Despite their protestations to the contrary, the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz is clearly head, as the tin-man is heart and the cowardly lion is gut. As for “House” there was actually an episode where Dr. House had to make a diagnosis on plane without his interns around. He realized that he couldn’t think straight without three advisers, one of whom was brainy, another who was caring, and a third who was self-interested, so he appointed three random people on the plane to play those roles!
Here’s two more examples... HBO has made the same show twice: a 3-dimensional New York essayist writes about the post-feminist woes of her generation, taking her examples from her three friends: a naïve romantic, a promiscuous risk-taker, and the smart, responsible one who gets frustrated by the boring men she gets stuck with. Here’s how “Sex and the City” and “Girls” break down:
Another way to polarize a cast of four is to split the gut role into two: the boorish slob and the cocky, impulsive one. Examples of this include “The Fantastic Four”, the original cast of “Cheers” (We’ll see how they changed tomorrow), and “The Simpsons.”
Yet another way to polarize a quartet is to add a fourth element floating above the other three: Faith. (Thanks to commenter Mark for pointing out that the Three Musketeers belong in this group. The pictures are from Alex Toth’s animated version of the story):
But what about a show led by two people? 2-way polarization is a bit more unpredictable. As with 3-way polarization, the two characters add up to one whole person, but each pairing is different, split along the lines of a fundamental dilemma that is universal to human nature:
- Even though “The Honeymooners” had a three member ensemble, it was really just a two-way split. Ralph and Alice respectively represented optimistic ambition and pessimistic practicality. Norton wasn’t really a foil for either, merely serving as Ralph’s sidekick in his get-rich quick schemes.
- The “X-Files” heroes personify the divide between skepticism and belief.
- On “24”, frenetic super-secret-agent Jack Bauer had every weapon at his disposal except one: moral authority. Meanwhile, subdued president David Palmer had to work under the terms of constitution that gives the chief executive no powers at all except one: moral authority. They could only solve the conspiracies that threatened the country by working together, as two fractured halves of a whole.
Okay, tomorrow we’ll look at the pitfalls that can occur when a polarized ensemble goes through a shake-up...