List, Television

TOP 5 CURRENT US SITCOMS

The 5 US sitcoms you should be watching right now.

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5. Unbreakable Kimmy Shmidt

rawIt won’t be to everyone’s taste, but Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a fantastic Netflix sitcom that stands out from the majority of other shows due to its premise. Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (AKA the minds behind the brilliant 30 Rock, which ran from 2006 to 2013), the show begins with 29 year old Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) being rescued from a bunker where she has spent 15 years in captivity after Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) led her and three other women to believe that they had survived the end of the world. Becoming known as one of the “Indiana mole women”, Kimmy decides to break free and start a new life in New York City, despite not knowing much about the 21st century world.

The fact that Fey and Carlock have taken a decidedly dark premise and made it into something as bright and cheerful as this show is a credit to them, but even moreso to Kemper for making the character of Kimmy so endearingly likable – she feels like an extension of her role as Erin in NBC’s The Office, which can only be a good thing. The cast is brilliant in that it moves away from the typical group of friends who met in high school/college hanging out and instead presents an eclectic range of people who appeared in each others lives randomly, from Kimmy’s broadway yearning roomate Titus (Tituss Burgess) or eccentric landlady Lillian (Carol Kane), to the ever hilarious Jane Krakowski as a wealthy Manhattanite.

Whilst the show could perhaps become a little grating, there is no denying that it is totally unique and hilariously funny – something which has seen Netflix renew it for a third season before the second has even begun streaming (season 2 is set to make an appearance on the 15th of April), and the fact that it was nominated for a total of seven Emmy awards. If you haven’t already seen it, what are you waiting for – all 13 episodes of season 1 are available on Netflix right now!

4. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

tumblr_ndwxelm1Cg1qdt9vko1_400Another show that is an acquired taste, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a cult hit that has been broadcast on US network FX, then sister channel FXX, since 2005 (it is available to stream on Netflix for those of us in the UK). Now in it’s 11th season and renewed for a 12th, the sitcom was developed by Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton, who both star as members of the ‘gang’ that the plot revolves around.

Described as “Seinfeld on crack”, the show takes the typical ‘group of friends hanging out’ trope and flips it beyond recognition. Revolving around the exploits of a group of people who own a bar – Mac (Rob McElhenney), Charlie (Charlie Day), Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and his twin sister Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson), and from season 2 onwards the twins ‘father’ Frank (Danny DeVito) – the show is about as far removed from Friends (1994-2004) as you can get.

It would be a stretch to describe the gang as friends – co-dependent alcoholics, sure, but friends is probably too light a term. The show really hit its stride with the inclusion of DeVito from the second season, and there is no issue safe from the shows satirical gaze. Taboo topics are the norm – it’s almost like a live-action South Park (1997-) at times – meaning that the show is not one for the easily offended.

The comedy is derived from the fact that the characters are all hugely self centered and damaged in their own ways – from Charlie’s anger issues and glue sniffing to Dennis’ increasingly obvious sociopathic tendencies – and it is amazing that they can continue to come up with such inventive ideas after over a decade. In season 7 episode The Gang Gets Trapped, Dennis perfectly sums up the shows premise in one of this trademark rants:

“We immediately escalate everything to a ten…somebody comes in with some preposterous plan or idea, then all of a sudden everyone’s on the gas, nobody’s on the brakes, nobody’s thinking, everyone’s just talking over each other with one idiotic idea after another. Until, finally, we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve broken into somebody’s house – and the homeowner is home.”  

If you like your comedy jet black and packed with too many pop culture references to count, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the show for you.

3. Broad City

746b285916fc5f9e55c0b334e38d7a39Broad City is a show that, since it began airing on Comedy Central in 2014, has drawn endless comparison to Lena Dunham’s Girls (2012-). Whilst both tell the story of women in their twenties living in New York City, the two shows are in fact very different beasts – each with their own distinct strengths.

Starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jackson as fictionalised versions of themselves, Broad City began life as a web-series before being picked up by Comedy Central. It is due to begin its third season, with the second in particular garnering critical acclaim. Glazer and Jackson met whilst taking classes at the famous Upright Citizens Brigade, and no other than Amy Poehler took notice of the web incarnation of the show, now serving as an executive producer on the series.

