Aside from the reality show, nothing screams American television quite like the situation comedy. The sitcom is one of the most accessible television formats, due to its fixed set of characters, common plot tropes and laugh tracks.
Since “I Love Lucy” first aired in 1951, sitcoms have become a mainstay on broadcast networks. Traditionally, the television genre is shot in front of a live audience with multiple cameras, although the format later adapted to single camera and animation – both of which typically disclude the laugh track. However, with the onset of streaming, the future of televised sitcoms has become a bit questionable.
The most popular sitcom on television, “The Big Bang Theory,” is – to put it lightly – absolute garbage. “The Simpsons,” which was once the greatest television series of all time, is just a shell of its former glory. “How I Met Your Mother” was one of the better sitcoms in recent memory, until it ridiculed its entire fanbase with its atrocious ending.
However, not all current sitcoms are terrible – here are a few of the current trends in situation comedy.
First off are streaming only sitcoms. Services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have shifted the way viewers consume television, so it makes sense that they would start developing their own shows. Netflix originals like “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “The Ranch” have seen success, whereas “Disjointed” left many viewers disappointed.
Netflix has also dipped its toes into reviving older sitcoms. “Arrested Development” found a cult-following through the service almost a decade after its initial airing. But, when Netflix revived the show for a fourth season, audiences were mixed.
The writers went with a different formula than they used in the first three seasons, and chose to tell the season’s story arc through multiple perspectives. While films like “Rashomon” and “Citizen Kane” are praised for using this same writing technique, it does not translate very well to sitcoms. “Fuller House,” the Netflix revival of “Full House,” received even worse initial reviews, although critics have been more positive towards the subsequent seasons.
Next are the mockumentary style sitcoms that have become increasingly popular in recent years. Shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” are still finding new audiences, despite ending several years ago. The formula for this humor is simple: a ridiculous, yet believable incident occurs and then the show cuts to a character’s reaction.
These shows may seem like a parody of reality television, but they are much more relatable than, say, “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” Even larger-than-life characters like Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute are grounded in truth. Millennial audiences can sympathize with these characters to a greater extent than they can with a friend group that lives in a giant apartment in Manhattan. Perhaps that is why rumors are circulating about a reboot of “The Office.”
Last, but not least, are the sitcoms that tell the stories of groups that are under-represented on television. More than ever, networks are taking chances on series with diverse voices and it is paying off. In less than four years, “Black-ish” has gone on to win a Golden Globe and SAG Award, as well as produce a spin-off called “Grown-ish.” Although “Fresh Off The Boat” was initially advertised as a sitcom about celebrity chef, Eddie Huang, it has since grown into a critical acclaimed series about an Asian-American family pursuing the American dream.
Netflix revived the 1970s sitcom “One Day at a Time” to tell the story of the Penelope Alvarez, a single mother suffering from PTSD, who raises a Cuban-American family in Los Angeles. The series boasts even better ratings than the initial series, with a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
While a lot of modern situation comedies seem to be lacking in the comedy area, the genre is still alive and well. For better and for worse, the sitcom format is going through some drastic shifts. Chuck Lorre just needs to do us all a favor and cancel “The Big Bang Theory.”