Why would someone who never (never, ever) watches situation comedies voluntarily preview the May 24 season finale of How I Met Your Mother?
I gave up on situation comedies many years ago. When I say “many,” I mean somewhere in the neighborhood of 30. There is a long list, in the history of television, of situation comedies I’ve enjoyed, some of which I was an actual fan.
I will drop everything (and anything) to watch Burns and Allen or The Honeymooners. As I grew up, reruns of these shows were very accessible and I loved them. Later situation comedies that I found enjoyable were Petticoat Junction, Taxi, Hot-L Baltimore, E/R, and The Larry Sanders Show. I must admit, I still enjoy The Beverly Hillbillies (when I’m in the mood).
I don’t know if Norman Lear is the man to blame, but around the time All in the Family and Maude made their debuts, situation comedies changed. That’s when formerly taboo topics, like politics and abortion, were introduced. The problem was that the shows were selling an agenda; they were trying to teach viewers a lesson on the correct way to think. Propaganda, anyone?
Every story has a moral if you look for it. The “classic” situation comedies offered such broad lessons as “lying only gets you into trouble,” “jealousy is a bad thing,” and “acting stupid [doing stupid things] won’t get you anywhere.” They reinforced things we already knew by presenting characters who had never learned them. As situation comedies evolved, they became less comedic and more academic.
Even well crafted shows like M*A*S*H seemed to have a mission. Family-based sitcoms, which used to emphasis gags and laughs, became lessons on what to do should certain circumstances present themselves (e.g., a friend uses drugs, is homeless, or is abused). Of course, even the worst circumstances nearly always ended with a neat solution and a smile.
I’m not sure if it was the incessant lessons that were being pushed out of television studios, the lack of creativity in writing, or the exploitation of current societal issues that finally separated me from sitcom watching. It was probably a combination of all three. It was, for sure, the recurring thought after watching a “comedy,” “that wasn’t funny.”