17 June 2009

Bryan Loves Television Part G: Dr. Strangelaugh or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Comedy

See? A pun on that old Keenan Wynn movie. And with that, we move forward into the most major part of my argument for the greatness of modern television - the Comedy. Contemporary Comedy is so good, so innovative, and there has been mainstream rewarding of creativity and originality that is severely lacking in some other dramatic or cartoon areas that I've covered previously. The formulaic sitcom, longtime bane of any well-written comedy program, is practically dead and the single-camera, laughtrack-free trend has yet to be overplayed or driven into stagnation.

Once again, as fair warning, the parts of this article that aren't pure bullshit or a hootenanny are pretty much balderdash.

That said, let's briefly check out Comedy's history:

Also one of sitcom's first catch
phrases - waaaaa.

1950s: Everybody watched I Love Lucy, was in many ways, along with the Honeymooners, the great-grandmother of the television comedy genre. Looking back on the show, many of the plot devices or styles may seem tired or cliche, but this sucker existed before any of that shit WAS cliche, so it ended up being innovative. It was also one of the first shows to be filmed with a three camera set-up, on a 35 mm film in front of a live audience. This seems typical and tried today, but was a revolutionary leap in quality and authenticity at the time, and due to its enormous popularity, provided the conventions of the genre for the following half-century. I Love Lucy was not the first show to be filmed and treated with this level of respect, but by far it was the first mainstream comedy to lay down the conventions of the genre. While it was innovative in its own right, however, its copycats led to stagnation.

Also note Desi Arnaz as one of the first mainstream positive portrayals of latinos on television, which was a huge step forward. Of course, George Lopez managed to take three steps backwards, but that's another note.

1960s: Everybody watched The Dick Van Dyke Show, I don't know a whole lot about this program, but Wikipedia has some nice nuggets to share. As both an Emmy Winner and ratings king, it was both a critical and commercial success, mostly funded on the writing of Carl Reiner, the funniness of Dick van Dyke, and the cuteness of Mary Tyler Moore. It was apparently considered a very modern and trendy show, often satiring or parodying contemporary pop culture phenomenons, and also one of the few shows to realistically portray basic human relationships. Taken for granted now, but true for the times, there was all matter of "sending people to the moon" and so on. Also Mary Tyler Moore wore pants. Scandalous!

Aww look at the adorable little racist-sexist-
liberal-hating homophobe!

1970s: Everybody watched All in the Family, I remember reading an interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and they were talking about the inspiration for Eric Cartman on South Park, and they basically said they wanted a character like Archie Bunker on their show, but since it was infeasible on modern television, they found out that they could say what Archie said through an animated child. That should about sum up things for a modern audience trying to wrap their heads around this show. Breaking ground on topics of homosexuality, racism, cancer, death, and toilet flushing, All in the Family somehow was an immensely popular, immensely controversial, award-winning and multiple-spin-off producing fiesta for all ages in a time after movies like "The Graduate" (1967) and "Midnight Cowboy" (1969). In this sudden rush of open doors of conversation of previously taboo topics that funded well-produced, well-written, and well-received forms of media. Whenever high controversy is accepted as mainstream art, that's groovy baby.

Zip zop doodly bop dip dap a koo koo kachoo!!

1980s: Everybody watched The Cosby Show, which I debated putting Cheers in here, which was also immensely popular. Cheers won more Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series(4, to Cosby's 1), but The Cosby Show's steak of five consecutive #1 ratings seasons, a mark matched only by All in the Family, puts it over the edge as the defining show of the decade. Similar to I Love Lucy's swath of brainless foundries, basing a show around a popular comedian's routine became a staple in the 90s, leading to some great shows like Seinfeld, also leading to some shit shows like Home Improvement. Anyway, The Cosby Show was notable for depicting educational family values, a positive portrayal of an upper-class African-American family, a relative non-focal point on awkward race relations, as well as goofy facial expressions and noises.

1990s: Everybody watched Frasier, although you were thinking I'd say Seinfeld didn't you! Mostly because I do not have enough room here to rant about the brilliance of Seinfeld, Frasier finished four of its years in the top 10 Nielson ratings, but more importantly racked up a total of 37 Emmy Wins and was voted the greatest sitcom in history from Britain's Channel 4. Fair enough, but what's the big deal? I will admit that I was a big Frasier fan. Yes, I do still have testicles. It was generally a well-paced, educated show, that did not pull punches while sending up the main character's obsession with the banalities of life while maintaining a successive amount of quirks and long-running jokes and multi-arching character and season relationships. Essentially, brilliant, plus that dog had his own house.

Say what you want about the Rachel hairdo,
this man's awkwardness single-handedly
saved the show. True story.

