Passing the Torch: An Emmy Rant to Span the Generations

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When I read the list of Emmy nominations this morning, it didn’t take long for me to don my opinionated blogger cape and get to work listing the praise and criticism I had for this year’s picks.  I scribbled down a quick bulleted list of what I liked and what I didn’t while I was on the clock and called it good.  But when I got home from work and sat down at my laptop to catch up on the rest of the world’s opinions from the day, I realized something interesting about my relationship with the Emmys.  I am always pretty well in agreement with the drama nominations, but the comedies always end up missing the mark to a certain extent.  Why is this?  What makes my taste in good television dramas so similar to the forces behind the Emmys, and why can’t we seem to sync up our laugh-o-meters?

When it comes to Mad Men’s 17 nominations, and Breaking Bad’s equally staggering 13, I’m totally on board.  Please, all of the awards to Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul and John Hamm.  Not to mention, thanks for noticing Jason Ritter on Parenthood, because he was absolutely stellar.  I recognize the greatness of Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey even without being a devoted viewer of either (yet).  But when I reach that OUTSTANDING COMEDY heading, my head tilts slowly to the left.  I skim through the whole list.  There are certainly some redeeming and deserving names.  30 Rock/Tina Fey, Curb Your Enthusiasm/Larry David, Louis C.K., Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, and I’ll even give a nod to Zooey Deschanel and the Modern Family gang.  But honestly, every time I see anything associated with The Big Bang Theory or Two and Half Men, I have to let out an audible sigh.

While I found myself less disappointed this year than last, I still couldn’t manage to really get excited about the comedy nominations.  Community manages to make a disheartening solo appearance in the OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A COMEDY category (“Remedial Chaos Theory” was amazing) and Parks and Rec, while giving Amy Poehler much of the attention she is due, heartlessly skips over Nick Offerman and Adam Scott, (not to mention Paul Rudd made a delightful guest-star).  So where is the disconnect?  I know I’m not alone in lamenting the unsung glories of NBC’s non-30 Rock ensembles.  I can’t be the only one puzzled at 4 supporting actor noms from Modern Family alone (come on guys, just pick a favorite!).  Well here is the best answer I’ve come up with.

Most of the problem is generational.  Whereas in a drama series, we’re all looking for the same thing—an intense storyline with a range of interesting, albeit damaged, characters—in a comedy, different generations have different needs.  My mom will sing the praises of The Big Bang Theory from dawn until dusk, but she has no interest in any of the comedies I so ardently cherish (Parks, Community, The Office, Seinfeld, Curb, etc.).  She believes her generation turns to comedy for something light, something easy, something accessible.  This opened my eyes a bit.  I think many of the twenty-somethings I grew up with find accessibility in television to be a bit of a turn off.  We’re snobs.  We like our top shelf TV, our British humor, our single-camera deadpan mockumentaries.  That kind of humor is widely inaccessible by a generation who experienced comedy through the veins of shows like Mary Tyler Moore and Happy Days, and later Cheers and The Cosby Show.  All of these comedies had a sort of inviting warmth to them.  It made perfect sense to relax at the end of the day with the Huxtables or the Cunninghams.  Today, we get off of work or out of class and our internet connection is slow and our facebook feed won’t refresh so we turn on something as hilariously miserable and cynical as we are.

We’re narcissists.  Our generation turns to comedy to hyperbolize every aspect of our life, from the mundane to the exciting.  Whether we’re stuck in an office job with no upward mobility like Jim Halpert or fueling our amazing writing job in NYC with copious amounts of caffeine like Liz Lemon, or making snarky remarks over movie marathons in our dorm rooms like Troy and Abed, we let our comedy shows become extensions of ourselves.  We live vicariously through these characters who are really caricatures of what we envision our lives to be.  We fancy ourselves as deeply cynical, or wildly successful, or charmingly quick-witted and we like our television to embody these elemental aspects of who we are.  Inversely, our parents used comedy as escapism.  While they turned on the tube at night to get away from the office, to separate themselves from their daytime identities, we emblazon them on our chests.

I could go on, drawing dichotomies between generations X and Y, but what it ultimately boils down to is this: we are after the same things.  We all want to laugh.  And while the Emmy nominations don’t all fall into the hunky-dory category, I would argue that they are stand-ins for the shows our generation wants to see in those spots.  Many of our best-loved shows right now are enjoyed largely online and by a group of ultra-tech-savvy-post-grads who can do everything in creating a cult following but are largely powerless to impact ratings or award trophies.  So I am calling for a passing of the torch.  Let the voices of a new generation be heard.  Put down the Nielsen ratings and start tracking Netflix and Hulu subscriptions.  I think it’s time the award show is allowed to speak for the generation it most widely represents.  Now who’s with me?

#sixseasonsandamovie

PS-

At least we all have John Hamm, right?

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12 Responses to “Passing the Torch: An Emmy Rant to Span the Generations”

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  2. Oh my. Nobody should like Charlie. Sincerely, Reds Woman.

  3. thecrescentgirlingreen Reply July 21, 2012 at 6:01 am

    Umm.. I disagree… a bit. I like the Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. But I guess that’s because of my lifestyle. As a college student, I rarely have time for normal television, so whenever I plop down to watch something that’s not work related (hey, watching the news counts as homework for a Pol Sci Major) I guess watching something like TBBT and TaaHM helps relax me. Plus, come on… who DOESN’T love Sheldon and Charlie?

