Donald Trump was a joke, and a pretty funny one at that.
A year and a half ago, a country, along with a fleet of comedians, laughed as a reality TV star famous for racism, sexism, and firing B-list celebrities announced his candidacy for the highest political office in the United States. We laughed about his tiny hands, we laughed about his crazy hair, we laughed about his taco bowls, and we laughed about his racism, homophobia and misogyny. The whole thing seemed too absurd to be real, and laughter appeared to be the appropriate response. It felt like Donald Trump’s candidacy was a gift from the political comedy gods, sent for our amusement during a tedious election cycle with a seemingly predetermined result. But once the laughter finally quieted down, a greater truth revealed itself: Not everyone was laughing. Now, a year and a half later, a racist, homophobic, misogynist, former reality TV star is next in line for the Presidency, while comedians and audiences alike are left wondering how they let a joke get this far out of hand.
Hollywood is obsessed with the past. Whether it be reboots, remakes, reimaginings, or regurgitations, the biggest trend in blockbuster filmmaking is to dust up old properties and revamp them for the present. Essentially, movie studios are cashing in on the public’s nostalgia for the stories they grew up with. Just this year alone, audiences have seen new iterations of Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Jungle Book, Tarzan, Independence Day, Star Trek, and Alice In Wonderland, just to name a few. While some elitist pop-culture snobs like myself might complain about the lack originality in blockbuster filmmaking these days, there is very little reason for Hollywood to change this philosophy. Financially, existing franchises and properties are more reliable bets for box office success. Additionally, funding truly new and unique ideas is a risk no matter the scale, and making an original big-budget blockbuster is an even bigger one. So, if movie executives are choosing between green-lighting a $120 million reboot of a story they know people love or an equally expensive original film with no established audience, it’s easy to understand why the original ideas are losing out.
But what if these two seemingly opposite ideas could be merged? What if we could combine the built-in audiences of stories past, with the originality of stories future? Wouldn’t that be, to complete the “Christmas Carol” metaphor, the perfect way to create stories present?
It’s easy to be skeptical of the idea, after all it’s admittedly a bit outlandish, but stick with me for a couple paragraphs, I’ve seen Stranger Things come true.
Sitcoms are simple. I know that sounds kind of odd coming from someone who has written a frankly embarrassing amount of articles analyzing the medium, but they really are. A group of people, either a family or friends/coworkers who function as a sort of family, gets themselves caught in a situation and hilarity ensues (Hence the name, situation comedy). Storytelling wise, a sitcom is as formulaic and simplistic as they come.
Over the years, people have tinkered with the formula. The most revolutionary innovation being the introduction of serialized stories, or plots that last longer than one episode. The basic sitcom formula necessitates that all conflicts and plots should be wrapped up in a neat little bow by the end of each episode. Early innovators like Cheers changed the game by telling stories that played out over entire seasons. Those stories weren’t that complex or hard to follow, most of the time they were just standard romantic comedy plots (Boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl likes boy, they don’t get together for what seems like forever, you know how TV romance works).
But the saga of Sam and Diane paved the way for TV comedies to tell more complex stories than ever before. Though that might sound like a good thing, it has become a double edged sword. Some writers are compelled to tell stories that are too complex and lose the comedy (Remember The Comedians?), while others go all-in on one serialized story that doesn’t connect with viewers (Still lookin’ at you, The Comedians). The other side of the coin, however, is TV’s best comedy: HBO’s Silicon Valley