The Zero Hour

Reviews, rants and oddities on video game and film culture.

Mouthing Off#2: Sitcom

I love Situation comedy, or Sitcom, as it’s better known. There’s something so incredibly enduring about it, no matter how many journalists try to destroy it, it always comes back, admittedly 90% weaker, but that’s where our American friends come in.

Before I make a start on British Sitcom, I want to discuss the American variation. Sitcom in America and Britain can never be the same thing. For a start  in America, a lot of sitcoms in the 90’s were based on, written by and starred comedians, meaning the main character isn’t really…well, a character, he’s more the actual person (Seinfeld, Rosanne, Everybody Love Raymond) Also, the premises of sitcoms tend to be slightly, well dull…Take the admittedly excellent comedy, 30 Rock. It’s about a head writer on a popular sketch show. The creator of the show, Tina Fey, was head writer of Saturday Night Live, a popular American Sketch show, points for originality, zippo.

Another thing is they’re not afraid to “go there…” If you know what I mean, obviously due to budget (which compared to a British Sitcom is huge) they can’t just man a spaceshuttle and film a sitcom in space set in space (although that does sound a very American thing to do) Usually, they’re pretty bog standard and set in a basic house, it’ll be a family affair or friends constantly visiting (Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Simpsons). Usually there will be some twists, be it a hot girl moving in next door (The Big Bang Theory) perhpas even a dysfunctional realtive staying (every other sitcom…) that’ll make the sitcom different, but otherwise, it’s a pretty generic carbon copy.

Another thing that I love about American Sitcom is the way it’s written. A writer writes a first draft. He submits it, then a team of writers (including the original writer) will sit down and re-write jokes, add jokes, add more to the storyline, etc. until you get the basic version of the dialouge you see on screen, personally, I love the team effort, but it doesn’t help you sympathize with characters. It’s a common problem that a team of writers will make something funny, and then loose characterization, because it’s not how that character would act. Which I suppose is the charm of the single writer.

Now, before I continue, I’d like to point out that American sitcom is very good and I thoroughly enjoy it, the writing on something like the Simpsons is genius (and a personal high that I would like to reach one day) and The Big Bang Theory shoves many geeky refrences in there, I feel it’s aimed directly at me and me only at times.

And now we move onto the Brits. Being British, I have a love of our own home grown sitcom. Now, as I was saying before, British Sitcom can never be American sitcom. It can try to emualte it with big, quick laughs (Not Going Out), but it gains it’s own little, slightly insane charm. In America, you couldn’t have a character fall through an open bar or go through a wall, because the door was locked. The last one was a reference to The Young Ones, a mental, anarchic 30 minute romp that would never work in America. Another thing we do well, is the slight originality in our settings, we’ve had sitcoms based in book shops (Black Books) IT offies (The IT Crowd), Hospitals (Green Wing), The Somme (Blackadder Goes Fourth) and even on a spaceship in the distant future (Red Dwarf).


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