Sitcom stock characters
Fish out of water
Many sitcoms, despite a variety of settings, are based on the premise of a chara...
Soap is humorous but a throwback to the valium soaked housewives of the 60s and 70s. Chandler’s sarcasm
acts as social com...
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Sitcom Stock Characters

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Sitcom Stock Characters

  1. 1. Sitcom stock characters Fish out of water Many sitcoms, despite a variety of settings, are based on the premise of a character’s being out of his or her element, a fish out of water. • On Bewitched, Samantha Stevens promises to forgo witchcraft and live according to the ways of the mortal world she chooses to inhabit because of her love for her mortal husband, Darrin. This decision both mortifies and annoys her mother. • A similar premise is the basis for I Dream of Jeannie, in which a female genie vows to swear off magic in order to remain the faithful servant of her master upon whom she has a romantic crush. The fish-out-of-water is a crucial character within the sitcom genre as a great deal of the humour comes from the clash between themselves and their new reality. The sitcom is often premised on how this fish learns to survive in this new reality, often having a positive effect on those around them. The fish-out-of-water is vital in this study as often they are a female character trying to find their place in this reality. Often she will be a progressive woman, whose inclination to being modern and liberal is ‘allowed’ by her otherness as a witch, genie, etc. The fish-out-of-water needs to establish some order or definition in this new reality and thereby affect some sense of social change within the show and then possibly outside of the show as well. This can be accepted as the fish-out-of-water does not know any better, this is not their natural environment remember. The naïve fool The most common archetype appearing in sitcoms is the naïve fool. Typically, this character accepts events and statements at face value and often misunderstands situations in ways that create conflict in the plot. The naive fool is common because much of the humour comes from the misunderstandings that they are responsible for. The naive fool if female is the dumb blonde whose child-like innocence allows for understatement (stating the obvious) which brings in to question a new way of looking at something. This can be really valuable if the writers are initiating some form of social change as the naive fool has to have everything explained clearly to them but their naïveté actually allows the old views to be challenged. If the naive fool is male then he represents the old traditions of patriarchal American society and will be the husband to the central female or fish-out-of-water. His naïveté will make it possible for her to re-define the rules of their reality – which from the 1960s onward focused on the rules of marriage, and male/female relationships. The sage This character usually has either an elevated intellect, advanced age, or "outsider" experience. The sage frequently comments wryly on the situation into which the other characters have placed themselves and often suggests solutions to resolve the major plot conflict. The sage will be a figure from a different generation who offers a different perspective to the fish-out-of water or naive fool as they struggle to understand the boundaries of their existence and environment. The sage can help the husband understand the frustrations of the wife pushing against the traditional social conditions or counsel the wife when she does not understand her place in the world or the best method to enact change. At times a little heavy handed with their words of wisdom, the sage – if written well – can have the greatest impact on framing social issues or clashes with a progressive slant. The comic relief The comic relief character usually exhibits eccentric personality traits and unusual reactions to commonplace situations and sometimes serves as the protagonist of the situation comedy series. This character's strange attitudes and reactions to events provide opportunities for absurd or unexpected humour. Often another form of the fish-out-of-water, the comic relief is the device to keep the audience most entertained. Is not the central character or strongly aligned to another character type, the comic relief can be representative of some kind of ‘other’ that is needed for comedic effect, audience appeal or social engineering. Jessica’s dopiness in
  2. 2. Soap is humorous but a throwback to the valium soaked housewives of the 60s and 70s. Chandler’s sarcasm acts as social commentary and a challenge of the actions and words around him – a result of being a product of divorce and alternate lifestyle. Phoebe eccentricities are an inclusion of the new age, spiritualism that took America by storm from the 80s into the 90s. The antagonist This archetypal character functions as a primary rival, competitor, or enemy of the series' principal character, the protagonist. Not common in many shows, the antagonist is often aligned with one of the other stock characters. In these domestic sitcoms where women were the main focus, the antagonist would be in the form of the dominant male in the show. However, the words ‘rival, competitor, or enemy’ do not factor well into the traditional marriage and redefinition of a wife’s role as homemaker. Therefore, if male, the antagonist as a husband would be highly parodied that his old views of the subordinate housewife would be archaic and seem ludicrous when taken out of context. This establishment of the antagonist as a weak and outmoded male character seemed intentional to develop this redefinition of the role of men and women in the suburban, middle class marriage and home. Further to this if the antagonist were female, she would be the embodiment of the 1950s housewife – regardless of decade – but as a mockery of what this character’s contribution and role was to the extent that the antagonist would never win and their shortfalls would be highlighted against the stronger protagonist. Either gender, the antagonist would always be set up to fail so the progressive protagonist could affect the intended social change. The ladies' man / the man eater The ladies' man and the man eater are aggressively sexual characters. Depending upon the tenor of the series, the character's attitude can range from harmless flirtation to borderline hypersexuality. Often single, this character was originally shown as a figure to pity as they had not found the fulfillment of marriage and middle-class domestic bliss. However, over the decades as sex became a more easily discussed topic in America, this character began to change as well, with their hypersexuality becoming a way to remove the stigma that still surrounded many conversations and issues relating to sex – contraception, orgasms, fidelity, impotence and equality. The wise-cracking or acerbic servant This archetypal character is usually in the employment of the family and will be of different ethnicity or nationality to the main characters. This is where the bulk of their humour will stem from. Their sarcastic observations can come from British elitism – as in the case of Mr Belvedere (Mr Belvedere), Niles (The Nanny), or Geoffrey( The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) - or rarely the counter-cultural voice of reaction or oppression – Benson (Soap) or Frank (Samantha Who?) - or even gender – Daphne (Frasier) or Mrs. Garrett (The Facts of Life). As the character is not related to the central characters they can offer outside observations and commentary, often taking on the role of the sage but other times can be far more cutting and sarcastic than any of the central characters. Other common characters Other recurring archetypal characters that appear in sitcoms as variations of the above stock characters include: • The meddling or nosy neighbor • The wacky wife and her straight laced husband • The well-meaning, but ill-fated, blue collar worker • The lovable loser • The unseen character (often mentioned and sometimes heard, but never seen) • The cutesy moppet or precocious child • The overprotective father • The meddling sibling • The snoop who knows their neighbors have something to hide, in which case the series usually revolves around the protagonist hiding a dark or well-kept secret, such as being from the future.

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