‘Normal People Terrify Me’: A Look At ‘Titus,’ The Last Great Sitcom About Truly Dysfunctional Families

10.06.15 4 years ago 13 Comments

Everything you need to know about the plot and format Titus, the Christopher Titus-led sitcom that ran from 2000 to 2002 on Fox, is laid out in the first 45 seconds of the pilot. Statistics on domestic dysfunction in the United States, how the main character’s family fits into this national portrait, whether these delicate subjects are joke-worthy — all of this and more pops up in the opening monologue of what was the last great American television show about modern, truly dysfunctional families.

“The Los Angeles Times states 63 percent of American families are now considered dysfunctional. That means we’re the majority. We’re normal. It’s the people that had the mom, dad, brother, sister, little white picket fence — those people are the freaks,” Titus says to the camera. “Normal people terrify me because they haven’t had enough problems in their lives to know how to handle problems when they come up. When something little happens, they just snap.”

The shot contains only Titus, a dangling light bulb, and a wooden chair in a neutral, black-and-white space. A fully-colored cutaway briefly interrupts the introduction with a visual gag, but only to illustrate the main point: That “normal people” who have never dealt with problems like divorce, abuse and suicide in their family life can’t handle a crisis.

Such is the basic format for each 22-minute episode of Titus. They begin and end with this neutral space, during which the titular character introduces and reflects on the main elements of the actual story. This black-and-white monologue sometimes interjects additional nuggets of information during the main narrative, but only to provide further background and jokes. Add a significant number of cutaway gags — similar to Family Guy, which premiered a year earlier — and you’ve got yourself a full episode.

On the one hand, neither the plot nor the format were really all that special for the time. Sure, the use of the neutral space and the cutaways was noticeably unique, but television was overflowing with dysfunctional families — especially Fox. As the New York Times pointed out at the time, the network “already [had] one dysfunctional family in its lineup” with Malcolm in the Middle. Other shows, like Married… with Children, The Simpsons and King of the Hill, could also lumped into the “dysfunctional family” category.

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