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Comical wheels spin quickly in ‘Sitcoms'

The very word “sitcom” explains America's fascination with the genre. “Situation comedy” is too much trouble to say. “Sitcom” has the snappy crackle of those 23-minute shows we've taken to our impatient hearts.

Collaborative Arts has packaged three of them in a 90-minute evening titled “Sitcoms Live!” (The other 20 minutes come from Robot Johnson, the sketch troupe whose recreations and alterations of period commercials raise some nostalgic smiles.)

You can probably trace the cultural history of the United States through the three episodes, which repeat the original scripts as they stood.

The sex-obsessed '70s come through in “Three's Company,” with the male boarder who pretends to be gay so he can room with nubile girls. The Reagan years' juvenile longing to return to a cozy past crops up in “Facts of Life,” with four teens huddling around a folksy surrogate mother. And the leering, scatological “Married With Children” was more in tune with the Clinton years than anyone realized at the time.

The actors haven't quite achieved the slick timing of the originals – that would take years of polished superficiality – but the occasional good-hearted gaffes remind us we're watching flesh-and-blood thespians attempting to mesh in a comic machine meant to grind out laughs. The warm humanity of their endeavor contradicts the cold artificiality of the form.

At the same time, the bad taste that never goes out of style in our country shows continuity across three decades. America didn't invent poop humor, prurience or put-downs, but we've refined them to make ourselves the world's foremost purveyors.

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