You may not realize this but if you are a fan of comedy, especially comedy on television, you are being spoiled right now.
Across the board, as more and more cable channels continue to emerge and the overall viewer share divides itself into more and more niche categories something very special is happening in the land of the television comedy.
For years comedy nerds like myself have clung to the few comedic gems to come out of television in the last 20 years such as The Larry Sanders Show or Arrested Development. These are shows that didn’t insult their audience’s intelligence, they wanted to be funny but not cheap funny. That is, the jokes weren’t going to hit with everybody but for the ones who appreciated them the jokes hit harder and were funnier than almost anything else on television.
In the past few years we’ve seen the likes of 30 Rock, Community, Parks and Recreation, Flight of the Conchords, Extras and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia raise the bar in terms of quality comedy on television. But I’d like to talk about two shows in specific, two shows currently running, that have real potential to be honest-to-goodness classics of the genre: FX’s Louie and Adult Swim’s Children’s Hospital.
The Louis CK project entitled Louie entered its second season this summer and already it has critics lauding its current run as one of the most important shows on television — not because it’s edgy, not even because it’s funny (it is), but because it’s one of the clearest examples of a creative vision undiluted from start to finish. CK does the writing, the acting, the directing and the producing, a tall order for sure but it’s worth it to see everything come together in a way that reads as both comfortable and intentional.
Season one of Louie saw an unrelentingly cruel Ricky Gervais guest star as Louie’s doctor while season two has already aired guest appearances from Joan Rivers and Dane Cook, both playing themselves and both appearing to service (seemingly) real conversations about real issues in today’s standup comedy scene. The episode featuring Dane Cook is particularly interesting as it sees both Cook and CK hash out real life animosities the two have had with each other for years now, all based around an accusation of stolen jokes.
Although it’s not getting quite the same critical praise as Louie, Childrens Hospital, now in its third season, is beginning to pick up steam as more people are beginning to search out the 11 minute long Adult Swim favourite.
If there were ever a show to tune into based solely on the cast, Childrens Hospital is certainly it. Rob Corddry, Megan Mullally, Ken Marino, Rob Huebel, Erinn Hayes, Malin Akerman, Lake Bell and Henry Winkler round out the main cast while the show also makes room for guest appearances from Nick Offerman, Nick Kroll, Jon Hamm, Lizzy Caplan, Sarah Silverman and many others.
What’s so great about Childrens Hospital is that it is completely and utterly silly in a way that most other shows just aren’t. At its core CH is a parody of mainstream television in general and this allows for a flow that is decidedly faster than most other comedies. The conceit here is that you have be somewhat familiar with the tried and true tropes of the modern television series but past that anything goes; one episode can run like a straight forward hospital procedural while the next can be a three act play or a behind the scenes expose of the (fictional) actors who appear on Childrens Hospital.
I’ve enjoyed 11 minute long shows before but this is the first time I’ve actually thought the show in question was best served with such a short run time; anything shorter or longer than approximately 11 minutes and Childrens Hospital would lose some of the juice that makes it work so well.
Both Louie and Childrens Hospital are far from being runaway hits but at this point it seems they’ve attained enough success to continue for the foreseeable future. What’s important for the comedy fan, though, is to make sure and spread the word about these shows that are actually, legitimately good.
It’s true that we, as fans of comedy, are completely spoiled right now with the variety of quality shows but without proper support other great shows like Party Down will continue to disappear without strong word of mouth.