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Friday, Feb. 23, 2024
The Observer

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Sitcoms find second life on the Internet

Due to the rise of streaming services, many sitcoms have found new audiences and lives. Though shorter seasons and television becoming more cinematic have led to fewer and fewer sitcoms being produced, older or less popular sitcoms have reached a wider audience.

“Arrested Development” follows Michael Bluth (played by Jason Bateman) as he tries to save his family’s failing real estate company after his father is arrested on charges of defrauding investors, though his incompetent and immature relatives constantly foil him. It received critical acclaim during its original run on Fox, but it was ultimately canceled after three seasons due to low ratings. “Arrested Development” never quite found its audience on television due to many gags in the show rewarding long-time viewership. It was shot like a reality television show (minus the talking heads) instead of the more conventional multi-camera sitcom format. But thanks to Netflix, it was picked up for another two seasons.

Similarly, “Community” started as just your average sitcom about a community college study group but quickly became a parody of nearly every sitcom troupe, action movie and show. The season two episode “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking” makes fun of the then-popular mockumentary sitcom style. Though much of the racial humor holds up very poorly (even leading to one of the episodes getting pulled from Netflix), the show is still more intelligent than many shows airing today. For example, throughout several seasons, the phrase Beetlejuice is uttered thrice, resulting in the character appearing in the background on his third mention. Throughout season three, the character of Abed helps a pregnant couple give birth, which is only briefly acknowledged in the show's canon.

“Community” also had a troubled production history, with the writers allowing both the third and fourth seasons' finales to act as series finales. After it was finally canceled on network television, it moved to now defunct Yahoo streaming service “Yahoo! Screen” for a sixth season. Though a movie was promised in the sixth season finale, fans didn’t have high hopes it would ever happen. In 2021, showrunner Dan Harmon announced they had finally started film production. What changed in 10 years? In early 2020, the show was moved to Netflix.

What these shows have in common is that they found a second life in internet memes. The phrase “Dead Dove: Don’t Eat” has become shorthand for tagging a work containing content that someone might upset people. But the “Arrested Development” family matriarch, Lucille Bluth (played by the late great Jessica Walter), takes the cake for the most memes featuring her. My friends and I quote “I mean, it’s one banana, Michael. How much could it cost, ten dollars?” at each other all the time, and the reaction photo of Lucille saying “Good for her” has become a staple reaction meme.

On the other hand, “Community” has launched several memes, such as Ken Jeong yelling gay or the Dean saying “This better not awaken anything in me.” But the most famous meme comes from the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory,” where Donald Glover enters a room only to find the whole room on fire.

Both of these shows have found new audiences, who either didn’t catch them on cable or weren’t old enough to watch them the first time and can now appreciate them. These audiences have the bonus of being able to recognize where their favorite meme is from, which has turned into a revival of these shows. Hopefully, we can see more shows get the love they so desperately deserve.