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Something strange has been happening to me over the past month: I’ve found myself watching a lot of TV comedies. For the average person, spending time watching wacky characters do wacky things might not be that strange. Heck, the highest rated show on television is The Big Bang Theory, a CBS sitcom, so plenty of viewers are tuning into comedies every week. But for me, it’s rare that I spend my precious TV watching free time (as opposed to my required work TV time) delving into the world of comedy.
I tend to divide TV fans into two main columns: those who prefer comedy, and those who watch dramas. I’m a drama fan, and have been ever since I fell in love with ER and The West Wing in the 90s and slowly became disenchanted with the various comedies on network TV. Now, this isn’t to say I’ll never watch a comedy. I enjoy Veep and Silicon Valley (even when they have uneven seasons like they did this past year). But I don’t really consider those shows traditional comedies- they’re single camera high concept comedy aimed at a specific niche of the viewing audience. Same with the CW’s delightful Crazy-Ex Girlfriend (which returns for its third season on Friday, October 13).
Over the last 20 years, it’s been rare for me to pass over a new and compelling drama series just to watch a comedy. But lately, I’ve been avoiding the dramas in favor of the laughs. I have four episodes of Top of the Lake: China Girl sitting on my DVR. I’ve enjoyed the first two episodes. Gwendoline Christie is spectacular on it. But I just can’t muster the energy to sit down and watch the show.
A few weeks ago, I binged season 3.5 of Netflix’s Fuller House, a show that is absolutely terrible on nearly every single level. Yet, I sat on the couch for hours, watching episode after episode, laughing at the mindless “comedy.” Was it the nostalgia factor that pulled me in? Sure, initially. Full House was my favorite show as a kid. But what made me continue watching such a bad show for hours? I think I really just wanted to escape and laugh. Even if the laughs weren’t particularly creatively wrought. And even if DJ Tanner has grown up to be incredibly annoying. Falling into the simple embrace of a show I knew on a deep, cellular level, was a wonderful way to spend some time away from the real world.
And by real world, I’m not just referring to the various political and social issues we’re all dealing with (which seem to get more and more dark and depressing every day). I’m also referring to the more mundane issues: the struggles of my hometown Chicago Bears to remember how to throw a football to the right person, daily stresses from work, family, friends, and the creeping knowledge that summer is fading away into fall, which will give way to another cold winter. As we are all aware, winter is coming.
But my trip into the wonderful world of comedy hasn’t all been spent drugging my mind with the latest antics of Jimmy Gibbler (potentially the worst character on Fuller House, and that is saying something). I have discovered the very good Great News, a workplace comedy starring the spectacular Andrea Martin. It’s fun, smart, and from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. It takes several episodes to find its way, but by the end of its 10-episode first season, it’s on solid ground. It just started its second season on NBC (which will include Fey appearing, which is like catnip to me). Give it a watch.
NBC is also home to The Good Place, a comedy with heart and heft, starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. It tied me in knots during its first season (available on Netflix), and its second season is quickly surpassing its superb first. I get so much joy from that particular half hour each Thursday, it’s almost as wondrous as watching an episode of The Great British Bake Off (which, as many know, is the epitome of television happiness).
I also binged Tig Notaro’s amazing second season of One Mississippi, which is available on Amazon (a network that hasn’t really made a splash on the level of Netflix or Hulu with its dramas, but which has done amazing work with its smaller, hyper-focused comedies). I laughed, I cried, I was completely awed by Notaro and the rest of the cast.
Over on Netflix, there’s American Vandal (which I will be writing more about later this week). Talk about the perfect execution of mindless fun.
Then there’s the best of this year’s new shows, ABC’s The Mayor, another series that has found the balance between topical humor and just plain funny. It joins the ranks of the great current ABC sitcoms, including black-ish and Speechless. (For those keeping score, that list decidedly does not include Modern Family.)
In recent years, I’ve had friends and colleagues tell me to check out X show, usually a comedy, and I’ve scoffed a bit. I just don’t like comedies all that much, I’d tell them. Heck, it took me until the final month of its existence to get into Parks and Recreation. But I am starting to realize I’ve been missing out on something pretty amazing. I’ve been slogging through the realm of drama unflinchingly whilst only skimming the surface of comedy. The best show currently airing on television is AMC’s smart, complex drama Halt and Catch Fire (which had me sobbing on Sunday night, after I spent the day laughing at Good News). But, for a TV critic that has subsisted on a diet of drama for years, I’ve finally realized the necessity of a delightful comedy dessert.