It has always been a mystery to me why there are certain, let’s restrict it today to comedies, that I’m willing – nay eager – to watch again and again, and others, though I enjoyed them the first time, that initial viewing was sufficient, and I have no desire to see them again. In fact, I avoid seeing them again.
Every week, I’d watch Everybody Loves Raymond and Friends. They both made me laugh, and, in different ways, satisfied my requirements. That sounds a little risqué. Let’s say they satisfied my entertainment requirements. That isn’t much better. I just liked them, okay?
I recall funny and easily identifiable Raymond episodes, most notably the one where Ray and his wife, after returning from a trip, engage in an escalating battle concerning which of them will unpack their suitcase.
I’ve been there. Not about the unpacking, but about which of us would return the suitcase to the storage closet in the basement. The empty bag sat there for days.
And then I lugged it downstairs.
Friends’ appeal for me was the likability of the cast, and the out-of-left-field nature of the jokes, my favorite being, “Let’s go out for Chinese food. Or as they call it in China, food.” I hadn’t the faintest interest in who the father of Rachel’s baby was. I showed up for the laughs.
I watch neither Raymond nor Friends in reruns. I pass them as I “remote-click” around the channels, and I reflexively keep going.
On the other hand, Seinfeld reruns, I can watch forever.
Why do I have a visceral reaction against watching shows I originally enjoyed – I mean, I see them now and I’m physically repelled – and why, as with Seinfeld, and also Monty Python’s Flying Circus, do I welcome their repeat showings with enthusiasm and delight.
“It’s the ‘Limo’ episode!”
“They can’t find their car!”
“It’s the ‘Bubble Boy!’ George is going to say ‘the Moops’!”
“It’s ‘The Show About Nothing!’”
“It’s the “Argument” sketch!”
“It’s ‘The World’s Funniest Joke’! The long version!”
“They’re doing the ‘dead parrot’!”
“It’s ‘The Ministry of Silly Walks!’”
Okay, at this point, I will repudiate the fundamental principle of my entire writing career. A ‘one-eighty’ on my core belief. I am old now. Consistency is out the window.
During an illustrious B+ career as a writer and series creator, I believed, more than anything, in the good, solid, logical, compelling, comedically surprising and believably resolved
The story was key. If a story idea grabbed me, I was off to the races. And while developing that story, I was fiercely committed to tying up all loose ends and inconsistencies – the story had to make sense. Otherwise, it was a balloon with a hole in it. It would not hold water. And it would eventually deflate, if you’re going with the balloon metaphor. Or drown the audience’s interest, if you’re following the ‘water’ analogy. Either way, it’s not a good thing.
I still believe story matters. But with a caveat. It matters, and I still believe it’s essential, the first time around. But when it comes to reruns, I already know the story. For my willingness to commit to a second viewing, and beyond, I need something more.
Repeat enjoyments require an element that goes beyond an engaging storyline, and the (sometimes wearying) emotion of the characters invested in it. That repeat-visit element, it now seems to me, is
You’ve heard the story. It’s exhausting to wade through it again. By contrast, comic inspiration never gets old. And I mean, never.
Case in point:
I Love Lucy
I was never, though there are people I respect who were, a big Lucy fan. I generally found it broad and silly. But when Lucy’s working on an assembly line, and those chocolates keep rolling in on that conveyor belt, and she can’t keep up, and she starts eating the candies and stuffing them in her blouse…
Hilarious in the fifties. Still hilarious today.
And only a devoted Lucy fan could tell you what the story that included that “assembly line” scene was about.
It doesn’t matter.
The scene is a classic.
As I never tire of saying, though you may be tired of hearing it, comedy is subjective. What’s funny to me may not be funny to you. The same goes for “comedically inspired.”
I know what I think is comedically inspired.
And I tip my hat to it.
Every time I watch.