I love sitcoms but I don't have a great sense of their history. These are my thoughts while I work through a few classic sitcoms from the '70s to the present.
Saturday, 25 February 2012
Roseanne and emotions
There's a lot that separates MTM-style comedies (like Mary Tyler Moore and Cheers) from Norman Lear-style comedies (like All in the Family and Roseanne), but one of the most interesting to me isn't their style of humour or how often they address social issues. It's how badly the shows allow their characters to feel. In MTM-style sitcoms, there are serious moments, for sure, but they're often rooted in positivity, as when one character helps another out of a jam to cement how great friends they are. For Lear-style shows, there's a tendency for dramatic moments to come out of a darker place, as in the Roseanne episode I just watched, "Guilt By Disassociation." Roseanne loses a job at the last minute and it leads to a harrowing scene of her fighting with Dan at her own surprise party. She breaks down completely by the end, and though it's obvious to the audience that she'll work through her problems, for a moment it seems as though she might not. Since I started this project with two shows from the MTM school of sitcoms, these scenes aren't something I'm used to seeing, and it's often quite shocking whenever they turn up. Norman Lear, and the shows more influenced by his approach to sitcoms, allowed his characters to get to very dark places, and let them work through them on their own. There's an undercurrent of love to both types of sitcom, but Lear makes the characters have to fight to find it. And it often makes relationships a little more realistic. I've said before that I love the way Roseanne and Dan interact, joking around like a real couple would, but it's the way they handle these dark moments that really cements how well their relationship is portrayed. It's absolutely my favourite thing about the show so far, but I'm happy to say that right now everything else is right there behind it.