Friday, March 10, 2017
Anatomy of a Perfect Sitcom
The current tense and divisive state of affairs in which a reality show star is president in the latest round of moving from one extreme of the Kinsey Scale of political ideology to the other and a department store discontinuing an underperforming product line triggers a battle royale screams for bringing back unreal escapist television fare. The following is a scheme for just such a sitcom. The bottom line is that this ain't rocket science folks.
Countless classic sitcoms revolve around a workplace because virtually everyone relates to the mostly frustration and limited joy associated with being a wage slave. The boss may not always be right but always is the boss. Similarly, many colleagues are not someone with whom we would socialize, but we still must work and play nicely with them roughly 40 hours a week.
The moldy "we are a family" concept of most workplace sitcoms is one thing that must go. Having a work spouse with whom you enjoy mutual support (and perhaps a regular lunch) is one thing. Taking extreme measures to solve the problem of your cubicle neighbor who has toxic BO and spends all day texting his former frat bros is not.
The other part of this equation is finding something new. This often involves having the action occur in a setting that both is interesting and is somewhere that no sitcom has gone before. This locale additionally should be someplace that naturally gets a stream of customers. This helps keep things fresh.
A post office seems to fit all the above criteria. There are many good postal employees, but this job also attracts a large number of people whose motivation is a pay scale and employment security that rivals that of the U.S. Supreme Court. They further benefit from being perhaps the only federal agency that is not subject to congressional control.
Like numerous classic sitcoms. setting a show in the post office allows the writers to use their personal experiences as fodder for characters and episodes. Your not-so-humble reviewer could get tremendous mileage from his uber-grumpy mailman in his late '70s who took full advantage of having a job that allowed him to be as nasty as he wanted to be and that provided for that veteran civil servant to spend at least two-thirds more days on vacation and sick leave than actually delivering the mail. A favorite story that aptly was the tip of the iceberg was this misanthrope always throwing packages in snowbanks despite dry ground being available. A related aspect of this was learning that postal carriers can keep their route for as long as they want with shockingly few restrictions.
Another its funny because its true postal story was the college boy delivering mail over the Christmas season leaving my mail in the box of my neighbor whose primary residence was in another state when that holiday hire was called on to do that route. Not discovering this for several weeks resulted in paying several bills late and losing a close friend over an argument that a check was in the mail. The response of the postmaster was that the student would still be eligible both to work for the post office and to deliver on my route.
A Sitcom By Any Other Name
The next step in creating a sitcom is choosing an apt title. The good ones cleverly reflect the concept without being trite. "Going Postal" is an obvious choice for the hypothetical series around which this post (no pun intended) revolves. However, it is too obvious and suffers from the same cuteness flaw as the names "Full House" and "Small Wonder."
"Snail Soldiers" has possibility but needs the proverbial work. "Postal Posse" also has potential.
A Star is Cast
Getting a star to headline a new series is tricky. A household name coming off a hot streak has the flaws of being associated with the role that makes him or her a star. Further, he or she properly likely wants more money than a risky venture like this can afford.
Former soap stud/current film director Michael Damian comes to mind as both someone with a good following and whom your not-so-humble reviewer knows to be a righteous dude. He further seems suited to play a straight man postal supervisor who gets caught between the carriers and the bad guy post master.
Other candidates would be '80s teen idol/current indie film star Jason Bateman, "Seinfeld" resident mailman Wayne Knight, or series retooling legend Ted McGinley.
Rounding Up a Postal Posse
Creating an ensemble cast of characters requires a delicate balance between interesting and not being totally unrelatable. You also should be aware that what is satirical today is merely very dated 50 years from now. In other words, none of the characters should have constantly twerking as a defining characteristic.
The aforementioned postal supervisor is a middle-aged middle manager with the stereotypical civil servant attitude of not caring about doing a good job but of caring about his team members. An example is this character letting a next-day package that is addressed to his next-door neighbor be delivered late rather than bringing it home with him but willing to take the hit for a postal carrier who scratches a mail truck.
The aforementioned nasty old cuss will be the main source of humor. This thoroughly unlikable character will work more days than his real-life inspiration only to keep him in the action. He will be rude, crude, and socially unacceptable but immune from consequences because of his tenure. He also frequently delivers mail at a glacial pace due to various physical injuries. One storyline will have him finish his route from the day before just as his co-workers show up for work and then have him start out on the route again only to have the pattern repeat itself. His mail truck having a handicapped plate will be an ongoing joke.
The legacy hire 20-something grandson of the aforementioned crank will be a nicer version of that old man but just as deplorable regarding his work ethics. This former high school jock will engage in antics such as making comical errors while doing his route drunk.
The mother of the group is the strongest stereotype. She is a 30-something mom who gets a job as a counter clerk after her downsized corporate attorney husband must teach at the local diploma mill law school. This postal worker is upper-middle class but not snobbish and has a good work ethic and superhuman tolerance for difficult customers. Her elitism will show up in gentle unintended ways such as driving 5 miles to go to Whole Foods for a bottle of water despite the post office being next to a respectable chain supermarket.
The post master is akin to a female police precinct captain who must contend with the old boys network regarding both the higher ups who got their jobs solely through seniority and the men on her staff who were never raised to respect women.
Any similarities between most of the above outlined characters and any postal workers or others either living or dead is coincidental. The character that is an exaggerated version of the real-life postal carrier (who most likely is deceased by now) from Hell merely is a loose variation of that individual.
To Be Continued?
One can only hope that broadcast and cable network suits will heed this message (and be reminded that comedy is less hard than touted) and get some quality relatable sitcoms in the pipeline for the 2017-18 season. Get to work guys!
Anyone with questions or comments regarding these thoughts as to creating a sitcom that you can (and want to) watch with your kids and your grandparents is welcome either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy,