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Monday, June 6, 2011

On Archetypes and Stereotypes

archetype- the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.

stereotype- a set form; convention.

(Definitions courtesy of

In my review of Teen Wolf earlier today, I referred to the characters from the show as stereotypical.  Lest anyone think that I am speaking disparingly of the show, let me assure you that I am not.  In the beginning of any television series, I expect and applaud the use of stereotypes, archetypes, or formulas.  Some people may wonder why.  My reasoning is simple.  By using formulas and easily recognizable character types, the writers/creators of a show can get by with a minimum of character related exposition (at first) in favor of setting up the world and the plot.

What I mean by this is relatively simple.  In Teen Wolf, there are some very stereotypical characters: the head cheerleader, the obnoxious bully jock, the best friend, the hero, the mysterious helper, and the love interest.  Whenever we see a character that fits into one of these molds, we are automatically primed to react in a certain way.  We don't need long explanations of their motives for doing what they do because we already know them.  These cues give the writers more of a chance to set up the world first and then come back and give us information about the characters as we go along.  Sure, they are still going to give us a certain amount of character exposition as needed to give the characters basic background, but they don't need to dwell on it as they would need to otherwise.  And given that most TV shows are limited to 40-43 minutes per show, even saving a little bit of time in this manner can be extremely helpful.

I do want to emphasize a point I made quickly before.  The stereotypical character can hold up for a brief period of time, but if the character is going to become more than a hollow shell, the writers do need to fill in the blanks within 2-3 episodes for major characters and 5-6 episodes for supporting ones.  The exception is the hero, who pretty much needs to be filled in right away so that the audience is invested in the character emotionally.

Ok, just wanted to say that and now I am back to work.  Enjoy your day!