This, from a New York Times piece on the comedy boom, seems somewhat off to me:
And then there’s the economy. Mr. Lee said it was a mistake to tie trends too simply to social developments, but in this case, it was inevitable to think of “things like the 1930s and screwball comedies.”
Indeed, socio-economic conditions are being widely credited. Mr. Lorre, who had hits before and after the economy tanked, said, “Comedy thrives during economic downturns. You know, if you’ve had a bad day, laughter is a better remedy than watching a coroner pick shrapnel out of some poor guy’s private parts.”
Ms. Salke said, “It’s all part of stress level.” She said people might look to comedy because they “don’t want to think too hard.” She added, “You’re probably sitting around the table talking about how you’re going to afford the tuition, or you’re not going to have a vacation, or you can’t afford a divorce. You need an escape from that.”
Lorre’s core comedy, the goofy, escapist Two and a Half Men, has seen its ratings fall from 28 million in this year’s premiere to 15 million for the last episode. And a lot of the comedies that are resonating — or, in an anemic ratings season, at least have gotten pickups — tap directly into contemporary issues if not into anxieties, whether it’s the class politics of 2 Broke Girls, the biggest new comedy of the fall, the post-college roommate scenario of New Girl, or the domestic trials of Up All Night and Whitney. Even Modern Family, cited for its excellence as one of the causes of the comedy resurgence, is nodding to the zeitgeist by having Claire Dunphy run for town council.
I do think it’s true that television has generally become more about providing aspirational models to audiences rather than reflections of their lived experiences. But even though that’s the case, the characters in popular comedies today still have problems that bear some small relation to those faced by their audiences, even if the consequences are cushioned by wealth or the scale is different — Jay’s business having trouble on Modern Family, for example, probably wouldn’t mean that his family gets foreclosed on. These are not the problems of, say, a con woman and a beer heir who meet cute on a cruise ship in The Lady Eve, or a professor and a gang moll in Ball of Fire, challenges that might be fun to watch but none of us could ever possibly have. We are not ignoring our mortgages to chase a leopard through the suburbs. Comedy characters today may be somewhat more secure than comedy watchers, but they’re helping us mediate the challenges of contemporary life, not escape them entirely.