Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Situation Normal

Back at the beginning of Blaugust I posted a list of TV shows I was in the middle of watching. To recap, the shows were:

  • Good Omens 2
  • Two Broke Girls
  • Edens Zero
  • Young Sheldon
  • The Owl House
I have now finished all of them except for Young Sheldon, although in this context "finishing" Edens Zero meant getting to the end of Season One. I want to watch Season Two but I clearly don't want to watch it that much because the very low bar of swapping over to Crunchyroll has so far proven too high for me.
As for The Owl House, until someone green-lights another series, which will happen one day, I think I've probably said all I want to say about show for now. There are four Owl House episodes of the Disney series Chibi Tiny Tales I haven't yet seen, though... 
  Two Broke Girls

I do have something more to add to my earlier observations on Two Broke Girls. The show remained admirably consistent  throughout. It started with a ridiculous premise and a complete abnegation of any kind of logic or reason and kept up those stellar standards for the whole six seasons. Every time anything threatened the "sit", like the girls actually making enough money to stop being broke, the "com" asserted its authority and reset things to where they needed to be. I found that adhesion to the ur-concept in the face of all attempts to insert the least element of realism into the show to be one of its greatest strengths.

It's also a show that relies to the heaviest degree on repetition. Most of the humor comes from internal references and running gags. One of the tropes of the show that I particularly liked is the cash register that pops up at the end of every episode to show exactly how much money the girls have saved. 
In Season One, Caroline sets a target of $250k as the sum required to turn Max's Homemade Cupcakes into a viable business. At the time it seems like an unlikely goal but thanks to the sale of Caroline's backstory to Hollywood (Probably the most realistic and believable plot in the entire six seasons.) there is a point at which the cash register dings up a quarter of a million dollars. Which, of course, disappears as fast as it arrived. 
The girls both have significant relationships, the show being sporadically and in some small part a romcom, all of which are, inevitably and for sound plot reasons, doomed to failure. Perhaps the one fortuitous outcome of the unexpected cancellation of the series is that the final episode closes with Max engaged to be married to her wealthy lawyer lover and Caroline in a firmly committed relationship with her working-class, Italian-American boyfriend.
It's absolutely guaranteed that, had the series continued, neither of those relationships would have neatly folded away into happy-ever-after but because the series ends where it does it's entirely possible to imagine that's what happened next. It makes for an oddly satisfying ending. I came away content.

Good Omens 2

This is an interesting one. I should probably issue a trigger warning for fans of the show before I get started.
That does make it sound like I must have hated it but that's far from the case. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I just didn't think it came anywhere close to being either as funny or as compelling as the first season.

I remember Season One as being quite complex. It had a lot of characters and a number of sub-plots, all of which were fairly coherently coaxed together into a finale that made some kind of sense of and brought some kind of resolution to all of them. It felt quite novelistic, with its long-form heritage making itself evident throughout. If anything, it might have been a bit baggy. It certainly never felt like it was in any kind of a hurry.

Season Two, by comparison, felt short, rushed and incomplete. I found it quite unsatisfying at times, particularly during the zombie episode, which made some sense emotionally but just seemed to be quite badly done. I don't like zombies at the best of times but comedy nazi zombies are really too much to take for a whole episode.

The core of the show is, of course, the relationship between the two central characters, the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, as portrayed so deliciously by Michael Sheen and David Tennant. In the first season the performances of the two stars are exemplary but in the follow-up I never felt quite the same chemistry between them. In narrative terms, the relationship only becomes more complex but on the screen it seemed just very slightly flat. 

The cast as a whole is very good, with Jon Hamm appearing to enjoy himself perhaps even more than he should as the memory-wiped archangel, Gabriel. All the newly-introduced characters are interesting and/or endearing, my particular favorite being Muriel, a somewhat naive, not to say dim, angel played to perfection by Quelin Sepulveda

The problem from my perspective wasn't really with the quality, for once, but the quantity. As I started watching the fifth and final episode I literally had to pause the stream and check it was the last one. It seemed the whole thing had barely gotten started before it was over. 

And yet, rushed as it felt, it also seemed as though too few ideas had been stretched too thin. It was a very odd sensation, to be left wanting more but not being able to say more of what. 
I have a suspicion Good Omens 2 is one of those shows that might make a stronger impression on a second watch than a first. I suspect much of my dissatisfaction stems from expectations created by my fuzzy recollections of Season One. I don't think the two seasons are as consistent in tone as I would have anticipated. Season Two would probably benefit from being judged separately rather than in comparison. 

