We're nearing the end of 2013, which means it's time to reflect on the bumper crop of new TV comedies that hit screens earlier this year. Some new sitcoms, like Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine or ABC's Trophy Wife, have triumphed with diverse casts and original writing.
Unfortunately, they're also the exception to the rule. This fall's TV lineup is packed with sitcoms that do nothing but fall back on the same dull cliches and stereotypes that have driven bad television for decades. Here are some of this season's worst offenders:
1. Mom: Alcoholism is kind of fun
How is it possible that CBS' Mom — a sitcom starring the absurdly talented Anna Faris and Alison Janney — is one of the least funny shows currently on TV? On paper, the pairing sounds like a recipe for hilarity, but the duo's comedic talents are wasted on a show with poorly written jokes and stereotypes about alcoholism.
If only Mom took that problem more seriously. Addiction is hardly a laughing matter for people who struggle with substance abuse, but for Mom, drinking issues are simply a source of family antics. The other members of the show's AA group are supposed to have "serious" issues with debt and drug abuse, but they apparently have no real consequences. There's real potential in a comedy that honestly tackles alcoholism, but that's precisely what Mom doesn't do.
2. Dads: Minorities are hilarious
It has not been a good year for shows named after parents. Fox's Dads relies on Asian stereotypes so much that it give CBS' similarly offensive 2 Broke Girls a run for its money. In the show's pilot episode, Warner (Giovanni Ribisi) and Eli's (Seth Green) assistant, played by Brenda Song, is forced to dress up like a Japanese schoolgirl in order to please Asian investors at their company. She also makes frequent jokes about her parents pushing her academic success, at one point saying she was beaten with a schoolbook as a child.
Song's character is just a glimpse of the Seth MacFarlane-helmed show's many offenses. The show also features Tonita Castro as Eli's Latina housekeeper, who speaks in broken English and doesn't understand what laptops are. At one point, Eli's wife, also a Latina woman, is mistaken for a maid. Dads should take a lesson from its many critics — who include the founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans — and focus on the strengths of its stars' diversity instead of using it for cheap, regressive laughs.
3. Super Fun Night: Fat-shaming is slapstick
Slapstick humor has been a tried-and-true comedic schtick for centuries. But despite the best efforts of creator and star Rebel Wilson, ABC sitcom Super Fun Night's attempts at comedy don't translate well in 2013, with scene after scene based on fat jokes that would have been right at home in a C-list movie from the '80s.
"Jokes" featuring Kimmie (Rebel Wilson) struggling to get in and out of Spanx or retreating to feasts of fried chicken and ice cream with her roommates aren't just unfunny; they perpetuate dumb (and often inaccurate) stereotypes. To make matters worse, Kimmie's roommates are bold-faced stereotypes of their own: Helen-Alice (Liza Lapira) is an Asian woman whose idea of a "super fun night" is taking the SAT, while Marika (Lauren Ash) is a personal trainer who just happens to possess masculine traits. If ABC wants to keep Super Fun Night on the air, it needs to inject a healthy dose of the funnier, sharper Rebel Wilson we saw in movies like Bridesmaids.
4. The Millers: Broken relationships are opportunities for hijinks
Divorce is having a moment in contemporary entertainment, popping up in films like Celeste and Jesse Forever and A.C.O.D. Then there's CBS' freshman sitcom The Millers. Unfortunately, the gulf between the big screen and the small screen is immense. While the divorce-centric films offer a larger commentary about human nature and relationships, The Millers takes cheap shots at family life with strangely antiquated humor.
Like most TV and movie mothers, Carol (Margo Martindale) wants her child to be married, so she is furious to learn that Nathan (Will Arnett) is divorced from his wife — until she decides to get divorced herself. Hilarity ensues as Tom (a tragically wasted Beau Bridges) must learn to cook and do his own laundry, while Carol learns to let loose for the first time. How original.
5. Hello Ladies: Friends who don't realize they're in love
Stephen Merchant, one of the great comedic minds behind the U.K.'s The Office, launched his first solo sitcom, Hello Ladies, in the U.S. this fall. But unlike other recent HBO sitcoms, like Veep and Bored to Death, the lead characters of Hello Ladies don't have clearly defined personalities to make them worth latching onto.
From the first episode onward, it's clear that Jessica (Christine Woods) will eventually date Stuart (Merchant). But as the season continues, it's still unclear why it hasn't already happened — and why we should care anyway. We don't see how these characters met, why their friendship works, or anything they have in common. The will-they-or-won't-they trope has worked in everything from Cheers to New Girl, but we need a reason to believe these characters would want to date each other. For a storytelling cliché that's so worn out, a sitcom needs to bring a fresh angle to the table — and Hello Ladies hasn't managed it yet.