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'Veep' Isn't About the First Female President (Thank God)

veepseason4Imagine an original comedy about The First Woman President. Between media pressure (“Is she powerful enough?”) and network notes (“Is she relatable enough?”) and focus group testing (“She should be hotter, but not like, too hot?”) it would likely endure as much tweaking, flattening and deadening as the Clinton campaign put into Hillary’s announcement video (Clinton 2016!). Every scene would be plagued by questions like, “Do we really want to imply that this is how The First Female President would behave in the War Room?” or “But can we really let The First Woman President refuse to pardon both turkeys just because she’s on her period?” Every plot point would seem like an accusation or prediction, every casting choice would Say Something, every line would be ringed with stupid boring significance. For all this well-considered work, it could only hope to be as funny as the failed Geena Davis drama Commander-in-Chief, which is to say, sliding up and down a scale of “kind of funny by accident” to “maybe it was a bad idea to have women be a gender; we could all quit and become vestal virgins.”

“We’re making history, we’re the first woman president! Well, I am, Michael, you’re not!” Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) giddily tells a well-wisher at the joint chief’s assembly, but blessedly Veep hasn’t become a show about The First Woman President. It’s still about the Selina Meyer we already know and kind of love, or at least laugh at and properly fear as a political idea. She’s narcissistic and crazy foul-mouthed; competitive and short-sighted and mean. She’s still completely unrelatable (poor, poor First Daughter Catherine), but now terrifyingly powerful. She also remains really, really hot, but that can be written off as a by-product of being played by perfect human specimen Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Selina came by the White House much the same way Francis Underwood did (and Geena Davis’s President Mackenzie Allen, just for the record) — unelected, ascending after a president’s resignation. There are valid fears about transitioning a comedic character from having minimal, laughable authority to being leader of the free world. Is it still hysterical that Mike McLintock (Matt Walsh) is always out of the loop, when the loop means the fate of our nation? Are Kent’s (Gary Cole) tautological aphorisms just as joyously meaningless when they’re said in the Oval Office? Is it entertaining that Gary (Tony Hale) lets his obsession with Selina override all other considerations when he has the White House purse strings in his hot little hands? Well, yeah. It’s great. READ MORE

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The Year in TV Comedy

keyandpeele_alienimpostersComedy was all over television in 2014 — just rarely on major networks. While the few bets networks made turned out to be bad, channels all over the dial — and even off — stepped in to make sure there was a ton of great TV comedy. Multiple cable channels (FXX, IFC, TBS) doubled down on jokes and streaming services offered exciting, offbeat choices. From Broad City to Transparent to High Maintenance, 2014 wasn’t a year for sitcoms, but was a year for smart, unexpected comedies. READ MORE

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The TV Networks' Comedy Depth Charts

depthchartsHow committed are your favorite TV networks to making you laugh? While some networks are happy to stick with a tried and true formula, others are being forced to experiment this season. What’s going on with the rise of the romantic sitcom? Who’s doubling down on family fare? Where should you look for your favorite canceled shows? We’ve examined the comedies the networks and cable have to offer this 2014-2015 TV season to see which network offers the most in quantity, which offers the most in quality, and who’s taking the biggest risks. READ MORE

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The Social Media Graveyard of Canceled Comedies

social-mediaDozens and dozens of new shows premiere each new TV season (and mid-season, and off-season) but only a handful live to see season two. These days, a new show has to use every tool in its arsenal to attract viewers as quickly as possible: splashy advertising, big name guest stars, over-the-top promos, and of course, a blockbuster web presence, one that gathers fans on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr who will then faithfully promote the show with homemade image macros and clever hashtags born from love. But while a show might leave our airwaves, a Facebook fan page is forever. What becomes of the social media accounts of canceled shows? 

Sad things, it turns out. READ MORE

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Humor Sickness: What Makes Comedians Tick?

kaufman-straightjacketAnnouncing your innermost insecurities and self-aggrandizing fantasies in public would generally be considered a strong indicator of mental illness — but when you add a mic and a drink minimum, we call it comedy. 

Conventional wisdom (admittedly the least cool kind of wisdom) holds that many comedians exhibit a similar and curious mix of maladjusted personality traits: the narcissism and egocentrism that allow a person to stand in front of an audience and share their thoughts, coupled with the seemingly-opposed neuroses and self-loathing that makes those thoughts hilarious. Google “(Your Favorite Comedian’s Name)” + “narcissist” or “(Your Favorite Comedian’s Name)” + “self-loathing” and you will most likely see these accusations in action. If nothing else, this armchair diagnosis has been lobbed at enough standups (by critics, by hecklers, by door-slamming exes, and often by the comedians themselves) to warrant further investigation. Without this stereotype of emotionally troubled comics, would we have the WTF with Marc Maron, or Louie, or any of Maria Bamford’s amazing work? If comics don’t have a special streak of crazy, then what was Dr. Katz about? It seems that this strange combination of self-obsession and self-hatred has launched thousands of hilarious people off of their therapists’ couches and up on stage. But is it pathological? Are comedians their very own sickness? READ MORE