Archive for full house

Bruce All Nineties

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, TV advertising, TV History with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2015 by Tom Steward

One of the perils of writing a topical post – unbeknownst to me, who would report the crucifixion a day after the resurrection – is that the story continues after publication. Since posting on the 90s TV revival and the media’s response to Bruce Jenner’s 20/20 interview, both storylines have advanced significantly. So rather than set another plate spinning, I’m going to bring you updates on these unfolding stories…you know, like those journalists you probably read about in history books used to do!

I was second-guessing myself while hailing a revival of 90s TV, having only a handful of examples and holding the suspicion it might have been a coincidence that three 90s shows were the latest in line for an inevitable nostalgia reboot. But at the virtually the same time I published the post, it was announced that Full House, an early 90s sitcom my ignorance of which is why G shall never ratify my TV Doctorate credentials, will return on new-bottle-for-old-wine internet channel Netflix. Digging deeper, I discovered that another 90s sitcom, Coach, starring an actor who looks like a young man in ageing make-up Craig T Nelson, is about to be revived. As G reminded me (after her weekly routine of pretending to have read the blog rather than just the title!), one of our new favourite sitcoms Fresh off the Boat is set in the early 90s, with a gangsta rap soundtrack and guest stars from Twin Peaks to (re)boot. I guess it’s about a fashion for the decade as much as simply retrospection.

This is what Craig T Nelson looks like before make-up!

This is what Craig T Nelson looks like before make-up!

It’s hard for me to engage with this 90s-retro fad as nostalgia. Syndication ensures that when it comes to TV, the past is always present. Besides, 90s shows are technologically and stylistically consistent enough with current production practices not to jar today’s audience too aggressively, and could easily be mistaken for something that was made when Twitter was in its infancy. More personally, it’s because I went into a pop culture coma in the late 90s and any TV still on at that time remains my Spreewald pickles (an oblique reference I use if only to force you to watch Goodbye Lenin!). It feels more to me like these shows are coming off an extended hiatus. Or maybe the people involved are simply lucky enough to have remained in the zeitgeist. Craig T. Nelson is coming off Parenthood and the Full House cast have recently been on screens in Dannon Oiko commercials. As for Fresh off the Boat, well, even nostalgia has to move with the times. In the 90s, nostalgia was That 70s Show.

I previously reported a rare instance of news satire’s coverage of current events being considered inferior to that of TV news. The (not so) current event was Bruce Jenner’s gender realignment, discussed in an interview with Diane Sawyer on 20/20. The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore and Conan were culpable for insensitive and – crucially – unfunny jokes that reeked of transphobia. Now seemingly unable to mock Jenner’s gender and sexual orientations without further controversy, news satire is honing in on the one thing we can all ridicule her for without fear of reproach; being a Republican. As if some kind of plea of extenuating circumstances for their prior bullying of Jenner, both Conan and The Nightly Show did what all bad TV news does when it misses the mark and changed the story. The humour was directed at Jenner revealing he was a Republican, though interestingly omitting the part where the retired Olympian said he’d talk to the conservative wing (or torso) of his party about their mistreatment of transgender people and issues. Again, not funny.

Bruce Jenner scours room for Ted Cruz before coming out as Republican!

Bruce Jenner scours room for Ted Cruz before coming out as Republican!

There is some irony in Jenner identifying as a woman and a Republican simultaneously, but not enough for even the meekest gag and it’s no surprise given his wealth, age, and Cold Warrior status in American sports history. For O’Brien, the information was a neat way to deflect an apology for jibes which made Jenner’s gender instability seem grotesque. For Wilmore, couching his transphobic remarks in the familiar rhetoric of news satire’s anti-Republican diatribe (as wonderful a thing as that is) was the best way for a left-leaning comedy institution to disguise its bigotry. I’m not suggesting that Jenner is now untouchable. He is, after all, part of a dynasty that live to be ridiculed. But I still believe that the responsible parties cannot simply brush what they have said under the carpet, lest all the people they demeaned retreat back into the closet.

