Television imitates life. The fact that it’s only an imitation is clearer in a sitcom than any other genre. If you distil TV down to its most basic elements — and then simplify each element further — you’re left with the sitcom.
Many sitcoms break the formula, but the most popular (and sometimes older) shows don’t. The Big Bang Theory, Full House, That 70s Show. Even newer releases like The Ranch. They are in the usual form of television but predigested and tidied up to the point where any mystery, crisis, tension or deeper meaning is diffused almost instantaneously, whether that’s at the end of the episode, or at the end of a scene.
The reason sitcoms reset at the end of every episode is because most viewers are just casual watchers. As a lot of the plot of BoJack Horseman points out, these kinds of shows were created to get as many people in front of the TV as possible, boosting the ratings and giving the network the right to push advertising pricing way up.
Now, in the age where on-demand trumps traditional TV, we’re still left with unfortunate hangers-on like The Ranch and Fuller House. These are shows where any semblance of sincerity are quickly diffused with humor that helps you forget about how unfunny life really is.
But why, in the on-demand era, is TV still being structured in the same way as it was when families would flip on the TV after dinner and maybe catch the latest Full House? (If they didn’t, it didn’t matter, because the full scope of each character’s development was always wordlessly expressed in the title sequence.)
No matter where a sitcom is set, the setting usually acts as a mere skeleton for the small pool of gags that are rolled out on rotation. You’ve got your immediate contradiction gags, where a character brags about how great they are at cooking right before the scene cuts to a shot of them pulling a burnt roast out of the oven with an overblown grimace. You’ve got your of course they did gags, where a socially awkward character behaves awkwardly in a social situation, because of course they did. Beyond that, most sitcoms are differentiated only by the thin settings they’re filmed in.
Our most recent SCP Mini, The Last Joke of the Scene, compiles just a few of the ways sitcoms turn any semblance meaning into yet another joke.
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