Sunday, March 30, 2014

"Oh, you're a comedian? Do you ever watch _____?"

God bless people who try to relate to you in their limited capacities to do so.

I've found it's become easier to tell people what I do for a living is 'comedian.'
'Actor' makes me feel like I've failed, because I work in this theater where I don't act.
'Writer' hasn't made me money yet, so I sadly wouldn't call it my living.
The most money I've made in my life is making people laugh.

Most people are not comedians by trade. And thank god for that. But we all have a tendency to try and connect to people, despite not necessarily knowing much about each other (but I'll save that much larger discussion for another day).

Whenever I say I'm a comedian, people's frame of reference for comedy is generally TV shows.

But two shows really get my goat when people ask me about my comedy.

Two and Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.
And if you couldn't guess that those were the two shows coming, ya dumb.

A close third is King of Queens, but really only because I find the wife on the show an insufferable character who has no redeeming qualities.

According to Jim, 8 Simple Rules, shows like that are just bad.
The questionable part about Two and Half Men and The Big Bang Theory was/is their popularity.

John Crier and Charlie Sheen are both immensely talented. You can make fun of Sheen all you want for his mind-boggling meltdown, but he's fantastic. Jim Parsons, plus most of that cast is equally talented. I don't discredit them at all.

But the shows are just poorly written. The multi-cam sitcom is not as effective as it used to be. Even relatively good shows like 2 Broke Girls and How I Met Your Mother are extremely hackneyed, with only one saving grace in their storytelling devices to redeem them. Plus, their casts are pretty stellar as well. Everything's cliched, ground tread upon in the exact same way as before, and the shows bring nothing innovative to the table. They are as formulaic as they can be, with predictable characters. And not even characters, they're actually the broadest stereotypes possible.

Sheen and Crier for all their charisma are just doing the play-boy/shut-in dynamic. It's Odd Couple, it's Ross and Joey from Friends, it's Will and Jack from Will and Grace. All better examples of that formula, all predecessors. Ashton Kutcher's tenure on the show has done nothing to improve it, only maintaining a tired status quo.

As for the half-man in the title, Angus T. Jones...is pretty horrible.
It's highlighted simply by the fact that three superior child actors are on camera for Modern Family.
No one cares about the kid in sitcoms, so to make them such a focal point can be problematic. They have to be stellar and Jones fails to step up.


As for The Big Bang Theory, I actually have a deeper problem with the show. I mean, not only are the portrayals of its starring 'nerds' supremely outdated, frankly at this point, they're downright insulting.
The show consistently treats them as these completely alien specimen, while the audience laughs at their inability to function within a normal society, we are supposed to laugh at their isolation and lack of understanding, while all the metaphysical jokes are made at their expense.
And not that I care anyway, because the nerds are all such broad caricatures that I cannot identify with them.

Friends, while admittedly a broad sitcom as well, at least had characters that, while not identifiable, were wittier, charismatic, and a little more realistic (I mean, as far as sitcoms go, anyway). Ross, the nerdiest character on the show, ends up being a bit of a butt monkey, but he doesn't wind up any more horribly than Joey, the playboy, does most of the time. Friends was also one of the last great multi-cam sitcoms to go off-air (although Will and Grace went a couple more years; Frasier ended the same year as Friends; Seinfeld had been gone before the millenium.)

Community features Danny Pudi as Abed, who is a character in the same vein as the nerds of Theory, but he is a fully fleshed out character, who, while on this spectrum, functions much more easily within the confines of the community college. There is marvelous heart to Abed, there is a sense of reality to him. These two features are lacking to anything Jim Parsons says as his character Sheldon.

Theory's premises are just as tired and lacking as anything on Two and a Half, but the jokes are arguably more painful. My real hope is that people can come to understand these two shows represent a pretty awful common denominator in the world of comedy. That there are beautiful shows to witness, like Arrested Development, Scrubs, Parks and RecreationCommunity...There are more serious, nuanced, and layered comedies, like Louie, Wilfred...Shows that are trying to destroy and reconstruct the sitcom format: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Workaholics, Brooklyn 99, Episodes...
And there are even shows that are not quite there, they are imperfect works of progress with tons of potential, cancelled before their time to really shine, but would've been better with more time or more direction: Happy Endings, BFFs, and New Girl (it's getting much better than when it started).

But I think what it boils down to is that The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men just aren't funny, and the fact they're both running longer than superior shows is too bad. Few of the punchlines are punchlines per se, and the editor for that canned laughter should be getting overtime and a half (men).