Way back in early 2012 I posted a three-part series about two sitcoms that had premiered the previous fall. Covering 2 Broke Girls‘ and New Girl‘s respective casts, styles of humour, and approaches to race, these posts exist as a window into their first seasons as well as an unfortunate snapshot of some embarrassingly unrefined writing from yours truly [with some unrefined opinions as well, as my perspective on Morgan Freeman and Black History Month has certainly shifted since then].
All credit where it’s due, both have come a long way since their inceptions, and in generally positive ways. While not shying away from their trademark “classy-dirty” style of comedy, 2 Broke Girls eased off of the racist humour and began giving their secondary cast members more screen time and character development. New Girl had Hannah Simon’s Cece join the primary cast, with Damon Wayans Jr. even returning for a lengthy stint after his departure following the pilot. I feel fairly confident in saying that neither show every truly dipped in quality, which is saying a lot for the medium and genre they share. I would even go so far as to say that both managed to improve with each passing season.
Now, in 2017, there were a few weeks where the fate of these two sitcoms was in question. To address them consecutively…
2 Networkless Girls?
After months of reviews in which I mused on the future of the show I finally penned a post in April asking “Is 2 Broke Girls Cancelled?”. It has since garnered more comments than anything else on this blog. In it I catalogued what the creators and industry insiders had to say about its future, as well as my personal opinion as someone who has reviewed 101 episodes of the show. I felt like, as someone who stuck with 2 Broke Girlslonger than the contributors to its very own wiki even did I was allowed some say.
It was Deadline that pulled back the curtain on the fact that CBS was airing a sitcom that was produced for Warner Bros. That same outlet also broke the news that the network had axed 2 Broke Girls. CBS scheduling director Kelly Kahl is quoted as saying that, as far as she knows:
“it was a creative decision more than anything else. It was not a show we own but we picked up (new comedy series Me, Myself & I and By The Book) from Warner Bros. So I don’t think it was a business decision, I think it was creatively we felt it was time.”
It’s noted that the show made Warner Bros. a very significant amount of money per episode. In spite of being a key players in their weekday lineup, CBS appears to be searching for something else they can wholly own, distribute, and profit from. Kahl even says in the same breath as “was not a show [they owned]” that it was “a creative decision”, but as with all art it comes down to profits. Continue reading →
The Mindy Project, New Girl, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Man Seeking Woman, and How I Met Your Mother.
What do all those shows have in common?
Well, for one, they all feature a millennial as their main protagonist. This protagonist is also single. In fact, most of them even kick off their pilot with a break-up of some sort.
This introductory break-up signals that love is going to be the end goal of the series. Of course there will be other ambitions and goals to meet along the way- especially for female protagonists (apparently women still have to prove that marriage isn’t our only goal in life)- but each of these comedies revolves around a quirky protagonist’s struggle to find a partner.
The “searching for love” trope has become even more common in contemporary sitcoms than the “quirky but loveable family” trope that was so common when we were kids.
Even just by comparing hit TV shows, I think it’s safe to say that we Millennials tend to struggle with different issues than our parents did at our age. After all, what is a sitcom for but to mock our deepest fears and help us laugh at ourselves?
Having binge watched most of The Mindy Project, New Girl, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Man Seeking Woman,and How I Met Your Mother,I’ve noticed a couple of common themes running through these shows.
1. Women worry that they’ve been too successful, while men worry that they haven’t been successful enough
Mindy (The Mindy Project) is a OB/GYN, Jess (New Girl) is a school principal, Rebecca (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) is a lawyer, and even Liz (sister of main character Josh in Man Seeking Woman) is a lawyer. When all of these women find themselves unexpectedly single, they are introduced to a kind of panic none of the male protagonists are forced to face: will I be too old to have kids by the time I find someone?
In contrast, Nick (New Girl) and Greg (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) are bartenders, Josh (Man Seeking Woman) is a temp, Josh (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) works at a “laid-back” tech store, and even Mindy has dated the occasional DJ.
This is a bit of a red herring, since Ted did eventually become a pretty successful architect.
You see, my original post was one of my more personal pieces, where I touched on my struggle with self-acceptance (as a rather sensitive person) in a culture highly influenced by what I described as the warrior-princess/damsel binary.
