Ok people, firstly apologies for being away for so long. Working full-time clearly isn’t conducive with releasing creative juices. Anyway, I’ve decided to do my first post of the year on a genre as opposed to a particular programme. The genre is, as my title suggests, American sitcoms. More specifically, it is the glut of sitcoms that people insist on telling us is the new Friends, even though they are clearly not.

The most successful of this batch is How I Met Your Mother. Not successful in its attempts to ape its predecessor, more in its ability to gather an equally rabid fanbase. It certainly does have many Friends-esque features, I admit. All of the characters are New Yorkers who seem to have largely cut ties with their families to instead form bonds with friends. Some of them are ex’s or involved in relationships with other members of the group. The writing is clever enough to construct individual episodes whilst being able to nod towards previous storylines, suggesting a recognition that characters need to develop.

Yet despite this, I can’t connect with it. Maybe this is because I watch episodes out of order, meaning I can’t follow any of the long-running storylines. This isn’t neccesarily a fault; in fact a long-running storyline is a deserved pay-off for the loyal fans who stick with the show. The more obvious reason is that I get frustrated by the narrative jumping from timeframe to timeframe. A lot of this jumping isn’t even just to flash to a funny vignette, but is actually a whole other story that happened six months before the story taking place in the episode, and only has a passing connection to it. Friends didn’t need to incessantly jump , and quite frankly, no sitcom should.

Happy Endings is a newer sitcom to the stable. Again the basic ingrediants of people who have privilaged friendships over family, a history of relationships within the group (good and bad) and the lifestyle porn of watching people who depsite having full-time jobs still have time to interfere in each others lives. Plus it’s funny! But it’s not perfect. Even though it is still young (only halfway through the second season in fact), it lacks any knowledge of its own history. Side characters appear for an episode then disappear. There doesn’t appear to be any long-running storylines. Whilst this means people can dive into the series anytime they want, it also gives them licence to leave as easily as they joined. There’s no reward for making time for the show, and there really should be. A few funny lines won’t keep the show going forever.

The newest show to join this collective is New Girl. It is a Marmite programme, there is only love or hate for it. No shades of grey, no “it’s not bad”, no middle-ground. Thankfully I’m in the “love” group. The long-running storylines are bubbling away despite being only a few episodes old, the characters are already sharply defined, and there’s no silly trickery with narrative structure. Best of all, it’s not consciously trying to be Friends. Maybe that’s the answer to creating the next great sitcom. Don’t write another version of what’s gone before. Just write something that’s funny and clever. Friends broke the mould by proving the sitcom didn’t have to be about a family and in doing so captured  the zeitgest. Now it’s time for writers to do it again.

 

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