Category: Sitcom

All Drama Lineup Eludes Comedy Central Once Again in ‘06

Filed Under Sitcom, Sketch Comedy

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.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 03:02 PM | Comments (0)

Don’t Laugh if it’s Funny

Filed Under Sitcom

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.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 06:42 AM | Comments (4)

Nice “Comeback” to Lawsuit

Filed Under Comedy Writers, Sitcom

Didn’t like The Comeback much when I first saw it. Heavily influenced by the Office, the show seemed to have a mean streak that seemed to delight in the loss of dignity rather than simply record it like Gervais’ creation did. Plus, one Hollywood satire a night is enough already… so I stuck with Entourage.

That said, I still had to catch the recent episode where Lisa Kudrow’s character Valerie walks in on the show writers imitating her getting sodomized. Considering there’s a lawsuit in the courts relating to the sexual harrassment of a former Friends writers’ assistant, it’s an interesting plot choice. Though a quick check of the Smoking Gun shows none of the derogatory comments in the lawsuit mentioned Kudrow, it does make one wonder despite comments that none of the show draws upon her Friends experience.

The episode would definitely come down on the plantiff’s side, considering the parallels in sexual comments/behavior about a cast member. There’s a nice bend in the episode where the fame-obsessed Valerie ignores that fear of a lawsuit not karma is what finally gets her her own episode. I liked Comeback a bit more this time, the tone that seemed to pick on the pathetic is reduced. I may be so Hollywood-weary that I don’t continue to follow, but if they keep making focused material like this I might.

Previously on the Friends Lawsuit:
Writers’ Rooms: Naughty by Nature
Unfriendly Work Conditions?

Posted by Todd Jackson at 09:17 PM | Comments (0)

Sitcoms, Stop Using the Rhythm Method

Filed Under Sitcom

Great article on sitcoms in Newsday that puts a finger on why the genre is ailing. I’ve always maintained the necessity for surprise in comedy, but when you have access to the highlights of four decades on TV Land, TBS and other cable outlets, surprise is gone. (And this doesn’t even include the insane amount of Classic TV on DVD…)

I think there’s quite a bit of truth that audiences have comedic literacy. There’s not just an awareness of the stock characters, plots and catchphrases, there’s also knowledge of rhythms of setup-punch-punch. With the obsession with reality, the artificiality of people who are always witty gets rather ridiculous.

Arrested Development, The Office (US) and Scrubs to a certain extent all shake up the format, not playing by the cheesy conventions many hate. But they aren’t burning up the ratings. If we’re so desperate for something fresh, why not?

I think the truth might be that most people never watched the sitcom for laughs, but for warmth. The sense that we are alright and the status quo was maintained. In almost every sitcom the collections of characters is either a family or a makeshift family, and relationship are played as such.

Reality TV owns warmth now. Sure there’s backstabbing and attention-seeking, but many reality shows use the diverse contestants to recreate that ragtag sense of family. Though it’s suspect how real it all is, the bonds are probably more sincere than any you’d see between two sitcom characters played by actors who may not care for one another. We don’t need to be uplifted by a simulation of a clueless dad just trying to raise his kids right because we can watch Extreme Makeover and see it for real.

As somebody who doesn’t want the TV to recreate his family, having other shows take over this function for sitcoms is great. Now that all the moments of gratuitous heart can be refined out, we can have more creations like Arrested and Office that just rely on structuring a good funny tale, knowing we don’t need to love the characters to love the show.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 04:28 PM | Comments (1)

Is It Too Late to Sign a NewsRadio Petition?

Filed Under Sitcom

A favorite of mine finally made it to DVD last week… Newsradio. The “Arrested Development” of its day, NewsRadio deserved from NBC the nurturing hands FOX gives “Arrested.”

What I admire the most about NewsRadio was that creator Paul Simms was exploring similar territory to “The Office”... trying to mine comedy from the workplace and real workplace issues. This focus probably came from Simms working on Larry Sanders, with it’s breakthrough focus on backstage showbiz (and sadly, repeated ad infinitum today - please stop navel gazing Hollywood).

