Sitcoms

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The Evolution of the "Family Sitcom"

Family sitcoms, also known as domestic comedies or dom coms, have existed since Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and My Three Sons, which aired around the 1950s. In the ensuing 70 years, the family sitcom underwent plenty of growth and change. Simple domestic problems that could be solved in 22 minutes with commercials gave way to edgier and more realistic family-centered plotlines. Traditional nuclear families made room for single, adoptive, LGBTQ , and other "non-traditional" parents (ex.: Henry Warnamont of Punky Brewster, a bachelor senior citizen, or the grown-up incarnations of Stephanie Tanner and Kimmy Gibbler, who raise their kids while raising others’ in the same house as their patriarchs did before them.

Examine the evolution of the family sitcom using a few of your favorites. You can discuss changes in family dynamics or plotlines (e.g., plotlines about keeping virginity vs. plotlines about teen pregnancy, plotlines about avoiding racism vs. ones about becoming inclusive). You could discuss race, religion, disability, or other minority statuses as topics that are getting more attention. Other topics might include the parenting styles presented on different shows, how the humor has evolved, the expectations placed on adults and children, and so on.

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    Job Precariousness in Sitcoms

    In many sitcoms, characters often suffer the consequences of job precariousness. This includes being underpaid, taking jobs they hate, or losing their jobs altogether.
    Almost the entire cast of Friends, Jess from New Girl, Britta or Jeff from Community, or the Roses from Schitt’s Creek are just some examples.

    An article looking at how these scenarios play out in T.V. could be an insightful read. Are they accurate depictions of real life, or do they diminish the real-world anxiety of this aspect of life? Is it enough to simply allude to homelessness or not being able to make rent, or should a show force its characters to endure this? You could offer a comparison of shows that do this well and shows that, perhaps, do not do this so well.

    You could offer an assessment regarding the impact this has on viewers, and contextualise the shows within both their setting and time of release.

    • It would be worth expanding this topic to examine and analyse similar scenarios in sitcoms from around the world. In this way, a comparison could be made between varying cultural values and institutional attitudes towards low paid workers. – Amyus 8 months ago
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    • I think contextualizing the shows based on time of release is a good idea. Specifically, comparing the perception of unemployment in shows through every decade or during periods of financial downturn could be particularly interesting. – huiwong 8 months ago
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    • It is interesting how you pay attention to this specific feature in sitcoms. Writers might also look into how job precariousness help to develop the plot, to make the plot fitting to sitcoms. – Heather Ka Man Chung 3 months ago
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    • I have noticed that it seems far more of an element where the characters are if a grittier sort of Everyman: someone more working class. This would not be so much in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (for example). – J.D. Jankowski 3 months ago
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    • Good one! I just submitted a topic about how sitcoms evolve in general, and this could be part of that or an article on its own. – Stephanie M. 3 months ago
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    • This is so interesting. I think building off of Amyus and Huiwong's comment, it is really interesting to think of in the context of the working class. You could go at this through a lens of the levels of realism in character being fine without jobs, getting jobs easily, or living at a comfort level well of the range of their job. These are all obvious but it would be interesting to look at the way unemployment in the times of covid have given higher stakes for viewers watching this sitcom. – skruse 2 months ago
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    Sitcoms: Live Audience Laughter Vs. Laugh Track

    For many sitcoms, including applause and laughter after every punchline is something of a staple. Laugh tracks, or ‘canned laughter,’ have been used in comedic television programmes for decades. However, many shows are also filmed in front of a live studio audience to produce the same effect.
    Evaluate the impact that filming before a live studio audience has on the programmes which use them. Moreover, how does this compare to the artificial laugh track? Is real laughter better than fake laughter? Or, are the criticisms ultimately the same? Such criticisms could include that the laughter is forced for unfunny jokes, it breaks the fourth wall, or it unsettles the timing of a show
    When building an argument, specific examples of T.V. shows should be discussed. The writer should choose specific scenes to analyse in order to demonstrate how they have been directly impacted by the choice to film in front of a live audience, and how their reactionary noises are used within the show. Try to limit the amount of personal opinion here, and have your argument based solely upon the artistic criticism of the shows themselves.

    • Perhaps another important element to explore is the decline of studio audiences and laugh tracks in sitcoms in general. Ever since shows like Sex and the City, Curb your Enthusiasm, and Arrested Development pioneered the single cam approach, it's become much more the norm in the medium (the last time more than one multi cam sitcom was nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Emmy Award was 2005.) Whether for flexibility in shooting, less reliance on punchlines, or less restrictive genre conventions, comedy seems to be headed in that direction more and more, leaving both live audiences and laugh tracks in the dust. – Double U 5 months ago
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    2020: Death knell for the "family comedy"?

    The "family comedy" has always been a fixture on American TV: The Jeffersons, Family Matters, Family Ties, All in the Family, Roseanne, Fuller House, Home Improvement to name a few, have been hugely popular and critically acclaimed. However, the family oriented sitcom went into a decline when shows like Seinfeld, Friends and That 70s Show premiered, signalling in a new trend of sitcoms centering around a group of friends, or unrelated people bonding, hanging out and experiencing things together.

    But then, 2009 was seen as the year the "family sitcom" was revived, with Modern Family and The Middle premiering on ABC. However, with The Middle ending its run in 2018 and Modern Family and Schitt’s creek, a Canadian sitcom that came close enough to be considered a "family show" airing their final episodes in April this year, are family oriented sitcoms no longer in vogue? Is this indicative of an already individualistic society moving further into a greater degree of individualism? Or is it just an overreaction? Are we not looking around enough? Maybe there is such a show that’s not getting the attention it deserves.

