Thursday, July 2, 2009

Not getting it

My wonderful friend and colleague Scott Tobias wrote a quick news item on the A.V. Club today about the announcement that Neil Patrick Harris has been tapped to host this year's Emmy award ceremony.

I'm a great admirer of NPH. Although I never watched Doogie Howser, I have deep respect for his star turns on Broadway (in Stephen Sondheim's sublime Assassins, no less!) and masterful comic gusto in films like Starship Troopers and television shows like How I Met Your Mother. His performance hosting the Tony awards a few weeks back can best be described as "gleeful," and the song he belted out over the credits was sheer, unadultered delight.

But I admit that I fixated on a particular thread in the ensuing comments where readers confessed -- no, perhaps the right word is "boasted" -- about how they've never found HIMYM funny. It's a recurring theme on our boards in relation to any show whose cult status is not yet established, whose hip credentials might be suspect, which has a fervent advocate on the A.V. Club staff. The same thread occurred in a news item where Noel alerted readers that the strange and wonderful ABC comedy Better Off Ted was returning to the air this summer. Commenters speculated about whether the show was actually any good, described their ambivalent reactions to what little (if any) they'd seen -- sometimes just to the ABC promos -- and simultaneously declared that no show could ever be described as funny after Arrested Development and angrily attacked anyone who dared suggest a comparison to Arrested Development.

It's undeniable that you have to be open to a certain type of comedy and perhaps train yourself into a certain frame of mind to enjoy some shows. For that reason, it's dangerous to praise them to your friends, since inevitably they'll tune in for a sample and just not see what you see. That said, there are moments or even whole episodes that are so perfectly brilliant, in a way that transcends the feel or tone that gives context to the show's humor, that I really can't imagine someone claiming not to get it. The little singing exchange between Ted and Linda on this week's Better Off Ted ("Are you reaaady? Yes I'm reaaady!" "Is your report reaaady?" "No it's not reaaady!" "Maybe you should have your fish wriiiite it!" "He can only write Mooooe-Moe!"); the list of celebrities, collectibles, and Canadian sex acts from the "Old King Clancy" episode of HIMYM -- these are not just funny if you've matched your brain waves to the show's vibe. They're funny, full stop.

I understand that not everyone is going to be able to take traditional sitcoms seriously, nor will they take the time necessarily to allow a quirky comedy to find the sweet spot. But denying that the shows could ever be funny -- or that anyone who claims to find them funny could be telling the truth? Folks, we're laughing over here because we're enjoying ourselves. And if you'll let us find the right clip, we'll show you how you can join us.

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