2000s: Everybody watched FRIENDS, which I probably could have easily lumped in the 90s, and put something like Everybody Loves Raymond here, but this tends to work out for my own ramblings. I hate FRIENDS. I absolutely hate it. To me it always seemed like a vapid, idiotic experience, following the lives of half-a-dozen NYC idiots with little self-awareness or irony in its execution. My final intrepretation of the series is that it really wasn't necessarily a BAD show. It just really wasn't an exceptional show. It typified the 90s and 2000s sitcom formula, group of 30-somethings living and having adventures in NYC, mostly in the wake of Seinfeld, which pulled off the formula with much greater skill. FRIENDS to me ultimately seems like an imitator, not an innovator. Again, this doesn't necessary forgo a bad show, but it makes it not great. If that makes any sense at all. Maybe.

Alrighty then, on to our basic Network weekly line-ups! One-sentence reviews of these shitsharks and then on to cable and my Top 5 next time, baby.



Monday, 9:30 pm: Surviving Suburbia - This show just premiered, it stars Bob Saget, I have not seen it yet but if it involves dirty Bob Saget, I'm in, however, it does look very typical.

Tuesday, 8 pm: According to Jim - YES, this show is still on somehow, it's one of those shows like Yes, Dear and The George Lopez Show, that no one ever seemed to watch yet squeezed out like 8 seasons somehow. Suffice it to say that I consider According to Jim everything that's wrong with the American sitcom. Moving on.

Wednesday, 8 pm: Scrubs - This is a truly brilliant and innovative show that jumped the shark about four years ago and as much as I love it, this should probably be its last year. I would have included this in my Top 5 Comedy shows four or five years ago.
Wednesday, 8:30 pm: Better off Ted - I hate punny titles so much, this thing is actually half-ok, but it reminds me of a cross between "Testees" and a less funny "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," but that's probably just because of the similar cast.

Thursday, 8 pm: In the Motherhood - A shitload of these shows just came on and I don't know what the deal is...but this looks pretty stupid.
Thursday, 8:30 pm: Samantha Who? - I'll take Veronica Corningstone as a recovering amnesiac, never watched the thing though.


This has nothing to do with any CBS
programming, but I felt like this
picture needs to be included with
any discussion of any show
featuring NPH. Suit up!

I hate CBS comedies in general. I abhor them. So, without further ado;

Monday, 8 pm: The Big Bang Theory - I've never seen a show that spoke so intelligently, but was written so dumb.
Monday, 8:30 pm: How I Met Your Mother - This is actually half-decent and probably the best 3-camera set-up sitcom on television today, it wouldn't surprise me if it hits its stride in the 4th or 5th season and wins an Emmy in an off-year for 30 Rock. It's got that potential.
Monday, 9 pm: Two and a Half Men - Charlie Sheen (and only Charlie Sheen) acts like he's forced at gunpoint to be funny for a half-hour, and about a quarter of the time he pulls it off.
Monday, 9:30 pm: Rules of Engagement - This is somehow still on the air, nothing about this show is good.

Wednesday, 8 pm: The New Adventures of Old Christine - If a single character on this show was likable I'm sure it would become watchable.
Wednesday, 8:30 pm: Gary Unmarried - Honestly, when you choose the main character's name based on trying to score a punny or rhyming total, do you really think what follows will be a good show at all?


If you get it, you get it.

Surprising to me, actually, FOX has no current comedy show on their schedule that's not animated. C'mon! You had Arrested Development once! You can be brilliant when you feel like it! What the hell. FOX tends to be the kind of network that will greenlight a risky show and then never give it the chance to fully develop. I hate FOX.


An unbiased look at NBC: Look at the cute panda try to climb the tree!! It's sooo cute!!

NBC is like the Spider-Man to CBS' Venom. CBS takes all these great comedy ideas and twists and distorts them. They think they're benefiting mankind, but in actuality, people die. Where CBS as "America's #1 Network" gets to be #1 by selling out and pandering to mainstream comedic tastes, NBC tends to go out on a limb with some more creative ideas and lets them find a following of their own. I watch almost solely NBC comedies, and so, most of them will be covered more in-depth in my next note.

Thursday, 8:30 pm: Parks and Recreation - I've only seen one episode of this so far, it's definitely watchable, if not basically an Office rip-off from the creators of the Office. Still, better be ripping off an excellent show rather than a shitty one. Looking at you, According to Jim.

Well, that's probably enough for now ladies and gentlemen. I love Comedy. The next entry will assuredly be filled with an enormous amount of rantings and ravings about how awesome and wonderful is modern comedy. Ooh what a time to be alive.

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