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A Situation comedy or sit-com as we know is based on real life non-fictional events and situations. There are many different elements that make sit-coms what they are. Sit-coms tend to revolve around two basic situations, within these situations, comedy is generated. These situations are usually located at home with family and at work.
Some main sitcoms at present are Friends, My family and Alley Mcbeal. The family is portrayed as a stable situation able to bear the outside world because its strength comes from within.
Despite the audience expectations a sit-com episode is mostly a self-contained classical narrative and is set in the same way. The settings tend to be interiors; this is usually because it is filmed in front of a live audience so they can’t go from place to place.
This also keeps down the cost of set construction and location shooting which makes sit-coms so appealing to television companies. The plots also tend to be based around very few characters.
The characters themselves tend to be over exaggerated, stereotypical people, typical examples: The smart, witty, sarcastic character e. g. Chandler in Friends, Fraiser and Niles in Fraiser. There are usually un-intelligent and a not so bright, and there is usually somebody attractive whether it is a male or female to appeal to everyone. I will do a comparison of a British and American sitcom and see how their conventions work, based “Fawlty Towers” and “Friends”.
During the mid 50s rivalry developed between the BBC and the fairly recently launched ITV.
ITV was broadcasting the popular American sitcom called “I Love Lucy”, the BBC soon found that it was loosing viewers to ITV and therefore boosted production of sitcoms that include: “Hancock’s Half Hour”, “Dads army”, “Fawlty Towers”, “Porridge” and many more which are still popular today. “I love Lucy” sparked off the production off these British sitcoms and maybe if it hadn’t been broadcasted here in Britain then probably none of these famous British sitcoms would have been made. These sitcoms, however, differ quite significantly due to the country, which they originate from.
The difference is due to the country’s culture and social background; we can explore this by viewing an American sitcom, Friends, and a British sitcom, Fawlty Towers. Fawlty Towers and Friends are two very successful sitcoms but if we investigate further into the two we find that they both have different impacts on the audience as some methods of creating humour differ. One of the main differences of the two, outside of creating humour, is that they are both based in different countries and different times.
Friends is based on the youthful, vibrant city of New York, USA based in the late 90s, whereas Fawlty Towers is based in the retired, quiet town of Torquay based in the mid 70s. I will investigate both sitcoms by analysing each using characterisation, types of humour used, plot and mis-en-sci? ne. Mis-en-sci? ne is looking at how the sitcom is constructed, by setting, props, non-verbal communication and dress codes. Fawlty Towers is based in Torquay and is a hotel run by “Basil Fawlty” and his wife “Sybil Fawlty” also two other main characters are “Polly” and “Manual” who work at the hotel.
Basil is a comic but key character; he plays a vital role in fawlty towers, Basil addresses a sarcastic approach most of the time when he is frustrated, worried or angered; when things do not go his way, and also when talking to people that he considers less respected than him e. g. : Manual, Polly etc. He also has the perfect image of what fawlty towers should be: successful and popular especially with the higher class. This causes him to constantly think about himself and the reputation of himself and the hotel.
The humour which basil creates is usually physical; he is a tall man and walks with strides, which makes him stand out from everyone else. Sybil, Basil’s wife, who seems to be authoritative and firm with Basil this maybe due to the fact that she is usually more friendly and therefore more popular with guests and staff therefore they look up to her, more so than Basil. Basil also may be afraid that she might leave him and to prevent this he tries to be kind and obeys her commands but usually frustration or confusion get in the way which may create humour.
Sybil herself is an elegant and well-presented woman, the fact that she is married to Basil, who may be the complete opposite, makes the sitcom more entertaining as it causes great confusion, lack of communication which leads to arguments between the couple which all create humour in different ways. Polly is a young well-mannered girl working temporarily at the hotel. She is polite and acts respectful to guests and staff a lot like Sybil but with a lot less experience of working in a hotel.
The fact that she is a lot like Sybil again causes a slight inability to communicate to Basil, as he differs greatly, especially in front of guests, which creates humour. Polly is the youngest in the Fawlty Towers and lacks experience in the Hotel Business because of this she is usually ignored by Basil who considers her to be incapable of thinking of good ideas and doing things no matter how hard she works. Although she is the youngest main character in Fawlty Towers, she is actually not that young compared to Friends.
This shows us that Friends is aimed at the youthful generation where as Fawlty Towers is aimed at the older generation. Fawlty Towers produces many different types of humour purely due to the characteristics of the main characters. If one of the characters were taken out of fawlty towers it wouldn’t be able to achieve all of the types of humour it currently contains. For example, Basil’s role in the sitcom is to provide verbal wit, ludicrous and preposterous humour. Without this role its unlikely he could have made Fawlty Towers so popular.
The humour used is very ‘corny’ however is what works to make the audience want more, we hear ‘canned laughter’ which also takes place a lot in Friends to prove when the audience should laugh and find something funny there is a laughter in the background. Friends is an “organic plot”. This means that the plots are not in such strict logic or structure, because of this it is apparent that we drop in every week to observe how each character is coping with their private lives and what they do in certain situations.
The impression is given that the characters are there all the time but we view them at an unstructured and unedited part of their daily lives. This may be the case with friends but it is not, however, with fawlty towers. In fawlty towers the whole episode is based around a certain event and only, usually, contains one narrative whereas friends contains two or three narratives. In Friends various characters can relate to characters in friends; Joey and maybe Phoebe can relate to Manuel as they all create humour without meaning to.
Chandler can relate to Basil as they both create sarcasm, irony and verbal wit therefore creating humour purposefully. Joey is a comic and youthful character as his main role in the sitcom is to create humour. This contrast of characteristics among the characters makes the sitcom more entertaining rather then them all being all the same which would make it less interesting as their lives would be similar. There are no main characters in Friends unlike Fawlty towers where the episode is normally set around Basil.
In friends all of the characters are equal, there are exactly three girls and three boys and what one character has another one lacks. For example Joey is not clever but is fashionable and is a womaniser where as Chandler is clever but is not much of a womaniser. Both Friends and Fawlty Towers have the catchy theme tune in the beginning to set the scene, which gets the audience going before they start watching the sitcom. The aim of a sitcom is to make an audience laugh, by using stereotypes the viewer finds the characters funny due to them doing actions or saying something that reminds them of themselves or someone they know.
The main contents of a successful sitcom are the characters, the way each character interacts with one another with a sitcom, the audience gets to know the characters, and know what to expect from them. The setting of a sitcom is generally in a similar environment that most people would go to, e. g. ‘Scrubs’ is based in the workplace, ‘Men Behaving Badly’ is set in a flat and the characters from ‘Friends’ either meet up in a cafi? or in their apartments.