Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Another Post About TV...

Okay, so after that other jobber, I think I'm gonna do some more posts about TV, specifically comedy writing for TV(& movies). Why is this? Well, because usually it seems like I can spit out some fairly interesting commentary about such things. It's been said that watching too much television can stunt one's verbal skills, and that's true, BUT when it comes to talking about TV...well, you get the point.

Also, as much as people watch this stuff, they seem to know remarkably little about the creative processess behind it. For example, they love Conan, and they just barely know that he used to write for the Simpsons, but they don't know WHEN exactly he wrote for them(wasn't one of the original writers) and they certainly don't know something specific like the fact that he was the principle scribe on the genius "Marge vs. the Monorail" episode.

So my punk rock sense of integrity and opposition to mainstream sensibilities makes me feel kinda guilty for writing about stuff this obvious, but hey, comedy is a different beast than music. There are hundreds upon thousands of bands and it's just natural to narrow things down into a specific sub-group and concentrate on that. With comedy though, maybe one 20th the amount of people are involved in creating this stuff. The fraternity of gifted comedy writers is a small, small group. From generation to generation, decade to decade, there seems to only be about two dozen some new, truly brilliant people working out there. I hate to say it, but comedy just isn't like punk rock, there AREN'T tons and tons of great, underappreciated funny people out there.

I used to blame it on my own ignorance that I didn't know more about underground comedy, but the fact of the matter is that there just isn't that much of it out there. For every one Neil Hamburger, there are a hundred bands just as good(ehhh, it's apples & oranges comparing music and comedy). It's a different game; sometimes really innovative, challenging comedy DOES find it's way onto TV. Mainstream music is a farce, but mainstream comedy, sometimes, SOMEtimes, it's really fucking funny(like season two of "King of Queens"? Oh my god, a couple of those episodes were so hilarious.... Like the one that ripped off 50 year old storylines from "The Honeymooners"? Oh wait, that was every episode).

So having set all that up, let's talk about a specific show and the creative forces behind it.

Back in late March of this year, a show sprung forth upon MTV2, a GREAT show. I am talking about "Wonder Showzen" of course(what other "great" shows does MTV2 have?). In 8 scant episodes is has redefined the parameters of what we thought possible from (just beyond)basic cable. The show, for those unfamiliar, is a spoof of classic kids shows such as yer "Sesame Streets" and the like. It comes replete with puppets, cartoons & actual children as performers. "Wonder Showzen" is very similiar to Robert Smigel's short lived, and much under-appreciated "TV Funhouse" series(way-ta drop the ball on that one Comedy Central). It's similiar, but it goes way further than "TV Funhouse" ever did. The show towes a hardcore leftist line and features vicious, vicious jokes about stuff such as animal rights(pro), religion(con), capitalism(con) and a host of other topics.

A lot of the comedy comes from the fact that you just can't believe that they're allowed to say stuff like that on TV. "Hey, someone's actually expressing really rebellious thoughts on TV, someone's actually shining some light on things thatI believe in." It's surreal to hear hardline veganism touted by children, but that's "Wonder Showzen" for ya.

The two main creative forces on the show are Vernon Chatman and John Lee. The pair both wrote for the shitty Snoop Dogg sketch show "Doggie Fizzle Televizzle" a few years ago. Additionally, Chatman wrote for "Late Night with Conan O'Brien", "The Chris Rock Show" and was even a staff writer on Trey Parker & Matt Stone's criminally forgotten "That's My Bush" show(again, fuck you Comedy Central). Forgiving the Snoop stuff, that a pretty impressive fucking pedigree.

Intially, the show was developed as a pilot for the USA network but they balked most likely because the show was too intense for them. Way too many child abuse jokes, you know the story. The show sat on the shelf for a few years until the pilot started to make the rounds on the internet(I believe the pilot can still be downloaded at: http://www.waxy.org/archive/2003/10/30/kids_sho.shtml ). A buzz built around the show and eventually MTV decided to give this undeniably hilarious show a shot, even if it was in their MTV2 ghetto(reruns have been shown MTV proper).

The only real criticisms to be leveled against the show are the facts that the episodes are very formulaic and the comedy is blunt, blunt, blunt. But both of those things are easily overlooked. The show follows a very strict format because that's what kids shows DO. The comedy is a bulldozer and well, heavy machinery ain't fucking subtle.

WS's first season ended this past May. As of this date, there have been eight episodes and god do I hope there will be more. It's show that's designed to offend EVERYone at one point or another, with their season finale "Patience" being one of the biggest "fuck you's" that episodic television has ever seen. As extreme as the show is, I COULD see it catching on with a large audience, so let's hope it has/will.

Reruns of the first season are still playing on MTV2, watch 'em....