At the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Forum at this year’s NYTVF, Phil Rosenthal (Everybody Loves Raymond) told new writers one of the most common notes he got from executives was to make his characters “likable.”
We all know broadcast TV loves likable leads, but the cable revolution showed us how some unlikability makes things more interesting — this might be HBO’s greatest contribution to TV history, with Larry Sanders, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Sopranos making strong cases for complicated characters.
That tradition is alive and well online, and four comedy pilots screened at the fest proved it.
Readers of this blog might remember Matthew Kirsch’s duder, one of my favorite series with a gay lead, which explores the misadventures of Glen (Kirsch), Ricky (Alden Ford) and their friends in New York City. Kirsch’s protagonists are well-intentioned but occasionally, and humorously, inappropriate. In the episode screened at NYTVF, Ricky calls his college friend a “jackass” on his Facebook wall on the day his mother died — hijinks, including an accidental outing, ensue. The New York audience really liked the episode and duder won best comedy pilot at the fest.
In the tradition of Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Weatherman is an Australian series about a hapless, aging meteorologist with radically different-sized feet and a predilection for unintentionally racist comments. The weatherman’s inability to keep his foot out of his mouth made my laugh and squirm at the time. I tend to not watch awkward sitcoms — shows like Curb give me too much anxiety — but The Weatherman was tightly written enough to please fans of relentless comedic discomfort.
Tai Fauci and Patrick Breen‘s Whole Day Down, which has been making the festival rounds, is a sitcom starring Breen and Willie Garson (as themselves) as they attempt to transition from acting to the art world by producing exhibits one day a month at a gallery space. As the series progresses, the pair’s experiment descends farther and farther into chaos. The intentionally strange show has a touch of gloom and inanity that seems quite in step with where most ambitious comedies are headed these days (Workaholics, Always Sunny, Louie, etc.). Director and veteran acing coach Dan Fauci said in a post-screening Q&A the producers are pitching the show’s episodes to TV networks as possible interstitials.
Unfortunately I cannot say much about the fourth pilot in this comedy block, Fishy Business, as I came in late to the screening. From what I saw, however, the show is efficient and inventive, with a sleek look and intriguing concept about selling out in the ailing music industry.