The terms were originally applied to X-files, but they can apply to a lot of procedurals and detective shows. The various iterations of Law & Oder and NCIS, for example, can be broken down into the two types of episodes.
I prefer the monster of the week episodes of these types of shows, mostly because I don’t like bad stuff happening to the main characters who then proceed to act out of character to how they would normally approach a monster of the week scenario. Whether it’s a family member being kidnapped, an old villain coming back to seek revenge, a main character being blackmailed because they screwed up a previous case, ongoing problems with substance abuse, and worst of all the death of a main character, I just can’t get into those episodes. What do you all prefer?
I don’t like that sort of villain either though sometimes the villain isn’t caught until the end of the season. I think that the original CSI show set in Las Vegas did this sort of thing more than once.
The example that comes to mind for me is Supernatural. I liked the first few seasons, where there was both, because the “mythology” provided a nice framework for the monsters of the week. As the show went on, though, the season-long story arcs got more and more ridiculous and contrived and tedious, to my way of thinking. And although I was willing to go along with anything they wanted to do with a monster of the week because the writers were good enough, usually, to sustain any idea for a forty-minute episode, I really wanted the story arcs to be more grounded. I mean, I just said “screw it” after season seven, although I do have to admire they way they were able to keep a dick joke from getting tiresome for a whole season.
So, I guess my answer would be, bottom line, it depends on how they do it, but I’m buying into monster of the week more readily.
I came here to mention The Mentalist. Each Bad Guy of the Week episode was much better than the Red John episodes for which, frankly, suspension of disbelief was difficult. Red John was just too over the top.
Supernatural did this too. The first few seasons were mostly Monster of the Week episodes with a few dedicated to finding their dad or making references to hunting the demon that killed their mom. After season 5 it started going downhill with much longer story arcs, fewer monsters, and overall becoming less of a character-driven show.
It really depends on the format. For traditional American-style 24 episode seasons, I prefer monster-of-the-week with some mythology building in the background. If you’re doing 24 episodes of pure mythology, it’s too much content, and the story usually ends up muddled or confused. For modern shows, where they often only have 8-10 episodes a season, I like the ratio reversed, and I prefer episodes that are more focused on moving the overall narrative forward.
There are, of course, individual exceptions. Babylon 5 was at its best when it was doing heavy mythology stuff, and the monster of the week episodes were usually pretty weak. X-Files would have been better with even fewer mythology episodes, because the mythology episodes were mostly kinda dumb, while the MotW stuff was some of the best writing on TV at the time.
Am I right in thinking that Buffy and Angel had a pretty good mix of Mythos and MOTW? I mean, it was mostly MOTW, but there would be a background of the mythos, it would come in once in a while throughout the season, but then the Big Bad would appear and drive the climax of the season.
The “Season-long big bad” ruins my interest in a lot of shows, especially if they have 20+ episode seasons. I know they aren’t going to stop the big bad until the season finale, so why would I care about what plan they put together in episode 14 that inevitably fails?
That was my thought as well (although I know X-Files seems to be the classic example). First couple of seasons were fun with “What kind of odd creature/event will it be this time?” Then it got all into the tedious Heaven/Hell season arc shit and I eventually lost interest and never bothered watching past where they summoned Satan. From what I hear, it eventually goes back to MotW another season or so past that but I couldn’t be bothered.
Mostly because no one can do a decent mytharc. Just now I was watching CSI:NY and they had a three episode super killer arc that was just stupid beyond belief. They couldn’t even do three episodes!
A good mytharc. well, when someone does one, we’ll see. Before the “alien invasion” X-Files arc turned on a dime and became the “supersoldier” arc, I had came up with a great mytharc that explained everything, AND made sense. If they’d done that or similar, I might have a different answer. But we got what we got, and the tribe has spoken.
I think there’s something to this. I believe I’d have ended up wanting to gouge out my eyeballs if Better Call Saul had focused on big-picture character development full-time for twenty-four-episode seasons, even if they gave more time over to Mike and Nacho and some of the more prominent bad guys (or maybe especially if they did). With that kind of schedule, focus on “case of the week.”
I was already finding it tiresome through season seven. At the beginning of season eight, we switched cable companies and lost a couple of recorded episodes we hadn’t seen yet in the switchover, made a halfhearted attempt to find them by some other means, and then thought, “why bother?” I mean, there’s plenty of other stuff to watch when I’m ready to sit back and relax at the end of the evening.
Well, for the X-Files in particular, it was kind of hard to get invested in the mystery of Ogopogo’s Ghost when the mythology was “aliens are planning to invade and kill everyone, and the heroes know it, have a pretty good idea how they’re planning to do it, and know the date. It’s within 12 years.” But hey, let’s spend time looking for the Jersey Devil’s illegitimate daughter!
I think I might just be a bit overly pragmatic of a person, and the richness of such a mythos experience is sadly lost on me.
Or maybe I’m not the only one who thought "oh, gee, Scully’s struggling to reconcile her deep Catholic faith with the exigencies of the modern world, and the notion of the spiritual unknowab—THE SAUCER MEN ARE COMING TO MULCH THE HUMAN RACE INTO MCFLURRIES! PRIORITIES, LADY! FUCKING PRIORITIES!"
To be fair, by the end of the series it seemed like the conspiracy had grown so large that it seemed like it was Scully, Mulder, and a few others against literally the rest of the world, humans plus the various aliens. It was almost Truman Show level over the top in terms of who the bad guys were. At least that’s the way I remember it.
One mental hack that I found useful was to think of the X-Files MOTW episodes as “case files” that could be shown in any order. Imagine you’re watching Dateline, Unsolved Mysteries or America’s Most Wanted…each episode focuses on a case but they don’t feature the cases in chronological order. So when they are chasing the chupacabra, it could have occurred 5 years before the time they just missed confronting TSM in the previous week’s episode. For the most part the writers avoid making references to anything that happened outside of the MOTW case during that episode. It’s not perfect but generally it works.
I have to confess that I’m surprised that it’s almost universally in favor of the MOTW episodes. I tend to agree for almost every show other than the X-Files, but when it comes to Mulder and Scully I want to see the Lone Gunmen, Skinner and The Smoking Man. I want to unravel the big conspiracy layer by layer.
My mytharc solution was that the MOTW episodes were looking for weapons to be used against the aliens. that was the real reason the X Files existed. And a guy that can kill you with his shadow is quite the weapon!
Almost all the shows I watch and like have MOTW type episodes, but the mythology is stronger. The Stargate shows. The various Marvel superhero shows. Battlestar Galatica. Even comedy shows like The Good Place and Eureka had long story arcs.