Monday, March 30, 2015

Sitcoms: More Than Just Mindless Entertainment. -Opinions formed from close attention to themes

I don’t know about you, but when I watch TV shows, I don’t just sit there vegging out not looking to be taught something new, or be challenged to think. I look for what message the writer’s are attempting to send us, and what lessons they want us to learn from the stories they are creating. That being said, I do enjoy a good situation comedy, and there has been a plethora of choices for those that enjoy half hour stories that focus on making us laugh.  Therefore I thought it would be fun to examine five sitcoms that are popular among people in my age demographic (18-40). Three of them are more current programs and two of them are 90’s classics of which at least one of the two are still very popular depending on who you ask.


The show that famously was ‘about nothing’ redefined the situational comedy back when it debuted in 1989. Here was a program that simply had no real running plot or story and simply took Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy routines in which he used a large amount of observational humor and channeled it into a television show. However, if one pays closer attention, it is easy to realize that deep down, this show teaches us to find humor in the small and often annoying things that happen to us on a daily basis. I can honestly say that since I began watching this series back in college, I have learned to laugh a little more at things that frustrate me, and not get as stressed as I used to whenever things don’t quite go my way. I still have a long way to go in this area, but I first realized how valuable laughter at small daily frustrations could be, from Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine.


The other 90’s sitcom that is still greatly popular among my age groups is this show that like “Seinfeld” also took place in the Big Apple. The show lasted an incredible 10 seasons between 1994-2004, and it followed the lives of six friends, three guys and three gals as they navigated relationships, job challenges and many other obstacles all over New York City. The subtle thesis message of this program though, is a rather question that they gave a resoundingly affirmative answer to by series end. That question is: “can men and women truly be close friends with each other and remain friends even if awkward scenarios arise like one person desiring to be more than friends while the other does not?” Over their ten years of being on the air, the writers showed us that their answer to this question was that they most certainly can, if, both people are willing to work through and weather those challenges. Sometimes as they showed us between a couple of the main characters, a friendship can develop into a beautiful romance, other times, not so much, but no matter what, if friends are committed to staying friends no matter what happens, the reward is great.

“The Office”

Here is a program that attempts to give a snarky look into what it is like to work in a white-collar office of a paper supply company. The beauty of this program is that it creates a hodgepodge of characters that personify the different personality types we all have run across in life, be it at work, at a party, and yes even at Church. We have bosses who lack strong leadership skills but deep down love their employees to death. We have salesmen who are driven to do their very best everyday, no matter the cost. We have pranksters, an HR man that no one likes, and some fun spirited receptionists. The basic running theme to this program if you pay close attention is that for some people, the office is truly a community where all must work together to do a job that appears ordinary, but can become extraordinary because of the different people who give that community its identity.  Speaking as Christian of course, I garner my sense of community and belonging from my church family, but a show like this is a reminder to me that non-Christians desire community just as much, and sometimes there place of work becomes that. Whether or not it is healthy or not is another topic. For this “Office” though, in the end, I think we can say it was a healthy place.

“Parks And Recreation”

Similar to “The Office” In both filming style and storyline plot, “Parks And Rec” took us on a seven-season journey into the lives of Pawnee, Indiana’s Parks and Recreation department. In some ways this show is also about the importance of community, but I feel ‘Parks And Rec” focused a bit more on individual character development, and because of that, teaches us more about, to apply a Christian message, how we all have gifts given to us by God to help us work with other people with different gifts to accomplish a united goal. Throughout the series, the main characters often had to work together to help get things done in the Pawnee community. They also would rally together to support each other for individual character’s projects, both work related and personal. In the Church, God often gives people gifts that are very diverse, but complement each other very well, and it “Parks And Rec” we saw how this can play out in not only work, but marriage and family as well.