As a child, I believed that I needed to become emotionless in order to be strong, and masculine in order to be taken seriously. That’s why I find characters who are feminine and strong, like those often played by Zooey Deschanel, an encouraging presence in films and TV shows.
So, you can probably see why, being the sensitive person that I am, Gordon’s closing statement came off as a wee bit hurtful:
Deschanel states that “we can be powerful in our own way, our own feminine way” [emphasis added].
No you ****ing can’t.
From what I know of Gordon, he seems like a pretty good guy, so I’m going to act under the assumption that he was not writing an attack on my personal character, but rather a critique of the concept of feminine strength as represented by Deschanel. That critique is what I will be responding to in the points below. If you don’t watch New Girl, then be aware, there are spoilers below.
1. The Critique Begins with Flawed Logic
I have to thank one of our most faithful commenters, Rosie, for pointing out the “strawman argument” made in Gordon’s critique. In “In Defense of the Warrior-Princess” Gordon describes traditionally feminine characteristics using words like “submissive” and “weak”, words that neither I, nor Deschanel used to describe femininity. Using these sort of terms creates a false dichotomy between my argument and his.
He also claims that Deschanel plays “ditzy, emotional, pathologically neurotic” characters “who don’t need no man to help them”. He includes a crying gif of Jessica Day, the character Deschanel plays in New Girl as evidence.
This isolated gif ignores the wider context of the show, where every single character deals with their day-to-day life in a “ditzy, emotional, pathologically neurotic” sort of way.
It also ignores how New Girl is not at all about being the kind of person “who don’t need no man”. Instead, this show demonstrates how relationships lead to personal growth. It also shows how every person sits somewhere on a spectrum between sensitive and stoic, and how both of these traits are essential to becoming a healthy individual. Continue reading →
I love watching comedies when I’m in school. It allows me to check out mentally on those days when I feel like I can’t seem to turn off my brain. Although I am looking for thoughtless fluff, I still want to avoid straight-up terrible writing and plots. This makes my comedy search a little more difficult. Luckily, John and I came across Galavant, which provides what I am looking for in at least the following five ways.
One of the only gif’s from Family Guy that made me laugh instead of cringe.
I still want something that will surprise me into laughing out loud, but I don’t want to only ever be surprised because the punch line was too offensive for me to be expecting it.
Unlike McFarlane’s shows, Galavant is all about pushing around puns and being- well, for lack of a better word- silly. After being bombarded with jokes that make fun of real life trauma, it’s nice to be able to laugh at something because it’s just silly.
I really like watching TV, you guys [and girls]. To be more specific, sitcoms in particular are my absolute jam. Their format is one that garners fanbases as rabid as Breaking Bad [okay, maybe not that intense], and just because a piece of art’s main purpose is to make us laugh doesn’t mean that it can’t have just as much of an impact as more humorless fare.
In all seriousness, though, I’m going to be writing about racial representation and how New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, two of my favourite sitcoms, are doing great things in that regard. Continue reading →
EVAN: This topic arose organically, actually, due to a few posts by Gordon on piracy and my not being able to fully agree with them.
And no, it’s not that kind of piracy, though we did start a new pirate-themed D&D game just this past Sunday.
GORDON: And it shall be awesome- but back to the subject at hand. I’m going to start with some full disclosure:
I am not of the mind that piracy is, in and of itself, a great and noble thing. Any indication or implication of this on my part is usually just in reaction to the mainstream media’s portrayal of piracy as a crime on par with defacing priceless art, grand theft auto, and punching old ladies in the face.
EVAN: And in all fairness from my part, I will admit that I’m no saint when it comes to piracy. I stream a plethora of shows for my viewing pleasure, though I have [and this is likely the voice of Justification speaking] sworn off downloading full-length films, music, books, etc.
GORDON: And Evan, I will attest, is not some twisted chaos-worshiping miscreant devoid of honor or humanity, as the major media industries would have you believe. Well, not entirely, anyways.
Now, Evan, one of the justifications I’ve heard you use in the past is that you’re living in Canada. Many- if not all- US shows are simply unavailable outside of the States through any conventional means.
EVAN: This is true. And while I resided in the States for my post-secondary education I made frequent use of the free streaming service Hulu. I even watched, and somewhat enjoyed, the ads.
In Canada we cannot even watch the episodes on the channels’ respective websites [NBC.com, CBS.com, etc.]
