shuttled around the schedules before they find a niche and pick up a regular audience. That’s assuming they aren’t swiftly axed after a few flop episodes. lt’s hardly surprising then that the networks prefer to play safe with spin-offs: the biggest comedy of last autumn was Frasier, a vehicle for the Cheers psychiatrist.
For every show on the way up, there’s another heading in the opposite direction. The show Home Improvement has replaced at the top of the charts, Roseanne, is not having such a happy time. The problem would seem to be its star Roseanne Arnold’s celebrity sickness. Her regular revelations to American publications about her unhappy childhood have made her a kind of Sinead O’Connor with cellulite, and her ubiquity in America’s trashier tabloids ensured by confessions about her experiences with lesbianism and prostitution.
All of which tends to obscure the product, the comedy itself. Recent series of the show, which began as a brilliantly unromanticised depiction of a Mid-West blue-collar family have played on Roseanne’s celebrity status to the extent of seeming like one huge wink to the audience. The latest series is shown on Channel 4 from 4 February and fans will be disappointed that problem child Darlene (Sara Gilbert) is mostly absent, putting more pressure on w the increasingly eccentric star. . , Alarmingly Roseanne’s husband Tom Arnold (who plays nerdish “1".” neighbour Arnie in the show) has "K I“ been trying to reassure fans with at," remarks like: ‘She’s been on Prozac
for a year and a half. She has her the book of the show of the lifestyle: Seinfeld trivia explained
moments of suicidal thoughts, more
culture. B And 8 are MTV’S shoddily-animated post-Wayne ’s World nerds offering guttural , commentary to a TV parade of babes and heavy rock videos. Coming soon to Channel 4. Their favourite shows are probably teen-friendly, cleavage- flashing schlock-soaps like Baywatch or Beverley Hills 90210.
is for Cheers, from 1982—1993. c quite simply the world’s ﬁnest
sitcom. For eleven years until its final episode last spring, the Boston bar stayed true to the eternal verities (Sam liked babes, Norm liked beer, Carla was mean and Cliff was weird) with a reliability real life could never match. The comedy had a recognisable degree of acerbity about it that placed it leagues ahead of sentimental doses of sugary
‘Seinteld is based on the tiniest air currents of cosmic disturbance - losing one’s car in a parking lot, waiting
in line fora movie, picking one’s nose, eating chips with dip after the funeral of a girlfriend’s aunt. . .’
Ben and Stimpy: a cat and a chihuahua that changed the world
than the average person.’
lt’s hardly surprising then that US viewers are beginning to pick up their fix of ‘comedy of the everyday’ elsewhere. notably the slow-burn hit Seinfeld. The hip, popular culture reference- dropping adventures of New Yorker Jerry Seinfeld and his neurotic wise-guy thirtysomething friends George, Elaine and Kramer began as a word-of-mouth metropolitan cult. Two years later it reached the top ten in the audience ﬁgures chart and its 7 catchphrases passed into popular parlance. Entertainment Weekly critic Lisa Schwarzbaum explains its popularity as a result of its essential triviality. ‘Seinfeld makes sloth, lust, envy, and passive-aggression look like time well-spent, because, as the mantra now goes, Seinfeld is ostensibly about Nothing. The sitcom is based on the tiniest air currents of cosmic disturbance — losing one’s car in a parking lot, waiting in line for a movie. picking one’s nose, eating Chips with dip after the funeral of a girlfriend’s aunt. . .’
Heady stuff, then, spawning a fanatical following who snap up publications like The Seinfeld Companion, a volume which offers a
complete guide to the language of Manhattan neurosis, as well as synopses of every episode. Here’s a personal favourite: No. 49 -
The Contest: ‘George’s mother catches him masturbating. A ’ competition to see who can forego self-abuse longest is complicated by Jerry’s sex-free relationship with Maria, Elaine’s flirtation with John F. Kennedy Jr, and a female
nudist across the street.
The Cosby Show.
e" Q: '
propaganda pitched by much US comedy, the worst offender being
is for Dallas, the Ewing family D sagging saga that gripped
unaccountably large numbers of British viewers from 1978. Its insulated and cliche-ridden world of the mega-rich stressed the escapism element, although by the end it drifted into knowing self-parody that kind of spoilt the enjoyment of ridiculing it. lmitator Dynasty was saved by Joan Collins, which gives you some idea of what it was like before she arrived. Also for Dream On the cable sitcom that challenged the networks’ domination of the genre. introduced an ‘adult’ perspective, and took a flip post- modernist attitude to the TV II?
US TV FEATURE
lING 0F COMEDY
Kramer drops out ﬁrst, followed by Elaine. Jerry and George succumb simultaneously. Disgusted by the whole affair, Marla leaves Jerry for JFK Jr.’
We’ve come a long way since The Lucy Show. Home Improvement and the latest series of Roseanne begin on Channel 4 on 4 February. Seinfeld returns to BBC 2 in the spring.
. ,3! " us chart-toppers past and present: Tim Allan in llome
Improvement (above) and the Conners ot Roseanne (below).
Beavis and euttheerl: satirical response to fragmented culture? tin-huh.
The List 28 January—l0 February 199411
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