We're at about the halfway point of season four of Bob's Burgers, and the show has smartly shaken up its formula. Bouchard and his writers have heightened what we know about the characters by frequently moving them outside of their comfort zone of the titular burger joint; “A River Runs Through Bob” was a strong place to start this season, because it gave the Belchers nothing but themselves to rely on. By the end of the episode, Bob and Linda (H. Jon Benjamin and John Roberts, respectively) were reduced to a pair of feral, worm-sucking woodspeople. Instead of engaging with outside forces, they were forced react to each other, a trend that followed throughout the season.
Bouchard knows where his characters feel comfortable. So in season four, most episodes put the characters in a new position and in a new location. “Seaplane!,” like “A River Flows Through Bob,” tests Linda and Bob’s marriage by teaming her with a seductive pilot (the great Will Forte) and sticking them on a deserted island. “My Big Fat Greek Bob” and “Bob and Deliver” takes Bob out of the restaurant and into a new situation where he leads groups of students. In each instance, Bob leaves the restaurant to see the rest of the world, and by doing so, these primary characters can test their relationships and evolve. Four seasons in, the show's found fresh ways to engage the audience, and more often than not, it works. READ MORE
Consistency defined South Park’s 17th season. With a shortened 10 episode run, Trey Parker and Matt Stone streamlined their process and attacked a spectrum of targets, from religion and the Zimmerman verdict to Game of Thrones and the console wars, with concise and articulate shots at popular culture. Each plot escalated gradually and logically as clear points and hilarious commentary filled this season with some of the show’s best moments in years.
Story arcs on South Park use a strict code of cause and effect. Parker decides on a theme and writes to this simple rule: if he can place the words "but," "because," or "therefore" between each of his beats, then the story works. Take a look at the plot of “Ginger Cow”: Cartman tricks the world’s religions into peace after he stages a fake divine act, but Kyle knows his game. Therefore, Kyle goes on a moral crusade and becomes Cartman’s fart slave to keep the secret safe and maintain the peace. But because Kyle gets super self-righteous and messianic about the whole thing, Stan ends their friendship. “Ginger Cow” follows a rational progression for the comedy, and “but,” “because,” and “therefore” help advance the plot and keep things interesting. READ MORE
Christmas Comes to Pac-Land generally finds itself atop lists of weirdest and worst holiday specials. Ignoring most of the tropes associated with seasonal programming, Pac-Land is pretty upfront with its intentions. Essentially a 22-minute commercial for the Pac-Man video game series, Hannah-Barbara must have felt beholden to the game’s central plot, offering Pac-Man little or nothing to do outside of collecting power-pellets, fending off ghosts, and locating Christmas presents. Without any interest in contributing to the tradition of holiday television, Christmas Comes to Pac-Land teaches children to consume as quickly and gluttonously as possible.
In the 1980s, anything from cat-eating Aliens to Adolf Hitler could be turned into a TV show. The awkward partnership among television, movies, and video games turned the television landscape into an advertising old west, with plenty looking to cash in on the latest fads and trends. 1982 featured two of the era’s most memorable failures. The video game adaptation of the popular boy/alien rom-com ET left players in a pit of digital despair. After several months of sitting on shelves undisturbed, the millions of unsold ET cartridges were discarded into their own pit: an undisclosed landfill in New Mexico. Clearly, a franchise without content doesn’t equal success, but that wouldn’t stop the spread of Pac-Man fever and its cure, Pac-Man chewable multi-vitamins. READ MORE
Shasta McNasty was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Lewd, crude, and politically incorrect, Shasta McNasty took American Pie-vulgarity and brought it to primetime. Feeding off the oozing machismo of its lead in, UPN’s WWF Smackdown, the show was an accumulation of all the things 1999 was and would mean for the future. The characters were unlikable, stupid, and criminal, playing for an era still riding high on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s gigantic foam middle finger, Fred Durst’s backwards red Yankee caps, and the nihilistic misogyny that brought Eminem to the top of the charts. Shasta McNasty looks and feels like 1999, because it was a scrapbook of a culture in decline.
The show follows the trials and tribulations of a Californian rap rock band called Shasta McNasty. With character models based on such luminaries of the period as Bradley Nowell, the aforementioned Fred Durst, Stifler, and The Offspring’s Dexter Holland, the show celebrates the overconfident underachievers that personified the post-grunge hard rock scene. The three leads, Dennis, Randy, and Scott, slack off and play dumb whether they're trying to scam a free pizza or just filming their neighbor undress. It’s like South Park without the satire, jokes, or winking knowledge that everything on this show is wrong. READ MORE
Few characters have had more chances to tap into the popular psyche than Elvira. Armed with no more than two massive weapons, camp value and a wicked sense of humor, Cassandra Peterson, the actress whom the world calls Elvira, rose to prominence on a wave of innuendo and boob jokes. But her impact shouldn't be understated. Elvira's move from the queen of midnight movies to national icon was no small feat.
The 1980s saw Elvira on everything. She had her own syndicated television series, a feature length movie and accompanying video game, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, as well as a host of new products: perfumes, cassette tapes, t-shirts, and, of course, Halloween costumes all bore her mighty cleavage. She was, as far as marketing was concerned, a promotional behemoth. Her skimpy outfits and valley girl cadence gave her license to not take any of this too seriously and, like Pee Wee Herman, attracted fans of all ages to her offbeat and ridiculous world. READ MORE
South Park has dealt with its one-week turnaround for years. Because of it, like Norm MacDonald once said of SNL, South Park is one of the few places where you can go to be bad. The short production schedule from writing to editing to animating to voicing gives the show some leeway with viewers. This frees Stone and Parker to try some sillier ideas; though, it also allows them to get a little attention deficit with their stronger episodes.
This season, however, the schedule has been a curse. For the first time in over a decade, Parker and Stone missed a deadline, leaving Comedy Central to air a repeat, the world to cave in, and viewers to wait for their own violent demise. It also meant that the latest episode, “Taming Strange,” would be a week late. READ MORE
There’s no formula for good TV. Networks and studios shuffle through hundreds of new projects every year, but when it comes down to it, it’s easier remake, reboot, or sequelize. Throughout the 2000s, NBC struggled to bring highly popular and influential BBC television stateside, giving The Office and Coupling, in particular, some love, American style. While Coupling quickly careened off into TV hell, The Office hit the ground, got back up, and found its voice. The show evolved into itself.
It’s interesting to watch those early episodes of The Office. Near line-for-line retellings of its British counterpart, NBC’s The Office never really clicks in its debut season. Michael Scott, in meaner incarnation, never transcends his worst characteristics to become the World’s Best Boss. The showrunners knew to re-tweak because American and British sitcoms have different sensibilities. They just needed some time to smooth out the edges.
At their best, sitcoms reflect the core values of the culture viewing them. Talking to Time in 2011, Ricky Gervais had this to say on the subject:
“I would say that Americans are more 'down the line.' They don’t hide their hopes and fears. They applaud ambition and openly reward success. Brits are more comfortable with life’s losers. We embrace the underdog until it’s no longer the underdog … We tell ourselves it’s because we don’t want to sound insincere but I think it might be for the opposite reason. We don’t want to celebrate anything too soon. Failure and disappointment lurk around every corner. READ MORE
By the year 2000, Matt Stone and Trey Parker could do no wrong. South Park was entering its fourth season with no signs of slowing down, and one year earlier, their hit movie version of the cartoon earned them an Oscar nomination. But the greatest sign of their hold over Comedy Central and pop culture came about when they went after the leader of the free world week-to-week.
That’s My Bush, a sitcom about the political and personal shortcomings of George W. Bush, took Stone and Parker’s trust in the viewer further than anything they had done on before. They staged a sitcom that seemed to promise scathing political satire, but really just spoofed sitcoms as a whole. While “Not Without My Anus” enraged fans waiting to hear that Cartman’s mother was *spoiler alerts* transgendered, That’s My Bush hoped to subvert expectations every week, riffing on the tropes and conventions of 70s television.
The weirdest part of all: it kind of works. READ MORE
For three seasons, Bob’s Burgers has been based in one primary location: Bob’s Burgers. Like Cheers, the restaurant contained an endless amount of hilarious stories that allowed Bob and his family to relate to the world around them. The outside world came to them, and at no point has this felt tired or old.