GORDON: And you’re certainly not alone in that. The vast majority of the world is in the same boat, forced to choose between piracy or waiting a few years for the DVDs to come out and then pay an exorbitant fee plus crazy shipping costs. Better hope your purchase isn’t damaged en-route.
EVAN: Since we have been so good about being fair, I will point out that there are options- many television episodes are available to buy via Amazon, online. Before you ask why you should pay for something you would otherwise get for free I’d point out that you pay for these shows by watching ads, and that as someone not in the States you would not “otherwise get it for free” to begin with.
GORDON: And that’s something I can actually tolerate. In spite of my muting ads and/or talking back to them while giving the corporate pigs the finger, I’m perfectly willing to subject myself to ’em if it means cheap and convenient access.
EVAN: If I recall our time together in college correctly [which we both know I can, and do], I distinctly remember you blocking said ads with Adblock.
GORDON: Even though it meant the waiting time was ultimately longer.
EVAN: Which is besides the point. But let’s continue onwards: is piracy damaging?
GORDON: The continued existence of Hollywood, as well as the ever increasing budget of films, would seem to indicate otherwise.
There are people out there who might try to argue that piracy hurts new musicians, who can’t afford to lose profits like big businesses can, but that’s a flawed argument. Truth is, musicians only get a sliver of the profits they generate, and wind up losing the rights to their own songs in the process. Working independently with the consumer is generally a safer and more profitable move.
EVAN: I will not argue with what you have said about musicians for a second. The amount they make through selling single tracks on iTunes is deplorable.
What I will point to, however, are the other areas where piracy can [and does] occur. Television series live and die based on their ratings, and buying them does nothing to help what’s perfectly good [if not great] television. Similarly, if only 1,000 people decided to download a new issue of a comic book instead of simply paying the three or four dollars, that could mean the end of that series; titles that dip below 20,000 are typically cancelled soon afterwards.
GORDON: I agree wholeheartedly. But I think that speaks the whole reason piracy exists- not malice, but rather cost and convenience. These people- especially television producers- have got to understand that their old metrics for measuring the popularity of shows are dead.
It’s the equivalent of saying communication isn’t popular because house phones are dying out. No, we’re just turning to new, cheaper, and more convenient methods. Piracy could be dealt a deathblow if these major industries would just step up their game, rather than trying to use lobbies and buy off politicians to keep us dancing to their tunes.
EVAN: The thing is, I think in arguing for “cost and convenience” you run the risk of defending those who just a) want to get quality products for free b) whenever they want.
It’s not just that people want ease in accessing what they love, the truth is that when given the choice between paying and not paying people will always opt for the latter.
Not to bring it back to comic books [who am I kidding, it’s what I do], but you putting down a few dollars means that a talented writer or artist is able to keep on doing what they do: providing you with high-quality stuff. That’s an actual case where piracy can severely jeopardize both artists and their art.
GORDON: Again, I agree. I do believe in paying for what I love. My record collection stands as a testament to this, as does my choice to spend a few extra bucks buying beer produced by one of the few ethical companies on this blighted earth.
Tell me this- you like the show New Girl, right?
GORDON: Would you pay fifty bucks American to watch the show at 4:12 (and ONLY at 4:12) in the afternoon?
EVAN: I would not.
GORDON: How ’bout ten cents to watch it whenever you so desire?
EVAN: Yes indeed.
GORDON: You and millions others, am I right? Ten cents for a crisp, working copy rather than some choppy, blurry pirated version where the sound and video are out sync?
EVAN: Oh, I stream at only the highest quality.
GORDON:That’s my point, I guess. Yeah, there will always be people out there who don’t want to pay the ten cents, but overwhelmingly, that kind of price and convenience will make such a minority negligible.
I assert again that piracy doesn’t exist because millions of people are art-hating maniacs, but because the business plans of these networks and companies are painfully obsolete and short-sighted, especially in regards to the international market. Heck, I’d say such changes could ultimately lead to these companies turning a healthy profit- especially if they just included some advertising à la early Hulu.
EVAN: Here’s the thing, the US already has a working model of what you just said. As I mentioned you can purchase episodes of stuff on Amazon, and I’m talking $2 an episode. That is reasonable. I don’t think your average American would look at that price and think, “There’s no way in Hades I am spending two dollars on a 45-minute episode of television that I can keep forever.”
