Wednesday, March 8, 2006

More on sitcoms

My post on Sons & Daughters was pretty much content-free. I wish I could spin some kind of social/cultural commentary out of it, but I don't pay enough attention to pop culture trends to do that kind of thing.

However, it did get me thinking more generally about sitcoms, so I'll share these reflections with you:

I realize that even though I've watched almost every episode, I'm not a huge fan of The Simpsons. Although perhaps this is because I've watched almost every episode: the show has long passed the point where the bad ones outnumber the good. Now, I could go on and on listing my favorite Simpsons gags (the musical version of Planet of the Apes comes to mind before anything else), but it's the overall sensibility of the show that I just find very wearying. The super-bright writers end up giving the show an insistent, "we're really smart - really", show-offy quality that I find harder and harder to take.

However, I'm having almost exactly the opposite experience with Seinfeld: I was never a devoted follower of the show when it was originally on - I thought it was sometimes funny but always obnoxious - but I've really come around to liking it quite a bit. I think what happened was that watching Curb Your Enthusiasm has given me a greater appreciation for what they were going for on Seinfeld. Curb is more successful (it is Seinfeld stripped to its bare essence without any "extra bullshit"), but Seinfeld is really growing on me, and it seems like, compared to those of most sitcoms, Seinfeld's "famous" episodes really deserve their renown. The only problem I still have with the show is that I think a lot of the acting on it is pretty bad. Jerry is a fine stand-up comedian, but he's no actor and it can be painful to watch him try to, you know, actually act. And after the first season or so, Michael Richards turned into an unbearable ham, playing everything to the audience in the worst possible way. But Jason Alexander is just about perfect in every scene.

Finally, I've been watching episodes of the old Dabney Coleman sitcom Buffalo Bill on DVD. When I was in high school, one of my Media Literacy teachers used this show as an example of sitcoms that were too smart and too quirky to find an audience. Looking at it now, I can see that it probably did push the sitcom envelope when it was first aired, but it really hasn't aged well. Are sitcoms more prone to feeling dated than other kinds of TV shows? Off the top of my head, there's only a couple of "Sitcoms from the Past" (i.e., from before I was in high school) that I can still really enjoy: The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, Shelly Long-era Cheers, The Bob Newhart Show (but definitely not Newhart). Feel free to add your own additions to this list in the comments.


Unknown said...

Did you leave out The Dick Van Dyke Show on purpose or just forget about it?

The Simpsons is a show I always keep my mouth shut about for just the reason you mention--even the episodes with the best bits wear me out. (I've never been a regular viewer.)

Jon Hastings said...


Good call on The Dick Van Dyke Show: I forgot about it, but it should have made my list.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, on the other hand, was (alas), left out on purpose.