Austen and Sitcoms

Austen and Sitcoms

You may have guessed between all the reading, writing and chasing after kids I don’t have a lot of time to watch TV. The first six months after my son’s birth was filled with feedings every two hours or less and Netflix was my bestie, even at 3 am.

My daughter was a much better sleeper and not nearly as hungry of a baby, but I still watched some TV in the evenings with my husband. When she was about 8 weeks old, she started sleeping through the night, and we moved her from the bassinet in our room to my son’s room. A blissful two months followed and then my son began what I have now, after four years, accepted as his fall routine. He goes to bed insanely early; I push him to 6:30 pm. My daughter was not going to bed that early. When we tried to put her down at her usual time, we’d wake my son up. But neither were my husband and I going to bed as early as she. When put in our room, we’d wake her up when coming to bed. So, we had to move her bed to the living room. For about a year my husband and I were locked in our room, unable even to get a snack, after about 8 pm.

I had already discovered JAFF reading during my daughter’s pregnancy, but no TV at all occurred around the same time I began writing. Now I’ve accumulated 23 stories in a little over a year, granted many of them are about 2,000 words or less. (This does not include my unfinished pile. I’ve got half a novel just waiting for me to have time to pick it up again…)

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’ve realized when I couldn’t watch my favorite sitcoms, I wrote them instead.

The other night I had finished a manuscript and sent it off to the editor. I decided to give myself the rest of the night off. That didn’t last and before too long I had my notebook out but I did let myself watch some TV (we’ve moved and my daughter now has her own room). I caught the tail end of an “Everybody Loves Raymond” episode and then “The King of Queens” came on. Yes, I was watching TV Land. I don’t have time to keep up with new shows and a story arc I won’t be able to watch again next week.

I went from identifying with the Barones and their parents that live across the street—I never know when my perfect sister-in-law is just going to show up with some kind of food—to the Heffernans with the obnoxious dad that lives in the basement—due to a financial set back a few years ago we moved in with my father-in-law. It occurred to me that what appeals to me in both these shows and Austen’s books is the situational comedy of family life.

Austen always has embarrassing and/or exasperating relatives. Perhaps Mr. Darcy would feel encouraged by knowing the fear of terrible in-laws has a thriving life even in the 21st century. Austen’s heroes and heroines are just as flawed and capable of misunderstanding one another, even when it seems to be against their character to do so, as contemporary sitcom couples. Such as a man who writes for a living can lack the right words to say to his wife; or a man who is overweight may think his wife needs to lose a few pounds. A woman who is by far the most “normal” one of the group can resort to losing her mind over her mother-in-law asking for a spoon back; or a woman who is usually sharp tongued can feel hurt by her husband’s inconsiderate words.

But you know what? No matter how flawed and even, at times, uncaring they are, both Austen and my favorite sitcoms show me families that come together and love each other. It may not always be unselfishly, but they do love each other. That’s a valuable lesson to learn as I consider my own family, my in-laws and wonder what the future may hold for my children. I can almost promise I will be neither Mrs. Bennet nor Mrs. Barone…

As Elizabeth Ann West posted the other week, JAFF is like the Austen channel that never ends. I don’t think I do drama particularly well, nor am I super sweet. I wouldn’t say I’m very funny, but maybe I can offer up some good sitcom stories to which readers can relate.

Some examples from the Fairbanks Daily Sitcom:

What happened when I wrote 800 words in an hour during quiet time about Wickham’s evil schemes and the preschooler apparently wanted a sandwich without telling me. He even tried to make coffee for me.


Just your average routine restroom break gone awry:


Do you have a favorite sitcom character? Do you see any similarities between them and your favorite Austen character?

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Sheila L. M.
Sheila L. M.
September 22, 2015 7:58 PM

BBC: Ripper Street and MI5 which I am catching up on HULU. Then there are Penny Dreadful, Vikings, DaVinci’s Demons and Outlander and Poldark all of which are favorites of mine. Now of these is a comedy but are my preferences. Yes, I am way late to this discussion. Spent the whole day trying to shift through old unread e-mails. Life just gets in the way…LOL

Debbie Fortin
Debbie Fortin
March 6, 2015 5:31 AM

I am not a big TV watcher….having a 50 hour work week, trying to keep up with a few blogs and friends on fb as well as reading…..but love Sheldon in Big Bang Theory and the old Home Improvement and MASH. I sometimes feel like

Sheila L. M.
Sheila L. M.
September 22, 2015 7:54 PM
Reply to  Debbie Fortin

I agree with Sheldon on Big Bang but haven’t watched that in a while now. Many of the shows I watch lean more to Sci-Fi, i.e., Grimm, Once Upon a Time and/or detective/mystery stories, i.e., Castle, …..The Flash, Arrow, Beauty and The Beast, etc.

Debbie Fortin
Debbie Fortin
March 6, 2015 5:45 AM
Reply to  Debbie Fortin

Sorry. Hadn’t finished my thought…Sometimes I feel like I have my own sitcom with 18 4 year olds in my classroom….although all the situations are serious to the kids it’s hard not to laugh.

Sharon Lathan
March 5, 2015 7:05 PM

I confess to being a moderate TV-aholic. I went for so many years working night shift (before the invention of Netflix or a DVR), so missed a good 15 years of “must see” TV series. Gradually between my Roku device and channel subscriptions I am able to catch up, and follow current series!

