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The Good Kind of Static Characters: Star Trek and other shows

One of the "think pieces" talked about a few days ago has posted at  In it I take a few swipes at the original Star Trek series and movies, and I think it's worth a deeper dive over here.

Static characters - who never really change or grow - are generally considered inferior to dynamic ones.  I don't think I need to dig into why, but instead I want to look at where they can be useful or create interest.

The most obvious example is classic American television shows where each week the audience gets to watch a cast of fixed characters deal with various situations.  There isn't an overall "story arc" or series-wide plot per se, just a series of encounters with the world.

The original Star Trek was famously pitched as a Wagon Train to the Stars wherein we would watch a cast of fairly fixed characters deal with guest stars or other challenges.  The joy of watching came not from seeing our characters grow up or change, but rather how their innate talents and abilities help them win through all sorts of different challenges.

In fact, this was the predominant form of television show for many years, arguably culminating in the "detective show" boom of the 1980s.  There was a staggering number of "private investigator" kind of shows and what set them apart was the various quirks of the detective.  Is it two brothers working together?  How about a male-female team, seething with barely suppressed attraction?  Maybe a husband-wife combination would be amusing.

This was closely related to the classic "cop show" where - as above - you see hardened detectives use their skills to break open various cases.  To be clear, these guys aren't trying to work their way through life, and there's no "big picture" behind the various adventures, it's just a fun way to pass the evening.

Also in the 1980s, you started seeing shows trying to create some actual story arcs.  These were open-ended and convoluted to be sure, and they were inspired by the conventions of soap operas.

But even there, the idea was you got a cast of interesting people effectively stuck in reactive mode to whatever the writers cooked up that week.

My point is that this can be entertaining, and even inform one about the human condition, but it only lasts so long.  The original Star Trek only lasted two and a half seasons.  More popular shows got higher ratings, but it was still unusual to see more than a half-decade out of the same old people acting the same old way.


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