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US Television. Where to start.

January 14, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

There is a lot of TV in America. The TV schedules are huge. There is so much to get stuck into, but unfortunately if you live in the UK (like I do) American TV is American, in America, which is really faraway and not massively accessible.

So, where do you start? Well, here is a beginners guide to current American TV comedy. (this isn’t a history lesson and stays well away from late night TV comedy chat shows, as well as SNL as that is not beginners stuff)

This is how to get an obsession with American TV started.

There are the obvious less legal routes, but I’m not going to talk about that. Rather, amazon.co.uk is going to be your new favourite site. Not only is it the best place to find stuff, I’ve also found it’s the cheapest. The first thing your going to need is a multi region DVD player, but don’t worry – they are incredibly cheap. Search Amazon for DVD players, look at the cheapest ones, check the comments. More often than not the instructions on how to hack the DVD player are mentioned in the comments. Eventually, with a few clicks you will have no trouble finding a nice, cheap, hackable DVD player. Buy it, hack it and start watching.

So, what are you going to watch first? Well, luckily some of the best shows can also be picked up nice and cheap. Some are even available in the UK, so it’s best to take advantage of that first – and start with the big two right now, The Office and 30 Rock.

Not only are both shows big favourites of mine, they are favourites of lots of people. Both have acquired countless awards, garner huge viewerships and create national celebrities. Both also, despite being ‘heard of’ in the UK, and have been shown are hidden in the most obscure places in the TV schedule. They’ve both only manage to gain cult status in the UK, and despite that being a huge injustice, the following in the US is more than enough to carry both shows in to many seasons.

The Office. A show inspired by the now legendary British show, the American version is now well into it’s 7th season. With each season being around 20 episodes, it’s produced a lot more than the UK version. The shows have some very big similarities, both also have massive differences. In my opinion it’s the strongest American comedy at the moment, a lot of people say the last few season are weaker than previous seasons but a weak season of The Office is still a great season of The Office. Also, in my opinion (and I’ll talk about this more one day) it’s not only OK to be British and like the US version, the US version is also better. Controversial, I know. Most people won’t, and don’t agree. The key is understanding that the UK version, despite being brilliant, isn’t the greatest thing ever made.

Start with the season 1-3 box set. You can get it really cheap and you won’t regret it. It is a perfect, seamless mix of cuteness, story telling and its hilarious. The writers cram in non-stop gags. They come at all angles, but they manage to keep the momentum of the story moving at a perfect pace. That, and there are moments that will make you cry. Seriously. As this is beginners guide, I wont go into to much detail about the show, just watch it and let it take over your life.

Next, 30 Rock. Produced by the same studio as The Office and usually shown one after another, it’s makes you laugh just as hard but in different ways.
Now, 30 Rock, to a UK view is an odd concept. It’s a comedy set behind the scenes of a fictional TV comedy sketch show. In the US SNL (Saturday Night Live) is not only huge, but an institution. It’s been going for years and has launched countless careers. It’s something the UK has tried, but never works. Sketch shows work in the UK, with the Fast Show, Mitchell and Webb etc, but shows like SNL don’t work. SNL is not only very old fashioned American joke telling, it’s also current so it makes plenty of jokes that reference what’s been going on over the past few weeks. We get current event comedy shows in the UK, but in the form of panel quiz shows and a few comedy news shows but nothing with big production. SNL also has very much a ‘show’ vibe and really incorporates the feeling of a live sketch show. Anyway, the US has SNL and the UK doesn’t and that why 30 Rock hasn’t really made it here, despite it being brilliant.

The jokes in 30 Rock come from many different places, creating a great mix of humour. They have a great way of making non-stop pop culture references, keeping with the vibe of SNL but also serving as a nod to those paying attention. The jokes come from three main places – Jack and his corporate enforce on a comedy show, Tracy’s really odd life and Liz terrible ability to function ‘normally’. These are not the only places the writers source joke, far from it but these places, for me, get the biggest laughs. Plus the have a great way of never letting an idea behind a joke get boring, they can effortlessly keep they style of a gag going nonstop and never let it get dull.

The story is very much secondary to the jokes in 30 Rock. Unlike The Office which marries jokes and story perfectly, 30 Rock is mainly about gags with a story in the background that helps carry the jokes and move the show into new and unexpected places.

So, start there. There are tons and tons more, but these two very much encompass the vibe of US comedy right now and showcase it perfectly. It’s enough to get started and get a really good feel as to how Americans have been making themselves laugh over the last few years.

Next time, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Trailer Park Boys.

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