September 14, 2018

What TV sitcom has ever had a character who has been presented and developed with real depth?

I'm not sure it's even a good idea to attempt to do this, and it may be inherent in the sitcom form to make the characters a cluster of traits or a sort of cartoon. But I'm just wondering if it's ever happened that there's been a sitcom character with a real inner life that matters in a significant way. Maybe I'm setting the standard so high that there isn't even a character in a TV drama (or a movie or a novel), so please adjust the standard so that there are TV dramas and movies and novels that would meet it. What's the closest you can come to that in a TV sitcom?

I'm asking the question because I'm starting to watch an old TV series that someone else has said they think has characters that are explored with real depth. I started wondering can that be so? And I tried to think of examples. You can go back into the history of television to answer. I would only request that you spare me arguments based on the idea that shallowness is really depth and, say, Lucy Ricardo is deeply explored. Feel free to guess the old series I've been watching, but I won't talk about that today.

ADDED: The One Where I Answer My Question.

183 comments:

Oso Negro said...

Jed Clampett. Andy Griffith. Wow, that was hard.

rhhardin said...

Get Smart in the 60s. No development but rather the grammar of a marriage

1. guy sent on quest
2. guy screws up
3. girl shows guy she's satisfied with him

There's nothing to develop, just to repeat.

Without (3) it's nagging; against no guy in particular (so without (3)) it's feminism.

They made it into a comedy with the guy the screwup but the formula is sound.

AustinRoth said...

I would say Fraser, especially if you take his character’s whole story arc across both Cheers and Fraser.

Ann Althouse said...

@rhhardin

You just made the argument that good sitcoms don't go for depth in their characters. The flatness and simplicity is what works.

Also, you talked about plot. It's conceivable that a character could be deeply developed but the plot is simple. That might be the case with the most respected novels. Plot complexity tends to be done in pulp fiction.

The plot of "Moby Dick" isn't complex.

FleetUSA said...

All in the Family. More than a sit-com.

Oso Negro said...

This Althouse challenge is a trap. Despite 274 episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies and 249 of Andy Griffith, you will claim we didn't really know Jed or Andy, their experiences, values, wisdom or aspirations.

Stephanie Carnes said...

The Office—particularly Michael Scott.

Shane said...

Mike Ehrmantraut

Ann Althouse said...

"All in the Family" was a great sitcom, but what was complex about the characters. Weren't they all marked by a set of characteristics positioning them like pieces on a game board, to be moved around in various situations week by week?

Ann Althouse said...

I've never watched "Fraser." Interesting suggestion.

tcrosse said...

Ralph Kramden.

rehajm said...

Arrested Development? I'll pass but fans are obnoxious about how 'smart' the show is.

UK The Office.

Big Mike said...

How about the characters of the Mary Tyler Moore Show?

Ann Althouse said...

"This Althouse challenge is a trap. Despite 274 episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies and 249 of Andy Griffith, you will claim we didn't really know Jed or Andy, their experiences, values, wisdom or aspirations."

Well, what is there about them that's deep and developed? Did either have a significant inner life?

One way to enter the problem is to ask if you could take the character and write him into a drama. That's a way of testing whether this is a real person of substance.

Has a character from one show ever been spun off into a second show where the first is a sitcom and the second is a drama.

Let's explore the tragic story of Maynard G. Krebs.

rehajm said...

Fraser was funny and Kelsey Grammer is great but the show is I Love Lucy. Is that what you're looking for?

Gabriel said...

If a series goes long enough, the writers may add more details about a character with the constraint that you can still write the character the same way, and see how far they can take that.

First example that comes to mind would be "Hogan's Heroes". For example, Sgt Shultz bio as presented below is entirely from what was seen of him in the series's run:

"Like Colonel Klink, he is a veteran of World War I. His hometown is Heidelberg, and in civilian life he was the owner of Germany's biggest and most successful toy manufacturing company, the Schatzi Toy Company. With the onset of war, Schultz was involuntarily recalled to military duty and lost control of his toy factory, as it was converted to military use. He has a wife, Gretchen (Barbara Morrison) and five children, whom he sees only on infrequent leaves. However, a few times he is unfaithful, for instance in "Sergeant Schultz Meets Mata Hari", where he dates a woman who, as it turns out, is a Gestapo secret agent.LeBeau once refers to Schultz as a Social Democrat; the political party was banned by the Nazis in 1933. Schultz on several occasions is shown to be very disgusted by Hitler in particular and the Nazis in general. In one episode, he mentions how much he preferred having a kaiser rule Germany. His whole attitude can be summed up by his statement that "When it comes to war, I don't like to take sides". Schultz is also a bad gambler, frequently playing cards with the prisoners, and usually losing — although much of this is caused by Newkirk fixing the games in order to get information from Schultz (in exchange for the money he lost or for money to gamble). He also likes to drink a bit, especially whenever free liquor is available, but above all Schultz loves to eat, particularly LeBeau's exquisite cooking. Schultz is also very fond of the traditional German dishes Sauerkraut and Sauerbraten. He is described by Klink as being "in his forties. Schultz carries a Krag-Jørgensen rifle, which he never keeps loaded and tends to misplace or even hand to the POWs when he needs to use both hands. He wears a fictitious version of the Iron Cross (4th Grade) awarded by General Kammler , a friend whom Schultz mentored during World War I. Schultz also has three other decorations from World War I (including the Wound Badge)."

I'm not sure if that counts as "depth" or not, but I'd consider it a stand-in.