“The Big Bang Theory”

This show has a great premise as it is. Follow a group of four nerds who work at a Southern California College in the Science and research department and spend all of their free time hanging out together playing strategy games, eating take out, and trying to understand girls. Then throw in a couple of girls into the mix and watch what happens. All a recipe for great comedy, with plenty of intelligent nuances thrown in for good measure, yet I see even more to the story of Sheldon, Raj, Leonard and Howard. This is a story about how a person can be brilliant from an academic standpoint, and clueless on how normal people function standpoint. It is about a main character in Sheldon who deep down desires to understand matters of the heart and struggles mightily to understand things we all have understood for years, or at least been good enough at understanding to fake like we do. It is a show that can conversely bring out all of our inner nerd, and pick our curiosity to learn more about what is going on in the world of physics and biology. It also requires you to pay close attention for just how funny it truly is, and at the same time how serious it actually may be. “The Big Bang Theory” is currently in its eight season, and has been renewed to last at least a full decade, which will probably make it one of the defining comedies of my generation for years to come.

Have you seen some of these things as well? If not, have I inspired you to pay closer attention to sitcoms in the future? I hope so, as I find that I have enjoyed these five programs a lot more because I paid attention, and hope to see more series that teach us great life lessons in the future!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Front Window: An Observational Piece on the Art of People Watching

It has been an interesting year living on a main street in Parma. My bedroom window faces the street, and in all my life I have never lived on a main street before. As one might imagine, this means there is plenty of traffic to watch streaking past at what I often suspect is faster than the posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour. That is one thing that I see a lot of as I sit on my bed at look out into the world around me. However, that is not the only thing I have observed. I also had a chance to observe the three houses that are across the street from me, and the interesting things about each one.

To begin, the house on the left hand side has a long driveway that curves behind that house. Most often when cars pull into this driveway they give the illusion that they disappear; and there is a bit of coming and going at this house. In fact this house is interesting because it seems that at all hours of the night cars often leave out of this driveway. I have seen headlights almost eerily creep out of this driveway at midnight on several occasions. Also I see cars pull into the driveway around 8:30am. One time more recently I saw a car get stuck trying to pull into this house’s drive. They had to back out onto the street and get momentum in order to plow through the hard, deep, snow. I can’t judge, as I got stuck in our driveway last week and had to dig myself out. My conclusion has been that the folks who live at this residence probably work night shifts.

The house directly across the street is equally if not more interesting. Back in August I began to pay closer attention to it when a police cruiser pulled into the driveway and the officer began looking around and inside the old late 80’s early 90’s model ford van parked in the driveway. The officer then proceeded to knock on the door of the house and no one answered. Since that summer night I have been watching this house a lot, and observed multiple cars and people stopping over to check the mail and at times go inside or into the backyard. One time I even watched as an elderly woman drove a ride on lawnmower out of the backyard and mowed the front lawn. I have since concluded that this house is empty, perhaps because the former resident has moved out into a retirement community, and her family and friends are helping get her house ready to sell, checking to make sure any mail sent to her former address gets to her at her new home.

The house on the right hand side is interesting for yet another reason. This house is the smallest of the three, yet it has the most cars in the driveway, and those cars are constantly moving in and out of the driveway all day long, changing positions and places at will. I can be sitting on my bed at 8am or 8pm and pretty much guarantee that I will see at least one car leave or return to this house within a half hour of watching. The vehicles sometimes change from day to day to as I have seen different cars and trucks, mostly American made, hold places in the driveway depending on the day. Some mornings a classic 1970’s era looking sky blue Chevy pays a visit; others a large F-150 pulls in for a while.  I also have seen many people of both genders and varying ages come out of these vehicles, from a guy in his 50’s to a young baby. I have thus concluded that this is the home of  multiple generations of a family, and each person of driving age has at least one vehicle in their possession. They all work different times of the day, accounting for the parking spots being in a constant state of flux.

Well there you have it, call me spy, call me a weirdo, or call me an acute observer. Heck, call me all three. I would be inclined to agree with you. Please note though that I have NEVER used binoculars and NEVER tried to look inside of these people’s homes. I have simply watched what I can see that goes on outside, which in my view is public information on a main street. People interest me, and imagining back-stories is fun. I could of course be totally off; I simply have practiced the art of observation.