Arts & Culture

Jews Watching Television: Fall Sitcom Preview

Our resident TV guy breaks down all the sitcoms of the upcoming Fall season. Read More

By / September 19, 2011
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With the shift towards the more costly single camera filming method and the shift of viewers towards reality and cable shows, sitcoms have never been more expensive and less popular. Yet, there has been more investment in them right now than anytime in recent years. Take NBC, the network that housed the four most respected albeit not particularly well watched sitcoms already, they decided to launch a new night of comedy and pick up many sitcom pilots (only three of these are debuting this fall). This means there is a lot of new TV to watch in addition to your pledge to “finally learn what all the Community hub bub was about.” Here is a preview of all the situational and comedic TV to look forward to or to not look forward to this fall. To help you prioritize I scored each show by how many episodes a new viewer should give it before considering giving up:

NBC

RETURNING SERIES

Community Thursday 8:00 PM

Community is the most critically acclaimed network comedy on TV, if you only count Internet critics. No show since the early days of The Simpsons has so consistently rewritten the rules of what can be done in 30 televised comedic minutes (Louie is a very close second). It’s also like super funny. When we last left the gang they finished their sophomore year and all love each other (except Pierce, they don’t like Pierce). When last left the show itself, despite its acclaim, it was getting terrible rating. To combat this, showrunner Dan Harmon has publically said the show needs to tone down its weirdness and lean more on the strength of the show’s fantastic cast. Considering how many pilots NBC is picking up, he is going to have to something different if the characters are going to get a senior year.

(6 weeks: It takes a little while to understand the show’s universe but it’s worth it)

Parks & Recreation Thursday 8:30 PM

Last year Parks & Recreation responded to being benched for the half of the year, with sixteen fantastic episodes. Since the start of the second season they haven’t had a dud episode—there is no show that can match that consistency. That was all before the near-perfect finale that cliff hanged almost of all the leads’ arcs and answered the show’s only real flaw, that it lacked stakes. By introducing the possibility of Leslie running for public office, the show introduced a real conflict that will allow the show to grow.

(Infinite Weeks: Are you really not watching this show? Watch it all now. Start with “The Fight, it was the single funniest 30 minutes of TV last year)

The Office Thursday 9:00 PM

Remember that Steve Carell guy? Well he’s not on The Office anymore—I know, you’d think NBC would make a big deal about. What the show will be like with out him is one of TV’s biggest questions for the fall. Yes, he was appropriately beloved, but the show had been in a rut the previous couple seasons. I’m excited to see how the writing staff responds to their newfound flexibility and how the actors’ respond to their larger roles. If last year was any indication, expect Andy, Pam, and Darryl to take on a lion share of the plot lines.

(4 Weeks: Give them some time to fill the giant Steve Carell void. Their track record earned as much.)

NEW SERIES

Up All Night Wednesday 8:00 PM

Created by former Parks & Recreation and Saturday Night Live writer, Emily Spivy—produced by comedy Svengali Lorne Michaels—starring Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, and Maya Rudolph; this is the new series with the most comedy bona fides. The pilot aired on Wednesday and though it struggled at times, it showed tons of potential. The show aspires to portray parenthood more realistically, and thus more darkly, than its counterparts. It absolutely killed in the ratings on Wednesday so NBC might have finally found a critically acclaimed show that a whole mess of people watches.

(6 Weeks: It’s going to take some time for them to nail down the tone but if they do, it will be the series equivalent to this Louis C.K. stand-up.)

Free Agents Wednesday 8:30PM

Free Agents also premiered last Wednesday. Less people watched it than it’s lead in but it was about equally praised by critics. A remake of a British series, it is nearly the polar opposite of Up All Night. Free Agents is sleek and sharp and decidedly adult. The leads, Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn, have an instant chemistry. Still, it is the supporting cast made up of some serious comedic talent, including: Natasha Leggero, Al Madrigal, and Joe Lo Truglio, that I expect will be responsible for actually making this thing funny. It will be interesting to see if an audience materializes or if the show’s coolness will be too off putting

(3 Weeks: It will take this long to see if they’re able to develop a voice of its own)

Whitney Thursday 9:30 PM

Nothing captures the overall shrug towards Whitney better than this. It probably will be awful but maybe not, but probably.

