Sunday, November 17, 2013

I Want to Talk About TV

I know, I know, this is a supposed to be comicbook blog, but all this week I've had some television-related stuff bouncing around my brain, so I want to get it out here.

Last week, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia wrapped up it's ninth season, and I thought it was a particularly strong year for the show. Not every episode was comedy gold, but overall this year was better than most. A big part of the season's success was a thematic connection between most if not all of the episodes. This was a year of Always Sunny going a bit meta, examining itself and its cast through its scripts. The most obvious example was also the highlight of the year, "The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award." It was (in varying degrees of subtlety) a discussion of why the series never gets nominated for an Emmy (or any notable awards, really), done through a story about the characters trying to get their bar Paddy's to win best bar of the year. The number of parallels drawn between the bar and the show is impressive and hilarious, with my favorite being a super-brief conversation about how the problem can't be Paddy's location, because a new bar just moved in down the street and has been winning a ton of awards. This is clearly a reference to the much-acclaimed Louie, a show that originated on FX just like Always Sunny (which is technically now on FXX, instead). It was a smart, quick nod to their neighbor, and it demonstrates the episode's thoroughness. Every possible explanation for why Paddy's never wins is brought up and rejected, until in the end, the group is forced to recognize that they are the problem, that their nastiness and negativity is not what the people behind the award are looking for. It's an open admission of the cast's central horridness, and a reaffirmation for fans that things aren't going to change. Plus it's seriously funny all the way through.

There are other, equally obvious examples of the show's self-assessment this season, and some that are not so apparent but still count, at least to my mind. Episodes like "The Gang Broke Dee," "Mac Day," and "Flowers for Charlie" are all about boiling down the essence of a single character, seeing what makes them work and why the rest of the cast needs them. "The Gang Saves the Day" is little more than a psychological profile of all five main characters, each of them imagining themselves as the hero/star of the same emergency situation. "The Gang Gets Quarantined" seems to be a more typical sitcom story most of the way through, but in its final minutes becomes about the cast recognizing the severity of their own alcoholism and deciding collectively not to do anything about. Like the award episode, it's an acknowledgement of their flaws that simultaneously endorses them. "Gun Fever Too: Still Hot" and "The Gang Makes Lethal Weapon 6" are both essentially sequels to episodes from previous years. Similarly, season finale "The Gang Squashes Their Beefs" involves characters and storylines from the show's entire history. Though each week employed a slightly different method, every episode of Always Sunny season nine was in some way a part of this year-long discussion of what the show wants to be, what it is, and what it will be moving forward. In most cases, those things line up with one another, and lead to excellent comedic material.

Speaking of FXX, in addition to a few original programs like Aways Sunny, the channel plays a lot of really great syndicated stuff, like Arrested Development and Parks and Recreation. And every now and then, there will be two back-to-back episode of Aaron Sorkin's short-lived show Sports Night, a comedy-ish thing about the behind-the-scenes lives of a fictional sports news program. Back when it was originally on (for two whole seasons), my dad and I were big Sports Night fans, and I have continued to watch any rerun I can find in the years since its cancellation. Comedy Central played it a little some years back, but it has definitely been a while since it was on the air. After finding it on FXX, I've tried to make a point of watching it as often as possible, a few times even scheduling my afternoons around being free when it's on. It does suffer sometimes from being overly Sorkin-esque, switching from longwinded monologues to equally long strings of rapid-fire quips. Because it's a half-hour sitcom, though—complete with a sparse and distracting laugh track in the first season—those obnoxious moments are shorter, and interrupted always by bits of sheer goofiness, which makes everything a lot more fun, even the melodramatic speeches. There's some very human, heartfelt stuff between the characters that makes the comedy funnier, and also the show-within-a-show has an intentionally corny sense of humor that keeps things from getting too serious for too long.

What I've noticed most, and been most pleasantly surprised by, is how familiar I am with the episodes even after all this time. Some of them, like the pilot, I haven't seen in who knows how many years, yet there were plotlines, scenes, and even individual jokes that I remembered. It speaks to how much I used to love this show, how careful I was to absorb every minute of it when it originally aired. It never had great ratings, so even as a kid I was aware that it might get shut down, and I tried to value what was there. And rewatching now, I've got to say, it holds up like crazy. How much of that is nostalgia? I can't say for certain. But even the parts I don't remember or see coming tend to amuse and delight me, so I'm going to say Sports Night is just as good now as I thought it was fifteen years ago. I'm extremely grateful to have it on TV again.

Those two shows on that one network are what I've been thinking about lately, but now I've let it out, so I guess this digressive post is done. Comics again soon, probably tomorrow.

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