Home > new shows, previews, reviews, trailers, upfronts > The Freshman TV Class of 2010-2011, Part 1: The Sitcoms

The Freshman TV Class of 2010-2011, Part 1: The Sitcoms

May 28th, 2010 | Jonathan Gray

What new shows lie ahead? Last week’s Upfronts gave us the answer. The allure of so many new shows is impossible for me to resist, and thus this is the first in a four part series discussing the new network shows for Fall. I’m not discussing summer additions, since most of those have already offered previews and various trailers or other promotional materials, so they’re more established, and since I have to cut it off somewhere. I’m also not discussing new cable shows, despite the cable channels being part of the Upfronts this year (as Amanda Lotz describes here), since there are so many channels that it becomes impossible to know when to stop.

Those warnings, offered, let’s begin.

And I start with the large crop of new comedies, 13 between the Big Four to be exact (The CW doesn’t believe in [intentional] comedy anymore, so it seems). This is a huge freshman class, and it suggests the degree to which all that crap about sitcoms being dead was so very wrong. Indeed, and as the third installment in this series suggests too, 2010-2011 promises to be just as full of procedurals and comedies as any point in television history.

The problem with evaluating new sitcoms is that the trailers must establish the sit(uation) in the sitcom, and to do so they nearly always create little more than archetypes and stereotypes. The challenge for any comedy is to live and breathe beyond those types, to play with and around them, and to be original in doing so, and sometimes none of that happens until the pilot is done and dusted. So I’m hesitant to crown any of these excellent at this point. But I’m more than happy to crown some of them as horrific.

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Let’s start with NBC (see their trailers here), who as Derek Kompare notes here in his post on the network’s attempts to change its brand identity as Erstwhile Loser at these Upfronts, has a lot to prove and a lot to play for.

  • Friends with Benefits looks painfully bad, and if nothing is scheduled against it that you like, please take up a hobby because it could hurt you. Luckily, its title is bad enough to warn you away, I hope. It reeks of the network trying to announce that it’s cool and hip, but that hip is the broken hip on the cool cadaver of comedy. I don’t really get who they’re pitching this at: in an age of CW and Internet porn, surely anyone who wants titillation can find it elsewhere, so what’s left in this tepid looking show but a badly-executed would-be romcom? I don’t plan on finding out. Though I will give points for the Yo-Yo Ma gag.
  • The Paul Reiser Show doesn’t look as puke-drenched, but it is a bit sad to see Reiser once more riding the Seinfeld coattails (Mad About You being the original Kenny Bania), this time trying to do something Curb Your Enthusiasm-like. It’s meta and it’s singlecam, and but he’s Paul Reiser, not Larry David (and as Seinfeld told us, listening to Bania is like being beaten with a bag of oranges). This is the kind of format that cable will always do way better, which makes me wonder if someone in the NBC-Universal cable division was filling in for an NBC exec the day this one got greenlit. Oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine unobjectionable, blah comedy, but I’d like something more.
  • Perfect Couples, which focuses on three different young couples, is only meh for me – not bad, not good. Best case scenario: it learns from How I Met Your Mother how to do funny couples humor and delivers to the same audience. Worst case scenario: it looks like a really bad hybrid of HIMYM and Friends that burns out after the he says/she says humor runs dry. The tester: if they make jokes about men and women’s different reactions to the prospect of going shopping in the first three episodes, it’s gonna be bad (‘cause they already did the “she takes all the space in the bed” joke in the trailer, so thin ice has been courted already).
  • Outsourced is a clear example of what I mention above, regarding pilots and types. Set in a call center in India, this show’s potential to peddle endless Indian stereotypes uncritically and moronically is vast. But it’s also a very rare beast in being an American show (a sitcom, no less!) set outside America with predominantly non-American characters, so the upside is worth tuning in for. I’m not getting my hopes up, but it would be nice if it works.

Overall, then, I just don’t see NBC returning to greatness with these comedies, though with The Office, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, and Community, that’s not their problem, so tune in later for discussion of their dramas.

