Thursday, May 24, 2007

50 Years of Sitcoms

Lately, I've been watching reruns of I Love Lucy on my TiVo. (This is part of what I think may be a part of the development of a TiVo user: Eventually you see everything you really wanted to see originally, and start trying new things to see if you like them or not. It ultimately broadens your palette, because you never have to miss anything.) It was in fact a darned good show, and Lucille Ball was very talented.

But there's something odd about it. If you watch episodes for a while, you get the distinct impression that you can hear the last 50 years of sitcoms being written. The plots sometimes seem unnervingly familiar, and not just because people like to do "tributes" to famous scenes like the chocolate factory. It's because I think every plot that came to be used in every sitcom may have gotten its start here. Or perhaps earlier. At least according to Wikipedia, many of the plots were rewrites of plots Ball performed earlier on the radio show My Favorite Husband. And who knows how original the material was then. Maybe early humans were sitting around a campfire going "Og think he fool me... me turn tables and fool Og back!" while everyone laughed uproariously. (Who knows, it may have come just days after the first "pull my finger" joke.)

As a downside, it does mean there are few real surprises in the shows, but it's still fun to watch. Sometimes I feel a little like a friend of mine who had never watched It's a Wonderful Life. When I finally got her to watch it, her reaction at one point was "Oh, it's one of these, where he sees what the world would be like without him."

1 comment:

Obie-Ben-Ken-Obie said...

A fair number of sitcom plots go back to the Roman comedians Plautus and Terence, which had their own stock characters (clever slave, clueless master, oaf) and situations.

I'm pretty sure some of that came up when I took that Classics course with Jim and Dani during our first year (thought you might have been in that one too, but now I'm not sure).