Narrative is not an arbitrary sequence of events but an ordered progression of events.
is easily applied to sit-com narratives. It is also clear that one of the main conventions of sit-com is that at the end nothing has really changed – things are back to exactly the way they were at the beginning. Mick Bowes calls this ‘circular narrative closure‘; thus Del Boy’s business ventures are always failures; Alan Partridge never gets his show back again; Victor Meldrew never gets satisfaction from his neighbours. Small changes (characters may get married, have children, grow older, even change cast members (Spin City)) may occur but they are never sufficient to change the essential characterisations.
‘The comedy of frustration‘ as noted by Mick Eaton is a frequently recurring motif in British sit-coms: whether it be Tony Hancock, Steptoe’s son, Mr Rigsby, Basil Fawlty, Edina, Rimmer or Blackadder. These characters are comic because they have aspirations which are never achieved – fame, riches, social status, women, recognition etc. They are trapped and their inability to get out of the situation permanently is poignantly made funny.
Watch your chosen sit-coms to see if you have a ‘failure’ there, also watch to see the five stages of Todorov’s model as they occur.
Social conflict is one of the main causes of disruption in the narrative. Bazalgette identified, ‘class and gender…sometimes power relations …racial and national difference also…‘
What key social groups appear in the sit-coms you watch? And what kinds of qualities are they associated with? Are many of them negative in the light of ‘normal’ behaviour?
Bowes makes the point that not all stereotypes are bad – but we should examine the place of the stereotype in the structure of the programme – is he/ she the ‘target of the humour or the producer of it‘? In Will and Grace, Jack would seem to be the perfect stereotype and yet Will serves as ‘a means of making the prejudices of ‘straight’ people seem odd and laughable.‘
Sit-com as a genre has a role to play in the audience’s understanding of social and cultural values. Humour provides an opening to challenge, disrupt or ridicule dominant views. In a mass medium which is dominated by white middle class male producers, writers and performers the ideological issues raised are very important.