Tuesday, November 29, 2011

GOOD ON TV?: "COMMUNITY"'S HIATUS, AND WHY "THE BIG BANG THEORY", MIGHT BE THE BEST SHOW ON TV!

In my original "Good on TV?" blog, I discussed the comparative process of finding out what to watch on TV at a given night. I used the Monday 8:00pm, basic TV slot as an example, and discussed how simple it really was to find out what to watch on TV. That being said, while there's usually only one semi-decent thing on compared to a bunch of crap, at best, occasionally there's a tough call that needs to be made. Clearly, during the last two years, the most difficult choice was the Thursday 8:00pm, slot, where two of TV's best shows were actually up against each other, "Community," on NBC, and "The Big Bang Theory," on CBS. In fact, Thursday Night in general, is easily the best night to watch TV. "Community," "The Office," (Which is still funny as hell) "Parks and Recreation," and once "30 Rock," returns, is easily the best lineup on TV. Or, it was. Recently NBC announced that "Community," will go on hiatus for a couple months, and there's been dozens of outcry and opinions from entertainment reporters, analysts, columnist, and from noted bloggers. I think the only person not particularly surprised or annoyed at the announcement was me. Don't get me wrong, I think "Community," is pretty good, and is at times, great. The paintball episodes alone belong in some strange category of great outlandish television episodes, right up there with the episode of "Home Improvement", where Tim falls into the port-o-potty. Saying that however, I've rarely watched "Community," in the last two years. My Thursday night, starts with "The Big Bang Theory," and then is followed by the rest of NBC's lineup. (How in the hell that stupid "Rules of Engagement," that goes on after "The Big Bang Theory," remains on the air, is one of TV greatest mysteries, right up there with the disappearance of Ritchie Cunningham's brother Chuck.) Despite the TV community up in arms about "Community," I don't think I'm alone with my TV viewing habits. Did anybody take a second look at this year Emmy nominees? Best Comedy was won by "Modern Family," but the rest of the category is my Thursday Night, "The Big Bang Theory," "Parks and Recreation," "The Office," and "30 Rock," and for some reason "Glee," got nominated. "Community," which a lot of those pundits thought was going to breakthrough and get nominated, was nowhere to be found in any of the major categories. "Community," is funny like I said, but it's been inconsistent, and frankly "The Big Bang Theory," is just a better show right now. In fact, since it's gone into syndication this year, I've been watching "The Big Bang Theory," basically non-stop for weeks now. It's on TV at least twice a day, and I can't wait for the next new episode.

It's fascinates me in fact. For all intensive purposes, "The Big Bang Theory," really shouldn't work at all. It's characters are geniuses, who work in physics, engineering, and the most impenetrable of all sciences, quantum mechanics, and while that already makes them unrelatable, on top of that, most of the characters aren't even particularly likeable, and it's almost impossible to believe that the cute blonde from across the hall would even give them the time of day, much less hang out and befriend these people, and become romantically linked with one of them. This is a very insular group, and there's not much need or desire for comedy about quantum mechanics. Yet, something interesting happened. The show remained on the air, and after a while, you just started accepting it. It's called the "Rules of the Universe," in writing terms, but basically, once you simply accepted the status of the characters, the show started to become funny. It came out of nowhere in fact, but it happened to be at the time, on at a timeslot, where there wasn't anything else on, and suddenly it was the funniest show on that night. Even more intriguing than that, the minor details of the show, started to come through. For starters, it must damn near impossible to write this show for instance? It's hard enough remember some of the long complex dialogue involving obscure science principles, must less write that dialogue. I'm fairly convinced the writers for "The Big Bang Theory," are the smartest writers on TV, and it's almost by necessity. That, in turn, makes the acting all the more impressive. I mean, this is tough dialogue to form a character out of, and the actors aren't exactly scientists themselves, with the noted exception of Mayim Bialik. There's other strange character details though. What decade exactly does Wolowitz dress in? He owns a pair of jeans in every color except blue and black. I don't know a guy anywhere who owns anything but those two colors. All the characters have unusual quirks, and a surprising amount of them involve food. One's lactose-intolerant, one's allergic to peanuts, another won't eat Indian food, and Sheldon-, well, I'll get to Sheldon. These aren't simply quirks and gimmicks that are use for occasional humor and running gags, like Chandler's famous hatred of Thanksgiving on "Friends," they're brought up constantly. These are characters are given depth in odd places. It's a strange detail, but if you suffered from one of those symptoms, you'd probably also always have to keep your guard up, so it probably is on the forefront of their mind. In many ways, these are all obsessive-compulsive characters. You'd have to be to be at the top of one's profession in any field of study, and especially so at their fields. You also have to be good professional actors to play these parts too.

