War overseas, protests in the streets, is it any wonder that sitcoms have started to take on a decidedly edgy tone. While the traditional sitcom remains the preferred format, there are an increasing number of comedies which skirt the edge between laughter and a much darker motif.
Showtime’s Happyish can boast that it’s the only show on television that will simultaneously remind you of Mad Men and Louie and still defy some sort of description.
Focusing on advertising man Thom Payne (Steve Coogan) and his stay at home/losing her mind wife Lee (Kathryn Hahn), Happyish features numerous cameos from foul mouthed cartoon pitchmen like the Keebler Elves and the Geico Gekko. It works as a comedy, but it could have worked as so much more when you realize that the show was originally created as a vehicle for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. One can only marvel at what might have been had Hoffman not crashed and burned. While Coogan fills in admirably, there is no argument that what he brings to the role is less than what might have been.
Not so the wildly funny performance by Kathryn Hahn, who’s spent the last several episodes tackling Jewish guilt courtesy of Dora The Explorer. Hahn helps carry the show comedically, and Happyish clearly has something significant to say about upper middle class hypocrisy, but the gap the show tries to bridge is a large one, and probably needed Hoffman’s considerable gravitas to accomplish. Instead, Happyish is good for a laugh, and while that’s good, it’s only just good.
Pairing old school comedy with new, The Comedians pairs Billy Crystal and Josh Gad, and would appear, nominally, to cast Gad as the brash and crude newcomer who doesn’t understand boundaries.
There are two primary problems with this show, the first being that Josh Gad is not all that well suited for the obnoxious young guy that is typically played by someone like Jonah Hill. The second is that The Comedians never really makes it clear whether you’re supposed to identify with Crystal or Gad (both of whom play themselves) and really works best when the artificial tension between the two is dropped and the natural comedic chemistry is allowed to flourish.
The Comedians wants to be funny because Crystal can’t understand (or stand) Gad and because Gad seemingly doesn’t respect Crystal enough to care. If the show knows whats good for it it will drop this pretense and just let two pretty fine comedic actors go out and just be funny, something both of them are quite adept at.
We often think of this as the new golden age of television owing to great dramatic series like Game Of Thrones and Mad Men, but it’s also an unprecedented era in terms of the amount of science and historical fact-based documentary-style programming on TV (back in the day, only PBS aired such fare). My current favorite is Star Talk, a podcast-turned-weekly TV series on the National Geographic Channel hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson. The show is a nearly perfect blend of scientific information and entertaining conversation. Tyson, possibly the most personable scientist ever to take to the airwaves, is the perfect host.
The Good Wife aired its season finale this week and with it, aired the final appearance of Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma. Panjabi (and this is a familiar story) was originally written into the show as a one-off character, but parlayed her way into a well deserved Emmy Award and a recurring role as a fan favorite responsible for many of The Good Wife’s most memorable scenes. I’m looking forward to whatever her next project will be.
Thanks to Louie for the visual of the week (and perhaps the year): a dozen 9 year old girls running around a dingy New York police station in their pajamas screaming at the top of their lungs. Confused? You’ll just have to watch it yourself.
Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) If you join ISIS, you can’t haz pork (Late Night With Seth Meyers); 2) The best bacon comes from wild boar (Black-ish); 3) The attention span of a duck is 9 seconds, which is one second longer than the attention span of a person (Jimmy Kimmel Live).
The season finales of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Family Guy air on Fox on May 17.
The series finale of Mad Men airs on AMC on May 17.
2 Broke Girls airs its season finale on CBS on May 18.
The Voice airs its finale on May 18 on NBC.
The Flash airs its season finale on the The CW on May 19.
David Letterman makes his final appearance on May 20 on CBS.
TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet. Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on? Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email: [email protected]. I welcome your input!