The Hidden Sitcom Formula

These underlying rules unite shows like I Love Lucy, Seinfeld, Arrested Development, and Rick and Morty.


Humor is supposed to be the domain of the original, the subversive, of course, I’m not gon na take my shirt off on my special and the unexpected. Let’s make a kind of Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition and that should include sitcom’s right well kind of, although the individual, jokes characters and moments of sitcoms can be unique and surprising.

The general plot structure of sitcoms is almost always The same. All sitcoms, even the riskiest, most cutting-edge ones, follow some variation of this simple structure. It’s so predictable that once you’ve learned it, you could tune into a sitcom at a random moment and make a pretty good guess at how far into the episode you are and what’s going to happen next.

So, what’s the structure, let’s take a look at episodes from four very different sitcoms each mould breaking in its own Way and expose what they all have in common in the first 1 to 4 minutes. We have an introductory scene here we find out what the main protagonist or protagonists of the episode one. Usually they have an underlying want and a specific goal.

That’s based in that one Morty wants Jessica to like him. Here we go: hey, hey Jessica, and specifically he wants her to go to the school’s flu awareness dance with him. Michael wants his son George Michael, to be happy and Successful.

Next four years are all about your future and that’s the most important thing to me. Okay – and he thinks getting his son into the Milford school – will do that Jerry, George and Elaine just want to get a table. Where is someone I’m starving? Oh uh, is there a table ready and Lucy and Ethel want their husbands, respect, listen all been down a job.

He said a lot more difficult than lying around the house all day, long Notice that this moment both establishes what Lucy wants and what she thinks is keeping her from having what she wants. Her husband’s belief that she’s, lazy and incompetent sitcoms will introduce the protagonists main obstacle as soon as they introduce their main wand, usually within the same scene, or up to three or so minutes later. Morty is not in Jessica’s league to stay your lead, the Milford school.

Doesn’t want to associate itself with a Bluth family scandals. I think this bad press is trying to taint my son’s future and we’ve got to put an end to it. There’s a wait at the restaurant I’ll be 5-10 minutes, usually within the next two minutes.

We find out how the protagonist is going to address the main obstacle. Could you make some sort of chemical thing happened, incited Jessica’s, mind you know so where she falls in love with me and all that sort of thing. I met a publicist today.

I’m gon na hire Her. We need somebody to make us look good, let’s go someplace else. I am too hungry.

We might as well just stay here. We haven’t got that much time if we’re gon na make the movie you’ll get jobs, and you take care of us for a week. Okay, now we’re an average of five minutes into the episode we’ve introduced, the protagonists main want the obstacle standing between them and what they want and their plan to overcome that obstacle.

It’s time for the middle section of the Sitcom, where we see the protagonist put the plan that they stated into motion run into a minor obstacle that forts are complicates their plan and then come up with a new plan, lather rinse, repeat: first, the original plan Marty Uses the potion and it seems to work the publicist starts working with the Bluth family you’re, going to start doing, some charity work with your magic, actually, I’m kind of the charitable one family. I think it’s best if you got a Job and Tobias you’re, a medical doctor in you’re living an absurd fantasy as an actor. It’s time to get real, Jerry, Elaine and George start waiting.

Jerry get menus, sit down, we’ll be able to order right away. Can’t look at a menu now I got ta be at the table. Lucy and Ethel go to an employment agency who’s there.

We are we’re together now it’s time to run into the first sub obstacle that throws off the plan. The potion spreads with jessyca’s flu, And soon everybody falls in love with Morty. Let it go.

I love you. Bye, Michael, is worried that his son won’t be able to handle seeing his dad going out with the publicist. This might be moving a little bit too fast for him I mean for for us me for me: Elaine notices that the restaurant doesn’t see.

People predictably didn’t those people just come in. I believe we were ahead of them. Lucy and Ethel clearly have no prior job experience.

What job did you have in mind Uh? What kind of jobs do you have open? Oh well, what do you do? What kind of jobs do you have open? What kind of jobs you have over now? The protagonists will take an action to address this new sub obstacle. Each obstacle should set up the protagonist to display their signature character, trade. The thing that’s funny to watch them do over and over and makes them who they are as a sitcom character.

It’s often a character flaw as well as something that endears us to them. Characters may have more than one, but usually there’s a dominant trait Rick wields his scientific genius irresponsibly without regard for collateral damage or humanity. In general, here’s his plan to fix the first sub problem gon na be fine 40 relax.

I whipped up an antidote. This directly results in a second obstacle: okay, well, sometimes science is more art than science Morty, which he addresses with the same stubborn character. Flaw.

This right here Is gon na. Do the trick baby in Seinfeld, the protagonists are relentlessly preoccupied with the minutiae of everyday life. I believe we were ahead of them.

What’s your name Seinfeld? Oh! No! No! They were here before to the point where life starts. Getting absurd right back at them. Wan na want a table, no just bring me a plate and I’ll eat here.

Come on get your table. Where am I this? A dream Michael thinks he puts his son’s Happiness before everything, but he’s not actually in tune with his son and is really just using him as an excuse not to take any risks and maintain the status quo of his own life. Maybe we should take a step back and just keep this relationship professional and inevitably this backfires either to spin something for me, while I’m having it where what do you need her to spend murder lucy addresses the obstacle of her inexperience by lying.

Well, I’ve only Got one lamp candymakers, oh that’s it! That’s our specialty, your candy maker. Yes, we’ve made a lot of oh good Lucy’s prone to biting off more than she can chew. She gets herself into situations where she can repeatedly fail in the most playful and charming ways: [ Applause, ] after a series of obstacles and attempts to overcome the obstacles which result in new obstacles, etc.

We get to about two to five minutes away from the end of the Show it’s now time for the protagonists, final shot at their goal or their final attempt to fix the problems that they created while pursuing their goal. It’s generally going to be a point of no return that determines for good, whether they’re going to get what they want in the episode. I do have one emergency solution that I can use it’ll kind of put everything back to normal, relatively speaking, I need Jesse.

Well, she quit you better get her back. I got News fee. If we’re making this movie, we got to get a table immediately.

All right! Look it let’s stop fooling around: let’s just slip him some money, all right, girls. Now this is your last chance. If one piece of candy gets past you and into the packing room, unwrapped you’re fired now we’re down to the last three minutes of the show.

It’s here that we find out whether they failed or succeeded at their short-term goal. Here you did it. You figured out that crazy solution, like You always do whatever Rick did, seemed to work well kind of Michael fails to get the publicist back and make his family look good.

I saw him today he’s playing with us. Wait what you saw him today, yeah. I told him he was getting in the way of your happiness.

You did you said that to my son, it looks like not even bribery will get Jerry and company a table. Take this, I’m starving, take it take it. Then it doesn’t fall and It looks like Lucy and Ethel will never hack it in the job world and now just a minute from the end of the show, we see how this success or failure will affect the protagonist in the long term.

Usually, this is a chance to show how everything goes back to normal, so that the next episode can start with a blank slate Michael fails to achieve his short-term goal of getting his son into the Milford school. Well, it looks like you won’t be getting into this school. He disappointed.

Well. Are you disappointed, but he may have taken a step towards understanding his son. Better Jerry reaffirms his normal life as an inconsequential New York City.

Stand up. Why don’t you just go to the movies by yourself? I’m not in the mood so you’re not going! You don’t need us well, I can’t go to a bad movie by myself. What am I gon na make sarcastic remarks to strangers? Ethel and Lucy fail at their jobs, but they when their husbands, Respect because while they were failing at their jobs, their husbands were failing at housework.

Let’s say we go back to the way we were. We will make the money and you spend. Oh, that’s a good boy, listen girls! We never realized how tough it was to run a house before so just to show you our appreciation.

We brought you a little present really again for each one of you, a five-pound box of chocolate and the Rick and Morty episode ends with a montage showing how killing an Alternate timeline version of himself will probably scar Morty forever. So, on the one hand, since they’re in an alternate universe, where Rick didn’t destroy humanity, everything is kind of back to normal, but on the other hand, the show will from now on, take place in an alternate universe and Morty killed himself kind of so let’s review One introduce the protagonists main goal to introduce the main obstacle to that goal. Three, the protagonist comes up with a Plan to overcome the obstacle for now we’re about five minutes into the show from here.

Until about 15 minutes in we have a series of scenes where the protagonist tries to overcome an obstacle which then gets replaced with another obstacle: 5, the protagonist gives their goal or fixing the obstacles, a final dot, six success or failure. Seven we find out how this affects them in the long term, and usually everything goes back to Normal. Now many sitcoms have more than one protagonist or multiple supporting characters whose stories we also follow in between the scenes where we follow the stories of the protagonists.

These are called B or C plots and they follow the same formula in the same order. They just don’t get as much airtime and don’t always need to be resolved. So there you go.

All set. Cons are now ruined until you Pay attention to how each sitcom uniquely plays within this structure. It’s this formula that gave Lucille Ball the freedom to be a complete goofball within each individual scene that lets Seinfeld, spend entire stories and cultural phenomena.

Out of the smallest observations for nine years and provided the skeleton for Arrested, Development’s many intertwining character, threads and recurring, but constantly developing in jokes and Rick and Morty’s self Referential use of the sitcom format as a way to comment on the meaninglessness of human existence. It’s strange to think that Network sitcoms, like friends or two and a Half Men share a formula with Arrested Development or broad city v, Kimmy Schmidt, It’s Always Sunny, Bojack, horseman and so on. But that’s proof that what makes a sitcom unique or different is not whether it follows this formula, but how it follows.

It heck this formula even worked for some highly acclaimed Dramas, you’re goddamn right .


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