First and foremost, Broad City is hilarious. Charting the exploits of self-centred, work-allergic stoner Ilana and wannabe illustrator Abbi as they get themselves into all sorts of weird but strangely relatable situations is a mine of comedy potential , and the duos writing is consistently strong. The cast is rounded out by some eccentric supporting players, including Ilana’s lover Lincoln (Hannibal Burgess) and Abbi’s roomate’s oddball boyfriend Bevers (John Gemberling).

Broad City also manages to be progressive at the same time as funny – usually the best sort of progressive, really. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, the show was described as “sneak attack feminism” and Jackson was quoted as saying:

“If you watch one of out episodes there’s not a big message, but if you watch all of them, I think, they’re empowering to women.” 

And she’s right. Watch one episode of Broad City and you will be treated to some real comedy gold – a favourite of mine includes Ilana trying to track down a TV remote she lost months ago in order to cancel a subscription – but if you watch the entire series, you will be treated to a show where women do whatever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want (and they don’t answer to anyone – man or woman). Roll on season 3!

2. Brooklyn Nine Nine

130d218593d8b917c20a9dc277f87818Brooklyn Nine Nine is without a doubt one of the best sitcoms around at the moment. Currently airing its third season on Fox in the US (catch it on E4 in the UK) and featuring an eclectic ensemble cast, the show has received critical acclaim since it began airing in 2013.

Essentially a fusion of two arguably tired genres – the cop show and the sitcom – Brooklyn Nine Nine has taken the best from both concepts and created something fresh and hilarious. With an ensemble cast that includes Andy Samberg, Chelsea Peretti, Terry Crews and Andre Braugher, the show manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of modern sitcoms and uses the police precinct setting to generate totally different storylines.

The show hit the ground running and it has only been up from there, with season three shaking up the status quo and showing that creators Dan Goor and Michael Schur aren’t afraid to mix up the dynamics. Goor and Schur are known for their work on the equally acclaimed Parks and Recreation (2009-2015) and Schur also worked on the US version of The Office (2005-2013), so there is no doubt that the pair know what they are doing when it comes to hilarious sitcoms.

The writing is fast paced and hilarious, and the workplace setting means that, much like the success of Parks and Recreation and The Office, personal lives do not factor in so much as to be overbearing. There is plenty of workplace action, and the characters all have totally different backgrounds, with the contrasts and relationships between them driving the comedy.

There’s been no word yet on a fourth season renewal, but Fox would be deluded to cancel a show that has been so well received and seems to only be getting better with time – expect to be seeing plenty from the Nine Nine in years to come.

1. New Girl

giphyWhilst the rest of the shows on this list are great because they generally invert or avoid sitcom tropes and stereotypes, New Girl is included because it not only embraces them but pulls them off well. The Fox show began airing in 2011 and is now in it’s fifth season. Originally based around the Zooey Deschanel as Jess, a teacher in her early thirties who moves into a loft with three men – Nick (Jake Johnson), Shmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Morris) – after a messy break-up, showrunner Elizabeth Merriweather soon saw the potential in her cast and established New Girl as an ensemble that also included Jess’ best friend CeCe (Hannah Simone).

The tropes are all there – the will they/won’t they couple (two actually – but recent events have established an imminent Ross and Rachel/Monica and Chandler situation), the group of friends hanging out, the bromance etc, but when it’s done this well, they don’t seem so tired (look to The Big Bang Theory for a modern example of when the tropes don’t work). Unlike most of the entries on this list, New Girl is the sort of show that has the universal appeal of Friends – it’s a simple concept made great by a brilliant cast – special mention to Jake Johnson and Max Greenfield in particular.

One thing that does set the show apart is that when we first meet the characters they are already in their early thirties – most sitcoms begin with young fresh faced twenty-somethings – meaning they have already lived a lot. This provides a whole new take on comedy – these are characters who are falling in love, but not for the first time, and they are moving up in the career ladder rather than starting out on the bottom rung. Whilst only a small deviation from the classic sitcom set-up, when paired with the fantastic writing it’s enough to set the show apart from the rest.

New Girl is available in the UK on Netflix (seasons 1-3) and on E4.

What are your favourite US sitcoms currently airing? Let me know in the comments section!

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List, Television

5 TV SHOWS CANCELLED TOO EARLY:

*NOTE* – Contains spoilers for some of these TV shows, continue at your own peril.

