We might never get another great sitcom
The last great sitcom was...?
It felt like there was a time when great sitcoms ruled the world of television. The back-to-back arrivals of Fraiser, Seinfeld, Friends and Will & Grace dominated the '90s, while the '00s brought us the likes of Arrested Development, 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
The '10s gave us Modern Family, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Community and Parks & Recreation, but while we're still relatively new to the '20s, it feels like it has been a while since we got the last great sitcom. Abbott Elementary is in with a shout, maybe, although it is still too early to tell for sure. Ted Lasso was heading that way, until it got verrrrry serious in its second season. The Good Place was probably the last great sitcom, but even that one ended at the very beginning of 2020.
What nearly all of the great sitcoms have in common is that they all debuted on television - not streaming, but actual old school broadcast TV - and a lot of them didn't begin very well. If you go back and look at the first seasons of 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, The US Office, Modern Family, Sex & The City... they don't hold up well. There is a certain chemistry, be it between the cast or the writers, that perfects itself in the second season, and continues to improve over time. They were all given time to grow and breath and learn what does and doesn't work. And that is exactly why we might never get another great sitcom ever again.
Sitcoms aren't the only genre of TV that didn't hit the ground in running - everything from Star Trek: The Next Generation to Buffy The Vampire Slayer needed to fail in their first season in order to know how to succeed in their second and beyond - but it is the genre that doesn't enjoy the option of a dramatic hook to have viewers interested to come back.
Dramas and thrillers and mysteries can implement cliffhangers when needs be to help guarantee return viewing, but sitcoms aren't funny from the off, you can understand why producers would be fearful that audiences won't return. However, under the current climate of streaming so massively outperforming broadcast TV in terms of viewership, the room for improvement has been, well, removed.
Streaming might be killing off potentially great sitcoms
Over the years, Netflix has attempted to kick off a few of its own sitcoms, and while some of them were given a fair shake - Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt got four seasons, Grace & Frankie got seven seasons - but the majority were killed off in their early runs.
The following is a list of Netflix comedy shows that were cancelled after one season: The Characters, Girlboss, Everything Sucks!, The Good Cop, Turn Up Charlie, Huge In France, Lunatics, It's Bruno, Living With Yourself, Daybreak, Merry Happy Whatever, Astronomy Club, AJ and the Queen, Medical Police, I Am Not Okay With This, Brews Brothers, #blackAF, The Duchess, Sneakerheads, The Crew, Pretty Smart, The Chair, Decoupled, Murderville, Uncoupled, Blockbuster.
Now, admittedly, some of those were pretty bad (we're looking at you, Blockbuster), but some were genuinely great and deserved a longer future (The Chair remains one of the funniest things Netflix has ever created). And, just like broadcast TV, Netflix isn't unique in cancelling shows that aren't working out. But the hit:miss ratio here is shockingly obvious, and unlike broadcast TV, Netflix seems to have a much harsher level of success (or failure) before they decide to ditch one of their shows.
With the high turnover of sitcoms these days, there is less opportunity for the shows to develop into something better, so unless they arrive great, they're unlikely to ever get great. There are some current success stories - That '90s Show has already been picked up for a second season, off the back of some above-average reviews - but they certainly aren't amazing at the moment, and it remains to be seen if they ever will be.
Some of the biggest names in sitcoms creation have already had their shows cancelled: the creator of The US Office and King of the Hill had his big, Steve Carrell-front series Space Force cancelled after two seasons, while the creator of Modern Family had his all-star comedy Reboot cancelled on Disney+ after just one season. Even the unofficial king of the sitcom - Michael Schur, who was behind Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks & Rec and The Good Place - has had four... FOUR!... new shows cancelled in the last four years.
With the chance of new ideas turning into expensive failures now higher than ever, it of course makes sense that comedy producers are looking back at what they can mine, shine and make appear new again. Hence the Friends reunion special, Sex & the City become And Just Like That, the upcoming rebootquel of Frasier and, yes, That '90s Show.
Until Netflix and Disney+ and the other streaming platforms learn to allow comedies to have a bit more room to fail, who knows how long it might be before we get another tremendous run of massively successful sitcoms. For now, we'll have to make do with rewatching repeats of them all over and over and over again.
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