situation comedy

situation comedy
   Situation comedies, or sitcoms, focus on a comic situation which is returned to by a small cast of actors in successive episodes. Much of the humour in these shows derives from character, and ‘straight’ actors appear in them more frequently than comedians. Although there have been notable exceptions, such as On The Buses, Dad’s Army, Yes, Minister and its Whitehall location, or Fawlty Towers with its seaside hotel setting, a domestic environment has been the most common location for the sitcom since shows of the 1960s like Steptoe and Son. This characteristic has meant that sitcoms often feature more female characters than many other television genres, and indeed from the 1970s onwards numerous sitcoms have centred on women, including The Liver Birds, Solo, Butterflies, Girls on Top, Birds of a Feather and, most recently, Absolutely Fabulous. Making humour out of the domestic scenarios of sitcoms has equally made them vehicles for ‘unusual’ domestic arrangements, in attempts to represent shifts in gender and family relations. A Man About the House and The Good Life were premised, respectively, on the ‘swinging’ and ‘hippie’ reputation of the 1970s. Men Behaving Badly, Home to Roost and Fresh Fields are more contemporary examples of this theme.
   Poverty and class differences have been a common theme in sitcoms since the 1960s, in shows like To the Manor Born, Porridge and its sequel Going Straight, Man About the House’s spin-off George and Mildred, Rab C.Nesbitt and Rising Damp. In contrast, issues of race and ethnicity have rarely been explicitly a focus in British sitcom. Desmond’s and its spin-off Porkpie starred black actors, as did Love Thy Neighbour, The Fosters, Empire Road and Tandoori Nights in the 1970s and 1980s. Famously, Alf Garnett’s performance as a bigot in ‘Til Death Do Us Part was intended to parody racism but was open to misinterpretation.
   Comedy drama was one hybrid of the sitcom, which emerged in Britain from the 1970s, which incorporated straight dramatic acting. One such series, about an idiosyncratic barrister, played by Leo McKern, was Rumpole of the Bailey. Auf Wiedersehen, Pet is a more recently broadcast example. The sitcom has also spawned parodies, notably The Young Ones, which inserted four ‘alternative’ comics into the domestic scenario of the sitcom using special effects and visual jokes, like the earlier show The Goodies. Blackadder might also be considered a programme that spoofs sitcom’s conventional situation, since its characters return in various incarnations across the centuries to the same situations and relationships.
   Further reading
    Crowther, B. and Pinfold, M. (1987) Bring Me Laughter: Four Decades of Television Comedy, London: Columbus.
    Neale S. and Krutnik, F. (1990) Popular Film and Television Comedy, London: Routledge.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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