Critics have been declaring the sitcom dead for decades. They died in 1983, the year before The Cosby Show resurrected them. They died after Everybody Loves Raymond and Friends went off the air; and they died again when NBC’s Must See TV comedy line-up went belly-up.
Yet the half-hour comedy format remains resilient, capable of reformatting itself and rising again. While CBS has been able to cling to the past with its arsenal of laugh-track sitcoms, ABC has seen a minor resurgence in the form of diverse family sitcoms. NBC is even trying to resuscitate its Thursday night comedy block this fall with the return of Will & Grace, as well as Superstore, the network’s longest-running sitcom since Robert Greenblatt took over as chairman of NBC Entertainment in 2011. It will enter its third season in the fall.
Sitcoms are doing well on networks and basic cable and they’re also thriving in a place that might not have been expected a few years ago: streaming services. Many of the best half-hour comedies have packed up their traditional television conventions and moved to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, where they they’ve become almost an antidote to other aspects of Peak TV.
To wit: While the average television viewer cannot realistically keep up with the riches of television dramas — American Gods, Handmaid’s Tale, The Leftovers, Twin Peaks, Fargo, Better Call Saul, and The Americans among others currently occupy space on my weekly viewing schedule — the half-hour streaming comedy has provided a welcome respite from two-to-three month weekly investments for the average television drama, or the week of nightly viewings we devote to most streaming dramas. But a half-hour streaming comedy? We’re looking at a four-to-six hour investment, tops, which means we can binge an entire season of Master of None on a Saturday night, or Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle on a single cross-country flight. In fact, I pulled an all-nighter over the weekend and finished Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Amazon’s I Love Dick in a single sitting (though I do not recommend this).