Wednesday, March 26, 2014

let's talk about laugh tracks.

On the whole, I like my blog to be a happy place full of weird and amusing stories. However, every once and a while, I just have to tell you about something that drives me a little bit nuts.

So you want to know what drives me nuts?

Laugh tracks.

Yep, laugh tracks on TV shows get on my nerves. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a weird thing about laugh tracks. I don’t dislike them enough to NOT watch shows with laugh tracks, but I’d really prefer it if no shows had them.

Laugh tracks were pretty much the standard for YEARS. Why anyone ever decided that a laugh track was a good idea is a total mystery to me. Every sitcom I watched as a kid had a laugh track, and I remember wondering where the laughter was coming from and why the mysterious laughing people thought the lame jokes were so hysterically funny. (The sitcoms I watched as a kid were Step By Step and Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the like, so the jokes were indeed lame.)
Sorry, Sabrina. Your jokes were terrible.
As I grew older, I became more resentful of laugh tracks. Who do these people think they are? Are they suggesting that I’m too dumb to realize that someone just made a lukewarm? Do they think that I can’t figure out what’s funny on my own? PLEASE.

Even though the laugh tracks grated on my nerves, they weren’t enough to stop me from watching sitcoms. I knew that I could escape the laugh tracks if I started watching more serious shows, but CSI really wasn’t up my alley.

It wasn’t until one glorious fall television season that I discovered there was a sitcom life beyond laugh tracks. I started watching Scrubs – a sitcom about a bunch of young doctors trying not to fail miserably in their chosen field and in their lives – when it first started airing in 2001, I was immediately hooked. 
This sitcom went beyond any other television comedy I’d ever seen: while it was a comedy, it had its fair share of serious situations and drama. (In the spirit of honesty, I must tell you that Scrubs has actually brought me to tears. More than once.) I was used to your basic sitcoms where a problem was presented and solved in one neat 22-minute block. Scrubs had continuing plot lines! Imagine that!

Best of all? Scrubs had no laugh track. I may have been thinking a little too far into this, but to me, it meant that Scrubs respected me enough to allow me to decide on my own when to laugh. Also, not having to pause for the laugh track allowed Scrubs to deliver more jokes in less time. You got more bang for your buck, and on top of that, the jokes came and went so quickly that I’d argue that you need to be smarter than the average bear to catch a lot of them.

As the years went by and my television favorites expanded, I have found that my favorite shows NEVER HAVE LAUGH TRACKS. Honest to goodness, I think it’s because the shows without laugh tracks are naturally smarter. Arrested Development and New Girl are two of my favorite sitcoms of all time EVER, and neither employs a laugh track. Both shows avoid topical humor (for the most part), and both shows (Arrested Development in particular) have a certain fan base – they’re not for everyone, but those who like them LOVE them.
And I LOVE Arrested Development.

Same goes for yet another one of my all-time favorite shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While it’s not categorized as a sitcom (it's more on the drama side, as Buffy spends quite a bit of her time slaying vampires, as the title suggests), Buffy has a remarkable amount of humor. And guess what? No laugh track.

Modern Family is also laugh track free, and I am IN LOVE with that show. I binge-watched the entire series this winter, and it brought a smile to my face during our long and miserable Polar Vortex. Like the other shows without laugh tracks, Modern Family's humor is fast and furious, and they rely instead on the actors' spot-on deadpanning. It's glorious.
All of this is not to say that I will write a show off just because it has a laugh track. Even though it has a laugh track, I still watch The Big Bang Theory. Strangely enough, while The Big Bang Theory is a smart show, its jokes just aren’t. They still go after the cheap laughs: Ha ha! Penny is dumb! Sheldon is awkward! Ha ha! It’s the curse of the laugh track. And yes, I said I still watch The Big Bang Theory regardless of its use of a laugh track, know this: I almost never laugh at the same things as the laugh track.

So that’s how I feel about laugh tracks. 

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