Sitcom landscape wanting, not barren with departure of irreverent '30 Rock'

2013-02-02T00:00:00Z Sitcom landscape wanting, not barren with departure of irreverent '30 Rock'The Associated Press The Associated Press
February 02, 2013 12:00 am  • 

NEW YORK - The void you're looking at on your DVR is the sitcom landscape post-"30 Rock."

When Tina Fey's bright, bouncy, irreverent showbiz send-up aired its last episode Thursday night, a light (Kenneth's toothy grin?) went out in broadcast television.

"30 Rock" was not perfect: It sometimes spun its wheels and its writing was often too showy. But "30 Rock" was the clear sitcom heir to "Seinfeld," pushing comedy forward by fusing the relationship set-up of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" with the flashback jump-cutting of the single-camera "Arrested Development." Its snappy, joke-packed universe was both tightly controlled and capable of going anywhere.

With "30 Rock" leaving the air, the sitcom again finds itself at a crossroads. Though acclaimed and award-winning, "30 Rock" was never highly rated.

Many would say ABC's "Modern Family" is the strongest current sitcom, but, like many comedies today, it's better at being charming and heartwarming than funny in a fresh way. The same issue has crept into NBC's "Parks and Recreation," the likable small-town government sitcom from Fey cohort Amy Poehler.

The end of "30 Rock" heralds a sitcom shift, particularly in NBC's long-running Thursday night block - a grand tradition that includes "Cheers," "The Cosby Show" and "Seinfeld."

Both "Parks and Recreation" and "Community" have cloudy futures, and the long-running "The Office" will finally end soon. Elsewhere, CBS' "How I Met Your Mother," a studio audience vestige, is preparing its final season.

But there are actually quite a few broadcast sitcoms running now, including "The Big Bang Theory," "Whitney," "Happy Endings," "2 Broke Girls," "The Mindy Project" and the recently premiered and somewhat promising White House farce "1600 Penn."

Two Fox shows in their second seasons appear to have hit their stride: the animated "Bob's Burgers" and Zooey Deschanel's "New Girl." "Bob's Burgers," created by many of those involved with the improvised 1990s Comedy Central series "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist," has coalesced into the funniest family portrait on TV. H. Jon Benjamin voices a fry cook, and comedians Kristen Schaal and Eugene Mirman, as two of his adolescent kids, steal the show.

"New Girl," easily dismissed at first as cloying hipsterism, has also found a balance, thanks partly to the excellent Jake Johnson, whose chemistry with Deschanel is, for better or worse, TV's new Ross-Rachel.

Whatever the value of the shows, it's a great time for individual comedic performances: Rainn Wilson on "The Office"; Julia-Louis Dreyfus on "Veep"; Chris Pratt on "Parks"; Neil Patrick Harris on "How I Met Your Mother"; Julie Bowen on "Modern Family."

The flight to cable hasn't been as pronounced in sitcoms as it has been in hourlong dramas, but the trend is going that way. On cable, niche sitcoms like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," "The League" and "Archer" have pushed the boundaries of taste, reveling in their freedom.

But there are only two must-watch comedies on TV now that "30 Rock" is over. Both are on cable and both draw more from independent film than from sitcom history: Louis C.K.'s "Louie" (currently on hiatus for FX) and Lena Dunham's "Girls" on HBO.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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