All Sitcoms Use the Same Simple Formula


Wed, Dec 31st, 2014 11:00 by capnasty NEWS

On The Atlantic, Noah Charney explains how all sitcoms, from Seinfeld to South Park follow the same simple formula. Reading his article may cause you to never look at a sitcom the same way.

Poet Philip Larkin described all plots as “a beginning, a muddle, and an end,” which is as good a description as any. Each episode begins with the protagonist stating a goal or problem that must be solved, and which we understand will be solved by the end of the episode. If the problem is solved too quickly, then the episode won’t stretch out to 22 minutes, so the first attempt at reaching the goal or solving the problem must fail (“the muddle”), requiring a new approach, before the episode ends and the protagonist either does, or does not, achieve what they set out to do. The goal might be Homer trying to make a fortune by selling recycled grease in The Simpsons, or Job Bluth setting out to sabotage the family’s banana stand in Arrested Development, or the Seinfeld crew looking for where they parked in a vast lot. Another hallmark of sitcoms is that the protagonists frequently fail, and we often want them to, because we do not want our favorite characters to change too much. If Leslie Knope ever left Pawnee for a career as a DC politician, we would be distraught. If Kramer got married and moved to the suburbs—whoa, now!



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