Season four opener, “A River Runs Through Bob,” makes a preemptive strike on the formula and changes things up before Burgers gets stale. Rather than continuing to give fans more of the same, the show moves the family to the great outdoors and away from the previously established world and characters. READ MORE
After 16 seasons, South Park returned last night with a new episode that’s more ripped and sweet than fat and unimportant. Using the best of the show’s tools — biting satire and Cartman’s narcissism — the premiere, “Let Go, Let Gov,” meets cell phone culture and the NSA at the middle and turns the Snowden controversy into something pretty hilarious.
Since we last saw the boys, Cartman’s been tearing up the blog-o- and twitter-spheres. But when he finds out the NSA has been watching his every move, he Vines for a call to arms and joins “Shitter,” a networking tool that feeds thoughts right from your brain to the internet. READ MORE
The 2000 Presidential election was a mess. Far after the last ballots had been cast, miscounted chads hung throughout Florida, and America was left without a leader for months. Aside from establishing itself as the premiere American fuck up, Florida kicked off a decade defined by political partisanship without a mediator and general stupidity.
The election was ripe for satire, though, and Comedy Central wouldn't miss its chance. A re-tooled Daily Show had begun to pick up steam throughout this yearlong botched display of American party politics. Jon Stewart took aim at the unreasonable and sensationalist rants of the 24-hour news cycle with one target frequently in his crosshairs: Fox News.
Since its inception in the mid-90s, Rupert Murdoch’s 24-hour news station has been a loud and proud opponent of the liberal views of cable and network television, wearing its viewpoints on its sleeve while hiding behind the branding “Fair and Balanced.” Stewart and Fox fought vehemently on their respective stations and, occasionally, face-to-face when Stewart and Fox’s henchman supreme, Bill O’Reilly, had one of their many heated debates.
But it wasn’t enough to attack Stewart on air; Fox needed to fight fire with fire. READ MORE
My first experience with comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, unbeknownst to me, came from a t-shirt in the mall. I didn’t know what I was looking at, this turbaned skull with bloodshot eyes above the phrase “Silence! I Kill You.” What does this mean? What was it for? Had the tidal wave of Middle Eastern stereotypes extended to cheap-o t-shirts available between the Starbucks and Auntie Anne’s? What the hell was going on here?
It wasn’t until an October, 2009 episode of 30 Rock, “Stone Mountain,” that my questions were answered. In this episode, Liz goes in search of a new TGS cast member, and Jack sends her to find a comedian for Middle America in Stone Mountain, Ga. It was there that I first saw Jeff Dunham.
In 2009 Dunham-mania was reaching a fever pitch. After struggling on the comedy circuit for the better part of three decades, Dunham was King of the Hill. Dummies Peanut, Walter, and, of course, Achmed the Dead Terrorist had made Dunham the most famous ventriloquist in the country, and a lucrative multi-platform deal with Comedy Central sealed the deal, securing Dunham several specials, a standup tour, DVDs, consumer products (which included weird, racist t-shirts), and a new TV series. READ MORE
Things weren’t looking too good for Magic Johnson in the summer of 1998. The Magic Hour, Johnson’s late night talk show and 20th Century Fox’s answer to the Late Show with David Letterman and, of course, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, was tanking. Four weeks after its premiere, the show, weighed down by strong competition and Magic’s inexperience, couldn’t withstand the critical beating and steadily declining ratings that terrified affiliates. The Magic Hour had to shake things up and it had to do it fast.
The cards were stacked against Magic from the beginning. The former basketball superstar was admittedly robotic on camera and had neither the standup chops of Jay Leno nor the wry sophistication of David Letterman. He was supposed to be an answer to the old talk show form (laid back, informal, and exciting); instead, he was the antithesis of it. Producers knew Magic’s inexperience would be a hard sell, so they did what any self-respecting TV executive would do: they hid it, cluttering The Magic Hour with distractions. Former Prince protégée and percussionist Sheila E. assumed the role of bandleader, comedian Craig Shoemaker (who would later be fired and replaced by Tommy Davidson) became Magic’s sidekick, and speech coaches taught Magic to relax on the couch and at the mic. READ MORE
In the war of the low-rated backstage-at-Saturday-Night-Live TV shows, there can be only one. And in 2006’s race to viewership mediocrity, Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, which spoofed her time as SNL’s head writer, was Christopher Lambert. And we’re all better for it.
Well, everyone was better for it, except for this guy: Aaron Sorkin. READ MORE