27 July 2009
Despite my love for the genre, I’m well aware that I came into pop culture consuming prominence during the wane of the golden age of the sitcom. Consider Seinfeld and Friends its death gasp, and the intervention of single-camera, laugh track-less half hour comedies its replacement (thanks a lot, critically acclaimed, brilliant comedies!), and it’s not exactly a deep or unique television reflection to say that (despite a couple*of still-around good shows) the sitcom as a format has pretty much died. The laugh track spewing, pratfalling, awesomeness that was so popular for the 80s and 90s is pretty much restricted to How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory (at least as far as quality television is concerned), and both of those are semi-successes because of the unique spin they bring to the genre (HIMYM is very acutely aware, and often comments on in a meta-kind of way, the sitcom conventions it embodies, and often tries blatantly to subvert them, and the genius of Big Bang Theory is the way that it is 100% your typical sitcom while not seeming at all like your typical sitcom). With those two exceptions, sitcoms just aren’t considered the artform they once were.
I am saddened by this. The sitcom is awesome. But re-watching a lot of old sitcoms feels odd now, the beats far too ingrained in my psyche to feel intriguing, the storylines too reused since then. It’s kind of like watching Casablanca and feeling like I’ve already seen it because of how often I’ve heard most of the lines. So it was with great joy that I re-discovered NewsRadio on Hulu in the past few weeks. NewsRadio was a pretty decent sized hit for NBC in the mid-90s, starring a pre–ER Maura Tierney and the post-Kids-in-the-Hall Dave Foley, and I’d seen reruns before on television. But nothing prepared me for the intense love I felt for this show upon rewatching.
Most of the greatness of NewsRadio is courtesy of its amazing cast. The aforementioned Foley and Tierney are both great as the screwball romantic core at the heart of the show, and they’re propped up by Phil Hartman as radio personality Bill McNeal, Khandi Alexander as awesomely understated Catherine, a last-time-he-was-ever-funny Andy Dick as office goof Matthew, also-the-last-time-he-was-funny Joe Rogan, Vicki Lewis as quirky, and mostly not annoying, assistant Beth, and the incomparable Stephen Root as station owner Jimmy James.
But NewsRadio is also great for the way that it, like HIMYM after it, plays with the typical sitcom conventions while simultaneously glorying in it. Take, for example, Dave and Lisa’s relationship. On another show, it would have been a slow burn of sexual tension and furtive glances. On NewsRadio, they’re a stable, mostly functional couple (for the most part…). They’re also consistently hilarious and great together and apart, and Lisa is never relegated to the annoying girlfriend role. She has her own storylines, her own personality, and her own hilarity. It’s amazing. It’s a great show that unfortunately came a little before my time. Until the magic of HULU. Which means that not only is it available for me to love and enjoy, but for all of you. So check out the first four seasons on HULU (occasional episodes ARE missing, but one of the glories of sitcoms, as opposed to serialized dramas, is that you can watch them semi-out-of-order without losing any of the awesome).
A NOTE ON MY SUMMER OF REVIEWING:
As you may have noticed, I’ve been posting a lot less this summer, due to a ridiculous life schedule that has cut my sitting at my computer reflecting time to a minimum. But I haven’t been a stranger to television**, and that’s entirely thanks to a wonderful invention I like to call The Internet.
Maybe you’ve heard of it?
Seriously, folks, I love the internet, specifically for its ability to bring me a constant influx of awesome shows on demand. Between Netflix and Hulu (not to mention the network’s own sites), the entertainment (as long as you’re in a US state or territory) never ends.
* Literally, two.
**It is my personal life theory that neither television nor movies are a luxury, either time-wise or money wise. I mean obviously food and shelter come first, but television is not something I watch because I’m bored and have nothing else to do. I make time for television. I love it. I believe in its inherent value and therefore believe it is an important addition to my life. So when this summer brought me the most busy, stressful five weeks of my life, television was not something I was willing to “give up” along with sleep and real food.