Yet in spite of that, people in America still download TV shows all the time. If it doesn’t work for them, what makes you think they can extend something like that to the rest of the world?
GORDON: Firstly, I disagree that 2 bucks is reasonable for an episode. That’s the cost of an entire dinner right there. How much more so is that going to be true for the rest of the world, who have even less?
I mean, we’re not talking about a book or a record which goes through an intensive manufacturing process for each copy- we’re talking digital here. Every man, woman, and child on Earth could be given every book, movie, song, and piece of art on earth if the masters so chose…
EVAN: Gordon. It’s two dollars. The average American does not spend that much on a full meal, they spend that much on stuff they don’t need, like gum or coffee or inane tabloids. As a country America is more than able to pay that paltry amount and yet they do not. My point stands.
I’d further argue that since it’s digital that ease of access adds, not detracts, from its value. You can watch it whenever and wherever you want.
GORDON: What I mean about it being digital is that it doesn’t cost money (anything noticeable) to reproduce it, unlike hard copies of things such as books or art. With that mind, charging two bucks an episode seems to me to be unreasonable. I’d cite the fact that for 20 dollars you can get a season of a show with (at least) 20 episodes as proof of this. The cost can, and should, be lowered for great consumption.
EVAN: Like I said, we’re adding availability as a variable. Sure, you can pay 20$ for a full season of a show, but that’s waiting a year or however long it takes for it to come out. People are also paying for the availability of getting it when or soon after it airs.
GORDON: That’s gonna be different from company to company, but for the most part, that’s true. But I’d jump back to my complaint about how little the actual artists get in all this. If anyone- anyone– is gonna set a price, let it be the ones producing the work.
EVAN: Honestly, though, that’s an entirely different argument.
The fact of the matter is that if a writer/artist wanted to print their own comic book there’s no way they’d be able to do it on any significant scale on their own, the cost of printing alone would wreck them.
Different industries pay those who work in them different amounts, and it’s not the topic of our conversation this week.
GORDON: Again, my issue isn’t with the fact that we must pay; we can all get behind this. My issue is with the terms and conditions we’re subjected to- especially when big companies start throwing their weight around to slow progress.
If piracy is the rampant issue that they say it is- and I seriously contest that- then I submit that the fault is on their part for adopting inconvenient, pricey, and exclusionary policies. Let me put it this way: If you say apples can only be purchased by people who’ve climbed Mount Everest, you’re gonna create a lot of apple thieves.
EVAN: We’ve left you a lot to think about, even if you’re not someone who refreshes a website over and over waiting for a new episode of 2 Broke Girls to pop up [did you know I review that show?].
So with that ladies, gentlemen, and genius babies, we bid you a happy Wednesday. We came up with this week’s topic, but you can decide if next week we talk about . . . um . . . Dungeons & Dragons. How we’ve chosen to play it and why we think it works [better?].
GORDON: Alternatively, you may vote that we discuss the role of religion in our (relatively) secular society.
EVAN: Thank you, as always, for reading, and please vote!
Last night The Big Bang Theory aired its 122nd episode, entitled “The Santa Simulation.” News that its premise hit the internet and avid television watchers everywhere began to cry what may one day become a familiar saying, “Community did it first!” Every single one of them was wrong.
A full year before “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,” [one of the best episodes of Community‘s second season, in my opinion] there was “Jen the Fredo,” the first episode of British sitcom The IT Crowd‘s fourth season. Both of these episodes were some of the best of their respective shows, so I was pretty excited for what TBBT had to offer.
The thing about the D&D-centric episode is how it’s been used as a plot device. As a role-playing game the players are able to reveal aspects about themselves that might not otherwise come out, and you can see this being done with various degrees of effectiveness in each episode. Spoilers for all three episodes past this point.
The IT Crowd [S4E1]
“Jen the Fredo”
I realize that most of you have not seen, or maybe even heard of, The IT Crowd. Let me sum in up in that it is, in my ways, what The Big Bang Theory could be. It’s a show about two, well, nerds that work in the IT department of a large company and their boss, who knows nearly nothing about computers. One of the best aspects of the show is that it brings you into the nerdiness of Moss and Roy, and in watching you begin to feel like you really relate to them, becoming equally frustrated when people ask them for help with their computers.
