Tuesday, October 8, 2013

SITCOM DINNERS

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I don't watch sitcoms.


I don't mean that in a judgmental way. I grew up with The Dick Van Dyke Show. It was my parents' favorite show, and that was THE TV night in our house. (I think my dad was more than a little in love with Mary Tyler Moore...) Dinner on TV tables (remember those, anyone?) in the den. And I loved it.

But then, sometime in my teens, I discovered British comedy on public television, and that was it for American sitcoms. All in the Family--nope.  Frazier--nope. Drew Carey--nope. (I didn't know about Craig Ferguson then...my equivalent of my dad's crush on MTM.) Not even The Office for more than part of an episode or two. This is probably some great cultural failure on my part, and it certainly has left me out at the water cooler, but I just never seem able to stay interested.  I'm too plot driven, maybe, or I just like my humor either sillier or drier.

But I really like Michael J. Fox, so last week I tuned in to an episode of his new show.

It was sweet, and funny, but I thought I'd stepped into a time warp. At least half the scenes seem to have been shot with the family sitting around a perfectly set dinner table. First, it seems like such an American thing (although in the Dick Van Dyke Show they always seemed to be having cocktails in the living room)  and at least on short notice I can't come up with a single British comedy where the characters do that. (They're all down the pub...)

But even stranger was the fact that I couldn't think of anyone I knew who sat down at a  perfectly set dinner table every night. We're not total slobs at our house, mind you--we do set the table, and actually use serving dishes, but it's usually in the kitchen.  And we do use our dining room, but not on a daily basis.

So is this a peculiar American fantasy that has faded except on television? Dinner at the Cleavers with Ward and June?

Do tell, Reds and readers, where you have dinner at YOUR house.

22 comments:

Edith Maxwell said...

Whenever possible, at the round table on the deck. But otherwise at our lovely maple dining table. Which is in a big room that includes the kitchen and a sitting room. So I guess the middle part is the dining room, but it isn't a formal one. Of course, these days I'm lucky there isn't plaster dust on the table, since the kitchen is under reconstruction!

Joan Emersom said...

Dinner at our house is always at the table, generally in the dining room although we do have a table in the kitchen and have been known to eat there on occasion. At any rate, at either table it’s place mats, real napkins with napkin rings, serving dishes, the works . . . we might have dessert in the living room later, though . . . .
We do have lovely wooden tray tables, but we’ve never used them for eating dinner. [They tend to end up in the bedrooms so the Princess and her brother can have special “breakfast in bed” days . . . .]

Reine said...

We sit in front of the TV. It's not my choice. It's just the way it works out in our house. When I sit in the kitchen or at the dining table I eat alone. If I set the table the others take their plates and go sit in front of the TV. I feel separated and eventually join whoever else is in front of the TV.

It wasn't always this way. It started after the last child moved out. When our baby came back from the service, he opted for the TV as well. How could I refuse him? When our other children come to visit, we always sit at the table. I'm not sure they know we do otherwise now. They usually set the table, and we have a great time. I miss eating together. Maybe that's why I enjoy the times we eat out–not so much for the food but for the company.

Kristopher said...

If we have guests, dinner is usually in the dining room. But for the day-to-day dinners, I'm with Reine - it's usually in front of the TV.

We are one of those rare households that only has 1 TV, so it is more about having the time to catch up on some missed shows. Since we chat as we are making dinner, it's not as anti-social as it sounds. More than anything, it's multi-tasking so we can squeeze in some TV before settling in for the night and reading!

ps. I have also missed most of the sitcoms - just not my thing. But give me a PBS mystery series and all bets are off.

Deb said...

I should say that we have a big cherry butcher block island in our kitchen, and that it is a lovely place to eat. I do watch TV while I'm cooking and cleaning up--like Kristopher, that's my catch-up on shows time--but most of the time it's on mute during dinner. Dear hubby likes to read me the news from his iPad... Can you hear my teeth grinding? I'd much prefer conversation.