If they do it wrong they change the character into a different one, or they get wildly inconsistent.

Eleanor said...

Maybe Murphy Brown. The characters around her could sometimes be caricatures, but as time went on, we got to know different sides of Corkey, Miles, Frank, and Jim, too. Murphy, herself, was pretty complex for a sitcom character.

Two-eyed Jack said...

The whole point of classic television shows is return to a standard point of departure. Something happens that is amusing or exciting and next week it is forgotten. You might as well ask which commedia dell'arte character has the greatest depth.


In a long running show, like M*A*S*H*, there is inevitable change, so a bit of reality leaks through and can be interpreted as depth, but the point of the show is not to explore change.


Now we have shows with season-long or multi-season story arcs, but ultimately, comedy is about short-term things, like reversal of fortune, or about the long-term replacement of generations, which characters come to understand as inevitable. They make us understand ourselves and laughing at others, rather than vice versa.

Ann Althouse said...

"One way to enter the problem is to ask if you could take the character and write him into a drama."

I mean a serious drama, not a cop show or a horror story or mystery or doctors or whatever. A drama where the whole point is the characters and how they relate to each other.

tcrosse said...

Has a character from one show ever been spun off into a second show where the first is a sitcom and the second is a drama.

Lou Grant.

Rohan said...

I would look at a sitcom which focused on a child or young adult. As the young person ages, the show must necessarily change around them.

A good example might be Will Smith and Carlton Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Both characters are reasonably different at the end then at the start.

For adult characters, I second Fraser.

Eleanor said...

The only sitcom I can think of that spun off a serious show was The Mary Tyler Moore show spinning off Lou Grant, but personally, I thought Mary was pretty flat. Maybe developed for her time, but she never really did anything unexpected.

Rory said...

"Jed Clampett."

First one I thought of.

rehajm said...

Bugs Bunny?

rehajm said...

I got it! Taxi. One of my favs...

rhhardin said...

The Rewrite (2014) Hugh Grant teaching a screenwriting class, has brief affair with student, told not to and stops. Student is writing her screen play about herself being wronged by horrible teacher, with fictional characters.

Grant reads it and offers the suggestion that the characters have to develop. You can't have one good and one bad and that's it with no change.

Which became a life suggestion to her that perhaps MeToo could use as well.

Andrew said...

John Mahoney as the father on Frasier.

Ann, I can't believe you've never watched an episode. I think you would love it.

Oso Negro said...

@Althouse - YES! I think you could write Jed Clampett into a drama. It might begin like this: let me tell you a story about a man named Jed. A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed. Then one day he was shooting at some food, when up from the ground came a bubbling crude. Oil that is.

Cormac McCarthy's bread and butter.

rcocean said...

Jackie Gleason - The honeymooners.

Hawkeye Pierce - MASH

Of course, the problem is that we don't want sadness or pathos from our sitcom characters. It's supposed to be a comedy - dammit.

For example, we see a lot of "Lucy" in "i love lucy" but we never see her truly sad. She expresses almost every emotion except that.


rcocean said...

Jed is always upbeat and positive.

Bruce Garrick said...

Mash perhaps. Fraser is a good call though.

Sitcoms cannot really seriously delve into a character arc because that inevitably takes elements of tragedy (see The Human Comedy - William Saroyan), hence Mash.

House, M.D. was not a comedy but I laughed during every episode. Not a sitcom though.

It is a very interesting question for some reason.

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, perhaps?

Meade said...

Mr. Ed (of course). Talk about a deep inner life!

Matthew Sablan said...

Frasier.

rcocean said...

Andy Griffith is pretty good choice too. In fact, Griffith is really the straight man in the sitcom. The normal character, and loving Dad, that all the "wacky" characters revolve around.

Ann Althouse said...

"Fraser was funny and Kelsey Grammer is great but the show is I Love Lucy. Is that what you're looking for?"

You mean the one show I explicitly excluded when I asked my question? That might be what I'm looking for? Perhaps you are writing a script with a deeply developed character, Ann Althouse, who writes blog posts asking questions, looking for answers, answers that she throws down right in front of you? Why is she doing this? What strange events occurred in her youth that created such odd longings for things she has right in front of her? What perversity leads her to rope others into her bizarre search? Who and what will she destroy and she allows her futile longings to pique her curiosity?

rcocean said...

Free association: Mary Tyler Moore. Again, the straightman in a world of wacky characters.

Two-eyed Jack said...

"One way to enter the problem is to ask if you could take the character and write him into a drama."

Didn't James Dickey write Jed Clampett into his book Deliverance?

rhhardin said...

Veep, though it's random comic development continued in subsequent episodes.

Get the DVDs, very entertaining.

rcocean said...

Mr. Ed (of course). Talk about a deep inner life!

And plenty of phone sex with some sexy Fillies.

rhhardin said...

Dramas usually are guys with a drinking problem. Hours of bad acting. Stop fucking drinking.

Mark Jones said...

Tcrosse beat me to it: Lou Grant.

He started as Mary's boss on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, then got spun off into his own show when he went back to newspaper work (after--spoiler!--everyone but Ted Baxter got fired in the final episode of the MTM Show).

Lou Grant was a drama. Heavy drama? Probably not. But it was definitely not a comedy. I didn't particularly care for the show. Lou Grant (like the actor, Ed Asner) was way too liberal for my tastes, but it was definitely a drama.

Meade said...

