David Lampson and Andrew Leeds, the aspiring duo behind a sitcom-in-development called Stephen's Life, are obstinate and opinionated, and thus comprise the more interesting storyline (and ain't that what it's all about in reality TV land?). They’re a tenacious lot, however, and never more so than in their insistence that Stephen’s Life, a potentially quirky and funny concept about a Junior High kid who runs his life like a Fortune 500 company, be shot single-camera.
Traditional sitcoms, traditional yawns
This led me to think about comedy on television and the convention of the sitcom. I grew up in an '80s-verse of classic (or "classic," if you prefer) sitcom fare: Family Ties and The Cosby Show and Growing Pains and on and on (Silver Spoons, anyone? If you’re humming the theme song right now, we’re on the same page). In most cases, joining a family or metaphorical family (Facts of Life, etc.) in the living room or kitchen for mildly serious dilemmas solved by broad punch lines, catch phrases, and an occasional visit from the Wacky Neighbor was as ubiquitous and American as Ronald Reagan, apple pie, and eating a TV dinner nuked out of time and mind next to Mom.
By the 90s, this format began to groan. Urkel and Screech and minority-heavy and relationship-centric shows began to blot out the hope of ever finding an original storyline, let alone a laugh, emanating from the tired living room couch. Seinfeld, perhaps the funniest sitcom of all time, broke the mold and bucked the trend by famously focusing on “nothing.” The end of Friends may have signaled the end of a sitcom era: its attractive cast and consistently strong writing often gave it more of a romantic comedy flavor than that of a sitcom.
Out of the ashes… HBO
For a time, perhaps for several years in the early '00s, it was safe to say that comedy on television was pretty much dead anyway.
Then, for not the first time, cable television came along to whoop the networks a good one. Curb Your Enthusiasm, from the misanthropic and darkly brilliant mind of Larry David, may just be the show that reinvented the comedy wheel. Largely improvised, loose, and shot almost documentary-style with a single camera, the microscopic yet hilarious adventures of Larry David (playing himself) in shallow, self-absorbed Hollywood rewrote the rules of what a half-hour of comedy on television can do.