Welcome to “Recorded Conversations,” an occasional feature where all the Addison Recorder editors contribute their thoughts about a question, idea, or prompt. Everyone will chime in, and then we see where the conversation wanders. The question for this first Conversation was posed by Alex Bean:
Question: What cultural object (movie, music, show, book, play, whatever) do you find yourself coming back to again and again over the years?
This is a pretty wide-open question, but I like that for our inaugural run of this feature. It means that there’s lots of room for all of us to play around and explore what makes us tick. Personally, I thought I knew what direction I was going to go with this question, but as I sit here my mind is changing. Initially, I had thought to make my answer something like John Ford’s seminal The Searchers. If I had to pick a favorite movie that would be it for a whole variety of reasons.
But, the question posed is not about favorites per se, but about what we can’t seem to get enough of. The object that I return to time and again is not The Searchers, or Deadwood, or any of my myriad other favorites. No, I always find myself inexorably drawn to sit down and enjoy that grand staple of American television: the sitcom.
I’m not sure exactly when my love for the sitcom started. I can remember watching a lot of NBC’s mid-90’s greats like Seinfeld and Newsradio when I was younger. Tim Allen’s old series Home Improvement was definitely appointment viewing in our household. That’s unsurprising considering that my dad loved doing his grunty-hoot thing like it was going out of style (which it was). In high school I had the TV schedule memorized so that I could jump between comedy reruns, eliding around the heavy-handed nighttime soaps or dry procedurals. By college, my obsession was in full bloom. I can recall skipping student organization meetings in order to stay in my dorm and watch The Office. When you’re a freshman who knows no one else on campus the funny people on TV can be a more welcome sight than the myriad strangers all around.
These days, much of my down time is filled by one sitcom or another. Be it a new episode of Happy Endings on Wednesdays, or queuing up an episode of Better Off Ted for the umpteenth time on Netflix while I play a video game, TV comedies are a constant presence in my life.
There is an eternal tension in sitcoms that makes them endlessly consumable for me. Their most obvious function is to deliver jokes, which must rely on an element of surprise in content or delivery. But underlying even the most anarchic joke machine shows (such as Seth McFarlane’s many, many cartoons) is a finely-tuned narrative structure. The series has an established setting and cast of characters, which each episode disrupts in some fashion. These disruptions, such as Liz’s perpetual romantic troubles on 30 Rock, are the motor behind the jokes. However, each episode must resolve its disruption within that same episode or else risk alienating the audience.
So, no matter how many times I watch The Venture Brothers, there is always that tension between the comic disruption caused by the Guild of Calamitous Intent’s half-brained attacks on the Ventures and the knowledge that the problem will be resolved within twenty minutes. It’s engaging without taking up my whole brain; hilarious without being challenging at the end of a long day.
So, that’s me, what about all of you?