Must we endure multi-camera format sitcoms with laugh tracks?

Must we endure multi-camera format sitcoms with laugh tracks?
Caleb Walsh illustration

Guys, what are we doing?

No, I'm really asking. As a species, where are we trying to go with all of this? Is there an overarching goal of any kind, or are we really just super determined to keep making the same mistakes over and over for no real reason?

Must we endure multi-camera format sitcoms with laugh tracks?
Chelsea Martin

When we look to the future, we like to imagine things getting better somehow, right? I mean, of course we're not going to all agree on what "better" means, and I don't think anyone expects dramatic change to happen all at once, but a gradual improvement of things over time that benefit the whole of humanity is not a crazy thing to expect from an advanced civilization such as ours, right? SO WHY, IF I MAY ASK, ARE WE STILL SUFFERING THROUGH MULTI-CAMERA FORMAT SITCOMS WITH LAUGH TRACKS IN 2018? I'd really f—-ing like to know.

I watched the first episode of the reboot of Roseanne expecting to be morally outraged, and I was excited about that. I had read all the thinkpieces about how dangerous it is to give a national platform to a verified dingbat, and, as much as I love abrasive women who don't give a shit if they're making other people happy or not, I also loooove an angry bandwagon. I was ready to be pissed in that fun self-righteous way that has become one of my main sources of pleasure in the last year or so. What I was NOT expecting was to be inundated with old, bad production methods popularized in the '50s as a way to save money.

Listen, I know the original Roseanne used multi-camera format and a laugh track, in part because almost every show was made this way at the time. And I know that the reboot is just staying true to the original in that sense. I KNOW, OK? What I also know? Multi-camera format limits the possibilities of where the show can take place, it forces actors to face forward toward the fixed-in-place cameras unnaturally (like how everyone sits weirdly around one side of a table) and pause after jokes to give the audience time to laugh or howl or whatever. It's old, bad, stupid technology and they didn't need to use it in the reboot. Did Sex and the City break the fourth wall in all six seasons of the show or did they abandon it after the first season because it was dumb and weird? Did they use physical puppets in the new Star Wars movies as they did in the originals, or did they use newer, more realistic computer graphics that weren't available when the original movies were made, even though it didn't look anything like the original? DO NOT ANSWER THIS RHETORICAL QUESTION. I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M REFERENCING STAR WARS OF ALL THINGS. I TRULY DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT ANY OF THOSE FILMS ARE ABOUT. I'M GETTING DISTRACTED FROM MY MAIN POINT WHICH IS THAT DOING A MULTI-CAMERA SITCOM IN 2018 IS COMPLETELY INEXCUSABLE.

Because of the limitations imposed by this outdated format, we see the Conners living out their lives in a dollhouse made of approximately four rooms and sometimes a bar. My Barbies had more varied lives than that, and they all shared one pair of pink heels and one blond boyfriend. After watching the first few episodes, I wondered, are we, as a people, really not done with the societal disease that is multi-camera format? Is there truly not enough mediocrity in this sad world already? Have we given up trying to make ourselves happy?

The Roseanne reboot, and its use of multi-camera format, is a step backward for humanity. The show otherwise left no impression on me. ♦

Chelsea Martin is the Spokane-based author of five books, including Caca Dolce: Essays from a Lowbrow Life. Her website is

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