I’ve been silent since my last sitcom musing, but don’t think my brain hasn’t been working. As you may recall, I was H8ing Raymond Barone for always being the episode’s problem. I called him the “Antagonist”. Just to be an OCD drone, let me clarify: Of course I know that, in the true theatrical definition of terms, he would be the Protagonist. He moves the action forward. Being a despicable worm will not knock you out of the Protagonist seat. Just ask Richard III.
I retract my “Antagonist” label and change it to “Fool”.
As promised I’ve been watching some old “I Love Lucy” episodes. Amazon Prime has a four season “Best Of” for free. (“Best of” appears to be a euphemism for “Mediocre but Cheap of”.) Lucy is not always, but very often, the problem. She is also a clown, in the professional sense. She is a Fool.
My new and refined definition of a successful sitcom now says: Someone in the show must be ridiculous. The further-out-while-still-believable, the better.
Raymond is a Fool, no doubt. My complaint last time was that Ray didn’t start the first season as a Fool. Frank and Marie were in that role. Only in subsequent seasons did Ray take over in that job.
For the most part, Lucy was the Fool from the beginning. Sometimes Ricky gets to be the idiot, such as the episode where Lucy is in the hospital giving birth and Ricky comes in wearing voodoo makeup from his club show. A dedicated father and husband is endearing, so we don’t begrudge Ricky the spotlight for an episode. When you think “I Love Lucy”, though, you think of Lucy antics. She owns that category.
Why would “Raymond” change the line up? I still don’t know. However, a cursory glance (which may lead to a more in-depth glance in future posts) says that other shows evolve similarly. “Frasier“, for example. Although Frasier was always a pompous buffoon, even in his “Cheers” days, he had a dignity. He was the boy picked last for the kickball team and we loved him for it. It was his nutty family that became the Fool. As the seasons went on, though, Frasier became sillier and his family became the long-suffering observers.
What is it with this formula? Can’t the writers leave a poor guy alone?
Let me throw “Arrested Development” at you. I have seen about three episodes from Season One so far. I have no idea where this show goes, only that many people love it and consider it hilarious. I can confidently say that the show begins as I’ve described above regarding Ray and Frasier. Michael is sane and the Fool role goes to all the other nut jobs in his family. Is this a show that can keep its formula from deviating?
This article, which is about politics primarily and “Arrested” secondarily, suggests to me that the formula is going to deviate. Let me e’splain.
You are about to read insanity, but hang with me.
. . . the first three seasons of Arrested Development, which aired from 2003 to 2006, depicted a Communist utopia, but that the fourth season, produced and broadcast by Netflix, ruined it.
All I need to hear is that someone thinks the new season is markedly different from the past ones. I translate this to mean: Michael is now the Fool. My only reason for thinking this is that the descent-to-fool pattern has been established in other recent male-protagonist sitcoms. The only way I can know if Michael has indeed succumbed is to watch the episodes. We will have to wait for that verification.
I continue to wonder if a sitcom premised on a protagonist/fool is a requisite form. The evolution of “Raymond”, “Frasier” and possibly “Arrested” suggests to me that it is.
It’s a choice, unfortunately, that I don’t particularly like. A show should stay with its premise. Millionaire sitcom stars would tell me to chuff off, and rightfully so. As you can see, my two cents is literally worth pennies.
What does it say about our society that the head-of-the-household male is funnier when he makes a fool of himself? (Give me a minute and I’ll be so moved that I break into song.) Has the man always been the Fool in sitcoms? Off the top of my head I wonder about “The Honeymooners” and “All in the Family”. I’m bathed in cold sweat. Then I remember “Seinfeld”. Except for his degradation in the puffy sleeve episode, Jerry is always the sane observer of some of the craziest people ever put into a sitcom. The male protagonist is not required to debase himself in order to succeed at comedy.
The search for the role of the Fool in the sitcom continues . . .