Lots of hugging, lots of dancing, etc etc
February 14, 2012 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Many mainstream US sitcoms often seem to have a very sentimental moment five/ten minutes before the end. This is rarely the case in UK sitcoms and as a UK viewer seems very much an American thing. When did this become a convention and why?

I noticed this when I was little in the 80s/ 90s and watching US imports - The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (which was on every single teatime when I was a kid), The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Blossom, Kate and Allie, A Different World and tons more. No matter how acerbic, no matter how unsentimental the events, there'd always be a bit of weeping, hugging or learning before the end. (I'm aware Seinfeld deliberately set out to avoid this, but it was shown very late at night, if at all, on UK TV and even now is more of a cult programme than a mainstream show here. Most people who know it know it from DVD.) There are a few shows that buck the trend - I'm just getting into NewsRadio and we rarely have what my dad called The Schmaltzy Moment - but it seemed the rule.

In contrast, British shows, if about any archetype, were about the bumbling fool or the deluded loser, and even in mainstream teatime shows around at the same time like Keeping Up Appearances, One Foot in the Grave, Drop The Dead Donkey, Birds of a Feather and even the very US-style My Family we never had that soppy moment. The plot would be wrapped up and that was that.

The UK version of The Office, for example, was a show that started quietly with few viewers and so was a comedy of embarrassment (as many UK sitcoms have been in the past decade - Peep Show, Pulling etc etc) but the US one, from what I've seen, has taken the abrasive characters and yet still had The Schmaltzy Moment before the end (though that might just be the particular couple of episodes I saw). Is this something networks or viewers have been proven to like? Has it just become part of the convention of US sitcom writing? The most recent mainstream US sitcom I saw was King Of Queens, which definitely did have a bit of soppy toward the end, but it's a bit old now - is this still in your mainstream sitcoms? (I don't know if 30 Rock/Parks and Recreation/It's Always Sunny... are considered 'mainstream sitcoms' in the US - they're shown on an obscure cable channel, never and possibly on ITV4 at 3am respectively.) What was the first? Is there a name for this trope? Why did it start and why is it (from a UK perspective) such an American thing? Or does it happen in shows in other countries - my knowledge of Canadian and Australasian sitcom is scant and I don't speak any other languages well enough to follow something based on humour. Or are other nations just less emotionally expressive and unable to mix sentiment and humour so easily?
posted by mippy to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Full disclosure - the last sitcom episode that made me cry was South Park's 'You're Getting Older'/'Ass Burgers''. There's often a parody of 'You know, I learned something today...' in that show, but they were just full on weepies.)
posted by mippy at 1:30 PM on February 14, 2012

I'm almost positive that it dates back at least as far as The Brady Bunch. I'd also guess that it's mainly associated with family/kid centered sitcoms, or at least that it originated there. For example even though I'm pretty sure How I Met Your Mother does this sometimes (though not as often as Fresh Prince and Full House did), I can't imagine it ever happening on Taxi.

A related concept is TVTropes' Full House Music.
posted by Sara C. at 1:31 PM on February 14, 2012

Response by poster: No, we don't have those at all. I'm not really sure what the equivalent is, if any. TV Movies are an American thing, really. Drama for kids, from memory, didn't follow this kind of pattern.
posted by mippy at 1:32 PM on February 14, 2012

Blerg. I just recalled an episode of Taxi that featured this sort of denouement. So disregard everything I just said.
posted by Sara C. at 1:33 PM on February 14, 2012

This is the Golden Moment.

Modern Family is a recent sitcom that has these sappy Golden Moments from time to time. So they still haven't gone away.
posted by zsazsa at 1:41 PM on February 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm aware Seinfeld deliberately set out to avoid this, but it was shown very late at night, if at all, on UK TV and even now is more of a cult programme than a mainstream show here.

This was very much NOT the case in the US. In its prime Seinfeld was easily the most popular network comedy. It came on during a standard sitcom time slot. In fact it was so popular that it anchored NBC's entire Thursday-night "Must See TV" lineup.

