Why sitcoms matter: The importance and value of being funny

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Sitcoms were the shining lights of network television long before Charlie Sheen, who earned $2 million per episode for “Two and a Half Men”, declared himself “winning” and held America hostage with his late-night escapades. Sitcoms have not always been like the New TV Releases equivalent of the eccentric uncle at Christmas. They are full of awkward moments and excesses that are often forgotten quickly. People used to plan their Saturday nights around “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and President Richard Nixon was captured talking about “All in the Family”, on the Watergate tapes.

Today, however many people see the sitcom as a slow-moving dinosaur. Its cost efficiency and mass appeal make it an essential evil in an age where artistic programming like “Mad Men,” and “Breaking Bad” are more popular.

There is still something to be said about the sitcom’s enduring appeal, which allows it to attract an audience were other genres, such as the western or soap opera, don’t.

The appeal of sitcoms like “The Office” is evident in its eighth season. The writing of “The Office,” like the genre, is now past its prime. This is due to years of trying to squeeze the most out of a limited set of characters and situations. Many performances have a canned, phoned-in quality that suggests actors who have played the same characters for too long and for too little money.

We keep an eye on it. The quality isn’t always important, even though it was once. It’s about trust and familiarity. The relationship model of sitcoms is unlike any other art form. It emphasizes intimacy between the artist, medium, and audience.

Although Leonardo da Vinci may have described the “Mona Lisa”, as “my painting”, many viewers uniquely refer to sitcoms. Sitcoms can be a part of our lives in ways that “Mad Men”, a high-quality show, cannot. “Mad Men” doesn’t belong to us because it isn’t our story. Instead, it shows us who and what we want to become. Because it is closer to us, the sitcom is “ours”.

The sitcom is also unique in that it focuses on relationships in a dualistic way. It moves both internally within its context and externally, building a strong relationship with its audience. The sitcom invites its audience to join it slowly and almost imperceptibly. This model of relationship is possible because of the comedian’s accessibility and, more importantly, the permission comedy that allows us to admit and accept our failures and sinfulness.

The difference between “Mad Men” or “The Office” comes down to the differences in the comedic and dramatic paradigms. Comedy has a level that comedy lacks, mainly because of the comedian’s moral weakness. Aristotle distinguishes between the comic and the dramatic hero in Poetics by using gradations of moral uprightness. Dramatic protagonists are heroes in the literal sense. They are moral exemplars with one fatal flaw that separate them from the divine. A comic protagonist is often an everyday man, sometimes in the simplest sense. He or she is a vulnerable, flawed agent whose desires are primarily mundane.

The comedy piece’s narrative is driven by the ethical fragility of the protagonist. It also provides an access point for the audience. The apogee of a comedic narrative often involves the hero in a position of moral conflict-driven equally by his higher or lower desires. However, the context is typical of the most common type with minimal stakes.

Because of his stability and omnipresence, it is easier to relate to sitcom heroes like Michael Scott. Television viewers can interact with their favorite characters multiple times per week. Sometimes, the first-run episode becomes an event. This is an expected engagement between viewers and shows that often takes precedence in the viewer’s life. This “relationship” between viewers and the sitcom is fulfilling something: it’s a different but valid form of relationship that relies on consistency and catharsis.

The ensemble aspect of the sitcom is perhaps even more important. It offers viewers multiple chances to identify with someone by offering a variety of personalities. Identification through the ensemble can be directly linked to the cultural phenomenon of the water cooler show.

Many conversations about this common piece of office furniture center on parallels between characters and members of their work and family communities. The audience of sitcoms revels in the flaws of the characters; their laughter is based primarily on the mirror that the show gives them for their behavior. Every office has its “Pam”, “Jim” and, while no one is ever willing to admit that they are the show’s Michael, there will always be one.

Sitcoms can help you develop self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-awareness. The humor and shine of the sitcom allow viewers to identify and recognize certain aspects of their flawed nature.

However, such awareness and identification are not limited to sitcoms. Society has many avenues to recognize its deepest sins through literature, music, and television. However, comedy is one of few artistic lenses that allows an audience to see its weaknesses and those of the rest of the world. It doesn’t require them to despair or fall into nihilism.

The sitcom is one of the most popular genres in the most popular mediums. It has a strong, moralistic tone and has been the most popular. Although other TV genres like the procedural drama or the historical narrative are often infused with moralistic undertones they still have to maintain a certain level of ethical nuance.

This ethical overlay was present in every sitcom up to the introduction of “Seinfeld.” In hindsight, “Seinfeld’ made what appears to have been a postmodern move toward deconstruction with a focus upon undermining narratives and archetypal expectations. The traditional narrative of sitcoms has been exposed more than the show “Seinfeld,” which deliberately subverted it.

However, “Seinfeld” was an exception; the sitcom remains one of the most direct and morally resolute art forms. Because of its short duration, half-hour episodes require that meaning be conveyed in shorthand. This does not allow for complex or ambiguous narratives. This can lead to inauthentic lowbrow sentimentality or metahumorous malevolence. A sitcom’s temporal limitations may also allow for a more rich and fuller economy.

The best sitcoms, such as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “Cheers,” and “Friends,” can move in the middle of the sentimental and the disengaged. This creates something that is not only entertaining but also spiritually enriching. These shows’ writers and performers use their mathematical understanding of comedy to bring out the best in each other. They also have a keen awareness of the inherent goodness of humanity and the fundamental benevolence which drives and sustains all of us.

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