Sitcoms – From the Wealthy to the Ditzy

I read through the article titled Why television keeps re-creating the white male working buffoon (a title which still makes me laugh) by Richard Butsch.  One of the first points he makes is how many television shows in the 1970’s and 1980’s (and I would add the 1990’s as well) showed very rich families, something that I’m sure not a lot of their middle-class viewers could relate to.  In fact, a lot of the television shows in those days often featured a maid or butler.  The Brady Bunch is a prime example; despite Carol and Mike both being widowed and having three of their own children to care for on their own, they somehow had enough money for them to get married, own a home, have a dog, and even hire a maid.  My parents couldn’t even afford half of that even when the only kids they had were me and one younger sister.

And Mike Brady isn’t the only widower rich enough to have a maid; Philip Drummond in Diff’rent Strokes, a rich widower, has enough money to live in a penthouse with his daughter and his maid, as well as adopt two young African-American boys.

All-white families are not the only people who portray this lavish lifestyle on TV.  The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air features Will Smith living with his wealthy uncle, Phil, in a mansion with his family and his humorous butler, Geoffrey.


However, I would argue that this show makes more of an effort to show that this money did not come overnight; Uncle Phil is a renowned judge who works hard to put bread on the table on top of being a good father and husband.  He is sometimes seen as worried or stressed out from work in some episodes, and his infamous temper shows what the stress of being a judge, husband, father, and uncle all at once can do to a person.


Butsch goes on to explain how many television shows feature the ‘buffoon husband,’ who is seen as, “dumb, immature, irresponsible, or lacking in common sense.”  He includes examples such as The Flintstones and The Simpsons, which is currently the longest-running sitcom on television.  Homer Simpson seems to get himself in a bad situation in almost every episode.  His crazy antics get him in trouble with work, with family, etc.  This must be why he has this famous catchphrase…


(Note: This artifact was added 4/22/2014)

Even more so, this ‘buffoon husband’ is accompanied by a more mature, sensible, loving wife who sticks by her husband through even his dumbest moments.  This isn’t shown just in cartoons; take this clip from The King of Queens, for example.


Why does this image of a ditzy husband and a sensible wife seem to appear in many sitcoms?  Simply put, this concept has worked many times in the past, so many program creators decide to do the same thing in order to find success.  Audiences typically find this family dynamic funny – why do you think so many American families love Homer Simpson?  Not because he is necessarily a role model, but because his antics are funny.  Hilarious antics like his are what makes sitcoms work on television.  Comedy means ratings, and ratings means money.


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