In sitcoms, the workplace can be another character. Though we don’t often see the barflies from Cheers at their places of employ, their professions featured in the occasional episode, giving us an insight into Cliff’s travails as a postman, Norm’s accounting firm, or Frasier’s psychotherapy practice (which featured in its own spin-off series).
Dr Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show or Tony from Who’s the Boss worked from home, enabling them to share in the high-jinks and general hilarity that constituted a half-hour episode. It also meant they were on hand to lend folksy wisdom and settle disputes.
(On the other hand, some workplaces just don’t help explain or embellish the character; there’s a good reason why we never saw Happy Days dad Howard Cunningham in his hardware store or the Fonz in his garage.)
Even if a show is set around home life, we sometimes get the occasional look at how characters earn their crust – it’s part of who they are. Think of Darrin (either version) from Bewitched, and his advertising firm, or Monica from Friends, whose chef work allows the action to sometimes move away from her strangely luxurious Manhattan pad.
The Simpsons regularly references Homer’s work life – as much as goofing off, quaffing doughnuts and causing nuclear meltdowns could be considered work.
Everybody Loves Raymond, a multiple award winner during its long run, must surely have had one of the least accurate depictions of the workplace in TV Land. Ray is supposed to be a sportswriter, but he’s like no one I encountered in the near decade I spent writing about sports for a living.
Consider that he rarely, if ever, talks about sports. For typical sportswriters, their career is their life. They life, eat and breathe it, and most seem to have an encyclopaedic mental compendium of results, statistics and folklore that they are more than happy to share with all and sundry.
Even though Ray’s a columnist who seems to split his work time between home and the office cranking out opinion pieces (rather than a beat writer covering a particular team) the trappings, accoutrements, conundrums and passions of a sports scribe are mysteriously absent from his days.
He doesn’t fraternise with his workmates. His boss – who is he? – is not present, either as ogre or buddy. Writer’s block has no place in his world. Like a hair shirt, this just doesn’t wash!
What sports does Ray write about? We don’t know whether he has a penchant for boxing, tennis, golf, lacrosse or underwater hockey.
One of the standard perks of a sportswriter’s job is a free seat at games. But for the most part Ray eschewed these in favour of staying home and arguing with his family.
Life on sitcoms, of course, isn’t meant to reflect the reality of the daily grind. You wonder, though, if the writers of Everybody Loves Raymond weren’t planning to mine his professional life for laughs or plotlines, why did they decide to make the guy a sports journalist? After all, Ray is pretty funny, isn’t particularly sartorially challenged, and shows no signs of addiction to stadium food.
They should have made him a stand-up comedian instead. Oh yeah – that’s already been done.
This article originally appeared in Good Weekend, January 11, 2003.