My all-time favorite sitcoms, sort-of in order by recency: Louie; Community; Party Down; 30 Rock; Parks & Recreation; Curb Your Enthusiasm; South Park; The Simpsons; Seinfeld; M*A*S*H.
Criteria: (1) You have to be so freakin' hilarious that it hurts (Eliminated: too many shows to list.) (2) You have to take me somewhere I can't take myself; I can't feel like I could write you (Eliminated: Two-and-a-Half Men, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc.) (3) I had to watch all or most all of the episodes, and at least a good portion of them as a teenager or adult (Eliminated: Cheers, The Cosby Show, Mary Tyler Moore, The Larry Sanders Show, etc. You were probably brilliant, but I was too young when I saw you, or I never got into you on syndication, or I just missed you, for whatever reason.)
What makes these great? Hard to say. Some musings:
(1) Nailing a particular perspective - Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Party Down.
Each of these shows fully portrays a particular way of operating in the world, bringing the good and the bad all into the light. These three capture the postmodern narcissism of the Boomer/post-Boomer generation; they probably resonate because I identify there. No real message, just a mirror. (I'm guessing some of the shows I missed - Cosby? Happy Days? Mary Tyler Moore? - slay by, in part, nailing the perspectives of other times.)
(2) Commenting on perspectives - Community, 30 Rock, South Park (mostly).
Each of these sees the perspectives operating in the world and, with brilliant observation and detachment, points out their ridiculousness for us. They don't so much embody a perspective or perspectives as stand apart from them. Where the first group embodies postmodern, this group is the embodiment of postmodern in show form - able to dig under anyone's skin, and wave around anything they find for all of us to laugh at. No real message here either (South Park tries at times; more on that below); more like a funhouse mirror, a view into the ridiculousness inherent in all perspectives.
(3) Interplay of perspectives - Parks & Rec, The Simpsons, M*A*S*H, South Park (sort of).
These shows fill their characters with fully-realized perspectives, wind them up, and watch them interact. In addition to side-splittitude (look it up), they can pop - watch April Ludgate grow under the subtle influence of Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson; or Homer skip church and be rescued by volunteer firefighters who are Christian, Jewish, and "miscellaneous"; or M*A*S*H struggle with war amongst career soldiers, go-get-'ems, and sarcastic peacemonger. This is what I'd write (er, try to write) - the interplay of perspectives, at their fullest and funniest, and the amazing things that emerge. It's integral in action, though maybe not consciously.
(4) ? - Louie.
Louie blows my mind (and I'm not the only one
). I don't know what to say about that. I think Louis C.K. is tapping into something, and it's awesomely authentic, creative, insightful, just plain real. If the (3) group is integral theory in action, I think Louie is what happens when integral digests itself and spits out a baby Buddha, poopy diapers and all. I can't write what he does, because I'm not tapped in there. It's awesome.
Labels: 30 rock, community, curb, integral, louie, mash, parks and rec, party down, perspectives, seinfeld, simpsons, sitcoms, south park, tv