We are gathered here today to mourn the sad passing of a beloved friend. While he has been missing for many years it was just last night, while sitting shiva over the decimated carcass of NBC’s “Must See TV,” that I realized he is finally dead. Yes, the sitcom kicker has passed and may never rise again.
What is this kicker? Known to writers as a “tag,” it is that short final scene of a sitcom that plays as the credits roll. I have not seen a complete one of these in several years. They have been absolutely destroyed. How many times are you watching television and just when Cam is going to tell Mitchell something hilarious about being a clown does the show cut off and your DVR menu flashes up on the screen with only three options: Save, Delete, Restart. Where is the option for finishing the damn joke?
Instead, we’re left wondering just what Leslie Knope was going to say as she turned to one of her compatriots to deliver her punchline or just what Zooey Deschanel’s latest uncomfortable euphemism for a sex act is on New Girl. We never know in just what way Liz Lemon is going to humiliate herself with Cheesy Blasters, why there are so many people drinking wine out of huge glasses on Cougar Town, or why, oh why, a fat man is lowering himself into a tub full of strawberry jam on Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23. The mystery will never, ever be solved.
And the murdering party is the DVR. When you watch these shows on a DVR the networks refuse to line the end time of the episode up with when your DVR stops recording. And it doesn’t help if you tape the next show either, because in so many instances, you miss the brief punchline in that microsecond where the DVR stops taping one show and starts taping another.
Oh, so I guess that means it isn’t the DVR that killed this tasty morsel after all. That (as Miss Scarlet says in Clue) is just a red herring. It is the networks, who refuse to accommodate for the audience that watches their shows at their own leisure rather than following their draconian schedule. The networks know when the show starts and when the show ends. They know when your DVR is going to stop filming and if the final joke falls within that time frame or not. They also know that starting their shows at 9:01 and ending them at 10:02 totally screws up our elaborately stacked and stratified DVRs (especially on a Sunday night) so that you can’t tape all the shows you want. They know all this and they refuse to comply, even though more than 40% of homes (that’s almost half for those of you who skipped Algebra to smoke pot under the bleachers) have a DVR.
The victim isn’t us, it is the show. It’s the room of people who sit around thinking up these little comic desserts for the audience. It’s the actors who act them out, these Grace Allens who never get to give the clever rejoinder that their patient straight men set up for them. And it’s the networks who we rage against because they refuse to let us watch TV the way we want to. They need to realize that the age of sitting around watching Ross and Rachel right on the dot at 8 PM on a Thursday is as extinct as dinosaurs, rotary telephones, and NBC being the lead network. Instead of trying to force us into their outdated mode of watching, why not evolve and make the most of it? Why not find a new, clever way to make shows fit within the time constraints of the mindless robot army of television recording devices that are slowly taking this nation over like an episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles (RIP).
But they won’t. And we fall for it every gosh darn week. We fast forward through that final commercial break and watch the first half of the joke before it’s cut off. Every week we hold out hope that finally, finally someone has figured out how we can see why there are naked people running through The Office or something something on Community that people on the internet are going to be drooling over that I just don’t care about because I refuse to watch this show on TV, DVR, or otherwise.
It just means that, until everyone gets their act together, our dear friend, the star shining atop the sitcom Christmas tree, that last loving joke, will be dead. It will just like there week after week cut in half like some struggling starlet in the first act of a Saw movie. Still the most important thing to remember, the funniest thing of all is…
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan