Situation comedies on television have often relied on the family as a source for humor, and, having lived in a family my whole life, I can say with certainty that there is much to laugh at in the day-to-day operation of a family. Or, at least in our case it has been so.
Television families aren’t real, and they are expected to provide hilarity at a rapid clip, filling a half-hour with mirth, leaving just enough time for 8 minutes or so of commercials. Mostly the father is an idiot in modern sitcoms, the mother is way more attractive than that husband would expect to have married, and the kids are smart-mouthed to the extent that they wouldn’t have survived life under my parents’ roof.
Thinking back, with the help of the TV channels that offer very old re-runs, the family comedy has changed a lot since 1960. Robert Young starred in “Father Knows Best,” and despite the title, his best efforts aside, he didn’t always know best. But, he was wise, and understanding, and trusted his children to do what was right when faced with obstacles.
That father had the ability to lead by example, to encourage, and to learn from his children. Despite all that substance, the show was still funny. It was never dirty, or even suggestive.
Another show from that era was “Bachelor Father,” starring John Forsythe, later to be heard as the voice of Charlie on “Charlie’s Angels,” and on the prime time soap opera “Dynasty.” “Bachelor Father” is about a ladies’ man lawyer who adopts a niece who, apparently, has been orphaned. She is a high school girl, and much of the humor comes from his lack of experience with adolescents.
He has a Chinese butler/cook who helps him try to solve parenting problems as the come up. The “father” in this show is often dressed to the nines and going on dates with beautiful women. That was a time when un-married men weren’t necessarily considered to be gay. It was also a time when “gay” meant cheerful.
The bumbling of the two men in “Bachelor Father” brought the laughs we seek from sitcoms, but there were also touching moments and as in “Father Knows Best,” the father figures learned as much as the child. To my knowledge is was the first show about a family that wasn’t traditional. It was the first of many.
Some new situation comedies about family are really very good, though much different in the areas of suggestive, or overtly sexual humor. Some comedies are, in my opinion, horrible, and poorly written for cheap laughs. And maybe worst of all, they have nothing positive to offer. I like to laugh, but I also like to feel that perhaps my sense of humanity has grown a bit after watching TV.
“The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” get a pass from me, since they are clearly caricatured cartoons of absurdity. I understand people who find them offensive, and can’t deny it, but as an adult – mostly – I get a kick out of them. Interestingly, a number of years ago “The Simpsons” was identified by a group which rates such thing as being the highest in family values of all TV comedies, partly because every show really does have a moral of the story.
So, that’s what I have to say about TV comedy families. I’m glad to have the really old shows to remind me of a simpler, more respectful time. But, I’m not planning to wear a sports coat to do work around the house anytime soon.