When Chuck Lorre received a critics’ award for The Big Bang Theory, he seemed as amazed as everyone at the change in his critical fortunes. A few years ago we were seeing stories about how Two and a Half Men was the most popular comedy on TV despite the scorn of critics, with Lorre doing the usual routine of a successful creator whose show gets bad reviews (claiming, correctly, that he mostly cares about pleasing the public rather than critics, but betraying some insecurity about the critical putdowns). Big Bang Theory started off with the same kind of reviews, but once it got funny, it became a favourite with critics — particularly younger critics who maybe were getting a little fed up with non-traditional sitcoms. (Part of the success of the show, I think is based on the fact that if you can come up with a young-skewing traditional sitcom, you pull in young viewers who have grown to see the single-camera format as the boring old establishment, with theatre-style comedy as the insurgent upstart. Something like that already happened in the early ’70s.) But Lorre’s next show sounds like it might bring him some critical scorn and restore order to the universe:
CBS has handed out a pilot order to “Mike and Molly,” a multicamera comedy from Chuck Lorre — the mastermind behind the network’s top comedies “Men” and “The Big Bang Theory” — and “Men” executive producer Mark Roberts.
Roberts wrote the pilot, an ensemble revolving around a couple who struggle with overeating and meet at Overeaters Anonymous. He will executive produce with Lorre for Warner Bros. TV, where Lorre is based.
This concept can be summed up as “it’s another show about a fat guy and a hot girl, except they’re both fat.” (Lorre used to produce Roseanne, after all.) Though to be fair, when I describe it that way, it actually sounds mildly refreshing in a comedy world mostly composed of skinny people. Of course, I actually have no idea if this show will be good or bad. The only interesting question at the moment, then, is whether Lorre’s newfound critical respectability will help or hurt it in the reviews; will it arrive in an atmosphere where critics have high expectations? If so, that might hurt it critically, since it will undoubtedly be a lot closer to Men. BBT obviously has a lot of Men‘s smarmy sex jokes in it, but it’s separated from Lorre’s other show because its co-creator, Bill Prady, did not work on Men. Roberts, a former actor whom Lorre took under his wing as a writer, has been working on Men since the beginning.
Now, Two and a Half Men isn’t a bad show either; it’s got a strong cast and can be funny. It’s mean-spirited, and it’s unusually weak for a show that holds the title of Most Popular Comedy On TV, but that says more about the state of U.S. comedy than the show itself; in the ’90s, it would have been a middling success, but this was not the ’90s, and it rose to the top of a weak field.
(I know this is repeating what I’ve said on previous occasions, but many of the best U.S. half-hour comedies of the ’00s wouldn’t have made a top 20 list for the ’90s. But these things go in cycles: the ’70s was a golden age of U.S. sitcoms, and in spite of that — no, because most of the good work was in sitcoms — most of their best dramas wouldn’t even rank among the best 30 of this decade. One reason I like ’90s TV a lot was that it was closer than most decades to having excellent work in both comedy and drama; drama has been stronger in this decade, but a lot of what we’re seeing now is an outgrowth of what started in the ’90s.)