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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Pitt chapter.

Dear 20 minute sitcoms, 

I love you.

For me, there is a very specific format of television that I immediately gravitate to. And that is the 20 minute sitcom. With their loveable casts of characters and short quips, I have never watched a short sitcom that I’ve hated.

One of the reasons I fell in love with this quick genre again is because of college. Eating alone in the dining hall? Prop up your phone and turn it on. Have an hour in between classes? Watch an episode or two. Working on a paper? Use it as background entertainment. Most of the time (with The Good Place being the only exception I can think of), the episodes are structurally told in such a way that as long as you partially pay attention, you’ll be able to follow the plot very easily. This allows me to get through a huge portion of content in a very short period of time. For example, I was at the beginning of season 6 of Modern Family on the first day of this semester and I finished the entire rest of the show (11 seasons) in just less than a month, on September 26.

The concept of the twenty minute sitcom really grew out of cable television. If a TV show had a half hour slot, a little less than ten minutes of it would be used for commercials. Generally, the episodes would also only be airing once a week, so the storyline of an episode had to be self-contained. There would be overarching plotlines week through week, but the episodes were written so if someone had randomly turned on the TV, they could get the gist of the character’s dynamics enough to begin and finish the storyline. 

With the creation of streaming, however, the 20 minute sitcom is a dying art. Episodes are not only longer (I’m looking at you, Stranger Things Season 4 finale), but seasons themselves are only 8-13 episodes. When TV shows go straight to streaming services, they may be the same length as the “20 minute sitcom,” but lack the structure and appeal. Creators know the viewers are going to blow right through all the content at once, and so they are written as such. While streaming services try to replicate the original effect (take Hulu with Only Murders In The Building), they cannot really capture the certain flair other sitcoms have. A long season itself also allows the show to build up a strong repertoire of episodes; they do not rush through storylines or character development. This may be criticized by some as “filler episodes,” but I consistently find no fault with a fun little side plot that honestly has nothing to do with the rest of the show. As you watch the episodes, you grow with the characters. 

The style also allows for really good running jokes and episode themes. With so much content space to add jokes, writers can slip similar ones in once in a while without it being overwhelming. Take “That’s what she said” from The Office or Schmidt’s terrible word pronunciations in New Girl. This lets seasons connect thematically and allows obsessive watchers to find other fans of the show by referencing those jokes. 

Because the shows normally just follow the characters throughout the calendar year, themed episodes come around every season. My favorite example of this is probably the “Halloween Heist” episodes from Brooklyn 99. If you don’t know, Brooklyn 99’s yearly Halloween episode was a heist where the characters would compete to find an object hidden in the precinct by midnight. These episodes were always highly anticipated, with pivotal character moments even occurring in the episodes (iykyk!). 

In general, my favorite 20 minute sitcoms I have watched are (get ready for it): New Girl, The Good Place, Community, Modern Family, Brooklyn 99, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Superstore, The Office, Kim’s Convenience, and Schitt’s Creek. I highly recommend all of these if you are looking for good laughs and heartwarming character dynamics.

Other popular 20 minute sitcoms I have yet to watch include Friends (and I might never – sorry!), It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, How I Met Your Mother, Abbott Elementary, Parks and Rec, and Arrested Development. Some of these are probably surprising, and I know I need to up my game. If you’re looking for your next TV obsession, look no further: the 20 minute sitcom is here! 


An avid sitcom fan

Emma is a first-year student at the University of Pittsburgh. She is a new staff member of the Pitt chapter, and enjoys writing about pop culture, music, tv/movies, and food. She is majoring in Anthropology and currently looking into a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies. She is also a Chancellor's Scholar through the Honors College. Emma is interested in foodways and the cultural artifacts associated with food production, and plans to research cultural food knowledge in a study abroad program. In the past, she was Business Editor-in-Chief of her high school’s yearbook and wants to bring her communication and leadership skills to Her Campus. Emma is also a member of the Anthropology Club and Eat @ Pitt. In her free time, Emma loves to read, play guitar, cook, hang out with friends, and obsess over anything Taylor Swift related.