Modern Day Sitcoms: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Going back to one of my very first articles, I said that ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ was probably my favourite TV show ever. I’ve watched a lot of great, critically acclaimed TV, but ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ is just my favourite. So this week has been a rollercoaster, as a few days ago it was announced that it had been cancelled due to low ratings, before NBC picked it up a day later to renew it for a sixth season, after a large reaction from the internet. It’s not the first time that the masses have fought to bring back a show. ‘Chuck’ was initially cancelled, before outraged fans (and Subway) fought to bring it back, and it was awesome. But what got me thinking this week is that in the same week ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ was cancelled, ‘The Big Bang Theory’ was renewed for a 12th season. A 12th season. For ‘The Big Bang Theory’. Who is still watching this show?? I’ll be honest, I used to like TBBT, when I was about 14, I watched it all up to about Season 8, before realising that it just wasn’t very funny. Like, not at all. So in this article I’m going to talk about what separates a good sitcom from a bad one, and try and figure out why the masses watch TBBT over B99 (spoilers: I never find the answer to this question).

Let’s look at TBBT. For those lucky ones of you that don’t know what it is, it’s based around a group of 4 nerdy scientists who live across the hall from a good looking, dumb blonde girl. Add in a few more main characters along the way, some will they/won’t they tension between the least geeky guy and the girl, enough pop culture references to make you sick and more laugh track than actual jokes, and 11 seasons later you have a cast earning $1m per episode. Jesus Christ. Now, I don’t buy into all the videos online of TBBT without the laugh track, because obviously if you take away a laugh track from a show then it’ll sound weird and there’ll be odd pauses, but that’s because they’re filming a show with a laugh track. My issue isn’t with that, my issue is with the amount they use the laugh track in relation to how many jokes there are. Apparently there are about 9 or 10 pauses for laughter per minute. I don’t know if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me, and that’s just too much for a show that isn’t funny. Yes, there are some funny moments, but actually thinking about it now, there’s not a single moment of comedy in TBBT that has stuck with me. I can’t think of a single joke. Even other shows like ‘Friends’ and ‘HIMYM’ that use a laugh track and are hardly high-quality, have moments that were genuinely funny. Instead of using actual wit and any sort of clever writing, TBBT resorts to referencing nerd culture, repeating out-dated and unfunny stereotypes, and helping you laugh at a guy with Asperger’s without feeling too guilty about it (no disrespect to Jim Parsons, who is one of the few good things). If I had to highlight one line that basically sums up everything wrong with the show, it’s this one:

“So it’s settled. The fate of Doctor Who’s TARDIS will be decided by a Game of Thrones inspired death-match on the battlefield of ThunderCats versus Transformers.” – Howard

Of course, this line is followed by rapturous laughter from the ‘live audience’. But seriously, where’s the joke…? I really just find TBBT insulting to the general public. It tricks you into thinking you’re watching something smart, because it’s making jokes about science, when really you’re watching some of the lowest brow, unfunny, unintelligent humour on TV.

The Big Bang Theory is the Friends of the iPhone generation.

So while the utter mess gets a 12th season, ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ gets cancelled (for a day). It’s odd, because I always thought it was a really beloved show, with a cult following, similar to how ‘Community’ was, I guess. And judging by the reaction on the internet, I can’t believe the ratings were so low, especially when it’s always met with critical acclaim. But what separates B99 apart from the plethora of boring, mediocre sitcoms? I guess we can talk about its diversity, which people seem to love, but that doesn’t make it funny. It’s great that there’s two black leads, two Latina leads and two LGBT leads, but that doesn’t really contribute towards the humour. I think what makes it great is the characters, and how well written and unique they all are. Let’s take Captain Holt, a perfect example of a completely unique character. Holt is initially introduced to us as a strict, monotonous new Captain, but as the series goes on, he loosens up (still keeping his robotic instincts), we learn that he’s gay, we meet his husband, he becomes like a father figure to all of the precinct in different ways, and we see many different sides to his personality. Similarly, Jake Peralta. Initially the immature and reckless cop who doesn’t get along with the new Captain, Jake becomes a caring leader of the precinct, and offers some truly tender moments, whilst keeping his inherent childishness. I guess what B99 does so well is expand on the characters and develop them in brilliant ways whilst keeping the core of their character true. Fundamentally, Jake is childish, Holt is a robot, Amy is uptight, Rosa is a badass, Charles is a loser, Gina is narcissistic, Hitchcock and Scully are idiots and Terry is Terry Crews. But there’s so much more to every character than just their personas.

