‘Peep Show’: Yet Another British Sitcom Filled With Excellence

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I don’t really have much to say about Peep Show, except that it’s really funny. I’ve been trying to immerse myself more in British TV, more specifically British comedy/sitcoms, because everything I’ve seen out of it has been nothing short of brilliantly. I’ve really only seen the big-name shows, and the ones that are at least relatively well-known over here in the west, like The Office, ExtrasSpaced and The IT Crowd. Peep Show seems like it’s pretty well known to, and for good reason, but I’m always looking for some deep-cuts. So, if anyone actually reads this and knows of some great British comedies, or shows in general, throw some ideas my way.

I was unaware of the POV style at first, where the camera films everything as the POV of each character and switches around. I was unsure of this, and thought it might be distracting, but you quickly get used to it and hardly even notice it a few episodes in. It’s a cool device that really helps with all the inner-monologues and gives them a sort of backbone.

The show uses cringe humour effectively, like it seems all British comedies do, and drives the main source of the comedy. Often coming from our two polar-opposite roommate protagonists trying to get/hook-up with girls, usually to their detriment as something goes awfully wrong as it only further spirals out of control. Mark is the plain white bread kind of guy, an office job likes watching TV and studying history, all the while looking for that special girl. He’s in one instance a stereotypical “nerd,” but doesn’t always fall into this category, more like just being “awkward.” Jeremy, his roommate is an aspiring out-going musician who has better luck with the ladies, but gets himself in just as many finicky circumstances with them as Mark does.

So, yeah, I’m struggling to find anything to say “critical” for the show in any in-depth way, good or bad. It’s really funny and cringy, which is a pretty sure-fire way to get a reaction out of people, not that it’s easy, it’s hard to do, but when pulled off it’s results are pretty much uniformly positive. There’s one more final season to air next year, and I’m curious to see how they’ll go out. Each season there’s usually some sort of through-line of plot, often superfluous for me, but works sparingly, so I’m sure we’ll see some type of resolution for Mark and Jeremy.

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‘Scrubs’: More Than Just A Wacky Comedy?

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I’m not the best when it comes to comedy on TV. Really when it comes down to it, as long as it’s funny, that’s all I care about, make me laugh and it’s all good. Sure, depending on the show, that need some rough through-line of plot or some narrative, but usually I could care less, unless it’s some great vehicle for great laughs. My favourite comedy shows, things like The Office (both versions, but the UK one is one of my favourite shows in any genre) and Parks & Recreation usually have a nice balance of comedy, with a dramatic backbone or driving force, mainly spurned on from the characters rather than plot that helps to give the comedy something to mold around. I also like these shows because the comedy is grounded in reality. Sure, they can be a bit loopy and pushing the boundaries of sensible, but largely makes comedy out of real-life situations. While I appreciate running a good narrative throughout, I also love shows that are literally all jokes, and don’t really care about doing anything serious. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has been doing this for awhile now, and Curb Your Enthusiasm does this as well, but it’s type of comedy (improv/cringe) comes from a different area than “Sunny’s.”

Scrubs is an interesting show, because it tries to do multiple things and ideas of comedy under the same banner. On the one hand, it’s an increasingly silly show, with random jokes, flashbacks, dreams and just really cartoony behaviour. But, along with this, there’s always two main driving forces of “dramatic” narratives or overarching plot, with the following of the doctors career trajectory and their love lifes. Now, over a nine season show, it varied quite a bit where they would put the emphasis on. In the early season, some of my favourites, dealed a lot with J.D. and such coming to grips with the pressures and challenges of being a young doctor and what everything meant. It was a comedy show, but patients actually died, and it wasn’t always fun and games around Sacred Heart. Of course, it’s still all wacky and funny too, and something that would oft be the focus in later seasons, when all the characters romantic entanglements were pretty much set in stone and there wasn’t much of a chase anymore.

Although, I find Scrubs very funny, it’s also very silly, and not entirely my favourite brand of comedy. It’s immature, but not in really in the dick and fart joke variety (although, they are aplenty), but more that it’s seemingly aimed towards a preteen audience in the types of jokes they tell and would’ve seemed insanely suitably to being on Nickelodeon instead. It’s very much a live-action cartoon, with, I guess, it being part of the joke that J.D. and Turk are doctors and surgeons with people’s lives in their hands, all the while being the most immature people on the wayside. Again, I’m only being critical of this because it’s really not my brand of humour and maybe because I’m too old for it (?), I don’t know, but sometimes it was a little much for me.

