Your Obedient Serpent (athelind) wrote,
Your Obedient Serpent
athelind

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Laugh Tracks



In a strange moment of synchronicity, bluerain happened to chose the ideal Ozy and Millie strip for today. Last night, quelonzia and I watched several situation comedies, and I'd already planned to comment on them.

I used to watch sit-coms regularly. I remember the classics of the '70s and '80s fondly -- Mary Tyler Moore, WKRP in Cincinatti, Night Court, both of Bob Newhart's classic shows. I enjoyed watching "Nik at Night" and later, "TV Land", when they'd show old classics of the '50s and '60s (especially those I'd never managed to catch in reruns before). I enjoyed the first season or so of The John Larroquette Show until it jumped the shark.

quelonzia, on the other claw, has never been fond of the genre, dismissing most sit-coms as being, in Timulty's words, "kind of stupid". When she and I first got together, my own viewing habits had been distilled down to two comedies: Frasier and Home Improvement. Those two programs in combination, I believe, hold the keys to the heterosexual male psyche. Every man is both Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor and Frasier Crane -- only the proportions differ. Quel watched those with me until Home Improvement's cancellation, and even grew to enjoy Frasier, though we managed to lose track of it last season when it moved oppostie Smallville.

Last night, having noted in the TV Guide that both Whoopi Goldberg and John Larroquette had new sit-coms on the NBC Tuesday night roster, immediately preceding Frasier, I decided to tune in.

I am... out of practice. The few comedies I've watched in recent years -- Frasier, The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, South Park -- lack the traditional studio audience/laugh track that plagued older shows. I had, in fact, assumed that changing tastes had rendered that particular element obsolete.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Whoopi Goldberg is often very funny, and I was looking forward to her acerbic commentary in a show she cheerfully admits is her own personal version of John Cleese's Fawlty Towers. Alas, while an occasionally amusing quip made itself known, it was buried in one of the loudest, most distracting laugh track I've heard in many years. I simply could not follow the story well enough over the raucous hysterics to determine whether the show was actually funny. I half-suspect that the audience was under the influence of certain chemicals (perhaps nitrous oxide), or, possibly, that furry fans of Ms. Goldberg's role in The Lion King hoped to demonstrate that they shared a totem animal.

John Larroquette's new offering, Happy Family, had a much quieter (and much less distracting) audience -- and I found it much more entertaining. Larroquette has managed to capture the wry, dark humor of that first season of his own epyonymous series from a decade ago, and somehow incorporate it into a dysfunctional family sit-com that twists traditional values. Still, while I found it sufficiently amusing to give it another chance, it only got chuckles from me.

Frasier, on the other claw, remains Laugh Track Free -- and yet, both Quelonzia and I were laughing uproariously through the entire comedy of errors.

Extrapolating from this empirical data, I hereby propose...

Snark's Law of the Conservation of Laughter:

The amount of laughter associated with a sit-com is constant. As the laugh track of a show accounts for an increasingly greater proportion of this constant, the audience at home laughs less and less, until finally, a show drowned out by its own studio audience will elicit no amusement at all from the viewers at home.
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