Sunday, August 9, 2009

211 Days UP - "Now maybe I didn't mean to treat you bad, but I did it anyway..."

I know Showalter, I feel the same way.

I'm gonna go on a bit of a rant for a minute here. About a month ago, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black's new show Michael and Michael Have Issues debuted on Comedy Central. I was semi-excited for it, having gotten tickets to see a live taping of a few sketches about a month earlier, and also having just taken a walk down memory lane with some of their best work on The State, which recently came out on DVD. I watched the first few episodes, and I wasn't really blown away. In fact, I was kind of disappointed. Nevertheless, I decided to give the show the benefit of the doubt, and power on through. Having just finished The Wire, I figured, "I'm not gonna let myself become a TV snob. Not every show can be such a compelling, engrossing, thought-provoking masterpiece that redefines the genre." But after this past week's show, I threw up my hands in frustration. I was done.

In the most recent episode, MMHI successfully managed to not only fail to elicit a single laugh from me, but it also managed to convince me it broke every single rule in the book on what makes for good television/comedy. One of the first things you learn in improv is "yes, and..." a simple rule of thumb that lets you know that any scene is generally going to work better if you and your scene partner get on the same page and begin agreeing to each other's ideas, for better or for worse. If you come on stage pantomiming playing with a dog, and your partner thinks (or decides to mess with you and say) you're building a Play Doh replica of the baby you lost to a horrible fire a few months ago, you can either drop your dog idea and see where this Play Doh fire baby thing takes you, or you can argue with him/her about how she's crazy, blind or just being retarded. 99% of the scenes in the latter category will ultimately fail.

MMHI centers its entire premise around an argument scene. The two main characters apparently "have issues," and you the audience need to seem them aired for about 18 of the 22 minutes of each episode. The show was promoted as a sketch show, which it's not at all. It's more like a Studio 60 or a Sports Night where you're "treated" to a behind the scenes look at the making of a sketch show. This idea is inherently boring of course, so to spice it up they made the two Michaels absolutely horrible human beings that none of the other people working on the show would ever put up with. They come late to work, they act entitled, they demean their coworkers, and they basically undermine their own show for the sake of putting each other down.

This is not to say two or more people who are despicable and/or hate but are forced to be around each other can never be funny. Once you get past the basics and become a better improviser you discover you can have a great fight scene with your scene partner, as long as it's based on agreement. A great example of two classic characters who hate each other are Newman and Seinfeld. Every time they come across each other on Seinfeld, they have the brilliantly telling exchange: "Hello Jerry." "Hello Newman." It's never explained, nor does it need explaining. They hate each other, and they want nothing more than to see the other fall/fail. But guess how many episodes of that show were centered around Jerry and Newman doing their best to bring the other down, while George, Kramer and Elaine sat around and watched everything unfold, occasionally exchanging awkward glances? That's right, zero. Because you can only get so much of out of pure hatred in a comedy - at a certain point it just becomes sad and pathetic, and you lose any connection or basis in reality with the characters.*

This past week's episodes theme was "Michael Ian Black is lazy, and is not pulling his weight." The entire episode has Michael Showalter getting more and more frustrated with Black until the point in which he gets so frustrated he decides to get back at him mid-sketch. This is, as far as I know, the first time in television history that a sketch is interrupted for the sake of an "argument" between two characters*. Showalter makes Black perform a running sequence over and over until the point in which Black faints (which was kind of funny in an ironic way - Black winds up running the equivalent of maybe 2 city blocks before collapsing).

The show ends with Black in the hospital exaggerating his condition (near death, when it was actually mild dehydration), and the characters leaving him in disgust. No lesson, but more importantly for a COMEDY show, no punchline. The full version of the aforementioned sketch, which I saw in its entirely at the taping, was mediocre at best, but funnier than the alternative that aired instead. So we get one and a half full sketches, and 18 minutes of Black being a jerk to everyone, the payoff to that being that all of Black's coworkers leave him alone at the hospital in the end. Brilliant, huh? The fact that Showalter's mid-sketch flip-out was also incredibly distasteful is never addressed either. Which, in an otherwise hilarious episode would be inconsequential. Here it's just another infuriating detail.

Sketch is hard, I know this, probably moreso than the average person (see my previous post). All of the current sketch shows out there right out are seemingly disliked by the general public, from what I can gather. Even the best episodes of SNL, The State, Kids In The Hall, etc. still have less-than-brilliant moments, and this is somewhat inevitable. I still have yet to see the perfect improv/sketch show, live or otherwise. But MMHI seems to have given up before even getting out the gate. It's as if they shot a few sketches, were less than pleased with the results, and decided instead to scrap the original idea for an even worse one: A fake show about really really awful, unfunny people making "comedy."

Oh yeah, and Funny People was kind of meh, though that's a story for another day.

/Rant
/Matt

Currently Playing: Nothing on my 360 because it is currently DIRTED! I did play Wii Sports Resort for the first time last night. As a bit of an anti-Wii game snob I'll be the first to say it's incredibly fun, and worth picking up if you love your Wii at all. It's being added to my To Play list as we speak!

*The closest thing you have on Seinfeld is something like George's episode-long attempt at a comeback to his coworker telling him: "The ocean called, they ran out of shrimp," after seeing George gorging himself during a meeting. But that episode was more speaking to George's desperate need to save face in front of his other coworkers, and one-up the (otherwise nameless) person who insulted him. And it was maybe 5 minutes of episode time, tops.
*Maybe that classic Andy Kaufman fake flip out mid-taping that they showed in Man On The Moon? It's safe to say MMHI was not on par with that!

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