The trailblazing has continued, to more or less positive effect. Da Ali G Show, with its real life subjects being conned and put on by the multiple and wacky personas of star Sacha Brown Cohen, often feels more like a tensely played out art experiment than a “traditional” comedy. For that fact alone, perhaps, it should be given credit for pushing the bounds of television comedy.
Entourage, Executive Produced by Mark Wahlberg and starring a stunningly perfect cast including Jeremy Piven and Adrian Grenier, may well be pointing the way forward for the next generation of television comedy. Both Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm do an excellent job of blending comedy with a realistic and improvisational feel. Whereas Larry David and Curb lean on Seinfeld-brand nothingness for inspiration, Entourage gives us a brilliant and original glimpse into what it might be like if an old pal from the neighborhood (in this case, Queens, New York) made it really, really big in Hollywood.
Showtime is now trying to capitalize on the trend by way of two promising shows: Weeds, starring the great Mary-Louise Parker, is a dramedy about a mom who sells marijuana to make ends meet, and Barbershop, based on the film franchise, utilizes single-camera but feels very much like a well produced sitcom.
Before I dive completely off the deep end and insist that every comedy should be shot single-camera, I should add that there are two very large and daunting reasons that most of the comedies on the television dial remain standardly and boringly multi-camera: time and money. These were the reasons, in fact, why the fledgling network sitcom juggernaut Stephen’s Life was forcibly switched from single- to multi-camera production. If single-camera looks and feels more like a film, it’s because the process and the expense are closer in line with feature-length productions.
From that standpoint, multi-camera makes sense and it stands to reason that the old standby ain’t heading completely off into the sunset anytime soon. Four cameras, a living room, a zany kid brother who has a penchant for barging in when the older sister’s making out: go!
The networks strike back
Just when you thought it was safe to never watch a sitcom on the networks again, along came a show that completely reinvented and happily imploded all the rules. Arrested Development combines oddball characters, expert single-camera production work, and inventive use of flashbacks and cut-aways. It helps that the writing is daring, smart, and off-the-charts funny, of course. But it’s important to remember that we’re basically dealing with the story of a family here, if an award-winning dysfunctional one. If Arrested Development had been handcuffed by multi-camera from the outset, it’s likely that it would have been a mildly pleasant but largely neutered affair.