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The American system of making television is one that is very different to over here in the UK. It is a much more commercial system which, for better or worse, is mainly interested in making money through selling advertising slots. This can mean that successful TV shows are dragged out long by their natural sell by date – just look at CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its numerous spin offs as a prime example. However, it can also mean that shows which are perhaps more of a slow burner are for one reason or another cut down in their prime. Ratings are the dictating force on US networks, and if a show is failing to hit high levels of viewership it will be axed – a fate that has befallen many a good show. Here are five examples of American shows that were cancelled too soon…

5 – CLONE HIGH

Clone-HighWhat do the guys behind The Lego Movie (2014) and the creator of Scrubs have in common? The answer is Clone High – an animated MTV series that lasted for one season back in 2001-02. Phil Miller, Christopher Lord and Bill Lawrence all worked on the highly inventive series, which focused on a high school populated by clones of famous historical figures including Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc and John F Kennedy.

It was an interesting premise, and the show was since gained a cult following, but upon its original airing it was dogged by a controversy over its depiction of Gandhi, which saw groups of people in India go on hunger strike in protest. The show never fully recovered and was hit with low ratings, leading to MTV cancelling the series in the face of mounting pressures.

4 – FREAKS & GEEKS

freaksandgeeksFreaks and Geeks is one of those shows that is hysterical to watch now because it features such a range of some of the biggest stars in comedy before they made their names. James Franco, Jason Segal and Seth Rogen all started out in Judd Apatow and Paul Feig’s (two of the biggest comedy directors in Hollywood today) sitcom set in the an early 1980’s American high school. It is also really worth watching because Biff from Back to the Future is in it (Thomas F Wilson plays Coach Ben Fredricks).

The show followed the lives of ‘freaks’ Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and co. and her brother Sam (John Frances Daley) and his friends, the ‘geeks’. Whilst it might seem crazy now that the show was cancelled after only one season consisting of 18 episodes, back in 1999-2000 these comedy giants were still small-time, though it is arguably Freaks and Geeks that set most of them on the path to success. The entire first season is available on Netflix and is well worth your time (I repeat, Biff from Back to the Future is in it).

3 – PUSHING DAISIES

pushing-daisies_1280x1024The 2007-08 Writers Guild of America Strike has a lot to answer for – it played havoc with a whole host of shows – but perhaps one of the worst outcomes us the fate of Pushing Daisies, ABC’s ‘forensic fairy-tale’ that aired right in the midst of the strike. The show followed the life of pie-maker Ned (Lee Pace), who has the ability to bring people back to life by touching them. The downside is that if he touches them a second time, they will return to being dead permanently. This causes chaos when he brings back to life childhood crush Charlotte ‘Chuck’ (Anna Friel) and then enters into a romance with her.

The show was met with huge critical acclaim and was nominated for a total of 12 Emmys in its first season. However the first season was cut short by the strike, and attention had waned by the time it returned, with ratings dropping. The show was cancelled at the end of the second season, breaking the hearts of the shows cult following as they never got to find out if Ned and Chuck were able to make things work.

2 – TWIN PEAKS

TWIN PEAKSTwin Peaks is never far from anybodies lips when the subject of TV shows cancelled too soon comes up. The CBS show came from the king of the surreal, David Lynch, along with Mark Frost, and was based around the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Airing from 1990 to 1991, the show – like much of Lynch’s work – looked at what lurks beneath the veneer of idyllic small town life and saw Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) become further entrenched in the fictional Washington town as he investigates Palmer’s murder.

The show was met with huge success in its first season, but things took a nosedive as the second season began in 1991. CBS worried about the fact that Laura Palmer’s killer had not yet been disclosed, and placed pressure on making the reveal. This led to the mystery being solved in the middle of the second season, which along with various timeslot changes led to a sharp decline in ratings. The show was cancelled at the end of the season, leaving the plot on a frustrating cliffhanger.

Lynch returned to Twin Peaks in 1992 with the prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but he has since expressed huge regret at the Laura Palmer reveal. He claims that they never originally intended to tie up the mystery, and that in doing so they “killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.”

The show is set to be revived in 2017 with many members of the original cast returning and Frost and Lynch once again at the helm, so here’s hoping they can tie up those loose threads and return Twin Peaks to it’s former glory.

