As Long as There Is (American) Sitcom
Ever since I was a little girl, I have always thought of comedy as something more appealing than drama. In the early nineties, I learned to love American sitcom thanks to The Nanny and the lovely Fran Drescher. In September 1997, however, Dharma & Greg would hit the small screen: we all would immediately think that this new, fresh, cheeky ABC’s comedy had the credentials to establish itself as the flagship of the time. And perhaps for the first time ever, after all, someone was talking about sex and love as two things that were inextricably linked to one another, and which were as well anything but taboo.
Between the second half of the nineties and that of the next decade, I also fell in love with a good pair of English writers, Nick Hornby and David Nicholls: the only ones, in my opinion, who seemed able to give back on paper the ironic, sparkling dialogues written by their American counterparts — all those television comedy authors I loved.
The same Hornby recently published his latest masterpiece, (not surprisingly) entitled Funny Girl; and it is quite impossible not to think of the wonderful character of Dharma (Jenna Elfman), when you read about the adventures of Barbara Parker/Sophie Straw in London at the turn of the sixties. Its “funny girl,” on the other hand, is depicted by the author as a young Lucille Ball of the period, one with the joke always ready and curves in all the right places.
But if as a child and later teenager I learned to love comedy over drama, it was only towards my twenties that I decided comedy was not just “comedy,” but one of the few secrets to a long and happy life.
As I discovered Saturday Night Live with several years of delay, and I read Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s autobiographies, in fact, the whole universe seemed to suggest that, in a world where almost all TV authors were in desperate competition with each other, comedy ones were on the contrary living a peaceful and fulfilling existence. I mean, during SNL, Fey was writing many tailored roles for Poehler; Poheler and Seth Meyers were becoming inseparable friends; and Rachel Dratch was going to be hired for a bunch of episodes of Parks and Recreation a handful of years later — of course, thanks to her old, dear friend Amy.
No matter how TV has changed and will change again over the years, if there is a genre that has no need to reinvent itself, that genre is comedy. The only thing that a good comedy really needs is a small, cozy room full of great and enthusiast writers. And it will never need to keep pace with the times and constantly chase the hottest, arguable, insane trends.
Because it’s easy to fall into temptation and envy the huge, immediate success of authors like Sarah Treem (The Affair). But their products are destined to have an expiration date, to run out along with the genre they belong to — as the Indiewire cleverly argues in this article on the current trend of the so-called “family noir” (see also Rectify and Bloodline).
Nope. People we should seriously begin to envy are instead authors like Chuck Lorre (Dharma & Greg, The Big Bang Theory, Mom), who seem to do their job with great ease; or as if all the lines, and conflicts, and turning points of their sitcoms came from an almost inexhaustible supply.
In a constantly changing TV scene, where genres are mixed together at the speed of musical subgenres, a sitcom will always remain a sitcom. A new sitcom will always be the updated version of an old one (see Friends and New Girl, 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). And, in some cases, as for 2 Broke Girls, Mom and Younger, it will even seem to be trapped in the nineties again. There will be almost no clues to tell that we are in 2015, divided between the fifth season of Game of Thrones and the second series of True Detective; not a shadow of technology to deal with (except in Younger — where, however, the feeling still is that of being watching a deliberately retro product). Only some vague, quick reference to hipsters and the last Oscar-nominated pictures, as it should be.
And then there is the news that I Love Lucy will return with one-hour special on CBS. And that Anna Kendrick is about to publish her first collection of essays.
Well, you wish you could kill comedy: personally, I think it will be easier to get rid of Marvel’s heroes at some point. Which is great, because what the world really needs now is not just another Batman who can save us. It is a genuine dose of humor which can help us face yet another working day.
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