Nerdvana: Making Family Fun
Today’s Nerdvana spotlights that special thing that’s supposedly the cornerstone of American life and what politicians love to squawk about: The Family.
While generally I’m about as domestic as a cocaine party, I have to admit to finding a certain charm and mystique to domcoms. What’s a domcom? As defined by The Great Sitcom Book author Rick Mitz, domcoms are domestic comedies which largely focus on family life. Lately I’ve been nerding out on this trope, and have decided to devote today’s Nerdvana to constructing my ideal domcom. In other words, today we’ll be Making Family Fun. (Yeah, I had to say it.)
Before we start, I feel it’s necessary to lay down some ground rules and stipulations (unusual for a Nerdvana to have rules, but it’s called for this time):
- First, I will not be covering any dysfunctional families like The Simpsons or Family Guy. No, I’m not delusional; I know that dysfunctional families exist and that they can be entertaining, if you’re into the dysfunctional family trope, more power to you, but that’s just not my thing and it’s not what I’m going for here. Call me idealistic or prudish or whatever, but I prefer my fictional settings to be places you’d want to escape to, not from. On a related note, I will not be covering any ‘broken’ households or single parent shows, least of all single father shows, because I’m not going to mince words here: I hate shows about single fathers. Why? I can’t put it any better than my brother Jason (Goldstar) who when asked the same question, replied: “Because I like marriage humor and I like MILFs, and with single dads, you don’t get either”. So none of that.
- Second, I will not be covering any extended relatives, ‘bizarre’ family units or overcrowded households a la Full House or Family Matters. I will only be covering the basic core family unit of Mom, Dad and Kids, in other words, the Nuclear Family.
“Ah believe ya mean ‘NUKE-ya-ler. heh-heh!”
- Third and finally, I won’t be covering anything regarding in-laws or babies, as I’ve never found either of them entertaining. To me mother or father-in-laws from hell are not now nor have they ever been funny (I freaking hated those Fockers movies), and babies are just a big fat writing problem as they’re too young to do anything funny on purpose; all they do is poop and cry. Once you get past the usual string of dirty diaper jokes, there’s literally nothing interesting you can do with them, unless they’re magical or enhanced hyper-intelligent super babies like Stewie Griffin or Turbo Norimaki from Dr. Slump.
The latter of whom, in addition to being an incredible genius, was killed by aliens and then revived by them, in the process imbuing him with many super powers including teleportation, flight, technopathy and telekinesis. Now that’s an interesting baby character, despite his somewhat generic design.
With that out of the way, on to building my ideal domcom. First up, the proverbial head of the household (unless you’re asking Mom)….
As we know, normal, sensible adults in animated comedies are boring, so as a result, the stereotype of the goofy idiot father is a common and frequently used trope in fiction. now some have a problem with this, but personally I find it, well, kind of charming in a way.
Believe it or not. There is a certain appeal in silly fathers, after all, one of my all-time favorite Disney characters is Goofy, who’s mined the dimwit father shtick for many hearty laughs.
Mr. Goofy Goof, proof that it can be fun when Father Knows Least.
I only have a problem with it when they’re characterized as being so stupid that they have trouble walking around a tree. Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin carry the Dumb Dad trope too far IMO; that’s when it crosses the line from funny to call Family Services. At the same time, a father who just lords over the family as the wise, responsible breadwinner is as dull as dishwater, about as funny and interesting as watching cheese age in slow motion. My feeling is that it’s best to meet somewhere in the middle; if I were to use a Competency Scale with Richard Watterson from The Amazing World of Gumball representing 0 and Dr. Benton Quest representing 100, then my ideal dad character would fall somewhere in the middle like a 40 or a 50: possessing basic smarts, talents and skills and able to be authoritative when necessary, but sill able to take part in the wacky antics and occasionally look foolish and sometimes act the buffoon with his wife and children, so’s we can get treated to amusing vignettes like these:
A man’s work is never done…by him.
Next, on to the better half and one of my favorite familial characters…
To have an ideal domcom, you need a mom. You just do. What household is complete without its’ requirement of pretty and perky? And no, I’m not saying that all fictional moms have to be MILFs…
“…But it wouldn’t hoit!”
