Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’ve got another Q&A entry, where I answer questions submitted by readers. Thanks to everyone who sent in something — if you don’t see your “Q” here, I just may “A” it next time. (And keep them coming — any related topic on which you want my opinion and/or a little research? Just let me know!)
Brandon Richter inquires… Are there any worthwhile television sitcoms prior to “I Love Lucy”?
The problem with early television is that most of it was broadcast live and not preserved, so we don’t have much to view today and judge for ourselves. However, from what I’ve seen, I Love Lucy is indeed the first great TV sitcom. Prior to that, the three most worthwhile series you can currently find episodes of are The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show (premiered 1950), Trouble With Father (1950), and The Amos ‘n Andy Show (1951). They’re not as good as Lucy, especially in 1950-’51, but they’re enjoyable and better than the rest of what is presently available pre-Lucy.
Smitty asks… [H]ave you seen the HBO documentary “Being Mary Tyler Moore”? If so, what did you think of it?
I thought it was beautifully produced with a lot of great footage, and I loved how personal it was, using her own words to tell her story. In fact, that personalization helped mitigate concerns I otherwise would have had about the documentary’s almost compulsory need to justify its existence through an idea-driven frame of social relevance — which I believe has become a banal and impersonal tactic. But coming from Moore herself, this angle at least felt more rooted in truth and thus less of a clichéd overreach (like in, say, some of the modern appraisals of Lucille Ball and her work). Okay, I would have also enjoyed some mention of the character-driven renaissance that came about because of MTM’s sitcoms, but hey, if everyone talked about this genre like I did, then there wouldn’t be any value to this blog!… As for other criticisms, I think it was a rosier portrait than it should have been — and there were some glaring omissions — but my expectations were adjusted properly beforehand, so I wasn’t disappointed.
Charlie has a similar question… Did you watch the recent “Friends” reunion special, and if so, what did you think of it?
I put it off for a while because I tend to find most reunion specials self-congratulatory in a way that’s obnoxious — for they typically rely too heavily on emotional platitudes sans any genuine insight. But when I finally watched this one, I enjoyed it more than I had expected. It was sweet and, even though I was indeed annoyed by a lot of the familiar bromides and thought nothing truly revealing was uttered, my investment in the show and its characters has given me a basic affection for those involved, so it was nice to see them together and compelling to note how touched they were. Frankly, it also inspired me to go back and reread my commentary on the series — which I hadn’t done since publishing those posts in 2018 — and you know what? Speaking of genuine insight, I went deep on Friends and am proud of my work.
TVLover3 has a request… Now that you are done with the 1990’s, can you list your 5 favorite sitcoms from the decade?
This is in order of debut: Seinfeld, The Larry Sanders Show, Frasier, Friends, and Everybody Loves Raymond (even though the best years of Raymond mostly belong to the early 2000s…)
Mr. Melody wants a review… After hearing your thoughts on WandaVision, what is your thoughts on the other sitcom styled series Kevin Can F Himself?
Well, for starters, the fundamental difference between WandaVision and Kevin Can F**k Himself is that the former claimed to honor beloved, classic sitcoms but instead created homages that were so poorly written they became disingenuous, while Kevin Can F**k Himself deliberately parodied terrible sitcoms — specifically one Kevin Can Wait, a show where a lack of definition for its leading lady was such an obvious hinderance to its own quality that it literally became the spark for another whole series’ premise: a supportive sitcom wife has an entire life about which her husband knows nothing. So, this show’s intent was much more straightforward, with its sitcom-related goals far easier to achieve — it just had to emphasize the major limitations of a series like Kevin Can Wait. And it’s much easier to write a bad sitcom than a good sitcom… Accordingly, I don’t look to this show as a serious critique of the genre beyond Kevin Can Wait. For one, not every sitcom has the same flaws. (To wit, I think Kevin James’ hit, The King Of Queens, was much better built by way of character — so this criticism doesn’t apply there.) Furthermore, I don’t think it’s persuasive to merely point out the perceived artificiality of the multi-cam format — which is what I most believe the juxtaposition in setups aims to imply — when there’s no attempt to contrast it against other styles of TV comedy that would actually crystallize distinctions, let alone other, better written multi-cams that could provide more of a nuanced, accurate comparison. In fact, this deliberate emphasis on the worst of the worst is an inherently biased framework, and it’s no surprise — Kevin Can F**K Homself is a self-aware AMC drama that has a vested interest in validating its own style as more artistically worthwhile. Thus, the sitcom value here is very limited because Kevin Can Wait, and what it represents, is limited — an obviously bad example that Kevin Can F**k Himself just wants to self-servingly mock.
Have a question for me? Submit it at the “Ask Jackson (Q&A)” link.
Come back next week for another Wildcard! And stay tuned Monday for a musical rarity!