"Meticulously researched and engagingly written, this book demonstrates how the history of TV comedy is also a history of stereotypes of bad behaviors and our changing understanding of their roles in our lives."—Amanda Ann Klein, East Carolina University
"This is the rare book that is both theoretically rich and thoroughly entertaining. . . . An original and groundbreaking study that shows us why comedy matters."—Joanne Morreale, Northeastern University
"From The Honeymooners to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Diffrient’s triumphantly wide-ranging analysis of television comedy delivers a sophisticated and decidedly fun take on the medium’s longstanding reliance on 'bad' behavior."—Alice Leppert, Ursinus College
"Diffrient’s book demonstrates how television comedy defines and polices behavior within the culture. . . . A valuable work that ought to provide a model for the field."—Philip Scepanski, author of Tragedy Plus Time: National Trauma and Television Comedy
"Comic Drunks, Crazy Cults, and Lovable Monsters is more than just an in-depth survey of television comedy and its preoccupation with the immoral, the unacceptable, and the inappropriate; it is a compelling history of the medium, an intriguing cultural study, and a thoughtful examination of just who and what we are. In short, his book about being bad is very, very good."—Douglas Howard, coeditor of Television Finales: From Howdy Doody to Girls
"Such expansive close analysis rooted within rigorous historiography offers a refreshing read within television studies, impressive scholarship indeed."—Christine Becker, University of Notre Dame
"Demonstrating an almost encyclopedic knowledge of television history, Diffrient provides a captivating examination of our cultural fascination with comic drunks, cults, and monsters."—Amanda Konkle, Georgia Southern University
Contradictory to its core, the sitcom—an ostensibly conservative, tranquilizing genre—has a long track record in the United States of tackling controversial subjects with a fearlessness not often found in other types of programming. But the sitcom also conceals as much as it reveals, masking the rationale for socially deviant or deleterious behavior behind figures of ridicule whose motives are rarely disclosed fully over the course of a thirty-minute episode. Examining a broad range of network and cable TV shows across the history of the medium, from classic, working-class comedies such as The Honeymooners, All in the Family, and Roseanne to several contemporary cult series, animated programs, and online hits that have yet to attract much scholarly attention, this book explores the ways in which social imaginaries related to “bad behavior” have been humorously exploited over the years. The repeated appearance of socially wayward figures on the small screen—from raging alcoholics to brainwashed cult members to actual monsters who are merely exaggerated versions of our own inner demons—has the dual effect of reducing complex individuals to recognizable “types” while neutralizing the presumed threats that they pose. Such representations not only provide strangely comforting reminders that “badness” is a cultural construct, but also prompt audiences to reflect on their own unspoken proclivities for antisocial behavior, if only in passing.
David Scott Diffrient is professor of film and media studies at Colorado State University. His books include Screwball Television: Critical Perspectives on “Gilmore Girls” and Movie Migrations: Transnational Genre Flows and South Korean Cinema.
Series: Television and Popular Culture
7 x 10, 384 pages, 45 color, 13 black and white illustrations