All My Favourite New Shows Are Comedies. What gives?

A whole assortment of new shows that I thought would be interesting hit the decks in midseason. I was initially particularly excited about Awake, which seemed like it had a lot of potential based on the premise and the initial episodes, but it quickly petered out into a routine procedural and I found myself losing interest. And then I started watching GCB and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 and I found myself…enjoying them. I really wasn’t expecting that, at all, because comedy isn’t normally my thing.

I have a strange sense of humour. It’s not that I don’t find things funny, it’s that the things I find funny aren’t necessarily the things other people find funny, and people sometimes have trouble adjusting to my sense of humour. I’m not really that into physical comedy, especially the kind of comedy that revolves around pratfalls committed at the expense of other people. It just makes me feel sad for the victims and kind of uneasy and uncomfortable as a viewer, imagining myself in that very position. Television comedy is usually too obvious or too uncomfortable for me, and consequently, I don’t watch much of it.

Yet, I’m finding myself really loving both of these midseason shows. GCB is the kind of humour I like; sharp, biting, cutting, and also sometimes deep beneath the surface. It’s a parody of a specific kind of world that is totally alien to me, but that’s what makes it more intriguing to me as a viewer; I’m looking at a strange environment through the eyes of people who obviously know it very well and want to poke fun at it while also commenting on it. Naturally, of course, it was on the bubble almost immediately. This is  predictable, since every show I love inevitably tanks almost immediately; evidently my taste in television differs radically from that of the viewers who count in the great metrics used to decide whether to keep airing a given show.

Apartment 23 was an unexpected delight for me, because it has the whole setup that I would expect to hate. It’s a half hour show revolving around two roommates and their mishaps, and there absolutely is physical comedy along with awkward pratfalls, but I still found myself drawn to it. There was something about the characters and their dynamic that pulled at me and kept me watching—and laughing. Sometimes I even laughed at the expense of the characters, which is something I don’t usually do. The setup was simple and so is the plotting, which normally doesn’t appeal to me at all, but the writers made it work with some snappy writing and strong characters that kept me wanting to see more instead of driving me away from the television after a few weeks. I wanted to know them.

When evaluating my response to these shows, I don’t think that anything about myself has radically shifted; taking a look at numerous other comedies, I still find them dull. In cases where I get the humour, it doesn’t interest me, or I find the story development poor and the comedy isn’t enough to keep me watching. Or the content is so bound up with -isms that I can’t enjoy it at all. Instead, I think something is shifting in television, where dramas are all starting to blend into each other as producers attempt to copy what they think will be successful, and as a result, comedy is changing.

Comedy may be a bit of a brave and adventurous world because there’s somewhat more leeway and producers are willing to go out on a limb and try something new. Comedies seem to be given more time to adjust and attract a viewership than dramas are, and thus creators can be more off the beaten track when they’re developing shows and playing with their characters. I found myself getting bored with new dramas almost immediately after they got going; Grimm and Awake both failed to hold my attention after my initial excitement, for example, and I eventually took them out of my Hulu subscriptions because I realised I was letting them sit there for weeks and then deleting them.

GCB in particular got some fascinating storylining and character development going on in the midst of the satire. It managed to find that happy medium point of keeping viewers entertained with weekly antics while also creating a richer world that provided a good reason to tune in each week for more. With Apartment 23, I wanted to see how this relationship developed, and how the two women changed and shaped each other by living together. I found myself actively caring about the characters and what was happening in their world. I was invested in both shows as a viewer.

Fans of Community, Parks and Recreation, and 30 Rock embrace these shows for similar reasons; there’s interesting character development going on and the comedy is more sophisticated than simplistic. They also probe deep into the satire zone, flipping society and ideas about the world on their heads in a way that sometimes leaves viewers thinking more deeply about their environment and the assumptions they make about their surroundings. Is it possible that we’re seeing a new generation of television comedy that, in addition to being funny, is also complex and more sophisticated?

Instead of having small but loyal followings, comedies could attract the same kind of viewership as dramas. That of course might mean that they’d turn just as formulaic and dull as most dramas on television right now as creators jostle for the top spot and attempt to do so by copying someone else’s work in an attempt to piggyback on its success.