If I remember correctly, it was paired over the years with more traditional sitcoms like Friends and Mad About You, but even those were nowhere near as shmoopy as Blossom or Fresh Prince which were aimed at younger audiences. Though of course they all came on in the same three or four time slots on weeknights after dinner and before bedtime.
posted by Sara C. at 1:42 PM on February 14, 2012

My knowledge of the show is pretty thing, but MASH did this I think. It would have the tragedy of war along with the humor. One of the characters in All In the Family had a miscarriage that was a large tonal shift for the show. Both were in the 70s, but I don't think this sort thing was a common part of the format.

Much more recently, Scrubs did this very well in many episodes.
posted by davextreme at 1:46 PM on February 14, 2012

Seconding what zsazsa says a couple comments above--Modern Family is a good current example of this. Every episode (I'm pretty sure that is to say every episode, not time to time, though) wraps up with a neat little bow where there is a bit of exposition on lessons learned, morals, etc, intercut with scenes of hugs and laughs shared, people getting along, etc. The first 20 minutes are mostly sublime, but the last few minutes are kind of annoying.
posted by jroybal at 1:47 PM on February 14, 2012

US sitcoms tend to follow a formula: There is an arc, but at the same time, things have to more or less return to the status quo. So the characters have to learn something and/or grow in some way, but their situation cannot actually change (there are exceptions to this, though, and they're becoming more common).

One reason for the difference is that a comedy which runs solely on pure embarrassment would find an audience in America, but not a huge one - not one big enough to justify a primetime slot. American audiences do best when they can sympathize, on some level, with the protagonist(s). It's why the US version of The Office was so poorly received at first but then caught on - they changed the Michael Scott character from an asshole who ruins everything to a well-intentioned idiot who still ruins everything. So you need to cover your ass, you need to have basically a little sign that it's okay to want to spend time with these characters.

The sentimental moment is a good way to do that - it's broad, it's easy, and it usually works. And you can get away with a lot if you have that.

It also aids in demonstrating the arc and, again, does so in a way where nothing really changes. In a US sitcom, an episode will show the journey from point A to point B or C or whatever, but even though the illusion of motion is presented, the situation (and in a broad sense the characters) need to wind up back at point A.

Partly you can chalk this up to the differences between the British and American senses of humor. The British do not like a winner, so it is perfectly acceptable to just laugh at a complete asshole for a half hour or so. David Brent has no arc to speak of. He's an asshole when the show starts and he's pretty much the same asshole at the end.

Compare House and Doc Martin; both are shows about doctors with poor social skills, except everyone on House finds the doctor to be charismatic and interesting, despite him being a jerk; on Doc Martin, nobody likes the guy and while they tolerate him because he's the only doctor in the village (and a good one), no one's shy about telling him what a complete, unlikable dickhead he is.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:49 PM on February 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

Yeah, Seinfeld was absolutely for mass consumption in the US. It was massively popular, and you really did talk about it the next day with your friends/coworkers. I would say that almost any live-action sitcom that airs on a broadcast network in the US is pretty mainstream, or at least it was trying to be mainstream at the beginning. Some mainstream shows include the "lesson" moments, some don't, and some deliberately subvert them (some do all three, depending on the episode).

I want to bet these moments go back as far as Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver though I haven't seen enough of either show to be authoritative about it.
posted by mskyle at 1:51 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think that's fair to say about House - plenty of people think he's an asshole and tell him so.
posted by maryr at 1:53 PM on February 14, 2012

"Birds of a Feather … never had that soppy moment. The plot would be wrapped up and that was that."

Didn't it? It's been a long time since I've seen it, but I recall it did have that "sentimental moment five/ten minutes before the end". It just wasn't an overt "everything solved!/valuable lesson learned! Let's hug!" moment, but a "we're all in it together - let's recognise that" one.

To my mind, the difference is mainly that US shows go heavy on soppy 'group hug'-style schmaltz, while UK shows lean quite heavily towards pathos.
posted by Pinback at 1:53 PM on February 14, 2012

Going back to the "history" of this approach:

All the Norman Lear shows of the 70's and early 80's (All in the Family, The Jeffersons, et al) had this in most episodes. In fact, it might be that these series and M.A.S.H. launched the trope from something exclusively used on kid-oriented shows to a standby in all American TV comedy until Seinfeld.

