[ 2001/04/11 ]

I really used to enjoy Paul Reiser's hit show, Mad About You. It took realistic situations (most of the time), and made them funny (most of the time). There is a lesson here for the big TV execs who I know are reading along: realism is not an end, but a means.

Now, I'm not even talking about the new "reality" shows which, apparently, are supposed to engross us simply because they're so damn real. I'm referring to shows like My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks, and thirtysomething. Shows which draw their viewers from the people who feel that they are (or were) a part of the represented subculture. Mad About You did it right -- it was ostensibly about the struggle of being a partner in a realistic relationship, but (but!) it didn't stop there. It used the "couplehood condition" as a basis for numerous seasons worth of great one-off vignettes. It was (brace yourself) a situation comedy; the situation served as a substrate upon which the comedy was built.

Some situations work better as a base for engrossing television programs than others; personally, I found Freaks and Geeks riotously funny, but ER still doesn't do too much for me. (This isn't surprising; most folks I know who work in medicine enjoy ER immensely. I'm guessing I'm just not a member of the right subculture, and this limits the impact the show's situations have upon me.) Both shows, however, take the ball and run with it, creating intricate situations which arise from relatively realistic premises. I approve of that.

I get a lot of flack about this, but I don't think My So-Called Life did. Some of you watched the show and loved it, I'm sure -- go ahead, write and tell me how wrong/biased/idiotic I am -- but I think the series was conceptually flawed: it worked toward realism as an end rather than a means. I tried to watch it, but I spent too much time feeling bad for that guy the main character walks all over (over and over), and I didn't get a positive emotional payoff sufficient to offset that negative. What a downer.

Life sucks sometimes, true. That doesn't mean I want to revel in how much it sucks. Negativity gets old really quickly. In a paraphrase of Mary Travers' words, it's better to be an optimist than a pessimist -- you meet a better class of people.