In 2008, ABC began the fall season airing precisely one half-hour comedy, Samantha Who?, starring Christina Applegate as Doesn’t Matter. In 2009, ABC began the fall season airing four sitcoms. In 2010, a month before the networks announced their fall schedules, the New York Times’ Brian Stetler reported of “a renaissance…for the network TV sitcom, which not too long ago was pronounced terminally ill.” The piece relayed audience research determining that painful economic times called for belly-aching laughter; it forwarded the notion that 22-minute sitcoms were well-suited to online viewing; and it decided that the unfunny mid-00s were “merely an anemic period.” And now we have gone from drought to glut. Today at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, ABC announced that it will begin the fall season airing six sitcoms and expand to eight in November.
We in the entertainment press feed on such data avidly, as if making a dinner of passed hors d’oeuvres. This week, in promising an autumn laff-a-thon, broadcasters have behaved like so many tray-laden cater-waiters delivering tidbits to be supped upon, digested, converted into the energy of trends. NBC is adding four comedies for a total of 10. Fox is adding three for a total of nine, if you include animation. CBS is expected to announce just two, but CBS is a special case, as it is clearly both the most successful network and the least funny.
What, exactly, did ABC introduce to the alimentary canal this afternoon? Both The Family Tools and How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) suggest to me the comedy equivalent of pigs-in-a-blanket. Each is cozy and unpretentious. Each includes an alumnus of a long-running CBS sitcom among its ensemble, as if to give assurance that nothing too terribly sophisticated is going to happen. (Family Tools features The King of Queens’ Leah Remini while How to Live With Your Ungainly Title has Everybody Loves Raymond’s Brad Garrett.) Both shows are about nominal grown-ups returning to dysfunctional nests, and I warily await the think-pieces comparing these programs with the two new Fox shows (Ben & Kate and The Goodwin Games) about squabbling adult siblings.
Meanwhile, if The Neighbors, about a couple moving into a gated community populated by extraterrestrials, were a canapé, it would be a molecular-gastronomy mishap, and Malibu Country a slightly-off devilled egg. That one stars the country singer Reba (who, according to the press release, has abandoned her surname) as a country singer named Reba who abandons her cheating husband and heads to California in the company of her children and boozy mother, played by Lily Tomlin.
Speaking of Ms. Tomlin: Just to be clear, Nashville has nothing to do with the Robert Altman film in which she appeared. Rather, it’s got some Country Strong–and if we’re very, very lucky, some All About Eve–to its densely-packed tale of a crooner of a certain age (Connie Britton) whose label would like to force her into a partnership with a pitch-corrected chickadee (Hayden Panettiere).
This brings us to the dramas and to another fall trend—slightly musty horror.
NBC announced midseason replacements including a Munsters remake, a Silence of the Lambs reboot, and a Jekyll-and-Hyde revamp. Fox’s The Following is a serial-killer procedural. ABC offers Anthony Edwards in Zero Hour (post-Da Vinci Code puzzles, demonic infants, paranormal Nazis) and Lost’s Terry O’Quinn in 666 Park Avenue (post-Rosemary’s Baby neighbors, demonic adults, paranormal co-op boards). Apparently, the latter show concerns “an idealistic young couple from the Midwest” who settle in an apartment building maintaining “a dark hold over all its residents, tempting them through their ambitions and desires.” It’s too soon to tell whether the show, with its over-the-top lust and avarice, is the hokiest bit of ABC supernaturalism since the Witches of Eastwick adaptation or simply a deadpan rendering of the Upper East Side.