Call me old fashioned, but sitcoms are where it’s at. From “Seinfeld” to its more adult relative “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” to “Friends,” “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” or the classics like “I Love Lucy” and “The Carol Burnett Show,” sitcoms have become an underappreciated and uniquely American form of visual medium.
A few weeks ago, I was in one of my classes and our discussion touched on the death of sitcoms. We decided it is true that the traditional sitcom is “dead.” But our conversation quickly switched to bashing sitcoms all together. The laugh tracks, predictability and cringiness have made students and professors alike dismiss the credibility of sitcoms.
However, sitcoms are much more important for American society than many people realize.
With streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, specialty TV shows are more rampant than ever, and it seems these have largely replaced the classic sitcom. While I would say that the current attempts at sitcoms do not deserve the status of their predecessors, sitcoms of the past are still under scrutiny partially due to these new TV shows.
Specialty TV allows us to pick and choose television that is not inherently shared by the larger population, which is what is so special about sitcoms. For the time that sitcoms like “Seinfeld” and “Friends” were on television, people across the nation felt tied to other people because we were all watching the same show.
In fact, 40.5 million people watched the series finale of “Seinfeld” and 52.5 million people watched the “Friends” finale, “The Last One.” For reference, “Stranger Things” Season 3 took 4 weeks to amass 64 million viewers for its premier. In one night, people around the world watched these shows that were neither political nor particularly affecting society as a whole.
So, when people start to bash old sitcoms for their laugh track or predictable storylines, remember how much people loved them during their time.
Shows like these allowed for friendly conversation between people the next day at work or school. In our political division, shared experiences like sitcoms are more vital than ever. If we could somehow create shared preferences like these in our isolated world, our social divide would cease to exist.
Without these sitcoms, American identity would be lost and so would any semblance of our pop-culture. Our lives have been so heavily affected by these examples of comic relief that it’s unfair to discredit them because new versions of tv are replacing them. Sitcoms are purely American, and they support the effort to showcase American identity as witty and resilient, but sometimes flawed as well.
It is true that the social topics and stories addressed in these specialty TV shows are important, but sitcoms give us that break from normalcy and let us see characters that never change. For years to come, the idiosyncratic theme song from “Friends,” Jerry Seinfeld’s comedic voice and Lucille Ball’s hyperemotional facial expressions continue to captivate audiences.