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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 5 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 5 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 weeks 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 weeks 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. 2 weeks ago
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    Moral choices in Resident Alien

    TV show ‘Resident Alien’ is new this year from Sci-fi. The premise concerns an alien who crashes to Earth in a remote Colorado mountain town and assumes the identity of the town doctor.

    The TV show on the surface is a wacky comedy-drama about an alien trying to pass as human and engaging in a variety of ridiculous endeavours, including a war with a 9 year old who sees through his from.
    However, beneath the surface are a number of discussions about adoption, Native American experiences, toxic relationships and abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and the damage of lost dreams. All of this seems to fit within the scope of a small town and a dramedy, but the depth of consequence is sustained and examined in a very thought provoking manner.

    BIG SPOILERS:
    The other massive story plot point is "Harry’s" (the alien) original intention, which is to destroy Earth. The first half of the series centers around his need to find the item that will allow him to do this. An expectation is set forward that perhaps he will change his mind due to his relationships with the people of the town. However, it is revealed that Harry’s people have visited Earth for thousands of years, and the decision to wipe out humanity is in response to the degradation they have caused the Earth and the potential consequences of our refusal to make the changes the Earth needs. This framing poses the question about the right of life, the impact of choices and the issue that humankind will eventually need to face the consequences of inaction (although maybe not from alien threats!).

    QUESTION (Safe to read again):
    The moral questions being raised in the show are not simple, and the show is not offering easy, quick solutions, but rather examining the deeper impact of being trapped in toxic cycles and the roll on effect of consequences from choices.
    Once the show has finished I think it would be an interesting case study to explore the use of dramedy genres to raise important questions, and to evaluate the complexity of the moral decisions being raised that face humankind today (and with this the consequences of continued inaction).

    • Just to address the suggested Revision - I think it is important to not only look at texts from a structural (functional) perspective - this indeed has value, but I don't believe Resident Alien is actually innovating in the approaches to TV elements. Rather it is the choice of a very traditional approach to tropes and concepts but is actually addressing the issues rather than the usual "just a joke" approach of sit-coms. However, if someone wanted to delve into the stylistic choices they could but that would be a different topic. – Sarai Mannolini-Winwood 1 month ago
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    • Oooh, I love a good moral dilemma! Nice topic! – Stephanie M. 2 weeks ago
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    WandaVision: a Sitcom about Superheroes

    WandaVision seems to be one of the most unique TV shows ever, yet it pays homage to sitcoms throughout the decades. An analysis could include the aspect ratios, the laugh tracks, the archetypical characters, the wardrobe and set design, the special effects, and much more. Do these comparisons add extra depth or meaning to the show, or are they just fun references for older viewers who remember these classic shows?

    • Fun topic! WandaVision has a lot to analyze! While I was never a big sitcom fan, a lot can be said about the fact that it builds on a lot of tropes and plots from older shows like Bewitched. Another interesting analysis could be how it falls into the "Abnormal person trying to live a normal life" type of sitcoms and why those types of shows relate so well to audiences. – alittle 3 weeks ago
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    Is Queen Latifah Equalizing racism in her new show?

    The Equalizer is a new to TV series from CBS starring Queen Latifah.
    The show is a reboot from an original TV show in the 1980s, which was rebooted in film in 2014. It is not a hugely new concept – ex-CIA agent who felt politics constrained the ability to provide justice, but it is a concept audiences respond well to. What the new version brings is an older female lead who is also a Black American and the accompanying cast reflects a move to greater diversity. The plots of the first four episodes tend to focus on racial injustices as well as wider political discussions, such as wealth/white privilege, kidnapping, sex trafficking, financing terrorism and corrupt judges.

    The choice made in the lead and the messages within the stories tend to focus on racial experiences in USA are really important conversations to be had. However, there needs to be an exploration of the balance present: how well is the show representing equality and experience in America? How is gender and race explored? How does the show add to the conversations around Black Lives Matter and racial tensions in the USA?

    A discussion could also be made to examine how this genre of spy/crime tropes have been developed since the original and if this is contributing to wider concepts of new storytelling.

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      Is the new Charmed having all the important conversations?

      ‘Charmed’ a reboot of the late 90s show was released in 2019 with a new cast, new plot lines but also a lot of overlap in narrative, mythos and setting. The story is of three sisters who are witches with the special "power of three." The first big difference is the move from three visually "white" American actors to three mixed-heritage women representing Hispanic and Black American culture. The show also introduces the white-lighter as head of Women’s Studies (a controversial cis-male), a lesbian relationship, a 28 year old virgin and a stereotypical teen wanting to join the Greek systems at her college. From the start the line up is unusual and (from my perspective) wonderful.
      The new ‘Charmed’ is also engaging in some interesting, and timely conversations, around women’s rights, identity, gender, white privilege, rape culture, race identity, transhumanism and more.

      But is this a deep engagement with the important conversations that need to be happening, or is this simply a response to popular culture and trending?
      A deep analysis of the new show would be beneficial to help examine if this TV show is moving towards culturally responsible storytelling or cashing in on hashtags.

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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 2 months ago
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        Books Without Blessings: The Watch and Discworld

        The recent BBC America production, The Watch, has received polarized reactions. It is inspired by characters from Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld book series, though it does not claim to be a direct adaptation. If one alienates the people who are already self-proclaimed fans of a certain work, where can one go from there? How important is the original author’s or family estate’s approval of an adaptation for a TV show or movie to be considered successful? Sometimes deviations allow for greater artistic license, but it can come at the cost of bearing little resemblance to the original source material and turning off the already-established fanbase. Alternatively, when sticking closely to the source material, it can attract a large number of people who are already invested in the characters and storylines but may also lead to sanitization and excessive caution in an effort to preserve the work’s and the author’s existent legacy. There are also legal issues to be considered here. Sometimes the difference can be a result of ownership (or lack thereof) of the author’s estate/works. One could examine The Watch’s resemblance and departure from the Discworld series and/or other similar ventures and their outcomes.