Who doesn’t love sitting down with a tub of ice-cream, pretzels, crisps and chocolate for a binge-watching session of any (or all) of these hit TV shows?
I’m a major TV buff, particularly with shows like this – I’ve christened them ‘happy shows’. Shows that deal with everything in a light and funny way, perfect after a particularly rough day at work.
Working on my own script got me wondering what made these shows such a success? There are a couple of obvious boxes they tick:
- They are hysterical
- Light-hearted, even when touching on serious topics
- There are inter-romances within the group
But perhaps the most obvious reason these shows hit the mark are the characters. Friends, Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother all have a truly fantastic cast. But the magic really comes from the script. The writers get us on-board with the characters from the get-go, so much so that we are willing to stick with them for ten series or more. So, I thought I’d do a lil’ character study. See if we can’t find connections between the characters, find a common thread, the secret ingredient.
The smart one
While Big Bang Theory takes this to the extreme, there is always a ‘smart one’ in the group’. We have Ross Geller, the palaeontologist, Ted Mosby, who is life-smart, and Sheldon Cooper, the genius. They are the tonic to the constant jokes being flung here, there and everywhere. It seems that if you want to create comedic genius, you have to have a character who can balance it all out.
That doesn’t mean that these characters can’t be funny. In fact, each of these characters tends to be the butt of the joke at least once per episode. But they are also often the voice of reason. It’s a fantastic way to push the story forward and help the audience take the show a little more seriously, preventing it from reaching Vicar of Dibley slap-stick proportions.
The pretty one
It’s sad to say that the ‘pretty one’ always seems to be female. There is always a drop-dead-gorgeous character who is chased by multiple main characters throughout the series. At least Friends and How I Met Your Mother balanced this out with Joey Tribbiani and Barney Stinson respectively. Big Bang Theory does call on Zak to offer some eye-candy to audience members who prefer looking at a handsome male, but he doesn’t play a lead role.
Robin Scherbatsky is portrayed as quite a clever cookie, whereas Penny and, sometimes Rachel, portray the ‘airhead’ most of the time. This is done in such a way that it isn’t offensive, but I think if anyone were to try and replicate the ‘secret sauce’ to a hit TV series today, they might want to shy away from creating a character who’s sole purpose is to be looked at.
The silly one
Just as each group has a smart cookie, there is also a cast-member who is the polar opposite. Joey Tribbiani, Marshall Erikson and Rajesh Koothrappali may not begin this way, but by then final season they are officially labelled as the slap-stick comedic character. Joey Tribbiani shares this label with Phoebe Buffay and Ross Geller, and Raj shares his stage with Sheldon Cooper’s lack of social awareness and Bernadette’s high-pitched voice. However, Marshall Erikson appears to be the sole silly-billy in How I Met Your Mother.
The mother hen
Finally, we have the mother hen. The character who enjoys taking care of everyone else. In Friends, we have Monica Geller, who is always cooking for others and cleaning up after them. In Big Bang Theory, we have Mary Cooper, Sheldon’s Mom, who makes appearances to cook, sing ‘soft kitty’ and offer advice and hugs. On occasions, she shares this role with Amy Farah Fowler and Penny as they care for Sheldon. Finally, we have Lily Aldridge in How I Met Your Mother, who takes on much more of a controlling mother role.
And there you have it, folks. Apparently, if you want to write a hit comedy TV show, make sure you have characters who are smart, silly, pretty and act as the mother hen. As clearly demonstrated, these traits can be shared across the cast and don’t have to be their defining feature, but they definitely must be there.