And you could remove his comedic humor and stick Mr. Ed in a serious drama and still get all his pathos and wisdom. Say a fiction film like "Saving Private Ed"

Jim at said...

Barney Miller ... the entire cast, not only as they developed personally, but with each other.

Watched the episode where Wojo accidentally brought some hash brownies just the other night. Still rolling on the floor funny.

"Mushy. Mushy."

rcocean said...

Actually, Sam Malone - Cheers - was not your typical Sitcom character. They made an episode about "The gang" at Thanksgiving - talk about Bittersweet. Its was one turn away from Chekhov. Assuming he ever knew about Thanksgiving.

john said...

I'm stumped. But it's got to be The Simpsons or Gilligans Island.

tcrosse said...

Of course, the problem is that we don't want sadness or pathos from our sitcom characters. It's supposed to be a comedy - dammit.

In most Honeymooners episodes, Ralph plums the depths of misery, anger, and humiliation, and then finds resolution. "Baby, you're the greatest".

rcocean said...

BTW, I hated Alan Alda and "Hawkeye Pierce"

What a Wuss. Just the kind of guy chicks live and men hate.

tim maguire said...

Peg and Al Bundy. Married with Children.

rhhardin said...

Romcoms are formula development, somewhat annoying once you spot it.

The nice part is antagonistic opposites find they fit. That would be enough for guys to watch.

Women like the guy loses girl and guy wins her back with an apology. The apology is girl porn. It's fake development on the guy's part. The real development was finding that the girl fits.

World class apology in Two Weeks Notice (2002) is good, though; and the girl apologizes in In a Day (2006), the rest of the plot being an undiscovered apology from the guy.

Jim at said...

BTW, I hated Alan Alda and "Hawkeye Pierce"

He was better the first three seasons with Trapper and Henry. But when Mike Farrell came on board, the entire show became borderline unwatchable. It went from a comedy to sanctimonious preaching. Click.

rcocean said...

In most Honeymooners episodes, Ralph plums the depths of misery, anger, and humiliation, and then finds resolution. "Baby, you're the greatest".


Working class couple trapped in dead end jobs and downscale one bedroom apartment. Husband dreams of a better life, but is always frustrated by "the Man". He alternates between bitterness/anger and his unreal expectations while his long-suffering wife tries to get him to accept reality.

Its "Look back at Anger" with a laugh track.

Unknown said...

It really depends on how one defines "sitcom". It could easily be argued that if there is character development, the rules of a situational comedy are being broken and it becomes something else.

Or we could sub-categorize sitcoms. If you can watch any episode in any order, then it is a "pure" sitcom. If there is some underlying change (e.g. kids getting older, neighborhood changing) so need to watch them (mostly) in order but the characters don't develop, then it's a "arcing" sitcom. Etc...

The Simpsons and South Park are good examples of "pure" sitcom, I think. Nothing ever changes.

So, to answer your trick question: No, because if characters had depth and change, it wouldn't be a sitcom.

Bruce Garrick said...

Oh! Re-reading the comments I see you mentioned a character from Dobie Gillis. You already thought of it. But I will add that Jackie Gleason was my very first thought. Ralph was a tragic character.

Damn, I am going to be thinking about this the rest of the day... Thank you

Andrew said...

"House, M.D. was not a comedy but I laughed during every episode. Not a sitcom though."

I had the same experience with both The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. They had lines that were funnier than most comedies.

Meade, would you please show your wife an episode of Frasier? Do your duty.

tcrosse said...

Maybe half the characters on "Soap" or "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman". Neither was strictly a sitcom but rather a demented soap opera.

Mark O said...

"Let's explore the tragic story of Maynard G. Krebs."

A confused but lovable beatnik who, against all odds, became the most famous boat captain since Queeg.

Isn't it true that we return again and again to a TV series because we love the characters? Why would a successful show change those characters from season to season? It's show business.

George Grady said...

Perhaps Roseanne or the Wonder Years.

tcrosse said...

"Let's explore the tragic story of Maynard G. Krebs."

Save some empathy for Zelda Gilroy.

R.J. Chatt said...

I came up with MASH also. Of course the underlying premise was serious considering the context, the Korean War, and they were a surgical unit dealing with incoming casualties. A number of the character's personalities were well developed: Hawkeye Pierce, Frank Burns, Margaret "Hotlips" Houlihan, Colonel Potter.

gilbar said...

"Saving Private Ed"
Already been done Francis the Talking Mule One of the greatest War Stories of all time

I'm going to pick either:
The Flintstones, or Guadalupe Santos (Gabby Spanic's Character) in Prisionera

Allison said...

Once upon a time there were "dramedies", attempts at drama-sitcoms. One was called the Days and Nights of Molly Dodd. Molly had depth even if she didn't make it very many seasons.

There was a show called Dead Like Me. Sitcom. I don't know what channel it was on. Mandy Patinkin's character had depth. So did the main protagonist and her parents.

Shawn Levasseur said...

In older sitcoms, there was none of this. The status quo prevailed, no significant changes ever could happen unless casting made it mandatory. Even then it wasn't ever a character changing.

But some longer running shows started adding dramatic touches and added levels of depth to characters who started as mere cartoons. M*A*S*H was an early innovator on this front, to the point of having (intentionally) non-comedic episodes, including the 2 1/2 hour finale.

All In The Family / Archie Bunker's Place, certainly had some evolution of its main character, Archie.

Frasier was certainly a sitcom that gave depth to its characters, though more for its supporting characters than Frasier himself.

Mad About You was also a good one for character development.

