'Boyhood' Is a Sitcom, Compressed

A few weeks ago at Comic-Con, a Simpsons showrunner revealed that the long-running cartoon would devote a Christmas episode to spoofing Richard Linklater's much-gushed-over Boyhood.

The Simpsons is know for its spoofs and skewers, and considering the splash that Boyhood made upon its release in 2014-- it was nominated for six Academy Awards, won the Golden Globe for Best Feature, landed on the American Film Institute's top ten list, won Best Picture at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards, was named Best Film by the New York Film Critics Circle, and has been nominated and awarded the best film of 2014 by almost every film critics' society you can think of--a Simpsons homage was inevitable. But plunking a version of Boyhood on a half-hour comedy is particularly fitting, because the acclaimed film shares a surprising amount of DNA with that little-engine-that-could: the sitcom.

Boyhood is essentially a family sitcom compressed into two and a half hours. An unwanted haircut at age eight stands in for the feelings of powerlessness and humiliation that accompany life at that age. A night spent wandering around Austin, Texas with a high-school girlfriend, ordering one more bowl of queso at a greasy spoon, replaces the sex talk. A brief shot of Patricia Arquette lying facedown on the garage floor, sobbing, with her new husband standing off to the side, tells you everything you need to know about the abusive relationship. It isn't too hard to re-imagine each of these incidents--with vastly different dialogue, editing, and lighting, of course--as a sitcom episode.

The magic of Boyhood is the compression of twelve years into two and a half hours. The film is like a good tomato sauce that's been simmering for so long that it's been reduced to its delicious, tomato-y essence. So much of what has attracted critics to Boyhood is its treatment of time as something that just happens to you while you go through the motions, shaping you into the person you're about to become even as you're too distracted to notice. It speaks to something about life that feels real and universal: where has the time gone?

But the very thing that makes Boyhood such a critical marvel is the same thing that we take for granted week after week on TV. Following a sitcom loyally over the years, you don't really notice the changes until you go back and look at that first season, and realize that Leslie Knope's hair was so much more yellow back then, and when did Jake on Two and a Half Men become a whole man? The opening credits to Roseanne's eighth season--it would last one more before going off the air--illustrates this gradual evolution as it shows the cast members morphing from their youngest selves to the present day.

The experience of watching a group of people grow and change over a long period of time is essentially the experience of loyally following a sitcom over several years. If someone were to compress a twelve-season long TV show into two and a half hours, the results might be just as moving and surprising as Boyhood.