Over the years there have been many different genres of television shows one might decide to watch in their free time. These genres range from the sci fi thriller, game shows, all the way to reality television. However one genre in particular has been around since before the television was invented, the situational comedy or sitcom for short. This paper will be focusingon two sitcoms from two very different time periods, Taxi which first aired on September 12th, 1978, and How I Met Your Mother which made its own television debut on September 19th, 2005. Both of these sitcoms have things in common when it comes to jokes, gender roles, and the way their were produced. These two sitcoms also have some differences as well though. In both Taxi and How I Met Your Mother respectively the two shows go on to prove how the sitcom displays how masculinity roles and gender roles are portrayed through people’s everyday lives and how the use of crude and sexual humor is subtle at times but used quite in the sitcom throughout the many years. The two shows go on to prove this through a number of different ways which include but are not limited to the actors/actresses, the episode titles, the jokes being used, and the situations that are presented throughout each episode and sometimes even ongoing throughout the lengthy seasons. In this paper we will dive into to explore each of these aspects by comparing and contrasting the two sitcom television shows Taxi and How I Met Your Mother. Some of the techniques and methods in both of these shows are quite effective and have either stayed the same over the many years of the evolution of the television sitcom or have changed things up a little bit or a lot due to time period and the appropriate target audience for the two shows respectively.
The sitcom Taxi which debuted in 1978 and a total of five season was show that followed a taxi company and its employees in Brooklyn, New York. Some of the main characters included; Alex which is an older man that is working full time for Sunshine Cab Company and most of the other characters come to Alex for advice he is seen as a father figure in his workplace, then there is Bobby who is a good looking actor who is struggling to find work in show business, Tony is more of the jokester of the characters, Louie is Sunshine Cab Company’s head dispatcher and is seen to be portrayed as the “bad guy” of the show, finally there is Elaine whos is a divorced single mother of two that also works as a receptionist in an art gallery. All of the characters drive taxis for Sunshine Cab Company part time except for Alex. Just from the the character description one can see how the gender roles are laid out in the show with having Elaine be the one who has the most “women like” job because she is a receptionist part time.
While on the other had Tony and Bobby have more masculine jobs with them being an actor and boxer not to mention the head dispatcher is played by a male (Kim, 2007). When is comes to other gender roles throughout the show there are various episodes that make it be shown the male is the dominant gender and that women need men in their lives to cope with everyday things. For example in season one episode ten titled “Men are Such Beasts”, which first aired on November 21st, 1978, the show opens with Alex explaining to Louie how he hit a parked car with one of the taxis because he swerved out of the way of hitting a dog. Louie goes on to be furious not because one of the taxis was wrecked but because Alex wrecked a Mercedes instead of hitting the dog. This goes on to show that men are supposed to be into things such as cars and not care as much to other things such as animals. The episode then later goes on with a problem that Tony has and that is breaking up with his new girlfriend because he just isn’t into her anymore. Tony meets with her at a restaurant to end things but she keeps coming on to him Tony explains to his coworkers how it was so hard to resist her and makes the joke that it could’ve be the wicked witch of the west kissing him and he wouldn’t care. This is a joke saying how most men only care about picking up women more than anything. But Tony fights the urge and ends things. Later in this episode his ex-girlfriend start working for Sunshine Cab Company, this proves a gender role that women are crazy and constaly need a man in their life, it is not until Tony has to fake being gay which is something that wasn’t as common for that time period and is a joke that is about Tony’s Sexuality. This episode is just one of many examples that explore the gender roles and sexual humor that are displayed and still being displayed in sitcoms.
In season four episode seventeen “Take My Ex-wife; Please” which made its television debut on February 18th, 1982 goes on to try and portray that women need men in their life. Alex runs into his ex-wife Phyllis at a restaurant and she has just gone through another divorce, she goes on to say how she is vulnerable and hurting right now and how she needs Alex in her life again. Alex jokes about it and explains he would only want to spend time with her if it was “pushing her out of the way of a failing piano”. This shows how he doesn’t need her but she needs him more at the time. Later in the episode Louie explains how he loves women that have recently gotten out of a relationship and how it is easy for him to pursue them because they are so sad and vulnerable and are sort of a damsel in distress. Louie asks Phyllis on a date which she denies at first but he is very persistent. When he shows up to pick her up at her hotel he appears in just his pajamas and immediately gets into the bed shirtless. Phyllis goes on how Louie needs to exercise and he responds with that his exercise is in the bed with a thrusting motion. This whole sequence and jokes is an underlying message how Taxi is going on to say how men are constantly trying to win over women and wanting to have sexual interaction with them.
