Thursday, October 14, 2010
Can a sitcom be edgy and sweet at the same time?
Otherwise you’re WILL & GRACE. Every week they would do twenty minutes of sheer burlesque then suddenly switch gears and have this overly schmaltzy moment. The audience (or laugh machine) would go “Awwwwwww”, there’d be a big hug, one more tit joke for luck and “that’s our show for tonight folks!”
Those emotional moments always felt completely bogus. Why? Because the characters were cartoons and suddenly they were asked to be real.
You can’t have both.
Nothing wrong with mounting a very funny show set in an exaggerated world but then be true to that.
Emotional moments land because you care about the characters. You have empathy for their dilemmas. You can relate to them. And to achieve that your show must be grounded in at least some reality.
I love COMMUNITY. I even watch it this year over BIG BANG THEORY. I find it very funny and fresh. But when show creator Dan Harmon says in the article he wants to have those periodic emotional moments along with the laughs I say that's not going to be easy. The tone he’s created goes counter to that. His characters know they’re in a comedy. They’re very self-conscious of everything they say and do. How do they stop and suddenly become genuine?
Greg Garcia, creator of RAISING HOPE, also wants to integrate emotion with edgy comedy and I believe he can pull it off. A low life family having to raise a baby is a very real predicament. And depending on just how extreme the characters are it seems entirely plausible that they are capable of genuine sentiment.
One key is never sacrificing the integrity of your characters just for the sake of a joke. Yeah, it might get a big laugh but if it damages the audience’s perception of the character it’s not worth it.
Another new show that gives lip service to wanting to include emotion is RUNNING WILDE but that show is so stylized it’s ridiculous to even discuss it.
The only sitcom of the new crop that does pull off it off consistently is MODERN FAMILY. But it’s also the most grounded. I get the sense that these other shows wanted to establish themselves comedically first where as MODERN FAMILY placed a high value on emotion right from the get-go. But that’s just my speculation.
And by emotional moments I mean just “moments”. None of these shows are looking to become LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE for the last five minutes. No one is seeing if they can get clearance on Celine Dion songs. I’m a huge believer that less is more. When David Isaacs and I wrote the “Goodbye Radar” episode of MASH, having Hawkeye and B.J. just find Radar’s teddy bear on Hawkeye’s bunk seemed so preferable to a long tear-filled farewell pathos-fest.
Quick side note: When George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart wrote plays and musicals together Kaufman hated any sentimentality whatsoever but recognized it was necessary. So whenever there was an emotional moment or scene he just walked out of the room and let Hart write it.
The bottom line is I applaud any show runner who wants to add depth and dimension to his show. As Greg Garcia said in the article, “I don’t want to do a show that’s just outrageous and funny things and shocking things and at the end of the day it’s like, ‘OK, that was funny, but do I want to watch that again?’ It’s important to me to have some heart and emotion to it.”
I read that and thought, now I’m really rooting for the show. But you know me, I’m just an old softy… when I’m not ripping Bristol Palin, Katherine Heigl, award shows, movie previews, cheesy reality shows, Paula Abdul, Hugh Hefner, Traci Lords, Jeff Zucker, Fox News, Claudine Longet, satellite radio, parades, Las Vegas, Ann Coulter, National Anthem singers, museums, myself, Scientology, Tim McCarver, Jay Leno, Celine Dion, Time-Warner, or WILL & GRACE.