Character Archetypes in Television (Part II)

(continuing from yesterday…)


As with the Sage, the Outsider comes in two varieties, the Cool One and the Enigma. One could argue that the Fool is also an outsider, with one foot in the Outsider camp while the other is planted firmly on Informer soil.

Cool One

What marks a character as a Cool One is that at least one other character—but more often most characters—want to be like them. There’s often a touch of the Sage about the Cool One, but he simply doesn’t care about things that get other characters excited. Nor does he care what others think of him.

In WKRP, there are two characters who trade off on this archetype. Johnny Fever just doesn’t care. In the pilot episode he says, “Don’t you see? No one should?” And Jennifer Marlow is above it all. A classic line of hers goes like this, “Is there anything I can do? You know, without really getting involved?”

In Castle, this archetype was originally filled by Captain Roy Montgomery until he left the show. After that, it was passed around but mostly landed in Alexis’s lap, an extension of her as Sage.

Penny plays this role most of the time in The Big Bang Theory, exemplified by her uncaring attitude toward issues the geeks take very seriously. In later seasons, she shared this archetype with Bernadette Rostenkowski (later: Wolowitz).


Differing from the Cool One—who doesn’t really care how others see him—the Enigma always cares… although he’ll never admit it. Despite left-field beliefs and habits, what he really cares about is attention. And he does want to fit into the group, just somewhere near the top… whether he deserves it or not. He prefers adulation to peerage and if he can’t have that, he’ll settle for fear.

WKRP’s Venus Flytrap fits this archetype well. From his flashy outfits and “suits he can’t get parts for” to the gong he drags into the booth for every show, it’s obvious he’s after attention.

Rick Castle already has the adulation of his readers, but in the police department he’s a rookie. He’s intimidated in this environment, so to counter this, he becomes the Enigma. Why? He wants to be seen as a great detective in his own right.

Over in The Big Bang Theory, it’s Sheldon once again who wants everyone to admire him, not for the way he dresses—unless he’s at Comic Con—but for his intellect.

Ultimate Mediator

When a decision has to be made, with sides to be taken and no resolution in sight, the Ultimate Mediator either steps in or is brought in to break through the impasse. His word is law and no one dares defy him, no matter how much it may hurt.

The Big Bang Theory has Sheldon’s mother, Mary Cooper. When Sheldon just can’t be reigned in despite squaring off against every other character in the show, after a surreptitious call to Texas, Sheldon and his stubbornness are undone. This role has also been temporarily played by characters such as the dean or a guest like Stan Lee.

Castle has the police captain, first Montgomery and then Captain Victoria Gates. But, this character dynamic went off track when they passed this mantle on to Kate Beckett at the beginning of season eight. Before then, she and Castle would side against each other until the captain stepped in.

But no writer can make a show work wherein one character fills both archetypes, Jerk and Ultimate Mediator because that character would be fighting himself. Too much of the mediation would take place inside the character’s head and that can only be portrayed effectively in novels.


This character often needs to have things explained which can be a handy mechanism. If a character has a plan that will ultimately go wrong, the audience needs to hear the plan before it’s executed. Step up, the Innocent who isn’t clear on the details.

An awkward or complicated decision’s been made? Bring in the Innocent to say he just doesn’t get it and needs it explained.

This archetype also comes in handy if the Innocent is sucked into a bad situation by the bad guy. It gives the main character an extra—and often incompatible—goal, to rescue the Innocent.

In top-tier shows, there will almost always be one character that feels protective of the Innocent and he will do whatever he can to keep the Innocent safe. Take Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H and how he protects Radar O’Reilly.

Rick Castle is the Innocent in the police department. The other cops do their best to keep him safe… most of the time.

WKRP has two Innocent characters: Bailey Quarters and Les Nessman.

But in The Big Bang Theory, early on, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj were all Innocents and they were protected by Penny… if it suited her in the moment. As the show progressed and Leonard became more a man of the world, he protected Sheldon, sometimes aided by Howard and Raj… until Sheldon went too far. Then they’d leave him dangling in danger.

In later seasons, as first Leonard and Howard and then Sheldon got involved in relationships, their innocence faded. In the current season (eleven) the Innocent is still played by Sheldon, but it’s becoming more and more of a stretch. The true Innocents are Raj and Stewart.

This series on archetypes finishes up tomorrow.

(To be continued…)

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Interesting, and Harry Potter is the innocent. He is replaced by his son after he finally kills Voldermort.