1 – HAPPY ENDINGS

happy-endings-food-w724Happy Endings was a fantastic ensemble sitcom that aired on ABC from 2011 to 2013. Lasting for a total of three seasons, the show charted the lives of a group of friends living in Chicago. The gang consisted of married couple Brad (Daymon Waynes Jnr) and Jane (Eliza Coupe), Jane’s sister Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), Dave (Zachary Knighton), Max (Adam Pally) and Penny (Casey Wilson). The show quickly became popular with critics for its quickfire wit and outrageous antics.

Originally airing on Wednesday nights following ABC’s sitcom juggernaut Modern Family, the first signs of trouble for the show came when ABC decided to change their timeslot to Tuesday nights in season three. Ratings immediately deteriorated and attempted damage control saw the timeslot make another change to Friday nights, which acted as the final nail in the coffin. Further drops in ratings led to the shows cancellation at the end of season three.

Happy Endings felt like it still had a lot of steam left, and this wasn’t helped by the fact that the show was cancelled quite suddenly, robbing fans of any real sense of closure as the series ended on a cliff-hanger of sorts, with viewers finding out that Alex and Dave had broken up for the second time. A huge part of the shows success was down to it’s excellent cast, something other networks obviously picked up on – as soon as the show was cancelled Fox brought Waynes Jnr back to New Girl, as well as enlisting Pally for their other sitcom The Mindy Project.

Which shows do you think were cancelled too soon? Let me know in the comments section!

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List, Television

5 TV SHOWS THAT OUTGREW THEIR TITLES 

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The power of a title should never be underestimated – it is essentially establishes the brand and general premise of a TV show, and often acts as the main form of advertisement. The working title for Friends was Insomnia Cafe – does that really give you the impression of a lighthearted sitcom about twenty-somethings in New York City? Exactly. However once a show becomes popular it can often last much longer than it was originally intended to, or it may just naturally evolve in a different direction than what the show-runners originally intended. This can lead to a shows title becoming obsolete – here are five notable examples…

Honourable mention…

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER 

How I Met Your Mother

Original premise: The title is pretty self explanatory – the show is based around Ted Mosby (voiced in the future by Bob Saget, played by Josh Radnor) telling his children how he met their mother. This includes the various adventures he had with his close friends Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), Robin (Coby Smulders), Marshall (Jason Segal) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan). It’s an interesting narrative device which sets the sitcom apart, allowing for timeline hopping and various other antics along the way – however it also gave the show an expiration date.

What it became: This is an honourable mention because, strictly speaking, the show did adhere to the title with the final episode showing Ted meet Tracey (Cristin Milioti), the mother of his children. However, the show dragged out for a total of NINE seasons, making it the longest explanation for how someone met someone ever. There are entire seasons which have very little to do with Ted’s quest to meet the mother, and even the staunchest fans of the show cannot deny that there was definite deviation from the original premise at various points throughout the shows run.

NEW GIRL

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Original premise: This Fox sitcom was intended as an out and out vehicle for its star Zooey Deschanel. Centred around the quirky Jess (Deschanel), New Girl saw her trying to navigate life after coming out of a long term relationship and finding herself in her early 30’s and living in a loft with three men. It was an interesting premise, with the original idea being that her roommates Nick (Jake Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Harris) act as supporting players alongside Jess’ best friend CeCe (Hannah Simone).

What it became: As great as the early seasons of New Girl were, there is no doubt that the original premise has been left behind as the fifth season is due to begin in the new year. The show is now much more of an ensemble piece a la Friends, but is much the better for it. As fantastic as Deschanel was and is in her role as Jess, both Greenfield and Johnson proved to be the shows breakout characters as Schmidt and Nick. From very early on it was clear that there was some serious talent behind this show, and the decision to focus on the various characters more equally is one that has paid off in the long run. The return of Daymon Wayans Jnr in season 3 (he appeared in the pilot before leaving to star in Happy Endings in ABC, returning after the other show was cancelled) is when the ensemble really comes into its stride, and there have even been attempts to recently to bring the criminally underwritten Winston up to the standard of the rest of the criminally underwritten Winson up to the standard of the rest of the group. Proceeding into season 5 and Wayons Jnr has again departed, whilst CeCe and Schmidts surprise engagement is set to shake up the group dynamic once again.

