Let us have a look at the most popular TV sitcoms that everyone was watching ten years ago: You had the standard series like Friends; The Office; How I Met Your Mother and shows like Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory that were growing ever more popular day by day.
These shows are cemented in pop culture and were a big part of the ‘00s and the ‘10s.
They are classics. Now let us look at the sitcoms that everyone watches nowadays for a mindless break: Friends; The Office; How I Met Your Mother…you get the point.
The truth is, the art of the situational comedy – or sitcom – is dying, and has slowly died
throughout the last decade. Why look at a new sitcom on the telly when we are more inclined
to hear Ross say “take thee, Rachel” for the umpteenth time? When I talk about the
traditional sitcom, I mean the American ones. The ones which revolve around an ensemble cast,
with characters of equal importance getting up to random escapades in front of a live audience; or in a studio with some god-awful laugh track, and have almost too many episodes to
watch. Whether it was a family show or a mockumentary, they all shared similarities, and
they are scarce in the modern day. Before, everyone and their dogs would be glued to the
screen, soaking in the drama, comedy and emotion. Now, the most you get is someone
spouting a reference from a show that is older than them.
In the past few years, we have said goodbye to some of the longest running sitcoms of the century. Sitcoms that were around when most of us were in primary school and yet remain
iconic. Modern Family; The Middle and New Girl were some of the brilliant shows that have
ended, along with The Big Bang Theory. These shows were very popular, and they all ended
in quick succession of each other. They left their own legacies, and really needed their
replacement shows to hit it out of the park and attempt to match their success. That did
not happen, and it does not look like it will either.
Late September running into early October is the ideal time for a sitcom to be released. You look at the long-lasting shows of Friends; Cheers; Frasier; HIMYM, and they were all released in the Autumnal period, when everyone sat down on the couch to flick on their telly. Even the trend-setting classic I Love Lucy premiered 69 years ago on October 15th this year. Everyone still sits down and watches the telly – even more frequently now – but they will not watch some new sitcom on Sky or Fox. Everyone just wants to binge a show nowadays, and that is where the downfall began, and why there were so few shows announced for release in Autumn of this year and the year prior.
The likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime do not release many shows like the traditional sitcom. Instead, they focus more on dramas. They know that casual viewers prefer to be drawn in by a serious show or an educational documentary to pass the time nowadays. Netflix’s priority when it comes to sitcoms is to get all the golden ones on their service, while milking as much out of revived series such as Arrested Development and the Full House follow-up: Fuller House. Tina Fey’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Ashton Kutcher’s The Ranch are some of the few to find success as original sitcoms of the streaming era while the others seem to easily falter. Friends is a kingpin in the sitcom market. It gets watched just because it’s Friends,
and Netflix has it at its disposal. Do you really think Netflix would advertise and spend a lot of money on an original sitcom like The Big Show Show when it already has some of the biggest
sitcoms on offer? Not a chance.
With streaming taking over as the main form of television, if your show is not on it then
survival is rare. The number of sitcoms cancelled in the past two years is staggering. Matt
LeBlanc’s latest sitcom, Man with A Plan, got canned by demand after four seasons. The
Goldbergs’ spin-off series, Schooled, failed the ratings test. The Big Bang Theory’s spin-off,
Young Sheldon, is bathing in the success of its predecessor and has been renewed for a fourth
season, but there is only so much achievable with a unique character like Sheldon Cooper.
Even the most successful sitcoms still being aired owe a lot of their success and longevity to the
power of streaming. Fans of Community will remember Abed’s view on what would make for a successful TV show, six seasons and a movie! The movie part is a bit of a stretch, but if a show reaches six seasons then it will be widely remembered and have a lasting impact on pop culture. Currently, there are only five sitcoms being aired that have gotten to the six-season mark. Five years ago, there were twelve. You want to hear the real killer? Only one of those twelve shows is still airing today, and that is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
One of the longest running shows in television history, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is very much an ‘anti-sitcom’, going against the tropes of the traditional. Instead of a group of
friends who go on adventures and learn something, it instead involves five psychopaths named ‘The Gang’, who pretend that they are friends but would easily sell each others’ souls for
a quick buck, or just for the laugh. They do not learn lessons, they ruin other people’s
lives and they contribute absolutely nothing to society, and that is why they are popular and
outlasting several stereotypical family sitcoms. Would you rather watch a generic mother-daughter conversation and some love triangle nonsense or watch The Gang turn a
priest into a drug-addicted homeless man, and Danny DeVito crawling out of a couch naked? I
know what I would prefer.
It’s Always Sunny is a fantastic show that I highly recommend. It is its own unique sitcom
that goes against what is expected of the traditional and strives to go to the dizzying heights
where none of its predecessors dared to go. That is one of the reasons it found popularity. It has a laugh with common sitcom tropes and turns it into something completely over-the-top.
The show’s availability for streaming via Netflix has allowed it to become a signature
comfort-watch for people who are sick of the standard sitcom and want something new – the
same reason that gave a new lease of life to shows like Community and Arrested
Development when added to Netflix. The anti-sitcom, in a sense, is out-passing the popularity
of the traditional sitcom.
The four other sitcoms that have achieved ‘six-season status’ are Brooklyn Nine-Nine; The
Goldbergs; Mom; and Black-ish. Funnily enough, B99, Mom and The Goldbergs all
premiered within a week of each other back in 2013. In particular, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has
found wide global success thanks to being accessible on Netflix. It may not have ever gotten
past the six-season mark if fans did not launch a social media campaign protesting against its
cancellation via Fox, but its cult status and ever-growing popularity has allowed it to extend
its stay on our screens for the foreseeable future.
The other three are your basic run-of-the-mill sitcoms. Their format has grown tired and there is little that producers can do to truly break away from the mould and find success. They are all in their twilight years and I cannot see them lasting much longer. Mom has lost its main
attraction, Anna Faris, for the next season. The Goldbergs failed expansion of the series with
Schooled could spell bad news for their future planning. In contrast, Black-ish’s spin-offs are
gaining just as much popularity as the original, so the producers will feel more comfortable
knowing they can end the show and focus on the spin-offs when they please.
After all these sitcoms finish up, what will happen to one of television’s most popular genres? Will we start seeing a change in the medium? The mockumentary sub-genre introduced in the mid-noughties gave us The Office, Modern Family and Parks & Rec, so maybe in the next few years we will experience another shake-up in the genre. Situational comedies have been around since the 1950’s, and with the little changes that have occurred since then, the genre has reached an era of struggle. The lack of change has allowed oldies like Friends; Cheers and even I Love Lucy to still hold up well in the modern day. We are all getting a bit sick of seeing the same old generic group of friends or dysfunctional family over and over. Something needs to change, but for now, there is nothing to cheer about during sitcom season this time around.