horror drama AMC Features flashbacks and parallel story lines [29][30][31][32]
2010―2017 Pretty Little Liars Teen drama ABC Family Features flashbacks [33]

2011[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2011―present American Horror Story Horror drama FX Flashbacks and dream immersions [34][35][36]
2011―2018 New Girl Sitcom Fox Features flashbacks particularly in certain episodes, such as Virgins [37]
2011―2016 Person of Interest Science fiction CBS Features extensive use of flashbacks and in media res [38][39]
2011―2018 Once Upon a Time Fantasy drama ABC Features extensive use of flashbacks [40]

2012[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2012 Alcatraz Science fiction Fox Only through the use of flashbacks and flash-forwards [41]
2012―2020 Arrow Superhero The CW Mainly through the use of flashbacks [42][43][44]
2012 Son Thriller ATV
2012―2014 Revolution Science fiction NBC
2012 The Returned Drama Canal+

2013[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2013―present Attack on Titan Action drama MBS, NHK The series features several flashbacks, while its extra episodes (or OVA) are all anachronic. [45]
2013 20 Dakika Thriller Star TV
2013―2014 Once Upon a Time in Wonderland Fantasy drama ABC
2013 Deception Soap opera NBC
2013―2015 Hannibal Drama NBC Especially season 3 [46]
2013 Golden Boy Drama CBS
2013―2017 Orphan Black Science fiction BBC America Especially Season 4 [47]
2013―2019 Orange Is the New Black Comedy-drama Netflix Mainly through the use of flashbacks [48]
2013―2018 The Originals Fantasy drama The CW Extensive use of flashbacks [49]
2013―2019 Ray Donovan Drama Showtime Features flashbacks [50][51]

2014[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2014―2020 The 100 Science fiction The CW Mainly through the use of flashbacks [52]
2014―2020 BoJack Horseman Adult animation Netflix Mainly through the use of flashbacks and dream immersions [53][54]
2014―present Black-ish Comedy ABC Mainly though the use of flashbacks [55]
2014―2019 Gotham Crime-drama Fox Only certain episodes, such as Spirit of the Goat [56]
2014―2019 Jane the Virgin Comedy-drama The CW Every episode features a flashback to the title character's past, typically her childhood [57]
2014―2016 Penny Dreadful Fantasy drama Showtime Features a flashback episode, Closer Than Sisters [58]
2014―present Rick and Morty Science fiction adult animated sitcom Adult Swim Features time travel, alternate and intertwining timelines [59][60]
2014―2019 The Affair Drama Showtime Using unreliable narrators, the same events are revisited twice, according to the perception of each character [61]
2014―2019 Transparent Comedy drama Amazon Prime Features flashbacks [62]
2014―present True Detective Drama HBO Especially season 1 [63][64]
2014―2020 How to Get Away with Murder Drama ABC In medias res narrative [65]
2014―present The Flash Superhero The CW Time travel, parallel timelines and flashbacks [66][67]
2014 The Honourable Woman Political-spy thriller BBC Two Features flashbacks [68]
2014 Manhattan Love Story Romantic comedy ABC
2014―2016 The Missing Drama BBC One Features flashbacks [69]
2014―2017 The Strain Horror drama FX Mainly through the use of flashbacks [70]
2014―2017 The Leftovers Drama HBO Through the use of dream immersions and flashbacks [71][72]
2014―2015 A to Z Comedy NBC
2014―2015 Forever Drama ABC Mainly through the use of flashbacks [73]

2015[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2015―2016 Aquarius Period drama NBC Through the use of flashbacks and dream immersions
2015―2016 Wayward Pines Drama Fox Mainly through the use of flashbacks [74]
2015 Connected Documentary AOL On
2015―2018 12 Monkeys Science fiction Syfy Time travel [75]
2015―2017 American Crime Drama ABC Features flashbacks and dream immersions [76][77][78]
2015―2017 Bloodline Drama Netflix Flashforwards used as a narrative hook [79]
2015―2018 Daredevil Superhero Netflix Mainly through the use of flashbacks [80]
2015―present Fear the Walking Dead Post-apocalyptic drama AMC Uses multiple timelines, particularly in Season 4 [81][82]
2015―2019 Marvel's Jessica Jones Superhero Netflix Through the use of flashbacks and dream immersions [83]
2015―2019 Sneaky Pete Crime Drama Amazon Originals Through the use of flashbacks and multiple concurrent plot-lines [84]
2015―2018 Lovesick Comedy-drama Netflix Each episode explores a period in the protagonist's past [85]
2015―2017 Master of None Comedy Netflix Through the use of flashbacks [86][87]
2015―2020 Fresh Off the Boat Comedy ABC Only through the use of flashbacks [88]
2015―2018 Humans Science fiction Channel 4 and AMC Only through the use of flashbacks [89]
2015―2019 Mr. Robot Drama USA Network Through the use of dream immersions [90]
2015―2017 Narcos Drama Netflix Only in flashbacks [91]
2015―2018 Sense8 Science fiction Netflix Only certain episodes, such as I Can't Leave Her [92]
2015 The Whispers Science fiction ABC Features flashbacks [93]
2015―2018 Quantico Drama ABC In medias res [94]
2015 You, Me and the Apocalypse Comedy-drama Sky 1 and NBC Features flashbacks [95]

