Filed Under Sitcom
“The sitcom is in trouble” story is both true and in nearly as much trouble as the sitcom itself for one reason: it’s been written for the past five years. There are no more fresh angles. The articles are taking on a last gasp quality. Sunday’s New York Times paints Arrested Development as writers’ best hope at reviving the moribund genre. (And the reporter should know, being a sitcom writer himself.)
I think Arrested Development, though it hasn’t “found an audience” yet (except for highly educated people in a very important young demo like myself… but I guess I don’t count, do I?), has a lot going for it. Number one they seem to understand the comedy is pretty much the art of surprise. Take this quote from creator Mitchell Hurwitz, when he talks about the Sopranos as an influence:
“I love how sprawling it is. And how they can totally surprise you by, say, killing off a character. I want that freedom. We felt: `Wouldn’t it be great if we did a show that actually does change? Where people could die?’”
So many sitcoms rely on stories we’ve seen before. We know from the beginning how they’re going to end. You’ve seen this show before and you’ve seen it done better on Nick at Night. If sitcoms are going to survive, you need to have a sense that anything can happen. Anything. The article also touches on how Arrested Development, much like BBC’s The Office, is shot and paced to look like a reality show. All excellent stuff. But the article also mentions one more item that gave me insight into why the show works as well as it does. All of it’s writers came from multi-camera shows originally (the traditional style used from I Love Lucy to Friends). Yes breaking the genre is great, but only if you know how to build it again. If you know how to tell a story well and pace the funny faster. (Though Hurwitz asserts that multicamera shows get more jokes in every episode than single camera shows, I don’t entirely see it. Maybe he says that because some single camera shows tend to waver off into filmic territory, rather than using the multiple set-ups to create a frenetic gag pace). Fox is doing right by a good show for once (rest in peace, Tick, Greg the Bunny and Andy Richter Controls the Universe). Putting it on after the Simpsons (something Futurama never even got). Promoting it heavily. Getting out a Season 1 DVD right before the start of the second. Now people, do us all a favor and just watch the damn thing?
Comedy nerds will rejoice to hear about Trio’s first original comedy series Pilot Season (read the release here). Pilot Season will be about the people who struggle to try and get something of quality on TV every Spring. And fail. Though I’m over TV about TV, with talent the calibre of Sarah Silverman and David Cross involved, I’m interested. Plus I enjoyed the original movie the show’s based on, Who’s the Caboose. And they’re shooting it mockumentary-style, so hopefully we’ll get some Office-influenced uncomfortable moments in it. Trio’s pairing the show up with its next “Brilliant but Cancelled” month (something Pilot producer Sam Seder creator knows about with perennial Other Network fave Beat Cops). Mark your calendar or TiVo for September 6.
To write comedy, do you have to have an uncensored environment? That’s essentially the question that’s being put before the California Supreme Court in a harassment case involving some of the Friends writers. I absolutely fall into the idea that it’s a creative necessity to be able to say anything, because that’s how you find laughs. What makes funny stuff is usually inappropriate stuff that makes people feel uncomfortable. Saying them out loud, creates laughs. And a show like Friends, which is so focused on the sexual behavior of the characters, it seems impossible to work in an environment where talking about sex would be verboten.
But reading the description of what the plaintiff says went on (via The Smoking Gun), it sounds like a lot of it crossed over into the personal, and rather pedestrian, fantasies of the writers on staff (sex with cheerleaders, C’mon?). Although arguably, talking about turning Joey into a serial rapist is a creative process decision (and might explain the sudden move of the character to LA in Joey). This document, of course, only shows her side of the story. What really happened is probably someplace in-between.
It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out. I imagine a plaintiff win could mean a lot of repression in writing rooms. For a rather amusing anecdote about an uncensored environment, one that doesn’t cross over into the personal and done purely to relieve creative tension, check out this Louis CK description of a late night writing session at Conan (4th Item down).
Filed Under Sitcom
Got comments coming on Last Comic Standing, but waiting for the Comedy Central re-airing of the second episode because my TiVo only caught the first half due to somebody’s funeral coverage. Ack, the nerve.
Very impressed by Reno 911! second season opener (though I felt the “It was all a dream” resolution to the cliffhanger was rather done and weak). The great thing about Reno 911! is the unlike traditional sitcoms, if a character says something mean or rude to another character, you actually feel some sense of pain. One of the reasons traditional sitcoms have been failing is that too often a character will call another some network-safe version of “fuckface” and the victim will respond in kind.
Reality TV has shown us one thing: people carry grudges. If someone calls someone else “fuckface”, they don’t forget it. The characters on Reno 911! feel each others slights without it become cloying or unfunny. Amazing stuff. The comedy has consequence.