Our guest columnist has had a family emergency arise, and we’ll look for his post (hopefully) next week. We wish he and his family the best. In the meantime, since we’re ostensibly a comedy website, here are six relatively new TV comedies we have great hope and excitement for as the 21st century marches into adolescence.
“Modern Family” is a new take on the family sitcom. It’s not all clean cut and sanitized like other shows, yes, we’re looking at you, “According to Jim.” It’s what you’d expect from one of the creators of “Married… With Children” and that’s exactly what you get. Steven Levitan has always been a proponent of depicting a real Middle American family, not some idealized, outdated Ward and June Cleaver family. “Modern Family” follows that same idea as we follow three non-traditional families in their daily lives.
We hope this show continues on because let’s face it, it’s good to have Ed O’Neill back on TV again, and it’s nice to see him spreading his wings outside our traditional view of him as Al Bundy. Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Eric Stonestreet all give outstanding performances. The show is laugh out loud funny and it finally gives Christopher Guest a worthy rival to his previously untouched mockumentary style.
Considering what Hart wrote about Joel McHale in his 5 Favorite TV Shows of the ‘00s piece yesterday, it’s not all that surprising to find “Community” on here. What is surprising is just how different the Joel McHale from “The Soup” is compared to Jeff Winger on “Community.” Sure, they’re both wiseasses, both have much snappier rejoinders than we could ever hope to, and they both look great in that haircut. But, McHale on “The Soup” is playful and ultimately self-effacing while Jeff Winger is arrogant, self-satisfied, and at this point, empty inside.
What do you do when you have to completely start over? Jeff has coasted his entire life on the strength of a winning smile, good looks, and charm that won’t quit. When he’s finally busted for having a phony law degree, he finds himself at Greendale Community College with a group of people who also find themselves starting over. “Community” is a show about how dreams don’t always pan out. Each of the characters in the central study group had something in different in mind for their ultimate life plan, yet all of them found their way to Greendale, and now together with a group of people they never anticipated. And that’s life. You rarely get exactly what you want, and that leaves you with two choices: 1) Piss and moan about it and wallow in your self-pity, or; 2) Make the best with what you got.
“Community” chooses the latter, and even though neither we nor Jeff expected to get involved in the lives of Shirley, Abed, or Pierce, that’s where we find ourselves, so let’s make the most out of it. Unlike something like “The Office” where verisimilitude is a consistent aim, “Community” shoots to make us laugh above all else, and more often than not, it succeeds. As the supporting characters round into form more and more, the potential for this show continues to grow too. We get to see our little wooden Jeff Winger gradually become a real live boy. We hope it’s many years before he gets there.
Better Off Ted
Ted is a higher up in the research and development department of technology company Veridian Dynamics. The company is the epitome of a soulless enterprise, similar to those that many of us work for. And like most wage slaves, Ted and his friends try to maintain employment without sacrificing the entirety of their principals.
While it may seem like we don’t need another sitcom set in an office, “Better Off Ted” gives this setup a new shade by taking place in the research and development department. We get to see a couple of scientists create and test their products and then ultimately watch them fail. Who isn’t amused by scientific failure?
Jay Harrington, who plays Ted, is exploding with charisma. He reminds us a lot of a slightly younger George Clooney. Based on his winning performance here, we would probably watch anything with Harrington in it. If that came off as gay, well, we don’t care. Harrington rules. Portia de Rossi, from “Arrested Development,” is a non-caring career driven bitch and it is a lot of fun to watch her and Harrington play off each other just as she did with David Cross on “Arrested Development.” “Better Off Ted” has all the elements in place for excellent staying power, and we’re looking forward to enjoying it for years to come.
The Big Bang Theory
The joy of “The Big Bang Theory” is not that we’re sitting at home making fun of nerds, it’s that we’re invited into their universe and allowed to laugh with them. The writers of this show clearly know their source material – physics, comic books, sci-fi – and rather than draw the nerds in big, broad, annoying strokes (Think Steve Urkel), we’re treated to the nuances of their lives and get to indulge in discussions about why Sir Isaac Newton is a better representative of Christmas than Jesus Christ and belongs at the top of the Christmas tree.
