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The TV Dramedy Dilemma: Mostly Dram Or Mostly Medy?

As I sit down and look at the shows I've been watching regularly this fall, I can't help but notice a distinct correlation between how much comedy the show includes and how much I enjoy the program. However, it's not as simple as it sounds. None of the shows below are straight-up comedies. In fact, three of the four would more often than not be described as dramas: they're all an hour long (trademark stereotype of TV drama), deal with life or death situations, and tell tales of morality, crime-solving, and familial relationships. In fact, the only difference between Weeds and the rest is its half-hour runtime. Regardless of what they may be categorized as, they're all engaging programs that utilize both drama and comedy to varying degrees. But if I were to rank them from most absorbing to least, here's what that order would be...

Weeds (Seasons 1 & 2): I'm behind on this, obviously, but as soon as I watched the Season 2 finale on Nerdflix Watch Now and realized Season 3 was unavailable to watch instantly, I ordered the whole shebang on Amazon. It's such an addictive show (hardly skimping on cliffhanger endings surely has something to do with it) that I knew I would not be able to handle getting one DVD at a time in the mail. I was always under the impression it was just a sitcom about marijuana dealers and users with small quirky plots, not the large-scale serial dramedy it really is. It's heavily anchored by the hilarious dialogue and actions between characters as mishaps abound, but at the same time shows each as emotionally fragile and completely real, never making it feel like they're doing something for the sake of a joke. Mary Louise Parker rocks at balancing between making fun of the idiots around her (who are just as well-meaning and broken as her) and dealing with her own inner turmoil as a recent widow with two sons and an illegal business to run. Really, everyone in this show is fantastic (Romany Malco, Justin Kirk, and even Kevin Nealon) and even when a sideplot goes astray and the writers drop it because they want to focus on something else, it's really not distracting, because every new plot they choose is just as suspenseful and amusing as the last one. 50% Comedy, 50% Drama.

Sons of Anarchy (Season 1): Maybe it's just because I was teaching Hamlet at the time, but I couldn't help but watch FX's new motorcycle club show and make connections. In both, the protagonist is a young man whose father recently died and has left him reeling and questioning his way of life, only made worse by the fact that the morally questionable man that replaced his father's position as head honcho (whether of the kingdom of Elsinore or the Sons of Anarchy) also marries his mother. But even Hamlet had its fair share of comedy (that one about the fishmonger is a real knee-slapper!), and so do the members of SOA. A big reason why the show works so well as a drama is in showing how deeply connected all these guys are, and numerous dark comic undertones come from both their mocking of each other and their intimidation of the average townspeople of Charming (not to mention one of their bizarre routines as an Elvis impersonator). Of course, the main goal here is documenting the transformation of a group from peaceful social rebellion to morally bankrupt crime ring, and what our lead man is going to do about it. Right now the show's veering away from its mission, but it's still entertaining and setting up the gang for some heavy inevitable climaxes. 30% Comedy, 70% Drama.

Life (Season 2): I still claim, even after its lackluster Season 1 finish, it's the most underrated show on television. This time around, the writers are incorporating even less of the frame story (detective who has served part of a life sentence for a murder he did not commit attempts to solve his own case when he is reinstated as police), but getting even better at building both Sarah Shahi and Damian Lewis's characters through deeply satisfying zen-like dialogue. Yes, it's a procedural cop show, but no other cop show that isn't The Wire that I've ever watched has ever had two lead characters so compelling, flawed, and well, funny. They're a classic odd couple that get laughs by making fun of each other, sure, but they're also genuinely likeable and clearly genuinely like each other. Thankfully they're also done doing the "I was in prison for __ years so I don't know what an automatic faucet is" thing and are now getting deeper into Detective Crews's psyche, challenging the way he deflects all of his pain into Buddhist proverbs, and making more subtle connections between this, the contained episode cases, and the larger murder case he's en route to solving as well. It's not really a mind-blowing show, but it's definitely worth the diversion and is more clever than anything on CBS. 25% Comedy, 75% Drama.

Fringe (Season 1): Joshua Effing Jackson. I never thought I would ever be saying these words, but if it weren't for the kid from Mighty Ducks and Dawson's Creek, I might not be still watching this show. The cold and distant main actress, Anna Torv, is almost unbearable, but luckily she's constantly surrounded by both the quick-tongued Jackson and a bumbling ex-mental hospital patient portrayed by John Noble, who plays the father of the brat. Their interactions might even be more interesting than the insane science mumbo jumbo that Fringe throws at us to create ridiculous plots of communicating with the dead and fetuses growing into old men in a matter of hours. My longing for a new X Files is the only reason I gave this show a chance and it does a proficient enough job of living up to that expectation, and the mysterious background story of a company's responsibility in these phenomena keeps it from being a straightforward procedural (hmmm, similar to Life). The last episode even began what might be a short serial story arc, which could turn out to be overlong and convoluted, or a perfect change of pace from the rather standard 1) here's a mystery, 2) here's how you solve it, 3) here's an obstacle, 4) oh also it has a connection to the company formula the first few eps follow. 15% Comedy, 85% Drama.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 8:55 AM |  

    I gots to checks out the Weeds from the beginning instead of here-and-there! Also I read somewhere (some article, unfortunately do not have the citation) that SOA is literally "loosely based" on Hamlet, so your comparison is not far off. Another one which I gotta catch up on (I watched the first two and def saw potential, and now the AV Club is covering it weekly.)

  2. Blogger Brigitte | 11:05 AM |  

    OH man, i SO SO SO want to start watching Weeds...it's difficult to begin a new show when I feel like I already have so many other television commitments that i'm failing right now...

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