Recently, there has been a backlash on the idea of shows being longer than 13 episodes due to filler. The idea being that filler is wasteful and never contributes to anything. Personally, I find this and people who feel that shows should only be five seasons/series are awfully short sighted. No different to people who argue that hard sci-fi being the only “true” sci-fi or that there should only be light/dark shows. Missing that what works for one series doesn’t mean it will work for others and is just another way of limiting creativity.
As such, here is a quick list of reasons why filler can be great when used well:
Also, a friendly spoiler warning for a few recent series such as Sailor Moon Crystal and Daredevil (:
Something that people seem to forget is that the plot is only part of what makes a story work and the characters are equally important and shouldn’t be ignored. We’ve seen this recently with Sailor Moon Crystal, showing how not focusing on character development can hurt a show. Many works of sci-fi in the 50s were criticized for this also.
This is where filler can do a lot of good. An episode focused on what makes a character tick, even if it doesn’t necessarily tie into the main plot, can do wonders to help expand a character and make us care more about them. Many shows have done this wonderfully such as Buffy, Dragon Ball and just recently Daredevil.
Something that many creative people like to do is make an episode appear to be only filler at first, but in hindsight, you realize that it was important and was filled with hints and insight to the plot and characters.
A series that did this wonderfully was Cowboy Bebop. At first viewing, most of the episodes appear to be filler. It’s only in second viewings when you realize that every episode contributed to fully understanding the characters decisions and the ending (and why I don’t spoil the series for people I know who haven’t seen it).
This one really should be obvious but filler can help expand a fictional universes lore. Either, showing in detail how people live day to day, how a piece of technology works or simply showing off a group or a character. Not only is this great for the viewer to see, it’s an opportunity for the writer to develop their world so they can make it more understandable to the audience, to make them care about the people who occupy it as much as the writer does.
Video games do this greatly, with many of the best parts of games like Knights of the Old Republic, Skyrim, Dragon Age, Mass Effect and Ocarina of Time being filler.
Plus, you can always expand on the concepts if they become popular with fans or if the writers feel that more can be done with it.
In the end, filler can always be fun in its own right. A brief side story that can be a breath of fresh air from the seriousness of the plot. That isn’t a bad thing and there is nothing wrong with writers using it. It’s only when writers do filler badly when it is a problem but even then, that doesn’t mean filler is bad. Just that the writer failed to use his/her tools correctly.
Ultimately, shows can have as many episodes as they want or how many seasons they need. All that really matters is that the story is good and filler is just another tool to make it so.
Off topic, If you are reading this Nicole, I would like to thank you for your help. I’ve decided to make my suggestion from this thread into an original series series (changing the characters of course) and your suggestion really helped (: