It’s always been difficult to put together a great sitcom. As much as we like to romanticize the shows of our youth, I’m guessing it would take about half-an-episode of Night Court or Three’s Company before we’d be heading for the gin.
The past decade has seen its share of classics, from the hipster catnip of Arrested Development to the comedy of manners of Curb Your Enthusiasm… it would be hard to argue that the form has either waned or waxed, from a general quality standpoint. But there’s a specter that’s hanging over too many sitcoms on the air right now, a goofy, floppity ghost that haunts the back of even the best showrunners’ brains.
Let me be clear… Seinfeld is the best sitcom of all-time. I even like Kramer (though he could be a bit much, especially in the later seasons). Blaming him for what came after is like blaming The Beatles for ABBA or a million worse bands who learned all the wrong lessons.
But now, most sitcoms, including many that should know better, feel like they must have a “Kramer”. There have to be crazy moneymaking schemes, and broad physical comedy, and double takes at all the wackiness. And some really good shows are suffering from all the annoying capers.
I understand that it must be difficult to fire an actor from a show, especially when they’re just doing what you asked them to do. The producers undoubtedly get to know them, and hear about houses they’re buying, and schools they’re sending their kids to, etc., etc. Complicating this, “Kramers” are often the most famous member of the cast… they’re showy roles that aren’t all that difficult if you have the skill set. But, for the good of the whole, sometimes you have to kill your darlings.
There are three particularly egregious examples of “Kramers” that take away from good shows (all of which are in their third seasons) on a weekly basis… please, Mr. Showrunners, hear my plea and put the proverbial bullet in them as soon as possible.
Taco (Jon Lajoie) – The League
Of all the shows I download from Thursday night, The League may not be the best, but it’s the one I watch first. For a certain type of hateful thirty-something, it’s the closest you’ll come to seeing your group of friends. And Jenny McArthur (Katie Aselton) is the most fuckable woman on television.
But, there’s a horrible, hateful roadblock standing between me and laughter. And his name is Taco. Played by the homeless man’s Andy Samberg, Jon Lajoie, he is without exaggeration the worst character in the history of fiction. He’s so irritating that no other character on the show can even pull off pretending to like him. He’s a combination of “Kramer” and slacker so annoying that he would have been euthanized long before he reached his 30s were he real.
Initially, Taco was meant to be one end of the spectrum between marriage and complete sexual freedom that the nominal protagonist Pete has to navigate. Taco was supposed to be a ladies man, a feckless musician who couldn’t pay his rent, but could bang hot waitresses in the bar bathroom. The problem? He’s such an annoying tool that no sober woman over the age of 15 would ever go near him, even out of sympathy.
The best part of The League is the palpable air of comradery between the characters, which even extends to the angelic Jenny. But any old group of friends inevitably has drop-outs, guys who while still “friends” don’t fit into the group dynamic. There is literally no universe in which this group of friends would still see Taco on a regular basis. Which is why by Season Two they were emphasizing he is Kevin’s brother (something that was brought up in the pilot and then seemingly forgotten). Of course, Taco is so irritating, there’s no way that even his family would see him on a regular basis. It’s time for Taco to die of one of the strains of syphilis he inevitably carries.
Ben Chang (Ken Jeong) – Community
God, I love Community. With Parks & Recreation, it makes up half of the smartest one-two punch in network history (so, of course, nobody watches). And I like Ken Jeong, even though he’s tried that premise by taking every job offer over the past few years (he’s been in at least 11 movies since The Hangover). And I can see why they keep him around, since he’s probably the most famous cast member (or he’s second to Chevy Chase, depending on the age bracket).
And I know that Community isn’t exactly a realistic universe (although it always starts and ends grounded in reality before spinning off). But, much like Taco, Chang completely stretches the credibility of even an unrealistic sitcom world, mostly because the writers must search with increasing desperation for ways to keep him involved. The humor in the first season came from him being a professor, somebody the group had to listen to and cater to, even though he was manifestly insane. I guess I give Community credit for not having him be their teacher year after year. But what they’ve chosen is worse, a steady deterioration that eventually led to him living in fucking heating ducts. Dan Harmon, it’s time to send Chang off to wherever Jon Oliver is.
Ray Hueston (Zach Galifianakis) – Bored To Death
Another Hangover alum who is dragging down a pretty good show. Bored To Death isn’t the best show on television, but it may be the most interesting comedy. Instead of the traditional dynamics, the show is all about intellectual male friendship, with Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) interacting with his two buddies who don’t really know each other all that well. On one end, there’s his father figure George Christopher, which is knocked out of the park by Ted Danson (seriously, he kills it… George might be the best character on television right now… this feels like crazy talk after Sam Malone, but it may be Danson’s best performance). On the other end is his screw-up weirdo buddy Ray.
The dynamics of Bored To Death makes it harder to get rid of Ray. Taco and Chang could be cut out of their shows in about two minutes… the unusual setup of Bored to Death makes that more difficult. But, fuck, Ray is annoying. He writes comic books about his penis, he makes “elder love” with Olympia Dukakis, he acts in a way that is supposed to be eccentric, but is instead borderline retarded. If anybody has come up with a computer program that can cut the show down to the George and Jonathan relationship, please let me know.