If you’re looking for the American dream, you might find it’s retreated to sitcoms. It’s taken a pounding lately, and sitcoms offer it, and us, a little oasis of comfort. Maybe the dream has become more a mirage. If so, it’s a very attractive one.
Sitcoms feature comfortable lives with manageable problems. They are brightly lit, vividly colored. Their houses and apartments are nicely furnished, their cars are clean and doubtless new-smelling. The people dress nicely, don’t they.
We like to see lives nicer than ours in our sitcoms, achievable lives even if we will never achieve them for ourselves. Nicer cars, houses, clothes. Nicer, funnier people. Nicer lives, held out as possible for us even if not very probable.
Things happen to people in sitcoms that don’t happen to us, but they could. And if they did, we like to feel that we would have as much fun with them as we see people having in the sitcoms. In a sitcom, car accidents, cell phone companies, medical stuff, issues with kids or jobs, money problems all work out fine and often result in a teachable moment that comes with a touch of humor or a cleansing, empathetic tear.
Oftentimes we don’t know quite what people did to end up where they are in their sitcom life. Maybe they inherited that lovely house with its spotless carpets and designer color scheme. No, that wouldn’t work — that’s not improbable for most of us, it’s impossible. They have to have earned their lives somehow, but not in a way we might try, or have tried, and failed at. The woman may be a realtor. The man has an office job. The kids go to a nice school. All things we could imagine ourselves doing, but avoiding detail that might intrude on the dream and bring it back to the reality: we’re watching TV, and we’ll never be part of that quirky fun-loving family we see in that nice colorful home.
There is another type of mirage that makes us dream specifically of the perfect relationship or relationships. These sitcoms present something more like our own recognizable physical surroundings. The place needs redecorating at least, the stuff is all a little tired and the car is old. The people may even regular-looking, with annoying quirks and dull daily routines. But here, it’s the relationships that triumph. Despite everything, they all get along so well. They have each others’ backs, they help each other out, they are all independent, strongly defined characters but they work together so well and support each other when required. Couples, for one reason or many others, are great together and they always pull through. This sad-funny sitcom is another corner in which we might find the dream, hiding its improbability in these glimpses of possibility.
None of this happens in the sitcoms we get from Europe, which are more experimental, more self-referential, and less likely to present situations we might see ourselves stepping into. They’re different; they don’t need to offer any refuge for the American dream.