I’m not a fan of sitcoms, not anymore. This may come across snobby or arrogant, and it’s not meant to be, but I find them all to be so contrived. Maybe I’ve lost my sense of humor (it’s very possible), or maybe real life has left me so damn jaded that I’m immune to any effort to cheer me.
But I used to like some sitcoms. I loved Cheers. I loved Frasier. I think maybe because back then (meaning the 80’s and early 90’s) shows weren’t trying so hard to have a message. Sometimes these shows did, but sometimes, they were simply silly, and a lot funnier for it. Isn’t the idea of a sitcom to take you away from reality for a bit? Life is heavy enough without being bombarded in what little leisure time we leave ourselves. And often, those the messages are intended for, aren’t the ones who get it.
That said, I like the old tv shows, but having a lot of free time, and watching more of them lately, I realize they’re almost the opposite of today’s shows. They fly in the face of everything politically correct. Which isn’t always bad; political correctness has honestly overstepped itself, but it also reminds us of things we’ve rightfully left behind.
Take I Love Lucy. Lucille Ball was a talented comedienne, and beautiful, and I still enjoy the show, but every so often something pops up, a joke, or a subplot, that’s like a slap in the face. Things that would never go over today. For example, a lot of references to Ricky hitting her. Some are in jest, but some…don’t quite come across that way. There’s a lot of sexism. A lot of her cute little schemes are downright nasty, and would probably get her arrested in real life, at least today. But hey, it was the 50’s, and that was the mindset back then, we accept it like we accept married couples sleeping in twin beds. Still, I find it interesting to watch shows like this and weigh the differences in my head. It’s an escape from reality not because that was a time of innocence, but because we can see how far we’ve come.
But then there’s Family Affair. I can’t wrap my head around that one. It’s disturbing. Some of that is probably the sad stories associated with it.
Anissa Jones, aka Buffy, fatally overdosed at the age of 18. As usual with child stars, mistreatment and typecasting led to the downward spiral. She auditioned for The Exorcist, losing out to Linda Blair because America couldn’t bear to see a possessed Buffy. She was invited to audition for Taxi Driver, but declined. Look it up…a really tragic tale. Oddly enough, her brother also died of an overdose, and the doctor who prescribed her seconal died. Look up the songs “Buffy, Buffy, Come Back to Me”, and “Uncle Bill, I Took Some Pills”.
Brian Keith committed suicide via gunshot, suffering emphysema and lung cancer 10 years after he quit smoking. He was also presumably depressed; his daughter committed suicide 2 months before. While another celeb insisted that it was more likely an accident while cleaning his extensive gun collection, he did leave a suicide note.
And Mr French. A long, illustrious career, but he was plagued with illness, to the point where he took a leave of absence from the show. He died in ’77 of a stroke, his second in 3 years.
Now, watch the show with all this in the back of your mind. Yeah, a lot of shows we watch today have lost most of their stars, simply because of the timeline. But for some reason, this one hits me harder. I don’t remember watching the show as a child, but I must have, because I do remember having a Mrs. Beasley doll (and I was not a fan of dolls). Watch it now, and holy smokes, it’s just bizarre. As I pointed out earlier, most sitcoms from this time period are light and silly. This show slams some heavy shit on you. One episode has Buffy making friends with a dying girl (Eve Plumb…yes, Jan Brady). They never say she’s dying, just that “she’s getting more tired”, and the last scene is Buffy laying in bed crying. There’s an episode where Uncle Bill is in Italy, planning to get married, and the kids think he’s going to abandon them. Your brain is like, “that’s ridiculous”, and it is, except that we find out when he’s talking to his Italian fiancee, that’s exactly what she wants him to do. Another episode has Mr. French (who really comes off as an arrogant, obnoxious bastard more interested in being an upperclass dick than in his young charges) deciding that he’s a valet, not a nanny, and being pretty horrible to the children until he decides he loves them again.
I mean, this is every episode. Each one is like a ton of bricks, although in true sitcom fashion, all is well again within 30 minutes, with a lot of close ups on the smiling Buffy and Jody (forever etched as Johnny of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters) and cutesy lines. Good lord, no wonder it was too much for Anissa. You try being perky and cute and beaming with those scripts. Fortunately, since the horrors these folks go through are so improbable, its still an escape from reality (Uncle Bill build bridges, and clearly has a metric crapload of money, so not my reality) and so I watch it, strangely drawn in despite the disturbing undertones.
Thank you, Decades. The Hallmark channel, this ain’t.