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Free Minds & Free Markets

The State of Sitcoms on Primetime Television Remains Dire

Three new shows will make you ask, "Am I supposed to laugh here?"

  • The Neighborhood. CBS. Monday, October 1, 8 p.m.'Happy Together''Happy Together,' CBS
  • Happy Together. CBS. Monday, October 1, 8:30 p.m.
  • I Feel Bad. NBC. Thursday, October 4, 9:30 p.m.

Not all modern television technology has been for the better. I, for one, much preferred the days when sitcoms aired with manufactured laugh tracks rather than the sound of dying pigs screaming in Hell, which is mostly what I hear when watching this week's new fall comedies.

Some of them are one-note. Some of them are no notes. Some of them have flat lead characters; others have lead characters you'll want to mount on a spit and roast over open coals before using the toxic carcass to poison your neighbor's yappy little dog. None of them will tempt you to laugh, though you may feel a sharp desire to send death threats to their producers.

Start with Amy Poehler, who, it's useful to remember, not only did Saturday Night Live but also Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. She created—it feels like the phrase "inflicted upon us" might be better here—I Feel Bad, which stars Sarayu Blue (Monday Mornings) as Emet, one of those super-charged and self-obsessed yuppie moms who are always telling you about how it's just exhausting carting their kids to dance, gymnastics and Sanskrit classes while donating blood to mad-cow disease victims in the Himalayas, the not-very-subtext being that she's your moral superior. (And, in this particular case, more sexually desirable to the nerds at the video-game company where she works, which seems kind of a low bar to me, but whatever.)

That women like Emet exist is beyond question, but most people would rather hang themselves from a hat rack in their office cubicle than engage with them. I Feel Bad's title will seem like profound prophecy to anybody who watches.

If I Feel Bad is a solid contender to become America's most annoying TV series, Happy Together has got a good shot at being the most preposterous. The show's premise: A young pop star (think Justin Bieber minus the tattoos) accidentally blunders into the home of a sedate married couple and decides it's more fun watching TV with them than doing X with groupies. So, imagine Kanye West hanging in my living room while we watch Gilligan's Island reruns and you've pretty much got it.

To the extent that there's a coherent thought in Happy Together's empty head, it is that 35 is the new 50. That sedate married couple is played by Daman Wayans Jr. and Amber Dawn Stevens (The Carmichael Show), ages 36 and 32, respectively. As for the pop-idol interloper, he's played by Felix Mallard, a giant soap star in Australia, where charisma is apparently measured much differently.

It's probably not fair to lump The Neighborhood into the rest of this mess. A show about a New Age white guy and his family moving from the Midwest into an "affordable" (read: "black") neighborhood in Southern California, The Neighborhood has a whiff of Norman Lear's hardball, politically frank comedies of the 1970s. And at times it's a scathing satire of bubblehead white progressivism, which is something Hollywood surely doesn't do enough of. But it's also a one-note comedy that stops being funny long before the closing credits role.

Created by Jim Reynolds, a long-time producer on The Big Bang Theory, The Neighborhood stars Max Greenfield (New Girl) and Beth Behrs (2 Broke Girls) as the Johnsons, an earnestly New Age couple from Michigan. She's a principal at a progressive school who looks forward to learning exotic inner-city slang like "throwing shade," while he's a conflict mediator and devout believer in what one of his new neighbors will soon refer to as "touchy-feely fairytale-type crap."

That neighbor is Calvin Butler (Cedric the Entertainer), who has both a neighborhood auto-repair shop and a strong affinity for Archie Bunker, albeit with a different skin tone. He is not at all keen on having white people living next door and orders his family to perform a freeze-out. "A white guy trying to shake your hand?" Calvin demands of one of his grown-up kids. "Stay woke, son."

In some ways, The Neighborhood is an inverted version of All in the Family, an attempt at a comic exploration of American race relations from a crusty black perspective. The jokes often aren't exactly jokes. Argues one of the Butlers: "Black people can't be racist. We can be racial, no 'cist.'" The Johnsons see themselves as credentialed members of the The Resistance; the Butlers view them more as patronizing social-engineer invaders.

But perceptiveness alone will not carry a sitcom; it's got to have jokes. And The Neighboorhood relies far too much on the novelty of a black character spouting edgy lines that we're more accustomed to hearing from a white mouth.

It may be that The Neighborhood will expand its focus and its appeal once it gets past the pilot. That would nice; it's well-intentioned, and Cedric the Entertainer delivers his lines with a prickly panache. And possibly even better is Sheaun McKinney as one of the Butler sons, who quietly observes the crestfallen reaction of the Johnsons to their ostracism and offers a sad summation: "It's hard when you see yourself one way, and the rest of the world sees you the other way." A hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, that's America.

Photo Credit: 'Happy Together,' CBS

Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras and (with Ana Rodriguez) Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison. He writes about television for the Miami Herald.

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  • Eddy||

    Glenn Garvin, still trapped on the Satellite of Love, watching bad TV. Does he at least have some robot friends to keep him company?

  • BigT||

    Glenn's been put on suicide watch.

  • Red Tony||

    I'm just wondering how he eats and breathes, and other science facts.

  • 68W58||

    Just repeat to yourself, "it's just a show..."

  • Cy||

    People still watch TV?

    What is this 1995?

  • Wise Old Fool||

    where have you been for the last 10 years with netflix/hulu/hbo/amazon begging for your tv money.

