I am known in my group of friends as being somewhat obsessed with television and the film industry in general. I spend countless hours in front of my computer watching episode after episode of a favorite series and often find myself forgetting about the world outside and absorbing myself in the characters of a show. Most people who know me would probably say that I have an unhealthy fascination with fantasy, i.e. vampires and witches, so it might come as a bit of a surprise that I have chosen to write about comedy shows. While all of the shows that I watch have comedic moments, I confess to currently only following one purely comedy show, namely The Big Bang Theory. But let me first take a step back and try to analyze what I think makes for a successful comedy show.
It’s pretty obvious that different people have different senses of humor and will therefore find different things or situations funny. It is so easy to go completely over the top in an attempt to be funny and fail miserably, leaving people uncomfortable. So the first important ingredient is to find that balance between appropriateness and funniness. One must then also find an actor or actress capable of being believable and bringing a character to life. Finally, these ingredients need to be maintained over a long period of time, otherwise an audience will simply tune out.
As a child, the comedy shows that I would watch all centered around family life. Watching Full House, Step-By-Step or The Cosby Show became a sort of ritual in our household and contributed greatly to my learning of the English language.
All three shows were hugely successful and consisted of a large core cast of characters all trying to coexist. The situations were ones I could relate to growing up, delivered with humor and still managing to teach lessons episode by episode for several seasons.
It’s difficult to review comedy and not mention Friends. Without a doubt, this show will go down in history as one of the most popular in its genre. Following the lives of six friends living in New York, it took the world by storm and became a cultural phenomenon (the Rachel haircut, anyone?). When it wrapped after ten years on the air, 52.5 million American viewers tuned in to watch the finale, making it the 4th most watched television show finale in history. Even now, six years after its end, one can watch re-runs every day. Having seen all ten seasons (and owning them on DVD) I find myself wondering, however, if Friends really is the best comedy show? True, there is something in every character that I can relate to and the series is definitely funny, but after a while, it gets a bit…monotonous. There are only so many Chandler jokes I can take! Friends is simply not a television show that I would sit through again and again and I find it a bit tiring that E4+1 shows it all the time. There are other, better, comedies available.
Which brings me nicely to Frasier. Dr. Frasier Crane first appeared as a recurring character on the popular sitcom Cheers, before getting his own spin-off series.Portrayed by Kelsey Grammer, Frasier is a psychiatrist who moves back to his hometown of Seattle after the end of his marriage. His father Martin, a retired detective, is forced to move in with him as he is no longer able to live by himself after being shot. As a result, Frasier is further obliged to hire a physical therapist, Daphne. Also in Seattle is Niles, Frasier’s younger brother, who also works as a psychiatrist and who ends up falling in love with Daphne when they first meet, despite being married to Maris – a character who is described in great detail, but whom we never meet. Frasier hosts a radio show, bringing in the character of Roz, his sassy producer.
It would be easy to be put off by the first few episodes, as most of the characters are at first bitter and plain rude to each other, as personalities clash. Frasier and Niles are both intellectuals who consider themselves to be better than most people around them, whilst their father is more laid back and much simpler in his tastes. However, while these character traits never go away, they are toned down as the first season progresses and the show is very enjoyable. The humor is intelligent and the cast is simply wonderful. Niles, played by David Hyde Pierce, steals the show for me. His delivery of the lines, as well as his pure physical comedy, is genius. In many ways I feel this show is for an older audience, but it is one that I love and, unlike with Friends, can watch repeatedly.
For a long time I thought that it simply was not possible to create a character funnier than Niles Crane…and then a friend recommended The Big Bang Theory to me and I met Dr. Sheldon Cooper. With a combined IQ of 360, Leonard and Sheldon are roommates who work at Caltech. Together with their equally socially awkward friends Howard and Raj, their lives are turned upside down when hot blonde Penny, an aspiring actress working as a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory, moves in across the hall. Again, the humor is intelligent and the ensemble cast have great chemistry together. Of course, one can’t talk about BBT and not wax poetic about the comedic genius that is Jim Parsons. As an actor in this category he is, in my opinion, simply in a league of his own and I think it’s a travesty that it took four years before he was finally awarded an Emmy and Golden Globe. Despite being a bit slow this season, the show has been renewed for three more years and I can’t wait to see what they’ll have the OCD Sheldon doing next.
Finally, I would like to finish off by mentioning one last series that I have recently rediscovered. 3rd Rock from the Sun is about four aliens sent to Earth to observe humans and our way of life. I remember seeing a few episode years ago and only started watching it again because of my newfound love for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays one of the aliens – an intelligence officer forced into the body of a teenager.
I think with comedy it’s difficult to pick a favorite or best show. All of the series described above have given me hours of viewing pleasure and have, through laughter, no doubt added valuable minutes to my life. In the end, isn’t that the whole point?