In fact, in a lot of ways Seinfeld is a direct reaction to this narrative structure.
posted by Sara C. at 1:55 PM on February 14, 2012

I can't search easily from my phone, but I can remember an article in the New Yorker about sitcoms calling that the "moment of shit." It is a distinctive part of the structure of those shows in the US.
posted by Forktine at 1:57 PM on February 14, 2012

The reason for the stasis that FAMOUS MONSTER refers to, where nothing really changes from episode to episode, is syndication. After the first run of a show, the episodes are bundled into a package and sold to local markets. Typically stations run them as filler between the afternoon programming like soap operas and women's shows, and the evening news, one episode per day instead of one per week (or less). Viewers may therefore catch episodes at any time and in any order, and may not watch consistently, so there will be little chance to develop narrative arcs. A show that doesn't exhibit stasis is a bad candidate for syndication. A popular show may run for many years in syndication, and earn more than it earned during its original airing, so it is important to the business model of many TV production companies that their shows be good candidates for syndication.
posted by kindall at 2:00 PM on February 14, 2012

TVTropes seems to call this an Aesop.

Some speculation:
  • British culture is not American culture. Really, we could end the discussion right here.
  • The BBC is publicly funded. They don't necessarily care about ratings, viewership, or have a vested interest in keeping you tuned in for another hour. As a result, the BBC have been known to occasionally produce content that is ambitious, experimental, heavyhanded, shocking, disturbing, outright bizarre, or some combination of the above.
  • For these reasons, the BBC can stop production of a programme whenever they feel like it. They don't need to set up the plot for a show that will run for a dozen seasons. There's no way that something as acerbic as the UK Office could last for 8 seasons.
    • Heck, the IT Crowd and Black Books both only have 20-odd episodes, and definitely start to wear on you after watching a few episodes. They're both great shows, but the comedy style doesn't leave you immediately wanting to come back for more.
  • I think this trope predates the current "comedy of awkwardness" thing that is very popular in the UK, and sort of popular in the US. This didn't exist until about a decade ago, and the trend that you recognized seems to have existed for as long as the US and UK have been producing television dramas. (Literature's not my strong suit; maybe somebody else could jump in to comment on whether or not this distinction between British and American comedy existed prior to WWII and television)
  • Somewhat offtopic: Seinfeld translates surprisingly poorly to the British comedic palate. You'd think it would work, but it doesn't. At all (nor does Arrested Development); Friends is vastly more popular in the UK.
  • Parks & Rec sort of embraces the trope you describe. Their usage of the trope is nowhere remotely as heavyhanded as some older family sitcoms, but P&R is definitively not clone of The Office for exactly this reason. The show deliberately goes out of its way to show that its more misanthropic characters have redeeming qualities.
  • 30 Rock does it too. Not too many Americian comedies have cold endings. It's Always Sunny, The Office, and Seinfeld are the only major ones that come to mind.
    • As an above poster pointed out, Scrubs also had a number of cold endings, although I would argue that this originates around the fact that the show alternated between being a tragedy and a comedy. Many shows share elements of drama and comedy, but somewhat uniquely, Scrubs rarely did both at the same time. The show's more heart-wrenching moments almost never had any hooks into gags or jokes (which were plentiful elsewhere). You could say that this was a commentary about the ways that doctors make fun for themselves in order to stay sane and retain their humanity while surrounded by constant death, injury, and disease.
  • We don't do panel/quiz shows here in the US, and it's a crying shame, because I think they'd work really well (even if Americans might not have as big of an appreciation for witty banter). Whose Line worked well, after all. This observation is almost completely offtopic.

posted by schmod at 2:01 PM on February 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

As TV Tropes notes, this is very common in family targeted sitcoms.

I have no factual basis for this, but I'm going to venture that Family Ties help start this. The 70's sitcoms just had a slightly different plot format and they were more willing to end things on a harsh note and a laugh. I don't think of Three's Company, Happy Days or Laverne and Shirley having Golden Moments (I might be wrong, I was a little young).

