Monday, November 18, 2019

TV: Comedy really is hard

Comedy is hard -- as THE UNICORN proves every week on Thursdays.  CBS is far luckier on Monday nights when BOB HEARS ABISHOLA airs.


The latest sitcom from Chuck Lorre stars Billy Gardell and Folake Olowofoyeku.  Billy played Mike on MIKE & MOLLY, a hugely successful Chuck Lorre sitcom that resulted in movie stardom for Melissa McCarthy and TV stardom for Katy Mixon who went from supporting player to the lead in ABC's AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE which is now in its fourth season.  Nyambi Nyambi was also in the cast of MIKE & MOLLY and he's gone on to THE GOOD FIGHT where he might get recognized for his strong work were it not for the racism of CBS ALL ACCESS which uses every promo to promote the problematic Christine Baranski -- problematic and White -- while ignoring anyone in the cast who happened to be Black.  Promo after promo features Christine (usually repeatedly using a religious figure's name in vain) and silent actors of color who apparently are not to speak when a White woman's in the room.

Chuck Lorre's surrounded the leads of BOB HEARTS ABISHOLA with strong actors -- like Christine Ebersole (former SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE cast member who went on to win two Tony awards for her work on Broadway), Matt Jones (probably best known as Baxter on MOM), Shola Adewusi (a British actress many American viewers will be new to), Gina Yashere (also British, a comedian and probably best known for being the British correspondent on THE DAILY SHOW) and Barry Shabaka Henley (whose long career includes marrying River Phoenix and Samantha Power in THE THING CALLED LOVE and roles in other films such as ALI, BULLWORTH, FOUR BROTHERS, THE BIG YEAR, STATE OF PLAY, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME and A STAR IS BORN).  They also have the legendary Vernee Watson-Johnson -- legendary if her history was known.

The woman playing Abishola's friend and fellow nurse Gloria has had a wide ranging career.  She voiced Dee Dee on the Saturday morning classic CAPTAIN CAVEMAN AND THE TEEN ANGELS and voicing Dee Dee on SCOOBY'S ALL-STAR LAFF-A-LYMPICS.  Additional voice work includes the animated films G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE, THE LEGEND OF FROSTY THE SNOWMAN, THE ANT BULLY, BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM and BATMAN: RETURN OF THE JOKER.  For 13 episodes of WELCOME BACK KOTTER, she was Freddie Boom-Boom Washington's girlfriend Verna Jean Williams.  She was Patrice on SISTER, SISTER and Nurse Althea on six episode of THE BIG BANG THEORY.  She's won two Daytime Emmy Awards for playing Stella Henry on GENERAL HOSPITAL.  She was in Redd Foxx's 1976 film NORMAN . . . IS THAT YOU? -- where Redd discovers his son Norman (Michael Warren) is gay, and she appeared in the blaxplotation classics COTTON COMES TO HARLEM and TRICK BABY.  She had a significant role in what is both Barbra Streisand's biggest bomb at the box office and also one of the most interesting films Barbra's ever made ALL NIGHT LONG (also featuring Gene Hackman, Diane Ladd and Dennis Quaid).  For most TV viewers, she's Will Smith's mother Vy on THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR.

BOB HEARTS ABISHOLA has a strong cast.  The writing is getting there -- most sitcoms are better at the end of their first season than at the start of their first season -- and it supplies many laughs.  Again, if you think that's easy and automatic to do, try sitting through THE UNICORN.

As we were speaking on campuses last week, the sitcom and writing became two topics that were repeatedly brought up.

It was noted -- often -- how so many sitcoms were added to the schedules of various networks this fall and how few of them were even remotely funny.

But what started out as just a critique over the form (most students who spoke to us felt that the single-cam sitcom was never that funny to begin with and is now played out) became something much more.

Creating real characters that are unique isn't easy.  And if you've created them, the students believe, you deserve praise -- not punishment.

Yes, they were talking about Roseanne Barr.

We warned this would not play out the way ABC execs wanted.  We told you the backlash that followed would favor Roseanne.  We support Roseanne, yes.  That's not why we said it.  We said it because we could see what was happening.

Roseanne's insult joke about Valerie Jarrett was not intended as anti-Black -- mainly because, like many people at that time, Roseanne Barr wasn't aware that Jarrett was Black.

For those who somehow missed it, Roseanne is a ground breaking comic who transferred successfully to TV with the sitcom ROSEANNE.  A ratings powerhouse on ABC, the show was based on Roseanne's own life.  She fought repeatedly to preserve her vision.  She also fought for other things, like keeping Sara Gilbert on the show when ABC execs wondered if they couldn't find an actress less "dykey."  Roseanne stood up for Sarah and protected her job.

Fade out, fade in.  We're decades later and ABC needs a hit -- hell, TV period needs a hit.  So ROSEANNE is brought back.  Some are having fits because Rosanne supports Donald Trump.  If you're allowed to support Hillary, someone else is allowed to support Donald.  Grow the hell up already.  But this was a huge crime -- especially for ABC's Channing Dungey -- who's so good at fetching coffee at NETFLIX now.

The show was a success.  Those who focused on the actual show, praised it.  Roseanne was not preaching love Donald.  There were free flowing conversations taking place on the series and real issues were being addressed -- including the opiod crisis, including the tying of work to health care, including the demonizing and fear of Muslims, so much was taking place.

