Filed Under Sitcom
A quick note on how subtle and smart a background joke can be. On the last 30 Rock, the show within a show gets mired in accusations of being un-American. After a face-saving all-American salute unintentionally reveals a number of swastikas, protesters gather outside the offices. I noticed one of the protesters carrying a sign for what looked to be an atypical Bible verse.
That verse - Ecclesiastes 10:19 - reads:
A meal is made for laughter, and wine makes life pleasant, but money is the answer for everything.
It’s a nice little dig at religion using the good book’s own words (and to fundamentalists, God’s). Very rewarding for those who watch carefully. I think one of the great marks for quality comedy is joke density. If the writers have time enough to add background jokes, then the first layer of jokes are probably sharp. Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, on both levels, is turning out to be a first class sitcom.
Filed Under Sitcom
I’m very excited, even though I’m disappointed they dropped the “me” from the original title “The Sarah Silverman Programme.” It’s a stupid little detail that I just kind of enjoyed. Still what’s an “me” when there’s a lot of rave reviews. Anyway, you should be watching/tivoing/dvring Comedy Central at 10:30 PM tonight. Here’s some clips to wet your appetite:
Filed Under Sitcom
I’ve made no secret that I believed in the sitcom Lucky Louie. I know a number of friends who were disappointed to hear that HBO was not picking it up for a second season. Louis CK promised that it wasn’t the end, but after one meeting in an attempt to bring it to a different network, he posted on the comedy message board aspecialthing.com that trying to make Lucky Louie anywhere outside of HBO would be “a huge mistake.” At the same time, fans have established a Save Lucky Louie campaign independent of Louis own efforts. And according to Louie, getting HBO to change it’s mind is the only hope the show has.
I’m never very optimistic about these campaigns, but several of my friends, my wife and myself have found this show to be refreshingly honest inside the three-camera format that has, in recent years, been anything but honest. It’s an unique gem. If we only get the one season and the requisite DVD release, I’ll be pleased that we got that. But if there’s a way that we can get more, let’s give it a shot.
First, if you haven’t been driven away from myspace by rabid marketing bulletins, there’s the Save Lucky Louie myspace page which is pretty good about co-ordinating the efforts. Add it to your top 8, 12, 16, 20, 1000.
There’s also an online petition, which has over 6,000 signatures so far. If you go back a ways you’ll even see other comics have signed the petition themselves.
And folks can also write HBO directly about Lucky Louie. As co-star Jim Norton said: “They’re a big company but they aren’t deaf.” Just don’t call them assholes for cancelling it the first place. Be passionate but polite.
Filed Under Sitcom
One of the reasons why I don’t care for comedies about Hollywood anymore is that the humor cannot match the ridiculousness taking place behind the scenes. Take NBC’s upcoming 30 Rock. It was a recently announced that Rachel Dratch would no longer be appearing as the lead of “The Girlie Show” - the show within the show. Instead she would appear as different characters each week, supposedly to take advantage of her sketch comedy chops. In conjunction, they mentioned that the character she was to play had been downgraded - even cut according to some reports.
Of course, soon after an announcement came that Jane Krakowski was joining the cast to play the character that Rachel Dratch once played in the pilot. A character that was just announced in the trades to have reduced importance - not exactly an inducement to any semi-name actress.
Yesterday, The Sound of Young America’s Jesse Thorn rightfully called bullshit. I second that I smell it too. His implication is that attractiveness is an issue here, and Dratch is being pushed aside for someone less funny but more appealing. I can see it this way, but I’ll also volunteer that perhaps the role has been reduced and Krakowski didn’t know when she took it. I think the first is more likely, but I’ll consider that Dratch might not be the one, well, getting the shaft here.
The irony: “Girlie Show” - the show within a show - is a more female friendly sketch comedy until a network exec, played by Alec Baldwin, monkeys with it. Pushing aside a talented, funny player for someone considered more attractive and demographically appealing is exactly what that character does. In the pilot script I read, Tina Fey’s character Liz Lemon only brings on an crazed African-American comedian on the show not only in hopes of saving the lead’s job but to have a hit show that makes enough money so she won’t ever have to change her own child’s diapers. Why make TV making fun of devil’s bargains if you’re going to engage in them yourself?
Some of the treasures to be found are Gervais’ more British influences. And as someone who consider himself “a cult comedian who got more famous than he should have,” there’s a lot of material there. The most curious to me was Derek and Clive, the alter egos that Dudley Moore and Peter Cook took for a series of recordings in the 1970s that started as an incredibly filthy private joke that became so widely bootlegged that they actually ended up releasing them (Gervais mentions bootlegging them himself). According to the wikipedia entry on the pair the recording of Ad Nauseam features a rant about the death of Peter Cook’s father from cancer delivered with full knowledge that Dudley Moore’s father was dying of cancer. I’m intensely curious and can’t wait to hear them. Sadly the first Derek and Clive Live (Gervais’ favorite comedy album) doesn’t seem to be available over Amazon so you’ll have to be a Acquisition-enabled Gervais to get it.
