Cast Dynamics
The dynamics of a cast of characters is often overlooked among all the other considerations of a series: star power, premise, plotting, etc.  Here are some thoughts about cast dynamics that put things in perspective.



Shows with too many characters

News Radio - There should have been maybe five core characters on this series.  The original Star Trek got by with three central characters, and everyone else was just there to feed them prompts.  Instead News Radio had to depict staff from every floor and function of the radio station.  There was a manager, naturally, but then we had to meet his boss too.  There were three females with nothing distinguishing about any of them but their color (black one, red head, and the other one).  And why is the maintenance guy a main character?  That's a bit part.  Andy Dick's role should have been something like that: weird IT guy who stops in and says something weird.  Nope.  There were usually eight characters in play... on a 30-minute show!

Futurama - Don't think there are too many?  Here's a quiz: Name the black guy.  How about the Asian chick?  What about her alien boyfriend?  Those characters serve a similar purpose as more primary characters, so do without them.  Most of the cast could have simply been walk-on characters who were specific to a scene or two in a given episode.  Instead, they're in the background most of the time, just taking up space and generally cluttering the scene.  This wasn't Gilligan's Island where you only had seven characters on the whole show... Futurama had a whole universe to draw from!


Additions fixed the dynamic

Farscape - This was a terrific series, but the earliest few episodes feel clunky.  The writers obviously knew who their characters were, but they really hadn't figured out just what to do with them.  It was a bit awkward until they pick up Chiana.  She's obviously a minor character: not the leader, not the main love interest, and yet the series starts working around the time she comes onboard.  Could be coincidence, but I think she simply provided an appropriate balance.  There were other cast changes later in the series, but Chiana's presence stabilized things.

Red Dwarf - The series started out with an obvious enough formula: Two diametrically-opposed characters to serve as the foil for one another... plus another character for comic relief.  That was okay, but the series only hit its stride with the addition of Kryten.  Again, he had no pull or pre-established history with the characters, but the writing suddenly flowed so much better with his inclusion.  Of course, then they ruined the show in later seasons by having the entire crew of the ship restored, including Kristine Kochanski who was something of a McGuffin for the entire series.


Just right

The Simpsons - The series painted themselves in a corner right from the beginning by making it about a family with a baby.  Usually the baby is the shark-jumping late addition to the cast that signals the point when the series' creators feel they have to look outside of the premise in order to keep things fresh.  If you start with a baby, how are you going to do that?  While some say Simpsons went stale early on, there at least is no Scrappy-Doo moment viewers can point to when the show shifted.

Scooby - This series knew its strength was in the comic relief, but there were other characters present who could impell the story forward without getting in the way.  Notice how the writers always conveniently divided up the group so that the audience could enjoy the antics of Scob and Shaggy, then the rest of the gang could occasionally turn up to provide some exposition and, eventually, to give a summation (always punctuated with a funny by the title character).

Seinfeld - All three were friends of the title character, but not with one another.  Somehow this worked brilliantly, possibly because Jerry was the straight man to three interesting characters, and you couldn't wait to see what they said or did next.  Contrast this with Will & Grace.  The concept was that the principals would be friends and would each have a friend.  Those friends (unexpectedly for the writers) turned out to have amazing chemistry.  So why don't I think it worked?  Because it was very clumsy whenever the other's friend was in a scene with either principle.  The side characters were scene-stealers, but the title characters weren't especially interesting.  I never really understood how exactly they were one another's BFF when they clearly already had a buddy.  I completely hated it.


Shuffling characters

While it isn't a tv show (though nominally packaged as "Episodes"), the Star Wars series served up a lesson on how to keep character dynamics from growing stale: Shuffling the characters around for "The Empire Strikes Back."

If you think about the core group of characters left from the first film (i.e., we lost Ben Kenobi), you end up with three pairs:
*Luke and Leia (Idealists)
*Han and Chewie (Realists)
*R2-D2 and C-3PO (Comic relief)

"Empire" shuffled the characters around such that:
1) It created the opportunity for romance to develop between two leads (i.e., removed immediate competition from Luke)
2) You got a new set of comic relief by pairing Chewie and C-3PO (which arguably worked even better than just R2-D2 and C-3PO)
3) Provided Luke with a relatively mute foil in R2-D2 during his studies with Yoda.

Empire managed to keep things fresh by merely rearranging familiar elements.  The furniture was the same, but the room felt so much more inviting!




Copyright 2013 Ale[x]plorer
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