Saturday, January 26, 2013

What Buckwild taught me about life

MTV has somewhat of a talent for churning out really dumb reality shows about equally dumb and otherwise unimportant people. Okay, maybe that's a little harsh; after all, I did enjoy Laguna Beach back in the day, and a lot of the kids on that show were actually all right. Teen Mom is full of annoying, childish girls, but I plant myself in front of the TV every Monday night to watch it anyway. And even Snooki has become a bit more tolerable since becoming a mom.

Please don't tell anyone I said something nice about Snooki. (source)

The network's newest show, Buckwild, is a bizarre combination of Jersey Shore, Laguna Beach, and Jackass. I should also mention that it takes place in West Virginia, the same state where all of the Wrong Turn movies have been set. (I should clarify that there is absolutely nothing wrong with West Virginia or its residents, though I'm not sure the show exactly gives the state a good name.)
I started watching the show a couple of weeks ago, when I was still recovering from wisdom teeth removal and my brain couldn't really handle anything too intellectually stimulating. It took me several viewings just to figure out what exactly the show was about and why I should care. It reminds me of the famous "car accident" simile: You want to look away, you know you probably should look away, but for some reason you just keep staring.
And hey, the show does have some good points. In last week's episode, one particular cast member, a cute blonde named Shae, was front and center. After multiple alleged cheating incidents, Shae has finally broken things off with her loser boyfriend, Jesse, and is now single and ready to mingle. She ends up going to a birthday party for another cast member, Joey, where they hook up. Joey is a cute kid; MTV's website describes him as having a "Justin Bieber haircut," and he seems interesting enough. But for whatever reason, it just might not be in the cards for them. After their night out, Joey calls Shae and asks to hang out again. "It's not your birthday," she replies. "So no."
But Joey isn't too shaken up by this. "Sometimes you've got to fail to succeed," he insists.
Now, maybe Joey really wasn't that into Shae to begin with, or maybe he knows he can easily find another girl who actually wants to hang out with him. Or maybe he's just got the right attitude. So many people refuse to go after the things (or, in this case, people) they really want for fear of failure. And failure is really scary, as is success -- what if you can't live up to people's expectations? But you have to fail to succeed sometimes, so you're either going to a.) Fail a few times and later succeed, if you persist or b.) Not try anything and fail by default. Or, worst case scenario, you could continuously fail until you finally throw in the towel, or succeed and not live up to expectations and end up failing anyway. But is that really so much worse than sitting around on the couch doing nothing?

I haven't watched the latest episode yet, but the previews suggest that Shae finally does give Joey a chance after all. So, you know, persistence does pay off sometimes.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What makes a good comedy?

I'll be the first to admit that comedy isn't exactly my specialty. Lots of people attempt it, but very few actually succeed. I think people get the impression that comedy is easy because it's so easy to laugh when you're in a small group with friends and/or peers. But getting a larger audience to laugh along with you is much harder.
I won't pretend to be an expert, but I have noticed a few things that make the good jokes stand out from the bad.

1. Characters in a comedy don't know they're funny, and they don't usually try to be.
I'm sitting here as I type this in front of my TV watching, as I do most nights, The Big Bang Theory. It's one of the top rated comedies on television, and for good reason -- it's really funny, and it's got really interesting and funny characters. But have you noticed something about the characters in sitcoms and even a lot of movies? They rarely, if ever, laugh along with the audience. That's because they're not trying to be funny.
If you've ever watched the show, you know that the most unintentionally funny character is probably Sheldon Cooper. Most of us love watching Sheldon fumble his way through life and social situations, even though we would probably stay as far away from his as possible were he a real person. Sheldon sees himself as decidedly un-funny, and his attempts at humor (and inappropriate reactions to other people's humor) are most of the show's charm.

2. Comedy is all about the unexpected.
The other night, I watched another Big Bang episode in which the guys are taking part in a robot competition. They build a rather unruly robot that ends up crashing through their door -- right at the moment that Penny is walking up the steps, having a normal phone conversation. Penny, caught unawares, goes from talking about her Saturday night plans one second to screaming her head off the next.
There's a YouTube video floating around on the internet that was created by PineSol. You know, the company whose commercials feature the proverbial "pine sol lady." The people featured in the video, commonly known as the "pine sol lady prank" (at least that's what came up when I googled it), think they're part of a routine product test until...well, just watch.

We laugh at that because it's unexpected. Sure, we know after a minute that the pine sol lady is going to jump out and scare the daylights out of these people. But they don't expect it, and consequently go from calm to hysterical in a nanosecond.

3. Something about what's funny rings true to life.
Like most of the American female population under 30, I absolutely love Mean Girls. The reason I think it's so popular and has (so far) stood the test of time is that it's much more believable than other teen movies. All of the sneaking around, talking about friends behind their back and being nice to their faces? That's a much more accurate portrayal of how girls often treat each other than the movies where a popular girl confronts a lowly wallflower. Mean Girls is funny because it's true.

Any other examples of great comedy and why it works?