Deconstructing Procedurals: The guest star

[You may remember back in May when I was writing a series of posts on television shows that were procedural and how I was going to take a look at their various tropes. Well, I would like to get back to doing that.]

Sometimes the best way to break up the general flow of a show is to have a new person come in and question the methods of the other characters. Other times, it is enough to name drop a major star in order for fans of that person to check out the show. Whatever the reason, television shows often will use a guest role of a known actor to gather interest.

“Come watch our show X, Y will be on it this week!”

Usually that is enough. Promise some new plot tangle brought to the viewer via a face they know and they will tune in to see what happens.

“This week on Z, D’s Aunt K is coming to town. Will they survive? Tune in, find out.”

Guest roles, especially by well known movie or television stars, fall into two categories when it come to procedurals.

1) They done it.

Cop shows often have a guest star on in the role of the murderer. A movie star that is well known for being a ‘good guy’ might come do a quick role to demonstrate that he can be ‘bad’ too.

Some actor that hasn’t been seen on a show in many years may show up just to reprise one of their previous roles. Characters from other, older, cop shows can show up as someone “just trying to help” only for the characters to find out they, the guest star, was really the one killing people. This twist occurs more than you’d think it would.

The end of the show will always have the gust star either dead (often the case) or sent away to prison. The reason, of course, being that this was only a one time appearance for said actor.

2) They know who done it

Although not truly a role per se, shows often will have well known people in a cameo as the relative or person being interviewed about whatever event happened. The poor stressed out mother who doesn’t want her son to go to prison. The grieving father for his murdered daughter. The scientist who might have accidentally pushed his friend into the DeathRay 5000. The woman that is really a planet from outer space who must have sex in order to spread her plants-babies-seeds-things. (Actual character from an episode of The Outer Limits. I kid you not.) People like that are guest roles that can be filled by big names for little money.