Even going off that idea of this being a show skewed towards a slighter younger demographic, beyond the comedy there was always a lesson. Not that it was constantly (“after-school special-ish,” although it was known to), J.D. and subsequently us would learn a lesson at the end of each episode, like it’s okay to make mistakes, everybody isn’t always who they seem, trying your best is all you can ask, and countless other things and anecdotes you’ve heard before. That’s why it reminds me of something youth-skewing, by giving you all the silly comedy you love, but pushing that lesson that you should’ve learned in the last two minutes of the episode, because that’s what TV is for, right?

Because of the no-holds barred level of comedy, it really takes a cast who will go full bore on the jokes to completely sell them, a make-or-break element of the show. John C. McGinley is great, really just in general, but also here. He’s an asshole, and demands a lot, and has a stony exterior, but of course he’s a softie at heart who cares about his fellow staff. Ken Jenkins is of the same cloth as McGinley’s Perry, and is equally as great. Donald Faison always has great reactions and is a nice counter-point to J.D. Judy Reyes is probably the weakest member of the cast, not really caring much of the comedic load, she’s not very good at it even when she does get the chance, and is often a nag, but I still like her!!! Neil Flynn is great, in general as well, but you can tell how much fun he’s having as the janitor, and it was kind of a trip watching The Middle before my descent into Scrubs, as it’s a completely different role.

I don’t think it’s just me, but there’s an incredible lack of great female comedic leads and just characters in general. It’s not the actors, I think, but really the parts. I’m not talking about the pay cable varieties of Lena Dunham, Laura Dern, Edie Falco, Laura Linney, Mary Louise Parker and such, they’re all fine and do their thing, but I’m talking about the balls-out “I don’t care about my image, let’s put the joke up front.” Julie Louis-Dreyfus is maybe the greatest example, with all her success, Melissa McCarthy is the go-to lady now, and she’s knocked everything out of the park that I’ve seen. Kaitlin Olson from “Sunny” has been one of my favourite’s for years, never really having a boundary, and being an expert in physical comedy. I think physical comedy is a big measuring stick and something that is not a fluke that all these great women have in common. It’s an example of them going full bore into a joke, not caring about their looks or looking stupid, but just being in service of the joke. Sarah Chalke is another incredible actress of this class, and she’s so fully invested in her role in Scrubs that it’s infectious to how far she’ll go. She’s sometimes played as ditzy, but really just a person who wears her heart on her sleeve and cares about everybody who comes in her path. Often that gets her into certain situations, but no better person to deal with them then Sarah Chalke.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve obviously come to Scrubs late, and had both experienced Zach Braff through his Garden State and the incredibly underrated The Last Kiss. I love both of those films quite a bit, and in great part to Braff’s performance, not really the comedic parts (even though they were good), but the dramatic tendencies and the way he handles so greatly the spirit of a “dramedy” (Ugh. I hate that word and  typing it, but it’s a good descriptor). He’s funny of course in Scrubs, even if he is the most immature and annoying of the cast, but also suffers a great negative that I’m beginning to think is of the actor and not the character. Zach Braff is smug as all shit and a douchebag. I mean, J.D. in Scrubs is smug as all shit and a douchebag. He’s constantly a dick to pretty much everybody in the show, through his various relationships he’s always a douche to the girls, often only thinking of himself and sex. As I said this often gets annoying, but it’s got me to think is this just the character, is it just the characters Braff picks, is it Zach Braff himself, is Zach Braff a douche and thus picks characters that suit him, such as a douche? Now, it’s no secret that a lot of people like Zach Braff, but it seems just as many or more think of him as a dick. Now, I’ve always been team Zach Braff, and I still am, but it’s curious that he’s kind of a dick in everything’s he’s in. Maybe, it’s just that he’s good at it, and so here we are. Anyways Zach Braff is a cool dude, but sometimes his portrayal of J.D. got a little too much in the douchebag and dick department, thus making him annoying and really hard to care about personally as a character.

Hey, so, I guess we should talk about season 9, hahaha, actually no we don’t, but I’m incredibly fascinated with it, so let’s do it. I’m not entirely sure everything behind this, and I’m too lazy to look it up, but something about bringing back the show at the last minute, and having some of the old cast members show up and usher this new generation of interns, all to be finished after 13 episodes. I mean it’s really weird, because it looks like a completely different show, with a new main core, and some OG Scrubs member cameos, but actually kinda, but not really season 9 of the show. Dave Franco’s character was so dumb and made me laugh way too much because he was so stupid, so that’s a plus I guess. The lead girl, who I can’t remember her name, was pretty bad/boring and Eliza Coupe was pretty good/cool and I like Coupe very much. So, that’s what I took from that weirdo thing of season 9.