The rebooted show was breaking ground the same way the original ROSEANNE had.

It was also the highest rated show ABC had -- the highest rated show broadcast TV is.

Then Roseanne Tweeted that Valerie Jarrett was a cross between the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes.  This was judged racist by those screaming the loudest.

Roseanne was savaged online by many.  In the time since, some of her attackers have had troubles of their own.  Wanda Sykes, for example, has been booed for some of her jokes and audience members have walked out.  Wanda wants you to know it's all so unfair and wrong.

Really, Wanda?  A) We'll have sympathy for you when the day comes that you're not telling 'jokes' about your toddler son's wiping habits -- 'jokes' that will follow him for the rest of his life.  B) You had no sympathy for Roseanne Barr.

Reality: Rosanne's entire career goes to the fact that she's not racist and she's not homophobic and she's been a leader on social issues more than anyone.

But Wanda and a lot of others (Whitney Cummings, we'll never say another kind word about you and we're really glad you're discovering your career is over) turned on Roseanne and attacked her.

It was all out of control.

Channing rushed to announce that ABC was cancelling the show because of Roseanne's Tweet.  (This after she and others urged Roseanne to be silent, that they were handling things.  They weren't.  They just wanted to be sure they controlled the narrative.)

The whole world came down on Roseanne for one Tweet.  And when people attempted to defend Roseanne (Jerry Seinfeld and Norm Crosby among them), these people were attacked.

Sara Gilbert led the public attacks.

And it wasn't enough to portray Roseanne as racist, she was also someone who was destroying lives, putting people out of work!

We've seen that before.  FOX used it on Marilyn Monroe when they tried to silence her.  She -- the studio insisted -- was the reason everyone on SOMETHING'S GOT TO GIVE lost their jobs.

ABC tried the same stunt and it was to destroy Roseanne Barr, yes, but it was also to try to steal the golden egg.

Roseanne was forced -- and it was force and coercion and we'd argue that would stand up as a defense in court -- to sign away the rights to the characters she had created.

ABC and the hideous Sara Gilbert then had what they really wanted -- a well known show with loved characters and they could claim ownership of it.  Even though they didn't create it.

Sara is such a bitch that she used her producer role to then kill off Roseanne's character and to do so in a way that Roseanne Barr found offensive.

Sara's a cunning bitch but, too bad for her, the American people are smarter.

THE CONNERS has never had the popularity of the rebooted ROSEANNE.

And as each unfunny episode airs, people talk and people remember.

That's what's harming Sara and that's what she should worry about.

ABC was behind it and Sara helped them.  But "ABC" is faceless.  So Sarah bears the brunt of the public hostility.

If Roseanne Barr is a racist -- as Sara and ABC have argued -- why are the characters she created still on TV?

If Roseanne had to be purged from the network, why keep her characters?

Roseanne's not a racist.  She's a loving person who has political beliefs that we disagree with and she's never tried to silence people like us who disagree with her.  Even on her reboot, she was happy to have any and all opinions offered up.  She was about conversations, not silences.

Sara Gilbert has always been about silences.  Remember, she was the mother of two children with her wife, and the youngest was five-years-old, before Sara could say she was a lesbian.  Think about the shame and self-hatred there.  She's got two kids with two Mommys and she can't admit she's gay?  Should you even be allowed to have children with your same sex partner if you can't admit you're gay?  She didn't just live in the closet, she forced her wife and their kids to live in it as well.

Self-loathing Sara thinks the best storyline for season two was three men all being in love with her character Darlene.  She's whittled it down to two for season three.

When you compare her hideous offscreen life in the closet with her portrayals and grasp that she's never played a lesbian, you get some deep-deep self-hatred.

Add to that the fact that she failed over and over on TV after ROSEANNE.  TWINS only lasted one season.  The cast of THE BIG BANG THEORY found her annoying which is why she got dropped there.  Then there was THE CLASS which had her playing the wife of a pre-MODERN FAMILY Jesse Tyler Ferguson.  Like TWINS, it only lasted one season.

Darlene's her only real success.

Well, Darlene on ROSEANNE is her only real success.  She's played every role the same and that's really sad when you grasp that she started playing Darlene when she was a child actress and now she's 44-years-old and she's still delivering the same performance.

Students kept bringing up that these were Roseanne's characters and how, if she needed to be punished for a Tweet, how did that justify stripping her of her rights?

This does not end pretty for Sara or ABC but, again, ABC is faceless to the public.  Sara isn't.  She's a so-so actress who doesn't really pass for photogenic and who hasn't really accomplished anything since she was a teenager all those years ago.  She depends upon the public's good will and interest to have a career.

Right now the move against Sara is taking place.  We don't mean THE CONNERS being a floundering ratings mess (it is, though, it is).  We mean the public is re-evaluating and they're turning their anger at Sara.

Now we long ago documented Bash The Bitch -- the American pastime.  And we do have sympathy for most women who become the target of that game.  Most.  A woman who used Bash The Bitch against another woman -- the way Sara did against Roseanne -- is a bitch who's on her own.

Sara couldn't create a popular character, so she had to steal one.  That's the only reason she's on prime time TV right now.  She knows it and the public increasingly knows it.

As we said at the top, comedy's hard.  And creating characters that feel real and original is hard.  BOB HEARTS ABISHOLA proves that it can be done.  Sara Gilbert's lack of a successful career from 1997 to 2018 demonstrates that it's not done very often.

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