03 July 2014
This was a tough year for sitcoms. On one hand, there were more terrible new comedies this year than in any other season in recent memory (Dads, Sean Saves the World, Friends With Better Lives, among others). On the other hand, there were a bunch of sitcoms I really really liked… that didn’t make it out of the season alive (RIP, Super Fun Night; good knowing ya, Trophy Wife). The only real comedy success story from the 2013/14 network season was Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a solid show with a great cast that found its footing swiftly, won some key awards early on and promises to have a long, storied career in FOX’s charming Tuesday lineup (Hi Mindy! *waves*).
This season also saw the demise of a few favourites that didn’t deserve to go down (most notably ABC’s underrated family gem The Neighbors and FOX’s delightful Raising Hope, though Community had to be rescued by Yahoo so it sort of counts as well) as well as the overdue but still sentimental loss of the legendary How I Met Your Mother.
So, with the season fully in the rearview mirror (even Enlisted has finally been fully burned off), it’s time to use that 20/20 hindsight and talk about the bad, very bad, unfairly cut down and select good sitcoms of the 2013/14 network TV season.
DOA Gem: Super Fun Night (ABC)
I loved this show so much. It was marketed terribly and got off to a slow start but it brought me great joy and said important things without the air of importance, which is the best way to say them. Read my many many many thoughts about this show HERE and then join me in mourning the loss of this undiscovered treasure that most people wrote off the second the first teaser aired.
Actually DOA: We Are Men (CBS)
This show was canceled so quickly that it’s existence is all but forgotten entirely. Like Super Fun Night, it was marketed terribly and appeared to be crap at first glance. Unlike Super Fun Night, it wasn’t secretly amazing. But it also wasn’t nearly as terrible as it looked. The few episodes that saw the light of day were good for a couple solid jokes, plenty of heart, and lots of Kal Penn. It’s hard to go really all that wrong when you’ve got Kal Penn. Or at least it should be.
Best Cast, Good Show Edition: The Crazy Ones (CBS)
Yes, yes, Robin Williams. Yes, yes, Buffy. The headliners made a great team; it was refreshing to see Williams fold some of his own dark past into his light character and I love awkward SMG in comedic roles but it was really the supporting cast and the guest stars that made this show pop for me. I would watch Hamish Linklater or James Wolk in anything so watching them foil each other as a yin yang advertising team was pure bliss. Throw in underrated comic gem Amanda Setton and you’ve got one of the best sitcom casts in years. Unsatisfied with just amazing series regulars, The Crazy Ones gave guest arcs to the fantastic likes of Brad Garrett, Brad Paisley, Cheryl Hines and Josh Groban (the world always needs more Groban).
Best Cast, Terrible Show Edition: Bad Teacher (CBS)
Let’s talk about Ari Graynor for a second, shall we? I’m obsessed with Ari Graynor. The fact that Ari Graynor isn’t a massive movie star baffles me to no end. She’s one of the funnier women on earth, she’s wildly sexy, she can deliver a heartfelt gutpunch like the best of naturalistic dramatic actresses- what’s the holdup, Hollywood?! Perhaps the more telling question is what the hell is Ari Graynor doing in a bad adaptation of a terrible movie? Nobody liked Bad Teacher the first time around, as far as I know, so who had the bright idea to make it a TV show? Graynor was joined in the slums by the all-too-good-for-this David Alan Grier, Sara Gilbert, Kristin Davis and the amazing Ryan Hansen (another person who should be a massive star but somehow just isn’t. Come on, world, what’s wrong with you?!).
Best Writing: About a Boy (NBC)
Jason. Katims. The man is a magician. With its wacky characters and fixed arc, About a Boy probably shouldn’t have worked as a TV show despite being a pretty good movie (unlike Bad Teacher which, just, why?). But Katims can apparently take any property, find the ongoing story in it, and adapt it with utter realism and relatability. His first major sitcom attempt retains all the heart and brains of his hourlong efforts but just amps up the funny, finally giving David Walton the great role he’s been waiting for and bringing Minnie Driver back into the spotlight for her best performance in years (her Fiona is just So Lovely). A really great series I hope more people discover next season.
Most Improved, Renewed Edition: Mom (CBS)
I’m extremely fond of both Anna Faris and Allison Janney but the first few episodes of Mom felt like kitschy laugh-track-y CBS slop so I threw it out with the really bad eggs (see also: Back in the Game, which I didn’t even both to write about in this article it was so bad). But after the season ended and I found myself with nothing to watch, something probably resembling loyalty pulled me back to Mom and I watched the whole thing. By the end of the season, I had laughed out loud and cried more than once. It’s not groundbreaking by any means but Mom managed to do something in its first season that few sitcoms do- it got deeper. The characters who were introduced as party girl archetypes, by the end of the season, morphed into complicated, vulnerable human beings and all of a sudden the casting of Faris and Janney didn’t seem like a waste of talent. Christy and Bonnie deserve Faris and Janney, but you have to watch the whole season to find out why. (Extra credit for Spencer Daniels’ daftly loving performance as father-to-be Luke).
Most Improved, Canceled Edition: Mixology (ABC)
This show might have been sent from the devil. It’s all about vapid, desperate, manipulative people looking for a hookup over the course of a single night at a very unpleasant-seeming bar. Most of the plots revolved around the “game” of modern romance, thereby perpetuating that that’s a thing that should exist at all. On principal, this show is just bad for the world. HOWEVER, I for some reason watched the whole thing and fell for Kate Simses’ pipsqueak goodgirl Liv and her life-changing crush on fallen goldenboy Ron. And I especially liked the resolution of the Bruce/Jessica arc that had seemed fairly skeezy for most of the season. There was something oddly captivating about Mixology and there was definitely something heartfelt, in the end. But still, on principal, I would like all people who take their social cues from what TV shows tell them is “normal” to just avoid this thing at all costs, because it was sent from the devil to make you a douchebag.
Most Wasted Potential: The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC)
The world’s most loveable man makes a self-aware return to the medium that made him a star. The tone is classic, the premise is clever, Will Gluck (who wrote the wit machine that was Easy A) is producing, the amazing Katie Finneran is in it… and it sucks. Why do you do this to me, world?! Do you not realize how happy Michael J Fox makes people? Why can’t you just let us be happy?!
Bad Show That Will Live Forever: The Millers (CBS)
Speaking of things that suck, have you guys seen The Millers? I mean, really. This is ridiculous. Beau Bridges is charming and I’m very fond of Nelson Franklin though I couldn’t really tell you why, but otherwise this show is just plain a waste of time. I may or may not have watched it because Survivor winner John Cochran is on the writing staff (is that weird? Whatever, so it’s weird) but in the whole first season I witnessed about as much smart comedy from The Millers as Cochran is usually good for in one confessional interview. I don’t know why TV is still trying to make Will Arnett a leading man when he’s far more suited to wacky supporting roles but they just need to stop. Unfortunately, this feels like a show that will survive forever on a relatively cheap budget, an easily recyclable premise and middling stars that the CBS audience will tune in to see.
Show That Should Have Lived Forever: Trophy Wife (ABC)
Come on! Now this is a show that could have gone the distance. It was badly named (like Cougar Town before it, Trophy Wife was a much more interesting show than something called “Trophy Wife” was likely to be) but it was superbly cast (Whitford! Harden! Watkins! plus three fantastic young actors playing the idiosyncratic kids) and really well crafted. Consistently funny with emotionally honest stories, endlessly engaging characters and one of the best leading ladies on TV (that Malin Akerman is a gem; wouldn’t it be nice if she still had her own show?), I could see Trophy Wife still being great in season ten. Probably the most short-sighted cancelation of the year.
Mishandling of the Year: Enlisted (FOX)
I was a huge Enlisted fan. Even though everyone knew the midseason comedy would never make it out of 2014, I couldn’t help but hold out hope that it might. A fresh premise, a great supporting cast, a superb leading trio (my love of Chris Lowell knows no bounds and he was particularly fantastic here with his perfect deadpan timing) and a slew of really strong episodes right out of the gate set my heart up to be broken. It was held for midseason, hardly advertised, aired out of order, then burned off unceremoniously. Tsk tsk, FOX, you’re starting to look a bit like your old self. People still talk about how much they disliked your old self.
Saddest New Show: Friends With Better Lives (CBS)
This was a very very bad show. With its twitter-tastic short-form title and opening sequence (#FWBL- #Divorced, #Engaged, etc), it was one of the more desperate shows on the air. The fact that it took over How I Met Your Mother‘s timeslot just filled the whole thing with melancholy. But perhaps the saddest thing was that James Van Der Beek’s presence reminded me, every episode, of how GREAT he was on Don’t Trust the B* in Apt 23 and how much I miss that gone-too-soon show.
You’re Smarter Than That: Dads (FOX)
I thought the pilot got a bad rap but even I couldn’t make it past episode two with this defensively crass and hopelessly derivative bore. It seemed as though FOX greenlit it, aired it, and even picked it up for a back 9 (which they then cut to 5, but still) despite knowing full well that it was bad. I was mostly disappointed because I’m a big believer in Seths MacFarlane (producer) and Green (star). They both can be somewhat childish but I feel like there is ample evidence in both cases that they’re really smart dudes (MacFarlane especially, that man is so much more interesting and cultured than he lets his reputation represent). I’m frankly shocked that this seeming prank on the TV landscape made it nearly as far as it did.
You’re Not Smarter Than That: Sean Saves the World (NBC)
I can’t stand Sean Hayes. I think he’s incredibly self-indulgent and self-important despite being the quintessential one-note actor. I could elaborate but don’t particularly want to waste my breath on this terrible show built entirely as a vehicle for an actor whose best work will always be behind him (Jack McFarland was a deserved icon; let’s leave it there, shall we, Sean?). Also, Megan Hilty deserves better; why can’t that girl find a project worthy of her? Greenlighting this thing was quintessential NBC- clinging to the old guard wherever they can, checking innovation and intelligence at the door.
Best New Show: Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
What an incredibly solid show. Andy Samberg is actually far more suited to being a sitcom leading man than he was to SNL. In fact, he’s more suited to being a sitcom leading man than almost anybody I can think of, deftly walking the line between relatable, charming, and zany. A clutch protagonist goes a long way but the fact that every single character on this show is a standout and the writing staff is one of the sharpest around makes this just an unstoppable show. FOX will be leaning on this thing for years as they shift their entire lineup around it.
Favourite New Show: The Goldbergs (ABC)
I LOVE The Goldbergs. Love it. It seems like a show that would be a lot of fun for people about ten years older than me but, despite missing a whole whack of the references, The Goldbergs immediately hit me in the heart. Adam F. Goldberg’s autobiographical tale of growing up in the 80s is one of the most quotable shows of the year with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments but it’s also been known to make me cry (like, on the regular). When curmudgeony, tighty-whitey-wearing dad Murray (Jeff Garlin, of course) bought young Adam (Sean Giambrone, adorable and also the world’s youngest owner of perfect comic timing) that video card membership. The abandoned look in the great Wendi McLendon-Covey’s eye when Adam declared he wanted a “joy-less, cake-less, mom-less basement party” for his birthday. When cool big sister Erica (a wry Hayley Orrantia) helped doofy brother Barry (Troy Gentile in one of the most carefully crafted, full-throttle performances in a comedy this year) have a legendary moment before his house party was shut down- So Many Feelings! Well written, well acted, well directed and excellently soundtracked, The Goldbergs is just plain great… and the only sitcom I really loved this year that survived the May Upfronts.
Goodbye Super Fun Night, Trophy Wife, The Crazy Ones and Enlisted– you all deserved so much better.