I decided a while ago to make a list of some of the comedies I have admired most, and have somehow been inspired by. When I was little I harbored a lot of dreams that have since died, such as being a stand-up comedian (you have to both be funny and have thick skin for this work, and I qualify in neither regard) and a ballerina (no explanation required as to why this dream never went anywhere).
But, as a child I used to walk around with a notepad and pen and interview my parents like I was a reporter, so if I count that, I totally made my ideal career happen.
I also remember thinking how much fun it would be write TV shows. This started when I was younger and I was a devoted viewer of “Friends.” I watched every episode for ten years. I paid close attention as my dad told me the difference between a season and a series finale; he expertly explained the concept of a season finale cliffhanger to me, and that THAT was why they had a shocker like Rachel waiting at the airport, and Ross getting off the plane with another woman, the very second the episode ended.
I had an early understanding of the meaning of the ratings sweeps months, and why dream sequences were often used in episodes during this crucial time so advertisers could show outrageous things like Will and Grace KISSING as a teaser promo, only to make you watch the episode and realize it only took place in one of the character’s heads.
I would make up alternate plot lines for episodes of shows my friends and I watched. I created scenarios that could be played out and made sure the actions of characters stayed withing the realm of possibility and likelihood for each character.
This year, in a way, I am making this childhood dream happen as well. Except, instead of thinking about what Joey would say or what Phoebe would do, I am pulling characters out of thin air and making them up completely, in every regard. I find myself thinking more about character development in “Paper Cuts” these days, but I still have left a lot open-ended. None of my characters have last names, and I’m not quite sure what RJ does for a job other than he used to be in a band and now works from home. I’ve kind of envisioned him being a composer, but this has never been stated in any script.
In any event, writing “Paper Cuts” has been a lot of fun, and I am doing something now that I always thought would be way too difficult for me to actually do. That’s kind of nice. And so, here is a list of shows that I have held in high regard– some for a long time, some only since college and beyond, but they are all, in my opinion, well-written witty shows.
- “Friends” This show has to be on here, since I watched it from start to finish, from age 8 to 18. I never cared about characters more.
- “Arrested Development” This show will never get old. Brandon and I recently watched seasons one through three all over again, like we did with my dad a couple years ago. It’s even funnier the second, third, maybe even fourth time around because of the things you didn’t notice before. A high re-play value.
- “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” Featuring four of the biggest scumbags on TV, this show tells me you don’t necessarily have to like the characters to like a show. Although who doesn’t appreciate Charlie? I can’t stop watching “Sunny”. I’ve said enough praise for the show on this blog already.
- “The Office” This show was nearly canceled by NBC after its first season (six episodes) but iTunes purchases of it over that summer helped save it for a second season. Today the show’s sixth season began production, so lucky for NBC they didn’t give it the axe. And yes, I have seen the BBC version, but I am one of the few to say it: The American Office kicks its butt.
- “30 Rock” Tina Fey’s brain child nearly got overshadowed by the now-extinct “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” which was ANOTHER NBC show about the behind-the-scenes operations of a sketch comedy show. Oddly enough, critics called for “Studio” to survive and “30 Rock” to perish, and the opposite was true. This show made Fey my hero.
- “Seinfeld” My parents watched it, and so I did, too. Did I mention I grew up with NBC as our sole channel? This cult classic set a lot of bars for situation comedy, and referenced this with the whole, “We’re going to pitch a show about nothing to NBC” storyline. Too bad that series finale just didn’t leave fans with a good taste in their mouths.
- “Gilmore Girls” You could debate fairly that this is not really a sitcom, but a one-hour dramedy, but to me, it still represents some of the wittiest writing you’ll see on a show. I have few complaints about this show, the most of which center around the scandalous final seventh season, when the main writer/creator left. But after those first few rocky episodes, they picked up alright and ended the series in a satisfying way.
- “Scrubs” I didn’t watch this show until Comedy Central started running it in syndication two years ago, but I am fairly confident I’ve seen around two-thirds of the episodes by now. This show was almost ahead of its time, and I think it was just too quirky for some audiences. I’m glad it stuck around, and apparently it will be back on ABC next season.
- “Frasier” This was a show my dad liked. I should have thought it was boring, but I didn’t. One episode intro featuring NIles and absolutely no dialogue has stuck with me as one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on TV. I wish I knew the name of that episode.
- “The Simpsons” So what if it’s a cartoon? It, too, has problems that are resolved in 22 minutes. This may have been some of the earliest TV I ever watched, and we would watch the same episodes over and over that my uncle, who had cable, would record and mail to us. It’s so weird for me to see those rare episodes we had on tape now, because I almost know every line 18 years later.
Other honorable mentions: Dramedy “Freaks and Geeks,” which ran for only one season, but had writing that could crack you up and yet bring you to tears; and “Parks and Recreation,” which is too new to say for sure, and although I wasn’t enthused at first, I watched this year’s season finale twice because it made me laugh so much.