But I am a liberated progressive sort. I’m sure not one of those people who thinks that women should always be barefoot and pregnant (well, not pregnant, anyway) and can only be housewives. I like working moms, personally; they add a nice dimension to a show and keep things interesting, especially if said career is something unusual. Some of my favorite potential working mom occupations are:
Super Spy (any excuse for a catsuit)
…Or even Hot Teacher. (Hmm, second Dr, Slump reference today.)
As previously stated, I’m not a traditionalist. My ideal domcom would not simply have a father who works in an office and a mother who stays home as a housewife; that’s been done to death and is kind of boring to me. However, I’d have no objection to flipping the script, in other words….
One of the few things Johnny Test got right was how the parents had reversed roles in the household, but that wasn’t the show’s primary focus. Why not mix things up and have the mother be the breadwinner of the family while the father stays home maintaining the house, taking care of the kids and occasionally getting abused by household appliances? That mixes things up a little and can be fun.
Wife: “Plus I happen to find a man in an apron kind of sexy!”
“Whoa, TMI, man!”
Regarding careers, lately I’ve been geeking out on the trope of parents who work together in the same profession (since as anyone who has ever collaborated with anyone else knows, it’s hard to work with someone all day and then go home with them, so if you can make that work, you can make anything work), like Mr. and Mrs. Cake from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic….
There’s that sweet shop fascination again. Why do I like that shtick so much?
..Or the Commander and Jetstream from Disney’s Sky High.
Now I saw Sky High; I know it wasn’t a great movie or even a good one, but I did like these characters. I personally would’ve liked to have seen a movie focusing on them; it would’ve been much more interesting than all of those high school shenanigans. The Strongholds were easily the best things to come from that movie (aside from Lynda Carter playing Principal Powers. First, it’s Lynda freakin’ Carter, and second, her superpower was transforming into a comet, which was kind of cool). Not only were the Commander and Jetstream a split of Superman (he possess Supey’s phenomenal strength, she his supersonic fight and superior hand-to-hand combat skills), part of me loves the idea of the world’s greatest superheroes being a happily married couple and parents. That in turn calls to mind another superhero family, The Incredibles.
I love the superhero family concept. They weren’t put together like most superhero teams, the 2 founding members literally found one another and created the rest. That adds an interesting element to the team dynamic. Of course, we’re talking domCOM, as in comedy, not action, so I guess they could be a retired superhero family like The Thundermans.
Now I haven’t actually seen a full episode of this show (it’s aired right before TMNT a couple of times, so I’ve seen the ends of a few shows), but based on what I’ve seen, it looks like an OK show…if they could just rid of the characters of Phoebe and Max. yeah, I know they’re the stars, but all the eps I’ve seen, the antics the rest of the family are 10 times more interesting than anything Phoebe and Max are doing, which is the same old teencom shtick and the same ‘good girl/bad boy character archetypes I’ve seen dozens of times before (minus the sexual tension of course, since they’re siblings). Plus having Capes in the family means that they could live in a high-tech HQ a la the Four Freedoms Plaza, which has been covered in an earlier Nerdvana.
But, you ask, if there’s no crime fighting or villain vanquishing on the show, then why would they live in a high-tech tower? You know, I don’t care if it doesn’t make any sense, the Four Freedoms Plaza is awesome! It’s high-tech and it’s got giant numbers on it!
OK, we’ve covered the dad and we’ve covered the mom, we’ve covered the crazy house and unique careers, but you can’t have a domcom without….
Yes, those sassy, precocious, wise-ass little ankle-biting progeny are an essential component to any domestic comedy. More often than not in animated shows about families, the kids are the central characters. What’s a good shtick for kids? Well, you can never go wrong with geniuses.
This is another thing Johnny Test got right. Kid geniuses with their own lab inside their suburban home. They can create all kinds of wacky inventions and hilarity will ensue. (Not to mention those cute trademark star and moon decals.)
“So you’ve got to wear a cutesy barrette to get some notoriety around here? Well maybe I should start dressing like one of the Lego Friends. Sheesh!”
I’d also like to give a shout-out to Dipper and Mabel Pines.
