Comedy Is Back! Except the Good Ones Aren't -

Comedy Is Back! Except the Good Ones Aren’t


Another thing about the current round of TV announcements is that the shows that aren’t Friends ripoffs have some very bad-sounding premises. I don’t want to do a whole post about that because it’s not fair to judge a show based on the premise… and yet, normally, a show that has a bad premise will in fact turn out to be a flop. (This is probably just because most shows flop, so any show with something working against it — like a terrible premise — just has one extra data point added to the already-existing likelihood that it will fail.) Fox has perhaps the most unpromising-sounding batch of premises so far — no, I’m not talking about Shawn Ryan’s Ride-Along — including Raising Hope, a show from the creator of My Name Is Earl about a single dad whose baby’s mother is on death row. Also, Mitch Hurwitz’s Raising Wilde, starring Will Arnett as a rich asshat trying to buy the affection of a beautiful bleeding-heart liberal, sounds like Community without all the other fun characters commenting on how boring this kind of sexual-tension plot can be. However, the most-mocked premise so far appears to be NBC’s Outsourced, a comedy based on the premise that Americas will really enjoy watching a show about jobs being shipped overseas. Maybe this can be the promo:

Anyway, the key fact about Outsourced is that it’s taking the spot that would normally have gone to Parks & Recreation, forcing that show to be delayed until mid-season. NBC was considering opening up another night of comedy; when they chose to make Thursday their only comedy night (including Love Bites, a new hour-long show that’s a hybrid of comedy and anthology — basically, The Love Boat on land), that left them with the choice between keeping the 8 to 10 period more or less as it was, or bumping an already-renewed show to make room for a new one. They chose the latter, and the show they decided to bump was Parks. The show has already — presumably in anticipation of Amy Poehler’s pregnancy — shot some episodes for its third season, so it will go on a short production hiatus and then resume production for mid-season. How long the new season turns out to be depends on how soon Outsourced gets canceled.

Parks has probably been, overall, the best of NBC’s four comedies this season; Community has had great individual episodes, and I haven’t been as disappointed with The Office as some (but then, that’s the only show in that group that I have loved without reservation, so I can forgive it a lot), but Parks not only made the expected second-season improvement, it ruthlessly weeded out all the faults of its first season, learned to do things that no other current show was doing — the mix of small-town comedy with political and media satire recalls Newhart, but no recent U.S. show — and maximized the strengths of most of its performers and characters. Greg Daniels is good at making his shows a lot better really quickly; his shows have a wonderful combination of artistry and efficiency, like he’s figured out the secret of producing great, personal television art in a businesslike way.

But Parks has one thing working against its attempt to find a larger audience that appreciates what it’s become, and that’s the Office-style format, a holdover from NBC’s original order for an Office spinoff. Now, the mock-documentary format can’t be called a bad choice in itself, because as it happens it’s the single-camera format that is most popular with a larger audience. (The two biggest single-camera, no-laugh-track successes in the U.S. are The Office and Modern Family. There’s just something about that mock-documentary format that creates the necessary substitute for the communal viewing experience — and it’s the only TV comedy format that truly never seems to need a laugh track.) But because the show airs on the same night as The Office, on the same network as The Office, has a somewhat similar collection of character types plus one woman who used to be on The Office, it is still thought of as that show’s weak sister, for all that it’s been better than Sis this year.

Sometimes I feel like Parks would be better off if it had done without the talking heads, which are rarely (for me anyway) the funniest part of the show and mostly succeed in falsely branding it as an Office clone. But that’s spilt milk now. For now, it will probably be better off if NBC can find a way to put it on another night from The Office, to build its own audience and identity. But that will require it to wait around — perhaps for one or two more shortened seasons — until the network actually has enough comedies to start another night. And if they do manage to create another night of comedy, Outsourced probably won’t be the foundation of it.

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