Remember when the universally adored and overrated The Shawshank Redemption first hit theaters and didn't do so well? Scuttlebutt was the cryptic title was to blame for the lukewarm reaction.
I don’t truck with the “bad title as repellent” theory. Should they have called it “Wrongfully jailed man forms intense platonic relationship with fellow inmate while slowly digging out of prison using schemes from 500 other movies?” Of course not. If you skip something because the title doesn’t spell it out then you are an idiot and deserve to be mocked. But a bad title can have leave a negative first impression. For instance, when I saw a few ads for television shows named “Jake in Progress” and “Emily’s Reasons Why Not," I immediately knew I would never watch them because they suck. Sitcoms are bad enough without the abstract titles.
I am no fan of most sitcoms for the same reasons you’re not: the formula is stale (set-up/set-up/joke), the humor is puerile, repetitive, unoriginal, and bland, the laugh tracks are insulting and intrusive, etc. Yet every few years, when a popular one goes off the air, the media starts bemoaning the death of the format and the networks make a few awkward, half-hearted attempts to breath some life back into it with typically poor results.
Apparently the latest innovation is impenetrable titles. Or else it’s propping up untalented nobodies as legendary stars for whose return the public has been clamoring (Jenna Elf-who?).
Networks don’t like to take risks. The few legitimately unique and interesting shows are given a short leash (we should be thankful that "Arrested Development" has somehow lasted for two and a half glorious seasons!) and the painfully generic, timid and boring shows are left to linger until they attract viewers like roadkill draws buzzards.
The latest wave of "creativity" has produced decent shows like "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office." They aren't so much original as they are original-ish: can ripping off a Coen brothers movie and a British program really be called originality? Regardless, NBC further mitigates their risk by shoving them down our throats with ubiquitous marketing campaigns while something like the truly goofy and fresh "Scrubs" gets passed around the schedule like the Wonderball.
Most sitcoms these days play it safe, and apparently that means making sure they share one quality: boorish, pig-headed men, with most of the men paired with incongruously hot wives (or at least Jon Cryer.) Oh, the hijinks that ensue as she exasperatedly shrugs off her doofus husband’s immature behavior on this week's “King of Queens,” and "Still Standing" and that Jim Belushi travesty (no, not K-9. Not Curly Sue. Not Traces of Red. Not Taking Care of Business. The TV show travesty. No, not “Wild Palms.”) These shows, seemingly based around the fantasies of lazy middle-aged men with beer guts and no ambition, do well in the ratings. And until recently, I never understood why.
Media critics and concerned mothers are always babbling about how TV is a wasteland and doesn’t utilize its potential as a teaching tool. But I think my experiences prove that not only can TV help someone learn and adjust to an unfamiliar way of life, horribly bad programming can significantly lower one’s standards to the point that John Belushi’s infinitely less talented brother seems worthy of emulation.
I’ve been living with my girlfriend for just about a year now and after months of being chastised for things like dropping my socks on the floor, leaving the cap off the toothpaste and watching too much TV, I've realized that, just like the guys on those shows, I can’t do anything right. Not because I am a bad boyfriend or a bad person, but because I am a man. And that cannot be rectified, not even by Brokeback Mountain.
“According to Jim” has helped me cope. Embracing the wisdom of Jim and his TV brethren, I’ve finally resigned myself to giving into my manliness and maximizing the few moments of control I get every week by drinking beer and watching football. The rest of my time is spent apologizing. It works well.
I’m the boorish slob she tolerates and she’s the smokin’ hot rock of foundation on which our happy life together relies. She deals with my constant blunders because she can’t carry the Christmas tree outside and I accept her constant nagging because I am an out-of-shape Neanderthal with no other options. Quite frankly, I need her to save me from myself.
I am Man, hear me snore.
And I would never have made this breakthrough without those wonderful programs. They are the shows we should be watching. They are the shows most of the country already is watching. They give us much-needed clues on how to cope with our own overwhelming mediocrity and revel in the banality of our daily existence.
