Mirth and musical chairs on TV
You may have heard or read or woke up suddenly thinking that we are living in a New Golden Age of Television. Some call it the platinum age, which sounds a little too Rodeo Drive to me. But let them have their fun.
Most of this new golden/platinum age talk centers on drama, and mostly cable drama, which connotes seriousness and ambition (and sex and death); we are still living in the age of “The Sopranos.” When, on Dec. 10, the American Film Institute named its Top 10 shows of 2013, only one sitcom — HBO’s political farce “Veep” — was among them. To be sure, some shows named to the list, including “Breaking Bad” and “Orange Is the New Black,” are funny as well (as lawyer Saul Goodman, Bob Odenkirk of “The Ben Stiller Show” and “Mr. Show with Bob and David” and more helped “Breaking Bad” keep its balance). But it’s more of a sideline, a sauce.
And yet we are living also in a great time for comedy, with TV very much at the center of a nexus that branches into clubs and theaters that-away and the movies this-away and the Internet another way. Actors and writers and directors move from one project to another, clustering here, joining together there, and moving on into some new configuration. And telling one another all about it on Twitter.
There is a sense of play and my-uncle’s-got-a-video-camera possibility at work these days, and it fills me with cheer. We’re in an era not only of collaboration but of camaraderie. The mix and match of familiar faces in different places creates a sense of unity out of variety — as with contract players under the old movie studio system, without the system — but also a feeling of affiliation.
We seem to be looking in on a cool club where friends put on costumes and say funny things. The modesty of some of these productions accentuates the sense that everyone is there for the good time rather than just the paycheck.
IFC and Comedy Network and Adult Swim, where individual voices and offbeat forms flourish in shows like “Children’s Hospital,” “Drunk History,” “NTFS:SD:SUV” and “Portlandia,” are key TV venues (as Funny or Die is on the Net). But NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and “Community” and HBO’s “Eastbound and Down” and Fox’s “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project” are also on the circuit, as are kids’ shows (“Yo Gabba Gabba!” guests have included Paul Scheer, Patton Oswalt, Angela Kinsey, Sarah Silverman, Jack Black and Jason Bateman) and even music videos (see H. Jon Benjamin, star of “Archer” and “Bob’s Burgers,” and Jon Glaser of “Parks and Recreation” in Superchunk’s recent “Void”).
Webs entangle with webs. You can start with, say, Ike Barinholtz, who is Morgan on “The Mindy Project” and Muscleman on Seth Meyers’ “The Awesomes” (as is Rashida Jones, also from “Parks and Recreation”) and has been on “The League” alongside Scheer, who has been on “Children’s Hospital,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Sarah Silverman Program” (another hub), “The Aquabats! Super Show” and “Party Down” (with “Parks and Recreation’s” Adam Scott, whose “The Greatest Event in Television History,” which remakes the opening titles of old TV shows, has included appearances by Scheer, Glaser, “Parks” costar Amy Poehler, the ubiquitous Megan Mullally and “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm, also of “Children’s Hospital” and ever game for comedy).
Scheer is as well the creator and star of “NTFS:SD:SUV” and earlier created the sketch show “Human Giant” with Aziz Ansari, also from “Parks and Recreation,” and Rob Huebel (“Children’s Hospital,” “The League”). Scott’s “Party Down” costar Ken Marino is also on “Children’s Hospital” and created the Web-and-TV “Bachelor"/"Bachelorette” parody “Burning Love,” which has featured Scott, Scheer, Huebel, Ken Jeong, Kumail Nanjiani and Natasha Leggero, along with Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio and Michael Ian Black, whose roots go back, with Marino, to the 1990s MTV sketch comedy “The State” — and there is really no good way to do this with words. You need a wall-sized flow chart.
I may be romanticizing. These people pretend for a living; they may only look like they’re having as good a time as I like to think. Perhaps Adam Scott and Ken Marino can barely stand each other.
But that’s not how it feels from here. From here it feels good.
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