The Sitcom Reader: America Viewed and Skewed.

Author:Whitt, Jan
Position:Book review
 
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Dalton, M. M., & Linder, L. R. (Eds.). (2005). The sitcom reader: America viewed and skewed. Albany: State University of New York Press. 337 pages.

The beauty of the collection of essays entitled The Sitcom Reader: America Viewed and Skewed is its versatility. The book can be used for both undergraduate and graduate courses. It can be used by faculty members for research on the history of television, race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other subjects. It is also a welcome addition to courses in the history of media, media studies, popular culture, sociology, women's studies, and other related disciplines.

The table of contents is ordered clearly and logically: Part One ("Conventions of the Genre") includes essays about radio sitcoms and the American television comic tradition; Part Two ("Reframing the Family") includes a discussion of the dynamics and (non)evolution of American television families and the impact of the small-town rural setting on family life; Part Three ("Gender Represented") includes essays about I Love Lucy, Our Miss Brooks, and Sex and the City; and Part Four ("Race and Ethnicity") includes essays about African American issues in television history.

Part Five ("Situating Sexual Orientation") deals with Ellen, Will and Grace, and South Park; Part Six ("Work and Social Class") introduces professional women, homemakers, and comedies of the workplace; and Part Seven ("Implications of Ideology") includes an analysis of cultural issues and themes that scholars predict will outlive landmark television shows such as Cheers and The Simpsons.

As the editors explain in the introduction, the 21 essays "explore the historical underpinnings of the genre as well as the evolution of the signifiers that establish and reinforce situation comedy" (p. 2). Essays by Mary M. Dalton and Laura R. Linder are included among articles by scholars in cultural studies, history, media studies, political communication, popular culture, queer theory, racial and ethnic studies, rhetorical theory, social justice issues, and women's studies.

An essential essay is David Marc's "Origins of the Genre," in which he provides the context for the analyses that follow. Marc reveals that neither "situation comedy" nor "sitcom" were familiar terms until the 1950s and that TV Guide was one of the first general circulation magazines to use the term "sitcom" (p. 15). Understood to be "comic drama" or "narrative comedy" (p. 16), the situation comedy has...

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