The three-camera sitcoms have never been an interest of mine. The laugh tracks were sometimes painful, and the jokes felt lazy and run-of-the-mill at times. The conventions of sitcoms, specifically domestic comedies have always been boring or predictable where plot points from one sitcom like Seinfeld could be the same in another such as Friends. If you were to tell me that sitcoms were a treasured form of cinematography, I would have laughed in your face. However, from watching One Day at a Time as well as the YouTube video “The One that Goes Behind the Scenes” there’s a lot more work that goes into every joke and every message that gets told across this genre that I have never thought to look at before.
Making any kind of production takes a lot of work and effort and that goes with sitcoms as well. From watching the Friends behind the scene video, it was eye-opening to see how much goes into making sure that one joke is as funny as it could be. While some may play off jokes as being lazily written, it became clear watching the writers and producers working that nothing is in the script for no reason. If a joke isn’t as hilarious as it could be, everyone would group together and ask themselves, ask the actors, and even ask the audience what could be done better. This makes for a very democratic system that ultimately makes the best joke for the biggest audience they can. The writing and rewriting doesn’t just stop with the writers room or even when they are filming the show, it even continues during post-production with editing and re-editing to make sure that the camera angle, the laugh track, and other elements are all blending together to make the narrative and the humor shine. There is so much to making a show that often goes unnoticed such as the continuous editing, to the Foley artists making sounds, to the set designers and all the work they put into. There is an appreciation for all these people now that I have had my eyes opened a little because this is the field that I am most interested in pursuing.
Something I have never thought about before with live-action sitcoms was the audience. I knew that a lot of them are filmed in front of a live studio audience, but it never occurred to me how much direction the audience gets from the creators such as how much to laugh, what jokes were funny, or even if they can go to the bathroom as Pili Valdés humorously explains in her article. The audience is key because it lifts up the atmosphere for the actors, and if a joke isn’t funny, or if a plot point isn’t making sense, the producers and writers have instant feedback. The importance of the live audience is also because it preserves tradition in a sense. The sitcom genre is one of the oldest on television and the live audience makes the acting and creating feel more like theater. There is nostalgia and excitement of being there physically and watching people perform in front of your eyes, and as Valdés explains, “You don’t care about the numerous takes. You don’t care Rita kept forgetting her lines. Really, you don’t. You’re too caught up in the magic of what you’re witnessing.”
Looking specifically at the show One Day at a Time, there is a noticeable difference between their formula and the formula of other sitcoms that I have watched in the past. To begin with, they tackle issues that are relevent for my time period (other sitcoms I have watched are from the past, and don’t deal with issues we have today) that are difficult and sometimes uncomfortable such as immigration and homosexuality. In Manuel Betancourt’s article about this show he says it’s “an urgent recasting of an old formula” and I would have to agree. What we see in this show is a single mother who takes on the “breadwinner” role of the household and struggles when she has to be also be the “homemaker” as well as we can see in Episode 3. We also see some other archetypes being broken such as Alex being about his look rather than Elena, and Elena is an outspoken feminist which; in my own personal experiences I have only seen done in The Simpsons with Lisa. There are so many textual anomalies that are talked about in the show which some I have mentioned before with immigration and homosexuality. We also see issues such as mental illness with Penelope taking antidepressants, we see the struggles that veterans experience when they come home, we see Alex contemplating drugs, and Elena watching porn. While a lot of sitcoms have the “very special episode” sprinkled in, One Day at a Time is almost made up entirely of these special episodes which makes the audience face these real life issues constantly. This also means that the audience can learn with the family how to deal with these type of issues in healthy ways.
According to Betancourt the reason that sitcoms tend to have a sense of community is because they “allowed viewers at home to feel as if they were there, laughing alongside those in the audience.” They are part of the family as much as the other characters are, and we see this in the usage of kitchen tables and how there is always one seat that is saved for the audience. This though could also be why people fell out of the three-camera sitcom genre because we saw these same issues expressed between so many different families so many times that no matter how funny a joke is, we know what’s going to happen. We know how the conflicts are going to be resolved, and their conflicts never expand out of their home or workplace. This is what makes One Day at a Time different though because we aren’t just getting the same plots and the same conclusions. We have characters break down, and we see different conflicts as well such as discrimination in the workplace that Penelope has to deal with. We also see them branch out of their home more because we see Penelope go to therapy, and Lupita going to church. This show is more progressive than other sitcoms in the past such as Friends and The Big Bang Theory because of the forward thinking that all these characters have about events that matter to everyone today in some capacity. There is the conservative such as Lupita, but her ideologies get changed too as she is forced to see how the world is changing through her grandchildren and daughter.