Where have all the TV dogs gone? – indication of the decline of the nuclear family
(Link): Where have all the TV dogs gone?
- People love dogs as much as ever. So why have sitcoms abandoned them?
- Name a dog who’s famous for appearing on television. No, not Lassie — a dog who’s on TV today.Got one? Good. You might be thinking of Isis, the Earl of Grantham’s yellow Lab on Downton Abbey, or possibly Stella, the French bulldog spoiled by patriarch Jay on Modern Family. Digging deeper, on Parks and Recreation there’s Andy and April’s three-legged mutt, Champion, who can claim maybe five minutes of total screen time over six seasons. We’re also told that Mike’s mother on Mike & Molly owns a Brussels Griffon named Jim, whom we’d describe in further detail if we could ever bring ourselves to watch Mike & Molly.
- ….As Robert Thompson, a professor of television and film at Syracuse University, tells us, “The family dog has fallen upon hard times.” But it wasn’t always this way.
- In the 1950s, dogs weren’t just obligatory members of seemingly every TV family — they actually anchored their own iconic shows, like The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin and, yes, Lassie. And the ’90s saw a veritable TV dog renaissance, with beloved canine characters prominently featured in network staples like Empty Nest, Married With Children, The Drew Carey Show, Spin City, 7th Heaven, Dharma & Greg, and Full House.
- …The dogs of ’90s television, Thompson argues, offered a “retro feel” audiences craved, in direct reference to the comedies that came before. On Mad About You and Frasier, the foregrounded presence of dogs made unconventional family situations feel more, well, familiar.
- ….Over the last two decades, we’ve experienced what Thompson calls a “complete shriveling up of the traditional family sitcom.” The root of the problem, he suggests, is that there can be no family dog without a family.
- “The style of so many of these shows has infantilized the characters themselves so that you no longer need a dog to stand in for an infant or child,” he says. “Everyone on Two and a Half Menand The Big Bang Theory is in a state of arrested development. On Arrested Development, it’s right in the title.”