“Why Sitcoms Matter” – Corey

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.

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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.”

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10 Responses to “Why Sitcoms Matter” – Corey

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I tend to think of Orange is the New Black as a different genre every season. Season 1 was a dramedy in every sense a show can be. Dramatic beats were intercut with comedic beats. There were story lines with feet on both sides of the line. Season 2 was pure drama with Vee as the Big Bad. Season 3 (with the weakest throughline) was a comedy, though even season 3 had dramatic episodes (see episode 3 with Nicky). I do think it’s interesting that you say the pilot establishes Piper as heterosexual before challenging that. I think the first glimpse we see of Piper is her naked in the shower with Alex Vause, right? At that point we don’t know that’s our protagonist, so the realization doesn’t dawn on us until later. She is nonconventional in that way, and last year’s Ashley McDaniel wrote a thesis involving the depiction of Piper’s bisexuality. She’s also nonconventional in that she becomes less and less likable as the series progresses. Though I suppose that’s less nonconventional in the post Breaking Bad world. Also not too related. But interesting stuff here. – Max

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I agree with your comment about the protagonist not being the direct “opposite” of the norm, but rather a combination of both heterosexual and homosexual identities. This reminded me of what Jen said in her interview about networks being afraid of the risks of entirely “opposite” characters. Maybe one day we will finally reach the point where we can have all different types of people represented equally in television.

    Stephanie Rubin

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I thought your chosen article was very interesting and had some great points about why we are continuously pulled back to sitcoms despite other shows that are competing for its success. I agree with the article that this is because sitcoms show us who we are instead of something that we are not. The quality of sitcoms that allows the viewer to feel as if they are accepted and a part of the “family” is due to the relationship built between audience and artist. We feel as if sitcoms understand us the most because they are able to understand the good and bad parts of everyday life. I completely agree that sitcoms are important because we can always find someone to identify with! -Lacey Worsham

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I think you bring up some great points in your article. I really enjoy this show and your article made me realize the difference in the different seasons. Now that I think about it, for me, the first season did very much seem more like a sitcom than other seasons. Thinking about the last season, I feel like a lot more drama was added to it along with serious issues that could be related to current events. For example, when Poussey was killed because a guard exerted too much force. I agree that it is very different from other shows and that can be seen throughout the different seasons – Katie Thevenow

    • marymdalton says:

      I agree. I like this past season a lot, however, because it really digs into systemic analysis of privatizing prisons.

    • mediaphiles says:

      I also really enjoyed reading your blog post! It is so interesting how the show has changed so much in its relatively short time on netflix. I do wonder though whether or not it can still be considered a sitcom? I agree with the article that you posted alongside your blog, that it is a diverse collection of individuals that create a sitcom, but I also am curious whether a more modern sitcom needs the “situation” to be solved in each episode. I have only seen Orange is the New Black a couple of times, but in those episodes the “situation” rolled into other episodes. So, what truly is the formula for a modern sitcom or is there one?

  5. marymdalton says:

    Excellent post!

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