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Last night’s episode of Arrested Development “Save Our Bluths” was the most brilliantly self-referential comedy I’ve seen since the last episode of Strangers with Candy (which saw Flatpoint High nearly replaced with a Strip Mall). References included winks to Showtime saving them, to the common complaint that the characters aren’t “sympathetic and relatable” and, of course, to the “Save Our Bluths” campaign, unfortunately ending the url with .org, which is currently unoccupied, rather than the real renewal drive’s .com.
Though the episode played with a ton of gimmicky twists TV shows attempt for viewers, including 3-D, broadcasting live, and teasing a death that later turns out to be one of an inconsequential character, the refutation of such desperate ploys in the coda was so perfect. The Bluths were rescued from their financial troubles because they weren’t desperate, almost a promise from the show writers were not going to compromise in these potentially final episodes. They’ll keep making the wonderfully and playful layered stories they’ve been doing since the beginning. They aren’t going to flail for an audience. They’re going to enjoy the one they got, even if it’s only for the four episodes remaining in their order. “Save Our Bluths” was the perfect argument for why that enjoyment shouldn’t stop now.
Arrested Development airs Mondays at 8PM on Fox, except for the next two weeks, when Fox preempts it for other shows. Sigh.
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Arrested Development seems to be close to finding pay cable salvation, if Fox actually finally decides to cancel the damn thing. Showtime as well as ABC, seem to be very serious about acquiring Arrested. It’s previously been suggested that Showtime would be interested so they could pair it with Weeds, which was just renewed for a second season. ABC is a new name in this (A myspace campaign had targeted NBC along with Showtime). ABC seems to want to expand its drama success into comedy (although I can’t tell which of the upcoming shows they’d imagine would be a good pairing for Arrested Development).
Of course, Fox has not cancelled the show yet, only cut the order for Arrested’s third season to thirteen episodes. With Arrested taking up two spots in the schedule after Kitchen Confidential’s demise along with clips being available via Verizon vCast, the aforementioned myspace campaign actually wonders if Fox is considering renewing the show. Considering how the new video-compatible iPod and iTunes TV store has brought a rash of stories about how shows like Arrested might survive sans networks, I can see Fox actually considering keeping the show. Looking today at the TV Shows section of the iTunes store (which might need a name change soon), half of the top 20 episodes downloaded were of NBC’s The Office - another comedy that doesn’t get the ratings of Lost or Desperate Housewives. Seeing the money NBC is making by taking this leap must make Fox wonder if Arrested could do the same, particularly considering DVD sales of the show for both season 1 and season 2 are consistently strong performers.
My hope is that no matter who has the rights to broadcast the show over TV, they also begin digital distribution of the show. No matter what Arrested’s ratings are, I think internet sales would be the real proof that the show deserves a long life. With The Office and Arrested Development successful TV-on-demand downloads, maybe networks might focus on creating sitcoms for audiences who want funny rather than comfort - you know - “niche” audiences.
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With NBC moving The Office and My Name is Earl to Thursdays, I’m actually hopeful that the networks might start believing that comedy can thrive in primetime once again. The fascinating part of the press release is the mention that The Office has the second highest concentration of viewers with $100,000 plus incomes (behind only Will & Grace). Another reminder that, as always, it’s about the Benjamins people.
The Office, which I think a fair amount of people condemed at first for simply not being Ricky Gervais’ creation, has taken the opportunity with an expanded cast and a longer season to create even more small moments of uncomfortable comedy, even creating hysterical justifications for why the boss, in this case Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), can keep his job. Namely, that a fair amount of the business world still runs by off-color jokes and faux hilarity (see the episode featuring Tim Meadows as a reprensentive for a desirable account). I know the show’s working because I can’t bear to look sometimes. Or because I’m muttering “asshole”, as when Michael humiliates Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) during a fight. It’s an equal to it’s progentor, and simply might pass it, just by the larger sandbox the writers have made for themselves.
The other good news of this is the return of Scrubs (which was almost certain, but still nice to see back) and the continued strength of “Earl,” which I find enjoyable despite it’s sometime saccharine heart. Three funny shows on one network? What is this - 1997?
My Name is Earl and the Office move officially to Thursdays starting January 2, 2006.
Filed Under Sitcom
Sunday’s Boston Globe magazine chronicled Louis CK’s attempt to redefine the sitcom on HBO. (use Bugmenot) Much is made of “Lucky Louie” using pay-cable-only words, but the innovation I’m interested in is how the show’s characters are not only not nice to each other, but sometimes don’t even want to try to be nice. The show is continuing the strengths of his recent HBO Special (best stand-up on TV of the year. Reduced my wife and I to tears) where the difficulties of maintaining a marriage while raising a child were pulled off with complete command of the absurd (my favorite being a fight with his wife over hide-and-seek).
Since much of “Lucky Louie” attempts to render a darker, truer version of husband-wife dynamics than any currently airing, it’s affecting even to the creators. After beating out one story, Louis CK has the revelation that his wife harbors similar hatreds of him and how he doesn’t know what to do about that. It’s not a show where the dumb husband can screw up and the wife forgives him 1,000 times (or for five seasons). There’s an attempt to create real marital jeopardy here. Such tension might not be easily funny, but HBO seems extremely confident, raising their order eight scripts, which if all are made, will give the show 21 episodes (including pilot).