The so-called "good" sitcoms merely remind us of how boring and unentertaining our lives are in comparison with those they depict. That hanging out at a bar all day might be fun, but it can cause relationship issues. That cynically nitpicking everyday minutiae and ceaselessly pinpointing the tiny flaws of normal people may be a laugh riot, but is ultimately unfulfilling and can even land you in jail. That a corrupt father, a boozebag matriarch, a pompous magician, a socially stunted mama’s boy with a hook for a hand, a teen lusting after his cousin, a spoiled slut, her latently homosexual analrapist husband and one son who has no choice but to keep them all together do not make good role models, no matter how hilarious their shenanigans may be. At least the title of the show makes sense: getting your "development arrested" is Mike's reason why not...to watch!
After all, why laugh at the incredibly dense, subtle, well-performed, and brilliantly written goings-on of an outrageous clan of dysfunctional lunatics when you can better learn from a pre-fab, laugh-tracked depiction of boring people bumbling their weekly way into familial love and understanding? The Bluths don’t teach me anything I can use, especially since I can't hear all their offensive non-moralizing through my laughter. I look to my idiot box for life lessons, not unproductive smiling brought about by inappropriate humor, and there's no better place to get them than from the actual idiots on that box.
Thank God Jim Belushi and Charlie Sheen are around to make sure there's no laughter about to sabotage my education. Gentlemen, my girlfriend thanks you. Not only has a television full of men like you helped me learn my place, it's finally made me want to turn off my set.
Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".
ABOUT MIKE JULIANELLE
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
1.16.06 @ 1:45a
...that Jim Belushi travesty (no, not K-9. Not Curly Sue. Not Traces of Red. Not Blues Brothers 2000. Not Taking Care of Business. The TV show travesty. No, not “Wild Palms.”)
Oh my God, I can barely breathe, I laughed so hard at that.
1.16.06 @ 8:00a
Personally, I'll watch anything with Zack Braff in it.
1.16.06 @ 9:55a
I can't think of any reason to turn on a network television sit-com or news show other than to have my intelligence insulted.
1.16.06 @ 11:16a
They aren't so much original as they are original-ish: can ripping off a Coen brothers movie and a British program really be called originality?
No, especially when the British version is inherently better; i.e., droll, subtly naughty humor that makes you think you're way through the double entendres rather than in your face, we-must-be-blatant-because-Americans-are-nitwits raunchiness.
Thank heavens for PBS.
1.16.06 @ 1:30p
"My Name is Earl" rips off a Coen brothers movie? Which one?
1.16.06 @ 3:05p
The Office (American) has grown on me.
And oddly, "Earl" is starting to wear on me.
1.16.06 @ 5:18p
I think the general tone and characterizations borrow a bunch from Raising Arizona. I'm pretty sure some critics have noticed too.
1.17.06 @ 5:57a
Have you seen Crumbs on ABC? I liked the first ep, and will give it a second viewing this week. Not really big on sitcoms. The last one I really liked was Molly Dodd, and that was billed as a 'dramady.'
1.17.06 @ 8:08a
The American Office has grown on me too, but like Lisa said, it's far inferior to the British original. Everything is exaggerated. The characters on the British show seemed realistic, I don't get the sense that Carell's boss is even close to being real.
I watched the first few eps of Earl and quickly quit it. I thought it was okay but was getting old after only a few eps.
1.17.06 @ 10:58a
I like the American Office far better than the British one. The British one just isn't funny to me. Meanwhile, Steve Carell cracks me up. It's funny to me when a guy that weird is your boss, as opposed to just one of your co-workers.
1.17.06 @ 3:19p
Most sitcoms target men. Other shows, dramas seem to target more women. Both however use the same formula that I think you're pointing out.
Take the most popular gash show on TV, Lost. The show is about a bunch of hot men lost running around half naked on an island with a bunch of broken whores(Kate, Shannon, Claire, and even the asian chick have been painted in this light)--- also in many case are portrayed as abusive and viscoius. In many cases the men are the abused or victims.
The formula is the same. It makes the target market feel worthy of being part of the show since one side is portrayed in a bad light.