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February 1997, Week 4


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 25 Feb 1997 22:26:43 EST
text/plain (47 lines)
On Mon, 24 Feb 1997 19:47:06 -0500 Dan Carroll said:
>(i) English sitcoms are more likely to opt for a slapstick-influenced laugh
>(eg: the comic violence in "Fawlty Towers", or the tooth-extraction scene of
>"Men Behaving Badly (GB)", whereas American shows like "Friends" and "Cheers"
>have much less of this; their humour is in the main verbal or visual, and
>almost exclusively non-violent.
But the humor in "Blackadder" or "Absolutely Fabulous" is often verbal
rather than physical.  On the other hand, many American sitcoms ("Home
Improvement" is a current one, "I Love Lucy," "Gilligan's Island," and
"Three's Company" are popular examples of the past) are based on
slapstick humor.
The important question might be whether slapstick humor is currently out
of vogue in America.
>(ii) American sitcoms have more emotional resolution at the end - in the
>style of "I guess I never realised how much I hurt you, Frasier"  - whereas
>the English situation comedies are much less concerned with the emotional
>well-being of their characters (imagine Blackadder apologising for belittling
>Baldrick's feelings, for example). This might be due to US sitcoms being more
>"real-life", and hence their makers having a greater responsibility towards
>the audience; or perhaps British humour is less politically correct, and can
>be more offensive and irresponsible. Any opinions?
I think this point is the stronger of the two.  All of the British sitcoms
cited here have characters who are intentionally and unapologetically
cruel to other characters.  When that shows up in American sitcoms it's
a relatively minor element (compare Basil Fawlty slapping Manuel to the
Skipper slapping Gilligan).
American sitcoms also have longer seasons and lots more episodes.  This
may be a factor in writers needing to "explore" the characters.  As
shows develop, the extreme characters gradually soften as they are
placed in situations that force them to evaluate themselves.  (Think
of how Archie Bunker and "Hot Lips" Houlihan changed over the years).
If Basil Fawlty were an American, he would be forced to rediscover
his love for Sybil and to see how much he depends on Manuel.
Chris Pyle
University of Kentucky
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