Spent the weekend watching two sitcoms that I straight-up loved

brooklyn-nine-nineSo, I am one day from the Bay Area. So many terrible things have happened this week. But I will talk about none of them, and instead talk about the sit-com. I love sitcoms. I even like bad sitcoms. There’s something about the form that’s very comforting. I like them for the same reason that I like romantic comedies. Most media–even most comedy–portrays the world as a dark and friendless place. But sit-coms and rom-coms take place in a different universe. A nicer universe. One where there are no villains and everyone is good-intentioned and even the most utterly annoying people are beloved by all.

Anyway, this week I’ve seen two great sit-coms. The first, unfortunately, is cancelled. It also has a really bad name: Don’t Mess With The B____ In Apartment 23. It sounds like a pretty terrible (and probably sexist) sit-com, but it was surprisingly good. A twentysomething woman from Indiana moves to NYC for a Wall Street job that she loses on day one. And she falls in with a party girl who is, perhaps, a sociopath. And then, obv, they bond. Also, the party girl’s best friend is James Van Der Beek, playing himself. Basically, it’s 2 Broke Girls, but much sharper.

The most genius part of the show is probably James Van Der Beek. They wrote him in perfectly. He’s a self-obsessed washed-up star, but he’s also adorably well-intentioned. I think what makes it work is that his two best friends are these fairly ordinary girls. Most shows about celebrities put their celeb characters into a bubble (think Entourage) where everything is Hollywood and show business. Here, though, you’ve got people gabbing away in a coffeeshop like it’s Friends, but one of them is James Van Der Beek.

How do people even think of this stuff? What do you say at the pitch meeting for this show? I can’t even imagine it. Especially since it might not necessarily have been James Van Der Beek attached, right? Like it could’ve been any number of washed-up celebrities?

Also, James Van Der Beek is surprisingly handsome. I only knew him, up to now, from his guest appearances on How I Met Your Mother, where he was always fat and balding.

Oh, also, the other girl, titular bitch, is amazing. I loved her. She was also a very sharply drawn character. What makes her work is that she’s based on something specific: she’s one of those NYC club kids who’re famous for being outrageous and partying really hard. At one point, James Van Der Beek even talks about how she’s the It girl right now. I liked that a lot. She doesn’t exist in a vacuum: she is enabled by an entire social setting that the show only intermittently delves into. It’s very easy to imagine a version of this show that was much fuzzier, where she was just a girl who drank a lot and went to the bars every night.

 

The other show I’m watching is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is a sit-com about a Brooklyn detective squad. I’m really fascinated by workplace comedies where people are not terrible at their jobs. In Parks and Recreation, for instance, their main innovation, over the course of the series’ run, was ratcheting up the Amy Poehler character’s competence level and making her more and more effective at her job. But even in that show, most of the characters are pretty incompetent.

In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, they’re not only all superb detectives (even the workaday schmuck who’s the butt of everyone’s jokes is actually a pretty decent crime-solver), but also all appear to like each other? There are no antagonists at all. It’s pretty fascinating. Again, the closest comparison that comes to mind is Parks and Recreation. But in that show, the antagonist was usually the apathy and slovenliness of the city of Pawnee itself. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, even the criminals are pretty genteel and friendly.

I have watched ten episodes of this show and I honestly could not tell you what’s happened in any of them. Basically, each episode is just each character doing their thing. Each episode is Andy Samberg grinning an impossibly wide smile and making a funny face; each episode is Andre Braugher using his dour face to deliver a laugh line; each episode is Stephanie Beatriz being unemotional and terrifying.

I don’t know. Maybe it’d get old after awhile?

But also maybe not. Sometimes I think sit-coms’ primary appeal is their continuity and predictability. They’re how I wish the world would be: wide and colorful and warm.

Tired of narratives that use pop-culture references as a form of characterization

Why are our books full of little hipster kids?
Why are our books full of little hipster kids?

Awhile back, I posted on Facebook about how I never want to watch another romantic comedy where the heroine displays a quirky interest in old records or classic movies, because it’s only being used as a lazy shorthand for ‘this is a cool chick.’ And that doesn’t really work for me, personally, because: a) why should an interest in a particular kind of media make a person more desirable as a partner; and b) even if liking classic movies did make a woman more desirable, I’d still be annoyed at how cynically this character trait was being deployed.

However, since then, I’ve gone through a spate of reading children’s books (by which I mean middle-grade and young adult novels), and  I’ve become sensitized to a form of pop-culture reference that is so much more annoying: the age-inappropriate pop-culture reference.

Wonder was full of these, in that all of the books and media that were name-checked were obviously ones that the author had consumed in her youth, and not necessarily ones that a kid would consume today (for instance, the main character was obsessed with Star Wars and makes references to E.T. and The Hobbit and all kinds of other 80s standbys). And right now I am reading a John Green novel where the main character is obsessed Neutral Milk Hotel.Now, I mean, sure…I bet there were teens in 2010 (the year the novel came out) who were interested in NMH, but it still strikes me as a little bit precious.

I guess what I object to is the idea that we’re supposed to respect a character more, and maybe even consider them to be something of an iconoclast, if they have media tastes that are a bit outside the mainstream. I mean, I know that’s an essential part of the self-image of many outcaste children and teens: the idea that they’re more sensitive and perceptive than those who torment them and that this sensitiveness somehow manifests itself in their ability to take joy in media that their tormenters, who have duller intellects and grosser senses, are unable to understand.

But what I don’t understand is why we, as adults, need to buy into a notion which is clearly false. Liking an indie band does not make you a better person. And there is no reason why it should be implicitly correlated with the heroes other decent traits.

Also, on a more personal note, I will say that although I have far-ranging media tastes, they don’t really impinge that much on my ordinary walking-around consciousness. When I see a handsome, but stern and beetle-browed, gentleman on the sidewalk, I don’t think to myself, “My, what a Heathcliff!”

In fact, I live inside the setting of one of my favorite shows (The Wire), but I never think, “Oh man, that cop was a real Herc” or “I bet there’s a Dukie at that school on the corner.” Instead, I at least attempt to perceive the world as it is and to form independent judgments about the things that I see. Now, those judgments are guided in subtle ways by the media that I consume (for instance, I probably carry within me the decidedly Herc-like image of the big, blustery, idiotic man-baby of a cop and perhaps I do attempt to map that image onto the cops that I see…but that isn’t something that I’m consciously doing.)

Of course, other people are different from me. I have no doubt that some of them live far more intimately with their favorite media than I do with mine, but I’ve read five children’s books in the last two weeks and every single one of them (even the futuristic dystopia!) had a protagonist with an unnatural interest in and love for media that was popular before they were born.

Just once, I’d like to read a young adult book about a teen who read one book last year and it was the Hunger Games and she liked it alright, but, really, she’s got better things to do with her life than sit around with her nose in a book.