26 June 2006

when bad things happen to good people

for all the time i spend bemoaning the state of theatre - not in the theatre-is-a-dead-form way, but more the no-one-supports-new-work way - i had no idea how good we had it. because tonight i watched a sitcom.

don't get me wrong. i watch a lot of tv. and i like a lot of tv. but tonight the sundance documentary about gay kids & the music of hedwig just wasn't cutting it - it's not to be confused, of course, with the sundance documentary about trans kids from the other night - and "good eats" wasn't on for another hour or two, and something on channel 2 rang a bell: "the new adventures of old christine." it was a quick one-two punch of recognition. one: 'i think that's the new julia louis-dreyfus sitcom.' two: 'isn't hamish in the new julia louis-dreyfus sitcom?' yes and yes. and then, oh the pain.

it didn't have to be bad. not only do we have hamish linklater, Best Actor Ever, but we have my much-loved agent casper, also known as clark gregg when we're not referring to people by their west wing characters. (see also: how i explain to anyone who john gallagher jr. is.) so that's good. and it's not like i came into it with high expectations or anything. just, like, the simple pleasure of hamish-in-my-livingroom, and enjoying seeing an actor whose work i adore 'making it' on tv. good for him, right?

but it hurts. so. much. first of all, there's hamish's character, what hamish is reduced to. he plays julia louis-dreyfus' brother, a sort of stonerly laconic thing. and i know tv and theatre are different, and i wasn't expecting the exquisite paroxysms of anguish that make hamish on stage one of the most heartbreaking, gut-punching things you can see (whoa overly wordy jaime), but come on. this is hamish fucking linklater. he can do so much. and tv gives him this? boo, and shame, tv, on the first count.

and then on the second count... i knew sitcoms were in a bad way. i mean, i never really even like them when they're good. "friends," "seinfeld" - it's just not my thing. i'm like my zingy one-liners, but i need something more - either something new like "arrested development," or some underlying drama & smartness, like "grey's anatomy." (so mostly i just need them to not be moronically dumb.) and i know everyone talks about all new sitcoms sucking, but everyone talks about everything sucking - it's post-postmodernism, and all art is dead. we say that all the time, right?

but i had no idea. i had no idea that something so flat, so devoid of life, devoid of anything, could be considered produceable. forget the shameful wasting of hamish, of agent casper - to echo an unfortunately common theatrical sentiment, this is what gets produced? seriously, give me spamalot and rodney's wife any day over this. it's flat, and dry, and painful. to see wonderful actors i love reduced to little automata creaking out punch-lines. who thinks this is a good idea?

i would rather the youth of america be raised on a steady diet of "the hills" and "america's got talent" than ever have to sit through a second of this. (and seriously, "so you think you can dance" is really, really great.) stephen johnson, in everything bad is good for you, got it right. if tv is base and amoral, great, and that's fine. just please, for fuck's sake, challenge us. be smart, and expect the same from us. i don't mean literary, i don't mean educated. just, in any way at all, make us work. just a little. and then please, for the love of god, can we abolish the laugh track forever? it's just fucking retarded.

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