Whether I will ever watch it again is another matter. I can readily imagine re-visiting Season One but I think it's going to be a good while before I regenerate any enthusiasm for another sit-down with the sequel.
Which just leaves...

Young Sheldon

Young Sheldon is, of course, a sitcom based on the character played by Jim Parsons in The Big Bang Theory. There's a lot I could say about the show already but I'll hold back on most of it until I've finished the run. I do have a few notes, though...

I'm going to say up front that I really like The Big Bang Theory. I know that's a controversial stance to take in many quarters. I've read a number of blog posts and web articles about why and how the show is disrespectful to the various communities who see themselves stereotyped and ridiculed by its characters and storylines and I don't fundementally disagree with some of those interpretations and reactions.

The thing, I think, that almost all of those analyses omit to recognize is that most sitcoms are reliant on stereotypes, which they ridicule. It underpins the whole genre to some considerable degree. 
I suspect the issues some have with this particular sitcom stem from an unfamiliarity with the form as a whole. As I was reading some of the commentary, it was noticeable how often the alalysis was prefaced by an assertion that the writer didn't usually watch sitcoms, or not sitcoms like this, successful, popular, mainstream, network half-hour shows. I also suspect that being confronted with a stereotype someone feels might be applied to themself makes that person less amenable to finding said stereotype amusing.  Few people appreciate being seen as the butt of a joke. 
What good sitcoms do, however -  and I would argue The Big Bang Theory is a good sitcom - is to make stereotypes feel more nuanced over time. Good writing and especially sympathetic or complex performance can cause a general audience to warm to personalities they would otherwise shun, simply by allowing viewers to get to know the characters as individuals, not just as representatives of a type. 

I'm considerably more inclined to listen to the arguments of those who seek to explain why the writing or acting in TBBT fails to open up the stereotypes it plays upon, thereby revealing the human beings inside, rather than those of the faction that thinks the show fails out of the gate just by trading in stereotypes in the first place. There's a very supportable case to be made that the writing and acting across the long run of the show is inconsistent, self-indulgent and sometimes lazy. Not every episode is good, let alone great.
Even though I very much enjoyed the parent show, however, I did not immediately warm to the idea of a spin-off featuring its most obviously annoying character as a ten-year old. It seemed to me that the kind of manic self-absorption exhibited by the adult Sheldon Cooper, manifesting primarily as it often does as a collection of tics and tropes, while it might be humourous in an adult character, would most likely be just disturbing and uncomfortable in a child.

For that and other reasons I didn't rush to find out if the writers managed somehow to avoid the very obvious pitfalls of the concept. It was only a combination of a gap in my sitcom dance card and a news item that said the show was - astonishingly - starting its sixth season that got me take it out of my watchlist and actually start watching it.

Honestly, it was the six seasons thing that did it. I just couldn't believe it had lasted that long. We all know how mercilessly fast shows get canned these days. For any show to get that far had to mean there was something there worth checking out.

There is and it's very simple. Like Two Broke Girls, Young Sheldon is just a plain, old-fashioned classic sitcom. There's nothing remotely fancy or clever about it. It relies wholly on sound charecterisation, consistent writing and some very solid acting by a strong, ensemble cast.

As with many of the best sitcoms, there's an extended family at the center. The set-up is instantly recognizeable no matter that most of the viewers will never have set foot in East Texas. All the storylines revolve around the usual quotidian concerns of growing up, going to school, making friends, working and getting along with the neighbors. 

The two things that most suprised me about the show, of which I have now seen the first two seasons, were firstly how unfocused on the titular character it is and secondly on how quickly it foregrounds Sheldon's meemaw, superbly played by the wonderful Annie Potts. If I didn't know the provenance of the show, I might have assumed she was the well-known character from a previous success, around whom a spin-off had been built.
Two seasons in, no-one appears to have aged. I am curious to see how that changes. One of the big problems all successful sitcoms starring child actors face is how to keep the storylines cute as the actors grow less so.
It's a particularly pointed issue in this show because Sheldon is already running well ahead of the usual  developmental markers. He's a ten year-old in high school, being courted by Universities. There's already been a storyline concerning the difference between his intellectual and emotional maturity and how it predicates against him moving away from home to take up the opportunities already coming his way. That's not going to work so well when he's fourteen, which I assume he will be by Season Six. 

Or maybe the whole thing doesn't unfold in real time. I can't say I've been keeping track. Maybe he'll be ten until the show ends and we'll just have to look at him like we look at the adult actors playing high school kids in Grease; with wilful suspension of disbelief.

