Monday, July 10, 2006

Eight Characters of Comedy

This weekend, I read a book called Eight Characters of Comedy: A Guide to Sitcom Acting and Writing, by Scott Sedita. He identifies eight sitcom archetypes:

The Logical Smart One, The Lovable Loser, The Neurotic, The Dumb One, The Bitch/Bastard, The Materialistic One, The Womanizer/Manizer,and the One in His Own Universe.

I found his points were interesting but more geared to the actor than the writer. Nevertheless, he also has some good stuff on developing character from archetypes.

Just for grins, I applied his archetypes to my novels, and here's what I've come up with:

In NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO:

Shohei is a combination of The Dumb One and In his Own Universe;
Elias is The Neurotic;
Honoria is The Logical Smart One, but with some Lovable Loser and some of The Neurotic;
Mr. Eden is The Bastard;
Goliath Reed is The Materialistic One.

In TOFU AND T.REX:

Hans-Peter is the Lovable Loser with some leanings to the Neurotic;
Freddie is In Her Own Universe;
Opa is The Logical Smart One.

Cyn and I have also been watching the first season of Frasier on DVD, and came to the conclusion that they just don't write them like that any more. Smart, occasionally esoteric (but funny nonetheless), charming, and absolutely hilarious. Then today, I came across this article in Entertainment Weekly while waiting for Cyn at the opthamologist, which stated that the networks are planning to air only about a third as many sitcoms this fall as they did in fall 1996 (probably thanks to the plague of so-called reality TV). So, I guess they're not writing them at all...

So, in defiance of this ghastly trend, herewith is my list of favorite sitcoms:

The Dick Van Dyke Show: Perhaps the best of all time.
Cheers: They had some spotty seasons after Diane left, but picked up when Rebecca got her stride and Lilith had a more prominent role.
Frasier: A masterful pairing of two Neurotics. Need to get the rest on DVD -- they kept changing time slots and them put it opposite Buffy...
MASH: But really, only after they brought in Col. Potter (which provided heart), and Major Winchester (which provided a foil for Hawkeye), developed Margaret into more than the "Hot Lips" caricature, and got rid of Frank Burns.
Yes Minister/Yes, Prime Minister: An English series about a loopy and craven politician and his struggles with the entrenched bureaucracy at the Ministry of Administrative Affairs.

Runners-Up:
Friends: The first series about folks of my generation, but I never cared about Ross and Rachel.
The Bob Newhart Show: The one set in Chicago :-).
Newhart: Not bad, but Mary Frann is no Suzanne Pleshette
The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Funny, original, too bad she divorced Rob Petrie...:-)

I'm sure there are a couple I've forgotten...

Shows I don't get:

Seinfeld: I know this show was enormously popular and I thought some of the episodes were funny, but overall, I found the characters to be shallow and mean. Also, I just never saw the appeal of Kramer.
Roseanne: I watched the first episode, didn't like it, gave it more chances later, but never really cared for Roseanne Barr. The supporting cast was excellent, though.

2 comments:

Camille said...

My favorites correspond with yours. My youngest and I have been watching MASH reruns frequently this summer. Frasier was a show I discovered late but have loved and have been watching in the evenings. I was not a Cheers fan so I wasn't interested in it until I discovered David Hyde Pierce. Dick Van Dyke is the very best of all. Thank you also for mentioning Yes, Minister/Prime Minister. I had not though of those two shows in a long time. Brilliant and intelligent writing was the hallmark of those series.

My other favorites would be from England, The Irish R.M., To the Manor Born, and As Time Goes By.

Carla Ulbrich said...

Was trying to remember the list of 8 characters and ran across your post. I like thinking of old sitcoms and figuring out what archetype each character is. Thanks for posting the list. I love Frazier andagree with you- best casting move ever, pairing those 2. They crack me up when they start cackling and cutting on people !

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