Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sit-Com 101 (or Lessons Learned From TV)

Tip of the Day: Want some adult book recommendations? I've actually read some targeted to those over age 18! Try STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett, ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson, THE WILDER LIFE by Wendy McClure, and THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern. My reviews are here.

I don't like sit-coms anymore.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not a television snob. I watch The Bachelor, reality talent shows, and the Food Network with the best of them. Basically shows that don't require me to pay much attention so that I can read/write/cook/internet while having the TV on in the background.

But I do have a small tolerance for bad acting, cheesy lines, and overdone dramatic plots, lots of which I find in sit-coms.

Back in the day I loved my Full House and Seinfeld despite the irritating laugh tracks. This past weekend, though, while staying with some friends, I watched a couple episodes of New Girl and was reminded why I don't miss them. I think a big part of that is because now I watch them like a writer.

Here's what was reinforced to me about writing fiction based on what I observed in the sit-com New Girl:

1. Show Don't Tell -- Yes, this goes back to the laugh track days. Don't TELL me that something's funny by throwing in fake audience laughter; SHOW me it is funny with quality writing/acting so that I laugh on my own.

2. Look Out for Cliches -- How many times have we seen the Thanksgiving episode where the fledging cook forgets to thaw out the turkey and then tries to quickly defrost it only hours before the big meal?

3. ALL CAPS and Constant! Exclamation! Points! Lose Their Potentcy -- Why do writers of sit-coms think that if they make their characters yell at each other, that the audience will laugh? Louder is not funnier.

I don't fault anyone who still can live in the blissful worlds of sit-coms and laugh. I wish I could just let myself overlook the parts that bother me as a writer. And not every part of every show is bad -- heck, I laughed out loud at the New Girl scenes involving the bell choir. But I wish more scenes were done that well.

Then again maybe I don't. I need to spend my time writing, not watching TV!

What shows do you like to watch, and what ones drive you crazy?

Deena, Miss Subbing for Pubbing


Liana said...


Kate Fall said...

I'm still in love with Arrested Development. Great writing and acting, no laugh track, ridiculously long setups, and no reset button at the end of each episode. Best sitcom ever. It can be done well. I can still watch Third Rock from the Sun, too. I don't know why, but it's just goofy fun. People keep telling me I'd love Big Bang Theory, but I have a feeling my low sitcom tolerance means I won't like it as much as people think I will.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Any show gets boring if it's formulaic. They do these characters a lot: The hapless slob paired with the smart, gorgeous, long-suffering wife (a variation on this is the single guy who is used to skating by on charm and arrogance, developing an antagonistic attraction with the smart, gorgeous skinny girl).

I still like 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and The Office. But I used to have series to watch every night, and now it's just once a week.

Kristina Springer said...

I'm with Jen, so over the shows with the big sloppy guy with the gorgeous wife. I'm pretty sure 99% of the industry is headed up by males and they think they're brainwashing us all into going for this. :-) See? They do it on TV! And I'm over all the re-done episodes too. It's sad when I can see the Flinstones run an episode, then see the same episode play out on Friends, then see it once again on Two and Half Men.

and p.s.- The Bachelor? Really? I can't sit still for two seconds of that show. The love at first sight thing over and over and over again kills me.

Bonnee Crawford said...

I have to be in the right mood for sitcoms or I get grumpy. They get irritating. Everybody Loves Raymond is the only one I really watch much of these days. Oh, and Big Band Theory.

DeenaML said...

Liana - woo hoo! :)

Kate -- I still haven't seen Arrested Development! MIght have to try it....

Jennifer -- OK, you're right -- I am a fan of The Office. Possibly because I lived it for 5.5 years and that interview set-up was unique.

Tina -- LOL re: Flinstones with same plots as current shows. SO TRUE! Right down to the frozen turkey! :)

Bonnee -- Friends have told me to try Big Bang Theory but I haven't had the guts yet....

Emily Marshall said...

I guess I'm in the minority because I love sitcoms. Yes sometimes they get formulaic, but usually they just give me a good laugh. My favorites right now are Happy Endings, How I Met Your Mother, 2 Broke Girls, Modern Family, and I do like Big Bang Theory too. But honestly I'll watch any of them. Your mention of the laugh track made me remember I once saw a filming of the Hogan Family (ages ago) and I thought it was hilarious they actually had signs for you in the audience that told you when to laugh.

Andrea Lipomi said...

Deena, Arrested Development is sooo funny! It's on streaming Netflix...and it's coming back for another season next year, exclusively on Netflix.
Louie (starring Louis CK) is a great show -without a laugh track. (But you knew that already.)
My friend Tony keeps telling me I would love Big Bang Theory. I tuned in for 2 minutes the other day - nope! I imagine the audience fancies themselves to be of higher intelligence than the average boob tube watcher, yet they have the laugh track set to overdrive. I'm sorry, but why should I think it's funny every time your obnoxious characters use a 49-cent word?

Rant over. ;)