I love sitcoms. Like I really really love sitcoms. When I was very little my dad and I would watch Seinfeld reruns almost every night. So as I grew up I continued to love 30-minute comedies about odd groups of endearing but ultimately unlikeable people who somehow get by despite themselves. Some of my favorites are of course Seinfeld, Happy Endings, Community, Will & Grace, Malcolm in the Middle, ect. So in this current binge watch culture of ours, I like to find an old show I remember watching when I was younger and binging the hell out of them on Netflix or Hulu. So a few months back I was on Netflix flipping through their sitcom library for a new show to binge when I came across an old, but somewhat bizarre, favorite of mine, 3rd Rock From the Sun.
Now for those of you unfamiliar with this series I’ll give you a quick break down. 3rd Rock is about a team of aliens who land in the small town of Rutherford, Ohio. They instantly take on human form and begin their mission to study humankind while maintaining their cover of a traditional human family. The High Commander takes the form of Dick Solomon (played by John Lithgow), a physics professor at the local university, where he quickly falls in love with his fellow professor Mary Albright (played by Jane Curtin). The security officer and radio take the form of Dick’s sister and brother, Sally and Harry, and the science officer takes the form of Dick’s son, Tommy (played by the very young at the time Joseph Gordon-Levitt). The series follows their mission and each episode looks at a different aspect of the human condition from the perspective of a complete outsider.
Before I go any further I do want to say how great this show is. It’s a hilarious show with a high concept, and one of the few perfect casts ever assembled in a sitcom. I’m a few episodes away from the finale, and I don’t think there’s been a boring episode yet. Seriously go watch this show.
But now I would like to talk about where the show falls a little short. This show was amazingly ahead of it’s time, especially with many of its gender politics, but I can’t help but think that this show could be written so much stronger today, since we are now reexamining social norms and constructs that have been around for years if not longer.
One of the main characters, Sally Solomon (played by Kristen Johnston), is the lieutenant, security officer, and second in command, but because she was chosen to be the woman within the group she must also accomplish all of the “traditionally womanly” duties around the house. She is forced to cook and clean and look amazing doing so despite the fact that she is lousy at almost all of it. Especially within the first few episodes we see Sally battle with being stuck in a female body, and all of the social and physical pressures that it forces upon her. Now this was a broadcast television show in the late 90’s and early 00’s, so they couldn’t get too blatant (and admittedly I may be reading too much into this), but Sally appears to be coded as a trans-man in a woman’s body. Which is an amazingly progressive thing to bring up when this show was coming out.
I think this show could be even more progressive in the social climate of today, I mean what does it mean to be a purple tube trapped inside a human’s body? Do purple floating tubes even have gendered pronouns? And why are there always the same students in Dick’s college class for six years? I’ve gone on a bit too long today, but there is an amazing amount of material that this show only glances at, but maybe next time I’ll outline how I would launch this show today and what specifically I would look at through an alien’s perspective. Or maybe I’ll be onto my next sitcom and talk about that. Who knows? Come back here next week to find out!