B99_S5_14x48_V3.0_hires2

The other thing for me that separates B99 from shows like TBBT is genuine comedy and funny writing. Take the dynamic between Holt and Peralta. Although it is just a classic over-enthusiastic vs straight man relationship, the writing is quick, witty and absurd enough to provide genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Rather than TBBT, where the jokes are references to comic books, B99 lets us laugh at Jake making fun of Holt, Holt sarcastically putting Jake down, Amy messing up and Charles being a weirdo. The fundamental difference is really simple. One is funny, with careful, well thought-out writing, and the other is a cash-grabbing, waste of a good premise which makes us all dumber for watching it.

So that’s the good and the bad. But what about the ugly (in a nice way). I think TBBT is dumb jokes for dumb people. I think B99 is smart jokes for normal people. But what about dumb jokes for smart people? Well, for that we need to look at the classic anti-sitcom, ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’. This is for sure, one of the most laugh-out-loud shows ever, it’s just ridiculous. The humour is so low-brow, so offensive, and yet in a way so clever. It’s not subtle, I’ll tell you that. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s about a group of sociopaths who come up with elaborate schemes or ploys to either get rich or get back at someone, and it’s just hilarious. You know what you’re getting in for when you read some of the episode titles: The Gang Goes Jihad, The Gang Gets Racist, Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarded Person, and so on and so on. If you’re easily offended, it’s not for you.

always-sunny

One of the many great things about IASIP is how involved the actors are. They’re the creators and writers of the show, so each character is so perfectly written for each actor, and that’s definitely something we notice on screen. But the best thing is just how weird and dark the humour is. It’s like when you watch Frankie Boyle doing stand-up, and he makes a joke that’s so dark and offensive that it’s hysterical. But IASIP takes that a step further and almost appears self-aware of its offensiveness, to the point where not only is it blunt and offensive, but it’s well-timed and witty too. The skill of the writing in IASIP is how they take a relatively normal situation and suddenly dial it up to eleven, to the most ridiculous and unrealistic outcome possible, but it’s also the funniest. I think Dennis puts it best:

“We immediately escalate everything to a ten… somebody comes in with some preposterous plan or idea, then all of a sudden everyone’s on the gas, nobody’s on the brakes, nobody’s thinking, everyone’s just talking over each other with one idiotic idea after another!”

That’s basically the show, it’s ugly, and needless to say it’s never won any awards, but it is smart in its absurdity. The show thinks about what the most ridiculous, offensive situation or line is, and takes it another step. There’s so many classic moments and lines, almost too many to count. Take Frank oiled up, naked and crawling out of a couch, or “the implication”, or the D.E.N.N.I.S system, or the whole episode done in blackface, it’s bonkers, and not for the faint-hearted, but it’s too funny to ignore. And another big plus is that there’s no annoying laughter telling me when to laugh, believe it or not, and stay with me here…we can decide what’s funny for ourselves. And luckily in a show like IASIP and B99, a lot of it is.

Best episode: The Nightman Cometh

Best character: Captain Holt

Best actor/actress: Danny DeVito

Best quote: “I hate listening to people’s dreams. It’s like flipping through a stack of old photographs. If I’m not in any of ’em and nobody’s having sex, I just don’t care.” – Dennis

 

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