Starting in the 80's the sitcoms became a little cuddlier and felt the need for a Lesson. I guess we can blame Reagan, but to me this feels like when this really took off. There are a couple of modern that avoid convention, but it's rare. Even Community and Arrested Development feature it commonly, even though they're subverting it.
posted by jefftang at 2:01 PM on February 14, 2012

See Also: The worst Buffy episode ever.
posted by schmod at 2:02 PM on February 14, 2012

Apparently none of you have ever watched sitcoms from the 1950s. This sort of stuff is native to the format from the very beginning of television, and probably even back into radio. Look up "Father Knows Best" sometime.
posted by briank at 2:05 PM on February 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

This did not start with MASH in the early 1970's. There were elements of this dating back to the very first sitcoms in the 1950's. I Love Lucy for example has sentimental moments where a falling out (between Lucy and Ethel for example) is fixed with a group hug by the end of the episode. Almost every US sitcom prior to Seinfeld has these more serious moments, even Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 2:06 PM on February 14, 2012

Happy Days definitely had Golden Moments, as did a lot of its contemporaries. Though you're right that not all shows had them. It seems like by the 80's and early 90's they were ubiquitous. Nowadays we're probably back down to 70's levels, where it's used in family-oriented comedies but not across the board.
posted by Sara C. at 2:13 PM on February 14, 2012

Response by poster: I know Seinfeld was huge over in its home country, but honestly, I was surprised at how much when I started reading US sites. I can't get my head around the fact that it was as big as Friends is/was here. I mean, Caroline In The City was shown in prime time - Seinfeld was on at 11.25, depending on whether there was snooker. We got Home Improvement, we got Cybill (which I really liked) but no Jerry.

I don't think House and Doc Martin are generally comparable. DM is a gentle, tea time family sitcom with housewives' favourite, Loveable Martin Clunes. House is much more of a drama and shown after the watershed, giving much more license for swearing, drug use and generally being an asshole. So it's interesting that it works that way around (I haven't seen Doc Martin, but I've seen enough House that my Scots boyfriend and I refer to the ending as 'nae mair Hoose'. Guess you have to be there.)

I may misremember Birds of a Feather! Pathos is the description I was reaching for, I think. From my parents - well, mainly my dad, who had some weird thing against the US despite never having been there - that it was a kind of very American sentimentality to be viewed with distaste. I think that's why it stuck out so much to me as even family-oriented sitcoms don't have it. (Though the only current example I can think of is Outnumbered, which is a very naturalistic show in which the child actors largely improvise their lines.)

"British culture is not American culture. Really, we could end the discussion right here."

Yes, I got that. Which is why I'm interested by this. I'm aware too that the writer's room set up and the long seasons are but two things that differentiate the two. And with US shows being popular here and vice versa, it got me to thinking about it.

Remember not all UK shows are on the BBC - many are produced by the commercial station Channel 4, and ITV produce very mainstream ones. channel 4 has a youth-orientated digital spin-off channel which is very attractive to advertisers - this was the channel that showed/repeat Black Books and The IT Crowd and more recently The Inbetweeners and Peep Show. None of these are particularly mainstream - The Inbetweeners is very, very filthy, and Peep Show is a dark sitcom shot from the protagonist's point of view. In addition, there are tons of shows that have lasted for series after series, albeit shorter than the US season.

I'm British and love Arrested Development. Most Brits who've seen it (again, never on broadcast) do too. I think Seinfeld is quite a Jewish sort of humour which traditionally we don't have a lot of here, but a lot of people I know love this and Curb. Especially given the 'comedy of awkwardness' which both shows have a hand in. I don't really know where you get the translates poorly thing from. Family Guy is MASSIVELY popular despite most of the jokes being very rooted in particularly American pop culture (case in point: the Kool-Aid jug). Scrubs was big too, despite being MASSIVELY smug. Friends was huge, but so was Frasier, which is essentially a highbrow farce rooted in tensions between blue collar and white collar worlds - something that doesn't exactly translate here.
posted by mippy at 2:20 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't think any episode of a sitcom which ends with feuding characters hugging and making up necessarily makes the cut. To me it's more about a Valuable Lesson Learned, typically in a heartfelt scene where said lesson is spelled out in detail via a conversation with an authority figure. Which I don't recall Lucy doing that much. At least nowhere near as much as Family Ties or Blossom did.
posted by Sara C. at 2:22 PM on February 14, 2012

