Sitcom-Sized Love

Elaine Blair explores how sitcoms portray romance, noting that the shows "offer a salve for the bruises of urban single life":

Sitcoms rarely ask us to believe that any particular couple is, as they say, meant to be. Like romantic comedies, sitcoms might nurture and draw out a sense of chemistry between two characters while also putting obstacles in their way, setting us up for a long-deferred union. (Sam and Diane on Cheers, Ross and Rachel on Friends, for instance.) But romantic comedies traditionally end at the moment the obstacles are overcome and love is declared.

They leave us aglow with a sense of the couple’s felicity. In sitcoms, the story must go on well past the first round of obstacles. As often as not, couples break up and the characters have other affairs, and for good reason. Happy couplings are notoriously difficult to pull off; script writers, used to working in a mode of farce, struggle to find the right tone for domestic satisfaction (think of Niles and Daphne finally married on Frasier). Like any kind of comedy, a sitcom can have a marriage at its very end, but a marriage somewhere in the middle is narrative disaster. And since sitcoms are, effectively, comedies without end, it’s hard to write a marriage into the show in a way that encourages—rather than dashes—our illusions of its rightness.