If 80’s sitcoms have taught us anything, it’s that all of life’s difficulties can be solved in just 30 minutes. Every problem, from finding a prom date, to battling anorexia, can be remedied by highly predictable plot lines, ending with really trite and overly simplified dialogue, from a well meaning parent or teacher. Having watched countless 80’s shows and wasting precious hours of my life that I can never get back, I’ve come up with five things that must be present, in order for you to learn a valuable life lesson.
The Cable Knit Sweater. Yes, they’re itchy and make you as unattractive as possible, but goddamit, they solve problems! When some authority figure, usually a father, who doesn’t have a steady job, yet his family is middle class, has one of these bad boys on, it means it’s time to cut the shit. Whether it’s braided lattice in gaudy neon colors, or a Christmas sweater in July, you are about to get a stern talking to my friend, using every blunt and unsophisticated means at their disposal. The recipients of these pearls of wisdom, also wearing their own miniature version of this brash and unappealing garment, sit on their beds, with their heads down, hoping the show will hurry up and get canceled. After what feels like a painfully long time, but only thirty minutes have gone by, your teen pregnancy has been dealt with and you no longer have dyslexia. How do we know the issues have really been resolved? We know, because dad’s bulky, mock-neck cable knit sweater said so.
The Catch Phrase. In order for things to run along smoothly, to reach it’s anticlimactic zenith, it’s very helpful if one or more characters has a catch phrase. The catch phrase is reliable and oddly comforting, like your grandmother. The phrase could be a question, “whatcha talkin’ about Willis?” or just a two-word phrase, “have mercy.” Every episode, you’re lying on the couch, staring dead-eyed into a wooden behemoth, with antenna that can reach Mars and waiting to hear, “kiss my grits!” When one of the Olsen twins (you didn’t know there were two of them at the time and now you somehow feel betrayed) utters, “you got it dude,” you feel like your life of never solving that Rubik’s Cube and crying into your pillow, while the Smiths are playing, can now proceed. GI Joe taught us that, “knowing is half the battle” and we just assumed the other half, was how to accessorize urban warfare couture. Sometimes we knew precisely when the catch phrase was going to be spoken, because it signified the end of the show like Hannibals, “I love it when a plan comes together.” The catch phrase was essential, because take away that and you’re just left with an absurd premise about aliens who like to eat cats.
The Stereotype. If there is one thing that 80’s sitcoms had no shortage of, it was stereotypes. How can problems get resolved, if there aren’t slightly racist and homophobic token characters. The wise cracker, the square, the very gay man, the fat funny girl, the bully…ad nauseam. Every Asian American had to speak like Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid. Any non-Murcian, had to speak in broken English, otherwise, how would we know they’re foreign. The Spanish American from Fantasy Island shouting, “De plane! de plane!” It was essential that the disabled person have down syndrome, to be the representative for the entire disabled community. Every show hired a bunch of lazy writers to compete for the best, one-dimensional character they could contrive. (Fuck character arc!) You simply can’t get to that all important resolution, unless your show has major and ancillary characters that we can predict. I’m sorry, but if you’re overweight, you better be funny or at least mildly amusing, because what else have you got.
The Wacky Neighbor. It can’t all properly come together, without the crazy, but lovable (not really) neighbor like Steve Urkel, Kimie Gibbler, or the man we only new as, “Wilson” from Home Improvement, who apparently never worked, ate or went to the bathroom, because he was always in his yard and available to dispense advice, to all of Tim’s, macho bullshit problems. The wacky neighbor never knocked, because that would be for normal human beings. Oh no, this neighbor burst into your house unannounced, without knocking, made a few wise cracks that were funny, as indicated by the laugh track and then left, as unceremoniously as they came. They could only come in while you were talking, vacuuming or doing some other inconsequential thing, never while you were doing something embarrassing. Can you imagine if Mr. Roper burst in, while they were having a menage a trois on Three’s Company! Well, you can now, in fact that’s probably all you’ll think about from now on. There was nothing untoward about male neighbors like Lenny and Squiggy, walking right into a females apartment, without knocking. It’s not predatory behavior; it’s quaint damn it!
The Single Dad. Whether it’s a divorce, or mom died in a freak accident involving leg warmers, no one cares, as long as this attractive dad is available. Typically, it’s a stay at home dad, who is always and I do mean always, on hand to be the voice of reason. This great dad tackles all of the kids problems, even if the problem is, that their dad never leaves the house, except to go on a date. Single dad, did we mention that he was single, can be preachy or a jokester, as long as he uses sarcasm as part of his parenting style. Danny Tanner, from Full House, might be a narcissistic control freak, but he cares about the well-being, of the fifty extended family members that live in his house. Only single dad, can elicit the background elevator music in those tender loving family moments.
Look at it! Do not avert your eyes! Stare into the geometric patterns, of my heinous sweater, until you become hypnotized or feel mildly nauseous.