TV Diaries: ABC’s Increasingly Charming Comedy Block

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Why Modern Family, Cougar Town, and Happy Endings are starting to rival NBC's Thursday night.

Author's note: Has anyone else noticed how much TV is on right now? It's probably better for the audience, in the end, that the traditional concept of “seasons” is on its way out, but my God! A new show premieres every week! Sundays are getting ridiculously busy. I'm dancing as fast as I can! And my Valium prescription is running so very low.

Sunday, April 17

9 p.m. — I've already discussed Game of Thrones on these virtual pages before — and I stand by my thought that there were some weird racial issues in the pilot — but let's talk about things that don't involve unfortunate stereotypes of non-white people. Instead, let's talk about siblings who are fucking. I watch it with a group of people gathered together for a "watching party" —  something I've read about but didn't think existed, like Bigfoot. It turns out that viewing strategy suits the show, which is another captivating entry in the “powerful people are terrible” canon. Shows set before 1950 are often at least a little campy, and viewing this show with a large group of people makes campiness more fun. Like the moment when Daenerys Targaryen's brother tells his young sister that, in order to regain the throne of Westeros, he'd not only marry her off to a barbarian warlord — he'd let his whole horde and their horses fuck her:

Party Guest 1: I don't think I like her.

Party Guest 2: But she loves horses!

Me: She better.

11 p.m. — Have you heard of Tama, the Japanese station cat? She's a calico cat who runs a fully automated train station in Kinokawa. She's really important to me right now. When she has official duties, she wears a little outfit that makes her look like a Jacobean fop, and after she got her promotion to “super station master,” she became the Wakayama Electric Railway's sole female in a managerial position. That's actually pretty depressing, but it's still a pretty good accomplishment for a creature without opposable thumbs.  

Basically, Tama is exactly the same as Audrina Partridge, a person whose path to fame consists of a tangle of reality shows so thick I couldn't get through it with MTV's head of programming in one hand and a machete in the other. Audrina (VH1) is her station master-ship — unearned, totally ridiculous. Think about it too much and you might cry, but it's unspeakably funny when you're drunk.

Monday, April 18

3 p.m. — I watch entirely too much Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Netflix). Do you think the government puts you on some sort of list when you stream five episodes in a row?

9 p.m. — I want to ask our U.K. readers: is anyone actually that into the upcoming royal wedding? Because Lifetime's William & Kate does not inspire me much. But I did discover that Kate Middleton wanted to be a train conductor once. I have this friend, Tama, who works with trains; maybe I should put them in touch.

10 p.m. — I wonder about the message of United States of Tara (Showtime). I have a friend who can't watch the show because the entire premise is that a mentally ill woman will have a better life when she goes off her meds, something that didn't work for said person's father. I know I'm “reading too much into it,” a thing I've been accused of many times, but it's hard to reconcile my enjoyment and the vague sense of irresponsibility.

Tuesday, April 19

8 p.m. — When do you give up on a show? I guess the obvious answer is when the cons outweigh the pros, and I'm moving ever towards that point with Glee (Fox). I put up with it because I'm a theater queer at heart, and I find many of the performances winning — I wouldn't be the first to point out that the show managed to turn the host of Guts into a remarkably affecting dramatic actor. But how much ridiculous dialogue and flat-out stupidity can I take?

At least enough to make it through next week's “Born This Way” episode.

Wednesday, April 20

8 p.m. — ABC is dominating the Wednesday-night comedy market, so much so that I think it rivals — and complements — NBC's Thursday night block. With NBC you get a bit more edge — sitcoms that poke at the conventions of the form (like Community) or get weird with it (like 30 Rock). But the simpler pleasures of Modern Family, Cougar Town, and Happy Endings are the homemade mac-'n'-cheese of my TV life: they may not be startling revelations, but damn if they don't always make me feel good.

That being said, I'm worried about how the station's handling its shows. (It really is like NBC!) Keeping Cougar Town off the air in favor of the non-starter that was Mr. Sunshine is pretty bad, and the decision to show two episodes of Happy Endings each week is convincing no one that the studio actually believes in the show. But they should! Maybe I'm just easy, but I laugh my way through both episodes of the show this week. ABC's comedians have an abundant supply of charm; I'd hate to see it wasted because of mismanaging.

Also of note: Elisha Cuthbert is wearing a truly insane shirt in this episode of Happy Endings. It looks like Labyrinth had a bastard child with Jean Cocteau.

Thursday, April 21

8 p.m. — I wonder how much communication shows on the same network have with one another, especially when the shows are filmed in L.A. (like Community) and NYC (like 30 Rock), because both shows have inspired takes on the flashback trope this week. Do you think they knew what they were doing?

If I must choose, I say Community does a better job of it — not only are they having flashbacks to events we never witnessed (but oh how I wish we had!), but they addressed meta concerns, like Pierce's villainy and Jeff and Annie's sexual tension, in a way that didn't seem petty or superior. So often when shows “address the viewers' concerns,” they actually “tell the viewers they're stupid.” I'm glad this series has more respect for its audience.

And 30 Rock was 30 Rock, a reliable zinger machine, if a bit overlong at sixty minutes. (Or is it twenty?) But I did appreciate the loopiness of the gas leak. It was definitely more upside cow spider Prince Albert mhgrrrzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.