There’s a common theme that runs through most sitcom episodes. And it hasn’t changed since sitcoms were first available on the radio. Lying. Humor is far too often based on people lying to one another – usually family members or close friends. The rest of the sitcom plot revolves around the liar trying to keep his lie a secret and the “lie-ees” getting close to discovering the lie.
At the end, the liar is exposed or the liar comes clean and realizes that he or she shouldn’t have lied in the first place. This is the synopsis of most “I Love Lucy” shows, as well as those of “Modern Family” today.
So why can’t anyone remember the lesson that lying doesn’t pay, from one episode to the next? Why can’t the sitcom producers and writers find something else in life and human relationships to laugh about?
I’m concerned about the prevalence of lying on sitcoms because children watch sitcoms. There’s no sex or violence so they’re assumed to be kid-friendly. But I think that it’s toxic to expose children to lying as the preferred way to deal with the people around you. It puzzled me growing up why grown-ups told me how bad it was to lie but then they all did it, every single week on TV.
Telling the truth on sitcoms must be like Kryptonite to TV writers. This gives kids a warped idea about relationships. It tells them lying is the common, accepted way to communicate. It says “Beware of the truth – it will get you in trouble every time!” Worse — the truth isn’t funny.
It reminds children that that the world is a scary and unpredictable place. You can’t trust grown-ups. Chances are they’re not telling you the truth about anything – from the inconsequential small stuff to the important big things. Children need to believe the grown-ups around them can protect and buffer the world for them.
Sometimes it’s not true, but children need to believe it. Like they need to believe in some version of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy at some stage of life. I don’t think it’s healthy for children to absorb mistrust from the comedies they watch. I think this is what happens when sitcom people automatically lie rather than deal with the truth. It is also annoying to watch as it is the same plot repeated through every year of television.
Lying is ubiquitous on TV comedies and therefore I believe, insidious. Today’s kids are already so much more sophisticated, and at younger ages than they were in my generation. So let’s not teach them too early that lying should always be your first choice. Let’s not convince them that truth is to be avoided at all costs. Let them get through childhood before they become dishonest and jaded.