- Villain of the week
"Villain of the week" (or, depending on genre, "monster of the week" or "freak of the week") is a term that describes the nature of one-use antagonists in episodic fiction, especially ongoing American genre-based television series. As many shows of this type air episodes weekly at a rate of ten to twenty new episodes per year, there is often a new antagonist to forward the plot of each week's episode. The main characters usually confront and vanquish these characters, often leaving them never to be seen again (as in Scooby Doo). Some series alternate between using such antagonists and furthering the series' ongoing plotlines (as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files, where fandom is often divided over preference for one type of episode versus the other), while others use these one-time foes as pawns of the recurring adversaries (as in Power Rangers and Sailor Moon). On other occasions, these villains return reformed, becoming invaluable allies or gaining a larger role in the story.
Use of the format
There are two different uses for this plot gimmick. Some American television series (especially animated cartoons) are designed to be purely episodic so that they can be "stripped", that is, after the initial broadcasting as a network series, usually one day a week, the film or tape is leased to independent stations to be shown five or six days a week in any order. Hence, there is no plot development, although interesting villains may appear several times (e.g., Jonny Quest's Doctor Zin made four appearances in the original series).
Another reason for using this format is that it is convenient for writers to supply a continuous and varied amount of challenges for the protagonists to overcome. One perceived "flaw" to continuity-based series is that, if the show is based upon a single dominating plot device (such as defeating a single reappearing adversary), then should that plot device ever be resolved, the series would supposedly "end". Conversely, if the plot device is not resolved eventually, the premise of the show may become stale. Therefore, a lack of major continuity is often thought to be a convenient solution.
However, in recent decades, many American series have shifted away from this style. A prominent example is the DC Animated Universe, which is covered from Batman: The Animated Series to Justice League Unlimited. While the former series was mostly episodic, with only moderate continuity between episodes, Unlimited is very continuity-heavy — even making continual references to past series. Other American series (both live-action and animated) have also adopted more plot-based continuity. 24, Lost, Gargoyles, and The Sopranos are shows that placed varying levels of importance of continuity while Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Stargate SG-1, Supernatural, Fringe and The X-Files mixed villain-of-the-week stories with complex, season-long storylines. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone strive for continuity in their overall story timeline, while dealing with a "villain-of-the-week" format in the form of social issues.
In Japan, continuity in animated television series is used more frequently than in the United States. A significant number of series are designed to have an overall plot, even if the plot is just advanced in an initial episode and one or two concluding episodes. Sometimes most of the intervening episodes have no plot or character advancement (e.g., the early Planet Boy Popi / Prince Planet), and are referred to as filler by fans wishing to distinguish them from more story arc-relevant episodes.
Sometimes, American distributors use existing footage from Japanese shows and use it for the "villain of the week" format. An example of this is the live action series Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger. Footage from this, mostly involving the monsters, was edited together with American-made footage in the production of the first season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers; a trend which continues to this day in the latter franchise. However, as Japanese animation has become more popular with the American public, and most imported Japanese shows are now shown with only minor edits or no editing at all.
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