What I’m Watching this Spring…
The Will & Grace (NBC) and Roseanne (ABC) Revivals
Both of these sitcom resurrections (from opposite cultural perspective positions) work because they embrace sarcasm and lean into their own farcical natures. Instead of playing it safe, they double-down on their stereotypes and remind us it’s okay to laugh at both sides of an issue…if it helps to get to the heart of the matter at hand. They also both revel in their own classic sitcom conventions, both employing raucous laugh-tracks and theatrical staging (both, we are reminded warmly, are filmed before a “live studio audience”) eschewing the “wink, wink” tired nonsense of the faux-documentary sitcoms that have run their course in more recent decades.
Will & Grace isn’t ashamed to do a Lucille Ball homage when Grace and Karen get stuck in a smart-shower that quickly and hilariously turns into a human fish bowl, while swinging right into a farcical threesome scenario in another episode. Meanwhile, Roseanne throws all caution to the wind, deftly bouncing from gun jokes (that are contextually very funny) to a surprisingly balanced and reasoned treatment of grandma and grandpa slowly, and affectionately, in their own ways (at first regressive, but then supportive once they identified and dealt with their own fears) coming to terms with their young grandson’s exploratory (but impassioned) stance on gender and clothing.
Both shows also know it’s often the supporting characters who can make us laugh the most at our own extreme natures, with Karen Walker and Aunt Jackie yucking it up unabashedly. Karen is hilariously cold and heartless even with those she loves, and Jackie is riotously and desperately progressive and humanist (“As a life coach…”)…but both, we’re reminded through the laughs, are very human. We laugh because we know people like this. And hey, we kinda like people like this, too.
Homeland (Showtime) – Season 7
In some ways the latest season of Homeland plays more like a revival than a smooth continuation, though the writers have double-downed on their huuuuge miscalculation from season six when they tried to predict and then mirror the last presidential election and its gloomy aftermath. Here the show leans into its original conceit and central conflict: is Carrie straight-up crazy, or is there indeed a huge conspiracy only her manic self can unravel? As such, there’s a tiresome “Oh, Carrie…” feel to the proceedings, but the writers and producers seem to be positing, much like Edie Falco’s addict Nurse Jackie, that Carrie’s bipolar personality makes it so that she just can’t help herself. It makes the show feel like a slow-moving train wreck…we can’t help but watch even as we know how it’s all going to end. We know people like this. Yes Carrie is repetitive. But she’s also fascinating. Frustrating. Tragic.
Counterpart (Starz) – Season One
The new Counterpart series takes the old Cold War espionage thriller and turns its on its head with a sci-fi conceit of a parallel universe (one that select spies can cross through and traverse back and forth…to what end…we may never know). The result: two J. K. Simmons! Does Farmers Insurance cover that? It’s a fascinating premise that plays on the age-old question: How can two people from the same background (and in this particular case, literally the same person, doubled) turn out so differently? What tiny twists of fate set one person down a certain path, and their counterpart down another? The show does a great job exploring this, not just through J. K. Simmons (who gives a nuanced and transfixing performance in both roles), but through secondary characters who become temporary focuses of the spy game. The fate of a woman who became an assassin in one universe, but an acclaimed violinist in the other, was especially fascinating and well done. The workmanlike, polished direction, editing, and music score help the show move along at a good pace. It’s intriguing…deep…thrilling. Just what you want from a serialized drama. And while the show takes place in Berlin in some parallel universe(s), you could just as easily argue that it holds a mirror to our current state of “Two Americas.”
Bob’s Burgers (Fox) – Season Eight
Eight seasons in, and as fresh as ever. I don’t know what else to say here, except that the weekly trials and tribulations of the Belcher clan is hands down the funniest thing on TV (and has been, for the past eight years). The recent “Sleeping with the Frenemy” episode with the Tina/Tammy Cyrano de Bergerac homage had me laughing harder than anything else this year (except maybe the Roseanne premier).
Queueing up on my DVR:
- The Chi (HBO) – Season One
- Billions (Showtime) – Season Three
- The Terror (AMC) – Miniseries
What are you currently watching?
Written by David H. Schleicher