Friday, November 8, 2013

Sitcom slump--or tarnish of the golden age

I realize that I've talked a lot about movies here, but really, I probably spend more time watching television. Part of that is structural: when Sarah gets home from work and we eat dinner, it's easier to watch a half-hour show rather than a half-hour section of a movie.

It helps that we have lots of television to catch up on: we've just finished season four of The Wire, still haven't started Breaking Bad, and just recently caught up on Mad Men. And then there's all the sitcoms we like, like Parks and Recreation and Louie.

For an experiment, Sarah and I tried a lot of the new TV sitcoms this season, like The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife. And they're all competently done: I always get at least one chuckle or laugh from them. But none of these shows are groundbreaking and even my old favorites, like Modern Family, seem to be in something of a slump.

Or is it just that sitcoms, which mostly live on repetition of their situation, are paling next to today's dramas that aren't afraid to upset the status quo. Parks and Recreation has characters marry and deal with new issues, like Ben Wyatt starting a relationship with Leslie; and resigning in disgrace from government; and then moving on to work for a non-profit foundation.

But in Modern Family, how many times are we going to see Cameron and Mitchell get into some form of argument where Cameron goes over the top and Mitchell stays too grounded? How many times in The Goldbergs or Trophy Wife are we going to see parents having trouble connecting to their kids and their situations?

Is it just me or are sitcoms in a bit of a slump right now?


  1. I sometimes wonder if I even like sit coms. But I guess it depends on what you are considering a sitcom. For me, the "canned laughter" was always the thing that told me I was watching one. If this is the case, I did enjoy "How I Met Your Mother" for a while, but I got tired of it. I am willing to watch "Big Bang Theory" as background noise, but I find it a bit insulting and only mildly funny at times. I really just tolerate that show.

    I guess the lack of fake audience laughter makes me overlook other sitcoms as being sitcoms. Scrubs was great. It never needed a laugh track. It also was a poignant drama at times. It even had an episode showing what it would be like if it were a typical sit com. 30 Rock did not employ a laugh track and neither does Community. But there ARE sitcoms...right?

    1. Yeah, I think the big division here is between "single-camera" sitcoms--30 Rock, Scrubs, Community--and "multi-camera" sitcoms, usually filmed before a live audience--Big Bang Theory, Cheers.

      Now, the fact that I put Cheers up there should tell you that I don't hate multi-camera sitcoms with live audiences laughing (or canned laughter). (I heard a story about 3rd Rock from the Sun: the audience laughed so much that the show sometimes had to wait for them all to calm down so you could hear the next lines.) But there is a serious difference in how those sitcoms are made--for instance, multi-camera sitcoms don't really do cut-aways (like in Scrubs with JD thinking of something). And I also think that the difference in technique leads to some differences in writing, so Big Bang and even Cheers use broader comedy than 30 Rock (or the Simpsons).