Creepy, offensive, or just plain unsettling subtexts in lighthearted sitcoms.

I was thinking about this the other night after talking with a friend about Family Ties. It’s a generally lighthearted show about, well, family. But the way that the entire family - not just the kids - treats the goofy neighbor/friend Skippy is just a little too harsh and mean-spirited. Even the parents, who are otherwise the picture of loving, understanding, perfectly balanced people are creepily cruel and derisive of Skippy, whose only real sin is being a nerd. It always kind of creeps me out when the Dad says or does things to Skippy that are just as, if not more, mean-spirited as the kids.

The show King of Queens has a similarly angry subtext going on between the titular character, Doug, and Arthur, his live-in father-in-law. While the whole point of the relationship is that it’s antagonistic - Arthur is weird and his living in-house tends to irritate Doug - the show often goes out of its way to insinuate that Doug actually hates Arthur and wants him to die soon. I get that they’re just playing up the whole Tom and Jerry antagonist thing, but it often goes just a little too far to where the viewer feels unsettled rather than amused.

I really enjoy the George Lopez show, but the relationship between George and his mother goes way overboard when they continually wish death on each other. Sometimes they bring the kids into it, too.

The much derided (deservedly IMO) sitcom “A Small Wonder.” It seems so banally inocous on the surface, but when you think about it - why in the world would this guy build a robot that looks just like a babydoll little girl? And IIRC, he built the robot to be a servant for the family. Just how was this ‘adorable darling girl’ going to service this grown man?

Seinfeld is generally lighthearted but in essence the characters aren’t considered particularly nice people. They tend to be self-centered and not empathetic.

I think in “Small Wonder”, the reasoning for the ‘little girl’ is that she would be a playmate for his son. That doesn’t sound bad at first, but it really is just as creepy. You’re giving your 12-year-old child a plastic, lifesize girl that he commands, and letting her stay in his room all night? No wonder he wasn’t interested in the neighbor’s daughter.

The entire premise of “My Two Dads” was just bizarre and wrong. “Sorry, your mom was a slut, and since we’re not sure who the real father is, we’ll just let them both live together and raise you.”

I could not bring myself to enjoy Everybody Love’s Raymond because of how incredibly hateful and cruel that entire family was. Oh, no, wait. I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it because it sucked.

Seriously, though, I recognize that the “comedy” was supposed to be in how dysfunctional the whole family was, but everytime I’d catch an episode I was blown away with just how sadistic they were to each other, and it was supposed to be funny! No, it was a couple of emotionally disturbed men who’d been abused by their parents when they were children, and were still subjecting themselves to this treatment for God knows why.

For me it would be Seinfeld. The four of them have such a selfish, callous outlook on life that it really is disturbing. People would get injured, lose jobs, have their self esteem shattered because of some rude or just outright thoughtless behavior by one of them and it would be played off for laughs.

I get really frustrated when shows play up the “adults are always wrong, kids are always right” theme. The best example I can name was actually from a movie-- the terrible modern remake of Cheaper by the Dozen. The viewer is supposed to root for the kids even though they act like insufferable assholes. And the parents are the villains because they won’t cede all decision-making authority to their kids. A lot of newer TV shows aimed at kids have similar messages, it seems to me. It’s one thing to show the world from a kid’s point of view or satirize the foibles of adults, but when adults are portrayed as ignorant jerks whose authority over kids is always illegitimate, I have to wonder how much it contributes to the bratty, entitled attitudes of so many kids.

And one more thing…


I suppose Stewie Griffin’s murderous megalomania in Family Guy is too blatant to be considered a “subtext” . . . more of a “running gag” . . .

The love/hate relationship with Skippy or Steve Urkel really bothered me too. How bad must their lives be at their never seen home if they constantly show up at the neighbors for abuse.

Three’s Company - Using blatent homosexual cliches to cheat an elderly landloard may not be as bad as the ones mentioned above, but still…

Of course, the reverse theme can be just as pernicious, and is the one that usually predominates in family sitcoms.

Aww, that makes me really sad, now. It’s true that those poor kids were treated very badly and yet their home lives had to be even more miserable, or else why would they keep coming back for it?

Or, you know, they’re stupid sitcoms and the writers never gave much thought to those characters beyond using them as verbal punching bags. But I always have to fill in the fanwanked backstory.

Bewitched. It always bothered me that Darrin was so against “unnatural” magic until he needed something. Jerk.

The ultimate for me in the “wow, these people are really, really horrible and cruel to one another” genre is “Will & Grace.” Those people are vicious. They make the Seinfeld cast look like saints in comparison.

Oh, this is probably a gimme, but the wife abuse subtext in “I Love Lucy,” “The Honeymooners,” and probably any number of other 50’s sitcoms.

I always thought the married couple on Mad About You hid severe insecurity and marital instability behind a relentless and utterly impenetrable wall of sarcasm and irony. Why anyone would want to live with, or spend five minutes with, either of them always escaped me.

:confused: Wife abuse? We’re looking for stuff that’s creepy, offensive or unsettling.

And the continual mistreatment and neglect of Meg.

Of course many parts of that show are over-the-top on purpose.

Will & Grace had a relationship that made me cringe. It was horrible, counterproduction, brought out the worst in both of them, and yet they clung to it like a leaky raft in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Grace seems to be the only woman (or possibly person) who can stand Will.