Don’t take this the wrong way. Shows like “Seinfeld” and “Friends” are some of the most legendary comedies in television history. They were huge hits featuring classic moments starring funny people. They elevated audience expectations for sitcoms in many great ways. In one sense, however, they started an unfortuate TV trend that has been considered hip for nearly 20 years now – the art of the snark.
You know that style of comedy. It’s where the main characters are supposed to be friends, but they spend so much time putting each other down, it’s hard to see how they’d ever hang out together in real life. Sometimes the snarkiness can be pretty funny, but it got pretty tough there for a while to find comedies about people who treated each other the way you treat your own friends, family and co-workers. Lately, however, a few shows seem intent on bring back Nice TV.
A handful of comedies have come along the past couple of years that have proven it’s okay to have characters who are quirky and friends/family who have some fun at their expense. However, those jokes don’t need to be mean-spirited. Here’s a tribute to those shows because, as Frank Burns once said on “M*A*S*H,” one of TV’s nicest series ever, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice.
It’s very easy to turn workplace comedies like this one into Snark City, since there’s always one or two people in every office worth talking a little trash about at lunch. And at first, it seemed like this show existed to make fun of impossibly optimistic deputy parks director Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and her collection of offbeat officemates. However, every episode always seems to find the positives in everyone’s personality rather than simply mocking their quirkiness.
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Sure, Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and Mike Heck (Neil Flynn) are not always the kindest to their three children. But, whether it’s Frankie feeling guilty that she prayed for her daughter’s cross-country team to be disbanded or the kids griping that their parents have taken control of their TV viewing, the Hecks come across as one of the closest families on the small screen. Just picture the last time you yelled at your kids for not turning the lights out when leaving a room, and still took them out for ice cream, and you get the idea.
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There is one sure way to tell a nice comedy from a snarky one. How often do you see a scene in an episode and say, “That happened to me today!” or “I’m going to have to use that line tomorrow”? The more you do that, the more it means the show is reflecting real life. Which means it’s more relatable and, therefore, nicer. As anyone who has ever watched “Modern Family” with their kids knows, you make both of those comments about every 90 seconds when it’s on.
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It can’t be easy to find niceness in a series where the main character (Lucas Neff) sleeps with a serial killer, then takes care of their baby when she dies in the electric chair. However, the relationship he has with his parents (Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt) seems so genuinely close that anyone without offspring from an executed killer can be jealous. One of the nicest, and funniest, moments of the past TV season was when Neff learned Dillahunt liked to scare him every Halloween just so he’d go running to get a comforting hug from dear old dad.
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This is a very tricky series. At first glance, its premise seems like the very birthplace of snark. A bunch of mismatched community college students end up in a study group together. Let the insults ensue. However, somewhere along the way, “Community” has actually become one of TV’s nicest comedies. Sure the group still has a classic cynic in Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) and a grumpy old man in Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase). Still, the way the characters avoid mean-spirited putdowns and seem to truly respect each other as friends with differences is actually quite sweet. (Yet they’re all still sarcastic enough to hate reading that description.)
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