The Goldbergs

the-goldbergs

When Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Jeff Garlin announced he was doing a sitcom that was an improv 1980’s version of The Wonder Years, I was excited. However having watched the premier, I’m disappointed. The show doesn’t live up to the promise.

With a grouchy dad, jaded older sister, an annoying brother and a bright likeable middle school boy, family structure is like The Wonder Years. However, other than the nostalgic voice over and the family structure, The Goldbergs doesn’t compare to The Wonder Years, which isn’t a surprise because the 80’s doesn’t compare well to the 60’s. No Vietnam, no hippies, no Haight Ashbury, no Woodstock. If you’re going to dramatize the ’80’s, you need to make the characters less ordinary. This comedy seemed so canned and predictable. It’s jokes were tired and the story was weak. I felt a bit sorry for the actors, but then I remembered they’re paid a fortune and I’m not.

Also, it seems the writers just don’t understand new comedy. They’re need to watch Outnumbered, and watch it repeatedly so they see what’s possible. Studying Curb Your Enthusiasm or The Simpson’s wouldn’t hurt either. I suppose if a friend mentioned that the show really improves and the pilot’s an anomaly, I’d give this another try.

The Office – A Long Goodbye

the-office-season-9

I just saw the finale of The Office, a show that was one of my favorites until a couple years ago. I’d hoped that the episode would feature the kind of writing that made me love the show, but it didn’t.

Early in the season someone commented that “watching The Office had become like seeing a good friend on life support. You felt sad and wished for the end.” Very true, I thought. Also, very sad.

The finale follows the cast a year after the documentary has aired. Dwight’s going to marry Angela, whose little boy has not aged at all since the previous episode, though a year has gone by. (Wake up writers. The child should not have been in the episode. He wasn’t crucial.)

PBS was holding a panel for the documentary in Scranton so Toby, who’s given up his steady job and moved to New York to write a novel. Who’d buy that? Why move to the most expensive city in the country just to write? Stanley who’s retired, and Darrell who’s with the successful marketing company that Jim quit, all return to Dunder Mifflin. Even Michael Scott, albeit without Holly, which just seemed unreal and cheap on the part of the producers, was back.

the-office-season-3

Better days

The PBS documentary became a big part of the second half of this final season. I think that was a big mistake because while the insights from the individual worked well in the show, giving more attention to the doc made me think about it more. That makes the wheels come off the wagon as it would cost millions to staff such a project for 9 years. At most it would be a 9 hour program and just would not fill an auditorium a year after it’s aired. Downton Abbey could a documentary won’t. Besides a PBS documentary would criticize as well as praise its subjects. It would leave viewers thinking that some of these people aren’t worthy of respect and that incompetence is rewarded if you’re surrounded by nice people. PBS’ Frontier House and other similar documentaries showed some people to be noble and others far from it.

Towards the episode’s end, various characters opine about how great their time at Dunder Mifflin was and ponder the obvious Hallmark versions of carpe diem. The problem I have is that Americans, who watch PBS, aren’t be so banal that they’d sit through 9 hours of a documentary (or over 100 hours of a sitcom, I hope) just to hear that it’s important to value the “good times.”

There was little from the interactions between the staff or the audience at the panel to show that anyone felt they got a raw deal. Hard to believe. Someone would have, there’d be some villains because unlike sitcom writers documentarians don’t need you to laugh or feel warm and fuzzy. These reality shows aren’t hagiographies. As time went on many of these characters became more and more neurotic or in the case of Dwight, quite possibly psychotic.

The finale of the British The Office was sadder and more true to life.

Things I didn’t buy this season:

    • That it wasn’t malicious for Oscar to lie and steal Angela’s husband, that no one at the office caught wind of it and turned on Oscar. Someone should have learned of this and rightly turned on Oscar.
    • That Angela married a state senator was far fetched – a minor complaint.
    • That after leaving the senator, Angela, a shrewd accountant, would be destitute and have no where to live other than Oscar’s place. (So contrived.)
    • That Angela’s baby would be talking at about one year old.
    • That Creed, who’s got a regular paycheck, would live in the Dunder Mifflin men’s room and no one would know. I figured out a professor was living in his office in a far shorter time.
    • That Jim and Pam’s marital problems weren’t contrived for the sake of the plot. His taking the job in Philly and her insisting on staying in Scranton never rang true. Her selling the house without his knowledge even though she reminded him that he bought the house without asking her. It’s all so out of character.
    • That Andy’d be and remain the manager even after leaving for months at a time. His character was always bizarre in a pathetic, yet scary way. Actually, it’s hard to believe he was chosen as manager. It made sense that Michael was. He was a great salesperson and the Peter Principle is based in reality.
    • That Ryan would return (with a baby!) and then run off with Kelly, who was a head case, which he knew.
    • That Jan didn’t show up. She’d have had a bone to pick with the documentary.
    • That many of these people function and
      That during the country’s biggest recession in generations no one of consequence was let go. America was cheated on that count.

I felt the writers ran out of ideas and talent. They may be new to the show and inexperienced as they relied so much on psychosis and obvious, contrivances to further each week’s stories.

Dear Writers on “The Office”

Staff Writers
The Office
NBC

Dear Writers,

I’ve been getting caught up with The Office and am shocked at its decline. What have you done? Do you realize that you’ve whittled most of the characters down to one dimensional puppets? As one hulu.com commenter put it, watching The Office is now like watching an old friend on life support. I’ll add that the patient is now showing little to no brain activity.

You’ve crossed several comedic lines and wandered into the land of “Not At All Funny.” While it was somewhat funny, to have Oscar speculate that Angela‘s husband was gay, it isn’t funny to have an otherwise likeable character go behind her back and start an affair with her husband. Oscar has a lot of better choices and many of them could be funny. This one isn’t. At all. He’s now a plotting snake in the grass. Just because Angela’s annoying and uptight doesn’t mean she deserves betrayal or that she’s immune to the hurt. How craven do you think your audience is?

It’s preposterous that Andy can sail off on a sentimental journey without the higher ups caring. In many offices there’d be a real power struggle. And Andy as pure buffoon has been such a weak choice anyway. Michael Scott was weird and weak, but he was a terrific sales person and sincerely cared about his colleagues, often too much and therein lay the humor.

Now Jan’s back in her lower form. At the start of the series she was a type A bitch and symbolized a certain business woman. Then she got nutty and it wasn’t funny. It still isn’t and never will be. The episode where she plotted to get David in for a sales meeting didn’t make sense. Everyone knows the CEO doesn’t make sales calls.

Rumor has it we’re in for a series revolving around Dwight. Hmm. That”ll be tough to work because Dwight’s funny on The Office because he’s surrounded by normal people. I can’t envision watching a show where Dwight is the most normal character. But the real issue is we don’t need to see Dwight so much and we don’t need this season to lead us into your next series.

Erin’s always been too cute and too ditzy. That two men are interested in her is hard to see. She is a good fit for Andy and it’s pure puzzlement why the “young Jim-like character” would have any interest in such an airhead. It makes him look questionable.

It’s not like the world of work isn’t inherently funny. It is. There’s a lot you could do. If I were paid to offer some solutions, I think I could do better than what I’ve seen so far.

Where has the good writing gone? Have you hired people from The Big Bang Theory or other non-funny shows for this swan song season?

Sincerely,

SK

The Rev

On hulu.com, I found an exclusive British series called The Rev. Starring Tom Hollander as a vicar newly transferred from the countryside to a struggling parish in East London, The Rev’s got a lot going for it. It’s smart and charming with a cast of beautiful losers like the stick in the mud associate, Nigel, the smart, loyal wife, Alex, the prim headmistress and the quirky down and out Collin. The Rev offers a humorous, real depiction of faith and hits the nail on the head with it’s jibes at the young, cool Christians who sip smoothies in church as their pastor extolls God’s awesomeness or the annoyance of a know-it-all, critical archdeacon.

While I don’t laugh out loud, the way I do when watching Outnumbered, I do like these characters and this church with its broken window, faded paint and small, odd-ball congregation. The cast reminds me a bit of The Bob Newhart Show.

Outnumbered

The most hilarious, smart sitcom I’ve seen in a long time is the BBC’s Outnumbered. Each week the parents Pete and Sue valiantly try to survive the chaos inherent in raising precocious children: Jake, Ben and Karen. The plots are loose and the dialog brilliant. Like Curb Your Enthusiasm, much of the dialog is improvised, which is probably why what the kids say seems so real, unlike the average show where the jokes are clearly written by 27 year olds and mouthed by 7 year olds.

I’ve just seen six episodes and the main thread is that the father, a secondary school history teacher, bumbles his way around the disaster he created by making a joke at the expense of one of his heavier students. Sue is a stay at home mom, who’s often overwhelmed, but never comes across as the nincompoop say the mom in Modern Family can be. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s because Sue’s smart kids often do have a good point when they argue, whereas the Modern Family kids are clearly reading from a script.

A few realistic, serious problems are woven into the series. Pete’s worried that Jake is a victim of bullying. The issue’s handled better than it would be on many sitcoms. Like in real life, Pete tries to open lines of communication, Jake denies there’s a problem. Then at the end of an episode, once you believe Jake, you see him washing his hands and his forearms are badly bruised. Another issue is caring for an elderly parent in decline. Sue has been the local go-to person for her father while her sister galavants. The sister returns and the relationship is rocky. Sue’s glad for the relief, yet has to hide her jealousy that Angela, her sister succeeds with the father – at first. So as in real life competing feelings exist in one person.

The dialog is brilliant. Take a look:

[youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRhIZCDk0Eo%5D

Karen with a nurse