Monday, October 26, 2009

Sitcom Report Card: Fall 2009

Sitcoms are often called the lowest form of comedy, simplistic repetitive garbage designed to amuse the drooling plebs among us while the world melts into a steaming heap of shit outside.

Okay, so maybe they haven't been called that, but some of them certainly are. There are a boatload of sitcoms on the air this season, and since we have a terrifying television addiction and the urgent need to cast judgment on everything we see, here's a report on what's worth your precious DVR space and what you can brutally mock others for openly enjoying.

Note: calling HBO series like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bored to Death "sitcoms" seems kind of wrong, so they're not included here, but you should be watching them, as they are excellent and completely worth your time.


Community – Easily the best new series this season, Community is really refreshing after a mountain of Office-alikes that directly copied the single-camera documentary-style, relying way too heavily on cringing awkwardness rather than just being funny. Community, on the other hand, is sharp, sarcastic, mean-spirited, biting and meta (without being too cute about it). It takes the best elements of the single-camera style (meaning no laugh track) and has a pretty great cast lead by Joel McHale. Hard to say if this will still be as good as it is now 2 or 3 seasons in, but for now, it’s great stuff.

30 Rock – Nobody needs to be told that 30 Rock is the best sitcom on the air and one of the best shows on TV period. Perhaps the mountain of Emmys will convince anyone who isn’t already watching this.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia– Several years after this modern-era "Three Stooges"/"Marx Brothers" started airing on FX, it remains funny. Sunny's manic energy has spilled out and is slowly eroding at the fourth wall in episodes like "The World Series Defense," in which the cast invents horrifying revelations under a hotel to keep the audience and judge interested in a story which basically goes nowhere. Most of the episodes can be watched in any order, which is rare in TV these days, so if you haven't started watching yet this is as good of a place as any. Also: Riot Punch, Box of Hornets.

Parks & Recreation – This started out as “Hey, you kids like The Office, here’s The Government Office!” and has slowly become a solid, funny show in its own right. It’s all in the characters – the cast is diverse enough to where all comparisons to The Office are purely surface-level. Aziz Ansari is particularly good, and the lead character isn’t grating or annoyingly stupid and awkward. It really has developed into its own thing, and it only seems to be getting better in the second season; there hasn’t been a bad episode yet.

Also Louis CK has a recurring role. Which really would elevate pretty much anything to "great" status.

Well, except for that Jenna Elfman shit on CBS.


Almost Everything on CBS – CBS continues to be the Old People Network, as is evidenced by their sitcom lineup (with two exceptions). Look at this shit – Gary Unmarried, Two and a Half Men and The New Adventures of Old Christine all on the same channel. Most of these shows seem to have been designed specifically to be inoffensive enough so your parents can fall asleep during them without being rudely awoken by something funny happening. They are painfully generic and patently unfunny to their very core.

To add insult to injury, CBS actually cast professional comedy repellant Jenna Elfman in Accidentally on Purpose, which is literally just Knocked Up: The Sitcom. It’s fucking terrible. All this shit gets an F, avoid it.

Modern Family – It’s hard to put this in this category because it’s so completely unremarkable, but ultimately, this show falls short. It’s yet another documentary-style sitcom, this time about an extended family split into three chunks – divorcee grampa with young latina wife, standard family with standard kids, and then gay couple with adopted baby. It’s trying to be sort of an unflinching look at family life, but it’s just too safe and isn’t particularly funny or clever or really anything.


The Big Bang Theory – Odds are every generic self-proclaimed “nerd” you know goes on and on about how funny this show is, and it does have plenty of moments and some good characters, but this is as standard as sitcom fare gets. Oddballs living across the hall from stereotypical “normal” hot girl, who’da thunk their worlds would collide? It’s chock full of dork-pandering jokes (comic book references, science jokes, you name it, it’s in here) and the laugh track is hyperactive, but it has gotten better over the years and in its’ third season it’s still genuinely amusing often enough to warrant renting the DVDs when you’re bored or hung over.

How I Met Your Mother – Now in its fifth season, How I Met Your Mother is basically Friends with a better cast and much better writing. It is unabashedly a show about generic white people for generic white people, but it has its own absurdist sense of humor and some seriously good running gags. While on its surface the show looks and feels like it belongs lumped in with the Two and a Half Mens of the world, the writing elevates it beyond that. If you do decide to pick this one up, rent the first season and shotgun it in a marathon session; otherwise you’ll be turned off by the first few bland episodes and will never really get why the show has a small but dedicated comedy nerd following.

The Office – This show is still on and is now more than a hundred episodes longer than the original series, and it’s still funny from time to time but it’s also getting pretty tired. The “wedding” episode was old-school sitcom smarm at its smarmiest, and the whole “Jim and Michael are both the boss now!” thing doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere. Still, the show has Kevin. Which is enough for a mild, continued recommendation.

That said it's time for them to own up to the show's premise and let us know which season they're finally going to stop filming and release the documentary, which is really the only big plot point left that seems like it has any juice in it.

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