In a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks highlights a trend in sitcoms over the past 20 years: shows about friendship groups (e.g. Friends and How I Met Your Mother) have replaced series about families (Leave It to Beaver, The Cosby Show).
On the upside, these new-ish "flock comedies," as Brooks calls them, have a narrative advantage over their family-focused counterparts: "it helps to have a multitude of characters on hand zooming in and out of scenes," he writes. In other words, the sprawling cast of Desperate Housewives offers more opportunities for comedic situations than the static family unit of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
But these shows also point to a change in the behaviors of today's young people—one that's potentially troubling, in Brooks' mind: "With people delaying marriage and childbearing into their 30s, young people now spend long periods of their lives outside of traditional families, living among diverse friendship tribes," he writes. He worries that these group friendships mean the younger generation is "trading flexibility and convenience for true commitment."
Lost in this conversation, though, is another type of TV show that has been around much longer than the flock comedies Brooks describes: the workplace sitcom. This genre follows a similar logic to friendship-focused series: shows set in offices also capitalize on large casts and they also examine the ways people attempt to replace—or perhaps avoid—the commitments of family. But while Brooks frets over the possibility that superficial friendships could impede people's ability to establish deeper connections, the shows themselves suggest otherwise: on TV work, not friendships, pose the greater threat to family relationships.