Scrubs is a fun and very entertaining show, and that’s really the main thing I’ll take from it. I mean, yes, we’ve talk about it’s few dramatic hits and the success they had in that realm, but the comedy was and is always the main part, and it was enjoyable, for the most part. I don’t know how/or if I’ll revisit this show, maybe not, maybe so, there’s a couple stand-out episodes, but nothing that’s entirely drawing on it’s own. If I see it on TV, I could totally see myself flicking it on and having a good time with it, no matter where it is in the run, and I think that’s a great positive for the show, or any.  Put it on, and I’ll probably enjoy watching some part of it. Thanks.

‘The IT Crowd’: Flipping An Old Model

The IT Crowd

Hey, so, I haven’t posted something here for awhile, so lets talk about The IT Crowd!

The IT Crowd is one of the shows that everybody talks about and says how great it is, yet you’ve never seen and are unsure exactly what it is. I’m sure you have your own personal examples, lord knows I have a ton more, but lets start here. Basically, the extent of my knowledge of British television is The Office and Extras, so pretty much whatever Ricky Gervais was involved in, Spaced, so pretty much Simon Pegg and his friends, and Life On Mars, but that doesn’t really fit into this mold, so anyways… Cumulated from my slightest of mainstream British television I had assume The IT Crowd to be a sort of dramedy like The Office, funny, but rooted in base human issues and the examination of the human spirit, and all that jazz. Boy, was I wrong when I put the first episode in, for good and bad. If you don’t know, The IT Crowd is a multi-cam sitcom, a down and dirty “here are some simplistic jokes and some really easy humour,” think your basic CBS show. Now I gotta pull a 180 here right off the bat, because The IT Crowd is nowhere as loudly crass, sloppily put together, and really just containing a lack of effort that 90% of American multi-cam sitcoms take the shape of. It was a different animal, and something fun tackling over its short run.

Honestly, it took me awhile to get into the groove of The IT Crowd, because I had so intensely believed it to be a drastically different show leading up to even watching it. When I finally did, believe it or not, it was hard to shake my completely different expectations of a more nuanced comedy that was never delivered, but rather a broader series with common beats. This has never happened to me before with a television series, getting the exact opposite show that I had anticipated, but it was fun to work through. A multi-cam sitcom with a laugh track has a very distinct model and framework, you know the types of jokes you’re getting, the ones you laugh at, but feel kinda dirty about it because it’s usually a lower brow sense of humour. The IT Crowd features this at it’s base, but it’s characters and the actors commitment to these characters, their tics and beats really makes it something “real,” and beyond just a repetitive joke machine. Yes, there’s stereotypical nerd and geek humour, and making the same jokes about these people we’ve heard for years, but Chris O’Dowd and Richard Ayoade put in an honesty commitment that keeps everything relatively fresh, their delivery making dumb, old jokes, seems new, and you know, not dumb. Katherine Parkinson is a fun little appendage who at first is set in as the complete opposite of O’Dowd and Ayoade’s characters, but as you get to know here you see just how well she fills out the triangle with her own awkwardness. A repurposing of old and tired cliches and jokes because much more than that because of the caring behind the camera and the dedication of those in front of it.

So, let’s conclude this not too inspired “like” letter to The IT Crowd. I wonder how I’d take the show from the beginning if I had known exactly what it was, probably the same, but I think it was an interesting trial in absorbing media when you had an entirely different picture of it. The IT Crowd could have been another dumb multi-cam sitcom that the Americans like to produce, and in some ways it was, and in some ways it wasn’t, the Brits know good comedy but they also know dumb comedy that the Americans indulge in a little too much. Ultimately the talent made it more than that, not something amazingly groundbreaking, but something I’m looking forward to revisiting, full of Chris O’Dowd perfectly emitting a look of puzzlement on his face. A master class.

‘Strangers With Candy’: The Cult Of Satire

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I don’t really know if Strangers With Candy was before its time, but its definitely a show of its own breed and doesn’t fall too much in line with other comedies. It’s a satire about Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old former “boozer, user, and a loser” who resorted to prostitution, drugs and prison, and then decided to return to finish high school as a freshman in her mid-40s. That sounds terribly depressing and not even remotely funny, but creators Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, Amy Sedaris and Mitch Rouse use this backbone to prod, make fun of, and flip on its head all the themes and moral lessons that would fill after-school specials. They take it so far over the top each episode including the most politically incorrect and mouth-a-gap punchlines all to lead Jerri into learning the worst lessons ever. Jerri learns lessons among others such as your outside appearance is more important than your inside, rich people are more fun and worthy people than the poor, selling drugs is a good way to make friends, steroids are a good option to help with winning a track-meet, and never encourage the handicap because they’ll always end up hurt. Some prime life lessons I think we all can agree with.

