Filed Under Sitcom
In yet another article about the networks’ attempts to resurrect comedy, I didn’t read anything that gave me much hope that they’ve learned anything yet. There’s a reference to how Desperate Housewives is the most successful comedy is recent memory, which is rather irritating. Though I like the show, it’s not a pure comedy. It’s simply been placed there by execs because of award show competition (another reason why award shows are idiotic).
One thing that is worth modeling from dramas and reality shows is the idea of consequence, which is something few comedies have. I think network comedies biggest problem is that the characters are never affected by what happens to them on the show. They shrug off insults and embarrassments in as unrealistic manner as action heroes shrug off bullets. Perhaps more unrealistic.
I think the notion that we watch comedy for escapism can be very true. But this has traditionally been translated as likable characters who resolve their problems within a half hour. But as reality TV has shown, seeing unlikable people continue to be angry for insults both real and imagined is highly entertaining and very escapist. Constructing comedy with Omorosa-style villains might be exactly what works now.
Filed Under Sitcom
Great details on the process of making “Arrested Development” in the AV Club’s interview with creator Mitchell Hurwitz. Earlier I wondered just how Hurwitz’s time on the “Golden Girls” helped him with “Arrested.” He clarifies here that his (and Arrested’s) style of intertwined storylines and connecting disparate elements developed because he felt he lacked the “hard joke” style demanded by “Golden Girls.” The influence is indirect, but makes total sense to me now.
Mitchell often attributes “The Sopranos” as an influence and that too is made more clear here. Though it’s easy to see how characters like Gob and Buster are flawed, to Mitchell even Jason Bateman’s Michael is flawed, but in a sympathetic way like Tony Soprano. Hurwitz details insight into the character that reveals why this show is so dense. There is a lot going on with these people. Earlier in the interview Mitchell talks about how many writers use shorthand to create characters (in “Arrested,” a conservative brother and a liberal sister). What’s obvious after reading the interview is how many other creators stop there.
Also in the interview is the harrowing tale of how “Arrested Development” tested. The desire of executives to put their “no” in someone else’s hands has developed into a ridiculous attempt to scientifically monitor enjoyment by a simple dial. Though Hurwitz describes metering audiences as insane, but ultimately concedes that the process helped him discover the end of the pilot needed work. Even with that admission, it’s pretty obvious that losing these ludicrous meters would go a long way to improving mainstream movies and TV. Besides, such focus testing is notoriously ineffective.
Filed Under Sitcom
I just noticed that Arrested Development has begun naming episodes variations of “The One Where…”, exactly how Friends titled every episode in its 10-year run. Since most viewers never see these, the shift in titles is probably just a way to amuse writers who are probably grasping at anything to enlarge their audience.
One change I did notice in the last Sunday’s episode however: music under a conversation between Michael and Gob that seemed to be an attempt by the creators to indicate the audience “Hey America, here’s some heart for you!” Arrested Development has always had heart… and used music to express it, particularly in conversations between Michael and his son. But this one seemed to be a bit more ham-fisted, a concession to audiences who may find the bizarre family humor cold. It was jarring for me as a regular viewer, but it might be necessary to raise those ratings. It’s just kinda sad that we need laugh tracks to tell us to laugh and musical cues to tell us to care.
That said, the rest of the show has continued to amaze. It’s the funniest show on TV right now. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. And buy the Season One DVD. I’m going to keep repeating it until it’s Seinfeld level hit.
Though I was cautiously favoring the writers’ side when I first blogged the lawsuit, this article tipped me there completely when it noted that plaintiff had none of the sexual references directed at her. Even if the comments were lewd and immaterial to the matter at hand, they all could be part of the creative process. In fact, one anecdote about having oral sex with a prostitute who turned out to be a man inspired a joke actually used on the show. All grist for the mill. Even if you don’t like the humor used in the room, if it gets a usable result, it’s hard to argue it wasn’t necessary to get the job done. You can’t judge beforehand which smutty remark would finally break a joke, so as long as it doesn’t target anyone working on the show, it should be OK. Though it doesn’t excuse the comments on Courtney Cox, Jennifer Aniston or writer/creator Marta Kaufman... it’s clear that most of the “disgusting” language took place in regards to doing the work.
Lindsay Robertson finds fault with the assistant for considering a field like comedy writing if she didn’t have the stomach for the writers’ room talk. I don’t really think that’s entirely fair, after all… at the bottom of any field you are essentially trying out the job and seeing if it’s right for you. (Obviously it wasn’t for the assistant, she’s now in the Air Force… pretty much the exact opposite of comedy writing.) You wouldn’t necessarily imagine the writers from Friends would be talking about Joey being a rapist from watching an episode of the show. But you could be told that when you applied.
I think for every writer and assistant there will need to be a waver which states that the employee acknowledges they will work in an environment where uncomfortable subject matter will come up in order to create material, don’t sue. Sign it if you want to make the funny. People should still have the option of suing if they feel they have been directly sexual harassed… like the Bill O’Reilly case.
I normally can’t stand award shows… self-congratulatory excess is one of Hollywood’s worst traits, but awards for comedy writing went exactly where they should (and needed) to go. I’m hoping Arrested Development‘s Best Comedy Emmy annoints it as the next Seinfeld, with the subsequent ratings explosion to follow. And in some ways, I wonder if that’s exactly what the voters were thinking too. The show definitely deserves it, but as far as I can see, that doesn’t factor too much in voters’ decisions. Everyone imagined that Sex and the City would get it, as congratulations for such a great run (no matter how much limping to the finish line they did). But with so much concentration on how network TV comedy is over, giving an award to a comedy that was over or nearly over (in the case of Raymond) would have been acknowledging the genre’s best days were behind it. Even if this was a factor, Arrested was the best sitcom on TV last year. Period.
As for the best part of the show, the parody of the Swift Boat Veteran Ad written by the Daily Show writers was amazing. If you missed it, Wonkette has a transcript of it here. Congrats to the Daily Show and its writers (particularly buds Jason Ross and Rob Kutner) on their second Emmy. Also highly-deserved.
Filed Under Sitcom
A mediabistro article invites you to join critics as they remember the worst TV pilots they ever saw. Lots o’ sitcoms get the shout out including, the current Center of the Universe, the never-aired Grubbs and the cited-as-perennial-target Desmond Pfeiffer. Anyone wonder now why the sitcom is dead?