I love it when you perusing the internet and you come across the perfect juxtaposition of articles.
Case in point: Joanna Weiss looks at the rise and fall of the mean sitcom for Slate and over at Splitsider, Jaime Weinman defends the multi-camera sitcom, which has fallen out of vogue for both Hollywood and viewers over the past five years.
(FYI, the multi-camera sitcom is what you get when you think of a traditional sitcom like Friends or Cheers or whatever. Single-camera sitcoms are the more cinematic shows like 30 Rock, Community, Arrested Development or Modern Family.)
Here’s Weiss: “Sitcoms have always had the potential for meanness, largely thanks to the laugh track, once a TV staple that now survives largely on CBS, Nickelodeon, and the Disney Channel. It demands a rhythm of setup-joke-repeat, which lends itself to wisecracks and grouchy catchphrases. (“One of these days, Alice …”) On multicamera shows, characters who supposedly adore each other still spend a lot of time putting each other down. If your real friends ever talked to you the way the characters on Friends did, you’d probably stop calling them back.”
And here’s Weinman: “Bad multi-camera sitcoms seem to dumb everything down for the audience, but good ones use the audience feedback to their advantage, until we feel like we are almost in the audience ourselves, watching these characters grow and develop every week. That’s why seemingly horrible characters, from Ralph Kramden to Archie Bunker to Basil Fawlty to George Costanza, can be portrayed so three-dimensionally in multi-camera sitcoms: the actors and writers know just how far they can take these characters without completely alienating the audience. Single-camera shows can be great, but they can be very insular. As a result they can easily make characters too one-dimensionally nasty, or go to the other extreme and make them too soft and cute.”