CliqueClack TV

Clacking with Julia – The Sad Bastards Club

Why is drama considered so much better than comedy? And who's in charge of deciding these things, anyway?

Every summer, I compile a list of shows I’ve heard rave reviews about but haven’t had time to watch, and then use the off-season to catch up on them. This year, the first on my list was Game of Thrones. Not only was everyone talking about it like it was the second coming , but it features two of my favorite things: high fantasy, and ridiculously attractive people engaged in political shenanigans. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the first thing that went wrong was that I was desperately confused. That was easy enough to fix — after all, that’s what Wikipedia was invented for. The only problem with Wikipedia is that you can inadvertently get spoiled for what’s coming up. In my case, I got spoiled for a big old theme that would soon be recurring — everyone would die. I don’t just mean a few characters, I mean that according to the source material, there would be perhaps three characters left that we had started out with. And many of those characters would be incapacitated or brutalized in various ways, including the fact that they’d have the mental scarring of having everyone they’d ever known or loved be dead.

“And that,” I said to myself in my very best George Bluth impression, “is why you don’t watch dramas.”

A lot of people ask me how I can consider myself a legitimate television reviewer when I almost exclusively watch comedy. How can I truly consider myself TV-educated if I don’t think The Wire is the greatest show ever of all time? How can I hate Mad Men? Or Lost?

Well, I say, I’ve never seen The Wire, because even reading a two-sentence summary of it alerted me instantly to the fact that I would spend the entire time I watched it being depressed and scared and miserable. Mad Men I tried for about five episodes, realized that I hated everyone but Peggy and Joan because they were fundamentally awful people (and hated Peggy and Joan for putting up with everybody else), and stopped watching. And Lost, well, there were polar bears on a tropical island. I didn’t really care about the mysteries or the characters, but the fact that the ultimate answer to all the questions I was supposed to have were somehow wrapped up in polar bears who lived in the tropics made me back out pretty fast. (And the outcry over how the show had the Worst Finale of All Time, Ever, has made me smug about that decision ever since.)

It’s not just TV shows I’m given grief about. This happens regularly when people ask me why I refuse to watch movies or read books with sad endings, or why I haven’t ever seen Some Great Piece of Entertainment That Changes People’s Lives, usually because it is a terribly tragic drama. Think about it — when was the last time a movie dubbed the “best movie of the year” wasn’t a heavy drama? Isn’t it weird that a comedy hasn’t won a Best Picture Oscar in, like, forty years? There’s a reason this is a sad truism, and I’ll tell you why — everyone has bought into what I call the Sad Bastards Club (named in honor of my favorite descriptor I have ever heard for Jon Snow, who is perhaps the saddest of Sad Bastards). I call it this because I have been derisively told that, as a comedy fan, I am a member of the “Happy Endings Club,” as if it is a terrible, terrible thing to want to find joy instead of ennui and malcontent in your entertainment. And so in retaliation, I call this cult idea the Sad Bastards Club. And if you’re confused as to which side you personally want to join, I’ll give you a hint: one throws way better parties than the other.

But for some reason, most people buy into the Sad Bastards Club. There is an inherent cultural fallacy we have that we must expose ourselves to suffering to be well-rounded adults and consumers of fine art, because it’s not art unless it somehow makes you miserable or uncomfortable. And I know this is a cultural fallacy because if you look at children and what they choose to watch, they never choose depressing stuff. It isn’t until we get older and we’re told over and over again what’s “good” and what’s not that people start forcing themselves to spend their leisure time making themselves unnecessarily miserable.

There’s another cultural fallacy that somehow happiness isn’t “realistic,” that only melodrama reflects the real world. This is stupid for two reasons. The first is that if that’s true, why on earth would you ever want to use your leisure time to wallow in such misery? The second is that it’s not true. We shouldn’t even have these clubhouses in the first place. Sure, I’ll choose a happy ending over a sad one, but the reality is that life doesn’t fall into comedy or drama categories. Life is some jumble of the two. It’s funny and it’s sad, it’s mind-boggling and painful and joyous and wonderful. People are multi-faceted, they’re not just clowns or petri dishes where conflict grows like mold on week-old bread. This idea that we must divide our world experiences and then time after time choose only one type as the “true” type that should be displayed in art is ridiculous and unrealistic, and it doesn’t matter which side you choose, because either way, it’s dumb.

But here’s the thing about comedies — they seem to have realized this. Very rarely is a sitcom ever pure, old-fashioned Happy Days-esque joy all the time. Comedy writers have, through necessity and probably a fair amount of derisive self-loathing, made shows full of characters that go through actual growth arcs, that are tragic as often as they are hilarious, and that are more than the sum of their punchlines. Comedy has made the move towards drama but drama has made no effort to return the favor. And why should it? They’re thought of as the best there is simply by being themselves. Who cares if characters on dramatic shows are just as cliche-ridden as their comedy counterparts often are? Who cares that it is more difficult and requires more creativity to write comedy because you can’t just hit the big buttons you know everyone has, like extra-marital affairs or long-lost parents? Who cares how frustrating it is as an audience member to watch characters who seem to be inherently unable to catch any sort of break or experience happiness for longer than ten minutes? It’s drama! That makes it good.

So you know what, sue me, I like comedy. I like escaping from the little frustrations of life by watching something that brings me joy as opposed to something that makes me uncomfortable. I prefer not to have every episode of a TV show end on dramatic piano music and a cliffhanger. And I want characters I can relate to and who seem to make efforts to not be sad sacks rather than characters who are too stupid to do anything but marinate in their own pathos. And if this makes me part of the less cool club, so be it. At least it’s better than being a Sad Bastard.

Photo Credit: HBO

5 Responses to “Clacking with Julia – The Sad Bastards Club”

July 13, 2011 at 10:29 AM

Great article!

July 13, 2011 at 12:12 PM

I totally agree. Real life is depressing enough, thanks! I don’t need that!

July 13, 2011 at 8:44 PM

I hate depressing stories too. But this summer I’m watching Dexter – now there’s a drama that I thought would be depressing but is, in fact, hilarious. And House is another depressing drama that is also funny – but yeah, it’s gets more depressing as House continues to be a hopeless prick.

I’m trying to think of more currently-airing dramas that aren’t entirely depressing, but nothing else comes to mind. Apparently I watch mostly comedies too. Huh.

July 14, 2011 at 8:35 PM

I generally watch things that I deem “fantasy” and comedy- that includes Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Community, True Blood. I can’t watch Dexter or the Wire or Breaking Bad. But I don’t watch stupid comedies either. I know I should be open to more. I actually watched The Pacific. Was traumatized but I watched it. And was grateful to be witness to the acting of James Badge Dale and Joseph Mazzello. I always say that I don’t watch “Reality” TV meaning the stupid crap that passes as “reality” and anything that is based in reality – but I guess I occasionally stray over the line.

Julia, I think you would love Sad Bastard Jon Snow. Maybe you should give it a chance. There be … nevermind. Spoiler.

And yeah, I’ll take Horrible Bosses over Revolutionary Road any day. Harry Potter over The Fighter. Reality is tough enough.

July 15, 2011 at 1:06 PM

Julia, an excellent article, I agree completely. Additionally, really TOP actors I have heard will admit that comedy is harder than drama. You can teach scenes, but proper timing–not so much. That said, I really can’t find present day 1/2 hour TV “comedy” that is worth my time to watch on a regular basis–Seinfeld, Friends, Newhart, and Mash ruined it. On the other hand, some of the light/comedy shows such as Psych, White-Collar, etc., are better than ever, I think.

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