With reference to The Simpsons and other situation comedies; “situation comedies are perceptive and thoughtful commentaries upon contemporary society”, do you agree? The origin of situation comedies dates back to 18th November 1947 when a fifteen-minute programme entitled Mary Kay and Johnny made its debut on the Dumont network. Similar to the more famous I Love Lucy series that ensued, Mary Kay and Johnny starred a real-life couple. Many such domestic shows were already playing on radio, but none had yet made the groundbreaking transition to television, which had only been around for less than a decade. Thus began a trend of family or couple based situation comedies. The Flintstones was the pioneer of animated sitcoms and was premiered on 30th September 1960. It became the precursor to a flourish of animated sitcoms including The Jetsons, Family Guy and of course the proverbial Simpsons.
In the beginning, the humour involved in sitcoms was innocent in that it avoided involving any sensitive subjects. Since then, times have moved on and likewise, what has become acceptable humour has changed enormously. In the 1950s and 1960s, programmes like Amos ‘n’ Andy were broadcast with black characters mingling with white Americans. Such inter-racial sitcoms, while entertaining to white people, were responsible for creating negative racial stereotypes and used discrimination as a means of amusement. Later sitcoms emerged in the 1980s like The Cosby Show which altered the perceptions of blacks on television with the radical concept of an intact, black middle-class family.
Contemporary sitcoms casually deal with sensitive issues, which would have been forbidden fifty years earlier. As the barriers of taboo have dissolved with a new generation, violence, vulgarity, scenes of nudity and sexual references have become acceptable. No subject is left untouched and serious and controversial topics have all been transformed into comical programming.
A prime example of a contemporary domestic comedy is The Royale Family in which the one and only set is a house, and the characters spend the majority of their time sitting in front of the television. Occasionally, they talk about their sheltered lives and how they supposedly work all the time and have no time to sit down because they should be doing something else. For the casual observer, the messages may be difficult to spot, but the whole fact that the characters are so trapped by will in a life of artificial soaps and corny game shows can bring about situations where the audience can see the downsides of both watching television and having no exercise. More serious issues are brought to light in the programme too, for example the reliance on family and the life of those in relative poverty. Childbirth is a frequent topic and three different age groups show marriage issues: the grandparents, the parents and the children.
The Simpsons revolutionised situation comedy when it was first aired on 17th December 1987; a Christmas special entitled “Simpsons roasting on an open fire”. Based loosely around the life of its creator Matt Groening, the show was originally targeted at young audience but adults became captivated by the yellow characters too. It was effective because being an animated program The Simpsons was not real and subtle differences were intentionally added to enforce the idea, for example, all the characters only have four fingers. This allowed the producers extraordinary scope to effectively do as they wished and get away with it. However, people were still able to relate to the characters.