The Cosby Show, seemed like it did, but I think it was more the depth was implied in that the characters were more realistic than cartoonish. The episodes tended to be light on plot, usually just having an event in the lives of the characters, with jokes along the way. I called it a Situation Comedy without the Situations.

Seinfeld was the anti-depth sitcom. The characters had less and less subtlety as the seasons wore on. They went from flawed people in a crappy world to damn near being a quartet of sociopaths. The season ender where George's fiance dies, and everyone just walks away as if it was nothing was the step too far for me, and I dropped watching that show.

In today's environment of series being made to have broader story arcs, I'm sure sitcoms are following suit, but I had my fill of sitcoms in the 90's

I watch GLOW on Netflix which could be considered a sitcom, but has too many of the trapping of a drama for me to consider it a comedy.

Two-eyed Jack said...

Understanding drama (condensed):

1. Tragedy: "You can't always get what you want."
2. Comedy: "If you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need."
3. Tragi-comedy: "You don't really want it anyway."

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"One way to enter the problem is to ask if you could take the character and write him into a drama."

I mean a serious drama, not a cop show or a horror story or mystery or doctors or whatever. A drama where the whole point is the characters and how they relate to each other.

mccullough said...

I agree that Sam Malone had some parts of episodes that were “serious” and introspection. There is also the uncomfortable premise of the show that a recovering alcoholic owns and operates a bar.

Bruce Garrick said...

Dead Like Me! Good Call!

rcocean said...

Tragic characters? Gilligan's Island.

What a nightmare. Trapped on an island - with no escape.

A wealthy couple with no loads of money - but nowhere to spend it.

Two beautiful dames - but no one is interested or worthy of interest.

The first mate who tries his best - but always fails. Everyone suspects him of secretly wanting to stay on the island, where he can hide his inadequacies from the outside world.

The Skipper - wracked by guilt over his poor seamanship and unable to get them rescued.

The Professor - Smarter by 10x them everyone else. Yet, his inventions and scientific genius are constantly thwarted by their incompetence. Plus, Ginger and mary ann won't even give him a look.

Fernandistein said...

Twin Peaks.

iowan2 said...

Mash. Lots of deep characters. House. I laughed all the time, but the characters were a bucket necrosis. The 60's Batman?. We watch Suits, those characters have a lot going on.

Allison said...

Once upon a time there were "dramedies", attempts at drama-sitcoms. One was called the Days and Nights of Molly Dodd. Molly had depth even if she didn't make it very many seasons.

There was a show called Dead Like Me. Sitcom. I don't know what channel it was on. Mandy Patinkin's character had depth. So did the main protagonist and her parents.

Jack Wayne said...

Barney Miller

iowan2 said...

Happens more than you would think, I know 3.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"One way to enter the problem is to ask if you could take the character and write him into a drama."

I mean a serious drama, not a cop show or a horror story or mystery or doctors or whatever. A drama where the whole point is the characters and how they relate to each other.


I think Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It isn't all that old, but the characters have some pretty interesting dynamics. Some of the episodes got very deep and emotional. The episode where Will's (Will Smith) father leaves him with his uncle is one with some pretty strong interpersonal dynamics.

href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI4Mv8R0mE0"> Dad leaves

While much of the story/comedy sit com stuff, occasionally there were some real dramatic moments. It could become a good movie.

Michael K said...

The only sitcom I ever watched was "Northern Exposure," but that was later than the 60s.

Eva Zukotynski said...

Malcolm In the Middle

rcocean said...

Its funny how sitcoms get imprinted on your brain, if you watch them when young.

To me, "All in the family" stopped being funny after Mike moved out. Season 5.

After that, lots of weird crap started happening. None of which I watched. I just read about it in TV Guide. LoL

Edith got raped. Edith died. Mike and Gloria went somewhere. Archie adopted a mouthy Hispanic kid. Then he bought a bar with his Jewish partner. And denounced the KKK or maybe it was the Nazis.

And then he died or maybe he didn't. Anyway, I was in HS, and didn't care.

Bruce Garrick said...

That is weird, I was commenting on Allison's post and my post seems to precede hers.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Dad leaves

Sorry.....broken link. Fresh Prince.

Birkel said...

The characters on Will & Grace used to be written for comedy but turned to political commentary in the reboot.
Not sure that fits the Althouse comedy to drama question.

Frazier's younger brother developed more than did Frazier, IMO.

Ken B said...

The Canadian show Slings and Arrows. You won’t have seen it; it’s superb and probably fits.

rcocean said...

After I got into/past HS, i watched:

-Newhart
-Cheers
-Fraiser
-Malcolm in the middle
-Seinfeld
-King of the Hill
-Simpsons

Plus, British stuff. But I don't think I've watched a sitcom in 20 years. My daughter watched the Gilmore girls or something like that.

SusanS said...

Everybody Loves Raymond

Leslie Graves said...

I have very vivid recall of the "Mike and Gloria Split" episode from "All in the Family" and think about it unprompted from time to time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Ss_JH_etfs&index=54&list=PLec1JlpXJ5LwWJK7TfuEATjJC2rWcayq3&t=0s

Check out the first five minutes or so. I think that's character development and revelation!

tcrosse said...

The Canadian show Slings and Arrows. You won’t have seen it; it’s superb and probably fits.

Amen.

William said...

