Sitcom Tropes That Have Aged Poorly, According to Reddit
It’s a Reddit thread we’ve seen many times before — the question of “which elements from sitcoms we loved 20 years ago now look cringey and dumb?” is one of the most discussed topics on the internet, and as shows like Friends fall further out of favor with angry internet commenters with each passing year, the list of hackish, overused and unfunny tropes that should be retired grows ever longer.
Below is a breakdown of the most common complaints that come up whenever the internet decides to do another retrospective on the laugh tracks and clip shows of yore. Ted Mosby, avert your eyes.
I Hate My Wife Jokes / My Mom Is a Nagging Crone
Did everyone in the 1970s and 1980s have an awful marriage? How did “I married a woman for whom I have a deep and violent loathing” become the cornerstone of Boomer humor? For some reason, the writers’ rooms of just about every family sitcom of the 20th century all came to the same conclusion that every mother character must be a nagging, humorless, unattractive old hag who hates fun and loves cooking Brussels sprouts.
Married… with Children is one of the most beloved offenders, as the pestering Peg Bundy was the favorite target of her wise-cracking husband Al. She wastes all of Al’s money on shoes, she always brings around her annoying mother and she spends all day lazing around watching Oprah before Al comes home from the strip club to tell her how much he wishes he’d never married her. What a classic American family.
But even shows that aged slightly more gracefully than Married… with Children fall victim to the nagging mother trope — e.g., Lois from Malcolm in the Middle is constantly dialed up to 10 on the irritation scale. Despite single-handedly holding together a working-class family of six, Lois is too often treated as an antagonist for not having patience for the hijinks of her more humorous husband and sons. The saving grace of this dynamic, however, is that Hal loves Lois unconditionally and the family always has her back.
Characters Who Aren’t Supposed to Be Wealthy Live in Penthouse Apartments
It’s worth noting that the most notorious example of this trope has an in-universe explanation — in Friends, the almost 1,500-square-foot apartment originally shared by Monica and Rachel stays affordable because the pair are illegally subletting it from Monica’s grandmother, whose domicile has been rent-controlled for almost three decades. This recurring set piece in classic sitcoms is also the result of practical restraints — no one wants to watch a show where five New Yorkers share a studio apartment in the Bronx that barely has space for their cots, let alone room for sitcom shenanigans.
That said, not every sitcom has to be set in places like New York City, where apartments like the roomy two-bedroom flat shared by Ted Mosby and Marshall Eriksen in How I Met Your Mother could only feasibly be occupied by Wall Street investment bankers or Saudi oil heirs. At some point, some sitcom writer will pitch a show that takes place in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which was named the most affordable city in America by Forbes this year, in which the main characters rent a stylish and spacious two-bed for $1,500 per month. ABC will then reject that script and instead make a show about hot, quirky dog walkers who share the entire 98th floor of the Empire State Building.
Never Give Up on the Girl of Your Dreams, No Matter How Many Times She Says No
This is what happens when the only dating advice an entire generation of TV writers ever receives comes from Pepé Le Pew. Shows like Cheers are partially to blame for popularizing the now-ubiquitous “will they/won’t they” dynamic that is pretty much a necessity for any new sitcom looking to reel in repeat viewers. What it did to shows like Family Matters was that it added an extra clause to the phrase “no means no,” which read, “Unless you really like her, then you can stalk her for 15 years.”
Steve Urkel’s incessant pestering of his unamused lady love Laura was framed as if Urkel was this poor, romantic soul, and Laura rejecting him was shrewish and cruel. However, if a real-life daughter of a police officer had to put up with over a decade of stalking from some entitled nerd, Urkel would have ended up with a restraining order instead of a fiancé by the show’s end.
In How I Met Your Mother, Ted’s long-term pining over his eventual bride Robin isn’t quite as creepily nonconsensual as Urkel’s advances toward Laura, but watching Schmosby spend a decade of his life following around Robin like a hurt puppy even after she married one of his best friends makes the show’s hero seem more pathetic than romantic.
Comedy ages quickly, and cultural sensibilities can change in the blink of an eye — the writers for these shows aren’t untalented monsters for following the trends of their time, but much like the laugh track, all of these tropes occupy a funny little corner of sitcom history that need not be revisited the next time Chuck Lorre needs a new yacht.