But here's the kicker: Filler episodes are a necessary evil. It's about clearly establishing the ordinary so the extraordinary feels exactly as exciting as it should be. Phrased more poetically, you cannot comprehend a storm's power if no calm precedes it. So through gritted teeth, here are a few different ways I've found to make filler episodes not feel like filler episodes... even though they are.
And your friend still hates you.
Or "How To Stop Your Viewers From Noticing That Nothing Is Happening"
1) Draw On Your History
A self-contained story is the biggest giveaway that it's a filler. It's so disheartening when you realize that you could have just skipped that entire episode and not missed a beat.
Tap into the pre-existing mythology of the universe. Bring back small-time (or big-time) characters or storylines that were either resolved or forgotten about in an unexpected and exciting way. You can even leave it open ended for future filler use.
Why It Works:
It's not a new story out of nowhere, it's the continuation of the much-loved canon and it can retroactively add more importance to what might have been a forgettable older episode or arc.
2) Do Something Special
Fillers are called fillers because they're those annoying gaps in the otherwise kick ass season arc. So, basically, we need an episode that doesn't screw up the surrounding story but doesn't bring down the season either.
Don't hide that it's a filler. Revel in it and create the most awesome one-off episode you can conjure up! Consider 'The Interview' from Season Four of the hit series M*A*S*H, where the show transforms into a documentary looking into the life of a M*A*S*H unit. Also there's Stargate SG:1's '200', where the writers spend an hour hilariously poking fun at their own show.
Why It Works:
It rewards fans for watching a show and has the potential to go down as a favourite episode. Whether it be exploring ideas outside of the normal universe or just plain fan service, it's taking advantage of the gap and filling it with something otherwise impossible in the primary season arc.
3) Savor The Slow Down
With all the action and story going on episode to episode, character moments and the little things that fans love can get lost in the mix or forgotten altogether.
In this case the filler is the solution. With no story commitments fillers can slam on the brakes and just be about the characters for a while, get back to basics and re-discover the universe. I'm a big fan of 'The Beach' from Season Three of Avatar: The Last Airbender which placed the villains of the story in very mundane teenage situations and we got to see just how hilariously messed up they really were.
Why It Works:
Assuming the characters are actually likable, it gives the viewers a moment to step back and realize just how much they love spending time with the characters. It allows them to remember just why it is they watch the show.
There is one more way to fix up a filler, but this one is only for the most daring...
MAKE IT GOOD!!
Don't treat it like a filler, treat it like an opportunity! No writer should hold back perfectly good material just because it's a filler! It's still canon and whether we like it or not it's gonna air eventually so we might as well make it good.
How about you? Do you have any tricky tricks for turning a filler into a winner?