Thursday, May 01, 2008

Make Me Smile

Lots of folks like television dramas, but I think that television's greatest contribution to popular culture is the half-hour situation comedy.

Maybe it's because the first shows that made impressions on me were sitcoms--shows like I'm Dickens, He's Fenster, or Car 54, Where Are You, or Dobie Gillis, or Leave It To Beaver, or The Flintstones. Susan loves to watch police procedurals and legal dramas and ensemble-cast prime time soaps and the like, but I'd rather watch even a mediocre sitcom than a drama.

As a sitcom aficionado, I am particularly sadded when a sitcom loses the delicate balance of sit and com that once made it successful.

I used to love Scrubs and The Office and My Name Is Earl; they were clever, they were unpredictable, and they could be counted on for lotsa laughs.

Somewhere along the way, though, the writers and directors and producers lost their focus. The first show to fail was Scrubs. The laughs became fewer and fewer, the clever became clich├ęd, and the attempts at absurd farce seemed embarrassing and forced. Even the actors seemed to notice; they began going through the motions, as if they were just as uncomfortable as the viewers.

Then The Office made the mistake of thinking that we really wanted to get to know these characters as people, to become involved in their lives; to see them change and mature. They forgot the importance of the situation: viewers want situational stability so that they can see how the stories develop within that framework. Some of the jokes elicited a wince, not a laugh; when you get to know characters too much, their situations don't seem as funny.

And now, My Name Is Earl has for an entire season abandoned the gimmick that made the show such a success: a ne'er-do-well-hick-on-a-karmic-mission. Suddenly, Earl's in prison, karma has passed him by, his low-rent lifestyle has collapsed; it was no more funny than it would have been to see the Three Stooges arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for assault & battery and disorderly conduct.

I still watch all three shows, and there are still funny moments in each of them; but currently, none of the shows is truly funny, and none of them seems to be moving in the right direction. I keep hoping that the writers, possibly re-energized after a strike, will turn things around... but I don't have a great deal of hope.

1 comment:

Brett Brooks said...

(If this is posting twice, my apologies...)

To me, the weakest of the three, surprisingly, is Earl, which fell the farthest the fastest. To my pleasant surprise, I felt that two of the episodes of Scrubs since the strike were quite good, though the others were very disappointing.