I’ve just watched episodes one and two of season 5 of Community. If you aren’t aware of this program its probably because its not really been aired on any major UK TV channel, but it is, or at least was, one of the very best sitcoms of the last decade. Seasons one to three were some of the finest examples of how to make a show that’s both fast paced with a high gag rate, yet sentimental without being sanctimonious. It combined wonderful character creations with a lovely sense of imagination, surrealism and sheer playfulness. It was down to a number of things. Not least a very talented cast and a clever premise, but mostly, as far as I’m concerned, it was down to the mind of Dan Harmon, the show’s creator. It felt as though everything that happened to those characters, every nuance and quirk, every plot strand, was at all times flowing through his brain as each episode was produced. It felt like it was a program that he cared for like a child and that warmth was so very evident throughout. Then the studio decided that due to low ratings, they would get rid of him and replace him with two writers who pretty much wrote comedy by numbers and it felt like a weird clone version of what it was before. Very much the same in appearance but not in soul.
I have been told, by friends, that because I work in comedy, I have a slightly skewed version of what’s good and what’s not. I’m definitely harder on shows than I perhaps should be and often watch programs feeling as though what they are churning out is simply that, churned out. Yet other people still enjoy them. I won’t name any names, but there have been several sitcoms, sketch shows and other comedy vehicles of late that I watch and can’t help but feel this was a job to someone, not a love. I understand that it is an issue with television. The way it’s all produced is to with money or ratings. Something I’d always assumed was a very recent problem until hearing an old Desert Island Discs show with Spike Milligan in 1978* where he complained about much the same thing. Ultimately, it’s just something that’s always happened and every now and then, something manages to crack through and that’s why its deemed as a classic or wins awards. I suppose an argument would be if all programs were like that then we’d be spoilt for choice, and how would know what bad things are? Also it is, of course, completely subjective and I’m sure there are people out there that won’t be the least bit interested in programs I like. But despite this, my opinion is, you can really tell when someone has been made because the creator really really wanted it to be made and wasn’t concerned about their pay check. Compare say, the Lord of the Rings films with the Hobbit. Or any number of films and their sequels. Or why Tim Burton films have become awful. Or compare Spaced with any number of prime time sitcoms. Or Louis with, well, almost anything else. Ever. Or The Wire, or Breaking Bad or all those shows people tell you you have to see and you probably dismiss it as hyperbole until, well, you see it and understand. Or any song where the singer makes involuntary, incoherent noises out of passion for what they are singing, compared to anything that, say, Simon Cowell has every produced.
They all have a mark of quality and assurance about them that I wish I could coherently explain. Its just sort of, there. Having heard seminars and read books, blogs and articles about writing, the only thing I can put it down to, nearly every time, is that there was a clear vision by a creator who was allowed to realise that which they had a clear vision about. Dan Harmon has returned to season 5 of Community and within the opening sequence of episode 1, that feeling that was missing from the entire previous season was back. Sure it could be all psychological, knowing Harmon has returned, but without consciously thinking about it, I was laughing within the opening sequence and feeling a warmth and familiarity with the dialogue. And it was bloody lovely to have that feeling too.
The other night moustachioed wonder Rufus Hound posted this vid up. Some will probably tell me what it symbolises is naive or implausible in today’s world but I spend a lot of time wondering why it can’t be how we all just aim to live. Which is probably exactly why I’m broke a lot and don’t have my own sitcom.** http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/video/2wDfUl
As a final note, Dan Harmon wrote this post about how to structure stories. It’s basically a mini-bible for any writer. http://channel101.wikia.com/wiki/Story_Structure_101:_Super_Basic_Shit
* You can download all the old Desert Island Discs recordings – sans music – via here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/desert-island-discs/find-a-castaway Its entirely worth it. I’ve listened to some real gems lately.
** Also because I haven’t written one yet, which is definitely a stumbling block. However I do have four half written ones on my laptop so one day, one day.
I’m doing my first ever UK tour in 2014, starting end of January. All dates and most ticket links are up at my website: http://www.tiernandouieb.co.uk. Please spread the word and come along as if you’re not there, it’ll be rubbish. It’ll just be me in a room and if I can’t get 3G I’ll be really bored. The very funny Chris Coltrane is supporting me on some dates and the brilliant Keith Farnan is doing a double header with me on others.