It's not something I need to think about just yet. I have four more seasons to watch before I get there. I'll keep whatever observations I may have on what I see along the way for another time. For now, I'll just say it's another good sitcom. I'm enjoying it.

Glancing ahead, my current viewing slate looks like this:
  • Young Sheldon
  • Arrested Development
  • Carole and Tuesday
  • Captain Fall
  • Riverdale
Where last time everything was on Amazon Prime, this time it's all on Netflix. Again, I don't think that means anything, other than that obviously one streaming channel isn't enough any more.

I'll get to my thoughts on those shows when I get there. I also have a post I've been wanting to do for weeks now about Cannon Busters, a show I finished watching a good while back. I'm not sure I ever even mentioned it until now. 

So many shows; so much to say about them all; so little time to get it done.


  1. Thanks for reminding me of Young Sheldon. We started watching it but I don't think PartPurple enjoyed it as much as I did so we lost track at some point in S1 or S2 and I'd meant to go back and watch it on my own. I loved watching the dad struggle with how to deal with this brilliant child and as you say, Annie Potts was great!

    Also like you, I also enjoyed TBBT quite a bit. I appreciate you articulating how and why you enjoyed it while some folks found it offensive or condescending. I like your thoughts better than mine, which were basically that I grew up back when jokes around stereotypes were pretty common, as were dark and frankly insensitive jokes. I figured I was just inured to this kind of thing.

    1. I do think there's a bit of "If you think this is bad, you should have seen what I grew up watching" going on but it's not as though we're trying to justify still enjoying some show that was made in the 1970s. TBBT is aging now but the final episode went out in 2019. It represents relatively current content.

      That said, the later seasons are substantively different from the earlier ones. The characters change a lot during the dozen years it ran and so does the center of gravity of the show. No-one who finds it unacceptable at the start is ever going to make it that far to find out if it changes enough to convince them of its merit, though.

  2. For what it's worth, I'd consider myself to have pretty good familiarity with sitcoms as a genre. My sitcom resume includes Seinfeld, Arrested Development, Two and a Half Men, all of Matt Groening's animated sitcoms, Community, How I Met Your Mother, That 70's Show, one season of The Good Place, and probably some others I'm forgetting. And I still think The Big Bang Theory is one of the most despicable pieces of media I've ever laid eyes on.

    Legitimately, it's just blackface for the neurodivergent community. It's a major factor in why I'm nervous to tell people I'm autistic, because I feel like Sheldon Cooper has fixed the sad, clownish stereotype as the face of our community for so many people.

    And the important thing is it's definitely laughing at us, not with us. This is in contrast to something like Abed on Community, who does poke fun at our foibles while still doing so in a kind and respectful way. Every episode I've ever seen of TBBT just boils down to, "Ha ha, these people struggle so much with mainstream society. Isn't it funny how much they're suffering?!?!"

    All that said, you're still allowed to like it. I think it's okay to enjoy problematic media as long as you acknowledge the issues. Two and a Half Men is a gross, misogynistic show, but the jokes still make me laugh. But I won't pretend it's not gross and misogynistic.

    1. As you can tell from the way I introduced the topic in the post, I was very aware of what a sensitive issue the show is for a lot of people. And not without reason!

      One thing I'd say, before getting into more specifics, is that no-one would expect anyone who finds a TV sitcom as unpleasant and offensive as find this one to have watched more than a handful of the two-hundred and seventy-nine (!) episodes. Why would you put yourself through that? It is absolutely and undeniably true that there are many individual scenes and probably not a few individual episodes that fully support your interpretation. If you pull up clips on YouTube and watch them out of context, most of them fit the description.

      What can't be represented by those individuated, decontextualized experiences, though, is the cumulative effect of living vicariously alongside these characters for a dozen years of their lives, seeing them grow and change along with your own feelings. Over that length of time, even though the characters may have started out as laughable stereotypes, they all become friends, with all the foibles and quirks and peculiarities friends always have, those parts of their personalities you willingly accept as a necessary and even welcome part of your friendship. It's a trick long-running TV shows sometimes manage to pull off and this is one of the shows that does it for me.

      I would have to say the exact opposite about Two and a Half Men, for example. I loathe the show so much I haven't been able to watch more than a couple of episodes, even though I was quite interested in it because of Jon Cryer's presence. For all I know, maybe there's character growth there that would change my mind but I'm never going to find out because I won't watch the damn thing. (I'd add that I work with someone who has - shall we say , issues - with gender politics and he absolutely *loves* the show, so that doesn't make me feel like character growth is likely.)

