Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell of 'Mike & Molly'
The more I write about comedies, the more you're going to hear me going on and on about the difference between laughing at characters and laughing with characters. It's almost unavoidable that I'm going to mention it for "Mike & Molly," for "Raising Hope" and also for "Outsourced." That's a lot of "laughing with" vs. "laughing at" discussion for a single week.
Really I do.
No, seriously. It wasn't my idea to have NBC, CBS
and FOX all premiere all of their new shows in the same week.
Anyway, it's a question that involves issues of representation and hegemony, which means that more than a few people will automatically reduce it to "political correctness," which is just a bit stupid.
In its lowest form, my feeling on the subject boils down to this: If you have a comedy about any group of people who aren't represented extensively on television, you probably don't want to be laughing *at* them. Beyond just being smug and insufferable, you're pigeon-holding the totality of a group's representation down to being the subject for mockery. It's here that one sadly needs to point out that in TV
comedy, just about anybody who isn't pretty, thin, white and middle-to-upper class is under represented. We've advanced a tiny bit from the days where the cast of "Friends" could wander around New York City for over a decade and meet roughly two people who didn't look exactly like them, but not very far.
If your comedy finds itself laughing *at* black people, Hispanics, Indians, fat people or poor people as its primary vehicle for humor, you're doing it wrong. But guess what, anti-PC rage-aholics? I'm not a hypocrite here. If your comedy finds itself laughing at Conservatives or people with any sort of notable religious leaning, you're also doing it wrong. There are all sorts of different folks who don't get a tremendous amount of representation on TV. I'm not oblivious to the fact that it's as hard to find an unmocked practicing Christian (or Jew or Muslim) on TV as it is to find several other disenfranchised groups.
Laughing *with* people is harder to do, because it requires empathy or, at the very least, basic understanding.
So NBC's "Outsourced"? Laughing *at* Indians, for the most part. That's only part of why the show is awful, but it's definitely part.
FOX's "Raising Hope"? Frequently laughing *at* lower-income white folks, but ultimately coming down with sympathy, so it's both empathetic, but also condescending. I still haven't figured out how I'm going to review that show.
And CBS' "Mike & Molly"?
That's what this review is probably for!
After the break...