During the eighties Reagan and conservatism reigned-- and this extended to the realm of the sitcom. The eighties saw the return of the extemely idealized family under the guise of The Cosby Show and the Keatons in Family Ties.
Those shows promoted the feel that despite great changes in society, the American family had pulled together. "We have in Cosby, as in Father Knows Best, the 'normal' nuclear family, despite the fact that in the time between KNB and Cosby we have seen in America a tremendous increase in divorce and other social factors leading to a rise of one-parent and other forms of the non-nuclear family (Frazer, 164)" The Cosby Show, glosses over racial politics, making them seem as if they've finally been resolved and Family Ties tries shows the new conservatives getting along with the liberal hippie tradition.
But the real revolution in the portrayal of the sitcom family was to come in the nineties. Three shows that centered around not-so-perfect working class families debuted and changed the nature of sitcom television. "Roseanne, Married...with Children, and The Simpsons each revive the domestic sitcom, using the traditional nuclear family construct (mom, dad, kids, dog, and a house in the suburbs) in order to skewer its conventions (Henry, 89)."
These shows admit and that, in the face of downsizing and new economic uncertainty, families are insecure. The fathers have trouble making a living and even their families do not necessarily have confidence in them. "Loser television has the sense to play along; it taps the anxiety in the culture and plays it back for laughs (Leland, 50)." The working class is also a bigger audience for the networks because many upper class viewers have chosen cable alternatives (Waters, 60).
But despite all this, at least in Roseanne and The Simpsons, one can still discern the fundamental sitcom rules of the road. "Now sitcoms accept broken and patched-together families, eccept verbal violence, accept moral confusion and racial and generational rifts. Yet within all this, they hasten to reassure us, we will be happier than ever before (Jones, 259)."
But the question is-- how successful and how serious is The Simpsons in its intent to satire the family?