      HIMYM makes for a much better comparison with TBBT because I have watched the whole of the run and much of it is positvely hateful. I kind of got through it all on the "I've started so I'll finish" principle but I can't imagine ever watching any of it again. I started out watching HIMYM expecting to like the characters - I mean, it had Allyson Hannigan in it and she's pretty much the most likeable actor you could cast - but I ended up loathing all of them. Not one of them really shows any growth - most of them go backwards, if anything. The more you know about them, the more horrible they get.

      I started watching TBBT because it had Jonny Galecki and (Briefly) Sara Gilbert, who I remembered very fondly from Roseanne (Another problematic show.) and again, because of that, I expected to like the characters... and in complete contrast to HIMYM, I did. In fact, over the course of the show I became very fond of all of them, plus the two who joined in later. I even came around to Howard, eventually.

      Continued in next comment. Too long for one!

    2. All of the characters in TBBT exhibit continual growth throughout the run of the show although I think it could be argued that what constitutes "growth" could also be taken as a drift towards social norms, which might in itself be problematic. The humor also changes significantly. The broadest, least socially accpetable section is probably in the middle, when the writng gets quite lazy, but the last four or five seasons take the show into some very different places and very affectingly so.

      On way in which I differ from you and from other people who despise the show is in finding the characterisation of the main characters in TBBT largely positive. They're mainly open, friendly, good-hearted people, who tend to think the best of others unless given good reason not to. They're loyal and tenacious and determined and all of them would quite clearly make very good friends. From the beginning, when I watched the first four seasons of TBBT on DVD many years go with Mrs Bhagpuss, far from always laughing at the characters we were definitely laughing with them some of the time. As we got to know the characters better, the laughter was increasingly in support of the characters and their worldview, which generally seemed more sympathetic than that of the forces they struggled against. Sheldon, far from coming across as either sad or clownish, we found sweet, honest and admirable in his determination to be understood and accepted on his own terms. Of course, he was also an annoying, arrogant jerk sometimes, but then aren't we all?

      I found the show particularly poignant at times since several of the characters recognizeably resemble actual friends of mine from various periods of my life, although obviously no-one I knew was quite as exaggerated in their behavior as a sitcom character would be. (That's irony, by the way! Some of them were much more extreme.) One of my litmus tests for sitcoms is whether or not I'd be happy to hang out with the characters in real life; I'd very happily hang with all of the BBT crew. It would pretty much be like my life in the '80s...

      The way the show handles neurodiversity isn't the only problem it has, though. I think the writing offers a lot of problems throughout, particularly with extended tropes like Leonard's highly manipulative pursuit of Penny, which is difficult for reasons largely unrelated to his neurodivergency, and with a fair bit of Raj's characterisation, which has plenty of issues that relate directly to his ethnicity. In this way, I think it's very much a typical, mainstream sitcom. Most of the shows in your list are what I'd call "smart sitcoms" (Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother being the exceptions). In this country I think it's generally considered a complete mystery as to how a show like Seinfeld, which appears to be so aggressively intellectual, could become so incredibly popular. It was only ever a late night, minority channel, clever-person's show here. I'm currently watching Arrested Development and it's way too arch and meta to qualify as a mainstream sitcom for me. Ditto Community and all Matt Groening's stuff, both of which I love. I haven't seen That 70s Show but the very concept is metafictional! As is The Good Place.

      Good god! And Again! Continued below...

    3. Regular sitcoms are generally expected to be broad and unsubtle, which TBBT definitely is. TBBT is atypical in that it uses all the dumb sitcom tropes and mechanics but sets them agains what looks like it ought to be a smart sitcom backdrop. I wouldn't entirely discount the science in the show because I've read enough sclientists commenting on the in-jokes they've enjoyed and the accuracy of some of the science-specific humor, but I imagine most viewers just see it all through Penny's eyes, especially since she's clearly intended at the outset to be the viewer's avatar in the show, a conceit that doesn't really continue for all that long.

      Anyway, I could go on about this forever. I'd love to be able to sit down with you somewhere and really dig into the whole thing for a few hours. Again, that was my 'eighties! But this is already faaaaar too long for a comment so I'll end it here.

  3. You might mean Michael sheen, not matin

  4. Couldn't agree more! I love the Good Omens series, but Season 2 feels like the editor suddenly remembered that the relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale should show obvious progress. So, the editor came up with this trick in the ending plot. It's hard to say; probably, there will be a Season 3. I want to see if it will be better. Yep, one streaming channel is not enough. If you would like to watch shows rather than Crunchyroll, you could switch to Hulu. I usually download Hulu shows to lower my cost.


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