S1E8: After last week’s quest to find everything I could do instead of watching $#*! My Dad Says, I set out this week with a clean slate. I tried to approach the show with a fresh perspective — one that didn’t have the bad taste left from the show’s early episodes (which I will stand by as some of the worst television I’ve ever seen). I thought, come on. This show can’t be that bad. After all, it is starring William Shatner, who is quite comical. And on top of that, this week’s guest star? None other than Frasier star John Mahoney. So I thought, okay, maybe this time around things won’t be terrible. Shatner and Mahoney are two veteran actors. They can’t mess things up too horribly, right? Well, sadly, I was wrong.
Even giving this show another fresh start didn’t do anything for its success. It remains as one of the worst half-hours of the week. Here’s what happened.
Ed’s old navy buddy Wally (Mahoney) is coming to visit, so Ed kicks Henry out of the house for a few days to give Wally the guest bed. While Wally and Ed are catching up (which means lots of jokes at the other’s expense), Wally finds out that Ed’s butler, Tim, is gay. And whaddya know? The old man Wally doesn’t approve and because Ed doesn’t defend Tim, Tim quits.
Meanwhile, over in plot B, when Henry gets to Vince and Bonnie’s house, guess what? He accidentally sees Bonnie naked. Crap! I mean, holy cow, have you ever seen this in a sitcom before? It’s SO funny. Anyway, after he sees her naked, next time they’re all together things are supposed to be awkward, right? Well, Henry doesn’t feel too awkward, but clearly, Bonnie does. So Vince thinks the solution is to pay Henry to see his wife naked again, just so Henry can compliment her naked body. So then, that happens. (For real. That was seriously the subplot. I can’t make this up.)
Back in plot A, Ed goes to Tim to try and get him to come back, but Tim only will if Ed talks to Wally about being a homophobe. So as a way to show appreciation towards Tim, Ed invites his entire choir (made of gay dudes) to sing at the Navy event. They come over and, with the magic of half-hour sitcoms, everyone makes up at the end and gay prejudice as we know it ends.
Here’s the deal. There’s a very fine line that distinguishes good sitcoms from bad sitcoms. For example, I’m a big fan of The Big Bang Theory (at least, up until this season’s antics) but I despise Two and a Half Men. What makes sitcoms like Big Bang work, along with say, Friends or Seinfeld, versus stupid ones like Men is because they rely on the characters and their development to make the jokes work. Yeah, they’ll use recycled story lines that you’ve probably seen in a television show before, but they do it with fun and interesting characters. Beyond that, they let the actors who play these characters push themselves to new boundaries. Just think of Kramer in Seinfeld. As the series grew, he just got more and more and more ridiculous, whether it’s busting through Jerry’s door or just telling the rest of the group a story about a interaction he had with a stranger on the street. And as audience members, we feel this character growth as well, and encourage the actors to push themselves, becoming more and more absurd because, simply, it’s funnier.
But let’s look at bad sitcoms, like $#*! My Dad Says or Two and a Half Men. Rather than creating interesting characters for actors to work with, the show creators stick to characters that viewers have seen before. Yeah, we may have someone like William Shatner playing the crazy old man, but this is a character we’ve seen before — so, so, so many times. And sure, maybe that’s okay if you surround him with some originality, but if all the characters are doing is pointing to the crazy old man and saying, “Oh man, that man is so crazy!” there’s nothing new about the punchlines or situations. So each gag feels contrived and falls flat. And as an audience, instead of enjoying these characters and having our laughter push them to different absurdities (like Kramer riding a little girl’s bike through the streets of Manhattan), instead, we don’t laugh and certainly don’t enjoy what’s happening.