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Three’s A Crowd, But Four Is Just Fine: The Appeal of the Four-Female Sitcom

Three’s A Crowd, But Four Is Just Fine: The Appeal of the Four-Female Sitcom

Some Humanities
teachers will make the argument that only a limited number of stories can be
told (usually around 7-8 archetypical stories derived from fairytales and Greek
plays). In spite of this argument, many writers, filmmakers, and producers
continue to shell out an unlimited amount of stories, whose originality often arises
from narrative construction. As the old saying goes, it is more about the journey
than the destination. Yet if you’re an academic, scholar, critic, or a
dedicated cinephile/TV-phile, you can’t help but notice patterns and trends
that are woven into some of your favorite (or least favorite) films and TV
shows. It was through this academic mentality that I first took notice of the
“Four-Female Sitcom,” a formula that can be found in many of my favorite shows that
have dedicated queer followings.

The Four-Female Sitcom is any sitcom/comedy
show that focuses on four central female characters. Their relations to one
another can be interchangeable (they can be classmates, coworkers, roommates,
friends, and/or relatives), but each of the four of the women must have a
personality that reflects one of four particular character types: the naïve one
(often called “the ditz”), the promiscuous/man-hungry one (often called “the
slut”), the funny one (often called “the wisecracker”), and the sexually
ambiguous one (often called “the feminist,” “the queer one,” “the lesbian,”
and/or “the mannish one”). Jim Colucci first took note of this formula, labeling
it the “Golden Rule of Four” and crediting its source as “The Golden Girls”
(1985-1992). I would argue that “The Facts of Life” (1979-1988) is the original
source of this trend (Colucci mentions this in a footnote in The Q Guide to The Golden Girls, but
wavers on his stance in regards to the show).

The
first season of “The Facts of Life” began with Edna Garrett and seven Eastland
Academy girls, but due to low ratings, producers whittled the seven girls down
to three (Tootie – the naïve one, Natalie – the funny one, and Blair – the
man-hungry one) and added a tomboyish fourth member (Jo). Since “The Facts of
Life,” the Four-Female legacy has spawned a variety of iterations, including
(but not limited to) “The Golden Girls,” “Designing Women” (1986-1993), “Living
Single” (1993-1998), “Sex and the City” (1998-2004), “Hot in Cleveland”
(2010-), and “Girls” (2012-). These shows may follow different character arcs
and plotlines, but the four-type structure remains constant (although tweaked
to meet each show’s respective demands).

Homosociality is at the core of each
show, and proves to be one of the most appealing traits to queer audiences.
These homosocial bonds can be both affectionate and antagonistic, as displayed
by Sophia’s constant ridiculing of Dorothy in “The Golden Girls” and Julia’s
derision of Suzanne’s materialistic lifestyle in “Designing Women.” Though the
women frequently fight and bicker, they maintain constant homosocial bonds that
challenge patriarchal society and gendered/societal expectations, mirroring the
constant struggle queer audiences endure in their real lives.

As with any element of cultural
appropriation, queer audiences cling onto these shows because the characters
are exaggerations of these specific types, making them easier to consume. True,
each character is multi-dimensional and nuanced, but there is always an element
of exaggeration that makes their antics and personality traits larger than
life. Such is the case with Rose from “The Golden Girls,” Sinclair from “Living
Single,” and Shoshanna from “Girls,” who live in their own delusional worlds
and often times reveal their ignorance of basic knowledge. The characters’ names
comes to define particular sets of character traits, which is why you get such
games as “Which “Golden Girl”/“Sex and the City” character are you?” (I am
usually the Jo-Julia-Dorothy-Miranda hybrid).

The Four-Female Sitcom structure not
only breeds comfort and familiarity, but also has created a notable legacy of
interesting characters, catchy one-liners, and touching episodes. We
appropriated these shows into our pop culture lexicon because the creators took
a basic structure/story (the four character types), and added their own
personal touches. It is no surprise that a gay network like Logo would ditch
its original programming (save for the lucrative “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) for
reruns of more inclusive, queer-friendly shows (including “The Golden Girls,”
“Designing Women,” and “Living Single”). It is my dream (and I’m sure the dream
of many other gay men) to see a network that shows these Four-Female Sitcoms on
a constant loop.

 

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