Thursday, January 20, 2011

When Funny Shows Go Sad. Part II.

     I mentioned two of the best sitcoms that have done sad episodes well: Scrubs and 8 Simple Rules.  In general, Scrubs  was great at walking that line quite frequently.  Since it was set in a hospital, it dealt with death frequently.  Also, I think its style helped- it was single camera, with no studio audience / laugh track.  Having a laugh track can kill a sad episode.
     As I mentioned, the 8 Simple Rules episode that turns me into a bawling blubbering fool is the episode they did when John Ritter died.  It was a two parter, titled "Goodbye."  I don't think there were really any laughs in it at all.  It was all very real to them, and that was palpable.  I attempted to find it on YouTube, but that episode is not available. 
     My favorite sad episode of Scrubs is "My Cake," the episode where J.D.'s dad dies.  Then I remembered- John Ritter played J.D.'s dad.  These two things must be linked in my brain.  I have a certain affinity with characters whose dads die, and apparently I have one with shows where John Ritter is the dad. 

     Scrubs is a funnier show than 8 Simple Rules, and "My Cake" is funnier than "Goodbye."  These episodes are actually quite different, however, they both go it right.  It must be something about John Ritter that made them get it right
     Scrubs got it right because it always got things like that right.  It started off with the perfect amount of heart to pull off these ultra sad episodes, but still be funny.  8 Simple Rules had to make a complete tone shift.  It was able to do it, but it had to tread lightly.  I suppose they were given a certain amount of latitude because everyone knew what had happened.  The show couldn't ignore the fact that its star had just died, and quite unexpectedly.  But saying that makes it sound like the episode wasn't any good, and that we ate it up because of the circumstance.  But that's not at all what I'm saying.  It is a great episode.  The circumstances are unfortunate, but I think the raw emotion fueled the writing as well as the performances.
     I've watched it several times, months and years apart, and every time it makes me cry big puppy dog tears for at least an hour.  But the show is still a comedy.  Again, I don't really remember the specifics of the episode well enough to know if there were jokes or a laugh track.  But the show overall maintained its humor, while still dealing with this very serious heartbreaking topic.  And that's the point- it's a tough thing to do, and few do it well.  But those who want to do it could learn a lesson from these two shows.  Or show and this one two-part episode.

If you're curious about the Scrubs episode, it's on YouTube:
My Cake - Part 1.
My Cake - Part 2.
My Cake - Part 3.

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