(3 Weeks: You are already watching the three shows before it, so might as well)

ABC

RETURNING SERIES

Modern Family Wednesday 9:00 PM

Did you watch the Emmys last night? This was that show that won everything. Does it deserve it? Kind of. The show is definitely very good and the show is definitely very funny, its just so easy. Excluding the whole gay couple thing the show is entirely riskless. Its pure sitcom craftsmanship mixed with its faux-documentary style, places it securely between Everybody Loves Raymond and The Office. It’s smart and expertly executed but your parents will love it (and likely already do)—it’s like Feist.

(4 Weeks: The show exists, you’ll like it if you feel like watching family shenanigans.)

Happy Endings Wednesday 9:30 PM

So remember Friends? It’s like Friends. But a bit worse and with a bit more pop culture references. So, it’s more like How I Met Your Mother but less ambitious with its story arcs and with a straight actor playing a gay character not vice versa. Basically, it’s like How I Met Your Mother. It’s the type of show that usually fails terribly (See: Perfect Couples, Traffic Lights) but somehow, someway it was good. It helps that Adam Pally, Casey Wilson, Eliza Coupe, Damon Waynes Jr., and an assortment of UCB approved guest stars nail it every week. The episodes were all released at wonky times because ABC didn’t expect people to care, so this year it will be like they’re starting fresh.

(4 Weeks: It’s funny. You’ll remember Friends but you won’t miss it.)

NEW SERIES

Last Man Standing Tuesday 8:00 PM

Tim Allen is making his long-awaited return return. It’s probably about something that will allow for grunting noises.

(0 Weeks: Don’t watch this)

Man Up Tuesday 8:30 PM

Every year there are always a couple innocuous new sitcoms that seem to exist with out any intention of being watched. It’s about males who feel like they need to act more the “men”—blah.

(0 Weeks: Don’t watch this.)

Suburgatory Wednesday 8:30 PM

Of ABC’s new comedies, this one seems to have the most potential. It’s about a teenage girl who moves from the big city to the small town of Suburgatory, Ohio (I made the last part up, its set in Long Island). It has some funny names attached including Cheryl Hines, Rex Lee (or as he’s better known LLOYD!!!!!!!!!!), Ana Gasteyer, and Chris Parnell.

(2 Weeks: It’s not a slam dunk. It might be one to revisit next year after you hear good things)

CBS

RETURNING SERIES

How I Met Your Mother Monday 8:00 PM

HIMYM has been the thinking man’s laugh track sitcom since its first season. As well, there have been few comedic shows that have aspired to such long term story telling. Sometimes it falls under the weight of its aspirations but generally, as result of them, they’ve been able to create richer relationships between its characters. The season ended with a cliffhanger that was a response to the cliffhanger the season opened with, Barney is marrying some one. This will undoubtedly be what the season work towards, which is a good a place as any. With the show being renewed through its eighth seasons, here’s betting Ted doesn’t meet the Mother this year.

(3 Weeks: Fun times, likeable cast. You might have to play some catch up as the show famously calls back old jokes.)

Two and Half Men Monday 9:00 PM

So they removed the best part of one of TV’s worst shows and replaced him with Ashton Kutcher, who is a far better producer and tech investor than comedic actor per se.

(1 Week: Unless, you don’t have a water cooler to discuss the debut of Ashton, than its 0 weeks.)

Mike & Molly Monday 9:30

Melissa McCarthy was the breakout star in a movie that oozed breakout stars this summer, Bridesmaids. To add compliment to good health, she won the Emmy for Best Lead Performance in a Comedy Series last night. The show is about a man and a lady named (you guessed it) Mike and Molly who are overweight and in love. It has a lot of great performance but you can probably write 50% of the jokes with out watching a minute of it.

(1 Week: McCarthy deserves at least one episode of viewership. The show is very much a multi-camera, CBS-brand sitcom but talent can shine through it hackneyed structure)

The Big Bang Theory Thursday 8:00

Is it the dumb comedy for smart people or the smart comedy for dumb people? It is TV’s highest rated comedy but far short of it’s most ambitious. It is locked into the very specific rhythm of the multi-camera sitcom so popular in the 90’s. It’s comfortable and dated and inessential. Jim Parsons, who won his second Best Actor in a Comedy Series in row last night, robbing Steve Carell in the process, is incredibly adept at playing the show’s lead, Sheldon. Last season ended with a crazy, mixed up nerd meets hot chick love triangle, which is how shows like this end their seasons.

