Fox's Comedy Dilemma: Why Aren't 'Raising Hope' And 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' More Successful?
I'm not talking about “Dads,” arguably one of the most disappointing comedies on television today and one that deserves its crummy numbers. Or “New Girl,” which this season has lost whatever easygoing charm it once had and is suffering for it. Or “The Mindy Project,” a comedy that never had any easygoing charm to begin with.
I’m referring instead to “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Raising Hope” and “Enlisted” -- three shows that by all accounts should be entirely more successful than they are.
It’s not enough to explain away the plight of these three shows with a reminder that their audiences grow considerably when other platforms are factored in, especially their VOD and live+7 numbers. All shows grow to some degree in their additional plays. That’s the new reality of television. But there are still plenty of comedies that do quite well and get a lot of attention with their first-run prime-time telecasts, especially on CBS and ABC (and in happier times, NBC).
Fox had that experience in recent years with “New Girl,” and years earlier, with “That ‘70s Show” and the wildly under-appreciated “Malcolm in the Middle.” But this season it’s as if Fox’s comedies are premiering and playing in some shadow world where nobody wants to go -- they are shows people get around to watching when they have nothing better to do.
This simply makes no sense.
Now in its fourth season, “Raising Hope” has since its premiere in 2010 been one of the smartest, funniest, most character-rich comedies on any network. I like to think that in an alternate universe this show receives the kind of audience support and industry acclaim that ABC’s “Modern Family” and CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” continue to enjoy. Series lead Martha Plimpton has at least been recognized with an Emmy nomination for her work, as has supporting actress Cloris Leachman, who hasn’t been so perfectly cast in a role since her portrayal of Phyllis Lindstrom on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” I have always thought that the reason this show never really exploded in the ratings is that it doesn’t have a single person on its canvas that serves as a point of entry for viewers into the looney-tune world its characters inhabit. In short, everyone on the show is nuts. They’re all very funny, but maybe there should have been an identifiable “straight” person at the center to give it balance. It’s a little late to call for such changes at this point in its run, but it’s never too late to binge and enjoy. This is a show that deserves to continue.
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was widely regarded as having had the best pilot of any new comedy last fall at the start of the 2013-14 season, and earlier this week it was honored with a Golden Globe award for Best Comedy Series. (The Globes aren’t necessarily important in the grand scheme of things, but still … “Brooklyn” was up against “Arrested Development,” “Modern Family,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Parks and Recreation,” and every one of them seemed to be a more likely candidate to take home the award.) Furthermore, series lead Andy Samberg was named Best Actor in a Comedy Series. “Brooklyn” is also distinguished by hilarious supporting work from Andre Braugher, one of television’s most well-respected dramatic actors, and Terry Crews, one of television’s funniest. So why isn’t “Brooklyn” a breakout hit? The problem might be that it is too snarky for its own good. Busy young bloggers love their snark and can’t seem to get enough, but the rest of the world doesn’t seem to share their insatiable appetite for it. In other words, snark gets old. All complaints aside, “Brooklyn” has so much going for it right now that a long healthy run seems like a sure bet. Now if only its numbers would improve.
“Enlisted,” a struggling new series seemingly doomed to an early demise on Fox’s Friday night lineup (where “Raising Hope” is also suffering), is another matter. It’s not a great sitcom like “Raising Hope” or a likely award winner like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” but it is a sweet, funny and relatively low-snark show about three brothers stationed at the same fictional Florida military base. Sadly, Fox hasn’t seen fit to nestle it in the network’s Tuesday comedy lineup, where it wouldn’t necessarily have an easy ride, but it wouldn’t have the deck stacked against it, either. That’s a real shame, because this is a show to nurture. The three-way chemistry between Geoff Stults, Parker Young and Chris Lowell, who play the three brothers, is a rare thing on television and worth developing. I think it might help if the show loosened up a bit and added more goofball humor without losing any of its overriding charm.