I live by the creed that life can be either a comedy or a tragedy. Of course, realistically, it’s more a tragicomedy action adventure docudrama, but varies from one end to the next in any given scene. I’ll just stick to laughing for now in something like our vaudeville, as my children give their parents plenty to experience.
Life with a toddler and a preschooler who are both quite new to their ages, and parents who are both relatively unprecedented in their roles, reasonably resembles a family life sitcom. We have a kooky, unstable stability. In somewhere between a dream state and full consciousness one night last week, I visualized my little family as a show and how we’d collectively fit into what writer Noah Charney dubbed for The Atlantic “The Sitcom Code:” the fast-paced, formulaic set of DNA strands found in most television sitcoms. (Charney, 2014) To recognize how we’d suit, I had to first understand the patterns.
“The Sitcom Code breaks down what needs to happen in each episode, by the minute,” explained Charney. “As Dan Richter of Demand Media notes, ‘Sitcoms, minus commercials, are typically 22 minutes long [with] a script of 25-40 pages. Every sitcom episode has a main plot (story A), as well as one or two subplots (stories B and C).’ There are three main acts, divided by two commercial breaks (in most American TV), with 3-5 scenes per act.” (Charney, 2014)
The implicit nature of a sitcom episode is that the protagonist fails, sometimes frequently, because he/she cannot solve the issues of that episode in less than a 22-minute time period. This is quite a relational metaphor for parenting itself: the universe, ultimately, does not allow us to solve parenthood-related problems too soon or too easily because of, well, timing. If timing is “off,” we change too soon or make decisions too hastily and set off another series of immediate and eventual events.
Which is, literally, what we do as humans.
So, then, I attempted to reimagine my two children as the standard in sitcom character archetypes. Those characters, and blended variations of those personas, are timeless and circular. They usually include:
The Logic/The Square/Everyman – the central protagonist, responsible, stable
The Wisecracker/Lovable Loser/Goof – loves to make fun, snarky, makes jokes
The Neurotic/Nerd/Cynic – visually or verbally “geeky” in relation to others in the cast
The Dummy/Innocent/Buffoon/Dreamer – dimwitted, often ditzy, naive, pure
The Bully/Bastard/Bitch/The Stick – uptight, humorless, conceited
The Charmer/Narcissist/The Player – loves themselves and/or decorum, often sexually charged
The Materialistic/Rebel – entitled, deceitful, has a God-complex, above the law
The Illogic/Sage/Anchor/Eccentric – teaches and mentors others, quirky and unique
The Big Mouth – gets on everyone’s nerves, talks too much
If trying my hand at mixing these characters with my children’s current personalities, I’d get these instances, any of which are grounds for a sitcom episode.
Jrue as “Everyman” lays in the bed and watches YouTube as Jai sits on the floor beside the bookshelf, mindlessly flipping through a book called “Everybody Potties.” [Goof] After watching mommy make Jai laugh with a few tickles, Jrue follows the process, scratching his little fingers across a hysterical Jai’s tummy. [Nerd] Instead of verbally agreeing to try out his new bicycle, Jrue announces that he wants to go inside to paint, but really ends up lining up and organizing his play cars for an hour. [Innocent] As she tries to walk from the couch to the nearby ottoman, Jai slips and gets a leg caught in between the two. [Bully] For the third time in a 10-minute period, Jrue slaps Jai’s hand across the seat in the car. Jai is bewildered. Mommy fusses. [Narcissist] Jai waves at herself in any available reflective surface. If not that, she fights for, then ogles, videos of herself saved on cell phones. [Rebel] Jrue, highly confident as a former toddler, wants no help, but will scream hysterically if stuck. [Illogic] Jrue knows that a clear container on his head can obstruct his view, so he uses his eyes and arms to seek out furniture and walls. With a clear container on her head, Jai just walks forward and falls over a sticker. [The Big Mouth] Jrue calls “Mommy” 139 times a day. True story.
In their ages of maximum open mindedness and flexibility, Jrue and Jai can be anyone they wish to be at the moment. It’s fun, at times, to mentally escape, to allow them to run the house for a minute and to enjoy witnessing what they learn play out in real life.
Mommy and Daddy are just…here.
Charney, Noah. “Cracking the Sitcom Code.” The Atlantic, Dec. 28, 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/12/cracking-the-sitcom-code/384068/. Accessed Jun. 27, 2017.
Rohrbacher, Gunnar Todd. “10 Types of Comedy Archetypes.” Backstage, Oct. 16, 2015, https://www.backstage.com/advice-for-actors/backstage-experts/10-types-comedy-archetypes/. Accessed Jun. 27, 2017.
Sedita, Scott. “The Eight Characters of Comedy: A Guide to Sitcom Acting & Writing.” ListenUp/GetDown, Aug. 8, 2012, https://listenupgetdown.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/the-8-characters-of-comedy/. Accessed Jun. 27, 2017.
Writerlyn. “Sitcom Character Archetypes.” Musings from a young Hollywood professional, Jun. 27, 2014, http://writerlyn.tumblr.com/post/90079043230/sitcom-character-archetypes. Accessed Jun. 27, 2017.