I liked the character of Darrin in Bewitched. There was a Beckett subtext about how interchangeable, replaceable, and ultimately insignificant we are as we trudge towards oblivion......."Scrubs" would occasionally have serious moments, but the comedy was funnier. That whole story arc about the little girl with leukemia and the way they misplaced her wig and the hilarious hijinks they went through trying to convince her that a mop head was a better replacement wasn't all that funny in my opinion.

J2 said...

My So-called Life.

Ken B said...

PS My guess is you are watching one of the Newhart shows.

Check out The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. Which is marvelous.

Indigo Red said...

Not wishing to be pedantic, however...

All movies, plays, ballets, and television shows are dramas. Drama is the acting out of a story. A tragedy is a drama with a sad ending. A comedy is a drama with a happy ending, but not necessarily funny. A farce is a drama that is, at least, intended to be funny.

"House" was a comedy as it almost always had a happy ending. "MASH" often was a tragedy with very unhappy endings. "Andy Griffith" was a comedy with some serious messaging.

Sitcoms are a special kind of farce. A ridiculous, silly, or awkward circumstance is created and gags are written around the comical premise. Very little is intended to be made of the script beyond a few minutes of laughter. No character or plot development is intended because generally there is no story arc. The characters exist in a world unrelated to reality and that is the whole purpose. Come home from work and flip on some mindless tv sitcom and forget about the job, the boss, the employees, and the guy that steals your lunch out of the refrigerator.

Rabel said...

Big Bang Theory.

The show almost entirely revolves around Sheldon's character, which is explored in depth, including his family history, how his social awkwardness affects his relationships with other characters, their adaptation to him, and his gradual acceptance of his need for companionship with Amy.

Bruce Garrick said...

I am going to spend the rest of the day watching episodes of Dead Like Me.

Thanks to Allison for reminding me. I have every season on DVD but I am streaming it on HULU.



Doug said...

Archie Bunker, "All in the Family"?

Mark said...

They have gone pretty deep into the character of Martin Ellingham.

mockturtle said...

I see others beat me to it: Andy Griffith. Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners and I'm sure there are plenty more examples.

mockturtle said...

Sanford and Son.

Unknown said...

Andy Griffith: "Opie & The Bully".

And in general Andy & even Barney were serious people. Nobody enjoys having to step up, and they were fortunate to live in a time and place where they didn't have to do it often, but when they had to, they did.

Krumhorn said...

I'm guessing it's Designing Women since Linda Bloodworth-Thomason recently wrote a scathing op-ed about her professional experience with Les Moonves who, apparently, hated the strong, mouthy women that Bloodworth-Thomason created and wrote in that series. Since the current leftie theme is how the misogynist, abusing men who have run CBS stunted the development of a more diverse estrogen-driven society, Moonves having precluded any further series from this women getting on the air under her $50 million deal that was entered into by Jeff Sagansky, Moonves' predecessor, our hostess must be trying to examine what our society might look like today if more series had been broadcast under this deal.

- Krumhorn

traditionalguy said...

Mary Tyler Moore hands down. Or maybe Perry Mason's crew.

0_0 said...

gilbar, Prisionera was not a comedy.

I did love the show. The replacement of Mauricio Islas as Daniel Moncada was tragicomic, I'll give you that.

rehajm said...

Ann Althouse said...
"Fraser was funny and Kelsey Grammer is great but the show is I Love Lucy. Is that what you're looking for?"

You mean the one show I explicitly excluded when I asked my question? That might be what I'm looking for? Perhaps you are writing a script with a deeply developed character, Ann Althouse, who writes blog posts asking questions, looking for answers, answers that she throws down right in front of you? Why is she doing this? What strange events occurred in her youth that created such odd longings for things she has right in front of her? What perversity leads her to rope others into her bizarre search? Who and what will she destroy and she allows her futile longings to pique her curiosity?


So, ‘No’ then?

rehajm said...

( laugh track)

DWPittelli said...

Perhaps a character would have to either be a narrator or be shown in psychotherapy to be fully realized to viewers. So, Tony Soprano?

The Sgt Schultz bio above has promise, but we never saw an episode of Hogan's Heroes that followed Schultz around and explored his feelings.

Sean Gleeson said...

Most sitcoms don't even try. If they want to get credit for being serious and weighty, they just throw in a Very Special Episode where our heroes confront a Major Social Issue. This is the opposite of character development.

So this is a tough question, and maybe no sitcom actually qualifies, but if one does, I think it's Last of the Summer Wine. I used to watch that one often, and really felt that at least the three main old guys, Cleggy and Compo and whatshisname, were well rounded three-dimensional characters.

That show did run for a long long time, two or three decades, and I believe that may have a lot to do with it. A sitcom has to get laughs with broadly defined archetypes right out of the gate, and can only afford a tiny bit of actual character development in each episode, so it takes an accretion of several years of gradually revealed details even to get started.

Meade said...

"Perhaps you are writing a script with a deeply developed character, Ann Althouse"...

I Love Althoosey

Mark said...

Sgt Schultz was the essence of a cartoon character.

XRay said...

Homicide. Hill Street Blues. Archie. Archie had a spine, standing up to Meatheads ravings. But he also had a huge heart in his relationship with Edith. The other two, yeah, cop shows but with real characters both good and bad. Especially Homicide.

Karen said...

Drop Dead Diva really gets inside the head of the main character. About a great looking female who accidentally gets transplanted into a chubby female lawyer.

Birkel said...

Lisa Simpson?

BUMBLE BEE said...

Chief Wild Eagle - F-Troop

Leora said...

