Tag Archives: Community

Big Bang Theory Isn’t That Fucking Good – Redux

1 Mar

A couple of years ago, I wrote this essay about how confused I was that CBS’s The Big Bang Theory was getting such high ratings on Thursday nights against NBC’s Community. I blamed the Nielsen ratings system. It’s not that I expected Big Bang Theory to get low ratings, or that I thought Community could or should eclipse it, I was just boggled by the fact that Big Bang Theory was the highest-rated sitcom, period, and decimated NBC’s offering by a factor of five. I mean, to be clear, I think Big Bang Theory sucks, but I’m not amazed that it’s popular.

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Last night, the fourth episode of the fourth season of Community aired. This season, which was supposed to begin in October 2012 but was inexplicably pushed to February of this year, is the first without creator Dan Harmon on writing staff. He was canned for reasons about which I am unclear and don’t really care to know. I like Dan Harmon, I think what he did with the show touched upon brilliance, but I don’t think he’s a flawless writer. There were lots of dropped points and gaping plot holes left in his wake. But it was pretty clear, and is crystal fucking clear now that Harmon loved these characters. Even Pierce, despite Harmon’s public feuding with Chevy Chase, was handled with humanity when it came time to film. I say this with renewed appreciation for Dan Harmon, because Community fucking sucks a dead dog’s diseased dick right about now.

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It’s tough to wield such a large cast every week, at least I can imagine. But that doesn’t mean you need to shoehorn every character into each episode just to justify their paychecks. Write them in. Use your ability to write. I could make an episode of Troy and Abed having a conversation while every other character gets a walk-on opportunity to cut a fart. But I wouldn’t have really written anything except for Troy and Abed’s lines. This is sort of where the show is now, an A plot and a lamer B plot and then Pierce and Shirley are marginalized to mutter under their breaths or–this is actually true of the first episode–make a series of lame dick jokes. Dan Harmon was good at satire and parody, and the show reflected that under his guidance. I expected that to change with a new writing staff. What I didn’t expect was a lazily-written sitcom so contrived that I wished there was a laugh track so I’d know when something funny happened.

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Last night’s episode, where the study group fought for their study room, was the last straw. Never mind the fact that the foosball episode from last season was one of the least likeable episodes, if you’re going to revive that annoying German trio, then at least have Nick Kroll back. The whole thing with their “war” was worse than a Scooby-Doo hallway door chase scene. The resolution, where the group painted a bunch of broom closets to appease the rest of the school, was stupid and difficult to believe. The scenes with the Dean and Chang were painful, and these guys are supposed to be the comic relief–on a show that is already supposed to be funny! Fuck this show. If you’re still watching it out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, you’re an idiot. Flip over to The Big Bang Theory instead. At least that show has a laugh track to tell you when to chuckle.

Big Bang Theory Isn’t That Fucking Good

7 Mar

I’ve been watching seasons of the CBS sitcom Big Bang Theory on DVD recently. It’s a decent sitcom with a serviceable premise: four genius-level nerds with differing and severe social disorders cope with life in Los Angeles, city of beautiful people. Plus, a hot chick lives across the hall from two of them which adds to the stammering merriment. It’s pretty satisfying in the way I feel that most television should be: each episode is fairly well encapsulated and the situation resets to its default by the time each half hour is up. In the current season I’m watching, season three, the main character begins dating the blond woman from across the hall, but this is no more a progression in the story as it is fodder for several more ludicrous premises.


So I’m pretty okay with Big Bang Theory. However, I find it unbelievable that it’s the highest-rated sitcom on Thursday nights and one of the highest-rated comedies on television, period. Thursday night, my patient readers and millions of television watchers will recall, is when NBC runs three hours of comedy programming, at least an hour of which is worthwhile. And the kicker is that one of the more worthwhile shows, Community, goes up against Big Bang Theory head-to-head each week, and loses.


