Tag Archives: Comedy

The Orange is the New Black Rule: Emmys Rule Change Has Clear Target, Unclear Results

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Orange is the New Black competed as a Comedy at the 2014 Writer’s Guild Awards. It then competed as a Drama at the 2014 Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe Awards. It then competed as a Comedy at the Critics’ Choice Television Awards and the 2014 Emmy Awards, before eventually winning its first major awards at the 2015 Screen Actors Guild awards competing as a Comedy.

This happened because the system allowed it to. Regardless of whether or not we believe Orange is the New Black is a drama or a comedy, the distinction was more or less up to Netflix, who consciously positioned it as a comedy in part to reduce competition with its other major awards contender, House of Cards. I would argue the show is unequivocally structured as a dramatic series, but that didn’t matter, because the system has no qualitative measure to change this. Over this same period, Showtime’s Shameless made a similar switch late in its run, petitioning to become a comedy (and earning William H. Macy an Emmy nomination and Screen Actors Guild win in the process); Gilmore Girls did the same late in its run, trying desperately but failing to earn Lauren Graham a nomination.

I feel pretty safe in saying that Orange is the New Black and its “category fraud” are the impetus behind an Academy rule change announced today that labels half-hour series as comedies and hour-long series as dramas. While Shameless’ category switch is likely a contributing factor, I feel comfortable calling this the Orange is the New Black rule, directly targeting a series that I would tend to agree is committing category fraud based on the objective facts of the show itself.

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Cultural Interview: Quick Draw’s John Lehr on Being Renewed at Hulu

quickdraw-season-2-key-art-huluDuring Hulu’s presentations during this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, there was something new for the streaming service: shows going into their second seasons. After their first original scripted series Battleground came and went without even an official cancellation, the Hulu development process was something of a mystery, with most of their multi-season exclusive content coming through international licensing deals. And so 2013 was a big year for the company, as they debuted and renewed their first three series: animated series The Awesomes, Latino-focused teen soap opera East Los High, and improv comedy western Quick Draw, created by John Lehr and Nancy Hower, which debuts its second season on Hulu today.


The rise in streaming services has complicated the traditional way we measure television success, requiring new logics for why a show earns a second season given that we’re dealing with new data sets and lack the traditional data set—Nielsen ratings—that we consider more heavily in such analysis. As a result, I spoke with Lehr regarding the experience of “getting renewed” at Hulu, and the way the experience both does and does not reflect the traditional process with a broadcast network or cable channel, in addition to his experience as the creator of a show that lives in this still-emergent televisual space online.

Cultural Learnings: So when did you know you were getting a second season?

John Lehr: It was crazy. It was unlike any pickup I’ve ever experienced. We literally turned in the final hard drive for the first season, and the next day got the pickup for season two, which was just like—psychologically—“Yay! We’re employed!” Because usually it’s nailbiting, and that’s just horrible when you’re waiting. But on the creative side too, we dove right in that day and started thinking about season two. So I think it really helps in terms of the quality as well, because it gives us more time, and more time is always a good thing—well, not always, but in our case it is.

Given that you aren’t seeing traditional ratings, and Hulu had never renewed a series until after you premiered, did you have any idea going into the process what it would take to get a season two?

[Laughs] You know, that is an intriguing question. We didn’t know. I mean, we knew that no matter what, it’s about viewers—whether you’re on network, cable, or broadband, it’s all the same. It’s just “Do people want to watch this show, and how many of them are watching, and who are they, and what is their age, and what kind of things do they buy?” That doesn’t change. You don’t have the Nielsens, but somewhere there’s a counter going on, or some sort of understanding of how many people are watching this thing. And from the get-go, we were shocked at the response we were getting from Hulu and from people online about how many people liked the show, so almost out of the gate our Facebook blew up, there were tumblr pages. The response from fans was really, really good.

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Sitcom and the Standup Experience: NBC’s Undateable

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In January, Warner Bros. Television gathered journalists in Pasadena for an event built around their comedy slate. Although there were screenings for both long-standing hit The Big Bang Theory and freshman success story Mom, the centerpiece of the evening was NBC’s Undateable, which debuts tonight at 9/8c with its first two episodes.

