Wednesday, October 23, 2019

"Checking In"

I used to be in the sitcom business.  So when a new season begins, it is my habit to see how they’re doing.  It’s like visiting the old neighborhood to see what they’ve torn down.

Which is my first judgment, having not said, “…see what they’ve made better.”

The CBS sitcoms are the closest to what I used to do, so I inevitably sample them first.


You may now reasonably expect “A survey of new sitcoms, from the eyes of a revered veteran of “The Golden Age of Half-Hour Comedy.”

I cannot do that.

Times are different today.

‘Nuff said.

Except this.

In an Emmy Award acceptance speech I once imagined I said, on the way to something instantly quotable:

“I don’t understand writers competing for prizes.  Everyone works hard and does the best they know how.”

I did not just “pretend-say” that so the losers would feel better.  Not to mention veteran writers who had never been nominated, and had no idea why.  

(Here’s at least one reason why.  There are award-magnet “Glamor Shows”, and there are – switching genres from sitcoms to westerns – The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.  Which was a pretty good western.  Especially if you like extended gun barrels.   See:  “The Buntline Special.”)  (I may take this out later.  If I don’t, I probably should have.)  (Remember, I have still got bronchitis.)

It is my view that no one from “back then” can honestly assess what people are doing right now.  I watch new sitcoms like Bob “Hearts” Abishola and Carol’s Second Act, I see likable stars, comfortable concepts – minimal risk-taking, but you do what they let you – stories where things appear to go wrong, then they finally go right, plenty of jokes along the way – then it’s “So long, and we’ll see you next week.”

Sidestepping prejudicing judgment, what I see is “Everyone works hard and does the best they know how.”

“But did you laugh?”

Not yet.  But I remain hopeful.

I keep watching, searching for something.  Something like – asking forgiveness for the primordial reference – watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show pilot and hearing,

“You’ve got spunk!  (BEAT)  I hate spunk!”

And then I found one.

It’s called The Unicorn.  (Either an actual Internet term, or something made up by writers to fool old people and it did.)

Forget the premise.  (Another personal judgment.  And you know what they’re worth.)  A recently widowed father, raising two girls alone.  Delete “two girls”, insert “Three Sons”, and it’s Fred MacMurray, 1960. 

Though that’s no sin.   Mary Tyler Moore itselfplucky young female, struggling out on her own – is, among other things, Our Miss Brooks (1952), changing the newsroom to a classroom, and The Gale Storm Show, “Oh Suzanna” (1956), changing the newsroom to a cruise ship.  

Ignoring the concept, I dial my sensors to “a line of dialogue that stands out.”, something “Left Field” surprising that ticklingly “catches my fancy.” 

And on The Unicorn I hear this:

They are explaining the lead character’s unique “Unicorn” status in Internet dating – neither divorced, nor ravaged by terrible relationships.  It was his beloved late wife, and that’s it.  Making him, according to a married female friend,

“Factory fresh.”

To which her husband quickly appends,

“Technically, you’re like ‘Certified Pre-Owned.”

To which she instantly scolds:

“Why do you have to put your own spin on everything?” 

Did you hear it?  The sound of imaginative “Fresh Air.”

Fully sufficient, in a “Good enough” way, was “Factory Fresh” and “Certified Pre-Owned.” 

(Comedy Punch Lines Hitting Their Targets):  “Bam!  Bam!”

But no.  On The Unicorn they added the startling,

“Why do you have to put your own spin on everything?”

(Which, I admit, somewhat sensitively hit home.)

I got another surprise later.  A good sign when the bright eye blinks twice.

A third Dad in the group, admonished “You don’t lie to your kids”, replies,

“That’s all I do is lie to my kids.”

Again, ‘”Good enough.”  But then he adds,

“I drive them places, and lie.”


When shows provide “What you didn’t see coming”, I tip my scriptorial chapeau, and I am tentatively “onboard.”

Will I go back to The Unicorn?  I did.  And I was not equally sustained.

But in its pilot’s “Extra Mile” efforts, I heard somebody trying.

Suggesting, without meaning to, that the other new shows were not.

You see how difficult this is?

“Then” weighing in about “Now”?

I’m not sure you can do it.

1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

While you're right that Bob Hearts Abishola is familiar territory in one sense, I'm finding it interesting because of the peek into the lives of the Nigerian immigrant family. It feels fresh in a lot of ways to me. Plus, I really like the actress who plays Abishola, who was unknown to me before this.