Thoughts on the sitcom-drama cycle

Dave Bartlett
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A bumper crop of watchable comedies has followed more than a year of great drama

A year or so ago I was lamenting that I was bereft of a new comedy to relieve the tension of all the good network dramas that deserved a chance.

Beau Bridges (left), Will Arnett and Margo Martingale star in the Greg Garcia sitcom “The Millers.” — Submitted photo

And while I’ve stopped watching a lot of those dramas, which premiered during the last couple of seasons, there were at least enough of them that had potential and kept me watching.

I still enjoy my weekly “Elementary” fix. Network bean counters prematurely cut some of the others I liked, such as the short-lived “Awake,” while others have slipped to my when-I-get-time list, such as “Revenge.”

I’ll admit I’ve yet to watch “Person of Interest” and it’s a show I look forward to checking out in syndication or on Netflix some day, as it’s one of those I put off too long to jump into the story now.

This year, while I’ve been enjoying “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “The Blacklist,” I have been more interested in a number of comedies which are still developing, but are certainly much better than the sitcom fare of those last few years.

I’m still loving “Brooklyn Nine-nine” which tops this year’s list, and I’ve also enjoyed and written about “Trophy Wife” and “The Goldbergs.” I’m also sad, as it appears that “Back in the Game,” has struck out and may already be cancelled.

But I can add another comedy to this year’s watchable list, as I’ve been really enjoying “The Millers” lately. It has also been given a full season and has been dubbed by some the best new comedy of the year.

I wouldn’t have put the show off so long if I knew it was the brainchild of Greg Garcia (“My Name is Earle,” “Raising Hope”), and am not sure why I did in the first place as I love Will Arnett.

While a nuclear family is at the show’s heart, it’s about the hilarious breakdown of a retired couple’s marriage with the mother Carol (Margo Martingale) moving in with recently divorced son Nathan (Arnett) and dad Tom (the wonderfully funny Beau Bridges) moving in with daughter Debbie (Jayma Mays) and her odd little family.

It’s Tom’s revelation that Nathan and his wife split “to be happy,” which convinces him that he’s stayed far too long with a domineering woman who’s babied him so long he doesn’t know how to take care of himself.

Garcia knows how to create great composite casts, and his shows both make me laugh and make me feel good about the human condition — no matter how poor, backwater or just plain strange. But his characters always feel honest and filled with hope and are never cruel or overly sarcastic or cynical.

However, “The Millers” has one major fault: an unnecessary laugh track.

Not all of this year’s comedies have been good, though. A few were cancelled before I got around to watching them and I really disliked “Dads” from the start and grew tired of “Mom” after a handful of episodes. This week I also checked out “Sean Saves The World,” and could not finish a single episode. Filled with stereotypes and obvious jokes; I’m not surprised many critics also have it on the chopping block.

I still haven’t replaced “The Big Bang Theory” as my go-to comedy, but I have reached critical mass on a daily dose of my favourite nerdmigoes. The new episodes this year have largely been very good, but last week’s was a stinker — speaking of stereotypes and obvious humour.

I’ve thought a lot about how “The Big Bang Theory” uses stereotypes and racial humour and how it seems to skirt some of the rules by having characters point out certain things are racist, or at least questionable. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, and it didn’t work for me last week at all.

I’ve written it before. Like any art form, TV shows are subjective and comedies more so than dramas as different people find different things funny for different reasons and sometimes it’s hard to say why something tickles one’s funny bone.

That being said, I was surprised when some friends of mine recently returned Season 1 of “The Wire” to me and said they just couldn’t get into it, a sentiment echoed by other friends at the time.

“The Wire” is certainly an anomaly of TV, both in it’s approach, writing and intensity. It’s not for everyone, I’ll admit, but in my circle of friends it was the first time anyone had not come back with glowing reviews of what I (and many) consider the best five seasons of TV ever made. Its biggest obstacle is the show’s slow pace, which builds tension along with the season-long story arc.

I completely respect my friend’s opinions, but I had to go home and pop the DVDs into my player to remember how long it took me to truly embrace the show (though I liked it from the start).

It amazed me to realize it was “Game Day,” Episode 9 of 13 of the first season, before it hit me that “The Wire” is a special show.

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Geographic location: Brooklyn

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