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Reunited…and it feels so dud!

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Internet TV, TV Acting, TV Culture, TV History, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2014 by Tom Steward

Last week, comedy legend Bill Cosby confirmed publicly that there would be no reunion for his hit 80s family sitcom The Cosby Show. This was a relief since the franchise had already been stretched thinner than Tyler Perry on Slimfast with a deluge of spin-offs and sequels and yet still remains dear to audience’s hearts. But where is the demand for TV reunion shows coming from? There’s never been more old TV available to viewers. A large chunk of cable is devoted to re-running classic programmes and internet TV services archive a range of older series for instant access. This reminiscence fuels the public’s nostalgia and brings archaic programmes back into cultural circulation, which in turn makes them ripe for reunion rumours. Classic shows have become so popular on some channels and services that they are now a part of their brand identity and company executives try to capitalise on this by creating new episodes under their banner. There’s also never been more ways to make and watch television. TV can now be made solely for internet distribution, or pass freely between broadcast TV and online video. This gives programme-makers a wider range of options for content and delivery, which makes reunions more attractive since it doesn’t necessarily mean going back into full-scale production any more. It also makes the reunion less official and thereby received more generously, with fans enjoying it as an indulgent treat rather than criticising it for not standing up to the rest of the canon.

Bill Cosby issues a threat to any comedians considering a TV reunion.

Bill Cosby issues a threat to any comedians considering a TV reunion.

But is a TV reunion ever a good idea? Some programmes are so completely synonymous with a moment in time that to attempt to revive them in any other era is absurd and the effect like an out-of-body experience. Often, so much time has elapsed between finale and reunion that cast and crew cannot – whether due to age, health or simply lost touch – re-capture that which viewers loved so much. Whether or not fans and former viewers are willing to buy into a reunion can come down to the motivations behind it. If a reunion is a genuine attempt to create new fiction based around familiar characters and situations because of interest in continuing the story, then audiences tend to give it a (finite) chance. If the motivations are purely monetary and a cynical attempt to exploit a commodity by prolonging it unnaturally, then how can its devotees feel anything but used? Larry David’s semi-autobiographical sitcom Curb your Enthusiasm faced the problem of reunions head-on. In the show, the cast and crew of celebrated sitcom Seinfeld reject the prospect of 10-year anniversary show on the basis of how pathetic and desperate it would make them all look. Larry selfishly convinces them to do it so he can cast his ex-wife and win her back, and we see parts of the reunion episode in the season finale. David gave Seinfeld fans what they wanted without desecrating their favourite show while demonstrating he was well-aware of the dangers of reuniting.

Just don’t ask about the finale…

Seinfeld staged another reunion this year with a trademark dinerlogue between protagonists Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza shown on internet TV service Crackle as a video short for Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and on Fox at the Superbowl half-time. Again, the makers of Seinfeld made a big deal of reuniting but had deniability if it didn’t take, a sage move judging by the decidedly mixed reaction. Internet TV reunions have had fairly ambivalent receptions in general, not least Netflix’s revival of cult sitcom Arrested Development. Coming seven years after the series finale, this was a reunion sought after by fans following the show’s abrupt cancellation after only three seasons. Virtually all the cast returned and the fifteen-part series played on longstanding themes, storylines and characterisations with a new ‘story-maze’ concept complimenting Netflix’s instant delivery of all episodes. The innovative storytelling was necessary, but the rest felt too much like fan-fiction, a grotesque re-imagining of the original deviating from and souring its memory in unpleasant ways. It brought critical derision on the stars, creator Mitchell Hurwitz and Netflix executives, the latter appearing to be cashing in more than creating. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that people want reunions more than they ever want to see them happen. That’s why commercials are a happy medium for reuniting TV shows. The Danone Full House cast reunion and Radio Shack tribute to 80s TV shows bring programmes back and then move on to the next – hopefully new – show.