2016[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2016 11.22.63 Science fiction Hulu Time travel [96]
2016―present Atlanta Comedy drama FX Features a flashback episode, FUBU [97]
2016 The Night Manager Espionage drama BBC One, AMC Features flashbacks [98]
2016―present American Crime Story Crime drama FX Features flashbacks [99][100]
2016―2019 Fleabag Comedy-drama BBC One Features flashbacks and dream immersions [101]
2016 Vinyl Drama HBO Mainly through the use of flashbacks and dream immersions [102][103]
2016 Damien Drama A&E Features flashbacks [104]
2016 The Family Drama ABC Features flashbacks [105]
2016―2018 The Path Drama Hulu Mainly through the use of flashbacks and dream immersions [106][107]
2016 Containment Drama The CW Features flashbacks [108]
2016―2018 Lady Dynamite Dark comedy Netflix This series features three narrative times, two different storylines in the past and one in the present [109][110][111]
2016―2017 Outcast Drama Cinemax Mainly through the use of flashbacks [112]
2016―2019 Preacher Drama AMC Mainly through the use of flashbacks [113]
2016―present Stranger Things Drama Netflix Mainly through the use of flashbacks [114]
2016―present This Is Us Drama NBC Features extensive flashbacks and flashforwards [115][116][117]
2016―2020 The Good Place Comedy NBC and Netflix Features flashbacks, particularly in season 1 [118]
2016―present Westworld Drama HBO This series features multiple narrative times, with various storylines in the past, an uncertain "present", and a future [119][120]

2017[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2017—2020 13 Reasons Why Teen drama Netflix Features extensive use of flashbacks [121]
2017—2020 Dark Science fiction drama Netflix Features time travel [122]
2017—2019 Anne with an E Period drama CBC Television and Netflix Uses brief flashbacks [123]
2017 Twin Peaks: The Return Drama Showtime Mainly through the use of flashbacks. Some occurrences in 'Part 2' happens before some events depicted in 'Part 1', and most events in 'Part 8' happens in the 1940s and 1950s. Time travel and alternative timeline also occurs. [124][125][126][127]

2018[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2018—present 9-1-1 Procedural drama Fox Features flashbacks [128]
2018—2020 Castle Rock Psychological horror anthology Hulu Features two parallel storylines and flashbacks [129]
2018—present Elite Teen drama Netflix Features extensive use of flashbacks [130]
2018 Sharp Objects Psychological thriller HBO Mainly through the use of flashbacks [131][132]
2018—2019 Sorry for Your Loss Drama Facebook Watch Features two main storylines, one in the past and another in the present [133]
2018 The Haunting of Hill House Drama Netflix Features extensive use of flashbacks [134]
2018—present Homecoming Drama Amazon Particularly in Season 2 [135][136]

2019[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2019—present Euphoria Teen drama HBO Features flashbacks [137]
2019 Stateless Drama mini-series ABC Features flashbacks [138]
2019—present The Umbrella Academy Superhero drama Netflix Features flashbacks [139]
2019—present The Witcher Fantasy drama Netflix Features three main storylines [140][141]
2019—present Undone Comedy-drama animation Prime Video Features time travel and flashbacks [142]
2019 Watchmen Superhero drama HBO Features flashbacks [143][144]

2020s[edit]

2020[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2020 Inhuman Resources Drama miniseries Arte-Netflix [145]
2020 I Know This Much Is True Drama miniseries HBO Features extensive flashbacks to two different timelines [146][147][148]
2020 I May Destroy You Comedy-drama BBC One and HBO Features extensive flashbacks [149]
2020 Little Fires Everywhere Drama miniseries Hulu Features flashbacks and an entire flashback episode [150][151]
2020—present Soulmates Science fiction anthology AMC Features two timelines [152]
2020 The Haunting of Bly Manor Psychological horror Netflix Features a frame story, a story within a story and flashbacks [153][154][155]
2020 The Queen's Gambit Drama miniseries Netflix Features flashbacks [156]
2020—present The Walking Dead: World Beyond Post apocalyptic drama AMC Features flashbacks [157]
2020—present Tales from the Loop Science fiction anthology drama Prime Video Features intertwining timelines and flashbacks [158]

2021[edit]

Year Title Genre Distributor Notes Ref
2021 Behind Her Eyes Mystery thriller mini-series Netflix Features flashbacks and dream immersions [159]
2021 Lupin Mystery comedy Netflix Features flashbacks [160]
2021 Invisible City Psychological thriller Netflix Features flashbacks and dream immersions [161]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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