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  • Writer's pictureWes Hazard

a helpful tv paradigm

This is a light read but a welcome one and a really helpful framework for analyzing sitcoms that I'm happy to have in my brain. it makes the argument that with very rare exception all sitcoms can be typed as either:

  • House: A family dealing with family stuff, located mainly in the family home. People you did not "choose" to be with but whom you love deeply. (ex. Family Matters, Roseanne)

  • Workplace: You guessed it, people at work doing work stuff. You did not choose the people and you mostly don't want to be in the place but jointly coping with that experience bonds you. Sitcoms set in schools are basically workplace sitcoms for kids and teens. (Ex. The Office, Saved By The Bell)

  • Apartment: Young adults who don't have homes yet coping with dating, jobs, getting older, and (often) living in the big city. People you choose. (Living Single, Friends)

Apartments: But not everyone is a House person! This is a type that relates to one demographic (youngish people in cool cities) and appeals to the daydreams of all the others (ah, to be youngish in a cool city). The characters here have found a third way to relate to people: neither coworkers nor family members, the main people in your adventures are just friends. The minor people are assorted weirdos. I think of this as a slightly less common model, but when it catches on, it really catches on (Seinfeld, Friends, Sex and the City). Lifestyle porn is a key component here; people usually live in apartments no one in their age group or state of employment could afford. If they’re not as fortunate, that’s a key plot point (Broad City). To a certain extent, you could get away with calling this model “New York”, but Happy Endings, one of the best of these, is set in Chicago, so we’ll stick with Apartments. Incidentally, some early family-ish sitcoms were set in apartments instead of houses (The Honeymooners); that’s one reason why my classification system is better than Wikipedia’s. How do you account for Ethel and Fred if “family” is your criterion for I Love Lucy? But they definitely live in apartments, and having couples friends around easily fits that.


Community. Part of me wants to say workplace; schools are the workplace for kids’ sitcoms, and initially the study group acts like coworkers, people who only hang out because they’re the most tolerable among the strangers they’re forced to be around all day. But eventually they become actual friends, hanging out outside the workplace all the time, and even returning to the school when they could leave. Not coincidentally, we start to see more and more of their apartments as this happens. Eventually, Troy, Abed and Annie even live together. This is an innovative and weird show in all kinds of ways; one is that it’s the rare show about friends that starts before they’re friends. Verdict: Apartment Sitcom.

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