Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I figured out what's wrong with Studio 60

I've watched both episodes of this show.

Let me say that, even though I set out wanting to hate it, I don't.

Which isn't to say it's my favorite show. It's addictive, but there's something wrong. Something big and glaring that I couldn't quite figure out.

I imagine it's the same uneasiness people in the 50's felt about cigarettes before they knew they caused cancer. Even if they didn't know the whole story, I'm sure they couldn't have thought they were good for you, right?

At first I thought it was the preachiness. This is why I've never watched The West Wing. But while this was annoying, it was not enough to make me not tune in.

It wasn't the nods to pop-culture and the internet, as grating as they were. It wasn't the way the moral centers of the show are both a writer and a recovering drug addict. Though that did sound familiar.

There was something about it that I couldn't put my finger on. I was compelled to watch and see what was going to happpen. Dramatically, it's great. Or at least good enough for me to ignore the things that drove me crazy.

I finally figured out what the problem is, though.

This is show about comedy where references are made to the main characters being great comedy writers. Though I didn't realize it at first, I believe that I was uneasy because I knew that eventually this would have to be demonstrated.

You can make a show about ice skating and talk about how great the skaters are, but eventually you're going to have to see them skate. And there are no body doubles in comedy writing.

Eventually, these characters will have to be funny. Correction: they will have to create something on their show-within-a-show that is funny.

I sat there, wondering, "Would they just skip that part? Would they use a sketch someone else had done before?" No, I knew that eventually, we would see this show-within-a-show and it would be the creation of the show-outside-of-the-show's mastermind. Aaron Sorkin.

And what did these comedy genius writers, created by their unseen television overlord create for their big show opener? The thing that was going to show the world this show was back and ready to set the comedy world on fire? A musical number.

And that, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with this show.

If you make a show about ice skating and you don't know how to ice skate, eventually you are going to have to get out there and make an ass of yourself.

I don't know the secret to comedy, but I know what it is not and that is taking yourself seriously. And a big, broadway-style musical number is a very self-serious way to pretend you are poking fun at yourself. You know, in a serious way.

This is the epitome of Aaron Sorkin's sense of what makes good TV: people who take themselves very seriously. As a show, that works. As a show-within-a-show that is supposed to be funny, it does not.

And it didn't work for Sports Night, either.

The episode of Sports Night that comes to my mind involves a show where one of the main characters had to go and report on hunting. And at the end, he gives a big flowery speech about how hunting made him feel. And he starts crying. A grown man crying about killing a deer.

This is comedy? Inadvertantly, maybe.

Some people think comedy and drama can be mingled in that fashion. I disagree.

There's no need to mingle them because they are the same thing looked at in two opposite ways. Put them together and you get nothing. You get the null set. You get a void. And the by-product of this destruction is a sticky, saccharine syrup which chokes anyone who attempts to consume it.

See? That was me taking myself way too seriously. And it didn't work.

I've never wanted to be a writer on Saturday Night Live more than I do right now, if just for one week. To respond to someone so sure of the fact that he can do my job better than I can, that he went and made a show about it. Someone who ultimately proved he can't skate.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Ricky Gervais Sucks: in defense of crankiness

OK, now that I've gotten your attention, let me say that I'm not really sure Ricky Gervais sucks, because I have gone out of my way not to watch him.

I have a brand new, unwrapped box set of Season 1 of the U.K. Office, as I believe it is called over here to distinguish it from the one with Steve Carell.

My reason for doing so is this: everyone I know tells me it is hilarious. EVERYONE. I have not a single friend or acquaintance who doesn't think that show is funny. Specifically: Ricky Gervais.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the proof of this show's greatness is all over TV.

I'm not even talking about the American version of the Office. That's a show that's based on another show so of course there are going to be similarities.

I am talking about other shows and movies which have utilized the "clueless boss is a jerk but thinks he's cool" archetype. Basically every new "comedy" this season has one.

This, alone, is enough to make me nauseous, but this isn't my main reason for saying that I, Eric Filipkowski, hate you, Ricky Gervais.

In my book, universal praise is enough to put me off of anything.

An example? OK, how about "The Osbournes"?

You used to love that show. Yes, you did. Yes. You did. Shut up. You did.

You would call me up and tell me how hilarious it was.

"Oh man, you should have seen it last night, Kelly and Jack got in a big fight! And then Ozzy was mumbling! Oh shit, I almost forget, Sharon started yelling at someone! And there are tiny dogs!"


Yes, that was you. You didn't think anyone would remember, but I did.

"The Osbournes" is terrible. You didn't see that truth back when it was a cultural phenomenon, but I did.

How did I know? What tipped me off? It was universally praised.

Now, I tried to outline my thoughts to my fellow cranky friend last night, but he countered and said that not everything that is loved by everyone is awful. As an example, he cited the band Nirvana.

As I told him, this is just pure revisionism. Before Kurt Cobain died, Nirvana was passe. It's true, because I actually liked them and I got constant shit for it.

The things that endure and become "classics" are never fully appreciated during their time. This is especially obvious in the world of art; with people like Vincent Van Gogh, Chris Elliott and Amy Sedaris wallowing in relative obscurity. Even Bob Odenkirk is probably better known as "The President of Beer" to most people in America, instead of as the co-creator of the show that redefined sketch comedy.

On the other hand, the things that everybody loves and thinks are great at the time often whip people up into a ridiculous fervor of blind enthusiasm. To the point where the creators begin to think they are above reproach and their minions are more than willing to nourish this idea.

So you get things like Ricky Gervais, the Osbournes and Nazism.

Or Pinkberry.

What is Pinkberry? Read this article and find out.

The quick version is that Pinkberry is a low-calorie frozen yogurt stand that supposedly is delicious. I say "supposedly" because I have not, nor will I ever go in there and try it.

Because sometimes you have to take a stand. You have to say "no" to the Hive Mind.

"Maybe a Prius will give me slightly better gas mileage, but it's not really going to save the Earth and besides, everyone I know who drives one is a screaming asshole."

Yes, I am talking to you, Tim Jennings.

On a technical note, maybe Ricky Gervais doesn't suck. Maybe he is only recently receiving universal praise. I don't know, I'm not sure, but I'm not taking any chances.

I do what Teddy Ruxpin tells me to do and today he told me that I need to free my mind and the rest will follow.