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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“The Wire” is remastered and back on HBO Signature

“The Wire” marathon is about to start on HBO Signature with remastered episodes. Remastered or not, this is one of the best dramas in television history, so catch it on HBO, on DVD, or any other way you can watch it.

  

R.I.P. Robert F. Chew, aka Proposition Joe from ‘The Wire’

One of the best actors from the best television drama of all time has passed away. Robert F. Chew played Proposition Joe on “The Wire,” and in the scene above he gets a threatening visit from Omar.

Check out this excellent obituary from the Baltimore Sun.

Robert F. Chew, a 52-year-old Baltimore actor and teacher who portrayed one of television’s most unforgettable characters as Proposition Joe on HBO’s “The Wire,” died Thursday of apparent heart failure in his sleep at his home in Northeast Baltimore, according to Clarice Chews, his sister.

Mr. Chew, who appeared in “Homicide” and “the Corner,” as well as “The Wire,” also taught and mentored child and young adult actors at Baltimore’s Arena Players, a troupe he stayed with as his television career blossomed through his work with David Simon. Through the Areana Players Youth Theatre, he brought new talent to the attention of casting directors and coached the team of young actors who played students in the Baltimore City School system in Season 4 of “The Wire.”

“Robert was not only an exceptional actor, he was an essential part of the film and theater community in Baltimore,” David Simon, creator of ‘The Wire’ said in an email Friday. “He could have gone to New York or Los Angeles and commanded a lot more work, but he loved the city as his home and chose to remain here working. He understood so much about his craft that it was no surprise at all that we would go to him to coach our young actors in season four. He was the conduit through which they internalized their remarkable performances.”

Chew was an absolute master with dialogue and facial expressions, and it’s fascinating to learn in this article that many of the kids who starred in Season 4 of “The Wire” were his students. If you haven’t seen this show, get the DVD or download it now. You won’t regret it.

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Sunday Reading: Gifts, Prometheus and lots of TV

Father’s Day is just a week away, so this week we focused quite a bit on our Father’s Day Gift Guide. It’s one of the easier holidays to shop for as we mostly consider stuff we like as well, so there’s plenty of booze and gear, and Matt Byrd gave us his 10 best video games for dad. Of course there’s plenty more going on, so here’s some good stuff from the past week:

– In his review of “Prometheus,” David Medsker called it “the most gorgeous space monster movie you’ve ever seen” and he also gave it 3.5 stars.

– Meanwhile, “The Avengers” has had an incredible run at the box office. Read our review if you haven’t seen it yet.

– In the TV world, “Game of Thrones” wrapped up its second season on HBO. Read about the last episode in Nate Kreichman’s blog and you can catch up on all of our reviews and cast interviews on our new Game of Thrones Fan Hub. As this show is ending, “True Blood” returns for a new season which we hope is better than the last one . . .

– We also have to admit we have a thing for Callie Thorne (see her below). You’ll remember her as McNulty’s ex-wife in “The Wire,” but she really caught our attention as one of Hank Moody’s casual hookups in Season 4 of “Californication.” Now she stars in “Necessary Roughness” and Will Harris got to speak with her and other cast members as they start season two.

– We traveled to Nashville to test drive the all-new Nissan Altima, which should be a real winner in its category, and we also reviewed the 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco. This week we’ll be heading out to Utah to drive the new Ford Mustang on a track!

– In a much more serious article, Mike Furci gives some great advice on how to avoid cardiovascular disease.

– In a new playlist feature, Fitz & the Tantrums drummer John Wicks’ lists his favorite songs of the moment.

– Ever have a Corpse Reviver #2? Check out Bob Westal’s latest Drink of the Week selection.

Callie Thorne in “Necessary Roughness”

  

The Light from the TV Shows: On the Set with “Necessary Roughness”

Raise your hand if, when you first heard about the USA Network series “Necessary Roughness,” the first thought that came to mind was this 1991 film:

Uh-huh. That’s exactly what I thought.

Oh, fine, so I couldn’t see how many people raised their hands. I still refuse to believe that I’m the only one whose mind went down that road, though I admit that it’s possible I was the only one who was also thinking, “You might, I might actually watch that…” Not that it was a great film, but it had a pretty interesting cast (Scott Bakula, Jason Bateman, Hector Elizondo, Robert Loggia, Larry Miller, Sinbad, and Rob Schneider), and the college-football-team premise is one that would be easy to pick up 20 years after the fact.

But, no, USA’s “Necessary Roughness,” while also about football, instead revolves around Dr. Dani Santino (Callie Thorne), a divorcée who reluctantly takes on a job as a therapist for a pro football team – the fictional New York Hawks – in an effort to keep herself and her children  afloat financially. After settling into the gig, Dani’s success with the Hawks combined with a significantly increased profile lead to a sudden influx of new and equally high-profile patients. In addition to Thorne, who you may remember from her roles on “Homicide: Life on the Street,” “The Wire,” and “Rescue Me,” the show has several other familiar faces within its cast, including Marc Blucas (Riley Finn on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) as Hawks athletic trainer Matthew Donnally, Scott Cohen (Max Medina on “Gilmore Girls”) as Nico Careles, the team’s ex-SEAL head of security, and Mehcad Brooks (Eggs on “True Blood”) as T.K. King, the Hawks’ star player.

What’s that? You say you’re intrigued and want to know what you missed during the show’s first season? Wow, good thing USA thought ahead and put together the perfect collection of clips to summarize the first 12 episodes for you…

A few weeks back, USA was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to head down to the “Necessary Roughness” set, tour the facility, and meet with Thorne, Cohen, and Brooks. Each of these fine folks sat down with myself and my fellow TV critics, bloggers, and interviewers (I’m just trying to cover all the bases to avoid missing out on someone’s favorite term for themselves) and chatted about their work on the series thus far and what viewers can expect from the second season of “Necessary Roughness,” which premieres – yikes! – tonight at 10 PM.

That’s fine, go ahead and run set your DVR now, so you don’t forget. But rush right back, because the highlights of those on-set conversations are coming right up…

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