Well let’s get right into it, shall we?
In the world of sitcoms, only one show has ever managed to cross the uncanny valley that bridges shows with laugh tracks and shows with truly humorous content. In pretty much all other sitcoms, the laugh track is too often used to remind people that what they are watching is funny rather than adding melodic resonance to the already ongoing laughs of the audience.
The show in question is not Seinfeld. Nor is it Friends, nor Frasier, nor any of the other sitcoms you will find on your typical ‘top ten sitcoms’ list.
The show was News Radio.
And to clarify, I speak only of seasons 1 through 4 with both Phil Hartman and Khandi Alexander still present. Once Jon Lovitz was brought in for season 5 the whole thing fell apart, not unpredictably (the year was 1998 and Lovitz was already well on the downturn of a less than illustrious career in tomfoolery – probably his best role since then was an un-credited role in the mediocre movie The Wedding Singer the same year). Phil Hartman’s murder might have also had a dampening effect on the whole thing….
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed many other sitcoms over the years… Well, actually that’s not a genuine statement. It’d be more honest to say that I’ve WATCHED a lot of sitcoms over the years but have enjoyed very few (enjoying shows like Family Matters and Full House as an adolescent doesn’t count). In any case, News Radio stood out in a class of its own. Its unique mixture of slapstick and rhetorical humor was pioneered elsewhere and attempted in many other shows, but was never pitched as perfectly.
Overall TV is getting better, but network television still sucks. It has always sucked really, but we had way fewer options before. Now, with cable channels like AMC and HBO pouring money into making better shows, the bar for TV is rising. However, most network television shows still stay well below it. News Radio was definitively above the bar in its day, and still stands out as above the bar of what we usually see on network television now. How exactly it was able to accomplish that within the confines of a… well, let’s be honest, shitty… format (laugh track sitcoms) is beyond me. It’s a testament to the writing and the actors involved that it was able to transcend its imposed borders.
And an ensemble cast never looked so good: Lisa and Dave’s relationship was always treated just as ridiculous as it seemed; eccentric billionaire Jimmy James was the prototype for 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy; Matthew Brock will go down in history as the least offensive and most hilarious character ever played by Andy Dick; Khandi Alexander as Catherine Duke was the perfect counterpoint to the shamelessly self-aggrandizing Bill McNeal; Beth’s over the top incompetence made her no less endearing; and I love the UFC, but Joe Rogan’s TV career peaked with his role as Joe …what was that last name again?
And the show never took itself too seriously, a mistake made in the later years of many popular sitcoms. Hell they even turned a network mandated funeral episode into a farce by eulogizing a rat and throwing it in an incinerator.
Anyway, to make a long story short, News Radio kicked ass. If you’ve never seen it, you need to see it.
If you saw it and you didn’t like it, you are wrong.