There are some shows where each episode feature a new setting with some unique attribute. Examples include Doctor Who or Star Trek (which have a recurring cast), and Twilight Zone or Black Mirror (which don't).

Is there a term for these kinds of shows?

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    You might look at Monster of the Week (warning: TV Tropes). The description says there are variants, and you might coin "World of the Week". Sep 9, 2019 at 18:46
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    Oooh...I think Monster of the Week and the adjacent Adventure Town is pretty close to what I'm looking for. Post that, and I'll accept. Thanks! Sep 9, 2019 at 18:51
  • I don't think "twist" is the right word - I don't see how it applies to Dr Who or Star Trek. These two are very different to Twilight Zone and Black Mirror, which have a completely different setting and set of actors for each episode and no continuity of any kind.
    – OrangeDog
    Sep 9, 2019 at 22:02
  • Yeah, I'm not sure what a good word is, as sometimes it comes at the end (in the form of a twist), sometimes it's revealed at the start. Part of the reason it's a terminology question :). Regardless, continuity is irrelevant here. The key part is that each episode consists of unique worlds and monsters and "plot elements". Sep 9, 2019 at 22:04
  • The important factor here is that that unique world in each episode. Using Star Trek as an example, one episode you have Tribbles (a very unique monster), another you have have two planets at "electronic war" for over 500 years (a very unique scenario). Each of the shows I listed does stuff like this. This is what I'm trying to get at. Sep 9, 2019 at 22:11

3 Answers 3


A show which has episodes that stand more-or-less independently are called episodic. Important plot points do not carry over from episode to episode. Although the show may reuse settings, characters, etc., you can pretty well watch the episodes independently and fully understand what's going on.

In contrast, a show with long story arcs that take multiple episodes to complete are called serials. If you try to jump in during the middle of a season, you'll probably be lost. Some shows, like Star Trek, can be a mix of both - many episodes are just one-off stories about a peculiar planet, but there are some longer serial story lines that take multiple episodes to complete.

  • While many of the shows are more-or-less independent, I think that's caused by the fact that each of the shows I listed have a unique twist to them (which doesn't work well in serial form). The twist here is the important part, not the independence of the episodes. Sep 9, 2019 at 18:43
  • I thought that was pretty clear in my question, but apparently not :). I'm not sure how to update it to make it more clear, so if you have any suggestions, that'd be great. Sep 9, 2019 at 18:45
  • @NathanMerrill In Star Trek and Dr. Who's case you do have episodic and/or hybrid episodic & serialized structure with elements of "case of the week" (etc, etc), but with Dark Mirror/Twilight Zone, you have more of an episodic anthology, because most episodes aren't directly related to each other, although in theory, indirectly they might be. Sep 10, 2019 at 12:20
  • Right. I don't disagree with the contents of this post: It just isn't what I'm asking. I don't care about the independence or continuity of the shows. I'm looking for a term for the unique setting each show brings. Sep 10, 2019 at 12:23
  • How would you classify a show like where each episode is generally independent and can be jumped into without much confusion, but with an occasional, non-critical side plot? Take The Office (U.S.) for example. You can watch almost any episode in any order as each episode is self-contained, but there are some character/plot moments that occur sporadically (Jim & Pam, Holly & Michael, etc.)
    – goat_fab
    Sep 10, 2019 at 18:40

Besides the Monster of the Week and Adventure Town mentioned in comments, there is also Mystery of the Week

In essence, to keep shows from getting stale, the protagonist(s) can travel from town to town, planet to planet or dimension to dimension (timeline?) to help people overcome a different challenge each week.

Dr. Who is a great example as you mentioned as he can travel forwards, backwards through time, different planets, etc to help save different societies or planets from the Daleks, the Master, what have you.

  • Plus, protagonist(s) can encounter Wacky Wayside Tribes :D
    – m1gp0z
    Sep 9, 2019 at 19:22
  • This still seems to lean away from shows like Dark Mirror, which don't even have reoccurring characters (or perhaps even a shared world) between episodes (for the most part).
    – JMac
    Sep 9, 2019 at 20:20

As others have mentioned, Dr. Who & Star Trek tend to be episodic with case of the week, adventure/monster/mystery of the week "built in", even though there is also serialization and/or bigger arcs with both shows and/or their later incarnations.

But with Black Mirror & The Twilight Zone one is dealing with new characters and settings in every episode and this kind of structuring is an episodic "anthology" series. (In Black Mirror's case, however, there is evidence to support the theory that all of the episodes exist in Black Mirror's universe(s), but indirectly).

However trying to answer your Q more precisely is hard, because you are under the assumption that the episodic structuring is a separate idea from say, the individualized idea of switching settings every week.

Advantages of the episodic style (From Author J.S. Morin)

Any series is going to have an overall theme or arc. What the episodic style changes is the reliance of one installment on the previous. You can jump in at nearly any point, and while you’ll lack the back story, you’ll still be able to experience a good story. You wouldn’t read The Two Towers without first reading Fellowship of the Ring, but you can pick up Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel anywhere you like. This lets readers pick and choose the books that interest them, without having to “get through” earlier volumes that may not be to their liking.

But again, case of the week, monster of the week, mystery or adventure of the week (with or without the same characters) are all about episodic structuring to keep things fresh, and because network TV in particular still tends to hold the belief that some kind of episodic structuring makes it more accessible for any given audience member to be able to jump into the series at any time. In other words one wouldn't need to change things up all the time (case, mystery, setting) unless one wanted to make it easier to jump into the story.

But other difference between Star Trek/Doctor Who vs Black Mirror/The Twilight Zone is often the idea that in serialized hybrid series, you are still more invested in the main characters over the long the haul and therefor those characters are not solely about serving the theme or plot alone, but rather sometimes those things work to establish whom they are and what they mean, as they are set up as ongoing protagonists, -- but in an episodic anthology series, one is usually (but not always) a bit less invested in the characters and more intrigued by the plot twists and fates of the characters, which IMO make it much more solely about theme, --often in the form of a cautionary tale that hurts the main character(s) and/or showcases serious repercussions with no way to get out of it. Star Trek & Doctor Who are both pro humanist stories showcasing mostly positive portrays of humanity being able to save themselves and/or make their realities a better place.

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