Jed Clampett isn't in Deliverance but he's probably in a couple of books by Larry McMurtry about life in Thalia, TX.

Saint Croix said...

Dr. Katz!

What's brilliant about Dr. Katz is that it takes all these stand-up comedians and puts them on a psychiatrist couch. So you see the pathos in the clown. Very funny show. Animated, in squiggle vision. Comical but also the relationships are very developed.

rcocean said...

"Sgt Schultz was the essence of a cartoon character."

Yep. He just looked Jolly, and said "I know Nothing"

Col Klink was a pompous fool who thought he was brighter than he really was.

He was Bill Kristol in a German Uniform.

tim in vermont said...

Phoebe in Friends.

I once binge watched the entire series as a test of willpower when I was laid up, and at the end, she was the only character I could stand.

James D. Miller said...

The Good Place.

Ficta said...

Barney Miller
Bob Newhart
MASH
Mary Tyler Moore
How I Met Your Mother
Soap
WKRP
Taxi
Coupling

I could see at least some of the characters from each of those shows holding up a drama. But then, where's the good of that: dying is easy, comedy is hard.

I would say that traditional sitcoms, by definition, start with a set of types, but that the good ones add depth. Most of the old MTM classics did exactly that.

Some of it also depends on what you mean by sitcom. Do Fleabag and Bojack Horseman count?

Michael K said...

The only TV show I watch now is "Doc Martin" which is British TV and has been running ten years.

Interesting characters.

Pretty good on medicine too, which is rare.

tim in vermont said...

Did either have a significant inner life?

Wasn’t Jed Clampett already in As I Lay Dying? Not to mention The Grapes of Wrath?

All kidding aside, I think that Jed had a dignity and honesty that would make a great character in a work of serious fiction.

tim in vermont said...

On Friends the characters mostly deteriorated rather than developed.

I really liked The Rewrite BTW, just watched it again yesterday 99¢ on Amazon. “Binghamton rocks!”

tim in vermont said...

I guess that Jed had no great problem to overcome, he was already Jed when he showed up. You could set up a story arc for him where he has to use his dignity, fair-mindedness, marksmanship, and honesty to overcome a great obstacle? Wait a minute, isn’t that Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Mark Jones said...

Bruce Garrick--re binge-watching Dead Like Me. Great choice! I love that show, though I wouldn't call it a sitcom, exactly.

Mark said...

The only TV show I watch now is "Doc Martin" which is British TV and has been running ten years.

Both Mar'in and Louiser are pretty well developed. Both psychologically flawed due to parent issues.

I've seen recently a new show, "I Want My Wife Back," starring Louisa, Stewart and Mark Mylow (who has gained weight). No Anthony though.

Pretty interesting to look up Portwenn (Port Isaac) on Google street view, innit.

Another Voice said...

Either Alice Kramden who truely seemed to suffer Ralph at times or Dr Bob Newhart the psychologist. Almost every sitcom post 1980 did a "very special episode" with lots of pathos imposed on a central character, say Alex Keaton and drug abuse.

Mark said...

Erm Doc! This is Mrs Sparrock. She's new to the village.

Right.

Call me Debbie, please. . . . Speaking of my Kelly, she's almost out of her medication, so I was hoping you could whip up a quick repeat prescription for me. Some methylphenidate, 5mg.

Mrs?

Debbie, please.

Mrs. Please, I won't be whipping up anything until my Kelly's notes have come through, I have read them, examined the patient myself, and only then, if I'm happy that methylphenidate is the right medication, will I write you a prescription.
See you then.

Earnest Prole said...

Kelsey Grammer's Frasier is the great character of modern sitcoms, not to mention his brother Niles (played by the astounding David Hyde Pierce) and his father Martin (played by the late John Mahoney.

See the recent “Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs: An Oral History of Frasier,” where I learned that the show’s co-creator David Angell and his wife, Lynn, died on the first plane to hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

A note about the great sitcoms: They generally take a year or two before they begin firing on all cylinders.

Hershblogger said...

My life, and welcome to it.

Hershblogger said...

Sorry, that's My World, and Welcome to it.
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0063934/

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Wonderfalls. Only 1 season, character development and progression.

Unknown said...

Sam Malone, Cheers; rev. Jim, Taxi (over the course of the shows)

Rory said...

Lou Grant's problem is that he was nearly cartoon in the sitcom, very different in the drama. It's just not the same character.

Jed Clampett met the world in a welcoming way, but he figured out who had an angle and dealt with them accordingly. He could be tender or stern as appropriate, or even violent on occasion (and usually off-camera).

Jed could easily be the focus of a mountain version of "Old Man and the Sea."

Stephen Cooper said...

St Elsewhere is the old TV show that I have heard "explores characters in depth" more than other similar shows - I would not know, personally, not having seen much of it - Absolutely nobody has an encyclopedic knowledge of old TV shows any more - it is not like the old days when "movie buffs" pretty much had seen more than half of the movies that were out there and thought to be worth seeing. I remember when I was a kid and Newsday, the local paper, would often describe a movie, i the listing of the Late Movie and the Late Late Movies, as something movie buffs would really like to see

As far as the question of claiming that a TV show from the 60s-80s developed one or more characters, in a deep way, while still being a TV show ... look at it this way, take the American actress/actor you respect the most, and then think of which sitcom/ TV show role you would most like to see them in .

for me ... Lillian GIsh ... as Morticia from Addam's Family, as Mary Beth from the Waltons, and as Daphne from Frasier (if played more realistically) ....

and Christopher Plummer as Gomez, of course, as the McClean Stevenson guy from MASH, and as Latka in Taxi. All roles with lots of potential.

