The episodes ‘Pornography’ from Men Behaving Badly and ‘Daphne Does Dinner’ from Frasier provide good material for comparisons when studying how gender is represented in situation comedies.
Coming from completely different historical traditions MBB is the classic British Sit com built around failing males, here Gary and Tony are both seen in this light, with women being the straight counterpart to them, Deb and Dorothy get few funny lines thought Martin Clunes states that Caroline Quentin demanded her fair share of funny lines. Frasier, on the other hand, might seem to go against the general mould of US sit coms which have been based around funny women since the time of Lucille Ball but on closer inspection it can be seen that Frasier and Niles Crane act as the funny women in this programme. They are what are called ‘feminised men’ they may look like smart (never seen in anything but a suit and usually cashmere at that!), professional men, but they act like women from their obsession with décor, through Frasier’s much vaunted cooking skills (his ‘signature sauce’ is in danger of becoming a ‘monogram’ in this episode) to their chosen professions being psychiatrists ( a source of unending mystery and contempt for their father, ex-policeman Martin Crane)
‘Pornography’ which begins with Gary having been dumped by girlfriend Dorothy ends with, as he calls it, ‘a sophisticated dinner party’ which he has in competition with one Debs is having in the flat above and to which Dorothy and her new man have been invited. Naturally for Gary, as is traditional in British sit com, he fails miserably. While in Frasier Daphne and Niles have a dinner party for some art buff friends to show off a new painting by popular artist Mike Shaw. Naturally it too fails, and although it is Daphne’s dinner party, she ends up having to ask Frasier, ‘the Lord Mayor of party town’ for help having earlier snubbed him ‘I thought you’d be happy to be just a guest for once’ his brother Niles said, which provides great satisfaction for him ‘Once again Frasier has to save the day.’
The three dinner parties are treated very differently in terms of editing and lighting. In Men Behaving Badly jump cut editing and the deliberate juxtaposition of images is used to make the contrast between Gary’s and Deb’s tables. The candle lit ambience of Deb’s with the crystal wine glasses, polished wood table, muted laughter of her guests and background of classical music increases the pathos of Gary’s lonely table under the glare of the overhead light bulb, with its sheet for a cloth (now soaked in red wine from the stabbed wine box), plain Paris goblets, place cards denoting ‘totty’ or ‘girl guest 2’, the single candle in the pint beer glass, the crackers and party hats all underscored by the haunting harmonica playing blues. To cap it all off Gary is alone, his ‘only friend’ has let him down having had a ‘better offer’ from the girls he was bringing, and Tony and Jill, the girlfriend of the day, are having noisy sex in the next room. Gary’s failure is complete; he is dumped on as thoroughly as he was earlier in the episode when he is pooped upon twice by a bird while sitting in the park talking to Dorothy and trying but failing to see what she sees in her new man, ‘What’s so special about him?’ he asks but as soon as she says ‘he’s wonderful’ Gary says ‘No don’t tell me.’ He is the stereotypical failing male, a failure in all aspects of his life from his work, to his social life to his love life.
In Frasier the party is set in Niles and Daphne’s apartment with its heavy wood furniture and fittings connoting the old world classic elegance and upper class sophistication to which both Niles and Frasier aspire. To show off to their art club circle Niles has bought a new painting and is going to unveil it at this party. The scene is set for him to be humiliated in front of his ‘phony’ friends, as his dad says ‘Who’d spot another fake in there?’ and eventually gives Martin the opportunity to really vent his feelings about Niles’ art collection, ‘I’ve wanted to do that for years.’
Martin Crane and Gertrude Moon, Daphne’s mother, Deb and Dorothy act as the more obvious representations of masculinity and femininity.