While characters in Mad Men or Breaking Bad offer layers of subtlety that make those shows compelling to watch across multiple seasons, for the thirty-minute sets composed of two-to-five-minute scenes I’m usually in, I’ve found the characters from another show a better model for quickly and clearly making strong choices. I’m talking about Arthur.
Wait a second, you might be thinking. Isn’t Arthur a children’s show? To that I would respond that it just happens to be on PBS Kids, but it was also the best show on television at the hour when I’d get back from high school and needed to decompress before starting my homework. The reason for the superlative is because of the characters and how they relate to each other, highlighted in its Ziggy-Marley-composed theme song:
Every day when you’re walking down the street,
Everybody that you meet
Has an original point of view.
And I say hey,
What a wonderful kind of day
If we can learn to work and play
And get along with each other.
Point of view and the desire to affect and be affected by others (to get along better in Ziggy Marley’s song) form the basic elements of a character, and what makes the show so instructive for characters is how clear the points of view are and how obvious it is that the characters are affected and affecting each other. Consider this excerpt between D.W. and Arthur:
D.W.: What did you draw?
Arthur: A dog, and he’s bored. What did you draw?
D.W.: A stick.
Arthur: A stick?
D.W.: Yeah, a stick…
D.W.: – from the park you promised to take me to today!
A clear point of view, stakes, and a relationship within five lines, and it’s not just the script: D.W.’s physicality, tone of voice, etc. all support the point of view and choice. You can read more about D.W.’s strong character choices in a BuzzFeed article that went viral.
The show doesn’t limit such moments to just the Read siblings, either. Buster, Francine, Muffy, and Binky also demonstrate clear points of view in episodes, and its more often these points of view and how they drive relationships that drive the plot of the show rather than some external force. Watch an episode and see for yourself.