There was once a time when TV was a family affair. After dinner comedies ruled the weekly lineup, and people just generally liked a good laugh. It was the era of sitcoms, when Friends and Seinfeld and That 70s Show and the hundreds of other comedies packed network schedules. And then people decided that they really didn’t enjoy the sitcom style anymore, and it lead to a breakthrough in comedic genius — the mockumentary. The Office and Parks & Recreation were both comedy gold mines, and they stand out in my mind as the last great comedies.
I suppose the question here is: is that really fair? There are still plenty of comedies on television (the biggest being The Big Bang Theory and any of the adult cartoons that are still putting out new episodes), but they all seem to be at worst cringeworthy and at best forgettable. Why is this the case?
I think it has a lot to do with the fact that as media expands and changes with our new ways of watching TV (like via streaming services), people’s perception of comedy has changed as well. Genres are continually blending. The “dramedy” is becoming increasingly popular in TV, and I am a huge fan of this movement. It means that TV viewers are becoming smarter and want content that is more emotionally complex and reflective of the real world. The comedies that are popular now are that ones that also deal with serious sociopolitical topics, like Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, Showtime’s Shameless, and Netflix’s Dear White People. Comedy is also weaved more fluidly into drama, like in Stranger Things, Scorpion, and Better Call Saul.
While there still are some great network comedies out there right now (I like FOX’s Brooklyn-99 and NBC’s Trial & Error), it’s clear that the basic funny formula isn’t going to cut it anymore. I’m excited to see what writers will do to make us laugh in the future.