My Mental Health and the American Sitcom

This year, I find myself in a situation where my mental health is at a bit of a crossroads. I have had periods of poor mental health in the past, but I have tried to move forward. I was diagnosed with Autism in 2013 after years of wondering, and it took a long time to find coping mechanisms. The techniques I have been practising for the last five years do their job to a point, but some of the cracks are starting to show. I am seeking the appropriate attention to rectify this, but there has always been a constant which has helped to see me through while I wait.

Vintage media has always been a great comfort to me. From my days as a kid in the 90s chilling to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Herbie Goes Bananas for the umpteenth time, to the constant discovery of ‘new’ old music that enriches my life in the modern day. It could be seen as odd for someone born in 1989 to have such interests, but I think it is now more widely accepted and celebrated that stuff from the past can be discovered as new. The many ways in which we can now find things, through the internet and streaming and much more, have made this possible, and I can’t more glad.

I remember the days when the only chance of seeing past media was through television reruns, and they usually took place in the morning or early afternoon. I would ‘tape’ and watch various Laurel and Hardy short films, which would air on BBC2 in the afternoon during the early 00s. The same channel would air a classic movie each Saturday morning around 6 am, which was the tradition until very recently. I was never a movie fan growing up, opting more for television sitcoms and the like.

It was while off school sick one day in the ’90s, that I discovered the BBC aired episodes of Taxi after their educational slot. I had just watched an episode of the (then) recent series of Postman Pat before the announcer introduced the classic sitcom. It was probably my first introduction to the US side of the genre, as I hadn’t really shown much interest previously; Aside from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I had grown up watching the likes of Fawlty Towers and Only Fools and Horses, but the delights of Taxi had remained a mystery to me. If I hadn’t been ill and lacked other things to do, I may have skipped past it. I’m glad I didn’t, as it started a fascination with the genre that continues to this day.

Around five years later, I gained access to Freeview for the first time. There was suddenly a whole new world of channels to explore, but the one I loved the most was ABC1. It was on that glorious channel that I fully began to see the best (and worst) of the American sitcom genre. I was obsessed with it, regularly tuning in to see shows such as The Golden Girls, Home Improvement and Hope & Faith; The sight of Faith Ford eating a microwaved Baseball was enough to convince me I was peering at something intriguing. Up until this point, Friends and Frasier were my only regular exposures thanks to endless runs on Channel 4, yet they seemed pedestrian in comparison.

Years later, I ventured even further back and discovered more. There was a point during a depression period in the late 2010s when Father Knows Best, starring Robert Young, was a pure comfort watch for me. This, Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, Dobie Gillis, and The Donna Reed Show are the kind of shows which just couldn’t be made anymore. They emphasised an idealised view of reality that may have existed at some point, but soon changed, as demonstrated in the 1998 film Pleasantville. When viewed as a show taking place in it’s own world, these pieces of television history can still provide a lot of comfort to the viewer… It certainly helps me.

Sometimes when I start to feel overwhelmed, I’ll put on a 24-hour live feed of The Dick Van Dyke Show, and forget about my troubles for a while; The black and white image a soothing comfort for my eyes. There is a lot to pick apart with these shows, such as attitudes and production values, but I can’t deny the positive affect they’ve had on me and many other in the same position.

What is your favourite classic American sitcom?

Jamie Dyer

Jamie Dyer is an experienced writer, broadcaster, musician and social media marketer. He enjoys Old Time Radio, vintage TV, collecting vinyl and supporting the New York Knicks.

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