The FX anti-comedies strike again.
I waited and waited and waited for a laugh while watching the premiere episodes of two FX comedies premiering this week. When they ended, I was still waiting.
As one whose work depends on the precise application of words, I object to either of these two shows being designated as “comedies.” They don’t play like comedies to me. They are slice-of-life shows, you might say. Or perhaps we should describe them as half-hour dramas. If that’s the case, one of them isn’t bad, while the other one is awful.
Ironically, both shows are made by people associated with TV comedy. For the first one, titled “Atlanta,” Donald Glover is executive producer and also the star. You might recognize him from “Community,” in which he played a college student.
In the other show, titled “Better Things,” the star and executive producer is Pamela Adlon, who is best known these days for her recurring appearances in Louis C.K.’s FX comedy called “Louie.” He is an executive producer of this show too. He is also involved in the FX clown sitcom called “Baskets,” which premiered last winter and was also terrible. As many people know, Louis C.K. is a very funny man. So why does he make these “comedy” TV shows that aren’t funny? I have no idea.
In “Atlanta” (premiering Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 10 p.m. Eastern on FX), Glover plays a young ne’er-do-well who seeks to glom on to his cousin’s success as a rising star in the Atlanta rap world. In the premiere episode of this “comedy,” the two get arrested for attempted murder. Like, for real.
The rapper -- stage name Paper Boi (seen at left in the picture above) -- actually shoots another guy in a confrontation in a convenience store parking lot. I know -- hilarious, right?
The entire premiere episode of “Atlanta” seems to be an exercise in exposition in which we are made privy to the particulars of this young man’s life -- from his relationship to the mother of his young daughter to his parents, who don’t trust him enough to let him in their front door.
And by the way, a conversation on their front stoop includes his mother’s in-depth analysis of the contents of a bowel movement he left in their toilet. As Jerry Seinfeld once said in exasperation on his show (which was possibly the funniest TV comedy ever made): “Help me, Rhonda!”
Well, here’s a memo to Donald Glover and other would-be creators of shows like this: Exposition is boring, especially when it is offered up at the expense of everything else -- most notably, funny stuff.
The fact is, the bowel movement scene notwithstanding, I liked “Atlanta,” but not as a comedy. Calling this show a comedy is a misnomer, if not an outright lie.
The same can be said for “Better Things,” whose very title begs the question: Better than what? A punch in the face? A stick in the eye? What?
In “Better Things” (premiering Thursday, Sept. 8, at 10 p.m. Eastern on FX), Adlon plays a single, sad sack, working mom with three daughters. The worst of them is the eldest, a teen who looks to be about 16 or so. As we’ve seen countless times in numerous other contemporary scripted shows -- comedies, dramas or who-knows-whats such as this show -- this daughter treats her mother like a servant and a doormat.
In the premiere episode I watched, Mom never whacks her across the face or otherwise gets the better of her -- something most viewers will hope for, but not receive. In fact, they will receive no entertainment of any kind by watching this show unless they are in that very special group of people who actually accept that a show like this can be considered a comedy.
For example, I read one review this week that carried the subhed: “In the tradition of ‘Louie,’ two strong debut series reinforce FX’s comedy brand and redefine the half-hour sitcom.” Now that’s funny!
“Redefine the half-hour sitcom”? As what? Comedies as non-comedies? Well, if that’s FX’s comedy brand, then I don’t have high hopes for the comedies on FX. The critic who wrote that asinine review, and other idiots, are all welcome to watch these shows all they want. Unlike them, I know a comedy when I see one. And I didn’t see one when I watched either “Atlanta” or “Better Things.”