English 176

Literature and Popular Culture: The Sitcom

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2019 Lavery, Grace
Lectures MW 3-4 + one hour of discussion section per week in various locations (sec. 101: F 2-3; section 102: F 3-4; sec. 103: Thurs. 10-11; sec. 104: Thurs. 11-12; sec. 105: Thurs. 12-1; sec. 106: Thurs. 12-1; sec. 107: F 11-12; sec. 108: F 10-11) Note new location: 100 Lewis


The television situation comedy has been one of the most durable, wide-ranging, and successful genres of  popular  culture  of  all  time.  Its  narrative  forms  (such  as  the  “will they/won’t  they”  romance  that depends  on  the  televisual  mode  of  serialization)  have  become  premises  of  everyday  life;  its stage-set cinematography  is  instantly  recognizable;  even  the  sound  editing  (historically  organized  around  the bizarre  and  coercive  rhythms of  a  “laugh  track”)  has  profoundly  changed  the  way  we  experience  the sound of words. In this class, we will critically assess the characteristic formal and aesthetic features of a genre too rarely subjected to scholarly analysis, and even more rarely to the kind of close reading we will practice  here.  Working  across  the  full  chronological  range  of  sitcoms  in  English,  from  the  screwball comedies of the postwar period, through to the high-concept star vehicles of the present, we will watch several  episodes  of  different  sitcoms  each  week,  and  each  week  focus  on  a  recurring  theme.  How  do sitcoms balance the competing demands of family, friendship, and erotic emplotment? How does the serial  form  enable,  or  else  impede,  the  sitcom’s  ability  to  represent  reality?  How  realistic  are  sitcoms, anyway – and how have their various relations to realism shifted from the stage-set/laugh-track shows of the 1950s, to the deadpan mockumentaries of the 2000s? What does the American sitcom have to say, finally,  about the  post-1945  period’s  emerging  ideas  about  love,  drugs,  race,  sex,  youth,  community, secularism, capitalism, gender, wealth, Christmas, family, and time?

Each week we will watch a total of six episodes of television, and class will entail two lectures and one discussion session. The episodes will be drawn from:

30 Rock Fresh Off the Boat The Monkees
The Addams Family The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air New Girl
Amos ‘n’ Andy Friends Parks and Recreation
Arrested Development Full House Punky Brewster
The Beverly Hillbillies Home Improvement The Office
The Big Bang Theory I Love Lucy Roseanne
Bob’s Burgers It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Sanford and Son
BoJack Horseman It’s Garry Shandling’s Show The Simpsons
The Brady Bunch The Good Place South Park
Brooklyn Nine-Nine The Jeffersons Taxi
Community The Larry Sanders Show Third Rock from the Sun
The Cosby Show Leave It To Beaver Tom Goes to the Mayor
The Dick Van Dyke Show Louie Veep
Dinosaurs Married… With Children Welcome Back, Kotter
Don’t Trust the B– In Apartment 23 Mary Kay and Johnny Who’s the Boss
Drawn Together The Mary Tyler Moore Show Will and Grace
Ellen M*A*S*H*  
Episodes Master of None  
Family Guy Meet the Wife  
Family Matters Mister Ed  

Discussion Sections

101 Hu, Jane
102 Hu, Jane
103 Muhammad, Ismail
104 Choi, Jeehyun
105 Choi, Jeehyun
106 Muhammad, Ismail
107 O'Rourke, Emily
108 O'Rourke, Emily
109 Hu, Jane

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