In 12 days, How I Met Your Mother will reach its expiration date after nine seasons and 208 episodes, the television equivalent of a long and prosperous life. Fear not, fan-clubbers: Although your favorite show is being put out to pasture, CBS will continue to milk the cash cow with the inevitable sequel: How I Met Your
Father Dad. Until then, the cloying spirit of How I Met Your Mother will probably survive in its successor on Monday nights, Friends With Better Lives, a.k.a. #FWBL, the new series’ ready-for-retweeting acronym. If only many of the writers creating network sitcoms were as concerned about characters as much as Twitter is, or the comedies on cable channels are, too.
Broad City (Wednesdays, 10:30 p.m. EDT, Comedy Central) and Legit (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. EDT, FXX), among others, ingeniously deviate from the many weary series that deceitfully shriek, “Watch US and see YOU on TV.” Funny, neither show is attempting to precisely reflect real life in its funhouse mirror, but each succeeds anyway by creating exaggerated comic catastrophes and amusing moments that feel real.
On Legit, comedian Jim Jefferies works the woman of his schemes while attending the funeral of the woman’s brother, a disabled man who died laughing at one of Jefferies’ jokes, leaving Jefferies the only comic on the planet apologetic that his act actually killed. The woman seems funny, kind, and, most important, extremely interested in our anti-hero. Apparently warmhearted, the woman is clearly thermonuclear hot. She has mud-flap-model curves, the sort of superhuman body most women would need serious photoshopping, not a lifetime in the gym, to achieve.
For comic effect, of course the perfect woman has one grievous flaw: She talks like “Paula Deen and Kramer would in the car,” Jefferies hilariously laments later to his equally wounded roommates, Steve (Dan Bakkedahl) and Billy (DJ Qualls). Alas, racism is a blemish that cannot be concealed with makeup. Jefferies initially acknowledges the crisis without mugging or bugging his eyes or without lurching toward the camera and bellowing “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat,” the standard sitcom cues to activate the laugh track. One wince, one arching eyebrow succinctly expresses his surprise and agony.
Maybe the best thing about Legit (the nothing-is-off-limits renegade of Jefferies and co-creator Peter O’Fallon) and Broad City is that all the actors virtually whisper the punch lines, highlighting the writing. Consciously not blunting sharp jokes with overacting or overreacting elevates the entertainers above their shitty-but-witty fictional circumstances and makes them sound altogether human rather than like made-for-TV personas reciting lines.
Yes, Jim, Steve and Billy resemble typical sitcom characters but only in that the buddies drink a lot on-screen, though Billy from his motorized wheelchair (he may be handicapped, but he’s one of the guys and gang) and Jim and Steve from their ratty sofa instead of a booth at a friendly neighborhood bar with a name more unnaturally sweet than saccharine. On Broad City, the spotlight characters Abbi and Ilana realistically gripe about their horrible jobs and terrible guys and lack of cash and abominable apartments like the pals that stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are off camera.
So much of TV comedy is a formula, but Jacobson and Glazer have the kind of chemistry that cannot be created even in the best writing lab. Definitely hetero-leaning judging from her up-close-and-personal-hygiene relationship with her dentist with benefits (the dutifully droll Hannibal Buress), but undoubtedly Abbi-curious, too, llana coolly radiates that heat while casually describing the attributes of her lust buddy: “Chocolate-brown eyes…ass of an angel.” Brilliant delivery like that sells the line and the show. Sound like the perfect cultural catchphrase (the goal of sitcoms since the days of “Dy-no-mite!”), everyone? Certainly superior to…wait for it, no, really, “Wait for it,” whose demise we will not mourn come March 31 when HIMYM ends its marathon run.
The electricity that series such as Broad City, Legit, Key and Peele, Portlandia, and Kroll Show generate cannot be solely attributable to their looser language and the outlaw mentality of the cable frontier. After all, every week the Kulture Kops supposedly protecting the community standards on mainstream TV leave the jailhouse door open wide enough to let dick jokes escape onto network airwaves. Heck, 2 Broke Girls would be comically bankrupt without them.
Maybe defoliate the present sitcom landscape and replant Parks and Recreation, Community, Suburgatory, The Neighbors, onto cable, too, and allow those intelligent shows to continue to skewer the pompous and pretentious without fear of cancellation because of low ratings due to audiences programmed to accept conventional comedies that mostly vacillate between infantile and juvenile.
The anachronistic ghosts of Rachel and Ross, Monica and Chandler and Phoebe and Joey inhabit Marshall and Lily, Barney and Robin, Ted and The Mother. In the names of David Crane and Marta Kauffmann, will Friends never end? It’s time to exit the Dork Ages, people, and enter the weird but wholly relatable worlds of Abbi and Ilana, the opposite of “adorkable,” and the mopes and misanthropes of Legit, where the PC police do not patrol and there is no illusion of inclusion.