When the event took place, Undateable didn’t even have a release date. In talking to executive producer Bill Lawrence, though, this wasn’t necessarily a sign the show had no support. Even moving beyond the fact that Warner Bros. was using the evening as a platform for the series, NBC was also in then process of greenlighting what would become the Undateable Comedy Tour, a preview of which was offered to journalists to close out an evening that began with the screening of an episode of the series. It’s more support than you’re expect for a show airing at the end of May, a sign of the new state of summer programming and also the basic logic that pervades Undateable as a series and as an experience.

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What Genre Is This?: How We Classify Webseries

JulesAndMonty

Since I originally wrote a Tumblr post about it, I’ve been following college-set Romeo & Juliet adaptation webseries Jules and Monty, which wraps up its eighteen-episode run on Monday (May 5th). As that Tumblr post suggests, some of this has to do with a general appreciation of what the project represents, and the way the webseries form gives real college students the chance to produce and then distribute something that can reach potential fans in the same places where other big-name projects can be found. However, the show itself has been a compelling take on the material, and has been pushing at a question I’ve been puzzling over regarding webseries—and television more broadly, really—for some time.

It began with two relatively concurrent events. The first was the release of Episode 14 of the series, in which Jules is confronted by her brother, Cliff.

The episode is notable for the presence of a trigger warning, preparing its audience for the violence within. In a Tumblr post, executive producer Imogen Browder explains the logic behind the trigger warning:

“I knew that if that scene had affected me so much in the room, and I knew it was coming, then we would be doing a disservice to our audience to not give at least a simple warning—and based upon the reaction we’ve received, I’m glad it’s there. It was important to our team that we protect our audience, as no one wants to go on to YouTube expecting to see another montage and instead watch something that could potentially have a seriously negative effect upon them.”

In a response to that post, director Evey Reidy notes that the trigger warning conversation is ongoing within the theater community at Tufts (where the webseries and its cast and crew are based), placing this as part of a broader conversation within the world of the cast and crew. In both cases, the creative team reveals their belief protecting their viewers outweighs any sort of narrative purity (which would have, one presumes, maintained the shock of the moment rather than “spoiling” that Cliff would strike Juliet in the midst of their argument, a decision that reflects many adaptations of the source material).

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Risk/Reward: The Crude Experimentation of ABC’s Mixology

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Mixology doesn’t make sense, at first.

During the panel at the Television Critics Association press tour for the series in January, the producers were asked a range of questions about the viability of the show’s premise—documenting ten singles in one night in one bar—before I got a chance to ask my question, which was basically a good-natured way of asking “Did anyone try to convince you not to do such a thing?”

Television development is a game of risk/reward. Mixology represents a substantial risk for creators Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, as it’s their first television show and they’re playing with narrative in ways that most would advise against. As I noted in asking my question, there is no escaping this premise—whereas other shows can throw out their premises (see: Cougar Town) or make significant adjustments to characters as they evolve over time (see: Parks and Recreation, The Office), Mixology is tied to telling one story about ten characters in one night in its first season (which debuts tonight at 9:30/8:30c on ABC).

To their credit, Lucas and Moore were fairly open about the fact that this was a swing. Speaking to reporters, Moore described the process of the show’s creation:

“We just kind of sat down and thought what would be the best show, most interesting show to us, how to do it differently, how to show people, like, meeting and falling in love and that comedy in a different way.  And we didn’t really think about, sort of, the structure of TV and how it works and all of the rules.”

It’s easy to scoff at this—I do it often when film writers move into television, seemingly with no attention to the medium’s specificity—but in talking with Lucas and Moore after the panel it became clear they understand television enough to know they’re breaking some rules. Although the room didn’t exactly buy Moore’s attempt to sell the show as “Lost in a bar,” it was at least a gesture toward the televisual tradition the show leans on, and on principles of episodic and seasonal storytelling the show needs to address to succeed. Mixology has aspirations, ones that make it an interesting experiment in how we connect with characters, and how stakes function in television comedy.

It’s also a show that, six episodes in, makes more sense than it did at first, if not enough to make it a fully successful experiment.

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Review: Fox’s Enlisted works itself into one of season’s most promising comedies

Tonight at 9:30/8:30c, FOX debuts the pilot for Enlisted, a new military comedy from Cougar Town co-creator Kevin Biegel, with Men of a Certain Age co-creator Mike Royce on board as his co-showrunner.

I don’t want to talk about the pilot. This may seem strange: it’s the episode that’s supposed to demonstrate proof of concept, establish characters, and get viewers interested in seeing more stories in this universe. It’s also, all told, a solid pilot, one that highlights the bond between three brothers that is undoubtedly the heart of the show, so it’s not as though this is a case of needing to ignore the pilot to get to the good episodes after it. If you tune in to watch Enlisted tonight, you’ll find a well-crafted pilot that makes a clear, amiable case for tuning in next week.

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Game of Thrones – “Walk of Punishment”

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“Walk of Punishment”

April 14th, 2013

“A person could almost be forgiven for forgetting we’re at war.”

“Walk of Punishment” opens with something of a comedy routine. Edmure Tully is attempting to send his father off to the afterlife with a flaming arrow, but the arrow misses. And then misses again. And then misses again. It’s only then that his uncle, the Blackfish, steps in to fire the arrow necessary. Edmure is made to look the fool, the Blackfish is made to look like a man who suffers no such characters, and our first glimpse of Riverrun has served its function, in part, through comedy.

Of course, it’s also a funeral, which makes its comedy somewhat dark. It helps that we don’t actually know much about Hoster Tully, a character in the books and more of a symbol in the series. It also helps that the scene works the joke perfectly: I resisted laughter on the first miss, found it on the second, and felt the tragedy sneak back in on the third. The scene never feels at odds with the moment or the episode around it except when it’s supposed to feel like it’s at odds with the moment because, well, it is. A world of war and tragedy is not a world without comedy, but rather a world where comedy is rarely allowed to continue unabated for very long.

Catelyn’s quote above, spoken to the Blackfish, captures Benioff and Weiss’ approach to lightening the mood in Westeros. At any given point, there are characters in situations where they could forget about the gravity at hand, where the inherent humor of human interaction overwhelms the threat of widespread conflict. Sometimes it’s Talisa tending to two young captives, wanting to keep them from thinking about the world around them; sometimes its Tyrion wanting to give Podrick a gift for his loyal service. And in a previous time it was Jaime and Brienne, alone on the road, bantering their way toward King’s Landing.

But banter, like all men, must die.

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An Animated Adventure Into Adolescence: Disney’s Gravity Falls

An Animated Adventure Into Adolescence: Disney’s Gravity Falls

July 21st, 2012

This summer, The A.V. Club’s “Summertime Roundtable” group has shifted their focus from a single show, seminal sitcom Cheers, to episodes of various shows centered around the theme of adolescence. The pieces have been a real highlight of the summer months at the site, foregrounding theme but also emphasizing the way in which genre plays a role in how that theme is understood within serials and sitcoms alike (along with other variations on genre, of course).

And yet as I think about adolescence—and growing up in general—it strikes me that kids’ perception of these terms is less and less likely to come from broadcast programming like Boy Meets World—a show that I grew up with—or The Wonder Years. While the stray network series is “family friendly,” that programming niche has largely moved onto cable networks like Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. While these are not “new” channels exactly, and I had equivalents—in YTV and the Family Channel—growing up in Canada when I was younger, they have grown into massive franchises and highly successful programming blocks in recent years. While this is logical given the increasingly savvy nature of young viewers who surfing online or asking their parents to download iPhone apps, it also means that innovations are happening in “Kids TV” during the same period at which I feel the most disconnected from “Kids TV”: as a twenty-something, trapped between childhood and potential parenthood, my channel surfing rarely gravitates toward those channels.