I like a bit of everything. Serious dramas, but also some sitcoms. The Big Band Theory, Parks and Recreation, and The Mindy Project are my favorites. But I also started rewatching M*A*S*H (new on Netflix), can always pop on Friends for an episode or two, and think I’ll next work my way through Barney Miller.

I agree with you, Rose. The sitcoms that I have always loved the best were ones with awesome characters where love, or at least affection and respect, with decency interwoven.

Jennifer Redlarczyk
Jennifer Redlarczyk
March 5, 2015 3:58 PM

Television, what’s that? All my TV time goes to this crazy thing called a computer and all the crazy things that go with it like the moderating D&L, FB, Blogs, oh and writing my forever novel every now and then. When I watch with Greg we never watch “fluff.” It’s science, history, news, and the like. I might sneak into the Hallmark channel when he’s not home and go back something like the old Dick Van Dyke show. Now Rob Petrie would sure make a fun Bingley, don’t you think? ~Jen Red~

Brenda Webb
March 5, 2015 3:21 PM

I shall ‘fess up that I practically never watch television but I did enjoy a few of the BBC shows. With my busy schedule, I can barely remember to watch my favorite BBC show Downton Abbey and I did love the Ripper Street but it has not been available here for ages. My idea of entertaining TV went by the wayside years ago with Columbo and Rockford Files. 🙂 Nevertheless, I can agree that Austen’s families show up on our television screens often. Human nature never changes!

Regina Jeffers
March 5, 2015 4:57 PM
Reply to  Brenda Webb

Ripper Street is supposed to be back on in the U.S. in April.

Sharon Lathan
March 5, 2015 7:15 PM
Reply to  Regina Jeffers

I sure hope so! I’ve been checking Amazon on a regular basis!

Diana Oaks
March 5, 2015 2:27 PM

Austen was certainly a comedic genius. My grown sons used to roll their eyes during the “awkward” scenes in the Austen adaptations I’m prone to watch obsessively. When I finally took the time to persuade them that these weren’t just historical romances, but actually historical romantic comedies, they actually started to enjoy watching them with me. That’s one of the reasons I take so much delight in JAFF novels that indulge in the ridiculous. Austen certainly did!

Joana Starnes
March 5, 2015 1:16 PM

Thanks for a fun post, Rose! I do get to spend a few mornings with the Barones & Fraser and some evenings with the Big Bang crowd, but same as you, most of my time’s a juggle between family and writing. Speaking of Big Bang, I did love it when Sheldon described P&P as a flawless masterpiece 🙂

I loved your references to Blackadder, Jennifer. Such fun! They don’t write ’em like this anymore, or if they do, I don’t know where to look. Do you remember that one where Blackadder tells Baldrick that Jane Austen is ‘a Yorkshireman with a beard like a rhododendron bush? 😀

Thanks for sharing snippets from the Fairbanks Daily Sitcom, Rose. Been there, done that, and I’m still trying to get the stains off the T-shirt 😀 You’re such a hero to be able to write under that sort of pressure!

Sophia Rose
March 5, 2015 12:26 PM

I don’t watch sitcoms these days. I watched several in the 90s for ‘ABC family’, but just got away from it when life got crazy. I love many of the ‘classics’ so I’ll watch those if some one has them on Netflix or DVD. I can totally see several Austen characters and stories in sitcoms. 😉

March 5, 2015 11:50 AM

It is amazing how themes remain the same in popular entertainment, whether it’s streaming, terrestrial broadcast (TV and radio), movies, plays or hand shadows on the cave wall. I just read someone saying the pairing of Jeeves and Wooster goes back to Roman and Greek comedies about the master and vastly superior slave.

One of my favorite sitcoms is Blackadder, especially the third series set during the Regency. With episodes like Ink an Incapability and Dish and Dishonesty, it reeks of Austen. But if you’re a stickler for accuracy, it can drive you nuts, with Dr. Johnson still alive and bean pole Hugh Laurie playing the Prince Regent. Still, such fun (I also have a fondness for Miranda Hart).

March 5, 2015 12:01 PM
Reply to  Jennifer

As a matter of fact, I just remembered I used the events of Dish and Dishonesty in one of my books. Dunny-in-the-Wold!

Cecilia Gray
March 5, 2015 11:39 AM

My new favorite sitcom is Blackish! Usually I let shows accumulate and binge-watch but I have to see Blackish every week. 🙂

The main character in Blackish, Dre Johnson, is a successful marketing exec who worries that by raising his children in a largely “white” (read: upper middle class gentrified) enviro that they won’t understand the struggle that he went through and that many people still go through His attempts to teach his kids the lessons that he learned often have hilarious, hijinxish results with the ultimate outcome of him realizing that just because their upbringings are different doesn’t mean they don’t have their own struggles that build character.

I was wondering which Austen character has a similar dilemma, but I honestly couldn’t think of one! If anything, any time an Austen character comes into additional means, it’s a blessing. But if anyone can think of a parallel I’m all ears!!!

Regina Jeffers
March 5, 2015 11:37 AM

I am more “old school” for comedies. I do not care much for the bathroom humor found in most pieces today. I watch Murphy Brown, Caroline in the City, Friends, Kate and Allie, and Newhart. You will notice in most of my choices there are strong, independent women.

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