And then there's ABC's new "comedy," Hank, the pilot of which is now
What an embarrassment. What a grotesquerie. What a farce. It's wayyy too generous to settle for calling this inert, ghastly, moronic abomination a "bad sitcom," because that seems to imply that it's a bad sitcom circa 2009, when in fact it feels like the 1992 fall TV season's shittiest new show somehow fallen through a wormhole to infect our televisions across the ages. How could all the pitching and honing and casting and writing and rewriting and workshopping and test screening and general overproduction that goes into creating a television program — months and months and months of work by dozens of people — create this? This horrific thing? How is it possible? How could a writer put their name on this and show their face in public again? I mean, what the fuck?
I confess that I only made it twelve morbidly curious minutes into the bloody affair before switching it off in disgust (and I made to exactly the 2:16 mark before emitting a totally involuntary out-loud "ugh," the sort I usually reserve for opening an elevator to find vomit on the floor), but that was well enough. Typical Hollywood "small town life will make you a better man" horseshit, infuriatingly stock common sense wife and geeky son and spoiled daughter and overbearing neighbor archetypes, awkward, stilted, lifeless dialogue delivered in a way that doesn't feel remotely like the (rightfully) embarrassed actors are speaking to each other rather than towards the audience (with every single fucking line!), hilariously clunky exposition (the closest thing to "hilarious" in this horrific show), and as the cherry on top, that fucking laugh track braying idiotically at every single cringe-inducing, telegraphed "joke" as if to trick you into joining along with it.
Hank must be cancelled immediately, and everyone involved in any aspect of its production should be deeply and truly ashamed, down to and including the boom operator. I've made fun of Two and a Half Men and Everybody Loves Raymond plenty, and rightfully, because they're pieces of shit, but Hank, wow, it's something fucking else. God damn.
But the worst part is that you know — you fucking know — that there's millions of doughy, white bread, middle-American missing links in the evolutionary chain who detest intellectuals, think Sarah Palin is a nice lady, classify Chinese and Mexican food as foreign and gross, and just hate this new trend of weird, confusing TV comedies like The Office and 30 Rock without laugh tracks to help them figure out when they're supposed to laugh, and they think Hank hits the fucking spot. A great comedy! Put it right up on the TiVo with CSI, American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, and The Jay Leno Show, yeehaw! Fuck this gay earth.
Now seems as a good a time as any to discuss the laugh track in general. I detest the laugh track with every fiber of my being. Not to say that a few good shows haven't made use of it — Seinfeld is of course classic, NewsRadio is one of the best semi-underground sitcoms of the 1990s, and I enjoyed Friends back in its day. But after Arrested Development, The Office, 30 Rock, and basically every good comedy created this decade, it can no longer be suffered.
It's a shame, because many, many people whose opinions I trust have recommended that I watch How I Met Your Mother, and since the show is starring Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel, and Alyson Hannigan, I have no reason to believe them dishonest. But I just can't watch it with a laugh track. That's not me trying to be snooty and superior, I mean that I literally can't, any more than I could watch a show at the wrong aspect ratio or with the colors inverted or without sound. Every time the stupid laugh track goes off it makes me cringe and ruins the joke and reminds me I'm watching a fictional TV show and forcibly ejects me from any immersion in the story or characters. I just can't enjoy it, no matter how much I'd like to.
People like to say that contemporary culture is in decay, and perhaps with the rise of reality TV and Michael Bay movies and Dane Cook and Twilight and shitty Disney tween idols there's some truth to that, but at the very least I can say that the duel over the laugh track is one of the few cultural battles I seem to be on the winning side of. A decade ago (and even five or six years ago) is was a rare novelty to have a single-camera, laugh track-free sitcom, but today, every new TV season sees fewer and fewer new shows employing one. Hank is just about it for this season as far as I know, and I don't see Hank lasting more than a year. There'll always be an orgy of shit reality shows and generic cop / doctor / lawyer dramas to ignore, but despite my tone for the rest of this post, I'm actually fairly optimistic about the future of television.