From the moment the first American sitcom, Mary Kay and Johnny, debuted in 1947, the television genre quickly became all the rage in households across North America and beyond. From The Office to Full House to Friends, Seinfeld, and more, sitcoms appeared on many networks, attracting fans from all over the world. Although sitcoms have developed over time to become one of the most well-loved television genres, many believe that the quality of sitcoms has decreased in recent years. Above all, critics contend that a growing obsession with political correctness and the fear of cancel culture at the expense of creative writing are hurting sitcom humour, and threatening a prompt end to this quick-witted and comedic genre.
Certain sitcoms have the ability to make viewers forget entirely about the real world. They offer a means of escape, whereby viewers can lose themselves in a wholly fictitious universe that bears little resemblance to the outside world. Other sitcoms, particularly more recent ones, frequently make an effort to include social commentary about the outside world as part of the plot. However, the rise of cancel culture has sparked debates about what is right and wrong by boycotting any media or public figures who support what appears to be offensive speech. As such, there is a fine line between incorporating social commentary into sitcoms in a way that aligns with the comedic characteristics of the genre, and entirely missing the mark by making light of serious topics.
…there is a fine line between incorporating social commentary into sitcoms in a way that aligns with the comedic characteristics of the genre, and entirely missing the mark by making light of serious topics.
Brooklyn 99 is an example of a sitcom that has suffered due to the emergence of social issues that directly conflicted with the premise of the show’s plot. The death of George Floyd in 2020 and the ensuing resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement brought attention to the issue of police brutality and created increased support for the slogan, “defund the police.” As a sitcom about police and the NYPD, Brooklyn 99 felt it necessary to address these significant events that occurred as a result of police brutality. As such, the show made an effort to include this subject, along with other issues of police reform and performative activism into the plot of its final season. Despite the show’s good intentions to address such weighty topics, some viewers felt that it was no longer consistent with their values to watch programmes that were pro-police. Others believed that the show’s new political emphasis ultimately destroyed its comedic value and undermined its lightheartedness.
Although the fall of Brooklyn 99 serves as an example for critics to reiterate their claim that political correctness destroys sitcom humour, they fail to realize that many other sitcoms contain social commentary, albeit in a more subtle manner. For example, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a sitcom that has done very well in addressing important social issues. Despite being primarily comedic, this sitcom frequently discusses the difficulties and injustices that Black Americans experience in society as a result of their race. In an episode of The Fresh Prince entitled “Mistaken Identity,” Will and Carlton, two of the show’s protagonists, are arrested on the suspicion of stealing a luxury Mercedes vehicle. This episode specifically explores the concept of racial profiling and offers important insight into the ways in which racism is prevalent within the legal and justice systems. Other episodes of this sitcom tackle tough topics, such as gun violence, the elimination of Black history in predominantly white high schools, and more. Given this representation of important social issues, there is no denying that The Fresh Prince, though a sitcom, does an excellent job of addressing challenging themes while still upholding the comedic and lighthearted premise of the show.
The Fresh Prince, though a sitcom, does an excellent job of addressing challenging themes while still upholding the comedic and lighthearted premise of the show.
In an era dominated by social media and television, media representation is extremely important and political awareness is not necessarily a bad thing. While pure escapism is far from extinct, sitcoms are a unique and creative genre that allows viewers to gain insight into important issues, while also encouraging them to take solace in the comedic comfort of their favourite characters. While many people view television solely as a form of entertainment, in today’s world, it also serves as a tool for persuasion and influence. Combining the realms of fiction and reality, sitcoms make for relatable entertainment that also serves as a channel through which knowledge can be disseminated to impressionable demographics.