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Some Blog I Wrote

stuff i think about and then type on a keyboard

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Everybody Loves Sitcoms

Everybody Loves Raymond ended its run of nine seasons Monday night with a half-hour episode titled "The Finale". Unlike other past sitcoms, this finale didn't involve anyone moving far away or making some other kind of drastic life change. Nor did this one end with Bob Newhart waking up next to Suzanne Pleschette. It ended as it started -- modest, poignant, silly, and clocking in at half an hour. The writers already teased viewers with The Sitcom Big Life Change earlier in the season when the elder Barones briefly relocated to a retirement community. In the finale, Ray has the slightest brush with death after slight difficulty leaving anesthesia, but the end brought only the affirmation that the extended Barone family are as tight as ever, whether they like it or not.

Some might dismiss the passing of this family sitcom as "no big deal", but it's a significant event. The television market has grown so diverse and fragmented since Raymond debuted in 1996 that the family sitcom has become a minority format. And, much of what is left of this format are derivations of Raymond -- slow, ignorant, funny, and/or overweight husbands or fathers married to far more attractive wives, sometimes living with children who are far more clever than the parents. The original outshines the copycats in many ways, most notably because it lacks those Very Clever Children. The Barone children were "in the picture" even if they were rarely on screen. Family and marital sexual politics were always front and center in Raymond, which made it a family sitcom for adults only. So many episodes hit home, but none as strongly as the seventh season episode "Baggage", where Ray and Debra engage in a silent standoff over an unpacked suitcase. (I encourage every couple to watch this episode if only to laugh at themselves.)

I'm not one of those pop culture observers who's declaring the sitcom or the family sitcom dead. Looking at this year's upfronts, the sitcom appears alive and well, though with a little help, it is evolving. Perhaps Raymond will simply be written down as The Last Great Live Audience Sitcom, in the same pantheon as Cheers, Frasier, Friends, and Seinfeld, which is fine with me. I've grown somewhat tired of the format, and I think it's been explored as far as it can be. Raymond nailed the family sitcom concept, which even the most issue-oriented family sitcoms failed to do. Arrested Development, The Office (either version), Scrubs, Malcolm in the Middle, etc. have proven that the sitcom -- family or otherwise -- can successfully combine the realistic with the bizarre without the three-wall, live studio audience format. The writing can successfully evolve beyond consistently entertaining a live audience with easy payoffs. In the case of the Scrubs and Malcolm, a sitcom need not employ the lauded mockumentary format to achieve a sense of style.

Time will tell if I'm completely wrong, but I hope I'm not. After all, we can relive the greatness of The Live Audience Sitcom in reruns or on DVD until our eyes bleed. Right now, one can even revisit the honest wackiness of the recently departed Raymond five nights a week. Let's leave the first run time slots for a new generation of sitcoms.


Posted by GiromiDe @ 9:45 AM
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