(1 Week: Watch for Parsons and to relive the 90s)

NEW SERIES

Two Broke Girls Monday 8:30

Created by Whitney Cummings, this is CBS’s hot comedy pilot. It’s about two broke girls, living in Brooklyn, trying to save money to open a cupcakery. It is a very hip sounding premise for America’s least hip network. The preview suggests some clunky hipster joking (mocking their Coldplay (?) fandom) and smart mouthing. Kat Dennings plays the tough non-hipster hipster type and Beth Behrs plays her formally wealthy co-worker/roommate. It is like The Odd Couple for generation Y without chromosome Y (CBS, you’re welcome for next year’s ad slogan).

(2 Weeks: Dennings and Behr seem like legitimately strong female leads and the jokes seem oddly filthy for the network.)

How to Be a Gentleman Thursday 8:30

It stars Kevin Dillon and appears to be the type of stupid generic sitcom that Johnny Drama would dream to get cast in.

(0 Weeks: Don’t watch this show)

FOX

RETURNING SERIES

Raising Hope Tuesday, 9:00

FOX is not big on live action comedic shows, favoring instead animated comedies and whatever Glee is. Raising Hope is a pleasant little show that was never particularly acclaimed or well watched. It’s a charming watch, very much in the vain of creator Greg Garcia’s previous creation, My Name Is Earl. It focuses on a young man who is forced to raise a baby he fathered in a one-night stand with the help of his family. It’s not terrible or terribly funny, but it is really pleasant.

(1 week: There is a lot of parenting going on. Depending on your sensibilities, it’s this or Up All Night)

NEW SERIES

The New Girl Tuesday, 9:00

Zooey Deschanel is an indie movie, which is still a movie star and thus trumps being a TV star. She has said that she never sees characters as unique and as richly drawn as The New Girl’s Jess, and that was her main motivation for taken the role. If the pilot is any indication the show will be a Zooey tour de force, no matter how little force her fashionably slight frame can muster. To her credit the often flatly affected actress really puts herself out there, willingly playing the fool very frequently. The one thing that really stood out to me was how unlike it was to anything else I’ve really seen in a sitcom. The conflict and resulting comedy of miss-matched roommates is obviously old hat, but in respect to Jess’s character, most of the jokes felt completely fresh. If the show’s writing is as consistently tight as this might suggest, than The New Girl might be able to win over the detractors of its tweeness. (This marks the first review of this show ever that doesn’t mention Zooey’s face and how nice it is to watch. Well except this part. For show which such aspirations, its coverage has embarrassingly shallow).

(4 weeks: The pilot was especially realized, so very quickly you’ll see where they’re going with The New Girl’s new girl)

OTHER

Bored to Death Season 3 Premiers October 10 on HBO

The show is not a pure sitcom as it’s not as purely episodic as the rest, but for the most part it fits here. Also, its second season was pretty damn fantastic. It took awhile for creator Jonathan Ames to balance his humor with the less literary world of TV comedy, but the show became one of TV’s funniest when he figured it out. Having Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson as your cast doesn’t hurt either.

(4 weeks: You might have to go back to the beginning on this one but you’ll likely be sucked into their world if you give it the time to suck you.)

Always Sunny in Philadelphia Thursday 10:00PM on FX

It’s like Seinfeld if all the neurotic ego was removed, and it was all id all the time. The show is entering its 7th season and has displayed a mastery of its very specific brand of humor.

(3 weeks: At this point, you either have been watching this show or not.)

The League Season 3 Premieres October 6 on FX

A show about a fantasy football league sounds more like an ESPN.com web-series than TV show that has as much indie cred as this one. With a cast that includes two of the funnier people on TV Paul Scheer and Nick Kroll, and the first couple of Mumblecore Katie Aselton and Mark Duplass, the show is often overwhelmingly funny.

(2 weeks: It’s funny albeit a bit bro-ey, but not too much)