  4. Incredibly insightful. As a member of the generation that likes a nice “accessible” sitcom, I find your perspective interesting. Yes, Big Bang makes me laugh. I like the characters and the dialogue are clever and witty. And you’re right, the cynicism of my grown children’s generation is not something I find all that entertaining. At least not in a sitcom. But remember, I grew up, not only on Mary Tyler Moore and Happy Days, but also M*A*S*H and All in the Family. (Pretty edgy stuff for its day.) The difference was that those comedies pushed the envelope, but with a distinct purpose. And the Emmy’s of the day got on board because that comedy was the catalyst for social change. My parents laughed at Archie Bunker’s off-color ranting, because it was satire, and therefore acceptable. Ricky Gervais throwing out six f-bombs in a four sentence paragraph, on the other hand, may be funny, but it also makes me a little uncomfortable and it doesn’t seem to be, at least in most cases, all that necessary. Not that I think it is wrong or unacceptable, it just sort of makes me cringe.
    Of course, I realize that network television is not blatantly obscene. The point I am trying to make is that the edgy, cynical humor is just something that does not leave me feeling good, which is precisely what I am looking for in entertainment.

    Still, I am not completely out of touch with your taste and line of thinking. For example, when I first started watching House, several years ago, it was agony for me.. I had a terrible time getting invested in this character who was clearly an ass, and probably beyond redemption. But in time I was drawn in, and eventually became a die-hard fan because the story-lines were smart and funny and there was an underlying human-ness in the character of Gregory House that made me want to get to know him better. It will not be as easy with

    Of course, comedy is different. I am looking for something to make me laugh and relax, and I can’t do that if I am uncomfortable with the characters or the subject matter. But talent like Tina Fey and Joel McHale will eventually win me over. So don’t give up on the Emmy’s just yet. Hang in there and be patient. Your generation will eventually win everyone over, and the old-school, warm fuzzies that were the calling card of my generation’s sit-coms will fall out of favor. And you can be sure that the material you love will eventually eventually be replaced with something that makes you cringe just a bit. But not to worry, your kids will love it, and by that time, I’ll be long gone.

  5. I was having a conversation about the Emmy nominations with a friend yesterday. We remarked about how the big three networks (NBC, CBS and ABC) are beginning to show how much we don’t need them anymore.

    The Newsroom? Game of Thrones? Breaking Bad? The Walking Dead? Mad Men? Veep? Girls? Curb Your Enthusiasm? Downton Abbey?

    Not one of those are produced by the big three. Best Drama Series, Best Miniseries or TV Movie all do not have a single nominee from the major networks. Passing the torch indeed, to cable networks.

    In the comedy category I want Modern Family to win. The format is feeling cheesier every episode because the confessional documentary style just isn’t very believable anymore but I feel it’s the only network sitcom that has a fighting chance in that category. If Big Bang Theory wins, I just don’t think I can have respect for the Emmy voters.

    The reality/competition category was created in 2003 and eight of the nine times since then Amazing Race has won. Guess what, it’s also nominated for an Emmy this year. American Idol didn’t make the cut this year, nor did X-Factor, America’s Got Talent or most of the reality crap that takes up the airwaves most nights of the week yet that’s what the big three networks continue to program with. I know their hurting as millions of viewers flock to Netflix and cable but they’re never gonna win me back with this offering.

    Other favorites of mine include Louis C.K. for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, Amy Poehler for Actress in a Comedy Series, Bill Hader or Ty Burell for Best Supporting Comedy Actor, Kristen Wiig for Best Supporting Comedy Actress, Breaking Bad for Best Drama.

    Also, one last favorite. Regular Show for Best Short-form Animated Series. I don’t mean to brag, I don’t mean to boast, but here’s some hummus for these mini-toasts.

  6. On further reflection, I think a major part of Modern Family’s success is the fact that it bridges the generational gap. It has a good mix of current styles, and a touch of cynicism, but is careful to balance that with an uplifting message in the end.

  7. I think this is something I’ve always felt was true, but have never actually put words to it. It really makes perfect sense. No matter how many times I try to convince my parents that Arrested Development is the greatest comedy ever made, they just don’t get it.

  8. I don’t think Community and Parks and Rec are cynical. What I love about Parks and Rec is Leslie Knope’s endless optimism, sometimes over-obssessive optimism. Both Community and Parks and Rec are about a group of friends who are a surrogate family, who stick through whatever happens, be it a local election, or a coupe by Chang.

    These are both just really good shows.

    • I definitely agree with you that those two shows aren’t cynical inherently. Leslie Knope is a ball of sunshine and positivity, I actually wrote about that exact thing here:(http://abigpicturewindow.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/leslie-knope-the-shining-star-of-pawnee/). But I think the show manages to utilize cynicism humorously in the form of April Ludgate and Ron Swanson. We like to laugh at uncomfortable situations, which I feel is a novelty for our generation. Community showcases aspects of our generations cynicism I think, most of all through Jeff Winger. You’re right, in the end they are both feel-good shows, but I think some of the jokes and the perspectives of certain characters lend themselves to this notion that our generation is projecting our jaded, cynical, quippy, witty, pop-culture-reference-filled feelings and opinions onto these characters, and in doing so, we end up with something so self-referential that it’s hard not to view it through at least a somewhat cynical lens. Run-on sentences!

      I totally agree with you about the surrogate families though, and I’m glad the consensus is that these are both really great shows! Thanks for your comment! :)

  9. *is not because I am miserable, cynic, and narcissistic

  10. I would say that drama has its own generational gap as well. My parents idea of good dramatic television is NCIS or Law and Order, which in its own way represents light, easy, accessible drama.

    And most likely because I hate referring to myself as such, I really hope my love of Community, Louie, and the like is because I am miserable, cynic, and narcissistic. ;)

  11. This is incredible insightful. The best thing I’ve read in a while.

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