Response by poster: Another example of things that shouldn't translate but did - C4 showed A Different World during teatime viewing, a sitcom about students at an African-American university. These do not exist in the UK. There's actually very very few black sitcoms I can think of, so a sitcom with a cast consisting entirely of black people is a pretty different scenario to most here. (Although, at the same time, they showed Desmonds which was a sitcom about an Afro-Caribbean barber's shop where they often mocked the hi-falutin African guy who came in - not something that would be found in most parts of the UK but I remember the kids in my class loved it.)
posted by mippy at 2:26 PM on February 14, 2012

Response by poster: I mean, can think of from the UK! There's a few Asian ones tho.
posted by mippy at 2:27 PM on February 14, 2012

I think Seinfeld is quite a Jewish sort of humour which traditionally we don't have a lot of here

While I think this is true, in a History Of American Entertainment sort of way, it's absolutely wrong to think of it that way within the context of American culture.

Absolutely EVERYBODY loved the absolute SHIT out of Seinfeld. I grew up in the rural South, in a town with maybe three Jewish families, and everyone I knew adored Seinfeld. I was a young teenager during its heyday, but as far as I'm aware it was not viewed through the lens of "Jewish Humor."

That said, aside from maybe certain Woody Allen movies, I'm not sure that the category "Jewish sort of humor" really exists in the US, partially because of the fact that TV comedy has always been rooted in it. With a few notable exceptions, virtually all American television that attempts to be humorous can trace its roots to the Borscht Belt, Yiddish theatre, and Jewish comedians.
posted by Sara C. at 2:36 PM on February 14, 2012

Response by poster: The BBC is publicly funded. They don't necessarily care about ratings, viewership, or have a vested interest in keeping you tuned in for another hour....For these reasons, the BBC can stop production of a programme whenever they feel like it .

The clip you linked to parodies Downton Abbey. Downton Abbey is an ITV show, which means it;s shown on a commercial channel. The rate cards for advertisers are huge - it pulls in something like 38% audience share. I've never watched it, so I don't know if it's any good or not, but I imagine if only for that reason ITV would be keen to keep it going. They'll probably keep making it until Julian Fellowes doesn't want to write it anymore, so it could well go on for 8 series. The BBC can push the envelope further, but you bet the care about ratings. They have to justify the license fee and if the programming isn't popular, then they're stuck.

Community: another show we don't get here. But hey, 2 Broke Girls is coming later this year.
posted by mippy at 2:39 PM on February 14, 2012

The Honeymooners were doing this as far back as the early fifties. There'd be conflict and arguing (and threats of violence) during the episode but at the end Ralph would hug Alice and say "Baby, you're the greatest".
posted by octothorpe at 2:40 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sara C - and apologies for babysitting my question! - I see what you mean there. Maybe here it's been pigeonholed that way, because there's a neuroticism which seems to have something in common with Woody Allen and hey they're both New York Jews, right? Well, it's the only reason I can think of for some 90s scheduler to think it wouldn't take off here.
posted by mippy at 2:41 PM on February 14, 2012

Yeah, this goes back about as far as US sitcoms go. In I Love Lucy, it's pretty light but there's usually a lesson learned. Then you have the aforementioned The Honeymooners, Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best (it's in the title!)
posted by furiousthought at 3:02 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Michael Keaton's character in "Speechless" called these youseetimmies. This refers to youseetimmies that often wrapped up episodes of Lassie. (The boy character in Lassie was named Timmy.) Lassie was not a sitcom, but it feels to me like the phenomena is the same.

I hope someone comes along and offers an insight into why this practice spread so much in American television.
posted by stuart_s at 3:08 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The oddest thing about Seinfeld's lackadaisical scheduling in the UK was that it was blocked, for the most part, with The Larry Sanders Show late at night on BBC2.

