End of Television comedy

Nice article in the Times last week on how we’ve reached the end of television comedy.  No, not like that, but like Fukiyama’s end of history:

I don’t think my disenchantment is a result of graduating to cranky-old-man status. Heck, I was cranky when I was 25, but I still laughed at “M*A*S*H.” No, it’s definitely the End of Comedy. As with Francis Fukuyama’s much-discussed essay “The End of History,” that doesn’t mean there will be no more small-screen humor. It means that television comedy has ceased evolving.

Certainly no series introduced this fall is breaking new ground.

It goes on to discuss five tired themes that come up again and again in modern TV comedy without any fresh takes.  I think the cheap reliance on shock humor is the lamest:

1. GUESS WHAT? WE HAVE GENITALS Nothing has been more prevalent on new sitcoms this fall than the organs and bodily functions centered just below the navel but above the knees. Ashton Kutcher made sure he made an impression in his “Two and a Half Men” debut by strolling around naked. Kat Dennings tossed off a “vagina” a minute into the first episode of “2 Broke Girls.” A few weeks ago on “New Girl,” Ms. Deschanel’s character accidentally saw one of her roommates naked and couldn’t shut up about it, or It.

Much of this barrage, though, has felt ham-handed, a clumsy celebration of the fact that the censors who used to keep words like “vagina” and “penis” out of prime time have apparently all died. We can say this, therefore we’re going to say it over and over.

But there have always been genital references on television; it’s just that the people making them in the past (besides needing to please those censors) knew that subtle is funnier than brazen.

You’ll have to click over to read the other tired and over-used themes.  For what it’s worth, I think 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation, and Modern Family are all doing consistently good work.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to End of Television comedy

  1. Steve Saideman says:

    There are a lot of good comedies, including ones that are not so limited as the ones articles such as these emphasize. Community, which Lil Steve does not appreciate as much as I, is innovative. Wilfred, which I cannot get much of (my satellite company does not get FX yet), is very different and very fresh. Chuck could be seen as a comedy and has been fresh. Reaper was new and did not last, but was fun comedy. The League is also a show I wish I could get. While How I Met Your Mother is not as fresh as it was a few years ago, it was more than just new Friends with clever flashbacks, running gags, and insults of and by Canadians.

    The golden age of the sitcom was the late 70’s–MASH, WKRP, Taxi, and so on–but the sitcom is healthier now than it was a few years ago. Lots of channels does mean heaps of innovative approaches but also heaps of steaming piles of crap. You take the good with the bad.

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