If you’ve never seen either show, well you’ve probably stopped reading this essay by now. But if you’ve seen both shows, then you might be as befuddled as I. Using my New York myopia, I can see how Big Bang Theory might be more palatable to middle America than Community, but the former blows the latter away in ratings every week, practically quadruple the number of viewers. And part of me (the same New York myopia, just a different facet) feels like Big Bang Theory wouldn’t sit will with the Bible Belt and fundamentalist America. I mean, the show’s theme song describes the creation of the universe through the big bang theory and goes on to detail evolution. The main characters are physicists trying to determine the behaviors of subatomic particles. And there was even one episode where the most autistic character decried Christmas as a pointless sham. I don’t think that would fly in Kentucky.


Seems to me that the real culprit here is the Nielsen ratings system, a technique developed by Arthur Nielsen in the 1920s to establish demographic groups, then applied to radio in the 1930s, and finally to television in the 1950s. Even armchair statisticians would be thoroughly impressed with Nielsen’s model, which extrapolates the entire nation’s television viewing habits from a small sample. There’s only one flaw with the Neilsen ratings system, and that is the system doesn’t really work.


I think it worked many decades ago when the sampling was much lower. To have a television in 1950 was a big deal, they were expensive and often entire families and groups of neighbors huddled around them to watch the flickering screen. There were only three broadcast networks which ran during daylight hours; programming was limited. Now, most homes with televisions have two or three in them. The kids have their own, the parents have one in the living room, one in the bedroom. Often, people could be watching PBS downstairs and American Idol upstairs. So the notion of “household viewing” doesn’t apply as much any more. It didn’t even apply when I was a kid and would be watching Growing Pains in my room while my parents watched Some Boring Foreign Movie downstairs, and my grandmother would watch Dynasty or Some Shit on the first floor.


But the main problem with the Nielsen ratings system is the stupidly small size of the absolutely not random sampling of the populace by which they make their determinations. There are twenty-five thousand households participating in the Nielsen system–all of them by choice, all of them aware that they are contributing to these ratings–and that only constitutes 0.02% of the total households in America. So 0.02% of the television watchers in America determine which show is most popular, and therefore which show can charge the most for advertising. I don’t give a shit what anyone says, Community is far and away a better show than Big Bang Theory, though some manufacturers might not bode well the idea of advertising during a prime-time television show where the main character wears hair gel. And so these companies might have a vested interest in perpetuating the outmoded Nielsen technique.


Or maybe not. It may not be a great conspiracy, merely a bumbling, shitty system that we’re saddled with, even though the technology exists today that can determine viewers’ habits to a much more specific degree. Our own cable and digital satellite companies know more about America’s viewing habits than the Nielsen ratings system, for crap’s sake. It seems unfair that a relatively witty and creative show like Community must be relegated to obscurity, and probably an early cancellation, because this one statistics company has turned its sights on a lot of hardcore Big Bang Theory fans instead of taking a better sample. However, the fact that we’re using this antiquated system does give me some hope that perhaps people aren’t as entranced by American Idol as the numbers purport. Now I’m really kidding myself.

Well Parks & Rec is a Pretty Awesome Show

21 Feb

I was raised on the situation comedy, and by God that’s where I think television should shine. When crafted well, these half hour slices of life are so satisfying in their composition that it’s hard to tell which came first, the television or the television sitcom (NOTE: it was the television). It’s kind of disheartening to see how reality programming has obliterated much of the pre-scripted work that once dominated prime time. When you really look at it, most of these reality type game shows are merely opportunities for us to laugh and jeer at our fellow Americans. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we could do with fewer hours a week of it.


Television’s least-watched network is running three hours of situation comedy on Thursday nights, traditionally “their” night from when The Cosby Show was on, and perhaps even before that. It strikes me as a pretty ballsy “all in” kind of move, an attempt to plant their flag against other networks’ ratings powerhouses like Big Bang Theory and American Idol. I’ve been watching many of these NBC shows lately, and I declare that an hour and a half of this three-hour block of programming is worth your scrutiny!


