Here's a pretty good indication of the sitcom's current status in the universe of American television: there are no prime-time sitcoms on Tuesday nights. None. This isn't a baseball/debate abnormality, either, since the Phils had the day off and the two presidential candidates don't square off until tonight (Wednesday). Even when I expanded the search to include basic cable, the only sitcom I could find last night was a circa-2005 episode of Reba.*
But no fear, loyal readers: once again Tivo has come to the rescue**. I happened to tape The New Adventures of Old Christine last week, before I even thought of this project, so now I'll just pretend it came on last night.
TNAoOC isn't exactly new, of course -- it's been on since '06 -- but I've never seen it. And it seems like it might be a good watermark for sitcoms in general, since it's been nominated for a number of awards, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus actually won an Emmy.
Let me note, first of all, that I fucking love Wanda Sykes. I have never, ever seen Wanda Sykes in a television show or movie and not laughed at least once -- and this is saying something, because Wanda Sykes has been involved in some really shitty projects***. True to form, I laughed at most of her jokes in TNAoOC, even when I knew, intellectually, that those jokes weren't all that funny. I don't know what it is; something about Wanda Sykes just does it for me, humor-wise.
The premise of TNAoOC is that Christine (Dreyfus) is divorced and owns a gym. Also, at some point she apparently sham-gay-married Sykes' character for reasons never made entirely clear in the episode I watched, though I can only assume the reasons were predictably zany.
Dreyfus is fine, and the other actors are all fine, in rather predictable sitcomish fashion -- a series of laugh-track one liners, mostly, which in this episode centered around race (after Sykes is profiled in a magazine article, the gym gets a bunch of new black members, which makes Dreyfus vaguely uncomfortable, though this tension is resolved so quickly it's like it's never really there). Just to give you a sense of the sorts of jokes we're talking about here:
--A woman is twice mistaken for pregnant, after which she says "I'm getting rid of this stupid blouse."
--Dreyfus is trying to say she'll "be right back" but instead says "be right black," then gets flustered and says "be white black."
--The two men in the episode (whose relation to the other characters I'm not entirely clear on) are shown to be rather inept at child care and general responsibility.
In other words TNAoOC isn't exactly breaking new ground, but is perhaps serviceable as a kind of sitcom comfort food. And the power of sitcom-as-comfort-food shouldn't be discounted. I for one find myself, in times of mild depressiveness, turning to old episodes of Cheers or Cosby not so much for the jokes but for the familiarity -- just seeing the Cheers bar or the Huxtables' living room is enough to make me sink a little deeper into the couch, exhale and go comfortably numb. One could perhaps imagine TNAoOC's gym some day having a similar effect, since it has that familiar sitcom look, a look I'm not sure how to describe except as oddly warm -- everything is very evenly lighted, the furniture and props never seem to move, the show's universe is pretty much a closed world****.
So I guess my verdict on TNAoOC isn't really positive or negative -- there's enough potential that I don't feel comfortable dismissing it without first watching more than one episode, though I'm not sure I'll watch it again. Perhaps one problem with sitcoms is actually their comfort-food appeal, which makes old reruns of syndicated shows somewhat more appealing than new shows, unless of course those new shows transcend the comfort-food thing and manage to be different or interesting, like (reportedly) Arrested Development*****.
*Which I refused to watch, since a) this project is about "new," or at least "kinda new" sitcoms, and b) come on, Reba? Fuck me.
**Actually I'm Tivoing all these programs, which is why I reviewed a Monday show on Tuesday, etc. And it strikes me that this whole project would never be possible without Tivo; or, it would be possible, but would require me to be an even bigger slave to my television than I already am. Which, in a way, might be more interesting, since it would be an actual challenge then -- sitting through a different sitcom each night, commercials and all, instead of just recording them and watching them whenever I feel like it. Tivo, I've found, is a sort of double-edged sword: on the one hand, obviously, you can watch things when you want. On the other hand, I watch all sorts of dumb crap I'd probably never watch -- and would maybe be better off for never watching -- if I were forced to do my watching on the networks' timetable.
***Like Evan Almighty, for instance, which admittedly I didn't see, but I laughed at Wanda Sykes' parts in the trailer.
****It's worth noting here that, as an actual gym, the gym in TNAoOC is patently ridiculous: one carpeted room measuring maybe 12' by 14' featuring about six pieces of exercise equipment. Though, in fairness, the gym seems to be modeled more on Curves for Women than Bally's or Gold's, and since as a man I'm not allowed inside Curves for Women I can't say for certain that the portrayal on TNAoOC isn't architecturally and anthropologically accurate.
*****Which I never really got into, partly out of some weird curmudgeonly resistance to everyone else's unabashed praise, and partly because I was afraid of watching AD and not liking it, then having to reconsider my friends' aesthetic tastes.