Monday, February 27, 2012

Television Comedies

We've already established that I watch way too much television.

If I were smart, I would have found  a way to make a living watching television.  But I didn't.  And I even did a stint in Southern California which would have been an ideal place to find such a job.

But I digress.  As usual.

I have noticed a trend in television comedies where the pilot's hook - the explanation of gathering this group of people together, or the way they tie to each other - is often lost as the series progresses.  What we come back to watch - if we come back to watch - are the characters and how they interact with each other.

Seinfeld, at least, was honest that his show was about nothing.  Of course, I never really watched it.  Maybe that's why. 

Actually, that's not why.  I have watched an awful lot of shows about nothing.  I just didn't relate to the characters.  Although I do like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and enjoyed The New Adventures of Old Christine

But I digress.  As usual.

I watch Happy Endings.  The pilot premise was a bride leaving her groom at the altar, and about whether or how we get our "Happy Endings".  Or so I think.  I know the bride leaving the groom thing was in there.  But I'm presuming that is a little what is behind the title. 

But we don't come back because we wonder about the wedding.  If you tuned in after the pilot, you might not even realize that two of the characters were going to get married before one of them pulled a Julia Roberts Runaway Bride moment.  Because what we have fallen for, if we have fallen, is the characters.

Most would attribute this to the Friends phenomenon.  But I wonder if Friends was really the beginning, or if we just grew accustomed to that coffee shop, that when we see others gather sitting around, we hearken back to that particular sit-com.

But even the classic comedies had an essential tie that brought everyone together, and it was the characters that kept us coming back.  Two with Ted Knight come to mind: The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Too Close For Comfort.  But then, that is the term "situational" comedy. We create a situation, and then we laugh about it.  Three's Company

Cougartown, currently, is really fighting its name.  Yes, I believe, although I never watched its pilot, it did begin with the idea of a cougar looking for, um, prey.  But that is not what it has evolved into.  Not the show I've started watching.  Even the promos - the opening credits - state this isn't what you think it is. 

So is it the situation, a bar in Cheers, that keeps us coming back, or is it Norm, or the other characters whom we grow to love?  Yes, Don Knotts was funny both as Barney Fife, and as Mr. Farley in Three's Company.  But is it small town North Carolina that draws us to Mayberry, or the aw shucks attitude of the characters? 

(Did you not get the memo? I watch way too much television!)

New Girl is another example of a silly comedy that I haven't decided if I like or not, but really, again, the situation - a girl moving in with a few guys as room-mates - really becomes background to the characters.  Zooey Deschanel's character is really the situation of this show.  Again, showing, that really what we have are character-comedies, not situational comedies.  Yes, sometimes the situation will create the comedy - how many misunderstandings about Jack with Janet and Chrissy, and Janet and the other two girls who replaced Suzanne Somers over the years *were* based upon the situation of a man living with two women.  Then, it was a more awkward situation.  Today, New Girl's situation doesn't seem that strange.  But what brought you back to Three's Company (besides that it was on re-runs so often in my childhood that you couldn't miss it even if you wanted to) was the characters and their interactions with each other. 

So, at the end of the day, for a pilot to succeed there has to be registrable chemistry between its characters.  It may be the situation that gets us to watch, but it is the characters that keep us in tune.

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