More Good/Bad TV & Do We Need Laugh Tracks?

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Poor Kevin Dillon. He’s not having as lousy an autumn as Eddie Cibrian (whose Playboy Club was first to go AND who injured his foot on set when it was caught in a 200 lb steel door AND whose house was recently targeted in a drunk driving crash). Yet, Dillon’s brand new show How to Be a Gentleman got the axe but quick – just one week into the viewing. Did you see it? People loved him on HBO – but is he now back to being just that guy from Entourage – or worse, Matt Dillion’s younger brother? Actually, he’ll be more than fine. There are always shows that need cute, wisecracking dimwits. Look at Matt LeBlanc.

The CW reality show H8R was also cancelled. Now, even though these shows have gone the way of the buffalo, all is not necessarily lost. Because nowadays there are plenty of other outlets for them – which’ll be the focus of today’s poll. In my opinion one brand new CW show that shouldn’t be cancelled is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Ringer. Which is aces in the Silly But Oh So Watchable category. Much like Revenge. Both are scary, sudsy over-the-top dramas that rely upon mistaken (and deliberately mistaken) identities and “unknown” killers with “deadly” missions. Both are way too much fun to watch.

Speaking of fun to watch, I’m old enough to remember when there were three kinds of television shows: One, there were comedies, indicated by laughter (usually but not always courtesy of a live audience). Two, there were dramas, indicated by the presence of blood, woodwinds and maybe some string instruments. Finally there was PBS, which was serious but usually connected to something you were supposed to have read for school and hadn’t – so always smart to catch those if you could stay up. Then one day several TV creators decided to mix it all up by adding humor to dramas (not that Columbo, Murder, She Wrote and McMillan & Wife didn’t toe that line beautifully) making them darkly comic (think Twin Peaks). But then they did something else – something that completely flummoxed me: they removed the laugh tracks and live audiences from some comedies. This, while now common, was very unsettling and I remember thinking that maybe those shows were funny, maybe they weren’t – how was I supposed to know?? People far more sophisticated than I trumpeted the sheer genius of these shows (Malcolm in the Middle, Ugly Betty, Scrubs)  although I had little or no idea of what to make of them. Funny though I knew they must be, I was far happier swimming around where people’s laughter (and its volume) was a surefire indicator of what was hilarious. Not that I couldn’t think for myself, rather I’d been so conditioned and comforted by the laugh track that I felt adrift when it was just me, a joke and then…another line. For a long time I swam comfortably in the safe, guffaw-filled waters of Friends and Will & Grace. Where you can bob for years.

It wasn’t until 30 Rock came along that I started to feel comfy without a laugh track. Now I can watch (and love) Glee, Modern Family and old Arrested Developments and witness the sheer genius of laughter-free comedy. But it took a while. The reason I bring this up is that there’s a brand new show – 2 Broke Girls – that I find very smart and funny. However, it’s  kind of being hindered by its own laugh track. The show is funny all right, but the laughter feels almost forced, almost punched –  which detracts from the great lines (and droll delivery by both actresses, who are terrific). Not sure what that means – it could be that 2 Broke Girls might be getting less funny. Nah. Isn’t it easier and less hope-dashing just to blame the audience?

Today’s poll:

These four fall shows have been canceled. Which one of them would you most like to see brought back to life somewhere else?

1)    Playboy Club

2)    How to Be a Gentleman

3)    Free Agents

4)    H8R

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