Liz P. said...

I'm alone in house these days, so eat off lap tray while watching "Rehab Addict", or whatever.
In days when husband and children with, we always ate at d.r. table - one night stays with me when younger son said "Oh, boring pot roast!) This was in 80's.

Hallie Ephron said...

WHAT? A new Michael J. Fox TV show? I rarely step away from PBS & Netflix.

We don't have a kitchen table (kitchen's too small) and we don't have a TV downstairs. We must live in that time warp because we eat at our dining room every night. 6:30. Always have ... with kids, without kids.

Paper, not linen, napkins. And we don't have "everyday" and "good" china -- just one set of dishes that we use every meal, every day.

The best thing about not having the kids home is no one complains when it's leftovers.

Jack said...

I usually dine alone, and since I love the cable TV crime shows these days, I eat catching up on THE BRIDGE, BREAKING BAD, HOMELAND, BROAD CHURCH, and Craig Johnson's LONGMIRE.

Melissa Robbins said...

I have a large kitchen table (belonged to my husband's grandparents) that we eat at. We had a dining room, but since it only got used twice a year, my husband and I turned it into a library. Shows where my priorities lie.

I remember the characters sitting around a table in Absolutely Fabulous.

Deb said...

Hallie, maybe you should write a book on "simplifying your life" :-)

Or at least a post!

Rhys Bowen said...

I regret to confess that we usually eat in the breakfast nook in the kitchen (where there is a TV) rather than set the dining table. Besides, John usually has papers he's working on on the dining table, in spite of the fact that he has a huge study, also filled with papers. But we do sit and eat together. And talk. Semi civilized.
And my favorite moments are when family comes over and we have a large noisy dinner together.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

DInner table in wonderful formal dining room is -sadly--covered with work stuff. We have dinner together, though, at the round table in the nook of the family room. Cloth napkins, not the fancy china, but goodish china. Talking.

Big family dinners in the dining room! Love that. (And it makes me clear off the table..)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

6:30, Hallie? Sigh. we're at the table more like--9:30.

And I am not big on sitcoms, except Modern Family is pretty funny! Still, I have no idea when it's on. Isn't that odd? The new TV--it's on whenever we want.

Lisa Alber said...

I'm a single girl and in the evenings I like hearing t.v. voice for awhile (before I start reading, like Kristopher). I eat on the sofa, on my lap. It's cozy, actually, cuddling up with the dog and the cat staring at me like they're about to die of hunger (hah!).

Have to admit, I sometimes picture movie scenes that depict characters eating on sofas, in front of t.v.s--which of course is meant to show how lonely and sad and pathetic said characters are...I don't feel like that. I just feel like it's a form of relaxation after a work day.

No sitcoms for me. I never was that into them, but now--like you said, Deborah -- maybe I'm too plot-oriented. Loved Broadchurch.

Denise Ann said...

The dining room table is the center of the house for me -- where I work, write, do crosswords, watch streaming -- it is also where my husband and I have dinner every night.
When there are guests, I clear off my stuff (I have a handy nook and special boxes) but otherwise the half-table does well.
I love love love when all the family is here and we are crowded around the table.
"Dick Van Dyke" !! On the same night, when I was in high school, was my favorite show -- "The Danny Kaye Show."

Darlene Ryan said...

We have a small house and only one dining table so we eat dinner at that every night with placemats and cloth napkins--much to the amazement of my daughter's friends. It's a chance to catch up on everyone's day.

Reine said...

After reading Hallie and Rhys's comments I see that I want a combination of the two dinner styles.

I want to set the table with our regular dishes. They are a collection of what we've bought since we were married and what Step's family has passed on to us through the generations. My mother-in-law wanted us to use it now and not save it for special or the worst offense to her—on display in the old hutch built by an unknown ancestor in Pennsylvania.

I could set a regular dinnertime. If I set it early that would work for most nights. Some would be sacrificed to nights when Step has meetings. I would like some meals in the kitchen— maybe breakfast or lunch. I will set it up and see who comes.

