Alternate timelines were frequently used in shows for dramatic purposes in science fiction shows. Star Trek, Eureka, Farscape, and Doctor Who all used alternate timelines, usually resulting in the worst of possibilities that the character must fix. However, comedy shows mine the concept for humorous purposes, showing what could have happened in each scenario. Sometimes the ultimate outcome is the same, but the way in which the characters arrived at the ending could be completely different. Some of the episodes have titles that are references to Sliding Doors, a drama-comedy starring Gwyneth Paltrow about a British woman who creates two alternate timelines, one in which she catches the train, one in which she doesn't, and the resulting alternate timelines.
In Frasier, titled “Sliding Frasiers,” Frasier Crane decides has to decide whether to wear a sweater or a suit to a speed dating service. In the first scenario, Frasier decides to go with the suit – and doesn’t even get to go. Instead, a beautiful clumsy woman named Monica bumps into him as he’s leaving and he falls to the ground, spraining his shoulder. Not wanting to miss in opportunity to spend time with the woman, he forgoes going to the speed dating. In the second timeline, he goes speed dating and the results are disastrous with a particularly annoying woman. Frasier comes home dejected. In the first timeline, he goes to a Valentine’s benefit with Monica, but he lays his affections too thick, and she breaks up with him. In the second timeline, he is open to a blind date, but it turns out to be the annoying woman he met speed dating. Both times he drives home alone…only to hear a caller from a recorded previous show tell him she’s available and where she works. Both cars turn to find her.
In Scrubs, in the more bawdy style that the show is known for a butterfly lands on a lady’s chest and J.D. and Turk staring at it, bump into Nurse Laverne, who was holding drinks. The janitor decides has to clean up the mess and can’t help Elliot look for a stuffed animal. Turk needs his lucky do-rag which he left at home, and Carla goes home but returns when Elliot asks for her help and J.D. makes things worse because the maintenance staff all hates him. A patient that Dr. Cox and J.D. are treating makes them think that he is suffering from a GI bleed, but because J.D. was given the lead, he misses that the patient actually had but later he codes and Turk has to perform surgery without his do-rag. The patient dies. J.D. wonders what would have happened if the day played out differently. In the second timeline, the butterfly lands on the chest of an overweight man. Turk and J.D., disgusted, turn away and the nurse does not spill her drinks. The janitor in turn has time to help Elliot. Carla goes home and does find the do-rag and brings it to Turk. Elliot goes on her own instead of with J.D. and because the janitor vouches for her with the rest of the maintenance staff she finds the stuffed animal. J.D. is sent to get a coffee by Dr. Cox, and since he hears doctors talking and tells Cox to order a C-Scan and they catch the real reason the patient died, and Turk goes into surgery with his lucky do-rag…and the patient dies anyway. J.D. remarks that no matter how much you do, there are certain things you cannot control, but you always wonder, what if things turned out differently.
Both shows emphasize how a tiny change can lead to bigger changes, what with Frasier choosing the sweater or the J.D.’s reaction to where the butterfly lands. What both shows also emphasize is that even with two different timelines, there are circumstances that will make the timelines align again. Frasier left alone in both timelines, the patient dies in both timelines. Still, with real life following a singular narrative, we watch this and wonder what if we could have both days and see how each turns out?