Good Impersonating Bad
There are a few comedies on television right now that I consider truly funny. Arrested Development is one, toiling away over on Fox. Amazingly, it hasn't been canceled yet. There have been rumors that it is going to be canceled, but those rumors, for the moment, seem not to be true. Another show I find very funny--probably the best comedy on right now--is Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David is insane and absurd and incredibly funny. I don't have HBO, so I've been catching this show on DVD. I just recently watched season three and it was the funniest season yet. I can't wait for the fourth season to hit DVD.
If you were to classify The Daily Show as a comedy, then that would most assuredly fall into the category of favorite current comedies of mine. It's impressive how consistently funny the show is. It has one hell of a great cast, wonderful writers and endless material to work with from the media and politics.
Finally, Scrubs is a truly great comedy. This may be my favorite comedy on the air today, though I wouldn't label it as the best written or even the funniest. It's a great show, though, that is consistently amusing--in a silly, laugh out loud way--and that has well-written characters that you come to care about. There's even a hint of drama to the show, though it is never overdone. Zach Braff shines in the lead role of J.D. and John C. McGinley, as Dr. Cox, is spot on in every scene he does. His constant abuse and berating of J.D. is endlessly amusing, yet they also manage to consistently confirm and explore the more emotional and caring relationship between the two.
Scrubs isn't a typical sitcom by any means, but for one episode--airing this Tuesday on NBC at 9:00 PM--it's going to take on all the mannerisms of a standard sitcom, except that it's actually going to be funny, as well. From a Zap2it article:
It's 6 p.m. on a Friday in January. On a smallish, stuffy soundstage in suburban L.A., the cast and crew of "Scrubs" film part of Tuesday's (Feb. 15) episode.
The show's creator, Bill Lawrence, is making jokes about how he's jealous of star Zach Braff's talent and hopes he "does horrible" during the evening's shoot. Somewhere backstage, guest star Clay Aiken is being made to look like a sad-sack hospital employee.
None of this would be all that out of the ordinary for the show, were it not for the 300 or so people sitting to one side of the stage, taking it all in. "Scrubs," which in every one of its previous 84 episodes has strived to look and feel nothing like a traditional sitcom, will this night become the sitcommiest sitcom around.
"All the patients in the beds will be models and very handsome, very attractive," Lawrence says a few days prior to the shoot, which harkens back to his time working on shows like "Spin City" and "Friends." "All the female doctors will, for some reason, be wearing low-cut scrubs. Everything that a sitcom might do."
The sitcom premise is an extended fantasy sequence by J.D. (Braff), who's treating a man who once wrote for "Cheers" (Ken Lerner, himself a sitcom vet). Lawrence also wants the episode to be a thank-you to the show's audience by inviting some of them to watch the show being made -- something that doesn't happen during a normal week, when "Scrubs" is shooting at an abandoned hospital in North Hollywood.
"What we're trying to do in the middle of it, even though we're doing sitcommy stories and sitcommy things, is ultimately have a great experience for the fans," he says. "Which means we're still writing funny jokes. So I hope people will like it on two levels -- hopefully they'll watch it and laugh because we took time to write really funny stuff, and on some level be enjoying the fact that we're tweaking the format a little bit."
Lawrence will enlist those of us in the studio audience in that format-tweaking. He asks us for raucous applause when Aiken first appears, and for Kramer-like huzzahs when the Janitor (Neil Flynn) makes his entrance.
Yep, sounds like a typical sitcom to me. Now, I recognize all these conventions because I grew up watching bad sitcoms. I watched TV constantly--to the point that I became pretty fat during fourth and fifth grade, before I lost most of the weight once I started playing basketball. I would watch TV every night and usually that involved sitcoms. I watched Growing Pains, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Blossom, the entire TGIF lineup throughout its many incarnations, Saved by the Bell, Cheers, Roseanne, Married With Children, and a multitude of others that I can't even think of at the moment. A couple of those were actually pretty good shows, but most of them were mediocre at best and all of them were very much sitcoms that generally followed sitcom conventions.
The conventions are ripe for mocking. I suspect Scrubs--which clearly has great writers--will be very successful in making fun of the conventions and I welcome that. This reminds me, though, of that Comedy Central show from Matt Parker and Trey Stone that I mentioned once before, That's My Bush. It was a sitcom about George Bush, started right after he was elected president. The entire point of the show was to act as a satire of shitty sitcoms, but it never found its legs. Parker and Stone greatly succeeded with this concept when they applied it to bad action movies and made Team America, but That's My Bush was a failure. They attempted to mock shitty sitcoms by literally making a shitty sitcom. They did every convention, from pratfalls to bad catch phrases to a live audience that laughed uproariously at the stupidest jokes--and were then accentuated by a laugh track. The only problem is, they mimicked bad sitcoms exactly and, thus, had nothing but a bad sitcom. Sure, they were aware of it, and the audience was aware of it, but that didn't make it funny.
The show was canceled before long. There were a couple episodes that became so absurd and ridiculous, that it showed promise. They weren't all that funny, I thought, but they suggested that the show could become a very funny parody by taking standard sitcom situations and magnifying them in twisted and ridiculous ways. If the show had been allowed to stay on, Parker and Stone may very well have found their legs and managed to create a truly great show, but they didn't seem to pull their shit together in time. Ultimately, it never got beyond being an unfunny sitcom, though it did manage to be pretty outrageous a few times.
I do wonder, in particular, what would have happened if the show had found its tone, garnered solid ratings and been on the air when 9/11 happened. I think it could have made for some brilliant television and may have been a welcome outlet for the heavy emotions of the time. It might also have been an utter disaster. Hard to say, but I wish I could have seen it happen either way.
But back to Scrubs. It sounds as if they are doing the sitcom parody right, by simply flat out mocking the conventions and then throwing in jokes that are actually funny, rather than perfectly imitating shitty sitcoms just to come up with . . . a shitty sitcom. Sounds like a win to me. I'll be watching on Tuesday.