It should come as no surprise that this came from Stephen Colbert, the guy who remains the master of satire on his aptly named The Colbert Show, satirizing the political pundit types on FOX News and the positions held by those on the right. Paul Dinello has also wrote for the show and pops up here and again to play different characters and such. Now the thing about satire is you actually have to be relatively cognizant to know that these are jokes and sane people know that none of this is actually true. But, of course that’s the point, poking around these lessons, social situations, morals, racism, sexuality and pointing out the absurdities and ways that these things can get twisted. Because sadly, there are people who believe racist ideas, and are sexist, or believe certain religious ideals for the weirdest of reasons. A lot of this balances on a thin line, and it’s easy to see people being susceptible to it and how easy it is to fall into, but Strangers With Candy never lets us forget how absurd and silly it all is, especially from such a compounded character.

I started off with wondering what other shows Strangers With Candy is like. It’s not a mockumentary of late like a Modern Family, The Office, or Parks And Recreation. And it’s not really a cringe-worthy show like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Peep Show. But, fittingly it’s quite like its Comedy Central cohort in South Park. Both shows rely on seemingly dumb and trivial jokes that seem to come from the mind of a pre-teen, but are almost always propped up by a deeper message of a societal critique or parody of a common-held belief system. No matter how vulgar or demeaning a joke becomes in either series, it’s usually furthering something in the juxtaposition of content and message, and leads as further evidence to back up the satiric element they are focusing on. Well… most of the time, because sometimes dick jokes without any context are just plain funny.

That’s what I like about Strangers With Candy, it never guides your hand or makes sure you understand that this is a work of comedy and satire, it plays everything straight and never winks at the audience to any effect of “Yeah, we know this is silly, but you all know we’re making a joke, right?” This show falling into the hands of the dumbest and most gullible person on earth would be the biggest WMD you’d ever see, and would create the most vile and unforgiving person. But, we’re of course smarter than that, and recognize the affront to these types of moral driven specials, and special episodes of sitcoms meant to drive home that one particular theme. It takes some of the sillies and dumbest ideas and jokes to make one of the smartest, sharpest, and critical shows of the last twenty years.

(They won’t let me embed this on here, but here’s a good YouTube compilation video of all the “morals” and “lessons” that Jerri learns, in case the concept of what I’m trying to say is lost on you, or you just want to enjoy them again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CH-9tVbKCM)

Top 10 Returning TV Shows I’m Looking Forward To This Fall

1. ‘Homeland’

This was my favourite show of last year for so many reasons, and I could just gush on and on about how great it is. Once upon a time, ’24’ was not only my favourite TV show, but also, like, my favourite thing in the entire world. While my full thoughts on ’24’ will be left for some other time, I was thus excited that Howard Gordon (along with later ’24’ compadre’ Alex Gansa) were getting their own show on network’s older brother, cable. The cast is just utterly fantastic, with Claire Danes, probably my favourite actress, consistently knocking it out of the park, episode after episode. She is given every actors’ wet dream, playing a character with a disability (bi-polar), and even though it seems like awards bait, Danes grounds the disorder and makes it crushingly realistic when her disorder gets in the way of her job. She’s had the best Actress Emmy locked up for awhile now. Damian Lewis is very solid, perfectly playing someone who you feel like you can trust, all the while being the most suspicious person ever. Mandy Patinkin was also revived from wherever he’s been hanging out for the better part of 20 years and is terrific as well.

As cool as the premise is though, it pretty much begs to be told through a short 6-12 episode miniseries rather than a full-fledged series with an intent to go multiple seasons. From episode to episode, I never knew what to expect, as I legitimately did not no where they could go next, and the deaths of main characters seemed like a serious option. The first season played out the premise perfectly, but going forth into season two, I have no clue how they are going to maintain what they created as a lot played out and a fair bit was revealed. I’m insanely excited and nervous for season two, but that was the same position I was in before season one, so fingers crossed they pull it off again.

