Monday, December 23, 2013

No laughing matter

   Robin Williams is pretty funny, and his new show on CBS, “The Crazy Ones,” in which he stars as the senior partner in an ad agency, is pretty good. An ad agency makes for an interesting sitcom setting, with lots of fun, creative possibilities for story-lines. Partly because of this, the show is finally a good vehicle for Williams’ vamping style - all the more after some of the sappy, wince-inducing films he has stared in (as with Whoopi Goldberg, Hollywood doesn’t quite know what to do with him).
   Michael J. Fox is also starring in a new show this season, “The Michael J. Fox Show” on NBC, which is pretty good. In this sitcom, Fox, beloved from his days on “Family Ties” and in the “Back to the Future” movies and who has had Parkinson’s disease, is charming as a husband and father with Parkinson’s who returns to his job as a television news anchorman. Some of the comedy is smartly (in both senses) based on his mild disability and having difficulty doing some things. The way people see him as “brave” is also mocked.     So why has Williams’ show been a hit, while Fox’s show is regarded as a “flop.” Apparently, many more people are watching “The Crazy Ones” than are watching “The Michael J. Fox Show.” Why is this, when both are pretty good sitcoms, as sitcoms go?
   I can’t help but wonder if people are uncomfortable with laughing at someone who is disabled. It may be too big of a shift, at least in the broader, commercial, for people to laugh at someone who they normally would, or should, have compassion or pity for. Also, that people are used to, and fondly remember, seeing the guy not disabled probably doesn’t make this any easier.
   But can’t having compassion for someone include laughter? Could it be that we can laugh with Fox and not at him? Or is disability just the serious stuff of tragedy?
   As for people finding the disabled brave and inspiring, maybe it is too hard for people to laugh at it when it’s something that they need in their lives.

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