Most sitcoms feature a group of characters trapped in a particular situation or in a dysfunctional relationship. The situation could include being part of a family; being married to a grumpy old man; or working with annoying people. This is the sit uation .
Sitcoms are also supposed to be funny. We laugh at, or along with the characters,
recognising and understanding their situation.
This is the com edy.
Sitcoms are usually based in a limited location. This makes it cheap for producers. They can use the same main set for most of the episodes.
The sets usually reflect either the domestic setting - the home (My Family, Malcolm In the Middle), or the workplace (The Office, Red Dwarf, The IT Crowd).
The location Link these sitcoms to their main locations.
The Mighty Boosh
Only Fools and Horses
The Royle Family
A family home
A flat in Peckham
A front room
A New York apartment
Sitcoms can use a range of different types of comedy:
Physical comedy – falls, fights, or exaggerated physical comedy like slapstick.
Black humour – jokes around dark or taboo subjects such as death and disease
Comedy of manners – focussing on a particular social group and mocking or satirising their behaviour
Romantic comedy – focussing on the pitfalls and difficulties of falling in or out of love
Social or political satire – jokes or observations related to the political or social issues of the time.
Parody or pastiche – where the humour arises from the use and mockery of conventions from another media genre
Types of characters
Sitcoms usually focus on a small group of main characters, eg Ross, Rachel, Joey in Friends
There are also usually some supporting characters who have regular minor parts, e.g. Gunter, Ross’s wife.
There can also be transient characters, who have small or very occasional roles, including guest stars, and walk on parts ( e.g. George Clooney playing a doctor in one or two episodes, the newspaper seller).
Sitcoms usually have fairly simple narratives, which revolve around small issues and everyday crises.
They rarely involve life and death situations or saving the world.
They focus on the common everyday occurrences that most of the audience can relate to: covering up mistakes, hiding the truth from someone, misunderstandings, trying to make yourself look better and being found out, and so on.
Which would or would not make good sitcom plots? Why?
Celebrating Christmas with the in-laws.
Preventing a meteor from destroying the earth.
A blind date goes wrong.
Hunting for the serial killer.
A crazy friend is in town.
One character is promoted at work, the other is not.
Gang warfare breaks out on the streets of LA.
Over and over again
Part of the situation in sitcom is that the characters never really escape their situation – the family stays together in My Family, Delboy and Rodney never get rich in Only Fools and Horses, The workers stay in their dull jobs in The Office.
Occasionally, in long running series or to end a series, things will change – Nana dies in The Royle Family, Chandler and Monica get married, Dawn and Tim get together in The Office.
But, on the whole, characters end each episode in more or less the same place or situation they started in.
These circular narratives keep characters in their amusing situation; this helps producers sell series for repeats as they can be watched in almost any order; it also helps the audience know what to expect each time they watch.
Sitcoms are endlessly variable. From the classic sitcoms like Fawlty Towers and My Family, sitcoms can be set anywhere (on an island, Father Ted, in a zoo, The Mighty Boosh) and in any time in the past (Blackadder; Allo, Allo), or in the future (Red Dwarf).
They can cross-over with sci-fi (Red Dwarf, Astronauts, Third Rock From The Sun) and reality TV (The Office).
They can be ironic (Spaced), surreal (The Mighty Boosh) or even disturbing (The League of Gentlemen).
Audiences love sitcoms because…
They provide light relief and humour.
They reflect problems many of us have to deal with in everyday life.
They have likable characters we enjoy relating to – perhaps they feel like our friends.
They are safe – we know what sort of things will happen, we know how episodes will end.
Producers love sitcoms because…..
Limited sets and few outside locations mean they are cheap to make.
A limited number of characters keeps costs down too.
They are popular with audiences.
They are endlessly variable, and can be made to appeal to any age range or type of person.
Series can be sold around the world and shown as re-runs for years, generating more profit.
Scheduling is easy for re-runs as episodes don’t need to viewed as a series or in order.
Sitcoms have a restricted location
Characters tend to stay in same situation, episode after episode.
There is a limited number of main characters.
Plots are based around everyday events.
Humour is based around personalities and the smaller problems in life.
The characters usually reflect the target audience.
Sitcoms are relatively cheap and easy to make.
They can appeal to a wide range of different audiences.