I’m very excited about the show in that everything I’ve read about it reminds me of early Roseanne, where the Conners reflected how difficult family life can be. As I’ve been rediscovering that show lately, I’ve been realizing how missed something like it is on TV. And “Lucky Louie” sounds even more brave in rendering married life and finding humor in it. It’s a relief from comedies about Hollywood backstage antics, even well executed ones. “Lucky Louie” is hopefully a real treat.
If you’re in Los Angeles, here’s where you can get tickets to see a taping of Lucky Louie. Anyone who goes, report back in the comment section.
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The PTC has released their annual list of ten best and worst shows for families (though they cheat a little bit and only pick nine best… I guess it isn’t wrong to teach our children to quit before finishing a task). If you count Desperate Housewives, seven comedies litter the worst list (as it should be). I don’t really want to bitch about these to much. The PTC has some weak reasons for hating all of them, including claiming Family Guy and American Dad are pushed as family shows. Fox advises “Viewer Discretion” in every promo for the pair. The only rationale I can see for this PTC complaint is the words “Family” and “Dad” in the titles. But really, I’m just glad someone’s watching Arrested Development (#9 on the Worst list), even if they’re doing it while frantically scrawling what’s offending them.
More fascinating however is the PTC praising Everybody Hates Chris as a good family show. I’m not saying it isn’t, it’s just a far harder edged show that I would expect the PTC to like (maybe they were stretching to find nine). Of course, the PTC loves how in the pilot episode that the children are obediently being quiet so that their father can get some rest. Kids being good and respectful… it’s always comedy gold. It’s possible for a show to be funny and family-friendly, but some of the families the PTC prefers to see aren’t ones I would want to grow up or raise.
Comedy Central announced what they’re working on for 2006 (or rather, in some ways, who they’re working with). Some of the ideas sound like they’ll fall with a resounding thud (I liked Jackass, but I got all I need of “Wee-Man”), but overall there’s a lot of great potential in here. With network comedy only starting to rally back with “My Name is Earl” and “Everybody Hates Chris” and other basic cable nets failing to launch anything else comparable (or even attempting to), Comedy Central has a near monopoly on funny (save for HBO). It’s nice to see that it’s not making them lazy. Even better is they’re braving into more and more narrative comedy, a territory the networks seem to have surrendered until recently.
Highlights for me, are, of course, David Cross and Jon Benjamin teaming up for an animated series called “Freak Show” who the freaks double as superheroes. The superhero parody bit would seem mined thoroughly (in both senses), but when one of the Freaks is a Log Cabin Republican and the talent is this good, I can’t wait.
Lewis Black‘s “Red State Diaries” is a fantastic idea - him exploring the realities of what supposedly is homogenous ultra-religious territory. It’s almost Insomniac sober and with a social conscience (well maybe not too sober). I imagine Lewis is far less explosive in real life, so it should be interesting to see another dimension to the comic. I wonder if, much like the soon to premiere Colbert Report, this will keep his rants from appearing on the Daily Show.
Mike Birbiglia has a script deal for a show based on his life, including his “jealous brother.” Mike’s insanely funny with this bizarre sense of innocence that can’t be entirely true. I actually used to work with his brother Joe, so I know there’s a lot to draw from here (but knowing Joe, any jealousy is very good natured). The show’s title is “My Secret Public Journal”, based on a radio feature that you can listen to here. The first one dated 9/13 talks about the aforementioned brother.
Another script deal is with Stella’s David Wain for “Teacher’s Lounge,” a show about alcoholic, sex addict school teachers that sounded a bit like the lost and lamented Strangers with Candy. (There’s plenty of people still angry about that cancellation.) That gut reaction is assuaged by the video the idea might be based on (which can be viewed right here). The tone is definitely distinct and far more real, staying away from the surreal tone Strangers often took.
There’s alot more there including the anime parody “Ghost Foot”, Nick Di Paolo mea-culpaish “Culture Clash” and Nick Swardson in the Adam Sandler produced “Gay Robot.” Full press release after the jump.
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I’m not a Will & Grace viewer, but my lady is. But the computer is within DVR range for me to get curious enough about this year’s premiere stunt - the live broadcast. I agree with others - the screwups were the best part. Seeing actors restrain laughter can be pretty damn entertaining. But the thing that struck me the most is for a form that’s all about artificial laughter, the sitcom seems to have some sort of iron clad rule against actors making any themselves.
You have characters often times saying things that are trying to get a laugh, it’s incredible that the other characters don’t respond in kind. I don’t really remember any of the other Friends laughing once at a joke Chandler made, even though he was supposedly the funny one among them. I’m sure I’ve seen characters laugh before, but it’s usually a plot point (“Promise you won’t laugh!” “I won’t. I swear!” Character reveals costume/hair/disfiguring injury. “Bwa-Ha-ha!”) or so intensely artificial that it’s cheesy (as satirized at the end of every episode of Police Squad).
My hardest - and I believe viewers’ hardest (since I am egotistical enough to think everyone is exactly like me) - problem with sitcom is their absence of connection to any sort of reality - where supposed friends can say mean things without consequences, obstacles are solved in a half hour, and everything glides in the predictable rhythm of setup-punch-punch. Keeping characters from appearing to enjoy one another’s jokes might just be another sign of the sitcom needing a little reality.