2. ‘Parenthood’

I actually love this show as much, and possibly more than ‘Homeland’, because it causes me no stress in watching it (unlike ‘Homeland’). I love to hang out with these characters and because it’s a family drama that’s set in a particular rhythm, I don’t have to be concerned about anyone dying (DON”T YOU DARE, KATIMS). I don’t mean to make this sound like a slight against the show, but there are few stakes here and nothing really makes you feel for the safety of these characters. It’s just terrific emotional resonance, with the goings-on of a large family which may not have life-and-death consequences, like most shows, but can faithfully deliver moments that hit hard. This show is a nice safety net where I can tune in and be moved and care for these characters but still be confident that no huge twists or left-field plot movements will occur. It’s a small family drama and I absolutely love it for that. I’m looking forward to spending more time with the Braverman clan (even if NBC doesn’t think it’s worth a full episode order!).

3. ‘The Good Wife’

If you told me in early September 2009 that ‘The Good Wife’ would be one of my favourite shows for the better part of three years (and counting), I would have thought you were smoking something illegal. I’ve always liked Juliana Margulies and knew absolutely nothing about the series going in, besides Juliana’s sweet, sweet locks. Anyways, it’s procedural nature was a bit of a turn off, but it eventually turned into one of the smartest shows on TV and became not only the best show on network television, but one of the best shows on any channel. The cast is fantastic with its incredibly sprawling guest cast filled to the brim with depth and skill. I usually don’t look forward to case-of-the-week shows, but this is the grand exception, with intelligent cases and resolutions, as well as compelling running storylines. Season three wasn’t as great as season two, but it made some nice steps that make me very excited (Margulies’ robot acting aside), for what Robert and Michelle King will deliver in season four.

4. ‘Treme’

It’s been over a year since we’ve had a new episode of ‘Treme’ and that’s a damn shame. Not that many people watch this show or even know about it, but I’m a huge proponent of it. I’m a big David Simon and it’s hyperbole by now, but, ‘The Wire’ is the best show of all time (okay, not really, ‘The Simpsons’ is the best show of all time, but whatever). Man, the culture and passion that bubbles out of this show is incredibly infectious and a breath of fresh air in a progressively clogged and arrogant-glut of storytelling where apparently characters don’t matter as much as story. ‘Treme’ isn’t the most story-driven show, nor does it want or need to be, just like the ‘The Wire’, it’s filled with characters who feel real, because, well, they’re all usually based on someone real, but also, they are always so faithful and true to their characteristics. The culture of New Orleans is the real star of this show and it’s incredible that each episode can capture so much of New Orleans and do justice to this wonderful yet tortured city, trying to rebuild both physically and culturally in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. As this is New Orleans, music is a co-star as well, and the aside musical performances put ‘Glee’, ‘Smash’ and others to complete shame. Jesus, if nothing else, watch this show for the music, I dare you to try and not sing along to the theme song. I’m looking forward to what David Simon and company have cooked up for season three, should be good, just hope there’s some other people watching as well.

5. ‘Fringe’

Now, here ‘Fringe’ starts to get a bit dicey. I enjoyed season four, I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it like some people did. Fan reaction seems to be pretty mixed on the season as a whole but it was pretty decent to me, although not as great as season three, probably the best season. I kind of respect ‘Fringe’ for what they did in season four, even though they kind of made the first three seasons non-existent and re-invented certain elements with everybody being technically “new” characters. I won’t go in to detail but whether you or I think they pulled everything off correctly, I respect the hell out of Wyman and Pinkner for doing something on a show that I’ve never seen before. Seeing as how next season is for sure going to be the last, and they supposedly have a game plan in order, I’m looking forward to what the last 13 episodes of ‘Fringe’ brings.

6. ‘Boardwalk Empire’

Season one of “Boardwalk” was fine, nothing special, but a decent series, albeit with some too obvious symbolism. The beginning of season two started out much the same, but later grew into a show that was more confident in itself, its characters and the types of stories it told. Without spoiling things, “Boardwalk” didn’t pull any punches towards the end and delivered a string of great episodes that changed the fabric of the show leading into season three that lesser shows would have backed out on. With some of the decisions that were made creatively in the latter episodes of the season, “Boardwalk” earned a lot of credit with me. I’m genuinely interested to see how everything will play out now with a shift of power and reverberations that will be felt throughout the whole show, and can’t be taken back (hopefully). Terence Winter did work on ‘The Sopranos’ after all, I’d say we can trust him.

7. ‘Parks & Recreation’

Now, I’m afraid my thoughts on this show aren’t very deep except for, it’s the funniest show on TV (actually, besides ‘Archer’). I thought the season four plotline of Leslie running for office was okay, but not as great as season 2 and season 3 were. But, beyond a few hiccups in the season, no other show makes me laugh like this one, and makes me care about all the characters at the same time, so I look forward to any and all “Parks & Recreation”, especially Andy and Tom.

