Conceptually, recent situation comedies have trended herdily towards quirky females in their early thirties – The New Girl, The Mindy Project, Two Broke Girls (in the latter case, quirky and insistently vagino-centric.)
Changing strategies this season, a multiplicity of debuting series showcasing really, really dysfunctional families. I have, to date, sampled parts of several new shows featuring dufus Dads, an alcoholic daughter with an alcoholic Mom whose family history reveals three consecutive generations of teenage pregnancy, and a Trophy Wife, whose sitcomical burdens involve resistant step-children and her husband’s meddling ex-wives.
And there is the promise of more to come. Crazy, crazy families, making Modern Family’s families appear mainstream, when at first they didn’t. Suggesting that these freshly minted TV families – which, had they been lab experiments, would have been compassionately euthanized in their cages – may be the “mainstream” families of the distant future. (In which case, Canada’s looking better and better.)
I reveal that I have only seen parts of these aforementioned series, because I was unable to sit through the entirety of any of them, partly due to the never-to-be-underestimated “Sour Grapes” Factor – these shows are on the air, and I’m writing for free in my house – and partly because I find them demonstrably unwatchable. (Another show I could only survive ten minutes of was Brooklyn Nine-Nine, about a smart-ass shmeckdreidel (Read: screw-up) police officer who has the best arrest record in the precinct. This one strays from the “Dysfunctional Family” template, but rates inclusion for, for me at least, being equally unwatchable.)
Which brings me to a show I liked. Particularly the pilot, although, for me, the second episode aired after it tumbled significantly in quality. (Can I dispense with “for me” disclaimers and simply have that “understood?” Thank you.)
The show I enjoyed was The Michael Fox Show. (Which, according to the post-broadcast ratings reports, attracted half the audience of its opposition, an inflated puffball manipulation/slash/half-hour “product placement” promotion for McDonald’s – Robin Williams’ The Crazy Ones – indicating either that America and I continue to be congenitally out of sync with each other, or that The Crazy Ones benefitted from a much stronger “lead-in” – the show broadcast immediately before it. I am hoping it was the latter, though I must say it amazes me that in this day and age, viewers remain inertially passive about changing the channel.)
I am not being “fake humble” in this regard. At its core, I have no idea why one show feels generically better than another one. Maybe it’s simply a matter of an identifiably superior “sum of its parts.” (No, it’s more than that. Sometimes, inexplicably – and extremely rarely – a show’s totality will, almost alchemically, be greater than the sum of its individual parts.)
The Michael J. Fox Show sparkles with fortuitous casting. (Uncharacteristically in such exercises, the daughter in this show actually looks like her mother.) But it goes significantly beyond that. The performers are unilaterally adept players of comedy, and the actresses are naturally beautiful, rather than expatriate runway models.
Michael J. Fox is, in my view, simply the best light comedian of our age. Rather than a liability, Fox’s “Parkinson’s”, played, though not overplayed, for laughs, palpably enriches the characterization.
(One joke, as example): A guy asks for his autograph, explaining, “My Dad has Alzheimer’s.” Correcting him, Fox says, “Parkinson’s.” To which the guy breezily replies, “Either way.”)
This brings me to the writing, which, including the above example, made me laugh more frequently than any sitcom I have recently subjected myself to. Even the second episode, though riddled with formulaic misunderstandings, included this nugget.
Fox’s wife is dismayed by her husband’s crush on a newly installed tenant in their apartment building. Her sister-in-law suggests she might want to “step up her game”, starting with jettisoning the ratty old t-shirt she’s been wearing, an item of clothing already disparaged earlier in the episode. When the wife asks, “What does everybody have against this shirt?” the sister-in-law explains,
“I’ve seen you polish silver with that t-shirt.”
A joke with that level of observationaless will keep me watching a show for weeks, waiting for another one of rivaling originality. (An equally admirable “high road” offering: The daughter announces she’s bringing over a classmate who’s a lesbian. “So no ‘lesbian jokes’”, she warns her parents. Her Dad says, “I don’t even know a lesbian joke.” To which her Mom deliciously chimes in, “I know one. But I don’t get it.”)
Thinking it over, maybe this is the traditional average – one new show I like out of…all the other ones. Actually, that’s above the traditional average. Usually, I dislike everything.
I shall endeavor to sample more of the debuting comedies in the future. But I am not making any promises. I am old, and can no longer waste precious time engaged in activities that impel me to bang my head against the wall. Sometimes, literally.
A “throw-in” observation. This post was augmented by the use of my new technological best friend, On Demand – You do not have to do anything; it’s just there. What I discovered in the process, however, is that on NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show, you were prevented from “fast-forwarding” through the commercials, while on CBS’s The Crazy Ones, you still could. (As you could before with everything on On Demand.) This reminded me of my recent post, in which a neophyte engineer was assigned the task of producing a shampoo bottle that makes too much shampoo come out with every squeeze. In this case, it’s,
“I want you to come up with a technology that prevents On Demand viewers from ‘fast-forwarding’ through the commercials!”
And they did it.
At least one network’s “R and D Department” did it. And given Internet blabbiness, the secret impediment to “fast-forwarding” is certain to leak out.
I don’t get it.
Don’t engineering schools teach “Ethics?”