Introduction to Literature: Genre: The Sitcom

“The form is so elemental, so basic, that we have difficulty imagining a time before it existed: a single set, fixed cameras, canned laughter, zany sidekicks, quirky family antics.” Saul Austerlitz  in Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from I Love Lucy to Community

Some people view the sitcom as a hopelessly conservative form, yet scholars have pointed out that social class and hierarchies of taste greatly influence our relationship to the form. Race adds yet another crucial dimension to our perception of the sitcom. This course introduces students to U.S. sitcom history and issues in sitcom representation. How, we will ponder, did the situation comedy, or sitcom, became one of the most enduring forms in U.S. culture?

Throughout the course, we will read widely in television studies beginning with writing on TV’s rapid colonization of U.S. homes in the 1950s as well as scholarship on genre/gender and sitcom reception. Next, we will move on to issues in sitcom production and histories of the sitcom within and beyond gender and racial binaries. We will ask: How has the sitcom powerfully shaped ideas about race, gender, sexuality, class, and the nation, i.e., reproduced the logics of settler colonialism, U.S. imperialism, and white supremacy? How has the sitcom dealt with social struggle including but not limited to civil rights, black power, the women’s movement, and Asian immigration? What methods should we use to study sitcoms and sitcom history?

Students will write recaps and cultural/textual analysis of sitcom episodes. For the final assignment, students will pitch an original sitcom.