When you go to a sitcom taping, you are taught how to laugh. It cannot be one solitary bark, nor can it be a polite chuckle. It cannot take the form of a wry grin, and it can’t stay all at one pitch. It must rise and fall, like a sitcom story itself, starting out quiet, before getting louder and louder, then falling in pitch again. The ideal is “Ha HA Ha ha.” You are not strictly laughing because you think something is funny or even because everyone else is laughing. You are laughing because the actors need you to. They are up there on stage, relying on you to laugh, with the rise and fall, in such a way that they will seem funnier on TV. You are letting them know they are loved.
This is all, more or less, what the warm-up comic tells us before the cast runs out onto the stage. He also tells us how to do a standing ovation, so they will know they are loved, to the degree that he tells us what word to stand on. This will be no surprise to anyone who has attended a multi-camera sitcom taping before — everything is carefully stage-managed in Hollywood — but it must feel artificial on some level to everyone here. The room is packed, mostly with students and other groups, the sorts of people who might want to come to a sitcom taping a week before Christmas Eve.
“And if a girl comes out in a sexy outfit or two people kiss,” the warm-up says, “don’t go ‘Woooo!’”
In a successful bid to break into the SPOILER ALERT!! market, Family Guy offed Brian, the Griffins' pet dog/intellectual. The character had appeared in every episode of the show's 12 seasons. Unlike the advance warning The Simpsonsgave for an impending death this year, Family Guy seems to have surprised its fans. Not only was Brian's demise unceremonious and ugly (a silver car fishtails around a suburban corner and barrels straight at Brian, seemingly intent to kill; Brian thumps under the wheels, mangled; a squirrel boots Brian's face and says he sucked), but the aftermath was uncomfortably serious, set to soaring tearjerker strings. Brian's death came with barely a punch line, but it also came with a replacement: Vinny.
Spring Breakers was aggressively not for me. But without the experience — the money wasted on a ticket, the creepy-dude feeling I incurred while watching alone, the loneliness of having no one to vent my Franco-hate to — I couldn't have fully appreciated Fall Breakers, an astonishing parody from a sketch-comedy collective called Lady Products. Sweaters, pumpkin guts, flannels, and women making it rain leaves, with all the Skrillex intact.
In my column yesterday, I moaned, wailed, and generally gnashed my teeth about the disappointing state of the television business. It was the sort of story that is written in a rush, fueled this time by a deep and sudden pessimism over TV's sci-fi-obsessed, spin-off-chasing, cynical future. It wasn't intended to deny all the perfectly good-to-great things currently on the air, but rather to rattle some cages — especially before we all have to hide in said cages to keep from being devoured by zombies.
This context is important. I need you to understand the way I was feeling about TV on Tuesday, a full 24 hours before a certain conniving editor [Editor's note: Hi!] suggested I spend an evening catching up on Fox's Dads. That happened last night. Suffice it to say, if I were writing my column today, I wouldn't be nearly so restrained.
Last month at Comic-Con, Fox premiered the trailer for Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey, a "sequel" to Cosmos: A Personal Journey, the 1980 PBS documentary series created by husband-and-wife team Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. The reboot had been announced last summer and prompted a fair amount of head-scratching, not because of its concept — Cosmos remains one of the most beloved documentaries ever created, and an update that, say, steered the Spaceship of the Imagination into a Higgs-Boson particle would be more than welcome — or even the network that would be airing it, which is more well-known for singing teenagers and evil animated babies than meditative explorations of the foundations of our universe and reality. And certainly not because of its new host, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who through numerous TED talks and Colbert Report appearances has proved himself to be a captivating speaker, extremely adept at making even the most abstract concepts digestible to a layperson. Nope, the weirdness was that it was coming to you courtesy of the man who brought you that evil animated baby and an entirely different Ted, Family Guy creator and renowned boob seer Seth MacFarlane.
Dads, the Seth MacFarlane–produced sitcom airing on Fox this fall, had its panel at the Television Critics Association press tour on Thursday, and the proceedings went exactly as you'd expect. Before even so much as a pilot has aired, the cast — fronted by Giovanni Ribisi and Seth Green, playing business partners dealing with the return of their fathers into their lives — and the writers — Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin, who come from Family Guy and also did Ted with MacFarlane — were defending the show from accusations of laziness, crudeness, and, that old standard, the mining of stereotypes for cheap laughs. Hey, 2 Broke Girls: It looks like you're no longer America's no. 1 racist punching bag!
As IGN reports, Fox chairman Kevin Reilly was out in front on Dads, really trying to sell a devil-may-care "I hate this thing too" attitude:
The Girls have a lot to talk about now that everyone (i.e., Emily) is back in the same room, and Tess and Molly do their best to get her up to speed on everything important that happened on the Internet while she was gone (i.e., "Mass Text"). Our favorite kerfuffle this week was "So Legit," a little unearthed gem from Lana Del Rey's prolific back catalogue that throws the art-diva feud between her and Lady Gaga into harsh relief. We also catch up on the second season of The Newsroom, and try to evaluate whether Aaron Sorkin can really take notes with regard to the complaints about the first season. We also poke around at a highly questionable conspiracy theory about the erratic behavior of former child stars like Amanda Bynes, and speculate how Seth MacFarlane's Cosmos sequel will pan out on Fox. Climb aboard Spaceship Hoodies for this week's supersize tour of the pop cultural beyond.
The Lonely Island have become grown-ass men. In a new video for YouTube's Comedy Week, the trio take on the mature subjects of wife sex and cemetery real estate ("wobble-dee-wobble-dee drop into my grave plot"). It goes hard, because it's #DIAPERCORE. Reggie Watts also debuted a video for YouTube's celebration with his variation on the Rickroll, faithfully re-creating Rick Astley's outfits and letting his upper lip dance to '80s synth like no one is watching.
Two Fox news anchors tried to interview Ryan Lochte. After he haltingly explained the layout of his bathroom and the anchors bid his beautiful face adieu, they busted a gut for a minute and a half, during which time my girl in red started crying with laughter and almost lost an eyelash. Totally recruiting her for the fourth Girl in Hoodie spot, though if Ryan's available he can join us as a dood in a snood. The YouTube comments on this puppy are worth a quick browse if you're seeking out light content today (WE ARE ALL SEEKING OUT LIGHT CONTENT TODAY): "Guy was probably hungover from puling an all-nighter from stuffing 10's," "If you're an idiot at night, you're an idiot in the morning," "At least he's handsome and won 11 gold medals ! What have you won Miss Thing ????"
Every January, the five broadcast networks place orders for roughly 100 new projects — two-thirds of which will never be aired — in hopes of finding a couple of shows that can plug holes in their prime-time schedules, and a few more to which they can affix the ignominious title of “midseason replacement.” It’s called pilot season, and it's kind of like the draft, but for TV. All the networks are flush with optimism, feeling great about their new pickups' potential — still months away from the harsh realities that come with the start of the fall season, when they learn that their veterans have nothing left in the tank, their promising rookies can't stay on the court, and that project they passed on is averaging a triple-double in the ratings for a rival.
Of course, at this point there’s not much to go on, since few details about the project are released to the press. For the vast majority of pilots, the only info we get is the log line — a one- or two-sentence summary of the plot that is often vague and sometimes downright perplexing — and the names of the writers and producers. Casting is now under way on nearly all pilots, and the caliber of talent a project attracts can be a major clue as to the quality of the script. But that's pretty much it. By the end of this month, most pilots will be in production, plodding inexorably toward failure.
Free-associating on the official poster for Mad Men's sixth season: Draper crosses paths with Draper (maybe the embodiment his Dick Whitman persona?) as they head in different directions (past! Present! Future! A spring suit and a winter suit!); we have entered the fashion era of bad sheer sleeves; the moral or actual police are on to Don for either going the wrong way down Madison Avenue or for being a cad or maybe for some new secret crime yet to be unearthed; granted, this is a sketchy illustration, but I don't see a wedding ring on Don's left hand. Time to get out the magnifying glass. It's going to be a long three and a half weeks.
Molly, Tess, and Emily had a long gabfest over cosmos this weekend about branding and gender identity and decided to rename the podcast Girls in Hoodies. Now that we finally have a name that won't possibly annoy anyone on the Internet, we can focus on more important things, like this week's Academy Awards, and why exactly it's pretty much impossible not to love Jennifer Lawrence. We also chat about the now-infamous Onion tweet and the pifalls of the infectiousness of Hollywood snark. Finally, we rehash Girls’ road trip to Manitou, where we thankfully didn't run into any murderous demon babies, but where there was still plenty of irresponsible behavior on display.
Not that it was going to take much for anyone to panic about this year's Oscars anyway, but after Seth MacFarlane hammed it up like a monkey riding a bicycle Thursday morning while announcing the nominees, the question is now paramount on the minds of the masses — on February 24, when the Academy Awards air, are we in for a SethMacFarlanepocalypse of awkwardness? (The question probably isn't phrased as clumsily as that. But you get the gist.)
A breakdown of Linda Stasi’s New York Post review of the second season of Girls: 3 out of 4 stars for the “grittiness” and “reality”; 14 out of 4 stars for the “gorgeous,” “breathtakingly beautiful” Marnie; 1 out of 4 for the “ugly” anal sex, sheets, and studio apartments; and zero stars for Lena Dunham’s “blobby body.” She dwells on that last one quite a bit: Dunham’s “giant thighs,” “sloppy backside,” and “small breasts” are so offensive to Stasi that she implies that pretty ladies should hide their men from those evil, exhibitionist “blobbies” who aim to snatch them from our beautiful 400-thread-count sheets in the night. Jenni Konner, Girls’s executive producer (and recent HP podcast guest), responds “That that woman got to the age she's at and still feels like there are rules about what kind of body you can show is sad for her.” Meanwhile: Kelly Osbourne claimed to have been body-slammed by Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters, while Gaga fired back with an open letter accusing Osbourne of “making jokes about artists and celebrities as if we are zoo animals” instead of human animals wearing steaks for hats. Move right along. Nothing to see here.
You can be honest. When Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone announced the Oscar nominations this morning, you were nervous they were going to go all Baseball Writers' Association of America and say, "This year there are no nominees." Of course, if you're Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow or even Tom Hooper and Quentin Tarantino, isn't that kind of what happened? 2012 was a strong movie year, and that's pretty much demonstrated by the dozen or so legitimate candidates for the five directing slots, two of which, at least, seemed preordained for Affleck, who made Argo, and Bigelow, who made Zero Dark Thirty. But when the names of Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and Michael Haneke (Amour) and David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) were called alongside Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) and Ang Lee (Life of Pi), somebody in my one-person living room turned into the Retta Twitter feed and said, "Oh, no they didn't!" But they did. And what did they do?