Filed Under Sitcom
Last week, The New York Times credited YouTube for giving a potential second life to a sitcom pilot called “Nobody’s Watching.” The show is about two midwestern slackers who tell a network they could create a better sitcom than the current ones on the air (namechecked as offenders are According to Jim, Good Morning Miami and Yes Dear, which substitutes for the word shit). The networks takes them up on that, setting them up to live on a sitcom set, secretly manipulating events to instead create a noxious reality show.
The show comes from Bill Lawrence, the creator of Scrubs, and the influence definitely shows. The main characters feel a lot like J.D. & Turk, who frequently reference old sitcoms themselves, ‘cept these characters don’t have lives outside of sitcoms. Their enthusiasm for the form wasn’t infectuous to me, particularly when the show reaches for emotional moments. They work on Scrubs because of the wonderful contrast of inconsequential to life and death, but here when you’re dealing with a celebration of light and fluffy, I find attempts to tug our heartstrings cloying.
The whole pilot left me cold, but as a caveat, I’m biased against Hollywood crafting shows about themselves. If nobody’s watching, maybe it’s because whole swaths of people aren’t represented in any of the current comedies on television. Better to turn the medium outward rather than inward, as The Office, My Name is Earl and Lucky Louie do.
The story holds up the fact that the pilot has received over 300,000 views on YouTube as an example of how shows might find new life thanks to the internet, circumventing bad decisions by network execs. But the pilot is actually broken into three segments online and only the first has 350,000 views. The later two, as of right now, have 115,000 each. Not exactly retaining viewers. If the networks ever get net savvy, they might wonder why over two thirds of the viewers of the first part didn’t watch the other segments. YouTube thus might be as much of a curse as it is a savior, an online version of the focus group testing that show creators oh-so-love.
You can watch all three segments of “Nobody’s Watching” after the jump.
Filed Under Sitcom
More about why I think Louis CK’s new show for HBO is a fantastic sitcom:
You don’t see much of him as Kim’s brother “Jerry” in the first two episodes - just the wonderful contradiction of him as a cheerfully ratty lowlife holding a juice box at the birthday party that opens the first episode. His appearance in the fifth episode is killer. He guides Louie through a series of absurd exercises to get him in shape, including climbing wire fences in front of “apartment buildings and rehab centers.” Every moment this jittery weirdo is exercising, more than willing to de-pants himself to show how fit he is. So much fun.
Like Everybody Loves Raymond, Louie and Kim have a kid but it doesn’t swallow the show. Even better, the kid acts like a kid, rambling on and on at times, often met with a bored “that’s nice, Lucy.” Even better, she’ll inadvertently embarrass her parents and not in convoluted sitcom ways, but just by simply yelling “I don’t like black barbie!”
One of the great reasons why the ratty setting, cracking walls and dingy appliances work is that the show is a traditional sitcom. Any kind of discomfort we might have about being with these people in a place that’s not entirely pleasant is diminished because we’re behind that fourth wall. Television executives are anxious to make every place in a comedy look safe and happy, but they forget we the audience already know we’re safe. We’re home watching TV. We can have all the comedic tension of being in an awkward uncomfortable place but we’re not stuck in it.
Filed Under Sitcom
I’ve been fortunate enough to see three episodes of Lucky Louie and I’m impressed. It’s not so much a reinvention of the sitcom but a updated return to greats like All in the Family or Roseanne. Here’s part one of the things I think this show does right.
Much is going to be made of Lucky Louie using swears, more than really should be made. The characters toss them off casually and there’s no emphasis on filth for filth’s sake. None of the swearing is excessive, it’s actually honest. It’s not just how a man who works at a muffler shop would talk with his weed-dealing friend, it’s how almost everybody talks. It’s jarring but not because it doesn’t fit the scene, but because you’re not used to seeing it on something that looks like a traditional sitcom. Americans say “fuck”, “shit” and “Jesus” (and not in the reverent way) and it’s time the three camera sitcom format used those words.
The first episode of Lucky Louie revolves around money - an issue that central to so many marriages. Louie even tells his wife he’s unwilling to have sex with her because he’s “aware her pussy is a chamber of financial ruin.” The trend towards sitcoms revolving around glamour - where the viewer has no idea how they afford where they live or sometimes even the main characters are just rich - destroys such a mine for storytelling. It’s a whole avenue of human experience that’s completely ignored almost everywhere on TV (save strangely for cartoons like The Simpsons). We shouldn’t be wishing we were the characters in a comedy… we should be laughing and cringing at situations that are so close to our own lives.
To see for yourself, watch the first episode here.
Filed Under Sitcom
From across the pond comes news of the early 90s britcom “Joking Apart” coming to DVD thanks to a fan’s efforts (and money). Created by Steven Moffat, prior to his success with Coupling, the show darkly plays with the divorce of a stand-up comedian and his wife (with one of the issues being, according to a fan website, that his constant attempts at humor have become grating).
Craig Robins, the fan who put up the money for the DVD rights, is apparently a TV editor himself, so the whole package will still be well-presented. Not that a fan outisde of the profession couldn’t put together something equally as well, considering the tools that are available now.
