Back to the Future of Sitcoms - Leg Warmers Optional -

Back to the Future of Sitcoms – Leg Warmers Optional


Todd VanDerWerff has a follow-up to his ’70s sitcoms primer: an extensive guide to the U.S. sitcom in the 1980s.

Even though my TV viewing began in the ’80s and therefore I remember the era fondly, I think there’s something about ’80s comedies that makes them feel more dated than the sitcoms of other decades. The ’50s, ’60s and ’90s all produced a bunch of U.S. comedies that could be repeated forever. The ’70s shows are more closely tied to their era, but the best of them have managed to endure based on quality. The ’80s produced a few eternally iconic sitcoms — Cheers, Married With Children and, strangely, Full House, which has had more staying power than I ever would have predicted. (It’s the Brady Bunch of the ’80s.) The Cosby Show has also shown a fair amount of staying power after a rough start in syndication: the reruns originally didn’t do as well as expected, but it has managed to carve out a place for itself in repeats. But other shows are… not forgotten, exactly; shows back then were still able to get a fan following after they went off the air. But they are viewed as products of the ’80s. Family Ties had some very fine episodes, but it’s an ’80s cultural artifact; All in the Family is even more topical in its humour, but is celebrated for its continued relevance. I don’t quite know what it is that makes the ’80s comedies feel more remote from our current experience than the shows that came before or after; it can’t just be the fashions and hair.

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Back to the Future of Sitcoms – Leg Warmers Optional

  1. Perhaps we should look at any 'cultural era' (in this case 'TV in the 80's) in the context of what immediately followed it.

    The 1980s had the misfortunte of preceding a decade that was largely defined by an overdose of irony. A whoe generation of TV viewers grew up with 1990s TV that, whether overtly or subtly definede itself on snidely condescending the tropes of the previous era.

    Maybe this is why Cheers and Married With Children Persevere. Both were ahead of their time. Cheers — broke a lot of molds in that it was a show about a bunch of losers. Married With Children is really a child of the 1990's in how it turned all of the tropes of a 'Family Sitcom' on their heads.

    Now all of this hyper-irony in the 1990s also produced some unwatchable shows — but the 2000s have been defined by reacting against that culture — instead, more by growing out of it.

  2. Coincidentally or not, '80s sitcoms have the worst music of any era. So bad, in fact, that later sitcoms increasingly dropped theme songs altogether. (I know that was also because they ate up time, but the awfulness of everything in the '80s except Frank Sinatra on "Married … with Children" didn't help.)