What are sitcoms? I don’t even know, to be honest. I don’t watch a lot of them, for whatever reason—perhaps I’m more inclined to marathon things than loyally tune in once a week and thus I miss a lot of them, perhaps the canned laughter or humour itself gets me in the back teeth. Sitcoms are a mystery unto themselves. What makes them good? What makes them bad? What makes them last forever? What are they even about? Seinfeld has been famously called a show about nothing, and a lot of sitcoms essentially follow suit. Sitcoms aren’t necessarily shows about nothing though, but shows about people.
They’re where we see our own mainstream values reflected back to us, heightened and wacky-fied enough to make it interesting. But I don’t think anyone sits down and says “I’m going to watch this comedy about a group of twenty-something-year-old friends living in the city!” They sit down to see what the individual characters and relationships within that generic framework are up to.
Parks and Recreation, for example, is about the parks and recreation department of a fictional small town in America. Bureaucracy and government are things most viewers would have to be strapped into a chair with their eyes taped to actually watch, but in essence Parks and Rec isn’t about that so much as the characters that deal with it, and that is what drives the show. It’s why you watch any show, really—sure, premise alone might keep some people interested, but for the most part we watch sitcoms (and dramas, on the flipside of the coin) for people. Continue reading