Another season, another reason, for panning sitcoms


It’s the curse of every new television season: a bumper crop of sitcoms that leave us longing for the heyday of comedy. But when did “critically acclaimed” become code for “failed concept that a network just won’t quit?” And what series gets to wear that crown this season?


The term “critically acclaimed” must have been invented by a network executive desperate to boost the credentials of a flailing show loved by pundits and panned by audiences. It smacks of a desperation that “fan favorite” or “top rated” simply does not.

Now, I don’t know whether anyone has yet to apply that transparent label to any of this season’s crop, but I’m willing to bet that somewhere in the 2012 freshman class of sitcoms there’s a critical darling or two that will continue to tentatively cling to life as its abysmal ratings crater and critics bemoan the public’s lack of taste.

This season, as always, I took a deep dive into the flood of new sitcoms that the networks aired. Is there a critically acclaimed diamond in the rough out there? Here’s what I found.

The New Normal is a fresh take on an old story: couple wants to have a child and searches for a surrogate to carry the baby for them. Only this time the couple is gay, the surrogate comes in a package deal with an offbeat daughter and a homophobic mother, and someone decided to cast NeNe Leakes in a scripted role. Brilliant?

[The New Normal is] an arguably original conceit wholly lacking in original humor.

Some have complained that David and Bryan are written as stereotypical polar opposites who would never be able to sustain a relationship. My issue with the show is more pedestrian: it’s an arguably original conceit wholly lacking in original humor. The little girl draws on the expensive couch! Grandma makes radically offensive comments!

I hope that’s not the new normal.

Guys with Kids is a new take on the moms at home story: dads with their kids. You might be under the impression that if Anthony Anderson’s doing the show after three seasons spent on Law & Order it must be something special … well, you’d be wrong. And as a father, I can’t stress enough how offensive a portrayal the show makes.

From the creators of Will & Grace comes Partners, a brand new take on the gay/straight relationship. While I don’t think that the show wants to be a flag bearer for the social issue it attempts to put at the forefront, I will say this: as long as we highlight the uniqueness of this type of friendship it will never be considered mainstream.

What’s so unusual about the guys’ friendship? Just like on The New Normal, the main characters on Partners are painted in such a way so as to contrast them, but why do we assume that sexual preference defines who we are as people or dictates how we behave? The only thing it definitely informs is who we’re attracted to … why does the entertainment industry not seem to get that?

Ben & Kate lost me within a few minutes of Ben dragging random stuff into Kate’s house, while The Neighbors lost me at concept. A family moves into a street full of aliens who’ve named themselves after sports figures? Is that a real show, or a national punk? The couple of minutes of the series that I’ve caught at the beginning or end of other show tapings hasn’t given me any more positive of a vibe.

Kelly is my least favorite part of The Office …. so I doubt you’ll ever get me to check out a show she’s the epicenter of.

And then there’s The Mindy Project. I have not made an attempt at Mindy Kaling’s new series, and for one reason alone: Kelly is my least favorite part of The Office (as well as being half of my least favorite coupling on the show). So I doubt you’ll ever get me to check out a show she’s the epicenter of.

My wife, however, does not have the same commitment to her biases as I do, and she has tried Kaling’s new series. She’s a big enough fan that she’s season passed it … I’m glad that she’s enjoying it, but I just can’t do it.

Meanwhile, Animal Practice is gone — I’m a fan of Justin Kirk’s, Tyler Labine’s, and fancy monkeys, but the show fell flat for me — while a handful of shows have yet to premiere. But at this point I don’t know if I can definitively identify a show that critics will love and fans will loath … unless, do critics love The Neighbors?

Personally, I’ve only been able to get on board with Go On. As much carnage as Matthew Perry has wrought on his new projects — I was a huge fan of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip but Mr. Sunshine lost me — Go On has managed to throw together a solid ensemble cast that so far is succeeding at keeping the show fresh and fun. And while I think the grief group may be a little too big to sustain all the characters — and John Cho’s character just loses me — there’s some solid comedy there.

But I see that as a straight-up hit or miss. There’s nothing brilliant about the show, so either audiences enjoy it or they don’t; I don’t imagine critics lauding it with praise.

But maybe I can possibly imagine that happening with The Mindy Project, even without having ever seen it. Mindy Kaling is already a favorite, and I can see her landing in the same boat as a 30 Rock, a Community, or a Parks and Recreation (even without being on NBC), where those with the power of the pen see her genius and those with the power of the remote don’t in overwhelming numbers.

So will The Mindy Project be the next show that launches a crazy campaign? Will it be the next to land on a cable station after getting bumped from the networks?

Only time will tell … but it probably has a better shot than others to end up on that glorified list.

Me? I’ll try again next season. This one was pretty much a giant goose egg for new laughs.

How about you?

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Photo Credit: NBC

2 Comments on “Another season, another reason, for panning sitcoms

  1. All the networks seem to be going for broad sitcoms this season, and I’d be surprised to see any of these freshmen hit that “low-rated, but critically-acclaimed” mark.

    The Neighbors started off tin-eared and wildly uneven in the pilot, but the writing seems to improve in quality and subtlety each week. There’s the wisp of a great show hovering among the lowbrow humor, and it could either seize and substantiate that, or relapse into tepid mediocrity.

    I instantly and completely loved Go On, and am too enamored of every part of it to judge it objectively. In for the long haul. The only change I would wish for would be for Allison Miller’s character to exchange frequency of appearances with John Cho’s, as I find the former’s rapport with Perry’s character to be much more interesting. I know it’s not going to happen since she comes from a string of failed shows, and John Cho is a bigger name (and I never believed I would ever write that about Harold Lee).

    The rest of the shows can go the way of Animal Practice. Partners will be replaced on CBS by Rules of Engagement soon enough, and Guys with Kids will only continue if Whitney manages to pull up its ratings.

  2. Aryeh – I will say give Mindy a chance. I hated Kelly Kapoor but Kelly is 180% different from Mindy. The pilot seemingly sets the show up for a romantic triangle, but the recent episodes focus more on a workplace comedy. And, yes, the humor does slightly remind me of 30 Rock when the episodes focus more on Liz’s social life.