It starts at 8 PM with Community, starring Joel McHale and Chevy Chase and other people you’ve probably never heard of. If you’re like me, you’ve noticed this show for the past year or so when it was plugged on Talk Soup, McHale’s show on the E! Network. Like everything plugged on that program, I ignored the publicity completely, until this year when I decided to watch an episode of Community, and learned that the reason it’s called Community is because it’s about a bunch of disparate people in a study group together at a community college. It’s a pretty good gimmick, at that: having taken classes at a community college, I can say that it might be the only place where people just starting out, or starting over, or just spending their retirement time all combine together to argue about dead philosophers. Upon starting to watch this show, I was afraid that I might have trouble taking Joel McHale’s smirking mick face seriously. And it is a problem. However, his character is pretty self-aware and in more recent episodes he’s mercifully been given less camera time. In fact, the most recent episodes have been where this show shines, as Community breaks the typical sitcom format and satirizes other popular movies and television programs. I could probably write a whole essay about this show, and perhaps I will eventually, but for now it should suffice to say that this show is worth watching.


After Community is a new show, having started mid-season, called Perfect Couples. I wanted to like this show a lot because it features Olivia Munn, who has not only induced many boners from yours truly, but is someone I think is reasonably funny and talented, and who I’d like to see succeed. This show is about three couples that are totally different from one another: you’ve got this totally combative couple, then this totally new age couple where the dude is all sensitive, and then a hapless “control” couple that routinely deals with shit from the other four assholes. It’s about as boring and stupid as it sounds. I don’t believe it’s really a problem with the acting, but that the premise is thin and a little ham-fisted, even for fans of romantic comedies. This show also features the waitress from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, incidentally, though she sucks here for sure.


At nine o’clock, you’ve got The Office. The Office is NBC’s longest-running current sitcom accomplishment, but I think only the most die-hard fans wouldn’t say that the show hasn’t run its course. I don’t even watch it on Thursdays anymore, I catch it a day or two later On Demand or on hulu.com because my girlfriend isn’t interested in watching. I’m curious to see what happens with Michael Scott and Holly, but less and less as the weeks drag on and there is little in the way of interesting progress. And has there been a more annoyingly sweet television couple than Jim and Pam? The only satisfying solution to this show would be if Jim steps in front of a speeding bus one morning and turns Pam into an instant widow. If you’re caught up in the stupid melodrama like I am, then you can join me in my shame, but if you haven’t been watching The Office up to now, then there’s no point in starting. I can’t imagine this program will last another season past the next, which would still be about four seasons too many.


At nine-thirty is my favorite show of these Thursday night offerings, Parks and Recreation. This is created by the same guys who did the US version of The Office and features the same phony shaky camera that is well overdone in movies and television by now. Yet this show seems to use it to good effect, or is good despite its effect, because I think its funny as shit. It’s about local government employees working for the Parks and Recreation department in Pawnee, Indiana, but the real payoff from this show comes when you immerse yourself into the stupid world of Pawnee. There are a couple of other nice things about the show which set it apart from sitcoms playing the same evening, like the genuine friendship between Leslie and Ann, which is unlike other catty relationships between women seen on much of TV. I highly recommend this show, I’ll probably write more about it later and repeatedly, as I intend to be the first internet geek to declare that this show is finished once it fails to make me guffaw appropriately in the near future.


After Parks & Rec is NBC’s other long-running successful sitcom, 30 Rock. I didn’t watch this show for years because 1) I kept forgetting when it was on, and 2) a show by members of Saturday Night Live about the behind-the-scenes stress of putting on a show just like Saturday Night Live, as I understood it, seemed too “meta” to me. 30 Rock is technically about the background of putting on a weekly sketch comedy show before a live audience, but the comedy is in the surreal situations and outrageous things Tracy “Tracy Jordan” Morgan does and says. It looks like this show is also past its prime, but it’s still pretty funny and worth checking out. Of all the shows mentioned in this essay, it requires the least investment; you’ll probably find an individual episode funny whether you follow 30 Rock faithfully or not.

The final show in this Thursday night laff-fest is Outsourced, which I’ve never seen. Chances are, you haven’t either. I mean, if you’ve faithfully watched the previous five comedies as per NBC’s recommended allotment, your eyeballs are pretty fried by now. It’s likely that you haven’t watched two and a half hours of straight television, but you get my point. In any case, I have enough stupid shows to follow and I don’t care about this one. It could be hysterical and I’ll never know. Unless it gets syndicated on cable or something.

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