** (out of ****)
As we trudge forward into the brave new world that is present day television, the only thing we can rely on is the fact that we can’t rely on anything. The fact that we can essentially watch anything we want whenever we want is fairly commonplace now. Even the fact that genres don’t give a shit about how long their television episodes are supposed to be. This season of Orange is the New Black, an hour long show, was twice as funny as Louie, a thirty minute show. What the hell? And, despite all of that, both shows made it onto my top ten television shows of the year so far. Fine, television. Throw out every rule and tradition you’ve ever came up with in your storied history. But the one rule I know that I can always count on, no matter how much TV changes, is that three-camera sitcoms are terrible bullshit, as passe as the western or the variety show, and one-camera sitcoms will always be of a higher quality than their triple-headed brethren.
Jennifer Falls is a one-camera sitcom on TV Land. And just like that, another rule/tradition flies out of the window. Falls is created by Matthew Carlson, who wrote on shows like The Wonder Years and Malcolm in the Middle, apparently earning him a lifetime pass to create awful shows that fail (Townies, Camp Wilder, Samantha Who, Sons of Tucson, Mr. Sunshine). It stars Jaime Pressley, who wowed everyone for a few months during the first season of My Name is Earl that she too received a lifetime pass to get a starring role in a doomed show every year or so. They both belong to the Jerry O’Connell Hall of Fame. Anyway, Jennifer loses his job as a well paid something or other, and has to move back to her hometown and live with her mom. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the plot of over 50,000 sitcoms.
If turning this into a one-camera sitcom is an attempt to get all of the hippest sitcom watchers (including myself and that one kid Donny from up the street) to give it a try, it’s not going to work for more than it takes to get to the first commercial break. Turning something into a one-camera doesn’t automatically fill it with laughs and wit. It just removes a laugh track that would be useful here anyway, otherwise there’s no way to tell if there are jokes or not. Along with the one-camera format comes the confessionals, those always dependable asides that can include a joke or some forward movement on the narrative…or both! By the time shows like Parks and Recreation and Modern Family came out, we no longer needed a reason, like someone is shooting a documentary about these people, to justify the talking heads. Now that TV Land has thrown its hat into the one-camera ring, maybe this is a good time to readdress the situation. There is no way in hell that someone would be filming this chick and her life right now. There is not a single attempt to make the rest of the show look or feel like a documentary. And yet, there are still confessionals. There’s a good chance that these will be removed as the first season rolls along, and all of these things click in the showrunner’s head. But Jennifer Falls does represent a large moment in modern television history, revealing that the one-camera can be just as bad as the three- camera sitcom, and the days of the confessionals should officially be over.
Jennifer Falls continues TV Land’s trend of shows that will never be good, but are hard to hate because of how little they try. Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe they try to be bad, and in that case are very successful. But it’s a bad that still doesn’t necessarily scream lazy, like the Tyler Perry shows or Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management. It’s like eating your mom’s horrible meatloaf for the first time in 20 years. You know it sucks, but you kind of missed the way it sucks, and the feelings of nostalgia you get from it almost outweigh the fact that it also reminds you of wet dog shit. Not quite, but almost.
- Ryan Haley