I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When I first tried watching It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, I hated it. Not that I didn’t like it, not that I didn’t get it, I hated it. My friends kept insisting I watch it, and I couldn’t understand what they enjoyed about it. Watching the show gave me near panic attacks. Here we had a group of not just despicable people, but actual felons who were eventually going to have to pay for all the bad things they did. It wasn’t until they got away with literally kidnapping a man that I understood: none of this is real. Not just that it’s a show, but within the show there are almost no ramifications. The gang can be as horrible as they want, and the only real consequences would be their continued horrible lives. It took a while for me to warm up to what I now consider the funniest show on air.
It’s my initial distaste for one of my favorite shows that I keep in mind whenever watching something new. Maybe it’ll take a little bit longer to grow on me. Maybe I need to give it one more episode. And in these cases, maybe I need to give it a whole new chance altogether. Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to Second Chance TV.
Much like The Gang, I didn’t care for Billy and Julie. Unlike The Gang, I actually did care for some of those with whom Billy and Julie came into contact with. Which meant I couldn’t understand why seemingly decent human beings like Arthur would bother putting up with an asshole girlfriend and her shitty comedy partner/best friend. Julie and Billy weren’t really funny enough to justify being as horrible as they were, and the plots weren’t doing enough to hold my interest. I watched four episodes, put the show away, and didn’t bother watching for a full year. And somehow when I came back, everyone was a completely new person. Julie and Billy were more bearable, and everyone else around them (aforementioned Arthur, Denise, Nate, Marilyn, fucking Matthew) were all a little bit less likable. Which means everyone also got to be a little funnier. I still haven’t been able to figure out the exact turning point, but I think it was somewhere around the time they started ripping off horrible New York parents. I was hooked. I only hope that one day, Arthur will finally, finally show those NPR assholes who’s boss.
Rick and Morty
Another show my friends told me I’d love, another time I had no idea what they were thinking. Yes, it’s a cartoon for grown-ups and yes, it’s from Dan Harmon. But unlike the amusingly weird Community , Rick and Morty has no interest in being accessible. It’s aggressively weird. Rick and Morty had the same meta elements and expanded storytelling, but seemed to have completely done away with any rules. Instead of feeling expansive, it felt chaotic. Anything could happen, meaning it was never surprising or funny when anything did happen. There’s an element of the show that feels, for lack of a better word, vile. The drawing, the voices, the characters. It’s kind of gross.
Somehow, it only makes the show funnier the second you’re able to get past the surface level weirdness. In an ironic inverse of Community, the bizarre appearance of Rick and Morty is only distorting a very standard family sitcom. The parents fight with each other, Morty fights with his older sister, everyone fights with everyone to establish what’s important to them as a family. There might be an alien parasite from another dimension in the mulitverse, but the actual plots could have appeared on Family Matters. Hell, they even have a bottle episode.
While the plots could appear on a simpler show, the underlying themes are way to dark for TGIF. Trying to sum up Rick and Morty in a single sentence will inevitably lead to something like the following: a mad scientist travels with his grandson through space and dimensions while dealing with standard family problems, and his own long standing depression, self-doubt, and fear of intimacy. Yeah, that’s some shit. It slowly builds on you, but in such a tender and hysterical way you barely notice. And when you do, you definitely don’t mind.
Bojack Horseman I actually discovered on my own, and desperately wanted to like it. Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Alison Brie, Amy Sedaris. And sure, it was about a washed up sitcom actor from the ’90s. And yes, that actor had dealt with some drug abuse and mental health issues. And OK, that actor happens to be an actual horse whose show was called Horsin’ Around. And holy fuck, is Paul F. Tompkins a goddamn dog named Mr. Peanutbutter? It was an overwhelming amount of weirdness. Only it wasn’t just straight weird the way Rick and Morty was, it seemed like a specific brand of pseudo-intellectual, “meaningful” weirdness. It seemed weird in a way that was designed to be more interesting than the subject matter actually was. Bojack Horseman, for lack of a better description, was cartoon version of Californiacation.
Only, surprisingly, unlike Californication, BoJack Horseman doesn’t suck. And unlike Californication neither the supporting characters nor the drug abuse/mental health issues were treated as easy plots points ready to be ignored when they weren’t needed. Bojack’s demons are devastatingly real. To the point where I’m just the littlest bit concerned that maybe we actually should check in on Will Arnett. The darkness in the show is palpable, but not at the expense of the humor. Usually when people talk about dark comedy, they mean jokes at the expense of dark subjects. Bojack Horseman finds a way to have the genuinely funny, sometimes absurdist moments coexist with some seriously heavy emotional shit. And it’s done in a way that accurately shows how much work can go into repairing your mental and emotional self without making significant progress. Bojack might realistically never get to a place where he’s “fixed,” but watching him try is still wildly fascinating to watch.