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Old 07-06-2012, 11:55 AM
 
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I recently started a thread about depressing movie settings (meaning the place, time, and circumstances in which a movie takes place), but I just started thinking about TV shows, comedies mainly, that have had very depressing settings.
Dreary sets, poverty, war, depressing lighting, terrible living circumstances. In some cases, the show can still be funny, but in other cases, at least for me, the setting is so depressing, I can't even find the show funny.
Most of my examples are from the 70s. This is because I haven't really watched sitcoms since Seinfeld & Frasier went off the air. But it's also because many of the 70s sitcoms were purposely set in dreary, supposedly "gritty," settings, so that decade provides more examples. Most 80s sitcoms were in bright, well-lit, comfortable homes, workplaces, or bars, so the 80s give fewer examples. The 90s seem to be in the middle: comfortable but less bright, and realistic without being dingy. I don't really know of any more recent sitcoms, so please give your own examples.

I realize that I may be in the minority in that I really examine the settings of TV shows and movies, and they affect my mood when I'm watching. But I can't be the only one.

My Examples:

Hogan's Heroes
Probably the most depressing, horrible setting you can imagine for a comedy TV show: a Nazi prison camp. The only thing worse would be a concentration camp. But Hogan's Heroes is hilarious. Even 40+ years later, it can make me laugh out loud. I totally don't even care that half the characters are evil Nazis.

Good Times
To me, Good Times is the opposite of Hogan's Heroes (and Sanford & Son). The setting is sooooo depressing. An ugly, government subsidized high-rise in New York City. An ugly, dreary apartment with a large family crammed in. A Dad who is always out of work, about to lose his job, or who, suddenly, dies. I was a kid when this was on, and even I was like "how can the Dad just die in a comedy?" I can't ever find anything in Good Times funny. To me, the show was: depressing, depressing, depressing, one-liner by JJ, depressing, depressing, another one liner by JJ, the end.

Sanford & Son
Just in case anyone decides that my judgement of a show is somehow based on race, I think Sanford & Son is really, really funny. Completely the opposite of good times. Both shows have black families and all-black casts. Both shows have the family living in a dreary, dark, depressing home. Fred Sanford is a widower, like Florida Evans was a widow. But Fred Sanford is so freaking funny I could pee my pants. I forget that the house is a falling-down complete mess in a horrible neighborhood, and that Fred and Lamont deal in junk.

Taxi
Now to me, Taxi is somewhere in the middle. Most of the show takes place in the dingy, dirty, dark, depressing taxi garage. The characters are always having financial problems, relationship problems, and all kinds of other life problems. And when you do see their homes, even though they are huge by New York standards, they are run-down and depressing. But most of the time, I find Taxi funny. But even when I laugh, I'm still bothered on some level by the dreary setting. I might laugh at the funny parts, but I come away feeling a little depressed.

M*A*S*H
MASH is another one that's in the middle for me. A mobile army hospital in the midst of the Korean War. Bombs going off, helicopters bringing in mangled soldiers all the time. Horrible, nighmare setting. But half the time, MASH was really funny. But half the time is wandered into the "drama" realm from the comedy realm, and wasn't so funny. When it wasn't funny, sometimes this was because they decided to explore some existential issue or make a socio-political statement (like All in the Family), but sometimes it was because of the setting, the terrible things happening all around them.

How about others? Are there comedy TV shows that lose the ability to be funny because of their settings? I'm sure it's different for different people.
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Old 07-06-2012, 01:32 PM
 
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just remembered another one:

Welcome Back Kotter
I tried and tried and never found the show funny. I was at the age when all pre-teen girls loved John Travolta, so I watched it out of obligation really. But I was always bothered by the sad, moldy, dank depressing school they were in. You couldn't even see out the windows; it was just grey. I remember thinking "If I had to go to school there, I'd run away from home." Sure I might chuckle at Horshack, but I would feel "down" after watching the show.
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Old 07-06-2012, 01:43 PM
 
Location: Texas
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I very much feel like the set will determine how long I watch a show...you list very good examples. I agree wholeheartedly about Good Times...oh, I watched it but I couldn't understand how the dad just dies...how terribly awful. I loved Sanford & Son but you're right...it wasn't exactly the best environment.

