Sitcoms… Blah

11Oct12

I mentioned recently how the crop of crap sitcoms on the air these days has me humming a version of John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth.” And I’m not doing that because I yearn so desperately for the gritty realism of “All in the Family” or social commentary of any kind. I just want something to care about. Maybe I should be singing the Ramones’ “Something to Believe In.”

Anyway, a rant, in five-ish parts: 

1.) The sitcoms on TV aren’t really sitcoms. They’re mostly mini movies (the single camera world of “The Office,” “The New Girl,” “Modern Family,” etc.), and while these can result in great shows, it’s difficult to do well, and make things come alive. Not to get too nostalgic, but compare a classic “Cheers” episode to any of the best episodes of a single-cam show, and there’s a nearly-tangible difference in the energy. I’m not so naive to think they filmed ALL of “Cheers” before a live studio audience, but it felt like it was part of that world, and the “live-ness” made it feel alive (for further frustration, you can watch an episode of any “hybrid” show — like “How I Met Your Mother” — where it’s shot like a 3-camera sitcom, but without the audience; the laugh track is completely dropped in later).

2.) Speed Is Irritating. Now for some calling out. I watched a new episode of “the New Girl” recently (if you must know, it was called “Fluffer”), and I could barely stomach it. Nothing was realistic. There were some charming parts, but it went by so fast that I couldn’t latch on to anything. And then I realized there was nothing to latch on to anyway. It was just fluff sped up. Sure you’ve got “His Girl Friday” and Aaron Sorkin in the fast-fast-fast corner, but then you have this travesty that acts like “If we keep things humming, nobody will notice how ridiculous and annoying this show is.” I noticed. And the most annoying part* is the speed trying to cover up those annoying parts.

3.) Living Cartoons? No thanks. I’m mostly complaining about “30 Rock” and the like here. The cut-down run times and A-plot/B-plot world of sitcoms have made following a story nearly impossible, because what suffers is character. Every line given to a side character should be considered a line taken away from a main character. When you have a large cast of goofy characters, you need to service each one, but you may only have one line in which to do it. So when you bring in Frank, for example, he has only one line to be “FRANK,” so it has to be the most FRANK line there is. This lends itself to going really huge with the lines. Which in turn lends itself to turning Frank into a one-dimensional cartoon man. WHICH IN TURN ends up only robbing the “real” characters (Liz and Jack) of more opportunities to be the center of the show. WHICH IN TURN makes Liz and Jack into cartoons. Which finally makes them unrelatable, and you end up with your former straight man (Liz) acting more and more like a lunatic idiot.

4.) “Edgy?” Greeeeeeeeeat. There’s a place for it, absolutely. And I love it sometimes. But not all the time. After a while, the circumstances on a show like “Always Sunny” — seen week after week — stretch my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Somewhere, somebody in that world has to step in and say, “You’re going to jail.” Yes, it can be funny, and yes, I’m nitpicking a lot. But I’m also not apologizing it. “Edgy” seems to have become synonymous with “truthful,” and that’s not “edgy” (here meaning “true”).

And not for nothing, but sitcoms can be comforting. The success of the edgy-com yields more edgy-com, which means you get shows like “The League” where in the pilot (I think) you have a guy resisting sex with his girlfriend because he doesn’t like getting a finger up the butt. We’ve all been there, right? Totally relatable.

5.) The Hit List. These are the shows I’ve seen recently and why I don’t like them, in a quick, painful nutshell:

“The New Girl” — cartoon characters, saying nothing, repetitious of its own beats that don’t really heighten to anything memorable. Also nobody but Jake Johnson seems to take anything on this show seriously, and that should tell you something, since he’s like the Bill Murray of that show (which means he takes virtually NOTHING seriously).

“Happy Endings” — see above.

