Tag Archives: Comedy

A Comic Transition Plan: Season Two of CTV’s Dan for Mayor

Review: Dan for Mayor Season Two

June 5th, 2011

As CTV’s Dan for Mayorone of my Top 10 shows of 2010, if you non-Canadians remember – returns for its second season, things have changed.

It isn’t just that the eponymous Dan has now officially become mayor of the fictional Wessex, Ontario. The first season was built around that campaign, with all of the show’s characters eventually taking some sort of role in its success. Now, with Dan having taken on the office of Mayor, the challenge facing the show’s writers was how to keep their favorite characters around.

Their solution is more functional than elegant, and it raises a number of interesting questions related to seriality in situation comedies. Treating the first season as a prologue of sorts, tonight’s premiere (airing at 7:30 ET on CTV) wastes no time finding ways to re-establish spaces in which these characters can interact on a regular basis. It’s a transparent re-ordering of the series, one that makes the premiere a bit jarring, but it also transitions the show into something simpler, and more sustainable, than what came before.

And, thankfully, it still manages to be plenty charming in the process.

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Season Finale: Shameless – “Father Frank, Full of Grace”

“Father Frank, Full of Grace”

March 27th, 2011

By the conclusion of its first season, I would argue that Showtime’s Shameless found something of an identity independent of its British predecessor. This is not to say that the show is better or worse, something I can’t judge given that I’ve seen only brief glimpses of the British series, but I felt as though the first season seemed driven by characters more than versions of characters. Between the work of Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White, Cameron Monaghan and Emma Kenney, the Gallagher siblings feel as though they (if not necessarily the world they inhabit) are real people who I want to see face the challenges that result from their position. Their story never felt like we were seeing someone else’s story transposed onto these characters, as each performer seemed to be driving the characterization as much as any sort of influence from across the pond.

That is a testament to the strength of the cast, and the writers for working with them, but it is only one component of the series’ future. The other side, the part where we consider the world that John Wells and Paul Abbott have created in Shameless’ Chicago, seems problematic as the show heads into an extended hiatus before a second season. “Father Frank, Full of Grace” has some strong moments, but it has already put into motion an enormously problematic return to the status quo which threatens to undermine whatever strong character work might be done.

Or, to put it in other words, it’s already threatening to be just like every other problematic Showtime series.

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On Zombies: Community and The Walking Dead

On Zombies: Community and The Walking Dead

October 31st, 2010

I’ve already written enough about Halloween episodes (both in my review of The Office at The A.V. Club and in my piece on Halloween-themed TV episodes at Antenna) that writing a review of Community’s “Epidemiology” in that context seems like a waste of time. In fact, part of me feels as if it’s too late to really add anything new to the discourse.

However, having now watched the first two hours of AMC’s The Walking Dead – which premieres tonight at 10/9c with a special 90-minute opener – I think that I want to talk about zombies, and their function as genre. In a movie, zombies are easy: you introduce zombies, chaos ensues, heroes emerge, a conclusion is reached (which is either the heroes proving themselves capable of subsisting within a zombie-infested nation or the zombie outbreak being contained, presuming a happy ending is desired). Admittedly, I’ve only watched a handful of zombie movies thanks to being largely averse to suspense, but the point I want to get across here is that there’s a clear timeline. There is a situation, there is a conclusion, and you move on from there.

When you move this notion into television, however, you’re forced to live in that space, which is a problem that The Walking Dead will have to face should it join the rest of AMC’s lineup. Community, of course, is a very different situation, but it is nonetheless interesting to note that seriality plays a pretty substantial role in how their zombie story is told, and so I think tackling them both simultaneously will speak to some of the things which impressed me about Community and some of what concerns me about The Walking Dead.

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Season Premiere: Modern Family – “The Old Wagon”

“The Old Wagon”

September 22nd, 2010

“Time marches on, huh?”

The central storyline in “The Old Wagon” is about nostalgia: the Dunphy family keeps their station wagon around not because it’s functional, but because it holds treasured memories of their past that they are unwilling to let go.

