The idea of writing this column scared me a bit. I don’t know much about life — despite being a ‘90s kid on a technicality, I don’t even remember a time before “American Idol” was on the air. So, yeah, I don’t have a ton of profound wisdom to share.
Instead, I will write about what I do know: the American sitcom.
I grew up on network television. I used to wait all week for Wednesday nights, when my parents, siblings and I would watch “The Middle,” take a 30-minute break (I have no idea what was on at 8:30) and then tune back in for “Modern Family.”
But what I loved the most were sitcoms that aired long before I was born. “Family Matters,” “Family Ties,” “Cheers.” And none stood out more than “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Centered around a young woman living on her own in Minneapolis and working in a newsroom, I can’t in good conscience say this show didn’t have an impact on my dream of being a journalist. In fact, I’d say Mary Richards and Kit Kittredge both played an outsize role, but that’s a rabbit hole for another day.
Mary Richards was everything I wanted to be. She loved her job and charmed even her most curmudgeonly coworkers. She had an awesome apartment with an M on the wall (yes, you read this right! This is the first letter of my name, too, reader!). She had a bustling social life and got to be best friends with Rhoda Morgenstern, one of the most iconic characters to ever grace the screen.
So, you see, stepping foot in The Daily Tar Heel newsroom for the first time was a huge thrill for my 18-year-old self. There were no typewriters or powder-blue blazers, but there was a certain subtle Lou Grant-ish charm to the place. I felt, quite possibly, more Mary Richards than I ever had before.
Fast-forward to three years later, and that bustling, WJM-esque newsroom was no longer possible with COVID-19. I moved back to Maryland with my parents to finish my junior year, and when I returned to Chapel Hill for my senior year, my interactions were limited for social distancing.
I was living in a bottle episode.
Allow me to explain. A bottle episode happens when the main characters are pushed together in some sort of scenario without scene changes, many other people or a whole lot of external factors. The characters’ conversation drives the show and tells the audience more about who they are as people.
Remember when Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine couldn’t get a seat at a Chinese restaurant? Or when the McPoyles held the gang hostage in Paddy’s? Those are examples of truly hilarious, show-advancing bottle episodes.
When I started quarantining, on the other hand, the humor was not so palpable and the melodrama was turned way up. I felt sorry for myself. I missed my friends. I had a tough time concentrating on remote schoolwork, and I felt that my favorite part of the newsroom was missing.
But now, a year later, I’d like to say that this extended bottle episode has given me some perspective. Much like Elaine discovering what she’d do for an egg roll in “Seinfeld,” I've discovered a lot about myself since COVID-19 started.
For one thing, I’m not as introverted as I once thought. I also learned to go easier on people — myself, my friends and my writers at the DTH. This pandemic really highlighted that you never know what other people are going through, and that’s a lesson I’ll keep with me my whole life.
At the DTH, I’ve been incredibly grateful for the friends who have gotten me through this. Brandon, Will, Anna, Maddie, Yates, Sonia, baby Anna, Brian, Paige, Praveena and so, so many more — you are all my Murray Slaughters.
Most of all, I owe all of this — my impending graduation, my sense of perspective and, yes, my love of sitcoms — to my mom and dad. They were just trying to enjoy their summer off from teaching when they realized their college-aged daughter would, in fact, be crashing their backyard happy hours and doing her internship out of their house.
Mom, Dad, if I’m being honest with myself, you are Mary and Rhoda. I am Phyllis, infiltrating your home in a loud and unannounced fashion while demanding your attention. Thank you for never spinning me off.
This bottle episode has not been a particularly funny one. But it’s taught me one thing:
I might just make it, after all.
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