This week’s reading in Chapter One of The Sitcom Reader caused me to think critically about the ways in which television has changed and is continually changing, largely for the better (though I realize we still have work to do). Discussing the roots of the sitcom and the characters that were within it from the beginning is very interesting to me, and it is even more intriguing to think about how that is being played out in 2016.
In thinking about how influential television is in America, I started thinking about the sitcom I chose for my final project in this class, Orange is the New Black, and how vastly different it is from other shows on television. Certainly that it is a “Netflix original” sets it apart, but it is widely talked about and referenced as a popular TV show – but with unpopular characters: that is, lesbian protagonists. Orange is the New Black has arguably turned into a more dramatic representation of life in prison, but did start out as a situational comedy in many ways. It is an astounding representation of a women’s prison and the stories that are often covered from the outside-in, but are worthy of being told.
Season 1, episode 1 establishes Piper Chapman, a heterosexual female engaged to a male as the protagonist for the series. In the first episode, viewers are exposed to Piper’s background which includes homosexual relations with Alex, whom we soon will find to be imprisoned with Piper. In just the first episode of Orange is the New Black, viewers are exposed to a non-conventional protagonist – but one that is not just the “opposite” of the norm, but that represents a fusion of both. I’m speaking to the fact that Piper represents both heterosexual and homosexual identities, and does so full-on and in every aspect of her life in just the first episode.
This fact, without going into too much detail about Season 1, steered me into thinking even more intently about why I find Orange is the New Black so fascinating. Sure, it’s dramatic, juicy, addicting because of the suspense of what will happen next – but what does it mean for other viewers?
I came across an article a couple of weeks ago from 2011 about “Why Sitcoms Matter.” It is attached here. The article discusses a lot about the comedic and dramatic approaches of many sitcoms, but also makes some crucial points about what many sitcoms mean for society. It says: “Perhaps even more significant is the ensemble element of the sitcom, which provides a collection of diverse personalities that allow viewers multiple opportunities to find someone with whom to identify.”