Thursday, June 25, 2009

Research and inspiration: TV families

This is not a list of all the TV shows I love that revolve around families. I chose 4 sitcoms that I both love and feel that are relevant to my screenplay, either in terms of comic voice or subjects they approach.

1. The Royle Family (1998-2000)

This British sitcom takes place in the living room of a working class family in Manchester. They don't have money, all they do is watch TV, talk about their day, mock and insult each other (especially the father). Much like "The Office", it plays on the tension between cruelty and humor – except "The Royle Family" came first.

In each episode, the family sits in front of the TV. Everything happens in front of the TV, whether it's on or off. The dad wears the same t-shirt every day, makes rude remarks and farts. The mother smokes like a chimney. They have a spoiled lazy girl who always comes over with her loser dj fiancée (played by Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash, who also created and wrote the show). In later seasons they are married and have a baby, who the girl does not care about and hardly takes care of. There's also a boy who goes to high school, and a grandma that sometimes comes to visit.

I guess you could say it's reminiscent of "Married with children" (1987-1997), but it's much more raw and nerve racking to watch, and there are never any fantasy leggy girls around. It's just the family.

I get the feeling that not enough people have watched this masterpiece, so here's a taste (taken from the Christmas special).

2. Arrested Development (2003-2006)

Here we have all the ingredients for a family farce: selfishness, apathy, lies, revenge, doing things for spite, not learning from mistakes, never over-sentimental, not to mention great cast. I especially love the Mother's character (Lucille Bluth) played by Jessica Walter.

Things to look out from: I found that watching "Arrested Development" episodes for the first time is pure joy, but if I get to see an episode for the second time, I usually find myself bored. Why is that?

3. Everybody loves Raymond (1996-2005)

As opposed to the other shows I mention here, this one is a proper mainstream, genre-obeying, cheesy sitcom. And yet, I have a thing for it. I guess it's because it's down to earth, and it deals effectively with everyday situations you can imagine a co-worker telling you about (I'm talking about a specific married man I used to work with, a web developer who was constantly joking about marriage life. You'd say to him "Hey, that thing stopped working", and he'd say, grinning, "That's what my wife tells me").

4. Flight of the Conchords (2007-)

Jemaine and Bret are not a proper family, but since they are a band, and they sleep in the same room, there's sufficient intensity and dependency to their relationship to qualify as a family-model. Add to that their relationship with Murray, the band's manager, and you do get a sort of alternative family. Things to watch here: funny brawls, and great dialogue.


TheMightyC said...

I really enjoy reading your blog. I have always wondered what it would be like to write a screenplay, and your blog is a really good way to observe the creative process of writing one. I can't wait to read future posts!

Anonymous said...

I have the feeling that in modern sitcoms a bunch of friends most sitcoms are now about replace the typical family model by depicturing the friends' relationship as something equally strong, if not stronger, since in many family-sitcoms the relationships between the family members also were based on the notion that in the family not everythings going smoothly but they would stick together because theyre family, whereas now people stick together by choice.

And I love this blog :D I love those movie analyises you do, because I love hearing analyses about media I enjoy from people who actually know how to analyse and de-construct the techniques.