Recently, I watched the entire one season series, “Freaks and Geeks,” which was a television show about high school. The characters were well-developed, it was hilarious, and extraordinarily realistic. Thinking on it, most films and television shows about high school are pretty popular. Some that come to mind include “Mean Girls,” “Breakfast Club,” “Clueless,” etc. I think one of the reasons why these high school movies and television shows are so popular is because just about everyone can relate to them. There are certain archetypes in high school that people tend to categorize themselves in. “Breakfast Club” literally points this out with all characters representing a different “clique” in high school. The name of “Freaks and Geeks” itself exemplifies these categories. The characters are familiar to us, which gives way to more comedy and relatable plot lines.
While watching “Freaks and Geeks” I thought about archetypes in other films. It seems that films that do not revolve around high school have such possibility wider variety of characters that may or may not fit into an archetype (there’s probably some metaphor about high school and the real world and how people develop in their teenage years and then to adulthood, but that’s a whole other analysis). But my mind went to how women are portrayed in comedies.
One of my first blog posts mentioned the original version of “Arthur,” which was screened in one of my classes. The professor introduced the film saying that Liza Minnelli was a well-developed and funny female character in this comedy. He mentioned how in modern comedies, a lot of times women serve as a place holder. A lot of the comedy isn’t actually character based, so the personality and actions of the female don’t actually matter as much.
What does this have to do with high school movies? It’s the idea of the archetypes. Archetypes are easier to recognize, and so character based humor is easier to communicate to the audience because everyone is part of the inside joke. I think this is why it is so easy to put women in an archetype in comedies.
Romantic comedies with a female protagonist tend to be a bit different as the main character usually develops with the progression of the film. But in comedies where the protagonist is not female, it seems to be an easy trend to put her into an archetype as opposed to developing her character because that’s not where the comedy is.
And I think the use of archetypes works for high school comedies (once again, there’s probably some large high school to life metaphor there) but it doesn’t really make sense in out-of-college comedies. And shows like “Freaks and Geeks” and movies like “The Breakfast Club” prove that well-developed characters can exist inside archetypes.