Sitcommunication

Posted in American TV Shows, BiogTV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2011 by Tom Steward

Those looking for objectivity in this blog (if they’ve ever found it) will be sorely disappointed by this post. The attachment I have to the programme I’m writing about today cannot be quantified by my predilection for well-made, heartwarming American sitcoms. Everything I think about it has something to do with the way I feel about the person who is my life. So my account of watching it is also a story of how I found love in a strange land I’d known all my life. It’s not unknown for me to remember the past through American TV. Memories of my early life are intertwined with images of American family sitcoms. I now see my upbringing through the prism of Roseanne and The Cosby Show. In the future when I look back on this past year, and the love that has changed my life, I know there will be a little bit of Modern Family mixed in.

The Cast of Modern Family

A diverse and tradition-defying family

In the irksome tradition of G introducing me to and then lambasting me for not knowing American TV shows that she (and I secretly also) think should be a part of my mental archive (‘How can you call yourself a Doctor of American TV and have never seen Full House?’) and because of Rupert Murdoch’s caste system for imported TV that puts US shows in the unreachable noble classes, I was first shown Modern Family on US network TV during the virtual epoch that is Halloween in the States. The Halloween episode is usually a low point for the American sitcom, a season nadir where character and story get pushed aside by wardrobe people indulging in their own sweep stakes week. But even this seasonal pageantry couldn’t disguise its obvious quality. And it was pretty obvious from the outset that this sitcom was going to be for and about me and G. But more of that later; what is this show that Rupert Murdoch doesn’t want you to not to pay to have to see?

Modern Family is ABC’s answer to the NBC mockumentary sitcom, with the same vague sense of a documentary film crew presence, interludes of straight-to-camera interviews and frequent acknowledgements of the camera. It re-imagines the American family as diverse and tradition-defying; made up of interracial spouses and families, gay couples with adopted children, and multiple divorces and remarriages. While it gets a lot of comic mileage out the cultural and character clashes that inevitably result, it never rests on its concept or lets its formula become obvious. This is largely because of the sharp and clever writing with quality character gags fired out at screwball rhythms and preconceptions about stock characters upturned with them losing their pleasing familiarity. The show has a healthy sense of slapstick and appetite for absurd coincidences, a combination which echoes cutting-edge sitcoms like Arrested Development and Curb your Enthusiasm.

Despite its representational radicalism and fashionable form, the show’s strengths are quite traditional ones. It is frequently and unashamedly heartwarming, a quality all family sitcoms should have in some measure lest they leave a gaping hole of humanity at their centre in the manner of Family Guy. It is also a very conventional sitcom in many ways. The casting of Ed O’Neill, formerly America’s premier maritally dissatisfied slob husband and father Al Bundy in Married with Children, as family patriarch Jay signals that the producers want a contemporary sitcom that plays by the rules. Indeed, the pairing of white-American Jay and Columbian Gloria which sparks so brilliantly plays like a gender-reversed Lucy and Desi from I Love Lucy. But what really makes Modern Family truly special is how it became the medium of mine and G’s relationship.

Gloria and Jay

Gloria and Jay: the medium for our relationship

Leaving aside that I’m a none-too-stunning white man who’s somehow managed to attract a ridiculously hot Latina woman, so much about Gloria and Jay’s marriage defines our relationship. They’re both loves propelled by laughter from awkward cultural and linguistic miscommunications (and we’ve got American-English as well as Mexican-British!), to the point where I forget which is the TV one and which ours. G’s translation of a romantic sentiment from Mexican into English with the caveat that ‘it involves dead sheep’ could’ve come straight from Gloria. And G knows when I laugh at Sofia Vergara, I’m inadvertently making fun of her. We also know we will one day be Claire and Phil; the no-nonsense-with-children woman married to a goofy man-child playing at adulthood. G thinks of me like a grown-up Luke, the semi-autistic scruff, even though I know that as a kid I was more like Manny, the self-aware sophisticate allergic to physical exertion. Modern Family is not just an outstanding sitcom in a TV milieu that’s increasingly looking and sounding the same, it’s also mine and G’s secret language, one which we will always understand completely.

 

 

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