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Thursday, January 21, 2010

(Published as 'A Friends Episode and a Spock Haircut' in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, on 26th December, 2009)

“Hey, we’re all in the same place for once – let’s talk!”

“Uh…I’d rather watch forty-two minutes of sarcastic remarks, sorry.”

Speaker 1 was my brother and Speaker 2, me. Every time I’m home for a vacation, my family starts feeling guilty about watching too much TV, and decides to take it all out on me – by compulsively spending quality time ‘talking’. But the problem with everyone in a family being in a different field is that all of us strike each other as boring. The only thing we really have in common is what we watch on TV.

My grandmother and my dad trade opinions on ‘Kolangal’, my mother and one of my brothers argue over whom Dr. Gregory House should be dating, while my other brother and I fight over my preference for ‘Seinfeld’ over ‘Friends’.

At some point, we figured watching our respective sitcoms on the TV (or computer – oh, come on, it’s not illegal if you buy the official DVDs!) makes a lot more sense than ranting about them during quality time. And while there’s a sanctimonious group that calls it ‘the idiot box’ and refuses to watch it when they can walk in the park instead, I believe the television is instrumental in creating a collective conscious.

For example, it’s much easier to explain to my mother why everyone who has an affair is not scheming and villainous.

“Ma, you like Dr. Wilson, but he has affairs.”

“Okay, he has affairs, but he’s a good friend to House, and yes, he lies to his wives, but he’s nice to everyone el…oh.”

And “Ma, stop acting like Bree!” is a much more effective way of getting her off my back about picking my clothes off the floor than “I’ll do it later.”

My brothers convince my grandmother that every girl they bring home isn’t a potential bride with, “Patti, we’re like Thols and Abi, okay?”

And it’s not all in the family either. At one point, people who’re in and out of dysfunctional relationships wanted to know why the ones in long-term and apparently functional relationships don’t get married – but now, oh, they suppose it’s a Ross-and-Rachel kinda thing.

Sitcoms make for better conversation than the weather, real estate, Barack Obama’s Nobel and the state of the economy. They beat family gossip, and hold up a distended mirror to society – better-looking people with the same problems and completely impractical ways of getting over them, making a lot more money for their time than you do.

I’ve known sitcoms to have saved relationships. A friend of mine was dealing with the old-boyfriend-crawling-back-while-current-boyfriend-is-being-a-jerk syndrome, and a re-run of the ‘Friends’ episode where Monica has to choose between Richard and Chandler happened to be on TV when the current boyfriend came visiting. Apparently, it gave him perspective.

So, sitcoms emasculate our men, dramatise our lives, Americanise our language and the more obscure ones allow us to plagiarise their lines. Of course, there’s the downside. My landlord’s son started speaking gibberish when his parents decided to fill his life with ‘Colors’. And I believe there are people with diagnosed psychological disorders who only speak the Klingon language. Well, to be honest, I did get rather worried when one of my brothers started making the Vulcan salute and got Spock’s haircut.

But under the assumption that you’re not really as thick as clotted cream, that's been left out by some clot, and now the clots are so clotted, you couldn't unclot them with an electric de-clotter, sitcoms have had a positive impact on your life – while they haven’t completely allowed you to overcome your failure to communicate, they’ve largely removed the necessity of trying to.

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