My growing issue with Modern Family is that it doesn’t feel like a beat up station wagon with character; instead, it feels like one of those models which takes people’s nostalgia for classic cars and then crams it into a shiny new package. There are elements here that I enjoy as a viewer, and elements that are unquestionably well-executed, and yet the ultimate package feels as if it has been manufactured to create that response instead of earning it.

In an episode which emphasized the importance of reflecting on how fast things change in our lives, Modern Family demonstrated that absolutely nothing has changed since the show sprang to life a year ago. “The Old Wagon” is not even close to being a bad episode of television, but it fits so comfortably into the show’s patterns that it honestly frustrates me more than a legitimately bad episode would.

At least then there might have been a single moment of growth.

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Misdirected Scorn: Why 18 to Life Deserves Parole

Misdirected Scorn: Why 18 to Life Deserves Parole

August 3rd, 2010

I am not surprised to learn that critics, as a whole, are not jumping on the bandwagon for 18 to Life, the Canadian comedy which was recently purchased by The CW to fill out part of its summer schedule and which debuts with two back-to-back episodes at 9/8c. I watched and more or less enjoyed the show’s first season when it aired on CBC, but I did it without much emotional attachment, and certainly without any critical analysis (which is why reviews never materialized beyond the pilot). I appreciate some of the series’ choices, and am intrigued by the show it developed into, but it is unquestionably a simple pleasure rather than a complex reinvention of television comedy.

However, I was a surprised to see how many critics have been stuck on the series’ premise, and disappointed to see how many critics are unable to get past the stereotype of Canadian television and summer television as lesser entities in expressing their dislike of the show. It’s been a while since I’ve read pre-air reviews of a series which I’ve seen in its entirety, but most of the series’ reviews ignore the show itself and instead focus on attacking either its origins, its scheduling, or the apparent offensiveness of its premise – while I understand that these are all part of the series’ impact, that these critics have not bothered to watch closely enough to see the kind of show which 18 to Life is becoming seems a disservice to a show which is just trying to be an old-fashioned traditional sitcom.

Which doesn’t make it brilliant, but does make it something that doesn’t deserve this level of scorn.

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Cultural Catchup Project: “Buffy vs. Dracula” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Buffy vs. Dracula”

July 16th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

“Buffy vs. Dracula” is both a thematic companion for and a definite departure from the series’ past. The last two premieres have featured Buffy facing questions about her identity (in “Anne” and “The Freshman”), and her altercation with Dracula is built around similar questions; however, whereas it seemed as if Buffy was struggling to stay afloat amidst the world changing around her at the start of the third and fourth seasons, here she seems to be struggling within, gaining new perspectives on her power and its control over her actions and desires. In that sense, the episode represents a clear continuation, and evolution of numerous elements at play within the fourth season, especially within the First Slayer’s appearance in “Restless.”

However, at the same time, “Buffy vs. Dracula” is also a tad bit silly. I won’t go so gar as to say that it is cheesy, but there’s a clear disconnect between the Dracula who takes part in Buffy’s story and that character’s influence on the rest of the episode. While the core idea of Dracula’s involvement is well executed by Marti Noxon (the first writer to take on a premiere other than Whedon), the rest of the episode relies on comic scenarios which are not so much unwelcome as they are incongruous with the episode’s central function. While it isn’t a departure for the series to engage with comedy, the way it is deployed in the episode rather lazily fills in the gaps between the dramatic scenes, failing to integrate the two parts of the episode successfully and truly live up to its potential, potential which nonetheless remains clear based on the strength of the eponymous comparison.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: ABC’s Modern Family

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: ABC’s Modern Family

July 5th, 2010

[This is part of a series of posts analyzing individual show's chances at the Emmy Awards ahead of the nominations, which will be announced on July 8th. You can find all of my posts regarding the 2010 Emmy Awards here.]

Last September, I would have called Modern Family the favourite in the Comedy categories, but times have changed: after winning at both the Golden Globes and the SAG awards, Glee has all of the momentum, which means that handicapping Modern Family’s chances becomes a bit more complicated.

A lot of it will come down to how much people appreciate Modern Family’s sturdiness: while it has been related with The Office (for its mockumentary style) and other single-camera comedies, its focus on family dynamics and fairly traditional sitcom plots makes it a far more comfortable show than one might have imagined when it debuted, especially compared to the messy but ambitious Glee. The show, not unlike CBS’ The Good Wife, hearkens back to the classic era of the family sitcom while using the trendy single-camera style, and so the show feels like it would appeal to voters from both camps. The problem, though, is that there are a lot of comedies which “pick a side” a bit more comfortably, and last year’s nominations skewed towards the trendy (30 Rock, Family Guy, The Office, Flight of the Conchords, Weeds, Entourage).

These reservations, however, are more about the series winning than about the series being nominated: there’s no question that Modern Family will be nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series, and it will certainly compete in the Writing and Direction categories. The question, though, is in the acting categories, where the entire cast is submitting in the Supporting races. This isn’t a bad reflection of the series’ dynamic (able to mix things up and being anyone into a “leading role” when asked of it), but it makes predicting the categories somewhat challenging, and there’s the risk that the show will garner fewer nominations as a result of vote-splitting.

In Supporting Actor, there are three front-runners: Ed O’Neill has sitcom pedigree (if not Emmy pedigree) that earns him some respect, Ty Burrell was the breakout performer from the Pilot, and Eric Stonestreet was the breakout performer from the rest of the season. The other two floating around the race, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Rico Rodriguez, are in the race but not to degree I wish they were: Rodriguez would probably be my choice if you forced me to pick one of these contenders, but I don’t think he can compete with the big three.

In Supporting Actress, meanwhile, there are two contenders that could easily make it into the race: Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara are playing such different characters (the former as the straight woman, and the latter as accent-accentuated comedy) that they won’t split votes to the degree of the men, which means each could garner a nomination. I think Bowen has a slightly better chance (since she’s been around longer, and was largely well-liked for her turn on Ed), but Vergara is arguably the “funnier” of the two performances, although it’s never clear just how much voters value that within these particular awards.

In some ways, Modern Family’s most direct historical comparison comes from ABC’s Desperate Housewives: yes, they’re very different shows (calling Housewives a comedy is a stretch, really), but both have expansive casts which threaten to split votes, both represent a turning point for ABC in terms of critical and ratings success, and both seem like “ideal” Emmy candidates but could still get beat out by other contenders (in Housewives’ case, by Everybody Loves Raymond). Housewives wasn’t the last time ABC had a nominee in Outstanding Comedy Series (Ugly Betty broke through in 2007), but it’s the first time they’ve had a real contender since then, so we’ll see if the network can finally enter the winner’s circle for the first time since The Wonder Years in 1988.

Contender In:

  • Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell, Eric Stonestreet)
  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara)
  • Writing for a Comedy Series
  • Directing for a Comedy Series
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Fred Willard)

Dark Horse In:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Rico Rodriguez)

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Shelley Long, who didn’t submit)

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Community

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Community

July 5th, 2010

[This is part of a series of posts analyzing individual show's chances at the Emmy Awards ahead of the nominations, which will be announced on July 8th. You can find all of my posts regarding the 2010 Emmy Awards here.]

Community is a great television show, and one that I enjoy a great deal, but I don’t necessarily know if this will equate to Emmy success.

Dan Harmon and company are likely hoping that the series ends up the new Arrested Development: the Russos directed both Pilots, both shows found limited ratings success, and both are self-referential to the point of alienating some viewers (hence the limited ratings success). It’s quite possible that Community could get noticed in the Writing (where they submitted the Pilot and the Pilot only) or the Directing categories (where both the Pilot and Justin Lin’s “Modern Warfare” are contenders), where Arrested Development saw some success, but breaking into the other categories may be considerably me challenging.

The problem for Community is that there are too many other narratives going on this year for this one to necessarily stand out from the crowd. Arrested Development was competing against shows which were nearing the end of their runs: Curb Your Enthusiasm was the closest thing to a hip show when FOX’s much beloved series won in 2004, and it was already four years old. There was no other big new series emerging, and no third year series turning into smash successes in the span of the year: in other words, there were no comparative Modern Family, Glee, or the Big Bang Theory. It also doesn’t help that Community is arriving at a time when two of the entrenched comedy nominees are also single-camera comedies on NBC, so it isn’t possible for Community to be that “one show” which Arrested Development became.

