I used to go for cocktails at a restaurant bar near my old apartment, where they sold “soup shots,” which were exactly what they sounded like: soup served in shot glasses. It sounds like a goofy restaurant gimmick. It was a goofy restaurant gimmick. But they were also really good. Eventually, I figured something out about them which explained to me something about the old TV series Moonlighting.
I was a teenager when Moonlighting was first shown, and found it exhilarating. I saw a few episodes recently and it doesn't look as good now — we forget how clusmy TV was before our current Golden Age — but at the time it was one of the gutsiest, craftiest, most inventive things ever broadcast. The show was ostensibly about a detective agency, but the episode's mystery was almost incidental to the the point of the show, which was much more about banter between the characters and the show's generally surreal tone. Usually the mystery only took center stage in bookends at the beginning and end of each episode: a prologue at the beginning which often excluded the show's recurring characters in favour of the guest stars who inhabited the mystery, then an encounter when the main characters solved the mystery at the end. Often the prologue had an intense thriller / noir tone quite different from the rest of the show's comedic voice. I'd think that the mystery, while it was onstage, was wonderfully gripping and intense, and wish for a different show which delivered more of that.
But I eventually realized that the tone of the mystery sequence was actually unsustainable: so intense that it would be laughable if you tried to maintain it for an hour of TV. It only worked because it came in such a small dose.
Like the soup shots.
I figured out the soup shots because I do the same thing when I make lasagna. If you use your normal spaghetti sauce recipe to make the tomato sauce for lasagna, it doesn't work right. You have to overspice the sauce, or else it will get drowned out by the other lasagna ingredients. Like the thriller portion of Moonlighting.
It seems to me that this is a design pattern useful for a lot of things.