As I’ve never seen Joking Apart, I can’t attest to its quality. But any premise which sounds less than wacky sounds intriguing enough for me to give a go. My theory: if it’s not obvious where the humor is going to come from, the surprise of the jokes will land that much harder. I’ll definitely scour the web to see if I can find a clip or two (or episode) to test it.
I imagined that this would happen eventually, but always expected it would be for a cult sci-fi show first before a comedy. Inspired by this, perhaps a well-to-do fan might want to buy up the rights for making DVDs of The State, The Dana Carvey Show or perhaps seasons 2 and 3 of the Upright Citizens Brigade. Here’s hoping.
Filed Under Sitcom
Variety reports that creator of “Arrested Development” Mitch Hurwitz will not return as showrunner for a fourth year. Though as many point out, Fox still hasn’t officially cancelled the show, the main hope for it continuing was a deal for two more seasons on Showtime. Their main condition was Hurwitz coming along. With him saying no, it’s likely the final stretch of episodes burned off for the Olympics will be the last seen.
The pressures of maintainly the quality of a show that’s so tightly plotted, edited and layered must be enormous. I’ll miss what he, his writers and the amazing cast did, but really the finale capped the series so perfectly, I couldn’t see how anyone would want to crack it back up again. When you think about Michael walking away from his family in the last episode, you can’t help but think Hurwitz was telling us his intentions from the beginning. The story was told.
I’d be curious to see a feature film of “Arrested”, as Hurwitz suggests. But I’d prefer to see a brand new show from him. He’s a creator to follow. Hopefully the conversations with Showtime were friendly enough that they’ll offer him a chance to do something else that he’d be willing to do that could fit into their budgets. Whatever the case, Mitch, thanks for making something truly great.
Louis C.K. will be performing at Caroline’s in New York all weekend with two shows Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday. I talked to him today for a short time about podcasting, commitment in comedy and his upcoming HBO show “Lucky Louie.”
When you do your jokes about your kids you don’t do a lot of qualifiers on them like “I love my kids” or “My kids are great.” How did you come to that?
I just found that I didn’t need to.
Really? It seems a lot of comics feel like they have to do that.
It depends on what you’re doing on stage. I find that audiences, especially audiences with children, are refreshed by the honesty. I think that if I said something like that, that I love my kids, that it would ruin it. It would make it seem disingenuous and like I’m nervous about what I’m saying. If you think you have to qualify it that means that you find the things that you are saying to be wrong. I think that what people like about what I’m saying on stage is that I clearly mean it. Whether they agree with it or not, the fact that I’m 100 percent (chuckles) committed to it makes it work. You qualify stuff, you de-commit it and you ruin it.
So if you don’t hold up the taboo, they don’t sit there and think about it.
Exactly. Fuck it. What taboo. The kids aren’t there. They’re not in the club. So who gives a shit. And anyway I do enough for my kid. I raise my kid and I keep her from dying. So she can just fucking kiss my ass. (laughs)
Yesterday the California Supreme Court finally heard the case of Amaani Lyle, a former writers’ assistant on “Friends” who has sued Warner Brothers for an environment of sexual harassment. Among the conditions mentioned in the lawsuit were drawings of vaginas, ruminations on the sexual habits of Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston and, my favorite, the character of Joey as a rapist. Smoking Gun has the full complaint. According to this article in the LA Times, the justices seem to be favoring the writers right now.
I’ve been firmly on the writers’ side, allbeit queasily at times, but one fact mentioned in the court makes me absolutely certain that the claim is without merit: she was told she would be working in an environment where sexual explicit talk would occur. Two of the Supreme Court justices noted it during arguments. Warner Brothers lawyer also makes a compelling point that breaking a story can require “going down blind alleys”, making it difficult to know what will finally make an episode work. In fact, one anecdote about sex with a prostitute ultimately created material that found its way into a script. (The case itself perhaps even made fodder for Lisa Kudrow’s ill-fated “The Comeback”) The lawsuit never alleges, to my knowledge, that Amaani was directly sexually harassed, i.e. propositioned or asked to perform sexual favors. Even in a free writing environment like a comedy show, I would expect that form of sexual harassment to still be prosecutable.
Hopefully here’s where the lawsuit will get nipped in the bud. The Supreme Court is only deciding whether a lower courts decision to let the case continue on to a jury is correct. Though I think a jury trial would ultimately fall Warner Brothers way, I imagine it would be hard for a jury to sort out why an uncensored writing environment is necessary. The California Supreme Court has 90 days to decide.
Update: The NY Sun covers the story as well, detailing more of the arguments. In particular, there’s mention that sitcoms stay white and male because this behavior is allowed. I agree with the ideal of more balanced staffs, but the job of comedy writing requires people to say taboo things. I have several comedy writing friends who actively make jokes about each other religions, sex lives, etc. It’s part of the gig. A level of decorum needs to be set, but it can’t be set by the courts. When a joke goes to far afield of the writer process is the head writer’s job, not a lawyer’s. (Also, adjusted post title - the actual lawsuit is getting a poor reception from judges - hence unfriendly.)