COUGAR TOWN

BRIAN VAN HOLT, CHRISTA MILLER, IAN GOMEZ, COURTENEY COX, JOSH HOPKINS, BUSY PHILIPPS

Original premise: Cougar Town began airing on ABC in 2009 – from the creator of Scrubs Bill Lawrence, the show starred Courtney Cox as Jules Cobb, a recently divorced 40-something who attempts to return to the dating scene. The show originally saw Jules pursue relationships with much younger men, hence the title Cougar Town. The show featured Christa Miller (Bill Lawrence’s wife, who played Jordan in Scrubs) as Jules best friend Ellie, and many other Scrubs actors made cameo appearances during the shows run.

What it became: The idea of Jules being a cougar was dropped very early on, and towards the end of the first season she began to see men of her own age, ultimately entering into a relationship with and marrying neighbour Grayson Ellis (Josh Hopkins). This premise of the show changed so dramatically in fact that Lawrence seriously considered renaming it. This ultimately didn’t happen, but from the second season onwards the title sequences would have a subtitle added – often poking fun at the no longer appropriate title. The show came to an end earlier this year after six seasons, and the subtitle of the final episode had a subtitle which read: “Thank you for watching ‘Sunshine State’ – Finally got the new title!”

SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH 

SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH

Original premise: Based on the Archie comic of the same name, Sabrina the Teenage Witch starred Melissa Joan Hart in the titular role. The show began airing on ABC in 1996 and followed the life of Sabrina Spellman, a teenage who discovers on her sixteenth birthday discovers that she is half-witch and has magical powers. She lives with her 600 year old aunts Hilda (Caroline Rhea) and Zelda (Beth Broderick), as well as talking cat Salem (Nick Backay). The show is based around Sabrina’s attempts at coming to grips with her powers alongside leading the normal life of a teenager, including High School and dating, all the while hiding her powers from those around her.

What it became: The show’s title stopped making sense when Sabrina stopped being a teenager – though it is a little hard to pinpoint when exactly this became the case. The timeline is a little jumbled, but it can be assumed that Sabrina did not remain a teenager for the entire seven season run of the show, given that she turned sixteen in the pilot. ABC cancelled the show after the fourth season, but The WB picked it up for a further three years, depicting Sabrina’s life as she embarks on a college education. There were numerous shake ups and cast changes, and the show failed to retain a following an ultimately came to an end in 2003.

TWO AND A HALF MEN

Two-and-a-Half-Men-two-and-a-half-men-24621700-1280-800Original premise: The series, created by The Big Bang Theory creator Chuck Lorre, charts the life of Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) who is forced to take in his brother Alan (Jon Cryer) after his divorce. They are also regularly joined in Charlie’s beach house by Alan’s young son Jake (Angus T Jones). The title was derived from the two men – Charlie and Alan – with Jake constituting the half man. The sitcom was originally a vehicle for the infamous Charlie Sheen, and the episodes were generally centred around Charlie’s womanising, partying and the subsequent bad influence on Jake, with Alan desperately trying to raise his son incident free.

What it became: By the time the show entered into its eighth year, Sheen’s real life demons seemed to be catching up with him and his various antics culminated in him being fired. His character was unceremoniously kissed off via being hit by a train off screen. Ashton Kutcher was then brought in as Sheen’s replacement, portraying millionaire Waldon Schmidt, who buys Charlie’s beach house and let’s Alan continue to stay there. It’s rare that a show can ever recover from losing its main character, and Two and a Half Men was arguably already faced with diminishing returns before Sheen’s departure. The show was also faced with outliving it’s premise due to the fact that Jake grew up and was no longer the titular half man. It didn’t help that Angus T Jones turned on the show and pushed for a boycott – leaving Kutcher and Cryer to attempt to carry on alone before the show thankfully drew to a close last year, long after anyone stopped caring.

FRESH MEAT

o-FRESH-MEAT-facebookOriginal premise: This hilarious British comedy from the writers of Peep Show was originally based around the idea of six students being placed in a shared house for their first year of university. The title was based around the fact they were first year students – freshers – and the majority of the humour was based around this concept, following the trials of the group as they face typical first year problems such as establishing your identity, forging romances and scraping through classes. The show featured an ensemble cast that included comedien Jack Whitehall and Name of The Inbetweeners fame.

What it became: The title was derived from the fact that the characters were freshers in their first year of university, making it redundant as they all moved into second year in series two. That’s not to say that the show suffered any demise in quality – the show was as funny as ever and the no longer applicable title had no negative impact. Following their generally disastrous first year we saw the group continue to navigate life. The writing remains strong and it is great to see these characters develop and continue with their endless blunders.

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