“The New Normal” — What if we took Sue Sylvester from “Glee,” made her older, and surrounded her with gay guys in a very fabricated situation? The result is forced cuteness and preaching. In a recent episode, the gay guys had Pseudo Sue over for dinner to prove that they had black friends, which they didn’t (stay with me). And at this party, Pseudo Sue was outed as being a Republican (okay) and the table kind of ganged up on her. I’m not here to defend a party that is very good at defending herself, but by having the majority of the table (all pretty well off and self-gratified) pick on the lone Republican (who, to her credit — in this scene anyway — stuck to her largely patriotic beliefs about her political party), it made me feel bad for the Republican. Then in the end of this turd, the Pseudo Sue’s granddaughter voted in her school pseudo election and voted for “the right choice,” which was Barack Obama. Again, not to get political about it, but shouldn’t the “right choice” be something about thinking for yourself, staying true to your heart, or at least not teaching a 10-year-old that one political party is right all the time? Oh, and then Pseudo Sue says racist/homophobic things and everyone says, “Oh, Pseudo Sue!”

“The Mindy Project” — a trifle. They could have called it “Judd Apatow-style improv saves the jokes!” Scenes go on way too long from being actual scenes and divulge into improvised bits. That go even longer. The weird part about this show is that it seems to give us a “tangible goal” for the character (i.e. getting her life together), but that’s not a tangible goal, nor do you necessarily need or want a tangible goal for a show that will (hopefully for them) run for 10 years. You want a SITUATION or a SETTING in which to play.

“Community” — I’ve tried and tried and tried, but I just can’t get into it. Cartoons behaving cartoonishly. There’s no reason outside of the show wanting itself to exist for this show to exist. I’m considering updating my Final Draft program to get the template for this show, because in the ones I have (for shows like “Arrested Development” and “Futurama”) they don’t give actual dialog, but examples, such as:

FRY

[The dumbest thing in the world.]

BENDER

[Tops that with something a little meaner.]

If they even have one for “Community,” I imagine it would go like this, but with the correct character names:

JOEL MCHALE

[Something snarky, but expositional.]

CHRISTIAN BLACK LADY

[Affirming, but irreverent.]

CHEVY CHASE**

[Something sexist or racist.]

BRITTA

“This is outrageous!”

DONALD GLOVER

[A set up for Abed.]

ABED

[Movie quote.]

ALLISON BRIE

“I’m on every TV show.”

Enter that OUTRAGEOUS TEACHER, then the form of sitcoms and television itself becomes question, making everything look amazing, etc.

6.) Movie Guy. I think I’m just a movie guy, at least right now. I used to love TV and sitcoms in particular, but maybe I grew up in such an awesome era for the art form, that everything else looks like it’s sucking crap. Sure, I’m nostalgic.

… don’t wait for the “but…” statement. That’s it. I’m nostalgic. I’m not apologizing for it. I loved that stuff. Not because it was objectively superior (who knew back then). But it was. That’s the truth. I like things with beginnings, middles and ends. Actually, one end. An ending. The sitcom and most of TV is just contributing to the media landfill that is the internet and streaming video. With the advent of YouTube, Netflix and Hulu, sure, that frees up the reigns for people to be creative and get more stuff out there. But that just means there’s more stuff to bombard you and throw cartoonish, over-the-top Wowy Wow WOW! at you to get your eyeballs for a split second before advertising the next thing. It’s a bottomless pit. Worst of all, the sitcoms of today don’t seem to be capable of delivering/sustaining the pit’s needs. They feel like 3-seasons-at-best crops that will be quickly digested and spit out for the next thing that will likely last even less time. I realize it was difficult to produce and sustain “Cheers” for 200+ episodes, but it feels like these guys aren’t even trying.

 

*Maybe. I’ve got a lot of problems with that show, as seen in #5 and including the title. She’s not a “New” girl any more. She hasn’t been new since the end of the first episode. A better title would’ve been “Fabricated,” “Forced,” or “Same Old New Girl” (that one’s actually not bad).

**Even this version that I fake bought is out of date.

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