American Sitcoms of an Era gone by

Laughs are hard to come by in the daily rigmarole of office life. The occasional snicker at the expense of co worker can come to bite you back if you ever need a favor. The general ease and joviality of college life is absent making humor a rare commodity. So one must resort to other sources for the regular exercising of facial muscles and having a hearty laugh. Movies have known to be funny but they do not pack as much a punch as the Sitcom. “Situational Comedies” have been around for some time now and have matured into things without laugh tracks, live audiences and filled with deliberate pauses. While the new ones are interesting and funny, there is a warmth about the ones that aired across  screens in America about 50 years ago. Yes British comedy is more rewarding in the quality of humor and wit but the American shows have this ability to build a very addictive association with you.

While most viewers of foreign TV restrict their fascination to Friends, possibly Seinfeld and even some Frasier , few venture beyond these. You can develop the most amazing homicidal tendencies hearing slow watchers discuss every over the top plot detail of an episode of the Friends enterprise or relate to the Seinfeld lovers in their appreciation of ‘nothingness’, but it your appetite of visual consumption is like mine, insatiable, you need more. Here is a list of some of the TV shows of old which I find enjoyable even today:

Hogan’s Heroes

93ac95bfa59729e45b9956f5db1473b9For this one you need some guts for this series started in Black and White and you might be one of those people who find themselves unable to consume content without color. In this era there was a lot of memorable TV because there was little variety and whatever was on eventually got famous. I have skipped watching The Honeymooners, I love Lucy and even Gilligan’s Island, there is so much hype standing in the way of me watching these shows. Hogan’s Heroes however was much different. My post on Dad’s Army might give you a hint as to my not unusual penchant for War Time stories. Well this series is about a POW camp in France run by an incompetent and overly comic commandant. It is actually run by Colonel Hogan, an enterprising, as American as you can get, wily man armed with witty one liners and comebacks. He runs an espionage and escape center of unbelievable proportions under the German Camp while theoretically being a prisoner. There is the charm and excitement of the Great Escape while serving a good deal of physical comedy. There is also a fat German blundering soldier thrown in for good measure.

All In the Family

Running from 1971-79 this is a pretty old show. It might be difficult to relate to for Americans let alone others but with a little background this can be extremely enjoyable. Based on the daily life of Archie Bunker a bigoted, loud talking man with a good natured if whiny wife, a spirited daughter and a rebellious son in law the show in its day was considered ground breaking. It dealt with race issues, gender equality, alternative lifestyles, sexual orientations and even menopause while making the viewers laugh along the way. It wasn’t like today, canned instant entertainment, even with its some times forced acting each episode leaves you with a thought as well as a smile. The show is All American and can get a tad boring or loud at and Archie can get offensive but then that was the point! If you really get hooked not only does this one have 9 seasons, some of its cast continued in The Jeffersons, a story of the bunker’s African American neighbors.

Taxi

4181496Any large city has a much talked about transport system. The cab services of London are famed, Mumbai often discussed and most of all New York characterized repeatedly by Hollywood. A TV series thus about the cabbies of a NY cab company and their daily struggles and aspirations was destined for success. A lot of big names made up for the cast: Judy Hirsh, Jeff Conaway , Tony Danza, Christopher Loyd (He is a late addition to the show but a great one!) to name a few. But its Dany Devito with his much despised character Louie De Palma  who to me made this a wonderfully funny show. The day to day problems of drivers who crawl the cities for fares to pay their bill while harboring dreams of boxing, art and culture and also acting make for some great stories which are bound to stick with you even after the end credits. An easy to relate to cast with less than glamorous lives if occasional bouts of cheesiness. Tuck into this series with a beer and some chips.

Cheers

Voted many a times one of the best shows around, this TV series is centered around an always popular location, a bar. With a cast made up of bartenders, regulars and their better or worse halves the subject matter presents itself naturally. It took some effort to get hooked to this with Ted Danson and Shelly Long not being spectacularly funny. But slowly the subtlety of the series grows onto you with an eventual love for the circular Norm, snappy Carla and befuddled Cliff. This is the show that set of many a careers in show biz with Kelsey Grammer and Woody Harrelson among them. It also branched off into, perhaps the funnier series, Frasier. Overall a good heart warming tale of friendship, love and everything that goes on when you are handing out pints or downing them.

The Cosby Show

Bill Cosby cannot be counted as one of those comedians supremely popular among the younger generations of Non Americans, or even whose existence and work they are aware of. Occasional references to him in Family Guy may have caught your attention but if you don’t know the man, get to know him. The recent revelations about this facially expressive comic may put one off his work, but I  The original “The Bill Cosby Show” was decent in its own right, with a young Cosby playing a gym Teacher with a track lower pulled up beyond what would now be socially acceptable. But it was the Cosby Show with Cosby playing Dr Huxtable a gynecologist with a high flying lawyer for a wife, 3 daughters and a son. Viewers followed the story of this well to do African American family from the toddler years of their children to the conception of most of their grandchildren. A family sitcom with Cosby bearing the burden of delivering laughs and the occasionally irritating girls getting in the way, this show showed us the struggles of bringing up a large family and kids that just refuse to leave home.

Roseanne

132105-050-C6A00F58 If one were to go looking for a show diametrically opposite to the Cosby show, this one would probably be it. Based on the daily on goings of Roseanne’s American middle class family, this is a tale of small adventures and nothing spectacular. Considerably crass but relatable (at least in the first few seasons), this series held in its place primary by the performances of the unnaturally nasal Roseanne Barr and the always like-able John Goodman. Financial struggles, rebellious children and prejudices dominate most of the episodes. There is reasonable amount of humor but in the later series you do find the woman in charge a little too much.

3rd rock from the sun

Considering this ran till 2006 one can’t exactly call this from the era gone by but the fun this packs I guess it’ll pass. Four aliens come to a small town in the US of A and take up the roles of an ordinary nuclear family. A brilliant performance by John Lithgow, versatility from Kristen Johnston, the early days of Joseph Gordon Lewitt and the last memorable appearance by French Stewart. When I saw all the seasons for the first time I remember making the people in the room next to me uncomfortable with my laughter. The dialogues, scenes and Lithgow as the high commander make simple situations hilarious and there is enough physical comedy to satisfy those sick of mockumentaries.

This of course doesn’t even scratch the surface of what the silver screen has to offer in response to a yearning of laughs from times in which we did not have access to these productions. Seinfeld doesn’t even need mention so I skipped that, Full House isn’t funny enough and there are hundreds more. These were a few which I thought are worth any TV buff’s time as he or she seeks some background funnies while working, reading or even eating alone.

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