I am cool, and I am funny.
I am genuinely sensitive towards the people around me and the issues at hand, which basically means I try being a good, well informed human being – try, still being a keyword here.
But there is something that has made me feel that the above two things simply do not go together. Cool and funny does not fit in with these ideas of that sensitive person, trying to be good and all that stuff. That something is the lovely, extremely entertaining world of sitcoms!
We have all loved so many of them. As I try to make my points, let me mention the key examples I would directly or indirectly refer to – “Friends”, “Seinfeld”, “How I Met Your Mother”, “Big Bang Theory”, and “Two and a Half Men.”
In recent years, there have been articles which started making a mention of how “Friends” celebrates mediocrity and looks down upon intelligence. The cool guys were the ones who, for the most part, did not take work seriously, or simply did not take up serious work, and Ross became the object of so many jokes simply because, he was way more intelligent than everyone else. There are a couple of articles that have gone viral around the world, and there isn’t much that I can add to them. What is more interesting, and something that truly draws me to this idea is that almost all sitcoms that have been famous seem to have this issue – cool and funny do not go hand in hand with being nice and sensitive!
“Seinfeld”, with all its writing genius, was still about ten years of lives of people who were anything but nice. The show was extremely particular about the fact that these characters are not supposed to be likeable. So much so that in a sequence, they even react to death in a casual manner. Yet, they were likeable, obviously because of how funny they were. After going through the long list of observational humour, which is certainly a work of genius, one is left wondering – could a nice person not be as funny? Or as a Ross-like character may argue – be nice without being an object of ridicule. Let us look at other examples, for some answers.
“The Big Bang Theory” is a show that brings together extremely intelligent people. These are nerds who have a nerdiness quotient which is way, way higher than what Ross would have. We get a show which is obviously funny, but most of the characters (except Sheldon) do not grow up into what would be called as cool. The problem is, that the show positions these scientifically well-informed genius guys as conveniently ill-equipped to be comfortable (and normal) in human interactions. If they are cool, it is only in their weirdness. Again.
“Two And A Half Men” did not need too many people to propagate the same stereotype. Two were enough. Well, the other ‘half’ was a great example too. Again, the guy in a typical job who is high on emotions and sensitivity falls in the coolness quotient.
From Charlie in “Two And A Half Men” to Joey in “Friends”, to the legen…dary Barney in HIMYM, we have been so comfortable in finding humour in guys who were manipulative (to honestly extreme levels), in their sexual endeavours.
Now that “How I met your Mother” found a mention, it is important also to point out that this is a show which actually tried to show their characters in a different light, mostly in the second half. Yes, the part where a lot of people would say that it was not as entertaining as it used to be – we had characters questioning the social impact of their work, as an architect or a lawyer, they looked at the ideals of love and family with great seriousness (more often than not), and most of them, for a good deal of time, were genuinely trying to be better people.
And it did not click. For most of the people I mean. For me, it is the part that stands and will continue to stand the true tests of time. As we keep our nostalgic biases aside, and look at these shows with a critical lens, refusing to accept that comedy means no social angles to be explored or taken care of – that is when we will notice how with a small exception (and a few others here and there), most of these young sitcoms could never let go of this syndrome.
As an audience, we have laughed at so much of it, for so long. I don’t think it is possible to ask these questions without being a spoilsport towards our favourites, but maybe we deserve that? The person in us, needs just to get a little more critical with the audience in us?
My intention is not to force feed any of my answers or judgments, but to encourage others to ask similar questions. That is all! We may still very much love a show that is about nothing – just that we will keep reminding ourselves consciously that our lives must be about something. Something good!
Hopefully, we will have creators looking at these angles, from these lenses, observing these points, facing some uncomfortable questions, and then trying to create those characters which are not just funnier people, but also better people.