However, occasionally something tips your hat that sends you in that direction. Academically, teaching about children’s TV meant diving into the world of The Hub’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic—and yes, bronies—and Nickelodeon’s iCarly, while personally it often becomes a matter of seeing someone else diving in. And it is this that led me to Gravity Falls, a Disney Channel animated series from Alex Hirsch. My pal Eugene Ahn, also known as nerdcore rapper Adam Warrock, started littering my Twitter feed with enthusiastic remarks about the series, and it soon became one of his wonderful pop culture raps:

Not one to ignore such enthusiasm, and always looking for something to serve as a short distraction from a summer of studying, I started recording the aired episodes—which is easy given how often the Disney Channel strip schedules their shows, although new episodes air on Friday nights—and digging into the series. While I had seen a few commercials for the show, and knew its basic premise, I had been in Canada when it premiered, and so I hadn’t followed any of the early responses (which included a review from The A.V. Club’s Alasdair Wilkins), and so I got to be pleasantly surprised at how charming, fun, and generally hilarious the series has been thus far.

And while I have some more traditional “TV Critic” reasons why the show has been so successful, I think the theme of adolescence is a key part of its success, and the kind of show I wish I had when I was Dipper and Mabel’s age.

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Review: The Disarming Appeal of HBO’s Girls

At a point in the first episode of HBO’s Girls (which debuts tomorrow night at 10:30/9:30c), Lena Dunham’s Hannah suggests that she might be “the voice of [her] generation.”

It’s a clichéd statement, albeit one that Lena Dunham’s age and rapid rise to success within the entertainment industry have foregrounded within the discourse surrounding Girls. However, it’s also a statement that the show itself treats as a cliché, given the fact that Hannah is under the influence of drugs when she says it (and immediately realizes how pretentious it sounds even in her altered state). If her dream of being a writer is anything within the world of Girls, it’s a pipe dream, an idea that sustains her psychologically even as it does nothing for her financially.

I wouldn’t say that the show is about this, however. In fact, I’m not sure I’m comfortable saying what the show is about. While the show’s title suggests a broad investigation of young women, the universality it implies is undercut by the show’s reluctance to draw larger conclusions from these stories. It’s possible for cultural commentators to suggest this stands in for the experience of twenty-something white women living in New York City, but I’m not sure that the show itself ever makes the argument this is the experience for all of those women (or for all women in general).

In other words, Girls is a show about pretentious people, but I don’t find it particularly pretentious. Granted, HBO’s (successful) efforts to promote the show as a cultural touchstone have an air of pretension, but there is something very natural about the show itself that I found disarmed those larger expectations. Girls is a show based around situations more than “issues,” an incredibly isolated portrait of four young women at a very specific time, in a very specific place, and within a compelling televisual framework. Lena Dunham may not be the voice of a generation, but she’s a capable writer and director who has crafted a nuanced comic portrait of the drama of, if not everyday life, than a set of everyday lives, well worth watching.

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2011: The Year That Wasn’t – Community & Parks and Recreation

NBC’s Community and Parks and Recreation

Aired: January to December

I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to write about television for a wider audience at The A.V. Club, no moreso than with my weekly reviews of The Office. However, as the show’s eighth season has signaled a decided shift in the show’s critical and cultural position, I’ve had a number of people effectively express pity for my position, forced to review a show that is pretty comfortably past its prime (but with just enough life left in it to remind us of the show it used to be).

And yet I’ve never felt it to be a pitiable job: sure, it’s nice when you have a show that you really like to cover in a situation like this one, but the show’s decline has been fun to deconstruct, and creating a dialogue with both devotees and spurned viewers has been a valuable insight how that decline is being received. While I might not love The Office, I love the process of writing about it, even though I can fully understand why others don’t feel the same way (which is why the number of critics reviewing the show has dropped off this season).

However, I will say that there is one thing I resent about covering The Office, which is that it means I don’t have time to review Parks and Recreation and Community, the two shows which precede it within NBC’s Thursday night lineup (or, rather, preceded it, given that Community is being benched for at least a few months). While other critics have been able to adjust their priorities, dropping The Office while continuing to cover the two shows that arguably merit greater attention, I’ve spent my Thursday evenings watching The Office, writing about The Office, and then using Parks and Community as a chance to unwind without a laptop in front of me.

It’s a different way of viewing than I was used to, and it seems as though it has affected my opinion of the two shows differently. While I actually feel as though my appreciation for Community has dipped slightly as a result of this viewing pattern, my general sentiments about the series less than they might have been a year ago, something about the comparative simplicity of Parks and Recreation has really suited this more casual form of viewing.

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