This is unfortunate, because the same sort of creative energy and narrative depth which existed on that show are present here: while the show can at times be silly, its cast represents such a deep bench that it can be silly in a different way every week without feeling repetitive. Its most high-concept episodes (“Contemporary American Poultry,” “Modern Warfare”) were grounded in characters, and the show’s improvement throughout the season was the result of better understanding who these characters are and what role they play within the community college environment. And so the show is filled with supporting players who may have seemed archetypal in the Pilot but who have become key parts of the series’ quality: Danny Pudi and Alison Brie’s work with Abed and Annie have created complex characters without abandoning the wonderful simplicity of their world views, which only makes them funnier as the show goes forward.

The challenge is that, for a show that is quite often criticized for being over-the-top with its cultural references, a lot of Community’s strengths are subtle. While Emmy voters could reward Chevy Chase due to his previous pedigree, they’re unlikely to notice unsung Pudi; while Joel McHale is announcing the nominations and has The Soup to increase his profile, chances are that Brie’s time as Trudy Campbell on Mad Men won’t measure up the same way. I have some faith, however, that the show won’t be ignored as a whole: while the low-profile supporting players are likely to be left off the nominations list on Thursday, there’s a better chance that McHale or Chase could sneak into their respective categories, or that the show could break into the Outstanding Comedy Series race. It may not be the new Arrested Development, but it captures many of the qualities that Emmy voters gravitated to with that show, and so it’s impossible to count it out.

Contender in:

  • Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Joel McHale)
  • Writing for a Comedy Series (“Pilot”)
  • Direction for a Comedy Series (“Pilot” and “Modern Warfare”)

Dark Horse in:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Chevy Chase, Ken Jeong)
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Jack Black)

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Danny Pudi, Donald Glover)
  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Alison Brie)

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Season Finale: Dan for Mayor – “The Return of Wheel-o”

“The Return of Wheel-o”

June 28th, 2010

While it may not be the best comedy on television, I’d argue that Dan for Mayor makes a strong case for being one of the most confident. While some shows spend their first seasons in a state of becoming, the series seemed to spring fully formed from the minds of Mark Farrell, Paul Mather and Kevin White – the initial premise had potential which played out throughout the season, and from the beginning it was intertwined with the interpersonal relationships which make the series more than a clever premise. The notion of a lowly bartender running for Mayor as a way to impress his ex-girlfriend offers plenty of potential for humour, but the series has evolved into something much more than that: “The Return of Wheel-o” reflects a season which didn’t shy away from plot development, constantly changing the stakes of the race to the point where the finale gives Dan everything he wanted only to twist once more.

And yet, for a show which refused to rely on stability to tell its stories, Dan for Mayor has been remarkably consistent. It’s an extraordinarily clever show, but it never felt like it became too clever for its own good, its material always working in tandem with its cast in order to present a far more cohesive world than seems possible when presenting three different campaigns along with a number of personal lives. It never seemed like the show struggled under the weight of this challenge, capable from the beginning of managing both political satire and character development without breaking a sweat, and so I figure I should spend some time discussing what was a really enjoyable season of television.

Which, you know, 99% of you haven’t seen.

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Season Premiere: Hung – “Just the Tip”

“Just the Tip”

June 27th, 2010

Like Cougar Town in the fall, Hung was a show in which some viewers and critics became hung up on its title and its initial premise to the point where they were unable to see the ways in which the show was something more than a dude with a large penis. Those of us who kept watching, and writing about, the show were considered outliers, those who were perhaps reading more into the series than was actually there. And as Hung returns for its second season, it does so in a way which makes us wonder if us outliers were wrong all along.

It’s not that “Just the Tip” is particularly bad, but rather than it feels particularly pointless: the plots in the episode feel either like continuations of first season stories or cliche-riddled story arcs which feel divorced from the social circumstances which created them. While there is meaning in the fact that the central image of Ray’s struggle, his fire-damaged house, remains fire-damaged, it also means that the show feels exactly like it did last summer, which is a problem on a show which seems like its stakes should be escalating rather than normalizing, and which makes me question just what this show wants to be.

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