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In some TV shows, in order to develop a character, there may be some episodes that are not closely related to the main story, e.g., an episode of the background story of a supporting character explaining his motivation or why he becomes the very person he is.

What do you call an episode of this type?

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    There might be industry jargon for this, along the lines of "ship in a bottle". I'd ask this question at Movies and TV.SE
    – gotube
    Nov 6, 2022 at 5:08
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    @gotube: A bottle episode is an episode designed to be cheap, regardless of how it relates to the main plot. However, bottle episodes in practice do tend to focus more on characterization and/or worldbuilding, so it is still relevant to some extent.
    – Kevin
    Nov 6, 2022 at 18:07
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    The answer to this question might have been different before, say the 1990s, when it was the norm for a TV series to have no series-wide plot at all - in which case all episodes were standalone; the notion of "filler" or "non-arc" don't apply if there's no arc and hence nothing to fill. Nov 7, 2022 at 16:25
  • @gotube Bottle episodes usually have few or no guest stars, no special sets or location shots, etc. to be inexpensive. But there's no reason they still couldn't fit into the overall arc.
    – Barmar
    Nov 7, 2022 at 16:52
  • Great question and piles of great answers!
    – Fattie
    Nov 7, 2022 at 23:53

8 Answers 8

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Another term that is commonly used for this situation would be a "filler episode." However, in this case, the term means that the episode is not considered important viewing for the overall plot. It's possible that a side character's motivation may not be considered filler if the viewer considers it to be important.

"Filler episode" also has a more negative connotation than "standalone episode." The former implies that the viewer could skip the episode if they choose, while the latter does not.

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  • Sorry, yes: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/…
    – Lambie
    Nov 6, 2022 at 20:36
  • "Filler" has the connotation that they threw it together because it was too much effort to get one that advanced the story.
    – Mary
    Nov 9, 2022 at 0:05
  • @Mary: I'd say that depends heavily on the type of show. In the anime world, for example, filler means it's something not in the manga it's based on. There are also somewhat older US TV shows where, due to the number of episodes per season, it was always expected there would be filler episodes.
    – trlkly
    Nov 9, 2022 at 1:36
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If it doesn't fit neatly into an overall story arc, then it is often called a "standalone episode" (or a "self-contained episode"). It may also be described as "episodic".

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    Perhaps also "one-off-", an example here: The Best One-Off Episodes...
    – BruceWayne
    Nov 7, 2022 at 21:22
  • I think episodic means the TV is made up of episodes that are not closely related. Say, the Family Guy is one example, each episode is an independent story.
    – Michael
    Nov 10, 2022 at 10:21
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Another term for this is non-arc episode, one that is not part of the story arc.

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These can be flashback or backstory episodes.

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You could call them monster of the week episode.

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    This is only used for sci-fi/fantasy shows, like X-Files. And it normally describes the general approach, not occasionally outlier episodes.
    – Barmar
    Nov 7, 2022 at 16:50
  • @Barmar I'd call it MooW no matter the genre.
    – RonJohn
    Nov 7, 2022 at 21:02
  • Monster-of-the-week could still be important for plot, though. E.g. the Buffy musical episode is definitely monster-of-the-week (the actual monster is completely wrapped up at the end and never seen again) but also crucial for plot. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Nov 7, 2022 at 22:27
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An episode that develops the overall setting of the story, but not the story itself, may be called "worldbuilding". An episode that doesn't have any usefulness at all, other than taking up time, is referred to as "filler". Opinions may vary as to which category particular episodes fall in.

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Offshoot

"a side shoot or branch on a plant" or "a thing that originated or developed from something else"

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Informally I've heard this called a "character arc", though everything I can find online says that formally, that term should refer to a character's development rather than specific episodes or a specific section of the book.

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  • Yeah, I think this phrase is about the story centred around a certain character. Nevertheless, it's a useful piece of info.
    – Michael
    Nov 10, 2022 at 10:27

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