A Short History of Sitcoms – By @now_pictured

By Ivan Stanojevic


A Short History of Sitcoms


Sitcoms have been a staple of television almost since it’s conception. In the past decade, they’ve developed greatly, however before that the television landscape was more like a wasteland of shitty laugh track shows.


There are two types of sitcoms. The traditional multicamera sitcoms (How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men), usually filmed in entirety on a set in front of a live audience. This is way cheaper and quicker than the newer, single-camera style (Modern Family, The Good Place) which is the most popular format right now – as it should be. While multicamera sitcoms are still rating juggernauts for some reason, single-camera sitcoms offer more to the viewer in terms of story, comedy and character development.


One of the first multicam sitcoms to appear in the US was Arrested Development. The style of shooting was reminiscent of a documentary. While it didn’t include actual interviews with characters like Modern Family or The Office do, it did use security footage, family photos, archive footage and website screenshots as an additional layer to the humor. The show also had a narrator that tied together the multiple plot threads while also humorously commenting on the characters.  


Arrested Development aired from 2003-2006 on FOX and while it was critically acclaimed, the viewership only declined during the run of the show. The type of humor Arrested Development used was specific and you would need to watch the show from the beginning to get it. It’s probably why it could never hold a steady viewership – casual viewers just couldn’t catch on. This show was extremely good at rewarding long time viewers though. There would be something mentioned in an episode in the first season and then seemingly forgotten only to randomly reappear in the third season. This is why the show has an extremely high rewatch value – you can discover something new every time you watch it again. Charlize Theron, Ben Stiller, Liza Minelli, and Heather Graham are just some of the names of people who have appeared on the show over time.


It was followed by the likes of The Office and Parks and Recreation, which really popularized the genre. The one show that took sitcoms to the next level was The Good Place. It’s first season developed as most would, but then delivered a shocking reveal in the season finale. The twist changed how you look at the whole show. It was quite an unexpected turn for a sitcom and hopefully ushered a new era in creativty. 


I think Portlandia stands out as one of the weirdest. The dream of the 90s is alive and well in Portland. Very much a product of the Obama era America. So many random guest stars and ridiculous over the top situations taking a stab at the culture of Portland and the world in general. It was hit and miss sometimes, but when it was good, it was great. And super weird. Kyle McLachlan as the Mayor of Portland is iconic. 


Television has reached a tipping point, with so many shows coming out constantly. We have no time to even watch 5% of them. The product of this is that the quality of the shows is pretty high. We are getting less and less multicam sitcoms and the single-cam ones are reigning supreme. Other good ones to check out: 30 Rock, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Broad City

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