  • ||

    The 'black people can't be racist' trope is one of the most offensive concepts I've heard yet. It simply defies the human experience and evidence. Humans are shitty to one another when they want to be regardless of color or creed.

    And black people should knock this stupid phrase from their identity. Every time I hear it, it tells me 'race relations' will remain a cottage industry for some hucksters.

    As for shows, I want the names and addresses of the people who rebooted Magnum PI (or as one commenter on a thread put it: Miguel PC).

    What a charmless, dreck of a mess. Clearly they never watched the originals or if they did they purposely decided to 'change it up'. At which point, why bother? Just invent a character or plot to fit your cast.

    He looks absolutely ridiculous in the Tigers/Hawaiian ensemble too.

    I simply ignore broadcast shows. I'll pick and choose my entertainment and it better damn not lecture me,

  • tlapp||

    Well said. I'll only add that the remakes of so many old TV shows or close knock offs tell me why bother. I've seen it all before. Give me some science, history or a good ball game and I don't need any of this nonsense.

  • Jerryskids||

    Some of them are one-note. Some of them are no notes. Some of them have flat lead characters; others have lead characters you'll want to mount on a spit and roast over open coals before using the toxic carcass to poison your neighbor's yappy little dog. None of them will tempt you to laugh, though you may feel a sharp desire to send death threats to their producers.

    Stop pussy-footing around, Glenn, tell us how you really feel.

  • Conchfritters||

    Thank goodness winter is coming.. or is it? Shit, it'll be summer time before HBO gets off their ass and gives us, what, six new episodes?

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    No lectures? No ESPN for you.

  • ||

    I cut ESPN from my diet long ago.

    I don't listen to people who read less than me. I know when someone is educating me properly.

    That's all didactic crap.

    Stick to your damn jobs and tell us why the Eagles are not blitzing more and sitting back on coverage dammit!

  • Gilbert Martin||

    " I, for one, much preferred the days when sitcoms aired with manufactured laugh tracks rather than the sound of dying pigs screaming in Hell, "

    Oh I don't know. Hearing dying pigs squeal can be quite entertaining.

    Like on those you tube videos of farmers and ranchers exterminating feral hogs at night by shooting them with thermal imaging sights.

  • Radioactive||

    thermal imaging sights...way worse than bullets!

  • Gilbert Martin||

    I should have said USING thermal imaging sights.

    Oh and those videos of shooting hog from helicopters using machine guns are entertaining too.

  • GoatOnABoat||

    You've seen one sitcom, you've seen them all.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Not all modern television technology has been for the better. I, for one, much preferred the days when sitcoms aired with manufactured laugh tracks rather than the sound of dying pigs screaming in Hell, which is mostly what I hear when watching this week's new fall comedies.

    Best. Opening. Paragraph. Ever.

    After all this torture, I suspect this is what Glenn sees when he closes his eyes.

  • JoeBlow123||

    This whole article was pretty fantastic. Dude just ripped these shows to shreds, no punhes pulled at all.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    The Johnsons see themselves as credentialed members of the The Resistance; the Butlers view them more as patronizing social-engineer invaders.

    Ha, that part rings true. A lot of lily-white progressive SJW types think they're "down with the bruthas" because they've got an Obama sticker on their Prius. Blacks see them as a joke.

  • Rat on a train||

    Tesla. Only proles drive a Prius.

  • wreckinball||

    All in the Family was funny and couldn't be aired today. Archie and George were opposing racists. Now only white people can be portrayed as racist although racially motivated violence is off the scale mostly black on white.

    Look at any TV cop series today, based in urban settings, and see what color most of not all the perps are? WTF, like yea thats realistic. Go into an actual police station in the city and compare.

    Its tiring and not funny. Amy Poehler is funny and is one of the few folks on SNL that are still funny.

  • Jack Klompus Magic Ink||

    "Al let's have sex!"
    "Uh, no Peg."
    *flush*

  • Cbalducc||

    I think the 1990s was the last decade that the "Big Three" networks produced memorable sitcoms.

  • Velvet Thunder||

    Only network show worth watching is The Good Place. A show that spends most of its time ripping on moral philosophers, British pomposity, and Florida, in which the most redeeming character is a conniving hottie from Phoenix? Yes, please!

  • JesseAz||

    So many PHX based jokes in it. But good show. Well acted. But when did Kristen bell become cross eyed?

  • Cloudbuster||

  • Trigger Warning||

    Everybody hates The Walking Dead, because it is a bloviating, dull, plodding mess of a show. Millions of people still watch the fuck out of it. I predict great success for this latest pile of shitcoms.

  • Sonny Bono's Ghost||

    Good riddance, shitcoms!

  • gaoxiaen||

    TV sucks.

  • RPGuy16||

    "Created by Jim Reynolds, a long-time producer on The Big Bang Theory,"

    That's all I needed to hear to avoid this one.

  • ||

    "Happy Together" was painful to watch. I was trying to give it a chance when the celebrity house guest who barged in on this poor couple "to escape the press/public" suddenly decides they all should go clubbing. Yea, no one will bother him at a nite club. Do the writers re-read their scripts? Does the director? Do the cast? Does anyone? Or is everyone in a drug-induced stupor?

    I don't know and don't care. They won't waste my time anymore.

  • ||

    Even "B.B." is getting stilted. I watch 4 shows, all of which are superb, "Bull", "Elementary", "The Resident", and "The Good Doctor".

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