8. ‘Glee’

Yeah, I said it, GLEE! But, not because it’s good or going to be good or anything. This show just fascinates the hell out of me. I have seen every episode, but I kind of hate it (not kind of, I do) and 90% (that other 10% is Britney and staring at Naya Rivera) of the characters annoy me. It’s just that there occasionally there are specific moments and scenes that really hit and are legitimate remnants of a show that once could have been. The last two episodes of season three were literally pretty great and just frustrate me even further with this show. It’s the most schizophrenic show going from semi-good to terrible to great in a matter of scenes and moments. There’s no consistency with the show and it seems like Ryan Murphy and company forget important details from episode to episode, but I keep on watching. The music is  pretty bad and I usually have no clue what new song they’re singing, so it keeps me in the wind and unable to connect with any of their lip-syncing, Britney Spears calibre or not. Next season they’re splitting time between NYC and Ohio as some students graduate to college as the others stay in Ohio. Ryan Murphy seems to think it’s going to be revolutionary how they split the time and all, ummm it isn’t, you’re just cutting back and forth like every other show has done with separate locations. It’ll probably suck, but for some reason I’ll keep watching. Help!

9. ‘The Office’

Seasons 2-5 of ‘The Office, were legitimately pretty great (at least my memories a little hazy when the it started getting bad, or at least less consistent), but everything else than that was pretty lazy with the occasional good episode sprinkled in between. It was once one of my favourite shows, and sadly I still hold the dimmest of candles for it even though it’s pretty bad now and a shadow of it once was. Season 8 was the pinnacle of disappointment with no direction shown, and a real sense of not caring about what this show once was. It was just a lazy season of television with no feeling of a need to make any forward progression, even though it desperately need it, of all seasons. Season nine will be its last, with former showrunner Greg Daniels to return as showrunner who promises a return to form, the answering of long-lingering questions and actual story/character arcs. Will they succeed at all of this? I don’t know, probably not fully at least, but like  ‘Glee’, I’m looking forward to the chaos ahead, for some reason.

10. ‘Community’

Let me say this right off the bat, I like ‘Community’, but I don’t love ‘Community’. I know lots of people (well people on the internet, nobody ever talks about it beyond the confines of the interwebz) are obsessed with this show and think it’s the greatest thing ever. Don’t get me wrong, I have flat-out loved episodes, but I still don’t think it’s really all that special of a show. I respect and mostly like the random and weird places Dan Harmon took the show, and the way he and company structured or created new ways of telling his stories within the sitcom format. I think it gets to be a bit of a crutch at times and they’ve relied on these “different” and form-breaking episodes to much in order to coast on nostalgia and post-modernism, albeit effectively. But, when it becomes too much of the shows identity is where it comes off as more surface-based flair, and less substance beneath.

On the other hand, there were several episodes that did seem to create a deeper resonance by testing the bonds of these characters and that through line became more interesting (to me anyways) than whatever “event” type episode they had, or whatever they were spoofing. I think with Dan Harmon leaving that some of these deeper relations between the characters and their connections to each other, and how they rely and depend on each, no matter if they show it on the surface or not, will be lost. Harmon seemed to be providing some of the darker and deeper elements that put strains on character relationships and really made each member of the study group evaluate each other and how they themselves fit in. It seems like without Harmon’s guiding hand, it’ll become more of a broad comedy, with a bigger emphasis on wacky episodes and elements, while doing away with the majority of the bubbling under of real feelings. While it’ll still probably be a competent and funny show, I fear that this will be as far as it goes, losing some of its depth of what made several of its episodes some of the best in the form from these past couple of years.

‘Up All Night”s Place On NBC And How It’s Funnier Than You Think

Up All Night is kind of the forgotten sitcom on NBC (insert joke here that all NBC shows are forgotten). So, on Wednesday’s we had Whitney, one of the worst shows we’ve seen in a while and Are You There, Chelsea?, the worst show since, well, Whitney. While not entirely viewer heavy themselves, they’re nowhere near funny enough for us to ever discuss again.  They graciously finished up their seasons in favour of the actually pretty good Bent (R.I.P.) and the “Adam Pally clone” starring Best Friends Forever. NBC promptly took these shows out behind the shed before anyone even realized they had a new pet. Now, NBC’s PRIME UNCONTESTED UNBREAKABLE THURSDAY NIGHT OF COMEDY is, of course, falling in the ratings like everything else on the network, only to be somewhat redeemed critically by two shows. These two shows, Parks & Recreation and Community, although critical darlings are only getting slightly serviceable ratings (for NBC anyways), and remain one of NBC’s (very) few bright spots, so they’re set aside. 30 Rock seems content to churn out the same episodes until the dwindling ratings cause it to be cancelled, or Tina Fey wants to go focus on being a mother, or something equally ridiculous. The Office is falling in ratings, laughs, proper story lines, showrunners and cast members, looks like it has a bright future.

