I know where Michelle Tanner sleeps. I know where she eats. I even know the strange sea-creature wallpaper she has in her room. And now I definitely know people will think I’m stalking young girls. I’m not, I promise. It’s a well-documented fact that adults are easier to capture due to their larger size. I’m too lazy to try either option, which is why I don’t leave the couch for one of ABC Family’s many “Full House” marathons. It’s comforting background noise to distract the neighbors from the screams they may hear in my basement. Just kidding. California doesn’t do basements. I use my closet. It’s got the leg room.
In fact, my closet looks a lot like Lizzie McGuire’s. My chair looks like the mossy green fuzzball from “Frasier.” And I may have once had my own Class M-3 Model B9 robot as featured in “Lost in Space.” Only, like the one in the show, mine too was fictional. I list these items, these objects, these pieces of (usually cardboard) furniture to address a topic frequently overlooked: the sitcom set.
Think of a familiar family sitcom. Let’s pick one: “Boy Meets World,” perhaps since I favor two out of the three words in its title (hint: one of them is “meets”). Conjure your memories of the Matthews’ household. Use smelling salts if you have ’em. Everyone should. Now, you’ll recall that their living room was a wash of off-white tones, mixed with darling florals and a lovely fireplace where they burned all their records of communist cooperation. To the right was their kitchen, and to the farther right was their omnipresent guru of good advice, Mr. Feeny. Now, who seems like the voyeur? Huh?
Oh right. Still me. But, I’m not the only one who picks up on these details. In 1997, artist Mark Bennett’s blueprints of sitcom houses were previewed in a San Francisco art gallery, with some selling at a price of $4,000. Currently, TV set floor plans are a button of hot debate on television forums. To be honest, though, Steve Urkel’s high school schedule is also an issue of fiery contention 14 years after the show has ended. It seems sitcom families, along with their living spaces, have a particular (if somewhat strange) hold on viewers.
I say it’s somewhat strange because those spaces are virtually all identical. Where the Matthews have off-white, the Seavers have beige and the Keatons have — because they’re such rebels — something more along the lines of a buff sand fossil. Because they are sets, the layouts are fairly predictable (as are the plots). There’s a living room with a couch in the center. A set of stairs (leading to a room of cookies, I’m assuming) is in the background. And the kitchen will either be to the left or the right. If the show is particularly radical, there may even be a bathroom downstairs. Without this luxury, sitcom families typically excrete their waste through a series of funnels connected to their chairs. Then, they freeze it for fuel.
Point is, these fictional families and their sets are all variations on a common model. Two parents, two kids (maybe three) and a pet coincide with the two-story house layout. A coffee table from “The Cosby Show” could easily be interchanged with the one on “Family Ties.” I wouldn’t mention it to those tables though. Word of caution: Coffee tables are the Christian Bales of furniture. Very hot-headed and often found draped in fabric.
Aside from this violent tendency, there’s nothing striking about these sitcoms or their spaces. But that’s what makes them so great. Why does the bland Formica kitchen top from “Home Improvement” haunt my dreams? One, because I’m likely mentally unstable. And two, because the generic setting, characters and plots of these shows are comfortably predictable. You can relax because you already know the kitchen will be adjacent to the living room and that, at some point, dad will lose the dog. So when family sitcoms are criticized for dullness, the judgment is misplaced. They’re supposed to be boring. So, sit back and take a load off in your off-white barcalounger with feces funnel attached.