From 'Friends' to 'Fleabag,' the history of sitcoms is bigger than you think

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(CNN)After spending overmuch of the past 2 years moving connected CNN's documentary bid "History of the Sitcom," I deliberation I tin yet connection an reply connected what defines the genre.

But that reply is: Who knows?

It's a cop-out answer, similar Potter Stewart's erstwhile helium talked astir obscenity: I cognize it erstwhile I spot it.

    Yes, "I Love Lucy" is simply a sitcom. So are "The Honeymooners"; "All successful the Family"; "Cheers"; "The Cosby Show"; "Seinfeld"; and "Friends."

      But truthful excessively are "Leave It to Beaver;" "Bewitched;" "MASH;" "The Office;" "Parks and Rec;" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

      No 1 would truly question the sitcom bonafides of immoderate of those iconic shows. Except if you played episodes from the archetypal radical adjacent to episodes of the second, and asked an alien lifeform (other than Mork) who had ne'er seen thing similar this benignant of amusement if these were examples of the aforesaid thing, the reply mightiness beryllium (translated from the Klingon):

      "Of people not. The archetypal radical is intelligibly changeable with aggregate cameras successful beforehand of a unrecorded audience, alternatively similar a Noël Coward play created for a theater. The 2nd radical are intelligibly small movies, changeable by a azygous camera with either pumped-in laughs produced by a machine, oregon nary accompanying laughter astatine all, similar a Billy Wilder movie created for a movie house."

      And past if you upped the ante by unveiling episodes of "Girls," "Insecure," "Atlanta," and "Fleabag," the effect -- aft the alien's antennae had exploded -- would beryllium on the lines of: "Do you radical effort to marque drama retired of everything?"

      But those newer shows, conscionable similar the aforementioned classics, are each portion of the sitcom's evolution. For the "History of the Sitcom" docuseries, the determination of what to see fell on 1 basal line: If the overarching intent of the amusement is to marque you laugh, it tin beryllium considered a sitcom. And successful astir each cases, the shows are half-hours alternatively than hours.

      That's not to accidental "History of the Sitcom" is definitive. "Eight Is Enough" made the chopped for us. So did "The Love Boat" (although I personally person reservations astir that 1 due to the fact that I don't retrieve ever really laughing astatine it, but you can't miss the show's intent to beryllium comic due to the fact that it douses itself successful endless laugh-track hints). Yet "Ally McBeal," which won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy bid successful 1999, did not. No documentary bid could see references to each illustration of a sitcom successful past -- unless it ran 800 hours alternatively of 8 -- but this is besides subjective.

      One crushed wherefore the boundaries of this format are truthful blurry is due to the fact that astir viewers inactive person a circumstantial representation that comes to caput erstwhile you notation this genre: It's the multi-camera show, changeable with a unrecorded audience, utilizing the aforesaid basal acceptable (usually involving a couch) that's undeniably a "sitcom."

      It's besides a genre that includes tons of ceremonial jokes -- that is, idiosyncratic does a set-up and different quality lands the punchline. The assemblage laughs, but the characters don't.

      That's the classical "situational comedy" format. It is besides the 1 liable for generating a ample proportionality of the astir palmy shows successful tv history, the ones that proved their creator (and commercial) merit by being watched and loved by procreation aft generation.

      "I Love Lucy," though not the archetypal sitcom (several had been connected earlier its premiere successful 1951), has and volition tally forever. "The Honeymooners" made lone 39 episodes, but they are timeless. More recently, "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "The Big Bang Theory" were not lone top-rated shows during their archetypal run, but they besides became monolithic successes successful syndication, first connected cablegram channels and yet streaming services.

      The classical sitcom tends to person bonzer longevity, I think, chiefly due to the fact that of that dense gag content. There are a batch of laughs successful the champion multi-camera shows, usually fired disconnected each 30 seconds oregon so. And surely immoderate single-camera shows are truthful comic that they excessively person stood the trial of time, with "Modern Family" and "The Office" being caller examples.

      But that rapid-fire drama signifier has fallen retired of favor, chiefly with writers. (Obviously viewers inactive emotion them due to the fact that those re-runs thin to beryllium high-performers connected streaming platforms.) While galore modern streaming half-hours are terrific tv shows ("Russian Doll"), they're not eliciting overmuch successful the guffaw department.

      They are admired, though, acold much than astir sitcoms are. Once you get past the roster of the genuinely large sitcoms, respect for the genre tends to diminish. The worst happening immoderate movie professional tin accidental to disregard a caller drama movie is: "It plays similar a sitcom." They don't mean it plays similar "Frasier," which would connote "frequently hilarious," but that it plays similar "Gilligan's Island," which implies formulaic and silly. The captious sniffing astatine the "sitcom" besides accounts for immoderate of the reluctance to use the statement to modern comedies similar "Hacks" oregon "Barry."

      So, arsenic I said: "Who knows?"

      What is intelligibly portion of the explanation of a sitcom is that it encompasses some the hilarious and the silly, on with the off-putting and the moving; the superficial and the incisive; the forced and the inventive.

        It's a flexible, dynamic creation form, which defies regulation -- oregon casual description.

        But I cognize it erstwhile I spot it.

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