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10 Most Tiresome Annoying Gimmicks in Sitcoms

Updated on August 21, 2019
Lorra Garrick profile image

All-around writer who specializes in fitness, exercise and topics that most writers won't touch.

Nearly every sitcom spanning decades uses these ridiculous gimmicks which insult viewers’ intelligence and are so tired and old. How is it that year after year script writers continue to think that these gimmicks are original and never used a thousand times before?

The Almost Door Knocker

A character opens his or her home’s door to leave, and on the other side is a character with an arm up, hand in a just-about-to-knock position. Sometimes as the door opens, the raised fist dips forward in an attempt to mimic the just-about-to-knock.

Certainly there’s a better way to get a character into a scene. This cheesy gimmick is used all the time because the script writers can’t figure out any other way to get a character into a scene.

Does the Food Taste THAT Bad?

A recurring gimmick in sitcoms is when a character raises a loaded fork or spoon to the mouth, but then pauses just because someone spoke her name or she heard a knock or some other sound that, in real life, would not make someone stop the utensil in mid-air.

There was a scene in “The Golden Girls” in which Dorothy was looking forward to eating some cake. Every time the fork was two inches from her mouth, someone spoke and she stopped the fork.

This happened three times, and I thought, “For Pete’s sake, EAT THE CAKE ALREADY!” She was never shown finally putting the cake in her mouth. If it was fake food, I could understand, but she’d been shown plunging the fork into what was obviously real cake.

Dreaming or Imagining a Scene

You know this is coming when the camera slowly zooms in on a main character’s face who’s either stirring in bed with closed eyes or who’s awake but eyes drifting upward.

And then we’re subjected to an absurd dream that just drags on and on, going well beyond its shelf life.

For some puzzling reason, the most brilliant sitcom writers almost always tank when it comes to dream scenes. Remember the excruciatingly long one in “Roseanne” during her breast reduction surgery?

And then there are sitcoms in which an entire episode is a leading character’s dream. “Laverne and Shirley” and “King of Queens” have pulled this stunt.

Flashbacks

We know the writers are getting fatigued when an episode is comprised mostly of flashbacks from past episodes. “Golden Girls,” anyone? Just how many times did this show pull this non-original maneuver of lazy script writers?

Slow Mo

A painfully long slow-motion scene that immediately comes to mind is in “King of Queens,” in which Doug is diving towards something that’s tipping over in an attempt to stop it before it spills on Carrie’s dress. The scene takes forever. Slo mo scenes in sitcoms are perhaps another way for idle writers to fill up the time.

Singing

When the characters of Lilith and Diane (“Cheers”) and Frasier (“Frasier”) occasionally sing, it’s entertaining – because all three actors (Bebe Neuwirth, Shelley Long and Kelsey Grammer, respectively) actually CAN sing – very well, as a matter of fact.

When the character of Carol Brady (“The Brady Bunch”; Florence Henderson) sang solo in a Christmas concert during the first season, this was a 100 percent dead-on serious scene, displaying a skilled operatic voice.

But there are scenes in numerous sitcoms when singing occurs among main characters (either one person, a pair or several), and it’s just plain awful. Please, enough.

The Two-Woman Side Hug

This tiresome gimmick is especially prevalent in “The Nanny.” Two women are seated on a couch next to each other and decide to hug each other.

Instead of hugging the way two women would normally hug, they instead stiffly embrace while turning their heads directly to the viewer and put on a clowny face.

This looks SOOOOO staged. Well, of course it’s staged; it’s ON a stage. But it doesn’t have to be so doggone cheesy. The fakeness is totally out of proportion to the realism of dramatic scenes within a sitcom.

Viewers will be perfectly okay if directors arrange the actresses to hug the way two woman really would hug—facing each other, their faces over each other’s shoulders.

Back Turned to the Person Being Spoken To

It’s obvious when the director goes overboard when trying to keep a character’s face and torso facing the viewer.

This ploy occurs quite a bit in “Frasier” but has also occurred in many other sitcoms including “Family Matters.”

A classic example is when a character is seated in a diner. As the server walks away, the character calls out to that person.

But instead of turning her body towards the server, who’s behind her (in terms of TV screen), the character turns towards the viewer and speaks.

From the server’s point of view, the patron is speaking to him while facing in the opposite direction. This never happens in real life.

When characters pull this move, it comes off as too staged and insulting to viewers’ intelligence. It’s an overdone tactic that needs to go out with the bathwater.

Pie in the Face

Maybe it’s just me, but I find scenes in which pies are being thrown quite boring and predictable.

You always know when the intended target is going to move at the last second, with the thrown pie hitting an unintended person behind the first one. What is this, an attempt to fill up the script when writers can’t think of anything more original?

One exception, though, is the scene in which Darrin on “Bewitched” intends to throw a pie at a warlock, and at the last second, he disappears, and Endora – who’d been standing behind the warlock – gets hit instead. This scene worked well, simply because of the ongoing animosity between Endora and Darrin. And it lasted three seconds.

But many pie throwing scenes fail to pack a punch and are way too long. There was once a scene in “Family Matters” in which Laura had baked a bunch of pies for an event.

The pies were all lined up very perfectly and strategically on a table. You’d have to have the IQ of a snail to not know what was coming – especially since there was an escalating argument among the characters. I switched channels before I could be subjected to the agony.

Empty Paper Cups

This probably occurs most in the “Law and Order” shows. Even though these aren’t sitcoms, this obvious goof deserves mentioning.

The directors must think viewers are incredibly air-headed not to notice that the paper cups – which are supposed to be full with coffee – are completely empty.

There are many scenes in the “Law and Order” shows in which characters are carrying around or handing to others big paper cups of coffee—not yet sipped—meaning, the cups should be full (e.g., “Here’s your coffee,” or, they’re taking the cups from a vendor).

Is it too difficult to fill them with water so they at least have visible weight? When a cup is empty it influences how it’s held when the actor is moving it around or sets it on a desk.

The emptiness can be spotted a mile away. Fill the doggone cups with water! Then at least they’ll appear weighted like there’s coffee in them. If you think the viewer will see the water, then dye the water the color of coffee or use old coffee that’s certainly on the set!

Really, whom do the directors think they’re trying to kid?

I hope you enjoyed this post about gimmicks in sitcoms!

Comments

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    • Lorra Garrick profile imageAUTHOR

      Lorri G 

      4 weeks ago

      I agree about the photos, but the "free" image gallery (Pixabay) is extremely limited. Unsplash is even worse.

    • Jason Capp profile image

      Jason Reid Capp 

      4 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

      This was a really fun article to read, and I could not agree with you enough on all of them. I would suggest that you break up each gimmick into separate text hubs and put example pictures of the gimmicks prior to the explanation. I think that would give your readers a much easier idea of what you're talking about, too, because I was just thinking of one sitcom after the next for each gimmick I was reading. It would really liven the post, too.

      But great job! I really enjoyed it.

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