Monday, October 8, 2018

Bulldog on Frasier: Sometimes the Static Character Can't Change

On Frasier, Bob Bulldog Briscoe--chauvinistic womanizer--became a member of the main cast from Seasons 4 to 6. He appeared regularly in the earlier seasons and returned for several episodes in the later seasons.

Dan Butler is a talented comedian. Still, I've always puzzled about why he was brought in as a regular cast member. Frasier is a remarkably tightly structured show, despite the variety of its plots. Frasier, Niles, Martin, Daphne, Roz run the show quite effectively with assistance. The arcs don't require more major players.

I've wondered off and on over the years if Bulldog was meant to be Roz's "Niles." They were supposed to be the next romantic duo. If so, like with Larry Linville on M.A.S.H., the writers were too good at making him a static character.

I am not opposed to static characters! I'm not one of those culture lovers who demands that all characters be well-rounded. I don't get tetchy about "stereotypes" or "cliches" or whatever. All good comedy requires characters that grow and characters that remain exactly as designed. To a large extent, comedy relies on some flatness, even on cliches. We laugh at what we recognize.

Sometimes, static characters can become well-rounded. Howard, on Big Bang Theory, is a remarkable example of a character who grows beyond his origins. But then, Howard's over-the-top girl-chasing in the first few seasons was largely self-effacing, even ironic.

Self-knowledge seems to be the key to transitioning from static or flat to well-rounded and dynamic. Bulldog is never given that. Larry Linville's Frank Burns might have been able to pull it off. The self-reflecting Winchester, however, arrived with self-knowledge already present (though not yet fully operational).

I guess if writers want a character to become dynamic, they should keep self-knowledge as an option, even if not fully displayed until later.