Monday, September 24, 2007

"If your fat monkey heart is still beating, then congratulations.": Comedy roundup

(Rather than try to squeeze four or five paragraphs out of Curb every week, I thought I'd take a look at a handful of comedies that aired over the last few days. Thoughts on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men follow.)

It's hard out there for a televised comedy nowadays. While ratings for many of these shows are up, only Two and a Half Men is a genuine hit, and that's slumping slowly. There are plenty of good comedies out there (most of which we cover in individual posts), but people just don't watch. Probably because of those years filled with so many awful comedies, but, who cares about that?

Anyway. . .

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia sent out a triumphant press release to discuss the rocketing ratings the show saw for the premiere. All of 2.3 million people watched! And that was WAY UP from last year! Sunny isn't a show I simply adore, and it usually takes me a while to get into its rhythms, but this week's first episode, where Dennis and Dee learned what they received in their mother's will, was one of my favorite episodes of the series yet. So often, the show seems like it's straining both to be wacky and to do the most outrageous thing possible (witness this week's second episode, where the gang got held hostage and was subjected to endless Die Hard parodies and weird face lickings and such). There's a lot of it that ties in to the whole FX, pushing-the-envelope aesthetic, so much so that it seems like pushing the envelope for the sake of pushing the envelope from time to time. But the episode with the will subjected other people outside the gang's circle to their idiocy, and those are the best kinds of episodes (it helps that it's still jarring to see Stephen Collins playing this sort of material). The episode, which perfectly built from the reading of the will to a wedding ceremony with two college kids tied up as spectators, was incredibly funny, and for the first time, I really saw what people who love this show see in it. It was pushing the envelope, but it all grew from a good, story- and character-oriented place. Funny stuff, and you should catch it on rerun if you can (though the second episode is pretty blah).

The Simpsons has been on the air so long that it almost doesn't matter what they do. They could have the characters stand in the center of the screen and stare at the audience for 30 minutes (hasn't Family Guy already done this?), and it would be sort of entertaining. The show is simply the ultimate TV comfort food at this point, a fast-paced, vaguely funny way to end the week. I agree that the show isn't what it was, but I don't think it's an abomination or anything, not when it can still whip out surprises like that opening segment that liberally quoted from the movie. Still, this was a fairly weak season premiere, even if it boasted a nice Stephen Colbert guest spot (one of the better recent guest voices, even if it was disorienting, simply thanks to how much voice work Colbert does).

King of the Hill, actually, is probably better in its 12th season than The Simpsons was in its equivalent season. Hill gets kind of a bum rap, I think because it doesn't do a lot of wacky cut-away gags or pop culture references and instead focuses on telling little "It could happen to you!" stories (well, they HAVE been growing increasingly outlandish, but all comedies do -- compared to The Simpsons or Family Guy, Hill is a Ken Loach film). The show's observational eye is rarely wrong, and the way it's sketched Hank Hill and his relationship to his son Bobby is one of the finer bits of painting a character through fine brushstrokes in the history of television. No, really! That said, I wasn't crazy about the story's denouement, which relied too much on crazy coincidence, the sort of thing this show usually avoids. It was fun to see Hank get so excited to see his son like football though.

Family Guy, on the other hand, is ALL pop culture references and random bits. It makes a show of trying to do a straight story with consistent characters now and then, but the show's heart is more in making 80s jokes and the occasional vaudeville gag. There's nothing wrong with this, except that it creates a rather discombobulated show that never coheres into something more than its parts. The often inferior Robot Chicken (which, I'll admit, had a killer sketch in Dinosaur Armageddon Sunday night) is just ALL pop culture gags, and it doesn't seem to suffer horribly for it. At any rate, Family Guy's Star Wars parody ended up being one of the show's stronger hours, simply because it removed the need for a story (the show could just piggyback off the story of the film) and meant the writers could fire all of their ammo at Star Wars. This was, in essence, a Treehouse of Horror episode for the show, and that's why I think it worked.

To completely switch gears, Curb Your Enthusiasm had another strong half hour this week, though it was probably my least favorite of the season so far. I share Larry's irritation at people who take endless samples when offered the choice (and Libby HATES lines), but I didn't feel the whole thing pulled together quite as well as last week's episode did. Still, I loved how the episode showed off something that Larry David rarely gets props for -- how good of a physical comedian he is. As he snuck into the school official's office to re-steal the flowers, his skulking and attempts to silence Jeff and Suzi were hilarious. A good episode, all around, but kind of a disappointment after last week.

The less said about The Big Bang Theory the better, I think. The show had the mean-spirited humor of a young Chuck Lorre show, where we laugh at the characters, instead of with them. With this year's embrace of the nerd type throughout television, it was disheartening to see a show this willing to openly mock it, even though the show spent just as much time mocking the hot girl. I don't think I'll be watching a second episode. Too bad. The world needs multi-camera sitcoms.

Finally, there's Two and a Half Men, television's number one comedy and a show I make the point of watching the premiere and finale of each season. It's not really my cup of tea (it's so darn smarmy, for one thing), but I can see why people like this. The characters are all broad types, and they relate to each other exactly as you'd expect them to. There's a certain classicism to the design of this show that manages to overcome how unfunny it can be. Any big fans of the show on board here?


Deven said...

Hey Great Blog. As much as Family guy used to rock in the first few seasons, it is getting down every season with same stale comedy and jokes. IMO Souht Park and SImpsons are also going down the hill.

Anyway for those who can not download Family guy from torrents and are looking for all Seasons of Family guy, they can download it from here -

Hope this helps others.

fretty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fretty said...

If you watch family guy season 1 then you find that in the next seasons they have done a lot of improvements.First season was a bit okay but after that they shine like a star.