While Raj, Howard, and to a certain extent, Leonard, remain the least defined characters on the show and often just bounce semi-trite, albeit mostly hilarious, digs at each other, the show’s biggest strength lies in the bizarre chemistry of Kaley Cuoco and Jim Parsons who play Penny and Sheldon, respectively. These two spin comedic gold in scene after scene and have that intangible “it” together that makes the whole of “The Big Bang Theory” much greater than the sum of its parts. What’s truly remarkable is that they’ve accomplished this completely outside the canon of traditional sitcom relationships founded entirely on sexual chemistry. Ross and Rachel were funniest when together, but that was largely predicated on their two diametrically opposed personalities trying to figure out how to bang each other without making each other crazy.
Penny and Sheldon are simply two opposite people who have found themselves sharing proximity with one another at this particular point in their lives. How they negotiate that space results in the show’s best moments. Jim Parsons is a comedy tornado as Sheldon Cooper and can wring a laugh out of a mere wordless reaction. Sheldon’s meticulous attention to scientific exploration of even the simple social tradition of asking for a favor and photographic memory run oppositionally to Penny’s contradictory common sense and conventional Midwestern politeness. That’s all a fancy way of saying that we’re happy these two actors have found each other and can’t wait for more seasons.
Eastbound and Down
Maybe the second funniest show we’ve watched this year, “Big Bang Theory” has been the funniest. Kenny Powers doesn’t hold back anything. Danny McBride captures perfectly what an aging has-been pitcher with a chip on his shoulder to be, only more of a jerk. His misplaced arrogance is matched only by his unusual use of profanity. For instance, this gem in helping a date decide what to wear to a friend’s barbecue: “Sweetie, I love you. I think you’re a sweet girl. But you got clothes like a f***ing d***head.”
The first season only had six episodes and we demand more. Thankfully, HBO has picked up a full season this year, and we hope it yields many more. Those six episodes managed an awesome story, but we need more Kenny Powers and more Ashley Schaeffer. I want more side splitting lines that I can quote with my friends over a cold beer. Mostly I don’t want anyone to tell “Eastbound and Down” that it’s “f***ing out!”
Parks and Recreation
What started as a gap in my Thursday night DVR recording superblock – Community, The Office, 30 Rock – has become my favorite show in the lineup. How did this happen? When we first approached “Parks and Recreation,” we viewed it as a cheap Office knockoff, created by the same folks in the same faux-documentary style with Amy Poehler doing a relatively pale Michael Scott impression. Hell, it even had Rashida Jones in it. How much more derivative can you get?
As the second season has progressed, Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope only resembles Michael Scott in her wide-eyed innocence and awkward social manner. But whereas Michael loathes busy work and fails in bureaucracy, Leslie is a bureaucrat through and through thriving with a schedule packed to the gills with tedious (not to Leslie, of course) public meetings to attend, forms to fill out, and giant pits to fill. She is the Socratic ideal of a government worker bee, and watching her enthusiastically accomplish the most mundane tasks with a smile on her face warms the most idealistic part of your America-loving heart.
What gives this show its legs is Poehler’s wonderful supporting cast. While we resisted “Parks and Recreation” at first, the one character that kept us coming back for more was Ron Swanson, played with downtrodden zeal by Nick Offerman. Offerman’s laconic delivery and wild indifference fostered by years of cushy government sloth has killed us from day one. Nothing about him is unfunny. His raging indifference, his painful bunions… hell, even his mustache, are all consistently hilarious. Second is Aziz Ansari’s Tom, who, like Masuka from “Dexter,” provides the lively, inappropriate spark needed at every workplace. He’s grand in his inappropriateness and when offset against the plain beige tapestry of small town municipal government life, kicks the show into another gear.
The evolution of “Parks and Recreation” has been a joy to watch, and here’s hoping it becomes a staple of Thursday night television.
Look for our guest columnist next week. We’ll also wrap up our year with thoughts about Christmas, those who have left us, and a huge Happy Friday year in review. But more on that tomorrow.
See you tomorrow in Happy Friday…
17 Dec 2009 CJS Staff