Shows like “Arrested Development,” “Scrubs,” “Family Guy” and “30 Rock” have taken the experiment a step further, reconfiguring the methods with which comedy tells stories. Instead of using the typical sitcom narrative (six characters in the same four rooms enduring a humdrum, linear story line), these shows explore their situations through collage and a restless stream of consciousness.
Metafiction emerged from a group of self-aware writers who analyzed their own work like critics; and in the same way, today’s digressive sitcoms come from a generation of comedy writers (and viewers) who understand the ins and outs of the most popular format of 30-minute storytelling. Avant-garde literature gave America its first tradition of subverting narrative, but what was once a wild experiment in language has become an accepted counterpart to our Internet culture, where digressive Googling and link-clicking are a way of life. The dusty sitcom has caught up to the modern mind.