Heading back to the main thread: even lighter British comedies (Dad's Army, Are You Being Served?, even Terry and June) seem to avoid Golden Moments. What you get instead is a gradual crescendo of absurdity that is somehow resolved, often through sheer luck, without any harm befalling the characters. You can see that, for instance, the end of the first episode of Allo! Allo!; it's also the pattern for the Ben Elton Blackadder series.

Comedy of embarrassment, which is often incorrectly conflated with 'British comedy', takes the crescendo but either refuses to resolve it, or twists the resolution into something even more absurd. Fawlty Towers and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin are archetypes here.

I think it's partly down to how farce feeds the British comedy tradition much more than it does the American one.
posted by holgate at 3:10 PM on February 14, 2012

That said: you do see Golden Moments occasionally in Steven Moffat's Press Gang -- written specifically for a young adult audience, and more comedy-drama than pure comedy.

You also get a certain amount of hugging and learning in My Family, which is notable for being created by an American and using an American-style writers' room.
posted by holgate at 3:24 PM on February 14, 2012

I always assumed the sentimental ending was a holdover from vaudeville, but I can't find any citation for this.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 3:26 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've never seen Fawlty Towers (most people under 30 or so in the UK probably haven't, it rarely gets repeated unless you have the repeat channels on satellite) but yeah, from what I've seen and heard it does fit into that comedy as embarrassment thing. Which might explain why it was rarely a part of Frasier, as almost all the plots in that show became farce.

The Press Gang one is interesting. a lot of the US comedies I saw as a nipper would have been aimed at a similar audience - definitely things like Blossom, Boy Meets World etc. It makes sense that comedies dealing with teenage subjects and feelings would include a dollop of sentiment somewhere. But it's a strong part of shows aimed at adults too. Are Americans more open to mixing comedy and emotional moments?
posted by mippy at 4:17 PM on February 14, 2012

What? Every damn episode of One Foot in the Grave I've seen had a soppy sentimental moment.

When Victor and Margaret can't sleep? She reminisces about her dead son and the life they never led together as a family.

When he's been buried in the back garden by the handyman? Her mom dies, and later Margaret almost breaks down when she hears her mother's answer phone.

Their house is destroyed while they're on holiday? They come back to the rubble where Victor philosophizes about the care he lavished on the garden and in particular one apple tree that he planted when they bought the place all those years ago. "Not one sodding apple," he grumbles. "Let's plant another one together," she says.

If that's not corny, I don't know what is.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:20 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You kind of have to have a plot, so there is pretty much always going to be a tying up of the plot moment. But I think the particularly sappy and manipulative method of doing this came from Norman Lear. (and continued with later MASH episodes, Scrubs, Everybody Hates Raymond, all of Chuck Lorre's dreck, Modern Family- basically all the drama-comedies, ever.)

Are Americans more open to mixing comedy and emotional moments?

I don't know if we are more open to it, but our TV overlords seem to love that stuff. Probably because it makes it more accessible to a wider audience.
posted by gjc at 5:14 PM on February 14, 2012

Probably because it makes it more accessible to a wider audience.


Time was, say in the fifties and sixties, television was segregated between adults and children. There's not a lot of space for smart aleck kids in I Love Lucy or the Honeymooners, or even Dick Van Dyke. Frequently there's not at all. Once the networks started to try for that cross-over family togetherness thing, well, they had to appeal to the kids by letting them be bratty and appeal to the parents by having the life affirming sentimental crap at the end. Of course the results are Godawful.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:22 PM on February 14, 2012

I think that this (from Rolling Stone, not the New Yorker) was the article I am remembering that taught me the technical term for that moment:
Television writers have a cynical technical term for the point in the script when Cosby's Cliff Huxtable speechifIes about coming to grips with his son's dyslexia, when the swingle fathers on My Two Dads discuss the very important lesson they've learned about role modeling, when Doogie Howser concocts the wistful moral to wrap up every episode. It is what they call the Moment of Slit. "The Moment of Shit,' explains Earl Pomeranrz, who writes Major Dad and has written for The Cosby Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi, "is when it's time to get serious and say, Don't do that to your dog,' or 'Lying is wrong.' They have a lesson to teach near the end of the show."
posted by Forktine at 5:34 PM on February 14, 2012

Which might explain why it was rarely a part of Frasier, as almost all the plots in that show became farce.

