Traversing the Urban Sitcom: The Narrative Trope of Transport and Urban Sociality in NBC’s ‘Must-See TV’ Sitcoms

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Abstract

The popularity of mid-1990s NBC staples like Seinfeld (1989–1998) and Mad About You (1992–1999) helped constitute what Michael V. Tueth S.J. characterizes as a third distinct era for the urban sitcom. This chapter looks at how one feature of urban life – (public) transport – works to establish the themes of urban sociality and serves as a catalyst for the plots’ conflicts and characters’ development in these sitcoms. Drawing on Ole Jensen’s theory of critical mobilities, the chapter proposes a rethink of the role of transport in Seinfeld and Mad About You as more than a mere mechanism to transverse diegetic space, but as a key tool of narration. First, the chapter examines the role that transport plays in constructing the ephemeral human connections that underpin these sitcoms’ characteristic urban sociality. Whether it be the short-lived romances, absurd run-ins, or missed connections that drive much of the conflict of these Must-See TV sitcoms, transport often works as the narrational mechanism that makes it happen. Secondly, it analyzes the role of transport motifs in constructing characterization and mapping character evolution, especially as the male leads of these series work through the disjunctions of their own class anxiety. Ultimately, transport, as a narrational mechanism, plays a key role in creating the characteristic postmodern aesthetic and urban sociality of the 1990s urban sitcoms.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBorder Crossings and Mobilities on Screen
EditorsRuxandra Trandafoiu
PublisherRoutledge
Chapter11
Pages138-148
Number of pages11
Edition1
ISBN (Electronic)9781003127703
ISBN (Print)9780367650667
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2022

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