by Kathy Fuller
I know what you’re thinking. How can writers (or people in general) learn anything of import from an ABC Family sitcom? A sitcom that’s a total rip-off of the classic (and over-rated) Three Men and a Baby? A sitcom with a premise so thin it makes a spiderweb look indestructible?
Writing instructors will tell you to study the classics. Learn from the greats. Absorb the wisdom of genius. But I’m of the mind that the mediocre and downright bad can teach you just as much, if not more, about how to write…or rather how not to write.
One caveat–personally I think this show isn’t that bad. It’s fluff entertainment, and sometimes people need that. Not every show can be Boardwalk Empire or Breaking Bad or even The Big Bang Theory. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that Baby Daddy fails on several levels including plot, conflict, and characterization. Since there’s not enough blog space to go into all its foibles, I’ll focus on characterization.
The main character of your story should drive the plot. In Baby Daddy, the main character is Ben, who I had to look up because I seriously could not remember his name. He’s that unremarkable. Think of your favorite shows. Ever have trouble remembering the main character? Of course not. But Ben is so forgettable and ineffective you could ditch him from the show and not even notice.
What makes him so boring? He has no goals. Even though he’s a new father (and clearly has no idea what birth control is) his life goes on. His baby daughter doesn’t bring any conflict, because he doesn’t have to deal with her–everyone else is thrilled to babysit. He’s a bartender, and while the show hints at him wanting to do something more than that, he never actually does.
He hits on anything that has a whiff of femininity, so most of his stories are about whether he’s going to get into some girl’s pants by the end of the episode. But we don’t care because he’s empty–no personality, very little charm, and zero growth.
Contrast that with the secondary characters. I’ll focus on his brother, Danny, who despite being a dim bulb, seems to drive some of the story. Why? Because he has layers. He has a job–he’s a professional hockey player. He harbors a secret–he’s in love with his childhood best friend (who for some bizarre reason only to be found in TV land is in love with Boring Ben).
His obtuseness causes conflict–like getting the wrong girl’s name tattooed on his wrist, then getting the right girl’s name tattooed on his other wrist, only to have her break up with him before he unveils either name. He’s also a good uncle to his niece, and tries to do the right thing. He would be great as the main character…except the writers have fallen into a common writerly trap: making secondary characters more interesting than the protagonist.
The rest of the characters are straight out of central casting–the metrosexual roommate (who is also the token black character), the former fat girl who’s now hot so the main character will finally notice her, and the quirky mom who says whatever she thinks and doesn’t need a margarita in her hand to do it, although she’d prefer one.
These characters, while predictable, also have a few surprising layers. Like Danny, they overshadow the star of the show–what’s his name again?
So what can be learned from all this?
1) Always make your main character interesting. Give him layers, secrets, fears, conflicts, and goals. Out of everyone on the show, he should learn the most, grow the most, and change the most by the end of the story.
2) Don’t let your secondary characters overshadow your primary protag. If that happens, consider switching protags. Or do more character work on your main guy/gal.
You might be surprised to know that Baby Daddy is now shooting it’s third season. Maybe they’ll have fixed the character problems by then. Then again, probably not.