While I lived my grandmother and Auntie-Mom, the kitchen as the center of activity. They would not have it any other way. The dining room table was for doing homework and activities that needed to be out-of-the-way of the traffic of the kitchen. It also handled big family holidays and kitchen overflow. It has never been first choice for eating in the Irish half of my family.

The kitchen had, still has, seven doors. One goes to the front of the house. One goes to the back yard and downstairs (it's on the side of a hill), after it goes through the mud room with its own door off the kitchen. One goes to the pantry. Another goes to the hallway that brings you to another front door, the living room, or upstairs. One takes you to the dining room. The last takes you downstairs to the cellar and another way out back where my grandfather had his vegetable garden and grew flowers for the table.

All important photos, except for studio portraits, were taken there in the back yard. I treasure those most. Photos of new babies and mums, uncles going off to war… It's a new Boston, but the house is the same. Younger cousins live there now with their children. They walk to the village, the deli, the library, the river, the park, the school, and the church—like we did, like our parents did, like our grandparents did, like our great-grandmother did, like the new young cousins' great-great-grandparents did.

I can't re-create that here in our little house in Tucson. I can promote more conversation and sharing. Meals will be my method. Thank you Debs for this post today. I have a plan.

Really... you JRWs should ban me from commenting here. I write too much.

Pat Marinelli said...

I grew up in a home where we sat down to a fully set table for dinner in the kitchen. We didn’t have a dining room. When our kids came along we did the same…again no dining room.

Now that the kids are out of the house, I have to say Hubby and I are kind of lax. If dinner only needs forks, we only set the table with forks. It’s a dishwasher thing. Sometimes were take our food to our TVs (he has one and I have one), sometimes not. I tend to watch Castle or NCIS reruns while eating.

For a long time after the kids were on their own, I’d set the table for special occasions and holidays when we all got together. Good chine, good crystal, cloth table cover and napkins. I kind of miss that, but there are nine of us now and my table only seats six so we grab the food, seat anywhere, and enjoy a family get-together.

Part of me misses the elegance, but the arthritic part of me loves that all the dishes go in the dishwasher, no table clothes to wash and iron, and no crystal or china to stand and wash by hand. I guess those days are over. I’m just happy the family is close enough to get together for all the birthdays, holidays, special occasions, etc. With families scattered across the country, we still have our family within driving distance—too many people today don’t have that pleasure which I treasure.

Of course, don’t get me started on after dinner when the electronic devices come out. LOL

LynDee said...

I think it's a TV show conspiracy to make us feel like bad moms (kidding!), or a fantasy about what life should be like based on Donna Reed and the Cleavers.

We eat at the table, but in the kitchen, and I can't remember the last time I set the table. I actually do have a centerpiece on it for Fall, which I'm feeling very June Cleaver about right now.

Marianne in Maine said...

Growing up we ALWAYS ate the big kitchen table. The DR was used at holidays and celebrations only.

My husband and I eat in the living room watching British series on Acorn or Netflix. Right now, we're working through "Midsomer Murders." (The other night it featured Sam Heughan, the (gorgeous) actor who is Jamie Fraser in "Outlander", now filming in Scotland.)

I find very little of interest on tv. I wonder why we pay so much for satellite and have so few choices. Most of it is crap. PBS is an exception. Or baseball. At least the Sox are in the post-season so I can still watch that.

Micky said...

I eat dinner on my lap desk, either in my bedroom or in my recliner in the living room (a lot of times when the T.V. is on).

Wendy Corsi Staub said...

Living in the NYC suburbs, where space is at a premium (especially in old houses like ours), we don't have an eat-in kitchen, so we always ate dinner in the dining room by default. But now that our oldest has gone away to college and his brother is tied up most nights with extra-curriculars and a part-time job, it's me and my husband, usually in pjs, in front of the TV with plates on our laps. And I can't say I totally miss the dining room...