Sitcoms are loved all around the world. It wouldn’t surprise me if you can think of at least 7 of them just from the top of your head, and at least 5 of them are shows you are extremely fond of. My list of sitcoms (to name just a few) include Friends, Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother, Frasier, The Big Bang Theory, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Everybody Loves Raymond. All of these shows have very different characters and scenarios from each other yet they still share a universal essence that keeps you coming back, episode by episode, to continue enjoying their adventures.
The typical tropes of sitcoms include: a main cast of characters that remain in each episode (colleagues, families, and acquaintances), a familiar locale/group of locales (cafe, bar, house, workplace) and a zany, almost unrealistic chain of events. There are even archetypes for the characters used for these shows. Generally there will be a geeky or nerdy character that is often unlucky in love (Ross from Friends, Leonard from Big Bang Theory and Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), characters who specifically stand out for being ‘the funny one’ (Chandler from Friends, Raymond from Everybody Loves Raymond and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory), attractive female characters who seem to be originally included as potential love interests but grow into their own as the series progresses (Rachel from Friends, Penny from The Big Bang Theory, Robin from How I Met Your Mother and Daphne from Frasier) and finally the self proclaimed ladies’ men whose entire existence revolves around their quests to be with as many women as possible (Joey from Friends, Barney from How I Met Your Mother and Howard from The Big Bang Theory). The problem with these archetypes is that they often run the risk of becoming one dimensional, which raises the question: why have they become so popular? I would say that it all comes down to simplicity. Whilst we all enjoy complex, drawn out storylines and characters with depth and nuance, these are hard to fit into half an hour episodes. When audiences simply want to escape from their troubles or relax after a hard day, it would be extremely comfortable to watch a show where you can instantly work out a person’s characteristics, especially those that you personally identify with. It’s refreshing to see a light hearted alternative to life where stress and worry are ultimately short lived. Another appeal of a one dimensional character is that their interaction with the world around them is what often creates the most entertaining scenarios. For example, a character like Joey from Friends can be slow at times, which not only makes him refreshing compared to those around him, but can create misunderstandings that lead to comical situations. In one episode, (as an attempt to dispel awkward tension between them) Rachel makes conversation with Joey by dishonestly claiming that her boss was trying to buy her baby. Due to his simple nature that clearly had the right intentions, Joey storms over to Rachel’s place of work and exchanges angry words with her boss, still not catching onto Rachel’s tactic. What starts off as a very simple bonding tactic escalates into an unlikely, yet still entertaining scenario.
The locations within sitcoms prove to be just as influential as the characters and adventures themselves. The feelings of familiarity and consistency are key in keeping audiences invested in the show, especially when these shows are reflective of the time when they were produced. For example, as Friends was produced in the 90’s, the premise of a coffee shop as the main characters meeting point for ‘hanging out’ would resonate a lot more with an audience at that time, as opposed to now when we live in a slightly more digital age, where we are just as in touch whilst simultaneously more distant from each other. However, Cheers (a sitcom based in a pub of the same name) will forever resonate with audiences as the notion of hanging out with friends/colleagues at a pub after work continues to be ingrained into society. Sitcoms primarily based in houses promote comfort, especially when a family resides in them. It is incredibly easy to relax further on a Sunday morning when re-runs of The Simpsons or Everybody Loves Raymond are conveniently scheduled.
In my opinion, the appeal of the sitcom life is the stability. This isn’t to say that the adventures of the characters themselves are stable, but the format with which the adventures happen. If you watch a sitcom as and when each episode comes out, you can easily settle into the daily or weekly rhythm of a predetermined adventure, with familiar relatable characters, that neatly resolves itself before the episode is over. Likewise, if your preference is to binge watch a show on popular platforms such as Netflix, the back to back escapades make for easily digestible (and arguably addictive) viewing. On a much grander sense, people revel at the notion of being able to escape into a world where the tribulations get resolved with no lasting consequences, resetting the stage once again for more simplistic adventures.