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Widdoes and Orphans

James Widdoes is a director of comedies for American TV. He has worked on three high quality family comedies in the 1990's. His work has considerable charm and feeling. One would like to see it become better known, but it seems to be lost in the jungle of TV.

The comedies I've seen Widdoes work on, Uncle Buck (1991), Home Free (1993) and Brother's Keeper (1998), all involve grown kids who move back home with their families. Often times, they take part in the raising of young children, too. The children tend to be orphans, having at most one parent, giving rise to my punning title above. There tends to be a contrast between the eccentricities and flamboyant personalities of the person who moves back home, and the straight laced, down to earth behavior of those there. The comedies all have middle class settings; people struggle with their careers and with a time crunch. They do not take place in fantasy worlds of the very affluent. The people in the show, all of whom have wildly contrasting personalities and views, are all very likable. There are no villains of any sort, or even comic bad guys. The people are all emotionally generous and supportive of each other, despite the conflicts that their divergent personalities sometimes give rise to.

The grown people in the shows all want to date, and their romantic encounters and problems are included in the dramas. However, everything tends to be pretty clean cut, and we do not get the endless innuendoes of Friends and its clones. The shows tend to concentrate on the feelings of the characters. Many of the people tend to be lonely, and they are looking for someone with whom to have a meaningful relationship. The shows find considerable humor in this, without ever sacrificing the human feeling in the characters.

Widdoes' shows tend to be a be more plot oriented that many contemporary sitcoms, and this is a good thing. They are not "shows about nothing". If memory serves me correctly, they tend to have one unifying plot running through a whole half hour show. They are not typically constructed using the "sub-plot" approach, where there will be three independent story lines being cross cut during the show. Older sitcoms of the 1950's always used one unrolling plot; the sub-plot approach tends to be much newer. Frankly, I don't like it. What does it say about the networks' appreciation of our attention spans if they think we cannot follow one plot for 23 minutes? I've always loved stories and storytelling. I much prefer to watch a show with a story, rather than one without it.

Widdoes' style, with its rich characters, recognizable human beings, and meaningful story lines, recalls the classical tradition of such comedy directors of the 1930's as Ernst Lubitsch.

Widdoes has directed other TV shows:

He also directed the pilots of: