Magazine article Variety

Comedies Steal the Prestige Spotlight: Forget the Days When 'Sitcom' Was an Insult

Magazine article Variety

Comedies Steal the Prestige Spotlight: Forget the Days When 'Sitcom' Was an Insult

Article excerpt

The Golden Age of television started with extraordinary dramas, but it's been succeeded by groundbreaking half-hour shows. Single-camera or multi-camera, family sitcom or friend ensemble, intense dramedy or absurdist sketch, sympathetic to its leads or laughing at them; whatever the case, there's a show on television this season that has done it, and done it well.

Indeed, the brilliance in comedy has led to joke-telling becoming one of the most politically charged platforms in pop culture. This past season, the shows with the best takes on transgender civil rights, diversity in media, police brutality, the vagaries of capitalism, and the 2016 election have been comedies, not dramas; punch lines have become more profound than grit.

Partly, this is because dramas sometimes suffer bloated episodes, self-serious leads, and plodding storytelling. Comedies, at just about a half-hour, have to be nimbler- and because they're supposed to be funny, they also have a mandate to be (at least occasionally) funny. But partly, this is because the current business model of television - peak TV - favors comedy success, not drama.

The expansion of television onto streaming models and further into basic cable has created a platform for alternative and cutting-edge voices, and as interested comedians have pursued their own shows or specials, the demand for even more comedy writers to serve on those writing staffs has skyrocketed. And comedy - an inherently playful medium - is better served from a cacophony of young voices than drama, which often struggles to knit its parts into a narrative whole.

The mushrooming success of current comedies is a reminder of what makes them so potent and valuable. Humor is a challenging, destabilizing force that can distill a conflict to a line, or a fundamental injustice to a simple play on words. And it's inherently subversive. It's worth remembering, after all, that television's best dramas were also some of its funniest - from the droll remove of "The Sopranos" and "Breaking Bad" to the verbal sparring of "The Wire" and "The West Wing."

Humor is an essential narrative tool, one that crosses conventional boundaries and turns up its nose at tradition; it's a fundamentally anarchic force that can prick our worst impulses and our best intentions. …

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