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ABC has three new comedies of its own (see all their trailers here), stoked on by the success of Modern Family and Cougar Town (and the impressiveness of The Middle, albeit to middling ratings):

  • Mr. Sunshine, starring Matthew Perry as the manager of a sports arena, has me very excited. Why? Allison Janney. I looooove Allison Janney. CJ Cregg was one of the very best characters on television, and Janney is brilliant in all things. She also has history opposite Perry. This looks like it could be a smart comedy, and it’s certainly something different (a manager of a sports arena? Pa Brady never did that!), which may doom it on network TV, and maybe I’m letting my love of Janney carry this too far, but a person has to believe in something, and I believe in Allison Janney. The trailer looks like Sports Night meets The Larry Sanders Show.
  • Happy Endings, however, looks to be in competition with Friends with Benefits for lamest new comedy. Elisha Cuthbert stars as … oh, I don’t care, and neither should you. She is close to a polar opposite to Janney in terms of acting skills. Trailers for comedies risk taking the only funny bits in the show, but here there are none, a sadly telling indicator of the horror that lies ahead. Don’t get me wrong – romcoms can be good, but this isn’t.
  • Better Together strikes me as a very conventional sitcom. Kind of like Perfect Couples, it offers three couples, here a sister and her recent fiancé, a longtime unmarried couple, and their parents. With a fairly decent cast of sitcom-ready actors, it looks competent, if unspectacular, the kind of show I might find amusing yet not feel I need to follow. Dharma and Greg for the 2010s.

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In terms of branding, I give the gold star to FOX (see all their clips here), who are launching four new comedies, three of which are exactly the kind of comedies you’d expect from the network.

  • When people said that My Name is Earl should’ve gone to FOX, where it would’ve been a better tonal fit, clearly Greg Garcia listened and took Raising Hope there. Once more offering a seriously messed up hero and supporting characters, the show follows the arrival of a new baby in the lead’s life. Suitably irreverent, edgy, and very funny, this show looks quite good, I must admit, and it will nicely fit the Earl-sized hole in my viewing schedule. Any show with a flashback scene of a baby riding down a street with his head sticking out the bottom of a car must be good, right?
  • Running Wilde also brings back a great talent to the small box, in the form of Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz, with Will Arnett starring no less. Arnett is so fun to watch on screen, and the plot seems suitably ludicrous that I will definitely be watching when it starts. Offbeat, strange, and overdone in fun ways, it could be very good.
  • Mixed Signals is another Friends/HIMYM-type show in a year with many of them. It seems fairly adept, perhaps the best of the bunch, yet I’m not sure the market analysis that’s told all these execs that people really, really want more of these types of shows is right, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see most fall my the wayside. Perhaps the studios are simply moving romcoms to TV and away from film since they don’t think they’ll succeed in 3D.
  • Bob’s Burgers is another animated sitcom, but miraculously NOT from Seth McFarlane. The bits I saw seemed resolutely Adult Swim-y in their bit-ishness and low grade visual style. I’m guessing this is too cheap looking for network TV, and I give it a short life, especially if it’s as ho-hum as the clips suggest.

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CBS only has two new comedies (see them here):

  • Shit My Dad Says promised to be amusing if only to hear how people read the title on network TV. And it stars William Shatner as an irascible, opinionated old guy. So I expected a lot more, but the trailer is resolutely unfunny. Wow, who would’ve thought that a Twitter feed wasn’t enough to build a show off? At this point, studios should be more respectful of The Shat – don’t let this be his last role, CBS!
  • Mike and Molly bothers me, since it seems entirely premised on the fact that its stars are heavy (even the title graphics, at present, are of a scale). Fat jokes are fine for five minute segments in a stand-up routine (or for Twitter feeds?), but as the basis of a show, the format seems too doomed to the bi-polar swing between self-loathing and inspirational “we’re all beautiful” platitudes. I’d rather a show like Roseanne where the stars are heavy but just get on with being funny about a variety of topics. I’d hold out more hope that they move away from that premise in due time, but it’s from Chuck Lorre, so comic genius and sophistication don’t seem to be in the cards.

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And those are the comedies. Next up: reality television.

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  1. May 28th, 2010 at 08:35 | #1

    Reading this post, I’ve discovered that Twitter has in some ways ruined my excitement: because I know so much of what critics/bloggers are already saying about these pilots (like, for example, the fairly across-the-board disappointment in “Mr. Sunshine”), I don’t find myself getting hyped about any show in particular.

    However, I’m with you on “Raising Hope,” although I’m intensely curious why, precisely, this guy has a baby. It was really bugging me throughout the trailer.

  2. May 28th, 2010 at 08:46 | #2

    @Myles McNutt
    yeah, the trailer doesn’t say. Apparently, “a chance romantic encounter” goes wrong when the woman is revealed to be a wanted felon. When Jimmy visits her in prison, he learns she gave birth to a baby for whom, he is now responsible.

    and don’t speak ill of Allison Janney. Have faith. Like the island, Janney will provide ;-)

  1. June 23rd, 2010 at 12:40 | #1