The second point of interest to me was Gervais’ intention to never do the wonderful series concluding The Office Special. His gateway to creating the special was to acknowledge the reality that there was a documentary crew filming the characters and proceeding from there (leading to David Brent as Austin Powers at a pub appearance, something that will crush any wayward desires to ever yell “Yea Baby!” again). It specifically made me think about the American Office and how, if ever, they should address the camera’s effects on the employees of Dunder Mifflin. If you keep to the reality of it being a serialized documentary, the season ending kiss with Pam and Jim should certainly affect Pam’s impending wedding. As the characters begin to acknowledge the cameras with glances and occasional short conversations more and more, it might be a question they have to deal with. I’d hate to see the show become about reality entertainment however (though Steve Carell’s Michael Scott’s willingness to extend his fame might be hysterical to watch). It may be one of those things best swept under the carpet, particularly because once you open that particular box, you have to keep on dealing with it. But since Gervais used it so brilliantly I wonder how Executive Producer Greg Daniels and crew could handle it.
(BTW, you should really pick up Stop Smiling anyway. It’s a great mag and if you’re a Withnail and I fan, there’s an interview with Bruce Robinson as well.)
Filed Under Sitcom
It seems inevitable for comedians to do something else but comedy at some point in their careers. The desire for approval is so great in performers, that comedy, which lacks awards and recognition much of the time, has to be foresaken to prove that the comedian has more skills than making silly faces, falling down on command and acting embarassed at the accidental inappopriate sexual comment. (This only applies to comedy performers. Comedy writers fortunately never get this urge, probably because the need for approval isn’t a part of their makeup. In fact, it’s often the opposite.)
So I get it the reports that Ricky Gervais has “quit comedy.” As far as I can tell, those are their words, not his. But in descriping the intentions of him and his writing partner Stephen Merchant after the second season of their sitcom Extras, Gervais said:
“This will probably be the last sitcom we do. We’d like to do drama… We’d like to do something with more weight, like The Sopranos maybe — not necessarily crime but something meaty. Revenge is the best theme.”
My thoughts: that’s awesome. I’d love to see what Gervais and Merchant come up with. They’re brilliant creators and I trust them to see what they could come up with.
What I’m disappointed are the terms “meaty” or ‘weight” used to describe drama and not comedy. Extras is easy to dismiss as flighty since it focuses on the entertainment industry. But the take Gervais has on the desperation to be seen and noticed has a great deal of relevance in a culture where increasing, all of us, thanks to reality TV, talking head nostalgia, blogging and YouTube are told we can have not just fifteen minutes of fame but fifteen minutes from others talking about our infamy and then another fifteen minutes from ourselves talking about others’ infamy. It’s a brass ring that so many aspire to now that Extras, though another comedy about entertainment, has something to say about life too.
But The Office I would argue is probably the meatiest show of the decade, more so than the Sorpranos because it’s about a world which most of us live in. We’re not mafia dons or molls, we’re trying to get by and find a way to do something for eight hours a day that we’d rather not be doing. Examining the depths of that and finding the little victories we have to escape it is far more telling to life. The Sorpranos, for all the darkness and desperation it shows, is escapism for most. The bloodthirsty audience desperate for the next whacking misses out on the message of how mundane crime is. They appreciate the sauce, not the meat. The British Office with all of its bits buffered by the sounds of photocopiers and telephones, we’re surrounded by the oppressive weight of a shitty, shitty job.
“Meaty” and “weight” have nothing to do with genre and everything to do with recognition. I don’t believe in awards for comedy… when you focus on deflating authority, you shouldn’t expect to be raised up just as high. But the image problem that drives great talents like Gervais to “quit” comedy makes me question that belief.
Louis C.K. recently debuted his stripped-down sitcom Lucky Louie on HBO. The show while receiving effusive praise in some corners, including this one, it evoked other outlets to sneer at its swearing and sexually frank look at married life. Barbra Walters even decribed the show as “unbelievably vulgar and racist” right before Louis CK appeared on the show. I talked with Louis CK about some of the critical reaction to the show, the broken trust of the laugh track and how “meta” concepts have come to rule comedy.
Is HBO happy with the show?
Definitely. With the ratings trending up and with the show having received a mixed but interesting reaction, we’re definitely waiting for good news. This week, if the ratings go up—that would be really great. But if they go down, we’ve got twelve weeks for people to get acclimated to this show. But because we’ve got lead press reviews that are good and a whole bunch of other shitty ones… we’re still 47% on Metacritic. We’re not bad. (Note: Metacritic users give the show 7 out of 10.) But there’s still people inside the LA Beltway who want the story to be that we’re getting killed, which just ain’t true.
Why would they want to see something like this fail?
Well, ask yourself why these kinds of shows have sucked for so long. All these people have taken part in it. They’ve all participated in it.
For so long, people have been talking about the death of the sitcom…
And yeah, they’ve enjoyed it. They like that. And part of the reason the sitcom is dead is because they don’t like stuff that’s different. They just don’t. They want to be able to identify stuff and say what it is. Everything that is popular in sitcoms has been a mystery to me completely. I’m just not a fan. So I’m really not surprised that I’m running against the grain with these people.
I remember reading an article about Frasier when it was going off the air – a very sad obituary from a TV writer who said that Frasier was such a smart show, and it was for the Mensa set. And he gave an example, where he quoted some line about a woman that Frasier thinks is very mean and he says, “Her idea of tough love is the Spanish Inquisition.” And they thought that was very smart—just because he mentioned something from history.