Remember back in the day, when most sitcoms had some sort of theme? Today, all sitcoms are pretty much the standard family setup (yawn) workplace comedy (snore), or possibly random groups of friends (boooring), yet back in the day we managed to mine astronauts plagued by paranormal activity, vaguely corrupt Indian reservations, and even freakin' Nazi prison camps for solid laughs. Where did those days go?
So as a public service, I'm going to propose several "alternate" settings for sitcoms. You can cram as much quirk as you want to make it hip--get Kat Dennings on the phone, shove Katy Perry in a historical costume, heck, drag Dick van Dyke and a healthy dose of irony out of retirement--and you can plug them in however you want and spin that stale television straw into comedy gold.
The Big House
(Alternate Title: Prisoner's Dilemma)
A cell block of quirky inmates live out their 112-episode-or-so sentences in a desperate attempt to make life manageable. Watch as hardened felons become friends and band together when times get tough--from the hardass new warden to the day they switched to generic orange juice. You'll laugh so hard, it will be criminal!
Stock Characters: The Crafty Deal-Maker, the Humble Philosopher, the Wise-Cracking Cook Staff
For Your Consideration: Heart-wrenching visits from six year old sons once a year.
Potential Problem: The mess hall is gonna have a lot of sausage on the menu, if you know what I mean.
(Alternate Title: Space For Rent)
Six astronauts are charged with living on a moonbase for years, not only battling a hostile environment bent on killing them, but with bureaucratic red tape from Earth and each other's annoying peccadillos. Bonus points if it's set in the 1980's and involves Stephen Root being the contact from Earth they speak with over the intercom.
Stock Characters: The Know-It-All Captain That Keeps Screwing Things Up, The Foreign Exchange Russian, the Woman With Awkward Hygienic Needs
For Your Consideration: 99 Luftballoons, baby!
Potential Problems: Production values, since everyone will be floating.
Step Right Up
(Alternate Title: The Big Top)
This ensemble comedy will showcase a broad range of characters as well as the gloomily hilarious side of the circus business. Follow fire-eaters, weightlifters, and carnies as they entertain the locals while snarking at each other. For extra credit, performances can be either done straight (and awesome) or comedy fodder for what is generally a collection of travelling failure.
Stock Characters: The Draconian Cost-Cutting Manager, the Flamboyant Ringmaster, the Unintelligibly Foreign Lion Tamer
For Your Consideration: Clown makeup doesn't run when it comes in contact with tears.
Potential Problem: Elephants Local 203
The Black Flag
(Alternate Title: Walk The Plank)
Yarrr! It's time to take to the high seas with this motley cast of renegades and buccaneers. Being aboard a ship in close quarters is ripe for comedy, plus it allows for occasional visits to local tribes for much-needed foils for the characters (also: opportunities for guest stars! Beyonce as a Caribbean goddess, anyone?)
Stock Characters: The Salty Sea Captain, the Naive Cabin Boy, the Barely Closeted First Mate, the Wise and Understanding Cook
For Your Consideration: A once-a-season visit to the local native tribe should remind us that, eyepatch or no, we're all human.
Potential Problems: Anyone remember Waterworld? No, seriously?
(Alternate Title: Past the Post)
How aboot a game of hockey, eh? A rather sad-looking lot of minor-minor-league hockey players in the wilds of Canada--or, possibly, a burned-out logging town in northern America--play games in empty arenas while always under the threat of getting shuttled to the minor-minor-minor-league in an even worse burned-out logging town. Add some exciting hockey play once in a while along with a barrage of one-liners and it's every hockey fan's delight.
Stock Characters: The Hotshot Center Who Isn't Nearly As Good As He Thinks, The Alcoholic Coach, The Language-Garbling Import, The Wealthy Goofball Owner, The Barely Intelligible Goalie
For Your Consideration: That nail-biter of a game they lose on purpose because of 1) the rival star's kid's leukemia 2) the best player on the team runs away to find his true love 3) keeping the aging pro who used to play for the team's record intact.
Potential Problems: A few too many accents and Canada references for American audiences.