This is where Up All Night comes in. Yes, its ratings are falling as well, BUT SO IS EVERYTHING ELSE ON NBC, so lets just throw ratings out the window and never talk about them again (well, in this article) and focus on the content of the show(s). Nobody really seems to be paying attention to Up All Night anymore and I do see why. I’ve read a lot about people saying its not funny or it never delivers laugh out loud jokes, just a serviceable comedy for a couple small laughs. While that can be true in some cases, Up All Night is slotted with comedies that are completely different in tone and make-up. It’s not wacky like Community or 30 Rock, and its not as character driven yet (I’m speaking broadly here) as Parks & Recreation or The Office. Up All Night is grounded more in reality than its preceding shows and it seems like this exterior might be making some viewers wary since it isn’t a joke-a-minute sitcom like Community. It can be equally satisfying but in a more truer to life comedic slant where jokes are played off the trials and tribulations of parenting and the production of a talk show with an eccentric celebrity. Coming off its lead-in shows is quite the change of pace when segueing into Up All Night, and some people have just tuned out by then, literally and figuratively.

Up All Night is very funny though, and I find myself laughing out loud more than I do in latter episodes of The Office or even sometimes at Community (Just kidding! I just wanted to see how you’d react, well, kind of, but seriously, I’m not the biggest Community fan, but I do think it is a better than Up All Night). Will Arnett has great delivery and thus is able to save a lot of jokes and lines due to him being relegated as a “stay at home dad” type. Also, off on a slight tangent, Will Arnett has seemingly made his California-bred character a Toronto Maple Leafs/hockey fan (just like himself in real-life), which if you hadn’t been transported to California from elsewhere, I don’t think this person even exists if they were born and raised in California. A Californian who is a Toronto Maple Leafs fan? Alright, then. Christina Applegate is surprising game for a lot of things and will continue to grow as a character as long as they get some of her shrewdness in order (the character, not Applegate, I’m sure she couldn’t be more wonderful). The biggest change was probably getting Maya Rudolph’s character in order and having Jason Lee as her boyfriend, which helped ground her character and leave her less reliant on always being around Arnett and Applegate. There’s also an underlying sadness in Rudolph’s character which is just tapped enough to be effective and not overdone. Rudolph plays these emotional beats very well, garnering some sympathy for her character, especially against some of her comedic highs. Rudolph still has killer one-liners each episode, which largely contribute to the “laugh-out-loud” section of jokes.

I’m not writing this article to say that Up All Night is the greatest or funniest show ever (which its not), but just to shed some light on how I feel it got buried in the sand a bit and painted with a broad brush in terms of comedy style. It doesn’t even get the kinds of publicity or recognition from NBC that it gives to good shows (Parks & Recreation) and bad shows (Smash). I’m probably not even supposed to like this show, it’s about a married couple with a new baby and a women’s talk show host, I couldn’t possibly think of two worse things. But, of course it’s the actors that make or break it, and they do in deed make it. With its dwindling ratings (less than 3 million) who knows if it will get another season (Will Arnett curse) and if it doesn’t I won’t lose any sleep over it and probably will forget about it quicker than NBC burned off Bent. This is whole thing is basically just to say “Hey, guys! Up All Night is actually a little better and funnier than you originally gave it credit for!”. All I’m saying is that Up All Night may not be Parks & Recreation, but it sure isn’t Whitney, by a loooooooooong stretch.

“Where Everybody Knows Your Name” — Why Season 1 Of ‘Cheers’ Works So Well

    Cheers has always been high up in my pantheon of great T.V. (alongside shows such as Lost and Homicide: Life On The Streets, among others) that I’ve always wanted to watch but were unable to for a variety of reasons including length and let’s face it, watching other shows. After finally giving in, I mainlined the first season of Cheers in about a day and a half. It didn’t disappoint.

For the uninitiated, Cheers concerns the everyday lives of people working at or just drinking at the Cheers bar in Boston. Sam (Ted Danson) the owner has a witticism filled back and forth “Will they/won’t they” with Diane (Shelley Long) the newly hired waitress. Coach (Nicholas Colasanto) is the dimwitted, but lovable older man who tends bar. Carla (Rhea Perlman) is a wisecracking, single mother waitress and Norm’s (George Wendt) the guy who’s, well, just always there drinking.

