What is FA-MI-LY? I Got All My Friends and Me!

When I was watching The Big Bang Theory yesterday, I noticed that it is similar to The Mary Tyler Show, because they both represent a friend group setting rather than that of a family, which was previously shown on television sitcoms.

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As we read in our text a couple of weeks ago, “biological family no longer offered the security of 1950s sitcoms because, for many prized boomer viewers, family is not a stable institution.” Because this sharp change in sitcoms has not returned to its original form of familial settings, it makes me wonder whether or not the lack of family-homes and stability still survives today.

In The Big Bang Theory, the audience never even meets any of the family members of the main characters really mention their outside relations either. Like Mary Tyler in The Mary Tyler Show, the characters of Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, and Howard all met one another at their jobs and created friendships from a work setting.

Living together is one of the biggest aspects of being family with someone. As Mary Richards’s created her new “family” with her coworkers to replace her biological family by spending copious amounts of time with their company, Leonard and Sheldon began living with one another after meeting at their occupations.

Before the 1950s, most scenes in sitcoms were set in the household rather than apartments like in Friends or bars like in Cheers. This is due to the increasing rate of young adults moving away from their families and into locations with friends in replacement of their families. There were no longer nuclear families but instead diverse variations of families. I think this variation of different types of families still lives today as young people leave home after school to make a life for themselves.

This connection between The Big Bang Theory and The Mary Tyler Moore Show made me notice that the concept of a family as being a group of friends still exists in sitcoms today. So what exactly does it mean to be a family in 2017? These sitcoms, as well as many more, indicate that a family is a group of people that spend extensive time together, no matter their biological relationship.



By Emma Cooley

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6 Responses to What is FA-MI-LY? I Got All My Friends and Me!

  1. Delaney Broderick says:

    I really like the connections you make between the two shows! I never considered the similarities until reading this, and I definitely agree! It’s interesting to think about how many sitcoms after the Mary Tyler Moore Show also show this non-conventional sense of family, as you mention in the ending. But the fact that in the Big Bang Theory and the Mary Tyler Moore show they find this group because of work is an intriguing parallel that I never would have thought of!

    • mediaphiles says:

      I really think you make a great point. I remember in class we learned that there was recently a switch from a sitcom family being the biological form and the sense of family being the intimate connection between chosen friends.
      I also do completely agree that it is as much a response to newer generations as anything else. Nowadays, people are moving out of the house earlier. making new lives earlier and it is as if Family represents childhood and is moved from the foreground into the background.
      Another thing is that younger people now are more anxious, angsty and depressed than in previous period, and psychologically speaking are less likely to pen up to their parents as much as Friends because of pride and/or the expectations put on them by their parents. Therefore, young people develop more co-dependant relationships with their friends.

      Jack Kountouris

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I agree with your observation and I think the “friends as family” aspect of the show has contributed to why it is still so successful. In our modern society where going to college, moving out of your family home, and starting a new life on your own is the normal for young adults, I think this show relates to the struggles and experiences we all have and will face in the future because of these decisions. There is a plethora of family centered sitcoms on network television today, and shows like The Big Bang Theory are so special and significant because they’re different and applicable to our evolving society. -Sam Ostmann

  3. marymdalton says:

    Some of the scholars would argue (especially Ella Taylor and Judy Kutulas) that MTM is really a “work family” although at the beginning of the series we see Mary’s two home friends a lot before Rhoda and Phyllis get their own spin-off series. Thoughtful post.

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I think you draw some strong parallels between the Mary Tyler Moore Show and the Big Bang Theory. I think one lesson we can take away from each show’s depiction of “the family” is that we have the option to “choose” our family. While we will always have our biological family, we also have the unique chance to surround ourselves with other people who will satisfy our needs, share in our accomplishments, and help us in times of need. Friends can be equally important (or sometimes more so) in making us feel like a part of a family, as both of these shows depict. In this regard, both shows can act as a model–or even as a glimmer of hope–for those who wish to have a better life by seeking out and surrounding themselves with people who truly love them and enjoy spending time together.

    -Jim Walton

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I’m so glad you posted this! I actually have been writing my essay on the development of the “surrogate family” in sitcoms (i.e. people building family communities outside of the traditional family structure through Friends, colleagues, etc.). I look at Friends, The Office, and Cheers, to show the development of the different surrogate families that exist – the group of friends, the coworkers, and the public sphere community. In all three situations, these sitcoms are normalizing families that are not your ‘real’ family. As our society progresses, the expectation that everyone will have a support system through their biological relatives is no longer realistic, and thus we have seen an emergence of the surrogate family – which are relatable to so many populations and draw viewers in through the hope that the absence of a strong nuclear family unit does not necessarily mean that you will be void of family at all.

    Think there are definitely a lot of examples of this – I have never seen Big Bang Theory but your blog makes a lot of sense! Thanks for sharing :)

    -Adrienne Henderson

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