Ken Levine has written a little bit about farce in Cheers and Frasier: it's definitely more a part of the latter. I like his point that farces are generally built upon a lie, as the attempts to maintain it spin out of control.
posted by holgate at 5:35 PM on February 14, 2012

"It is what they call the Moment of Slit."

Pardon, your slip is showing.

Possibly Freudianly…
posted by Pinback at 5:42 PM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

"It is what they call the Moment of Slit."

WTF? That's a weird scanning error, or some website's effort to keep profanity off the page ironically making it sound worse. Moment of shit. Moment of SHIT. SHIT.
posted by Forktine at 6:08 PM on February 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Television writers have a cynical technical term for the point in the script when Cosby's Cliff Huxtable speechifIes about coming to grips with his son's dyslexia, when the swingle fathers on My Two Dads discuss the very important lesson they've learned about role modeling, when Doogie Howser concocts the wistful moral to wrap up every episode. It is what they call the Moment of Slit. "The Moment of Shit,' explains Earl Pomeranrz, who writes Major Dad and has written for The Cosby Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi, "is when it's time to get serious and say, Don't do that to your dog,' or 'Lying is wrong.' They have a lesson to teach near the end of the show."

Best moment of shlit ever.
posted by maryr at 8:22 PM on February 14, 2012

Every damn episode of One Foot in the Grave I've seen had a soppy sentimental moment.

Most episodes of Not Going Out and Miranda too, though both of those are sort of consciously bucking modernity.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:32 AM on February 15, 2012

Family Ties help start this

You have to go back way further than that -- Leave it to Beaver, Lassie, Dennis the Menace, etc...
posted by empath at 9:38 AM on February 15, 2012

(In fact, I'm pretty sure you can go all the way back to stuff like Amos and Andy and the Honeymooners, but I haven't actually seen them..)
posted by empath at 9:41 AM on February 15, 2012

Without wishing to sound trite, I've always put this down to English people being a lot more jaded and cynical in their humour in general, with a generally higher level of reservedness in how they behave. Obviously I can't paint the entire country with the same brush, but I can't think of anyone I know in my generation whose first reaction to outgoing schmaltz isn't a sort of wary sidelong look to make sure this is actually happening, along with an implied 'what is this, why are you getting up in my space'. Where you do get Golden Moments they tend to be quiet or private and come at you from unexpected directions for just long enough to give you a nod and a quiet 'hello' and a kick in the feelings, and then they're gone again. English TV in general tends to be more down-to-earth and sedate.

The best way I can think to illustrate this difference is soap operas, actually - I remember coming over to the US and being amazed at the bright glitzy lawyer firm soap operas where everyone had suits and shiny white teeth and mansions and the drama was about the alimony they had to pay their third wife, or what-have-you. By contrast, the vast majority of UK soap operas focus on inner-city, low-or-medium class cast members knifing each other in alleyways or having (endless, endless) cups of conciliatory tea. US soap operas seem to me to be all about Living the Dream; UK soap operas are about commiserating with each other over how bad the rain is.

I'd strongly suggest the comedy thing is something you either will or already do see less of as newer generations in the UK get increasingly better and better access to US shows and the culture between the two normalises.
posted by stelas at 1:00 PM on February 15, 2012

I think it bears mentioning that the "Golden Moment" phenomenon on TV doesn't really translate to real life American culture. At least in my experience.

It's no more naturalistic than the Deus Ex Machina used in classical tragedy. It's really just a stylized narrative device. Interesting that it's a relic of American pop culture, but I don't think it necessarily says anything about what actually happens in American families.
posted by Sara C. at 1:19 PM on February 15, 2012

That schmaltzy lets-wrap-it-all-up moment has been around forever. I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, ad nauseum. I expect it existed in the old radio sitcoms as well. The main difference is that in the older shows they were done in such a ham fisted manner. The first sitcoms that I can remember that actually did this well in a way that was honest and revealing and actually moving were Taxi and Soap.
posted by marsha56 at 7:22 PM on February 15, 2012

'Father Knows Best' started out on radio, so, full marks, marsha56.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:23 AM on February 18, 2012

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