How I Met Your Mother
The sitcom How I Met Your Mother was first aired on September 19th, 2005, is a television sitcom that tells the story of how Ted met his wife and what it took for him to finally meet her and his adventures with his friends Robin, Lily, Marshall and Barney. Ted is an architect and a college professor, Marshall is an environmental lawyer, Barney is a rich womanizer, Lily is a grammar school teacher, and Robin is a news anchor. Through all of their occupation for a majority of them are working in what is to be known as either a male normative occupation or female normative occupation. Lily is a teacher which is typically a female occupation, however Robin being a news anchor is going out of her gender norm and taking a more of a male occupation. This is appropriate for the time era that the show is being aired and taking place in. In the mid 2000s, more and more women started taking more leadership roles and higher paying jobs that were usually male dominant. Unlike in the sitcom Taxi. This sitcom is portrayed in a rather different way.
The sitcom is an older version of Ted telling his kids of the story of how he met their mother. All of the stories he tells his kids are through the eyes of himself. This is not how traditional sitcoms are played out. How I Met Your Mother episodes are a series of flashbacks through the memories and thoughts of Ted. Therefore some of the stories Ted tells his kids may not be remembered properly or even never really told from a different perspective that his kids end up pointing out through its many seasons. This leaves the show up to interpretation on how some situations actually happened and played out.
This is evident in season seven episode seventeen titled “No Pressure”, Robin ends up kisses Ted before she goes off on a business trip and explains how they need to talk when she returns. Ted tells Lily and Marshall the situation and Ted has a thought that the talk is good and how they will end up dating again but Lily interrupted it as in Robin wants to finally tell Ted she has no feelings for him and Ted gets upset by this. This is against female norms for Lily. Usually women are the ones that are more caring and thoughtful when it comes to explaining situations to others but in this situation Lily is blunt with Ted and lays down the hammer with how she thinks Robin doesn’t like Ted. Ted is playing the damsel in distress in this moment in the show.
For the character Barney he is quite an interesting person on the show. Barney who is played by Neil Patrick Harris is a character who is a very rich womanizer that has a distinct signature look to him, he is always in a suit. What makes this character so interesting is that he is a young bachelor that is constantly wooing women and winning them over but is never in a committed relationship until one of the very last seasons (Thompson, 2015). However the actor Neil Patrick Harris is actually a homosexual, but the show has him play a character that is constaly chasing and winning over women. This is a perfect example of how the sitcom is still playing to gender normativity by having a gay actor play the role of a young single womanizer.
Throughout many episodes of this television sitcom Barney is seeing flirting and hooking up with women day in and day out. Even one of the episodes is strictly about Barney’s flirtaious techniques which is titled “The Playbook”, and is the eighth episode in the fifth season, which aired on November 16th, 2009. In this episode Barney goes over all the extensive ways, techniques, and the stories he would tell women to be able to go on a date with them and or take them home with him.
Over the years the television sitcom has gone through many changes and adaptations to adjust to the time period and target audience for the respected show. With all that happening there are still some very similar points that the television sitcom still hits over the years. With these two show Taxi and How I Met Your Mother which are decades apart from each other they both use crude and sexual jokes and humor that audience find funny even if they are very subtle. The two show also find a way to either go with the gender normative roles and sometimes have some of the gender roles switch for a certain character or certain amount of episodes. Both of these shows aired for multiple seasons and found success during a point of their time on the air. Taxi sticking to the more traditional sitcom storytelling techniques with being episodic, while How I Met Your Mother branching out and going with a different technique of having each episode be a flashback from the main character Ted’s point of view. Also having a sort of a serialization way of telling the story in some aspects but not completely shifting over. Overall, both of these two television sitcoms had a way of telling a story with their jokes and gender roles intermixed throughout every one of the episodes that was aired.
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- Thompson, L. J. (2015). Nothing Suits Me like a Suit: Performing Masculinity in How I Met Your Mother. Critical Studies in Television, 10(2), 21–36. https://doi.org/10.7227/CST.10.2.3
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