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2015 Was a Bad Year for Good Sitcoms
One season wonders.
2015 was probably the last year I eagerly watched new TV shows. That year, three excellent sitcoms came out that I adored, but I guess no one else did because they were all canceled after only one season.
I’ll watch at least one episode of any show starring Billy Crystal, the veteran comedian and actor known for popular films like When Harry Met Sally, Throw Momma from the Train, City Slickers, and Analyze This, just to name a few. Crystal’s done his share of sitcom work too, starring as the first gay character ever on a sitcom in Soap. He also made guest appearances on The Bernie Mac Show, Friends, Frasier, The Critic, The Larry Sanders Show, The Love Boat, and All in the Family, so he’s not exactly a lightweight.
Josh Gad was a name I wasn’t familiar with before 2015. He’s known for providing the voice of Olaf the snowman in Frozen, and for starring in The Book of Mormon on Broadway. He also created, produced, and starred in his own short-lived sitcom, 1600 Penn, which was canceled after only 13 episodes, made guest appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Modern Family, New Girl, and Party Down, and had a regular role in Kelsey Grammer’s 2007 sitcom attempt, Back to You.
The Comedians paired these two very different actors together as fictionalized versions of themselves making a late-night sketch comedy show called “The Billy and Josh Show.” They’re a classic example of an “odd couple” trope. Billy is an older guy who’s been around Hollywood and prefers old-fashioned comedy like that of The Honeymooners or Laurel and Hardy. Josh, on the other hand, is a young actor still trying to make a name for himself, who leans more toward edgy or “blue” humor. It would seem that these two disparate comedy styles would clash, but when they came together, they formed jokes so funny they gave me asthma attacks.
Not only was the show itself hilarious, but the show within the show, "The Billy and Josh Show", was consistently off-the-charts funny. I’ve never laughed so hard as I did at their musical number, “Kiss an Old Man,” where Josh used his operatic voice to belt out a jaunty tune about his secret desire to plant a big smackeroo on an elderly gentleman, and Billy responded in verse, urging the creep to go away.
Sadly, like 1600 Penn, The Comedians was canceled after only 13 episodes. I’m not really sure why this show failed to garner high enough ratings to warrant a second season. The user reviews on IMDb seem to be split between people who loved it and those who were confused by Billy Crystal’s old-school comedy. One critic suggested its “high-brow humor” would be difficult for audiences to appreciate; another claimed the show didn’t have enough “tooth.”
I’ve noticed that, in recent years (and by recent, I probably mean the last 20 years), TV audiences seem unable or unwilling to just sit back and enjoy some lighthearted, silly comedy. They feel the need to pick things apart, they compare TV to real life, and they expect more serious subject matter. Like its stars, The Comedians was part throwback, part modern. It took a classic style sitcom premise and gave it a mockumentary look similar to The Office or Parks and Recreation. I feel like older generations around Billy’s age, younger millennials, and Gen Z probably wouldn’t get it. You have to be part of that sweet spot in between, Gen X and Gen Y, around Josh’s or my age to really appreciate the comic genius of the show. I guess there just weren’t enough of us watching.
Speaking of throwback sitcoms, The Grinder is another great example. It starred Rob Lowe as Dean Sanderson, a former TV star known for playing a lawyer nicknamed “The Grinder” in a cheesy soap opera-like drama. Lowe is absolutely perfect for this role. Like his character, Lowe’s career has always straddled the line between serious dramatic actor and aloof goofball, and he plays both parts equally well. He’s known for films like St. Elmo’s Fire, Wayne’s World, and Tommy Boy, but he’s also done his share of sitcom work, including a regular role on Parks and Recreation and guest appearances on The Orville and The Larry Sanders Show.
Fred Savage played Stewart Sanderson, Dean’s longsuffering brother, who is an actual lawyer in his father’s law firm, but has to live in the shadow of his famous TV lawyer brother. Savage, of course, is well known for his starring role in The Wonder Years, but he also made a few sitcom appearances, including Boy Meets World and Seinfeld.
The most surprisingly funny character was Dean and Stewart’s father, played by William Devane. Before The Grinder, I knew Devane from 24, in which he played Secretary of Defense—and later President—James Heller, a character whose name I will always remember for obvious reasons, (it definitely brought a smile to my face when I tuned into 24: Live Another Day and heard everyone talking about “President Heller”). Devane was excellent in the action-packed drama series, so I never thought he would be funny. Boy, was I wrong. He was hilarious as the clueless father who dotes on dazzling, dreamy Dean and all but ignores serious, stalwart Stewart. I was also surprised to discover that this was not his first foray into the sitcom world. He had regular roles in two other short-lived sitcoms: The Michael Richards Show and Crumbs, which coincidentally also starred Fred Savage as his son.
The ensemble cast brilliantly delivered funny quips and gags that played on the conflict between Dean and Stewart. Stewart’s wife and kids all love Dean, and even his father and the other lawyers at the firm pay more attention to Dean. Dean uses his good looks, charm, and popular catchphrase, “The Grinder rests,” to weasel his way into the firm as some kind of “consultant,” which apparently allows him to speak in court on behalf of their clients. His TV-inspired maneuvers aren’t always 100% legal, but his brother and father (both real lawyers) find loopholes and gray areas that ensure they work every time.
Scrolling through the user reviews of The Grinder on IMDb, I’m hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t like the show, and the critic reviews are non-existent. I have no idea why this show was canceled. It was a gem of a sitcom with a unique premise that boasted some incredibly talented stars, and it deserved at least one more season.
No sitcom has ever been more misunderstood than The Muppets. This poor show never had a chance. It featured Jim Henson’s famous Muppets doing what they do best: screwing things up, getting the wrong end of the stick, and just generally goofing off - only this time, they’re doing all that on the set of a talk show hosted by Miss Piggy. I think of it as The Muppet Show meets The Larry Sanders Show. Like The Comedians, it was shot in mockumentary style, following the Muppets backstage and delving into their personal lives and relationships.
The main complaint I heard about The Muppets when it first aired was that people didn’t want an “adult” version of The Muppet Show. To that, I have two things to say:
The Muppets does not contain so-called “adult” situations or dialog. You’re not going to see Muppets having sex or cursing. It was on network television.
The Muppets were always adult. The original show and movies included jokes aimed at adults. They were never just for kids. From the very beginning, Jim Henson wanted to create puppet comedy for adults. He got his first big break on Sesame Street, but he wanted to write for a more mature audience, so he pitched some Muppet sketches to Saturday Night Live, but they were rejected. So instead, he created The Muppet Show, a puppet comedy show for adults. American TV producers didn’t think it would appeal to adult audiences, so they turned it down, and Henson had to take it to a British producer and shoot it in England. The Muppets showed the characters as Jim Henson always wanted them to be.
Unfortunately, the pushback from right-wing Christian groups and confused parents, who thought they would have to explain to their kids why Kermit was under the covers with Miss Piggy, must have convinced the network to pull the plug on this delightfully silly, fun, and unique sitcom. Fortunately, we have not heard the last of those colorful foam rubber characters: in May of this year, The Muppets Mayhem, a series about the misadventures of Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem as they try to record their first studio album, will be available to stream on Disney+, and from the trailer, it seems like the Muppets still got it.
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