A gold picture frame hanging on the door, a yellow umbrella and a World’s Best Boss mug.
These items defined a generation of television, what I would consider to be the “golden age” of situational comedies.
If you do not recall the above items, maybe you will recognize these names: “Friends,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Office.”
Quarantine gave us extra time to do many things, from new haircuts to new hobbies to new interests. The extra time allowed me to revisit these sitcoms and what I learned from them was something I did not expect.
The shocking thing to me was that while watching these shows, I could not tell you how many times I turned to the person next to me and said, “That would never be okay today” or “Did they really just say that?”
Don’t get me wrong, as I expected, there were moments of laughter, smiles and even the occasional tear. When watching, anyone can see why these shows appeal to audiences of all ages. To my surprise, however, there were also moments where I stopped and felt shocked by what I had heard or seen.
In “How I Met Your Mother,” Barney is one of the most beloved characters in the series. If you have seen the show, and even if you have not, you most likely know one of the scenes made famous by Neil Patrick Harris. The thing is the way that Barney treats women is absolutely awful. Yet, we still love him. We do not hold the fact that Barney is a womanizing manipulator against him; we think that he is funny and we laugh along with his games.
This happens in other shows as well. “Friends” is riddled with homophobic jokes and lacks diversity, and “The Office” completely underwrites women in the series.
But why have I not noticed any of these things before?
When you do a deep dive into the series, you can see that those issues are really just the tip of the iceberg. These shows have a lot of problems, yet, we still love them. We continue to watch them and celebrate them as part of pop culture history.
To excuse these things and preserve the shows I loved so much, I automatically began trying to cover them up. I told myself that they said and did these things because it was a “different time.”
“How I Met Your Mother” aired in 2005. When you think about it, 2005 was not really that long ago. In general, it does not really seem like things have changed that much in regards to what is right and wrong in our society.
But they have.
As we sit and watch these shows, we must ask ourselves, why do we continue to watch these shows and enjoy them in a world where half of the material is no longer okay?
Maybe, although we may not want to admit it, we miss not having to be constantly aware of being politically correct and respectful all of the time.
While it is clear that these shows have not aged well, they do give the audience a chance to push aside being politically correct without being afraid of what others think of them. Today, we live in a world where we are constantly considering what we say and the impacts it will have on others, but these sitcoms give us a chance to escape that. They give us the chance to live in this idealistic world where no one has problems. A world that does not exist in our own reality.
On the other hand, we may continue to enjoy these shows because no matter how offensive the comments are, the shows are still funny – for the most part. Sitcoms present us with a television reality that while similar, is just different enough from our own lives that it is entertaining to watch. Anyone can see that most of the scenes are funny, and if you can look over the issues, then you will easily be able to enjoy yourself.
These shows have issues, there is no denying that, but everything does. These shows are no different than old advertisements, literature or movies. These times may not have been “that long” ago, but the world is different now. The world is different every single day, as we constantly change the definitions of how to treat others and how to behave in society.
The thing with sitcoms is that we like these shows despite their issues, and it is okay for us to do so. It is okay for us to watch these shows and love them while also realizing that we no longer live in the same world in which they were set.
As watchers, we must be aware of the difference. We cannot hold these shows on a pedestal that does not allow us to see their issues. We can laugh with them and cry with them, but we can also hold them accountable for their mistakes.
We do not have to tear apart the shows that we love, but my hope is that next time you watch these shows, you will think about what you are choosing to laugh at. I hope that you will realize that these shows made mistakes and aren’t perfect, but then again, neither are we.
Maybe that is what we love so much about them in the first place.