Josephbleau said...

Private Pyle and Sargent Carter. “Pyle! You run my obsticle course like old people FUCK!” Sorry, wrong show. I did like Miss Louanne Pouvie though.

Stephen Cooper said...

St Elsewhere was a doctor show, so not the show Althouse was talking about.

The only non-doctor sitcoms I can think of that fit the clues are the Beverley Hillbillies and Frasier (maybe Cheers, but the vacuum in the middle of some of the first few years - the ballplayer bartender, the Woody Harrelson Steppin Fetchit clone, and the caricatured women in their lives - was too cold and too stereotyped.) MASH is, at the end, more of a rich doctors with their girlfriends show, although unusually set in a war zone. The shows that started in the 80s are almost all shows I know nothing about. Married with Children was just brutally rude, and the sad dopey husband with a sarcastic superior wife sitcoms - Ray Romano, Tim Allen, and Paul Reiser being the three that come most quickly to mind - completely misunderstood human nature,

Also, the Honeymooners and the Flinstones were - in my humble opinion, others might disagree - not all that deep, they were mostly about loser guys with unexplained charisma who had hot wives, and about how they dealt, or did not deal, with the fact that they had no idea what they had done to deserve hot wives. Basically Ralph and Fred were Mary Sues created by writers whose wives were slovenly and unattractive.

How about the Odd Couple? Murray the Cop and the Pidgeon sisters touched the heartstrings every time they showed up, God knows what their real lives were like.

Flapick said...

The Courtship of Eddie's Father
My Three Sons

Ben Morris said...

There are a bunch of perfectly good examples in here that I concur with, but I’d also note that I think long-running comedies are generally better at this than dramas.

Darrell said...

Bojack Horseman. The fifth season just dropped today, 12 episodes in all. We've gotten as complete a life story of Bojack as any tv show or movie has ever revealed for any character.

Chanie said...

Second Murphy Brown as the guess.

Rory said...

As to the show, I'll join those who guessed Barney Miller. It's a fascinating show: instead of adding characters and settings it jettisoned them, eventually closing down to five men in two small rooms. It started out with a strobg ethnics clashing element, that nearly disappeared as well. It unashamedly brought the same guest actors back again and again, as either the same or different characters. It just collapsed down to character and writing, and stayed fresh long after MASH, All in the Family, etc., had grown tedious or been canceled. It's also easy to find right now, either on cable or over the air.

Gretchen said...

Wonder Years and Fraiser.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I think the Simpsons. Homer and Lisa, especially, have deeply explored inner lives and we know them on much deeper levels, including spiritually.

becauseIdbefired said...

I was under the impression that a significant difference between "sitcoms" and "movies" is that in sitcoms they change the circumstances but not the character. That's by design, so you can come to know and enjoy the character, miss an episode and you are still tuned in. If the character is changing/has depth, you miss those two important selling points of sitcoms. Maybe it would no longer be a sitcom.

tpceltus said...

In no particular order:

TV ONLY COMIC CHARACTERS-

Hawkeye Pierce
Archie Bunker
SueAnn Nivens
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father
Fred MacMurray, My Three Sons
Fraiser
Maude
Ethel Mertz
Designing Women cast
Family Affair?
That Girl?
(Odd Couple & Red Sullivan?)
Murphy Brown
Rhoda
Mad About You
Roseanne
Golden Girls cast
Jefferson cast

I never really “got” Barney Miller or Taxi since it was too NYC-situated for a girl in IN, but I can see where others could perceive what I couldn’t. Ditto Lou Grant

TV COMIC PERSONAS ADAPTED TO THE BIG SCREEN & Vice Versa

The flip side of Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People
The flip side of Dick van Dyke in The Comic
The flip side of Andy Griffith in Mayberry in A Face in the Crowd
Buddy Ebsen in Beverly Hillbillies and Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Blues Brothers

rcocean said...

Lou Grant's problem is that he was played by Ed Asner - a commie.

And Lou Grant went from a sitcom character to a supposedly "serious" character.

Which is hard to pull off. Especially, when its played by a commie.

rcocean said...

MTM is one of the few Sitcoms that got BETTER as it went along.

They gave more time to Ted Knight, and introduced new characters like Georgette.

I watched it in reruns, so it was pretty noticeable.

rcocean said...

Andy Griffith got worse. they lost Don Knotts and Jim Nabors and replaced them with Howard and Emmitt and Goober.

Mark said...

MASH is, at the end, more of a rich doctors with their girlfriends show

MASH ultimately is more of a #MeToo show. Those weren't girlfriends, they were sexual harassment victims. And the libs who made the show thought it was funny.

rcocean said...

"Buddy Ebsen in Beverly Hillbillies and Breakfast at Tiffany’s"

Buddy turned into a Quinn Martin Cop in the 1970s. Forgot the Name.

Andy Griffith did some villain TV MOvies in the 1970s. One was "Savages" with William Shatner and Mr. Brady.

Yancey Ward said...

It would have to be a dark comedy. Mash is the one that immediately comes to mind for me, followed by All in the Family.

Mark said...

In fact, it was so bad and twisted that the last episode of MASH that I watched, the one nurse who felt victimized was the only one who was NOT being sexually harassed by Hawkeye. Message: women want to be treated like men's playthings.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

Barnaby Jones, a Quinn-Martin production. Tonight's episode: The Developed Character.

