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Sitcom Character Archetypes

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Like the Five-Man Band, there are certain character archetypes who just seem to fit together, a sort of Universal-Adaptor Cast, if you will. In any given Sitcom (especially an ensemble), you are likely to find at least two of the archetypes listed below.

As an example of how these characters mesh, consider the following sample, from Commedia dell'Arte:

  • The Wisecracker: Arlecchino
  • The Bully/Charmer: Il Capitano
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  • The Square: Columbina
  • The Dork: Il Dottore
  • The Goofball: Scaramuccia, sometimes Pulcinella

These archetypes generally work best when the characters have no familial relationships, as in a Dom Com; Dom Com characters, being family, tend to have a completely different dynamic to their relationships. On the other hand, nothing could (nor, really, should) prevent a Dom Com from utilizing any, or all, of these character types.

It is important to note that, unlike the Five-Man Band, it isn't strictly necessary for each show to have a representative member for each archetype. Keep in mind that, just as in Real Life, the world of Sit Coms is awash in many various and diverse personalities, of which this is hardly an exhaustive list; so there's no need to shoehorn characters into these categories. Some shows will utilize certain archetypes and leave out others, or may have characters who don't fit into any of the listed types.


And, of course, there's always plenty of room for overlap.

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The Square — Often the central protagonist, and usually The Everyman or the Only Sane Man. Essentially the Straight Man; this doesn't mean necessarily that The Square gets no funny lines, but a large portion of the comedy from such a character comes from his/her reactions to the situation or other characters. In a Dom Com, this role will usually be reserved for the Closer to Earth mother figure.

    Examples of "The Square" 

The Wisecracker — The domain of the Deadpan Snarker or the Pungeon Master. This character just lives to make fun of others (not usually mean-spirited, like The Bully) or to find the humor in any given situation. Is usually something of a thorn in the sides of the others, particularly in more serious situations. Expect this character to have an especially conflict-laden relationship with The Bully, though the two can be (and often are) good friends underneath. If the protagonist isn't a Square, s/he is most likely a Wisecracker.

    Examples of "The Wisecracker" 

The Bully — Despite the name, The Bully is oftentimes not an actual bully per se, but is usually a Jerkass, or sometimes a Jerk with a Heart of Gold. Typically more outright beligerent than The Wisecracker, The Bully will have the least patience with The Wisecracker (who isn't afraid to stand up to him/her) or The Goofball (who is more often than not oblivious to the animosity); on the other hand, if written as a complete Jerkass, The Bully may actively dislike all the other characters. If female, this will be the Alpha Bitch or the Rich Bitch. In Work Coms, The Bully will be excessively driven to climb the corporate ladder and/or dominate the others, whether a Pointy-Haired Boss or a co-worker.

    Examples of "The Bully" 

The Dork — A Hollywood Nerd/Geek. The Dork need not be stereotypically nerdy or geeky, at least not visually, but should be such relative to the other characters. In a cast full of such characters, The Dork will be the most obviously "dorky" of them. In shows with no obvious Goofball, The Dork may fulfill that role as well. And if a show needs a Butt-Monkey, who better than The Dork?

    Examples of "The Dork" 

The Goofball — This role is typically filled by The Ditz or the Cloudcuckoolander, but the character could also be generically zany or a Blithe Spirit rather than outright ditzy. Could also be a Pollyanna, with naivety serving as the defining trait; if so, expect this to be the youngest character (see also The Precocious) or a Naïve Newcomer. In Dom Coms this can be an air-headed child — typically a daughter — and a (sometimes) milder incarnation can take the form of a Bumbling Dad.

    Examples of "The Goofball" 

Since the above are basic archetypes, they can (and are often) supplemented with one or more of the following:

The Charmer — This character comes in two varieties: First, The Casanova, the lover, the player. Enough said. Second, a more classically refined character, someone who is a devout adherent to old-fashioned politeness, grace and decorum (but not nearly so uptight or demanding of others as The Stick).

    Examples of "The Charmer" 

The Stick — Crank The Square up to eleven, and you have The Stick. This character is extremely uptight and stuffy, a stickler for the rules if you will, a stick in the mud as it were. Usually humorless, often humorously so. Not unlike The Square, the humor from The Stick generally results from his/her dismay or outright horror at the antics of the others, and s/he may frequently insist (usually to no avail) that everyone should adhere to his/her mile-high standards. Oftentimes The Stick can overlap with The Bully, or even The Dork. On those shows wherein The Stick co-exists with The Square, The Square is more likely to be the central character.

    Examples of "The Stick" 

The Sage — Usually an older character, this person acts as a sort of Mentor to the main characters, dispensing advice and An Aesop or two. Though close to the main group, The Sage generally exists outside that group, for example a neighbor, or an authority figure such as a teacher. In Sit Coms of old this position was typically filled by a wise, calm-voiced father figure, but that character type has been largely supplanted by the Bumbling Dad. Indeed, The Sage himself is becoming a forgotten character type these days, as the main characters tend to share the Aesop-dispensing chores rather than get them from a singular source.

    Examples of "The Sage" 

The Bigmouth — A (sometimes) softer, less-hateful alternative to The Bully, The Bigmouth is an annoying, um, bigmouth. Whether s/he is a Know-Nothing Know-It-All; an overbearing egotist like the Small Name, Big Ego; or an intrusive Nosy Neighbor, The Bigmouth just has a knack for getting on everyone's nerves (with the possible inclusion of the audience!). Much much humor is milked from the fact that The Bigmouth isn't nearly as smart as s/he presumes to be. Oftentimes crosses over with The Dork.

    Examples of "The Bigmouth" 

The Precocious — The (usually) youngest, cutest member of the cast (this character really flourishes in Dom Coms), this sweet, adorable little angel's principal reason for existence is to make the audience go "awwwww" (not to imply the tyke doesn't deserve it, natch). Usually fulfills the Pollyanna, Kawaiiko or Moe role, but can get in a few sharp quips as well. Also, this kid's pure innocence can bust through the toughest Aesops imaginable.

    Examples of "The Precocious" 


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