NewsRadio was obviously a lot broader and bigger than
The Office, but it was very innovative in dealing with office politics, romances and relationships beyond the usual sitcom metaphor of coworkers as family. Concerns about downsizing, jockeying for titles and assignments and NSFW materials left in common areas were all were seeds for NewsRadio plots. For once, it felt like creators of a TV show had real jobs prior to becoming writers. (For a borderline obsessive/sweet homage to the show, check out Newsradio and the Comedic Art, which has nothing but superlatives for the show.)

In recent years, I’ve seen Simms work only occasionally in the New Yorker’s Shout and Murmurs page but not much on TV. Anyone who called NBC’s 90s-era Thursday Night Friends-Disposable Show-Seinfeld lineup a “shit sandwich” might have a hard time finding a network to love him, but Simms is a fantastic talent and if he’s still making pilots, someone should commit to a series and give him the kushy timespot denied him for so long.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 05:30 PM | Comments (5)

Regional Office Nearly Matches Home Office

Filed Under Sitcom

The premiere of The Office on NBC gave me stirrings of optimism for the network situation comedy again. Anyone who dismisses it harshly because it’s not the original does not realize how much of a breakthrough this is: no laugh track, pained silences, a real environment anyone might work in, characters who take insults uncomfortably and seriously. This is exactly what we need in situation comedy now.

Though it’s not near the original’s perfection, this remake has retained all the right stuff to make something amazing in its own right. The main flaw I can see is that Steve Carell hasn’t found the depth of character in the obnoxious manager than progenitor Ricky Gervais did. That said Carell is still hilarious, managing to make the unfunny shtick of a middle manager hilarious. And if the show goes as long as it should, he’ll find something akin to the sadness in David Brent.

Selecting Greg Daniels to shepherd the American version of the show was the best move anyone could have made. Daniels previously worked on King of the Hill which had a tradition of using uncomfortable silences as well. The two shows are also similar in that they focus on real people in places far from media capitals New York and Los Angeles, with stories that reflect those people’s concerns.

From what I’ve heard the later episodes, which completely depart from the British scripts, are even better than this solid retranslation. Considering that the show will have one more main character to play with and more uniquely American issues (race will obviously play a far bigger role here than Britain), I have high hopes that this will be loved for it’s own merits.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 03:53 PM | Comments (3)

Sitcom’s on a Ledge. Jump! Jump! Jump!

Filed Under Sitcom

Fox recently reassured fans they have no plans to cancel Arrested Development Of course their message was recently deleted from the show’s website. So, many believe the reduction of Fox’s episode order to 18 make the prospect of a third season as certain as Tobias’ heterosexuality. Entertainment Weekly published an appeal to the cable networks to save Arrested, mentioning HBO, Showtime, FX and USA, but no Comedy Central, which would also be a natural home for the show.

If Arrested did jump, I think it’d be the first of many. We’re so fractionalized as audiences, how can something be funny in the broad ways the network’s need anymore? Across all ages and demographics, but still hitting that sweet spot of 18-34. I can see drama and reality lasting on networks for a while because we can all agree that murder, romance, crime and stunts involving horse bladders hold the same interest across the board. But comedy is either dependent on A) minutiae that have been well tread by previous shows or B) worldviews of what’s funny that are not necessarily shared by a large audience. With Arrested finding humor in a momma’s boy losing his hand to a seal due to his drunkard mother’s prayers to God to find a way to not send him to fight in Iraq, it’s safe to say the show is B.

On the other hand, on cable smaller groups of equal-minded audience member congregate and you can build comedies that directly appeal to them. The Daily Show at its best draws 2.4 million people, far fewer than Arrested Development‘s average of 6.18 million. The two audiences, if it doesn’t overlap already, probably shares a similar view of the Iraq war and what can be mined for humor from it. The viewers that embrace shows like Arrested are on cable.  I’d love for it to stay on broadcast, but Arrested best prescription for a long life might be to jump.

Posted by Todd Jackson at 08:49 PM | Comments (0)
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