I watch a lot of sitcoms. There’s nothing like unwinding before bed with a funny episode of Seinfeld or How I Met Your Mother. It’s less exhausting than a drama. It’s shorter, which means gratification is faster (not a euphemism. Please). I’m no expert in sitcoms, but I’ve watched enough to notice how much more problematic sitcoms can be compared to some of their drama counterparts.
I recently started watching Cougartown. At first, I quite enjoyed it. Courtney Cox was an older Monica Gellar and it was a bit of indulgent fun. Then it became a gender war. Their episodes focussed on how men and women can’t be friends, made all the female characters either neurotic, mean or dumb. I expect better from early n0ughties TV!
It’s not just Cougartown though. Almost all the sitcoms I enjoy are problematic to a degree. It’s not necessarily a gender war, but it has layers of homophobia, sexism and racism. I’ll detail what I find problematic below. Obviously there’s the issue of what is a sitcom and it’s tricky. I personally wouldn’t classify Parks and Recreation, Community or Arrested Development as sitcoms. Wikepedia begs to differ, so I’m going to stick to my own rules.
These are merely my observations. I would love to hear what you think! I’m only going to discuss The Big Bang Theory and New Girl because I think their problems are more specific than others. Other shows like Seinfeld, Friends, How I Met Your Mother etc have very similar problems and if I listed them, I’ll be repeating myself. So here’s a general summary of it:
– Men lacking in Masculinity and Women lacking in femininity are points of humour eg: Barney liking manicures (HIMYM), Chandler’s middle name is Muriel, Joey is scared of spiders (Friends) etc.
– The goal of any character on a TV show is about finding a longterm romantic partner, even though the character was initially introduced as someone with no interest in a relationship eg. Sheldon Cooper (BBT), Barney Stinson, Robin Scherbatsky (HIMYM) etc.
– Lack of ethnic diversity. This is steadily improving, which is fantastic to see. However, some characters can either become terrible racial stereotypes (Han from 2 Broke Girls) or token non-white characters (Winston from New Girl).
– Lack of LGBTI people. There are exceptions like Cam and Mitch from Modern Family and Max from Happy Endings. While I love Cam and Mitch, they’re the stereotypical flamboyant gay couple. Max, on the other hand, is actually great because he isn’t the stereotypical flamboyant gay man and they haven’t tried too hard to make him the antithesis of the stereotype either.
The Big Bang Theory
I personally feel BBT is the most problematic sitcom of them all. Where do I even begin?
– Sheldon and Amy’s Relationship
Sheldon is awful to Amy and Amy doesn’t care as long as she gets a bit of recognition, like an obedient dog. Amy’s happiness rests on her ability to satisfy his needs (not a euphemism). Sheldon, on the other hand, doesn’t care about what Amy wants or how she feels. I understand that’s just how Sheldon is, but his treatment of Amy is becoming less and less funny. It would be a destructive relationship outside the stricture of a sitcom for sure. I like how neurotic Amy is but it’s disappointing to have yet another female character bow to society’s expectations of a woman. Why Amy or Sheldon even need to be in a relationship is ridiculous to me.
– Raj and Howard, or just Raj in general
They’ve always insinuated Raj and Howard are secretly in love with each other. Rather than follow through with that potential story line, they’ve made these homoerotic suggestions to create laughter and ridicule. What is funny about a feminine man? What makes a feminine man a gay man? Why is femininity an undesirable characteristic when “out of context”? Being feminine shouldn’t be a negative quality and gay men aren’t women with wangs. Get over it.
Let’s talk about Winton’s token-ness. What is the point of his character on this show anyway? Jess, Cece, Nick and Schmidt are such strong leads. You could get rid of Winston and the show wouldn’t change at all. Winston’s plots are ridiculous and poorly developed. Remember that episode where Winston had to do a bunch of tasks to get some radio producer job? No? Well, it doesn’t matter; the show still makes sense. The whole show would make sense if Winston was cut, and that’s a shame as we need more diversity on TV and whose value is more than their token factor. Come on, Merriweather. Give Winston some depth!
I know this is not an issue exclusive to the sitcom genre, but it’s more obvious. I think dramas, at least, address that it’s a problem, where as a comedy laughs at it.
What are your thoughts?