In the past few years I've become a very selective TV viewer. I don't have lots of time or patience for what passes for entertainment anymore. I demand either clever writing, character development and scripting (Mad Men, SOA), or induced belly laughs (Modern Family). I really want the belly laughs because TV's supposed to be an escape, right? But those genuinely funny moments are harder and harder to find. In fact, the hardest I've laughed since watching Bridesmaids was about a week ago when Mr. D and I watched an episode of Duck Dynasty. (Seriously, those rednecks with the ZZ Top beards tickle my funny bone--and the ending, where Willie reflects on the big lesson of the day reminds me of how each episode of Little House on the Prairie ended with Laura's monologue moment.) While I was doubled over, tears welling in my eyes, I realized Something Huge. This Something Huge is my new litmus test for any TV show.
If a TV show has a laugh track, it's going to suck.
Like every rule, this one has an exception--only one--and that's because Neil Patrick Harris (secret gay boyfriend #1) stars in it. I'm not quitting How I Met Your Mother, but from here on out, if I hear the canned laughter essentially telling the audience, "this part is funny, you should laugh NOW," I'm turning it off.
The laugh track has become a widely abused device over the past 7 years, in large part to gloss over completely shitty writing and fool audiences into thinking rehashed one-liners are hilarious. As a writer who tries hard to generate honest humor in her own writing, I regard the laugh track with contempt, a lazy person's tool. I'm an intelligent woman wanting smart, clever, funny and sharp writing and if TV wants my attention, the writers and producers better start putting out or I'm tuning out.
I don't care if the hottest new series of the season stars Jason Bateman, Alec Baldwin and Helen Mirren. If the producers include a laugh track I'm not watching. I'm getting my giggle fix off the truly funny shows that trust viewers to pick up on humor (Modern Family, The Middle) or shows that are unintentionally funny (Duck Dynasty, Pawn Stars).
Spill it, reader. Is this litmus test money or what?