Unknown said...

I have fond memories of liking Barnaby Jones, but very little memory of actual episodes.

However, I did read a book on TV PIs which claimed that show had the best villans (other than Colombo, perhaps) because at that time Ebsen really wasn't physically up to the filming that would be required to have him onscreen the normal "protagonist" amount of time. So they spent a lot of time concentrating on the villans getting gradually more frantic as kindly Barnaby kept looming closer and closer to the truth..

FWBuff said...

Two sitcoms come to mind: “My Mother the Car” and “Hogan’s Heroes”. They may not have deep characters, but their premises were deeply weird.

EDH said...

Eddie Haskell and Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford.

JMS said...

The first show that popped into my head was The Good Place, followed by Ally McBeal. I think all of the major characters written by David E Kelley (J.D., Boston University) were exceptionally developed with rich interior lives. He wrote these legal shows:
L.A. Law (1986–1994)
Picket Fences (1992–1996)
The Practice (1997–2004)
Ally McBeal (1997–2002)
Boston Legal (2004–2008)

Only Ally McBeal would be considered a comedy, but the other shows had enough quirky characters that I probably laughed during his dramas more than most comedies. Kelley wrote every episode of his shows himself so he could completely control character growth and development.

rcocean said...

The early 70s were the time for physically challenged PI's.

You had Ironside in his wheelchair. Fat guy, Cannon, lumbering around. And old man Buddy Ebsen sort of hobbling after the crooks.

Fortunately, all the crooks were nice guys who didn't beat Fat, old, crippled PI's to a pulp.

The Crack Emcee said...

Black Jesus - it's all about getting to know the brother better.

tim in vermont said...

Bojack Horseman. The fifth season just dropped today, 12 episodes in all.

I stopped watching Bojack when it went full politics with a “very special episode” on abortion, did it get better? Up to that point, it was pretty good, but I knew they weren’t going to be able to keep Keith Olberman out of politics, though he was very funny up to that point.

tim in vermont said...

On reflection, I think that Jed Clampett was a role model to me growing up.

tim maguire said...

I can't believe I forgot!

Peep Show! It's all about the main characters' inner lives.

AcctgNerd said...

Agree on The Good Place. I also suggest Community. Joel McHale's character shows growth, and we learn histories/motivations of other members of the study group.

Unknown said...

I would say Red Dwarf meets the standards you set forward. It has a variety of ways of giving the audience deeper looks into the psychology of the characters. Given what we know of them, I think you could take Dave Lister or Arnold Rimmer into a drama and it would work. It would be a very depressing story without the comedy, especially in Rimmer's case, but it would work.

Some of this might be because the creators wrote a series of books with the same characters, so they had to dig deeper than sitcom writers usually do.

Bruce Gee said...

Dobie Gilles

Can'tFindADecentAlias said...

Rescue Me, made me laugh. Of course I’m a psychologist.

Jason said...

The Vicar of Dibley.

tcrosse said...

Since Althouse is a fan of David Sedaris, how about his sister Amy in Strangers with Candy ?

David Blaska said...

Tim Allen in Last Man Standing.

WA-mom said...

Mash

Sdv1949 said...

Sheldon.

Tom said...

Golden Girls was hilarious and deep. At some point, I think we saw all the characters beyond their charactitures.

Patrick Henry was right! said...

Its no contest.

Its Edith Bunker.

What a character, wonderfully written and acted.

dustbunny said...

I think Althouse is watching MASH because it seems like the kind of show that a person would recommend as it was both funny and serious, there isn’t usually much death in sit-coms. I think the characters in Seinfeld developed in wildly funny ways. They never got deeper just funnier and more idiosyncratic.

William said...

I'm saddened and disappointed that Althouse has left the answer to the important question--which she herself posed--hanging for so long. This is a breach of blogger etiquette, perhaps even of blogger ethics. Perhaps a reprimand from the line umpire is in order.

tcrosse said...

It has to be That Girl, which is about a young lady named Ann in NYC, heaping sexual frustration on her boyfriend.

loudogblog said...

Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers.

JMS said...

Ann, are you watching black-ish? The first two and a half seasons were great, with lots of sharp social commentary, but the fourth season became entirely too preachy. The creator Kenya Barris left ABC and the show for Netflix over the shelving of an episode that bashed Trump.

Private Pike said...

Agree with Frasier and Bojack Horseman for sitcoms. As a left field choice; It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia.

As for regular shows, The Wire.

No television show I have watched has had anything close to the amount of character development as that show.

Mark said...

It has to be That Girl, which is about a young lady named Ann in NYC, heaping sexual frustration on her boyfriend.

Why this need to impose our modern destructive dysfunction on the innocence of the past?

Maybe Donald Hollister did not share the hyper obsession of our day that sees sex as the center of all meaning.

Henry said...

No one said Alf.

Joke.

There were moments in Barney Miller.

That bass line had real inner life.

Henry said...

The Brothers Karamazov Bunch could certainly be spun off into a drama. Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexei are always getting comic scrapes, but in a different context, you could easily them murdering their father, Mike.

This said...

Family Ties. Season 5, episode 23.

And the 7th season of Growing Pains with Leonardo DiCaprio.

Ann Althouse said...

I never watched the TV show "MASH." I loved the movie and just didn't want to see it with different actors. Plus, it was on TV at a time when I either didn't have a TV or didn't watch fictional TV.

Phil 3:14 said...

Don’t you all get the hint!?

The Professor wants OUR characters to develop.