This might sound nuts but if the lighting is "off" to me, I won't continue to watch a show. I know right away if it's going to lend itself to me not liking the show. Some comedies that come to mind are the Tyler Perry shows...they're so bright that it doesn't look like someone's home, but rather a brightly lit set. I'm hung up on that and don't find it funny to watch. And it hurts my eyes...seriously.

As far as settings though? Hmm...your list is so good I'm having trouble thinking about additional shows...
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Old 07-06-2012, 01:50 PM
 
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Yes, I agree about the lighting! I thought I was the only one!

I could not watch:
The Nanny
Different Strokes
The Fresh Prince
Benson
Silver Spoons

All because of the overly bright lighting. There was also some show in the 80s about some little robot girl, and it also had over-the-top bright lighting, so I couldn't watch. Though "little robot girl" also had something to do with it. I did watch the Facts of Life in the 80s, but it also had very annoying bright lighting.
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Old 07-06-2012, 03:13 PM
 
Location: Texas
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I watched most of those shows but some of them, not as long because of that! Crazy, but true! I can't remember the name of that show with the robot girl but am reminded that the boy (her "brother"?) was the lead singer for Smashing Pumpkins. Useless trivia, I know!

And honestly, while not comedies, I feel that way about all the soap operas...so fake...but that IS the way it's supposed to be, I think...hmmm...in fact, the more shows I think about, the more I realize they're not comedies necessarily, but if the lighting sucketh, I will not watch for long.
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Old 07-06-2012, 03:55 PM
 
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Okay, since no one else seems to have this issue that I have, lets open this discussion up to any TV shows, not just sitcoms....

What TV shows are/were hard for you to watch because of their settings? "Settings" meaning the time, place, or circumstances in which the characters live? You can/should something about the sets or lighting if that affected you too.

One drama that had a setting that affected me pretty deeply was Carnivale. Aside from the storyline and all the characters, it was the setting that set the mood for the whole show, and what I remember in more detail than any of the storylines.

Heat, blinding sun, arid barren landscapes, dust-bowl, Depression, poverty, hunger, all came together to set the stage for the "evil" that came in the story. I don't get such a negative feeling from other Depression-era movies or TV shows. For instance, in the early years of The Waltons, they were very poor during the Depression, but the setting in that show gives me a safe, warm feeling. But in Carnivale, the characters had no home and were just wandering aimlessly through this dreary waste of a landscape.
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Old 07-06-2012, 03:55 PM
 
1,815 posts, read 3,153,538 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TracySam View Post
I recently started a thread about depressing movie settings (meaning the place, time, and circumstances in which a movie takes place), but I just started thinking about TV shows, comedies mainly, that have had very depressing settings.
Dreary sets, poverty, war, depressing lighting, terrible living circumstances. In some cases, the show can still be funny, but in other cases, at least for me, the setting is so depressing, I can't even find the show funny.
I agree with all of your choices and would add Barney Miller. Laverne & Shirley had a pretty depressing basement apartment, too.

edit - since you asked about shows other than sitcoms, I'd say Oz, The Wire, The Killing, Six Feet Under...most hospital shows, can't even watch 'em.
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Old 07-06-2012, 03:56 PM
 
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Yes! Barney Miller's police precinct was dark and gray, and cluttered with all kinds of gray junk. I think I would just jump out that one fake window!
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Old 07-06-2012, 04:02 PM
 
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I know everyone in the world loved Hill Street Blues, but I couldn't watch after a few episodes because it was so dark in terms of setting. I would try to care about the characters but I would just keep thinking, 'God, what a dreary place.' That's another one where the lighting got to me. Compared to nearly everything else on 80s TV, this show was so dark it made you want to turn up the "brightness" knob.
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Old 07-06-2012, 05:30 PM
 
Location: Sunny South Florida
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St. Eligius Hospital (the setting for St. Elsewhere) was an ill-equipped, aging, inner-city hospital. Most of the people there were dysfunctional or depressed--and the patients often had problems, too. BUT....I have to add that this was an integral part of the show's identity. It was as if the hospital itself was a character in the show, because it cast a shadow over everything that went on there. While a lot of hospital dramas tried to be syrupy-sweet and idealistic in its treatment of issues, STE seemed intent on producing the most pessimstic outlooks and outcomes.
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