By Ken Hymes
Is the multi camera sitcom dead or not? I wondered this as I watched Judd Hirsch‘s new show, Superior Donuts. The show is a throwback in more ways than one. Aside from the laugh track and the old-fashioned rhythm to the jokes, which Rotten Tomatoes cites as a cause of the show’s middling 62% score, Superior Donuts is reminiscent of ’70s sitcoms in the way it handles topical and social content. Set in a curiously friendly Chicago, with a relatively diverse cast, Donuts is definitely going for heart. The focus is on the relationship between Hirsch’s Arthur, a cranky shop owner whose business is slow in the face of Starbucks et al, and Franco (Jermaine Fowler), a young black artist who begins to see Arthur as a friend and possibly a mentor.
Each episode so far features Franco trying to help the shop and Arthur with new ideas, which are met with angry resentment, a failed attempt by Arthur to show he’s just as hip, and finally a sense of compromise, in which Franco and Arthur implicitly agree to learn from each other. It’s a sweet, perhaps a bit naive premise. Perhaps the fact that I can so quickly identify and outline the show’s narrative strategy is a yellow flag. Can the writers extend this friendship into new areas and rhythms, or will the show quickly become stale from repetition rather than style?
I guess we’ll find out. What leads me to hope for the show’s success is not a sense that it is in any way new or particularly brilliant, though it held my interest and made me laugh enough to keep going. Modern Family, for example, is far more advanced in both its writing and its cinematography, and is pretty consistently hilarious (at least to me and my modern family).
No, what makes me wish this show well is simply that a great deal of effort has been put into making a show that will most likely appeal more to older viewers, and which holds as its primary concern the process of peacemaking between different social groups and generations. Was there ever a time when we could more fervently hope that older Americans, who vote more than anyone else, receive this kind of message into their homes and their hearts and their minds?
The multi-camera sitcom may be on life support, but I’ll be watching this little show to see if it can stay out of hospice care.
Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS
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