“The form is so elemental, so basic, that we have difficulty imagining a time before it existed,” writes Saul Austerlitz in Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from I Love Lucy to Community. In this genre-focused course, we will explore the sitcom, a distinctly American art form, from a historical, theoretical, aesthetic, and cultural lens. We will begin the course in the primordial years of post-WWII broadcast television before the term “sitcom” was adopted in popular discourse. Given how surprisingly stable the sitcom form has remained over the last seventy years, it is imperative to look closely at these early TV years when the sitcom and the “nuclear family” took shape in series such as I Love Lucy, The Goldbergs, The Honeymooners, and Amos n’ Andy, and debates about TV’s place in U.S. culture raged. We will then move through the decades, tracing the ways the form has developed and dealt with questions of family, work, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, indigeneity, and politics. Some of the series we will examine include The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Patti Duke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, All in the Family, Good Times, Soap, Maude, Julia, All-American Girl, Blackish, Fresh off the Boat, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons. Along the way, we will engage with scholarship on sitcom production, feminist, queer, and trans representation, the Black sitcom, and more. Students will keep viewing journals and do archival research on sitcoms. Other major assignments include an analysis paper that draws upon established methods for studying the sitcom and a group presentation that takes a sitcom script and reimagines the form.
Assignments: six blog posts; a sitcom viewing journal; one sitcom analysis paper (4-6 pages); and a group presentation. Attendance is mandatory.
Required text(s): All readings will be made available on Laulima free of charge; students, however, will need access to Netflix and Hulu.