Yes, I know that Gravity Falls isn’t a domcom, but the Pines Twins represent something I’d like to see more of on shows: fictional siblings who don’t hate each other. In far too many shows, siblings are depicted as not being able to stand one another (“Hey, we’re making a show about a boy, so let’s make his sister the primary antagonist! Boo sisters!!”), so the way Mabel and Dipper act towards each other is a nice change that I’d like to see more of. No, I’m not suggesting that siblings should be like the Buddy Bears and never disagree nor that there should never be any conflict, but it’s refreshing to see fictional siblings who aren’t always out to destroy one another and who can be in the same room for more than a few minutes without trying to tear out each others’ throats. Another good example is Barbie and her Fab Sisters.
These 4 likewise can (and do) annoy one another from time to time, but it never crosses over into outright hatred. Plus, their interactions are just plain funny. I submit 2 of my favorite Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse shorts to illustrate that point. How does this tie in to the theme of domcoms? Personally, I like to think that Barbie’s parents George and Millicent Roberts are living somewhere in the Dreamhouse but just don’t ever appear on camera. (Yes, I know the names of Barbie’s parents. Don’t judge.)
Speaking of kids, how cute is this?
Cuteness, distinctive colors and symbols, and a little girl wearing deely boppers. Me likey.
That reminds me (this is how my mind works. Deal with it): Last year I did a Cartoon Couch spotlighting Saban’s The Why Why Family. Among the reasons I like that show are 1) they live in a crazy house and 2) each family member ‘represents’ a particular science, skill or field of expertise. I wouldn’t mind if the family members in my domcom shared this trait. That could be cool, especially, Technology/Electronics, Nature/Science/Animals/Plants and Outer Space/Astronomy/The Universe. Micro and Scopo’s thing? Not so much. While Biology of the Human Body is informative and good to know, truth be told, a lot of what the body does is kinda gross. Other possible choices are Art, Music, Adventure/Exploration, Video Games, Comedy and Cooking/Culinary Arts.
Let me just interject some Honorable Mention to something else that’s cool and I’d like to see more of on TV: Interracial/Multiracial families such as the Bennetts from Bionic Six and Wimzie’s family from Wimzie’s House.
The former are a family of bionic superheroes consisting of 2 Caucasian parents, their 2 biological offspring, 2 adopted children (1 African-American and 1 Asian) and a robot gorilla, while the latter has a titular character who’s the offspring of a bird and a dragon. (OK, technically Wimzie’s family are an inter-species unit, but love’s love, man.)
Lastly, we come to the final component of the ideal domcom….
Pets are good for providing comic relief (or comic relief among the comic relief, as the case may be), they’re often instantly toyetic, can provide subtle commentary on the goings-on in the household….
…And can occasionally be misused as playthings by psychotic little girls.
Keep in mind when I say pets, I’m referring to animals who are treated and regarded as animals, not mostly human man-things like Brian Griffin. Of course normal animals are boring, so I envision meeting somewhere in the middle: pets who can talk and occasionally walk like humans and wear the odd scraps of clothing from time to time, but are still regarded as pets and are dependent on their human owners for survival.
Now I’d prefer to forgo everyday pets like cats and especially dogs because they’ve been done to death. Unusual, exotic pets are more distinctive. Some examples:
- The Why Why Family: a dog, 2 birds and a polka dotted shape-changing dragon, all capable of speech
- Phineas & Ferb: a platypus whose a secret agent
- Gravity Falls: a pig who doesn’t do anything (Waddles is the Waluigi of Gravity Falls)
- Ferris’ Funky Farm: an ant, a goat, a female dodo and a pink girl dinosaur
- Disney’s Meet the Robinsons: a gang of ‘Rat-Pack’ like frogs and an octopus butler
So let’s review: my ideal domcom features a dad and a mom who may have reversed roles or work together as sweet shop owners and caterers or be retired superheroes, who live in a crazy house which may be shaped like a letter or number and may be fully automated and may be pink, with their kids who are either super-geniuses or fashion dolls or are just super-creative and their exotic pets, where they have all sorts of crazy misadventures. Whattaya think??
OK, some tweaking is needed here and there, but I still love the concept. Families are always funny.
Well, sometimes they are.