HIT SHOW: A scene from the sitcom Góc Phố Muôn Màu (Colourful Street Corner), broadcast on VTV3. Photo hanoimoi.com.vn
From the very first time a sitcom appeared on TV screens around Việt Nam more than a decade ago it was clear that the format had found favour among the country’s younger viewers while older ones were left somewhat unimpressed.
Sitcoms, or situation comedies, in which a humorous storyline is wrapped up within a single episode, is now the dominant format in Việt Nam, screened during prime time and picking up solid reviews online.
Many film and TV commentators, however, said local sitcoms were lacking in artistic quality, with poor content and scripting.
“Despite the large number of sitcoms now being produced locally, quality is still a challenge,” screenwriter Châu Thổ said.
Experienced scriptwriters for sitcoms awere in short supply, she said, and those charged with writing an episode often failed to leave an impression on viewers.
Of a similar mind, director Nguyễn Thành Vinh said that due to a shortage of good scriptwriters and dedicated studios, sitcoms just couldn’t meet quality standards despite an abundance of quantity.
“Many have been produced to resemble nonsensical game shows,” he said.
Some critics even complain that sitcoms are sometimes simply too long, at 45 minutes an episode, which is more suited to a drama, while others are too short, at just five or ten minutes an episode.
There’s a balance to be struck, they say, between spending too much time setting up the premise of an episode and rushing through the story to squeeze an episode into a ridiculously short amount of time.
Most actors in sitcoms, meanwhile, are “hot girls” or “hot boys”, who might look good on screen but have no idea about acting.
Gia Đình Là Số 1 (Family Is No 1), now on TV, seeks humour in conflicting situations within a family. Each episode runs for about eight minutes, but almost half of that is advertising, which many viewers find annoying.
Another sitcom, Căn Hộ 69 (Apartment 69), was heavily advertised prior to its arrival, but when the first episode was broadcast on YouTube it upset many with its erotic images and dialogue that seemed to advocate unhealthy practices.
Such was the level of distaste that it was fined VNĐ10 million (US$430) by cultural authorities, with the producer required to remove the episode from YouTube and to scrap all other episodes.
Very few Vietnamese sitcoms, it seems, have truly impressed local viewers or critics.
When Những Người Độc Thân Vui Vẻ (Happy Singles) -- regarded as the first Vietnamese sitcom -- was initially screened in 2008 it attracted plenty of viewers. As the series dragged on, though, its viewer numbers tumbled. A year later it was off the air.
While sitcoms are still being made in Việt Nam, they’re not known for picking up TV industry awards.
Actor Huy Khánh once said, “The film industry in the south is declining, while dramas are popular in the north. Many dramatic actors in the south are unemployed or have had to find other jobs to earn a living, like being in game shows or acting in sitcoms ...”
Indeed, professional actors often join the chorus of those complaining about the quality of sitcoms.
But private production companies and producers are actively co-operating with directors to improve quality, with scripts coming from selected Vietnamese scriptwriters.
In early July, the BHD Company held casting sessions in Hà Nội and HCM City for a culinary TV sitcom called Căn Bếp Tình Yêu (Love Kitchen), a project from producer Nguyễn Phan Quang Bình and two young directors, Hiếu Vick and Vũ Hồng Dương.
Set in a Vietnamese restaurant, the show depicts love and relationships between co-workers in a warm yet spicy and humorous manner.
According to BHD’s media representative Nguyễn Tuấn, producer Nguyễn Phan Quang Bình is known as “cool” among young directors.
“Bình working with the two young directors is expected to result in a high quality and attractive programme,” he said. “Hiếu Vick used to be in the sitcom 5s Online, which has a good reputation among young people.”
Nguyễn Tuấn Anh, a director at the Smart Med Company, which has produced a number of sitcoms, once said that the format was suitable for young people with limited time who want to be entertained and to see themselves depicted on the TV screen. Sitcoms also reach viewers quite easily as they are re-broadcast regularly.
Unlike a drama series, viewers can miss an episode here and there and still generally know what’s happening with the characters, according to Anh.
Sitcoms are also favoured by TV stations, as they can be used to link longer TV programmes together and are easy to promote among potential advertisers.
And producers like them too, as the necessary investment is smaller than for other formats while the return comes faster.
Viewers have long been pleased with VTV3’s 5.30pm and 9pm timeslots, when sitcoms such as Sắc Màu Phái Đẹp (Colours of Women) and Góc Phố Muôn Màu (Colorful Street Corner) are screened, while 8.15pm is a popular time on VTV2, with Ba Chàng Ngốc (Three Idiots) and Bạn Thân (Best Friend).
VTV6 and VTV9, meanwhile, have had success from broadcasting sitcoms such as Chung Cư Loạn Truyện, Cà Phê Tử Tế, Gia Đình Hết Sảy, and Ngôi Nhà Teen Ám.
Công Ty Osin Quốc Dân (Housekeepers), a new sitcom depicting the lives of young women working as home help, was released recently to keep viewers relaxing during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The 50-episode show, which airs on Thursdays and Fridays at 10.30pm on Hồ Chí Minh City Television, features rural villagers from the Mekong Delta coming to the city to work as housekeepers for rich families. It takes place in the large home of a wealthy businessman.
According to its director Quốc Thuận, making a quality sitcom is much more difficult than making TV dramas.
“They are quite short but every minute must be funny,” he said, adding that he hoped the show would be a success.
The presence of well-known producers with success in other shows, such as MT Pictures, Vietcomfilm, Sóng Vàng, and BHD, in the sitcom market is hoped to result in quality improving substantially in the very near future. VNS