    Also, is it the same in other countries, especially the eastern countries, where societies are known to be extremely collectivistic? Do the shows airing there still have "family" as an inherent theme?

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      What is the recipe for a successful sitcom?

      For every The Office, Friends, and Scrubs, you will find a Cavemen, Dads, or Clerks (not the movie, the TV spinoff). This is not to be divisive to those who who enjoyed the latter shows. These shows were rejected by both audiences and critics. Community was loved by critics but ignored my most audiences. The Big Bang Theory has had a strong audience for years but is critically reviled. How do you find the sweet spot that is technically good, and fan-pleasing enough to keep you from getting cancelled?

      • I actually like this question, as time and again there have been shows that have absolutely come from left field and startled the expectations of audiences, studios and critics, and equally as noted, ones believed for success that have boomed. I think a key component is in the ability to find a niche in the market that audiences were unthinkingly yearning for. But part of the alchemy is in the casting of particular actors in a role that either they resonate with or excel in the expression of. This would be a really interesting discussion, because it is a question without a single answer (as truly if there was an easy answer someone would be making millions off it). – SaraiMW 3 years ago
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      • Nice question - it does raise some interesting questions about the nature of what "successful" means, especially in sitcom terms; Friends (US) may have done well but it'll never dream of being anywhere near Peep Show (UK) or The Mighty Boosh (UK). They are stark in contrast, delivery but also in pathos and tone. I agree wholeheartedly that there are many angles and answers to this question which means it can only ever come back motives of the writers, how much they can be knowingly or unknowingly undermined and consequently, what's left of their motives after the industry process. That's perhaps where Friends meets The Mighty Boosh, they did what they wanted to do at the time and then backed themselves - which means, most importantly, that they wouldn't mind failing. If you're in it for the money, chances are it won't work anywhere near a s well and if you're invested in it. – MichaelHall 3 years ago
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      Do you prefer US or UK sitcoms and why?

      For me there is a big difference between the UK and US sitcoms, both have some great shows but for me as a whole I prefer UK sitcoms but some of the US shows are my favourites. What do you think?

      • I would advise editing your topic to include a more focused approach. Just what about the sitcoms do you think makes UK ones better? Filming? Writing? Ect. I would suggest maybe looking into the shooting styles and the humour styles between the US and UK. They are actually quite varied. – LondonFog 5 years ago
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      • Avoid pure opinion. – Christen Mandracchia 5 years ago
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      • A agree with @Christien ^^ I believe that a more direct analysis would be necessary- Perhaps try taking some shows that have both US and UK counterparts and comparing and contrasting them would create a better piece. What social issues do US/UK sitcoms seem to present more? What is "funnier" to their respective audiences? Do these TV shows have any success in the opposite market? – AndyJanz 5 years ago
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      The Evolution of the TV Sitcom

      From I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched to Seinfeld and FRIENDS to How I Met Your Mother (among many, many others), the sitcom has its own history in television. It would be interesting to do a study on sitcoms, focusing on how sitcoms over the decades have also been shaped by the sociocultural underpinnings of that era.

      • You could compare sitcoms all the way back from the 50's to now. – asd5261 5 years ago
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      • It would be great to see if you compared the messages that were implied through sitcoms such as The Golden Girls, The Little House on the Prairie, and etc. – hwm5211 5 years ago
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      • You should also include old ones, such as the nanny and fresh prince of bel-air that had comedic as well as meaningful episodes in relation the real-life situations at the time. – cjeacat 5 years ago
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      Have relationship gender roles changed for the better in sitcoms?

      A case study style piece on relationships in popular sitcoms with the aim of discussing progression (or lack of) in the sitcom genre, for example – Sam and Diane in Cheers, Ross and Rachel in Friends, Niles and Daphne in Frasier, Ted and Robin / Barney and Robin / Lily and Marshall in How I Met Your Mother, Jim and Pam in The Office, Penny and Leonard (and other relationships) in The Big Bang Theory, Andy and April in Parks and Recreation, the range of relationships in Modern Family (particularly Cam and Mitchell and how the show plays with gender roles in a gay coupling). Do these shows challenge gender norms or not, and to what extent is this only due to shows moving with the times? Are some modern shows handling relationship dynamics better than others?

      • Narrow down the couple choices- it will lead to a better answer to the question Personally, I recommenced Andy and April or Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt from Parks and Recreation, both of these women defy the classic gender roles by showing how strong and independent both women are. – mwalll 6 years ago
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      Pride: The Sin of Sitcoms

      Many sitcoms are driven by characters with strong personalities, stronger so than might be encountered in real life. These characters are often faced with difficulties episode to episode that deal with them conquering or at least examining said personalities. Pride in oneself and wanting to retain one’s unique personality is an interesting concept to explore in the leads of sitcoms. An examination of how pride drives main characters, from Sheldon on "Big Bang Theory" to Jerry on "Seinfeld", would be a most interesting article. Specifically focusing on how much pride is apparent in sitcoms, and how characters, while retaining a general personality learn lessons about themselves and are or are not willing to change would be interesting in a broader look at deconstructing sitcoms as a genre, and perhaps looking too at how Hollywood presents these characters which have stereotypically been associated with the film/tv industry, even in its own works. In short, how does pride affect sitcom leads, how do they struggle with it, is there a message about it that is being constantly presented by the show creators, and is its prevalence unique in these kinds of shows? Looking at different sitcoms, the specific situations within each and the similarities based on the character stories per episode or over a period of time will all be helpful in exploring this idea. Is the sitcom all about prideful characters learning humility and/or the aspect of pride in themselves and how to deal with it when faced with alternate scenarios where their way of thinking isn’t the best option?