Yet of all these characters, nobody might be more tunnel-visioned an eccentric as Dr. Sheldon Cooper. Jim Parsons has won back-to-back Best Actor Emmys for his part, and it's easy to see why. He is the toughest and most complex character to play on television right now. I say that, and begin to think of some of the great  leads in shows all over the television landscape right. Don Draper, Dexter Morgan, Walter White, Dr. Gregory House, Tara Gregson until "United States of Tara," got cancelled recently, Nancy Botwin, Liz Lemon,... but, I'm pretty sure Dr. Cooper tops them all. In fact, if you want to look up speculative theories about him on the internet, you'll find some interesting one. People first thought he might be gay. Then they thought, he was autistic, or had Asperger's Syndrome. There's even a famous youtube clip with the laughtrack of the show taken out, revealing the show to be clearly about people who live with a character with "special needs". I actually have an autistic brother, and watch over him most days, and I have to admit, there are some striking similarites. However, according to showrunner/creator Chuck Lorre, none of those answers are right. He claims that Sheldon gets excited about winning the Nobel Prize, and nothing else particularly interests him. I trust his answer, but even still, that doesn't make it an easier character to comprehend. It helps to know a little bit about acting to realize what Jim Parsons is doing with this part, 'cause he basically has to forget everything you ever learn about acting to play him. Sheldon has basically turned his complete universe around to be solely about his own achievements, which is strange enough, but his achievements are also all because of his own mind, which rightly or wrongly, he considers superior to others He's also chosen to segregate himself, to the best of his ability, from typical human interaction. In fact, he basically doesn't have necessary skills to interact with other people. This is normally a place an actor, let's assume a method actor in this actor in this example, but it's gonna be tough no matter what way of acting one uses, would go, he's all mind and no interactive ability, his struggle must be to interact with people, form a meaningful connection with others that transcends the intellectual pursuits that he has already mastered. Except, that's not Sheldon. Every form of human interaction is an exercise in futility for him, and he frankly doesn't want it. In fact, he doesn't want any of the normal wants that a character has. Even Lt. Commander Data, with the desire to learn about humanity basically. Even Spock was intrigue by the workings of others, even though he rarely partook. These are the obvious two characters that one could point to as influences for some of his character manifestations, an alien and a machine, and yet, he shares less humanistic qualities than those characters. Almost all interaction is either by necessity or thrust upon him. Even his "girl who's a friend," (now officially a 'girlfriend,' after a contract was signed) Amy Farrah Fowler, was a blind date that he was forced to go on, after unwillingly being signed up to a dating website. His relationship with her, is practically accidental, and is in no way relatable to any couple I can think of in TV history. Even when sex wasn't allowed to be discussed on TV, subtextually there was always desire. Every other character on the show has desire, some have it in abundance, and are constantly struggling against their own Achilles's Heals. Sheldon's doesn't believe he has a disadvantage to overcome. Basically what Jim Parsons has to do, is completely reconsider how to play a part. Take away everything that you would normally think of as necessary to develop a characters, and create an entirely new structure of how to play a part, and even once that's done, he still to play Dr. Sheldon Cooper. He didn't come out of thin air to disrupt all these guy's lives. He's from Texas, his mother a Religious albeit caring redneck. He comes from a broken home, his father left him as a child. He has a twin sister. He's a child genius who taught college courses when most kids would've been in high school. He's developed a routine to navigate the world that he would in most situations, rather not be apart of, and cannot stand his world being remotely altered by this routine. He, like the rest of the gang like comic books, and comic-book like movies with their alternative universe and sciences, and even mythology. Only the others use these to find worlds that they can escape to, to forget about their own everyday troubles, while Sheldon, uses them almost as a goal-setting device to strive for, in order to form a more perfect world for Sheldon to live in. These are some of his details, and while some of the typical sitcom situations he finds himself in, aren't particularly new, the way he will react in these situations, if he reacts at all, are different than any other character on TV. The distinctiveness of his characters makes it the most perplexing on TV, but that's also the reason why we keep watching him. He may be a layerless onion, but we seem to be striving to find inner layers anyway, and even if we aren't, we kinda just want to see what he'll say or do next. He also lessens the oddness of the other characters, and some of them are very peculiar. TV peculiar, and they're not all likeable, but they're more easily taken in because of the complexity of Sheldon.

While there's no denying that "Community," is a very good itself, it doesn't compare head-to-head against "The Big Bang Theory." Not only is "The Big Bang Theory," a funnier show, but there's just so many more interesting aspects to the show, that even when it's not as funny, which is very rarely, there's other aspects of the show for the viewer to be intrigued by and attempt to dissect. "Community," by comparison, is a funny show, with good strong characters, but nobody particularly unique, and it's been slightly more inconsistent than "The Big Bang Theory." It also doesn't help that it is otherwise surrounded by better shows on after it. NBC putting "Community," on hiatus, coinside with them ordering additional episodes of their best new show this season, "Up All Night," which is as simple and relatable a premise you can find, and also has three of the best comic actors around in Will Arnett, Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph. If it's up against "The Big Bang Theory," I probably won't watch it, but right now it's an improvment. As to "Community," it'll be back from hiatus, and then the ratings will determine it's position later, but a little advice to NBC: You have a good show on your hands, but you need a different timeslot, one when there's nothing else of substance or value on for it to thrive. You're wasting a lot of time with "The Biggest Loser," being stuck on that Tuesday slot, when there's little competition. It would kill right now up against "The New Girl," which Fox really should just kill right now. Or against, "The Middle," on Wednesdays, which is even worse frankly. There's like nine good sitcoms on basic TV right now, NBC has five of them. Works out any kinks you need to on ""Community," but place it somewhere else, and it's devoted fans will come, and probably a lot more as well. In the meantime, good luck throwing up anything against "The Big Bang Theory," in the near future.
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