“Jen the Fredo” is, if you’ve seen The Godfather films [which I haven’t], a clear reference to the character Fredo, whose job it was to take out of town businessman and “show them a good time.” Jen takes on the role of helping to entertain a few business partners, but ultimately fails when she takes them to see “The Vagina Monologues.”
Enter Dungeons and Dragons. Moss has been preparing to DM [Dungeon Master, can be used as a verb] and convinces Jen that it’s exactly what these gentlemen are looking for. The best part is, he succeeds [I had a great YouTube clip here but someone decided to make it private].
While the idea of entertaining [and riveting] a few rowdy businessmen with a little D&D is hilarious in and of itself, but there’s more to it than that. Moss uses the game to confront Roy about the latter’s painful breakup, something he’d been avoiding talking about for a while. The conclusion is tear-filled and, more importantly, immensely funny. You can catch it on Netflix, or here, though you didn’t hear that from me.
Community [S2E14] “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons”
This episode has easily the most actual gameplay of the three, since essentially the entire episode consists of the Greendale Seven playing D&D in the library. It also treats the source material the most lovingly, complete with a voice over and fantastically appropriate score.
The game is set up due to Jeff wanting to help out “Fat Neil,” a young man planning to end his life [understated by the narration] due to his new nickname. Once everything is set up, with Abed as the DM, things really get going.
Each member of the study group essentially plays a version of themselves, with the voice over near the beginning describing them as “Troy the Obtuse,” and “Britta the Needlessly Defiant.” They react to the situations within the game as they normally would, with Jeff impatient and unwilling to put up with nonsense as usual. The best parts, however, are when you discover a little something about the character you thought you knew, well-illustrated in the following scene with Annie:
In this episode Pierce owns his most [as far as I’m concerned] unpopular role: The Villain. Incensed at being excluded from the game he steals Fat Neil’s magical sword and runs away, later using D&D manuals to cheat and garner immense power to himself.
Everything ends, as usual, with a fairly warm and fuzzy conclusion. Pierce is defeated, mostly through his friends forgiving him for his dickishness [hence his title, “Pierce the Dickish]. Neil’s spirits are lifted and he finds the motivation to keep on living.
The Big Bang Theory [S6E11]
“The Santa Situation”
A “guys’ night” is happening and the activity of choice is Dungeons and Dragons, which is territory you’d have expected these characters to have explored in-depth quite a few seasons back. Heck, as far as I can recall they spent more time playing Settlers of Catan than throwing around a 12-sided dice.
The game begins and Leonard, the DM, lets it drop that their quest is to rescue Santa Claus. Queue Sheldon’s disappointed face due to the fact that he a) loves D&D and b) hates Christmas. Also Raj gets shot in the face with a cannon in the first few minutes of the game, highlighting the fragility of life in a world that values perception checks.
Oh, and they ditch their respective girlfriends to play, which led to this scene, the last line of which was delivered excellently:
Using the structure of the game Leonard gets Sheldon to sing [all five verses of] “Good King Wenceslas” and all three remaining players to play “Jingle Bells” using, the obvious instrument of choice, bells.
Upon finding Jolly Old St. Nick in chains they move forward to rescue him, only to have Sheldon cast a paralyzing spell on his companions. He then confronts Santa [or Leonard, in this case] and tells the heartbreaking story of how he asked Father Christmas for only one thing as a child, to have his grandfather back. He then walks out, leaving the old many to die.
As far as really exploring well-established characters, Community probably succeeds the most, by virtue that it only has the one central plot that revolves around a single game of D&D. While it does feature Pierce continuing on his course to become more cartoonishly evil, Britta’s response to the beleaguered gnomes is a perfect example of how her character will react both in and out of the real world.
The IT Crowd and The Big Bang Theory tread the very similar ground. Moss uses the game to force Roy to come to terms with the love he lost, something that would have been impossible otherwise. Sheldon’s childhood experience with Santa Claus never would have come about without Leonard guiding him to that place where he could talk to the man who disappointed him.
My hope is that there will be a continuation of this trend, with there having being one D&D episode per year from 2010-2012. As the current DM of an ongoing gothic horror campaign I am well-aware of the storytelling capabilities of the game as well as how enjoyable it is to know people you know well deal when presented with fantastical situations. Although 2/3 of the above shows do feature “nerds” I’m sure that this could still appear in the more bizarre sitcoms, such as New Girl and Happy Endings.