Sitcoms in Depth

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Sitcoms are often overlooked, seen as silly sketches that go for too long. This essay will attempt do disprove that and put forward that sitcoms are a complex genre. Sitcoms are highly formulised and well constructed. They need to satirise issues and make us laugh without being at all serious, which is quite a challenge. I will discuss the four major elements of a sitcom: setting, plot, how the humour is created and most importantly the characters. Sitcoms are character driven, the plots come from the character’s lives and the settings and humour come from the lives of the characters. There are common settings in sitcoms, which are very familiar to the viewer, and the humour is formed from the various conflicts between characters or the embarrassing situations they get into. All these parts need to be well developed. Often sitcoms deliver a moral lesson, however, examples will be given of sitcoms which disregard this is norm.

Characters need to be well built for a sitcom to work. Sitcoms have many different characters because a certain type of character is needed for every situation. A stereotypical personality trait for male main characters is always being sarcastic. Frasier uses it for comebacks and insults, Chandler from Friends uses it to cover-up his insecurities, Ross, again from Friends, uses it to show that he is upset or annoyed. Jerry from Seinfeld often uses it as well on different occasions. A particular master is Frank from King of the Hill who uses it to show his boredom and annoyance towards his life.

Sitcoms are character driven, which means that the show is based on the successes and upsets of its characters. Most characters are based on common stereotypes, for example. the lazy couch potato, obsessive parent, annoyed dad, out of control children, eccentric friend or relative, macho men, troublemakers and narcissists et al. All of these stereotypes are recognisable to us, which is essential if a sitcom is to be believable.

Characters all have their trademarks; Kramer from Seinfield has his pompadour hair, vintage clothing and his usual barge into Jerry’s apartment. Elaine, also from Seinfeld, has a habit of pushing people and saying “get out” and always grabbing a drink from Jerry’s fridge every time she enters the apartment (through the strangely unlocked doors). Joey from Friends has his classic pick-up line “ How you doin?”, his famous lazy attitude and love of sandwiches. These little eccentricities that every character possesses is what makes characters become more predictable and more endearing. As the characters grow on you, you start begin to predict and understand a characters actions. This means that characters can create better humour. With predictable and unpredictable actions, we can be ready to laugh and anticipate or we can receive a shock which both can create funny situations. Take for example Cat from Red Dwarf, in one episode he gets his love for himself sucked out by a polymorph (an emotion sucking alien) and becomes an alcoholic hobo and wanders about mindlessly being the exact opposite of himself. This would create huge laughs to see Cat, an egocentric narcissist become a hobo with no self-respect. Another example is Kramer from Seinfeld who normally acts selfish and child-like, but sometimes out-of-the-blue, he will say astonishingly bright and deep things.

Settings in sitcoms always seem familiar. This is because they are stereotypical places that we, the viewing public, are believed to frequent. For example, many sitcoms are set in places such as apartments, coffee shops, workplaces and parks. Good examples of these types of settings are Seinfeld, Frasier and Friends. Friends is mainly set in the apartments of the main characters and Frasier is mainly set in Frasier’s apartment and the radio station. Like Frasier, Seinfeld is set in Jerry’s apartment. Also, they ALL have meeting places, which is a pretty normal thing because we all...
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