For Great Drama, Comedy is Key: Why the best television dramas rely on humor to tell their stories

tv_drama

Mel Brooks once said something to the effect that comedy is harder than tragedy, because while it’s easy to make one person cry at something, it’s a lot harder to make them laugh. Whether or not that’s true, some of the greatest television dramas of the past couple decades have risen to this challenge by blurring the lines between genres. By incorporating comedic elements into their episodes, they’ve provided audiences with hilarious scenes that stay with viewers for years. But why? What advantage is there in inserting these moments of levity into otherwise bleak proceedings? The one thing that some of the most successful and beloved shows of recent years – like Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” – have in common is a surprisingly deft comic touch.

First, it’s a necessary tension breaker. After scenes and entire episodes dealing with the various intricacies of betrayals and murders, an audience needs something to relieve that pressure, breaking up the funeral dirge of favorite characters and grim moments. The deftest writers, those of the shows previously mentioned, are usually very good at incorporating these moments of laughter into plot-driven parts, making it natural rather than a transparent attempt at easing the tension and angst inherent in life, death and tragedy. For example, in “Game of Thrones,” while the wedding between Tyrion and Sansa is a veritable downer moment that finds two beloved characters in a situation neither enjoys but are forced to undergo, the writers find time for a drunken Tyrion to make merry and therefore mock the seriousness of the occasion.

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R.I.P. James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini passed away in Rome, Italy due to an apparent heart attack. He was only 51 years old.

Gandolfini became famous with his portrayal of Tony Soprano. “The Sopranos” is one of the best and most influential dramas in TV history, and the success of the show hinged on Gandolfini’s role as Tony. In many ways the Tony Soprano character lived up to the stereotypes of a New Jersey mob boss, but the brilliance and appeal of “The Sopranos” derived from showing every aspect of Tony’s life, including the small challenges and joys of everyday life. The hook was the idea that this mob boss was seeing a psychiatrist to deal with his panic attacks, but that was just the device to help David Chase flush out this complex and fascinating character.

The writing on the show was brilliant, but it would have gone nowhere without Gandolfini in the lead role. The Tony he created was real, so all the tough guy mob scenes seemed authentic and believable, just like his interactions with his family and friends. Of course, he and the show benefited from an amazing cast, with Edie Falco as Carmela in an equally compelling role. With the two of them, we saw all of the conflicts and contradictions of the lives they lived.

“The Sopranos” helped bring about the revolution in television that saw an explosion of creativity on cable TV, a process that is now broadening even further to streaming original shows on Netflix. Forget about broadcast TV and even most movies – the best stuff is all happening on cable, and that’s been the case for years. In a world where we can access all of these shows on multiple formats and on multiple devices, viewers are much better off watching series like “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Wire,” etc. over the latest movies. You can’t underestimate the influence of “The Sopranos” and James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano.

  

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