The Current State of TV Comedy

by Samantha Rullo

 

A surprising number of new comedies received critical praise and strong ratings this past fall season. While some of these shows were certainly worthy of their acclaim, the success of others indicates that the world of TV comedy possesses its artistic flaws despite its high viewership.

Returning comedies displayed a similar disparity between quality and audience. Some have been pulling in huge numbers, while others have been struggling to stay alive. With the current state of TV comedies in such an uneven place, determining what works and what fails proves difficult.

Many new comedies showcased talented female leads, such as Fox’s “New Girl” and CBS’ “2 Broke Girls.” Both started strong in the ratings because of likable characters, original plot lines and solid acting. Then, there is NBC’s “Whitney.” Critics have bashed the show since its pilot — with good reason. “Whitney” exudes an obnoxious tone, with a laugh track that expresses far too much enthusiasm for the predictable jokes delivered by an unimpressive cast. It is unusual and disheartening to see such a terrible show on the same network as fan favorites like “Parks and Recreation” and award-winning juggernauts like “30 Rock.” NBC is regarded as a comedy powerhouse except for “Whitney” and its poor quality companion show, “Are You There, Chelsea?” While “Community” remains on hiatus, it becomes tougher to defend the network’s choices.

ABC presents another unusual slate of comedies. The sexist, stereotypical “Last Man Standing,” which argues that men are not treated with enough respect, is a ratings hit. But the recently canceled and lambasted “Work It” crosses the line from funny to offensive because of its cross-dressing male characters. Both shows, however, have shared a home with the Emmy- and Golden-Globe winning “Modern Family,” in addition to critically praised but seldom-watched comedies such as “Happy Endings” and “Cougar Town.”

Though the well-regarded comedies on NBC and ABC often fail to find an audience, CBS’ witty and realistic “How I Met Your Mother” proves that intelligent comedy can thrive. Unfortunately, CBS also airs “Two and a Half Men.” Despite a consistently goofy performance from Ashton Kutcher and hackneyed jokes, it is America’s most popular comedy.

As ratings sadly prove, audiences for smart comedies exist, but they are ignoring many intelligent shows. Perhaps, a middle ground needs to be reached in which lesser quality comedies like “Two and a Half Men” strive to be more creative, and smarter shows like “30 Rock” avoid a niche, making it impossible for casual viewers to keep up. If networks can find a balance and a larger audience, then we might one day see a TV landscape where programs like “Parks and Recreation” and “Community” are the norm, not the exception to mainstream taste.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, January 30th edition of the Washington Square News. Samantha Rullo is a contributing writer. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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