The greatest thing about Cheers is that whatever you expect or demand from a sitcom, Cheers has it in spades. Do you like hangout sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother or Seinfeld (Sorry, I’m going to use more current sitcom examples in comparison as it’s what I’m unfortunately most versed in)? Cheers has got that. Do you like a more relationship driven, “Will they/won’t they” plot like The Office (UK mainly, but also early season of the U.S.version)? Cheers has got that. Do you like sitcoms with great characters, dynamics and chemistry like Cougar Town or Happy Endings? Of Course, Cheers has also got that. Cheers is able to combine these elements in every episode they produce, whether it’s the straight up comedic bits that take precedent or the Sam/Diane relationship.

One of the most famous and unique bits about Cheers is that it takes place solely in a bar over it’s 22 episodes of season one. World building for most shows is expanding locations, people and ideas that make us believe this place really exists and creates an interconnectedness that allows us to be immersed in a fully formed world. Cheers world building includes slowly showing us the backroom, the bathroom, and Sam’s office as new locations that seem brightly new, even within this contained space. Perhaps the greatest feature of the Cheers set, besides I guess the bar itself, is the door leading into the building. We’re given windows leading up to the door, giving us a few seconds to mull over who this character entering the bar is and how he/she will interact with the characters. There’s a very stagy quality to character arrivals, it is a sitcom after all, but this gives precedence to these new characters and allows them to feel part of the world of Cheers, even if only for an episode. A bar might just be the perfect place for a sitcom as it’s a naturally gathering point that sees many different kinds of personalities pop in and out.

The thing that sets apart Cheers for me is that it does both comedy and drama so well, in a medium of sitcoms where drama can be extremely hard to do, Cheers manages to avoid doing anything ham-fisted or cheaply. The through line of the series with the Sam/Diane relationship is done extremely well where it either has episodes that develop larger building blocks in their eventual joining as a couple, or smaller parts of episodes where they share a quick glance, or some kind of witty banter. Like a lot of stereotypical “flirting”, a lot of the Sam/Diane plot consists of them making fun of each other in their differences, Sam being a ex-baseball/jock, while Diane the uptight, “educated” one. A lot of Cheers is also built from a lot of dark and shady pasts too, with Sam being a former alcoholic as his sobriety gets tested everyday he’s in the bar. In one of the standout episodes of the season, just before the halfway point, “Endless Slumper”, Sam gives his good luck bottle cap (from his last beer he ever drank) to a fellow baseball player, and finds himself tempted to dive back into the bottle. Diane sticks around after hours to make sure this doesn’t happen. The lingering tension and energy between the two helps strengthen each individually as characters, but also develops their bond as people together, not only romantically but on a more deeper human level.

     Cheers never shortchanges any of it’s characters, they all get a moment in the spotlight, whether it be Norm’s job woes, Carla’s pregnancy or with Coach’s daughter. As the season progresses, the creators Glen Charles, Les Charles and James Burrows seem to figure out each characters niche a little more and slot them in these positions that develop their character, as well as the chemistry of the bar. Carla maintains a slightly larger role in the beginning of the season, but as it progresses, she adopts a more laid back role where she’ll pop in just to crack a few wise comments (usually in Diane’s direction), which falls perfectly into Rhea Perlman’s wheelhouse. On the flip-side, Cliff (John Ratzenberger) the mailman at the outset of the series looks to be a character on the exact fringes of the barflies, only to pop in a line or two either at the expense or set up of a joke or some exposition. As the season moves on he develops a larger (albeit still supporting) role which sees him spouting off his facts or engaging other bar staff or Norm. Obviously his rapport with the characters and unique direction allowed him to slide into a more stronger role which seems completely natural now.

     Cheers for me does exactly what I’ve always wanted a sitcom to do, deliver comedically and dramatically, without either side feeling cheap or detrimental to the other. It’s really remarkable how well the dramatic bits work, and perhaps the greatest part is that they don’t feel like they’re standing out too much, as they’re able to transgress nicely into them. Some of the darker elements of the personalities of each character maintains this subtle uneasiness and allows the transition to feel genuine. Cheers works because it doesn’t skimp or skip out on the dramatic beats that are sure to reach these characters, but it embraces them and makes everybody the better for them, whether the repercussions are felt immediately or 10 episodes down the line. Oh, and it’s damn funny.

On to season two…

Essential episodes: “Give Me A Ring Sometime” (S01, E01), “Endless Slumper” (S01, E10), “Diane’s Perfect Date” (S01, E17), “Showdown” (S01, E21-E22).