Is that meant to be funny?
I’m not a big fan of ‘comedy’ TV per se. I appreciate humour within the context of a drama series but I’m generally not very keen on the sitcom format. In my experience sitcoms are often institutions of unrelenting heteronormativity. They tend to be overwhelmingly the subject of the male gaze and most representations of any characters other than white, middle-class masculinity are usually brimming with stereotypes. Having said that, some comedies that I have enjoyed over the years are Frasier, Spaced, Father Ted, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Fawlty Towers, Extras, Black Books, Modern Family and The IT Crowd.
I believe that my disinterest in most sitcom stems, at least in part, from the lack of scope for character development within the format. This is a limitation that is particularly notable in animated comedy series’ where characters don’t even age. I find it very difficult to invest time in a show where, no matter what lessons or events occurred in the previous episode, every episode begins with the characters in the same default state. This can work to the advantage of the show if the character is defined by their exceptionally dim wit or stubborn adherence to their chosen lifestyle, but more often than not this ‘reverting to form’ that happens at the start of each new episode of a sitcom serves only to make the characters uncomplicated, 2D facsimiles of people rather than vibrant representations of real life.
Father Ted is one of the shows that I think this works well in because all of the main characters are defined by the fact that they are thoroughly resistant to any form of change. Father Dougal is too stupid to learn, Mrs Doyle is so hung up on social niceties that she is completely unaware of how those around her feel or how she is being treated, Father Jack is in a constant alcoholic stupor and Father Ted is so intent on his search for glory and recognition that he is oblivious to anything else around him. The fact that these characters never learn or develop seems perfectly logical as they all seem to be wholly incapable of change.
In the article ‘Comedy Verite: Contemporary Sitcom Form’, Brett Mills discusses the origins of the situation comedy and how the theatrical foundations of sitcom led to the development of shows with regular, reusable settings and characters and a repeatable narrative. Mills argues that Sitcom is notable among all genres as being the genre that has bent the least from the original theatrical staging towards a more assimilated ‘television aesthetic’. The three camera set-up and live audience format is typical of many sitcoms, as is a theatrical style of comic acting that is less natural than the style generally seen in other television drama. These vestiges of the theatre, which seem to be very appealing to many people, are the main reasons for my indifference toward sitcoms.
Image from anacarlo.wordpress.com