Tuesday, May 19, 2020


When I first saw the short film “Too Many Cooks,” I thought it was a straightforward parody of the endless parade of smiling faces that make up the opening title sequences of American sitcoms, bleeding into police procedurals, Saturday morning cartoons, and prime-time soap operas. However, I didn’t know why the sitcom elements were as psychotic as they were portrayed.

In the 1990s, British TV’s main night for comedy was Friday, but the shows with staying power was more adult, leftfield fare like “Shooting Stars,” “Father Ted,” or “Have I Got News for You,” or big American imports like “Friends” or “Frasier.” Family sitcoms were becoming less of a thing, outside of shows like “Last of the Summer Wine,” “Keeping Up Appearances,” and the obviously named “2 point 4 children.” There had been ITV’s “The Upper Hand,” and the short-lived “Married for Life,” but these were British versions of “Who’s the Boss?” and “Married with Children” respectively.

Meanwhile, American TV had “TGIF,” the name given to ABC’s Friday parade of family sitcoms about large families: “Full House,” “Family Matters,” “Growing Pains,” “Step by Step” and so on. From these, only some of “Step by Step” was ever shown on mainstream British TV, but mainly because one of its stars, Patrick Duffy, was known from “Dallas.” British sitcoms were usually never bigger than “2 point 4 children” in size, and never engaged the same cloying, sentimental tone of “Full House,” or the insane plots of Steve Urkel in “Family Matters” (which yielded a funny “Key & Peele” sketch where the show’s star, Reginald VelJohnson, is portrayed as lamenting how his show was ruined by the Urkel character).

Having seen how the “TGIF” sitcoms open, you feel there must have been a set of guidelines – views of the city in which the show is set, shots of the family acting like a family is already known to act, and characters interrupting what they are doing to look directly into the character, in an impression of sincerity, with their name appearing in yellow text. The yellow text is apparently crucial: “Family Matters” used it first, with others following, but “Full House” used white text in their opening titles for five years before changing it to yellow, at the same time asking their actors to look into the camera, instead of slightly off into the distance.

In terms of the killer featured through “Too Many Cooks,” and the disease that gives everyone their on-screen titles, I have since this realised this is included for more than just providing a plot. The sitcom parody is executed so well, you need something to remind you it is a parody, especially as it was originally being played out at 4am: Adult Swim has an “Infomercials” block that is given over to, well, parodies of infomercials, while also occasionally satirising other types of TV programmes – in order to keep its audience watching, infomercials are already parodies of “proper” shows. Once such “Infomercial,” titled “A Message from the Future,” is based around an election campaign for a post-apocalyptic world leader, including one who is “pro-choice” on eating pets – the psychosis remains, but the setting is different.

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