Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Great Unconventional Comedies On Network TV

As this TV season gets ready to come to a close in a few weeks, one thing that critics have said all season is that network comedy is dead. They point to how there is no comedy that approaches the ratings successes of Friends, Seinfeld, or Frasier. I certainly don't think network TV comedy is dead. But I do think the best ones are rather unconventional and almost underground. My favorite network TV (live-action) comedies of the moment are Scrubs, Arrested Development, and The Office.

Scrubs puts together two things that normally don't go together: medicine and comedy. Medical dramas are a dime a dozen, but how many medical comedies have there been? Scrubs can be silly, goofy, and surreal one moment and full of pathos the next without missing a beat. The dorky, insecure J. D. (played by Zach Braff) narrates the show via his inner monologue. The cast includes J. D.'s best friend Turk (played by Donald Faison), a surgeon with a goofy streak just like J.D. Elliot (played by Sarah Chalke) is the daughter of prominent doctors who tries to be her own woman. Dr. Cox (played by John C. McGinley) is the doctors' boss and is as arrogant as he is brillaint. Carla (played by Judy Reyes) is (currently) Turk's wife a nurse who is probably as smart as the doctors she works with. The janitor spends most of his time finding ways to make J.D.'s life miserable. The show works because of these characters and the brilliant and incredibly-tricky-to-balance writing. The actors are perfectly cast and have incredible chemistry. It's a shame that none of them have been acknowledged for their Emmy-worthy work (except for Zach Braff, who is the heart of the show). I hope that the show finally gets some respect from the Emmys after this season.

Arrested Development is a show that has gotten a lot of accolades. It won the Best Comedy Series Emmy in its first season. This is a show that is definitely worth much of the hype that critics have given it...but not many people watch it at all. I can understand why they wouldn't though. It has no laugh track. It has a narrator that isn't a character in the show. It's shot documentary-style with sometimes shaky cameras. And, most importantly, it has a serial story structure that depends on you watching each episode. However, if you can get past those elements, you will be rewarded with a show that pulls no punches, doesn't talk down to its audience, and actually gets funnier episode after episode. I won't even begin to explain the plot (find a fansite online to help you catch up). However, I can say I love the way each episode is structured as plotlines intersect and meet in unexpected and hilarious ways. I love how the show has incredibly funny dialogue and manages to use sight gags and clever editing to make things funnier. I really like the show's ensemble cast and its great guest stars (Liza Minelli, Martin Short, Carl Weathers, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and even Zach Braff). It's a show so good that I'm kind of sad that I'm the only one in my house who watches it.

The Office is a remake of a very good British show (that I've only seen bits and pieces of) that is actually very good itself. It's only in its first season but it's already one of the best comedies on TV. NBC was very smart in the way they handled this remake (unlike their awful, failed remake of Coupling). Ricky Gervais, the creator and star of the British version, is an executive producer on this version. Greg Daniels of the underrated gem King Of The Hill developed it for American TV. Larry Wilmore, the creator of The Bernie Mac Show, is a consulting producer. This version stars Steve Carrell, a man who stole scenes from Jim Carrey (Bruce Almighty), Will Ferrell (Anchorman) and Jon Stewart (The Daily Show). The pedigree behind this show is a virtual comedy goldmine. The show chronicles the everyday doings at a Dunder Mifflin Paper Company branch where Michael Scott (Carrell) is the manager of sales. Michael is a guy who thinks he's a lot funnier and smarter than he really is. He is completely unaware of what an incredibly annoying dumbass he actually is...and that's what makes the show so funny. I really hope this lasts longer than I think it will. My sister has a running joke concerning this show: "I'll be so sad when it's cancelled." I would be too...because it's a very good show.

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