How does one get to be a sitcom writer? Are there any
new sitcom writers?
The way I've always pictured it, the writers are all guys who look
sort of like Jerry's dad on "Seinfeld." They are the longtime pros
who, slumped over their typewriters, have been steadily crafting
jokes since the days of Jack Benny and don't understand any of
cultural references shoehorned into their scripts by the hip,
young, whip-cracking producers and creative developers in charge of
shaping the raw material of their regurgitated comedy matter into
relevant products that will "connect" with the valuable
It's fall, time to reap our annual harvest of new television
shows. According to some Internet article I just read, 70% of TV
series are canceled before they reach their second season, which is
what makes this bright inaugural moment of innocent optimism so
precious: look at all of them, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,
heading out into the world with their terrible jokes, washed-up
stars, and hokey premises, believing that people will love
"Dads" (Tuesdays on Fox) is an old-timey multi-cam sitcom about
two friends who run a successful video game startup; unfortunately,
their personal lives are a mess as a result of their meddling
fathers, who have, for comedic reasons, moved in with them. The
whole thing is (if any reason at all can be deduced to explain its
existence) just an excuse to mock the out-of-touch elder
generation, the irony being that the show is itself so terribly
outmoded. The two fathers are probably the most stereotypical
oldsters you'll come across this year: they're cheap, they're
forgetful, they have bad breath, and they're insensitive to women
and minorities. They're annoying, and that's the whole premise of
The sons (Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi) don't really have much
going on aside from working in an improbably fun, laid-back,
open-floor-plan, renovated-urban-space office and being constantly,
predictably exasperated by the antics of their dads. You have to
feel bad for Green, who, except for his beard, looks exactly the
same as he did in his "Airborne" days and, at age 39, seems doomed
to playing single, semi-adolescent dudes forever.
On the basis of a few tired ethnic jokes, critics have decided -
perhaps because the man responsible for all this is the notorious
Seth MacFarlane, creator of "Family Guy" - that "Dads" is
"offensive," but that assessment is really too generous, in that it
suggests that maybe the show is cutting-edge or boundary-pushing
when, in reality, its 2002-ish attempts to be "outrageous" are
probably too limp to outrage anyone.
It's the bully that, if you ignore it, really will go away - like,
in two to three months, I'd guess.
Following "Dads" on Fox is a show called "Brooklyn Nine-Nine,"
which feels a little more contemporary: it stars Andy Samberg, who
left "SNL" in 2012. It is a single-camera production with no
laugh-track, it takes place in Brooklyn, and its first episode has
a cameo by Fred Armisen. It takes place at an NYPD precinct, where
Samberg plays a wacky, fun-loving detective who clashes with his
by-the-book partner and/or chief; you can only hope that Fox is
paying royalties to the "hipster cop" meme-human from Occupy Wall
Street, because I'm pretty sure that's where the idea came from.
The show has a pretty good cast - Terry Crews, Andre Braugher - and
although it doesn't seem "actually funny" yet, it at least seems
like a series you could watch without being embarrassed that you're
The network's idea, presumably, was to make use of Brooklyn's
local color without catering too heavily to the over-served youth
market of "Girls," "2 Broke Girls," and "I Just Want My Pants
Back." Samberg's character is an ultra-benign iteration of the Axel
Foley Wisecracking Rogue Cop, so implausible as the precinct's "top
detective" that the show probably won't even be able to pretend to
take its criminal cases semi-seriously - which may be a good
"Welcome to the Family"
The third show I watched was called "Welcome to the Family"
(Thursdays on NBC), a title that it seems hard to believe was not
already taken by some other sitcom two decades ago. It stars Mike
O'Malley, who, in the past two decades, has been on a lot of TV
shows but will perhaps always remain best-loved (at least by me)
for his hosting duties on Nickelodeon's "GUTS." The show concerns a
biracial teenage couple (an airheaded California blonde and a
Latino valedictorian) that, on the day of their graduation, as the
boy prepares to head off to Stanford, finds out that they're going
to have a baby - bringing their two families together in comedic,
cross-cultural comedy. NBC is probably going for "Modern Family"
here, but I'm only picking up "Rob" (a show canceled after a 2012
run that featured a solitary guy, Rob, who marries into a huge
The kids handle the surprise quite well, but the two patriarchs,
one of which is played by O'Malley, predictably despise each other:
they're classic suburban-dad types whose macho tendencies will
inevitably find their outlet, over (probably brief) course of this
series, in ridiculous competitive schemes that will only make them
seem ridiculous and exasperate their (of course) reasonable wives.
The nice part of this show is the sweet relationship between
the two kids, which reverses the successful-woman/dopey-guy
"Knocked Up" dynamic - unfortunately, the parents are bound to be
the main focus: the pilot introduces a "Father of the Bride Part
II" twist in the final moments to ensure it.
With all the entertainment options available today, do we really
need these shows? No, but on occasion, a show indistinguishable
from all the other white noise of retrograde mass culture - "The
Big Bang Theory," "Two and a Half Men" - will still inexplicably
become an enormous hit, so they're still going to get made. It's
comforting, to me, that, no matter how advanced we get, a certain
pocket of network TV will never, ever change.