In Defense of the Sitcom
I was interviewing for an internship this weekend, and I used my usual opening networking question: “What is your favorite TV show?” Sounds like an innocuous and straight-forward question. Most people can name their favorite show, or at least a show they like, right?
A gentleman and I were making conversation, he told me he favored The West Wing, and I launched into my long-perfected spiel about how I’m a TV addict, and I can’t name just one, but Bones is my favorite drama, Suits is my favorite hour-long light drama, and Community is my favorite sitcom. That was when he stopped me and said, “I hate sitcoms.”
Whoa. Back up. He hates sitcoms? Is it even possible to hate sitcoms? Sure, they lack the highbrow sophistication of Mad Men and Homeland, but sitcoms aren’t bad. They’re a different kind of entertainment … right?
The man I was speaking to was adamant. He hated sitcoms. He doesn’t watch them; he refused to acknowledge them as good TV. I asked why.
“They’re tired,” he said. “Everywhere you look, sitcom, sitcom, sitcom. Most of them aren’t even original! They’re either foreign remakes or not-so-subtly stolen from the success stories that came before them.”
I’ll admit — The Office is a remake, and the similarities between How I Met Your Mother and Friends are not covert. Still — how can you discount an entire genre, one that makes up 99.99% of the half-hour comedies airing today? Is Community’s hilarity be invalidated because it belongs to the same category as Two and a Half Men?
If you agree with The Hollywood Foreign Press or the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences — I don’t, for the record — Modern Family is the funniest show on television. It’s a show about three intertwining families, complete with your standard mom, dad, three kids setup; a clan of two gay dads and one adopted daughter; and a divorced-remarried fusion family. Gloria’s legendary accent aside, none of these families are particularly extraordinary. There’s no gimmick embedded in the design of the show — it really is just about the Pritchetts and the Dunphys — and yet, it’s hilarious. It’s not Claire’s high-strung OCD, Luke’s loveable aloofness, or Gloria’s love of leopard print that makes the show — it’s the situations the characters find themselves in.
It’s Claire’s trench coat getting caught in an escalator while she and Phil are roleplaying at a hotel on Valentine’s Day. It’s the family getting stuck behind Jay’s stubborn driveway gate and almost missing Alex’s graduation; and it’s Mitchell and Cameron accidentally taking the wrong car from the restaurant that turns this family into funny. Sure, Cam’s sleep-clowning and Manny’s 13-going-on-45 help, but that’s not why I tune in every Wednesday.
Sitcoms are successful because they’re relatable. Do I know someone like Cam and Jay and Phil? Yes. Heck, I was — and in some ways still am, — Alex. Do I have some amusing family stories? We all do. My best one involves an adopted cat, a robbery and some choice expletives. … But I digress.
As much as I’d like to believe I’m the epitome of hilarity all the time and that a show about my life would be the most-watched series ever in the history of the world, I can admit that I’m rather boring. Most of my friends, their families, and their families’ friends are rather boring. We do normal, boring-people things like grocery shopping, driving kids and siblings to soccer practice, and drinking wine while watching Conan — oh wait, is that just me and my roommate? — and it’s just plain dull.
Constant excitement seems to be a quality attained only by the fantastically rich and/or alcohol-soaked, and Lindsay Lohan would probably vouch that such a drunken state can’t be maintained without serious career and liver damage. It’s much easier to just turn on an episode of Modern Family or Community or even How I Met Your Mother because while my dad might have a penchant for telling longer-than-life stories, it’s much more entertaining to watch Ted do it.