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January 14, 2016

What’s the Best Comedy on TV?

Have I mentioned before how much I miss How I Met Your Mother?  I have?  Well, I just thought I’d bring it up again -- because man, I loved that show.  Still do, arguably, seeing as how there are still reruns airing.

I just thought I’d open with that, because 1) I have a confession to make, and 2) I’m probably about to rustle a few tail feathers.  So here we go.  Controversial opinion time.  Ready?

I’ve never been able to make it through a full episode of 2 Broke Girls.  And thinking back on what I’ve seen, I’m kind of proud of that fact.

Let’s be real here.  I’m not saying that anyone who likes 2 Broke Girls is wrong for liking it, or that they’re stupid.  They have their opinions, I have mine, and I’d like to think that we can all respect each other -- even if we don’t necessarily agree on certain points.  That’s a given, but this is the internet, and it’s all too easy for people to forget about that basic tenet all the time every now and then.  So I’ll go ahead and say it clearly.

Now that that’s out of the way: it is a struggle for me to watch 2 Broke Girls.  Since this past fall, its reruns took the place of How I Met Your Mother -- particularly at the time slot where I sit down and eat something.  That’s led to situations where, instead of watching the show I love, I (potentially) end up having to settle for something I…well, have a notable distaste for.  I’ve given it one chance after another, but I’m lucky to make it to the ten- or even five-minute mark before my hand goes rocketing toward the remote.  Or just bailing out at top speed.

Speaking personally?  It’s pretty much intolerable.  There’s a deluge of pop culture references that get worn out seconds after they’ve left the characters’ mouths.  Sex jokes and dirty humor abound, but the show doesn’t seem to understand that constantly spewing them out reduces their impact -- and boy, does that impact get reduced.  The laugh track is abused to the point of becoming a self-parody, and demolishes what little flow and comedic timing the show had left. 

I’m having a hard time thinking of a single character that’s likable -- and to be fair, you can have the most unlikable characters in the universe as long as they’re funny…but that is definitely not the case here.  And I’ve got nothing against Kat Dennings, but why does it sound like she’s shouting three quarters of her lines?  Is her mic broken?  Is that her default volume?  Or…maybe that’s actually her inside voice, and she’s dialing it back so she doesn’t make the cast’s ears bleed?

So yeah, 2 Broke Girls is not the show for me.  But it has gotten me thinking about what show -- comedy, specifically -- I could use to fill the gaping void left by HIMYM.  I don’t expect every show to be exactly like the sprawling tale of Ted Mosby and friends, but it’s not as if I need the best of the best just to get my mood up to normal.  With that in mind, I feel like I need to step back even further than just ask “Hey guys, what TV show should I watch?”  Maybe it’s time to go right back to step one.

So let’s flip the script and ask a different question: what’s the key to a good comedy?  (The most shocking swerve of 2016 -- a question within a question!)

Like I said, I don’t expect every show to be HIMYM, because that’d mean turning my back on a lot of different shows.  If anything, that show was an anomaly -- a serialized, televised string of arcs that followed Ted’s journey from a single New Yorker to a man who experienced the ins and outs of every facet of life.  Oh, and also he found the woman of his dreams, but it’s not really about her.  (Don’t tell that to some of the die-hard fans, though.)  There’s no shortage of jokes and absurdity, but there was a surprising amount of thematic heft -- the clash between will and reason, idealism versus cynicism, romanticism versus realism, acceptance and rejection, and even predestination.  It just happened to be sandwiched between slaps and the occasional musical number.  Seriously, can you believe this show’s got a soundtrack?

I guess on some level, it’s best not to slot a comedy -- HIMYM or otherwise -- solely into the comedy slot; it’s a story first, and the specific genre follows afterward.  Well, that’s a generalization, but the point still holds some water: stories have their purpose, and that purpose gets refined based on the genre.  We can agree on that much, can’t we?

So pared down to the absolute basics, the key to a good comedy is that it should make people laugh.  How do you accomplish that?  Well, it’s not as if there’s a wrong way to do it; there have been enough techniques developed over the years to make anything viable.  Puns, slapstick, wordplay, sight gags, satire, absurdism, and whatever you’d call Aqua Teen Hunger Force are all possibilities that can be tapped.  But the key, I think, is that it takes skill to string those jokes together into a cohesive whole.  In a sense, it’s all about the rhythm.

This is probably one of my big issues with 2 Broke Girls (and something like The Big Bang Theory as well, but let’s not whack that hornet’s nest).  Yes, the point of a comedy is to get those laughs, but taken in a broader scope, it’s also about entertainment.  A comedy can still be a comedy without turning every line into a joke.  HIMYM understood that, and gave itself room to breathe -- time to establish the plot, provide the proper setup, build arcs, and develop characters.  It makes for fewer jokes in the long run, sure, but it creates new opportunities and things to play off of.  There’s foundation for more, and more, and more.

Conversely, something like 2 Broke Girls is all about the rapid-fire jokes.  That’s not to say there isn’t an overarching plot, but it’s a lot easier to lose track of in the face of the one-two, one-two combination the show keeps throwing out.  “Joke”!  Laugh track!  “Joke”!  Laugh track!  And so on.  That’s a simplification of it, but that’s definitely what it feels like, especially in the opening minutes of several episodes.  Now, I’ve heard that these days the laugh track is actually an audience honestly (?) reacting to recordings of an episode, but it still doesn’t change the fact that when handled poorly, the comedic rhythm loses its effectiveness.  And quality, for that matter.

Speaking of which…

I’m wary of talking about Family Guy again, given that the last time I did it nearly destroyed my soul.  But I can’t think of a better example that proves the golden rule: whatever you do, you have to do it well.  Family Guy does not.  Its bag of tricks couldn’t even hold a walnut; what tries to play off as edgy, in-your-face, and rapid-fire pretty much comes off as petty, hateful, and -- if you can believe it -- predictable.  There’s not enough content to hit the 22-minute mark, which is bad enough when you’re an animated sitcom; worse yet, there’s not enough comedy to fill half that time…which is kind of a problem when you’re a comedy.

The counter-argument is, in my opinion, one of my favorite shows ever: Everybody Loves Raymond.  Put simply, it’s a show about a family that’s collectively insane, unlikable, and barely capable of functioning in society…and it’s great.  Every joke lands.  Every character can play off of every other character.  It doesn’t need an overarching plot, because the show succeeds on the strength of a bunch of terrible people locking horns.  Granted there are plenty of thoughtful and tender moments sprinkled throughout, but that’s practically a bonus.  It’s a comedy that delivers top-notch comedy, irrespective of its laugh track…a laugh track that, if you ask me, is actually deserved.

But that’s all in my opinion, and not even a complete one.  I’m no comedy expert or genius, and there are a lot of things out there that I never would have guessed even existed, let alone could prove entertaining.  So here’s the part where I open the floor and ask the question du jour:  what’s the best comedy on TV?  And as a corollary, what’s the key to a good comedy?  And as a corollary to the corollary, here’s the big one: what’s your favorite comedy ever, whether it’s on the air or banished to the syndication realm?

It’s show time at the Apollo, people.  Ready?  Set…comment!

…Is what I would like to say.  But I just remembered that the apotheosis of comedy is a good pie to the face, thereby rendering this entire post moot.

Oh well.  Off to the garbage it goes, then!

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