July 14, 2015 at 2:16 pm #353149
TV is the only medium that draws a hard line between comedy and drama. Movies can blur the line all they want and the only major award that makes a distinction is the Golden Globes, and we already know they make things up as they go along (“My Week with Marilyn,” a barrel of laughs).
But the lines have been blurring on TV in recent years from what used to be a very clear distinction. 30 minutes, multi-camera and studio audience means comedy. Hour-long, single-camera with cops, lawyers, etc. means drama.
But as we debate shows like “Orange is the New Black,” “Nurse Jackie,” and “Transparent,” I wonder if we’d think differently about them if they were movies.
Sure, “Orange,” “Jackie,” and “Transparent” are dramas compared to TV comedies as we used to understand them (from “I Love Lucy” to “Friends”), but what if we compared them to, say, “Birdman,” “American Hustle,” or “Nebraska”? I don’t think many people strongly object to calling those comedies, but they’ve got plenty of dark subject matter and pathos. So do “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Fargo,” “Sideways,” “Lost in Translation,” and so on. Aren’t they comparable to many of the TV shows that are often debated as really dramas?
I’ve done this too. I insisted for years that “Gilmore Girls” was really a drama, but if those characters, setting, style, and tone were in a feature film instead of a TV show, would I have any trouble calling it a comedy? “Comedy” used to be so easy to identify on TV that everything that deviates from that seems like it must be a drama, but is that really the case?
Thoughts?July 14, 2015 at 5:23 pm #353151
A show like “Orange” if in a film will most likely be in drama. I’d expect the backstories of the characters to go more in depth and darker. The drug elements would overpower the zany humor that would appear here and there in the film, but in a movie the cirumstances would be dramatic enough to be called a drama.
Gilmore Girls would be a comedy, but it’d be a comedy to the likes of Enough Said.July 15, 2015 at 1:22 am #353152
I think we have reached a point where we are confusing genres with the different elements these genres cover and exhibit.
What is a drama? What is a comedy? And what elements do these genres retain to make a cohesive movie/television experience?
Yes, there is a fine line between comedy and tragedy. But comedy is comedy, and drama/tragedy is just that.
Dramas have serious, emotional themes, “serious content”( alcoholism moral dilemmas, child abuse, drug addiction, racial prejudice, religious intolerance, sexuality, poverty, class divisions, violence against women and corruption), themes that put these characters in conflict with themselves. Yes, they also have comedic elements to them that offer comedic relief. But that doesn’t change the specific genre. A funny line doesn’t define a whole genre.
Comedies are intended to be humorous or to amuse by inducing laughter. Comedies are funny. Their inherent fabric and their being is funny.. And just like dramas, comedies also have dark , dramatic undertones and elements to them. To achieve a fine balance of humor and tragedy/drama. The sub-genre of contemporary forms of tragicomedy embodies that clearly.
What is really the difference between Better Call Saul and Transparent? Really? There is none. Other than one was correctly submitted in drama and the other not. Both are serious, dramatic shows with comedic undertones. Better Call Saul having the most of these comedic relief / undertones, to be honest. There are a few VERY funny scenes in Better Call Saul. The whole feel of Better Caul saul feels light and humorous. Transparent has what? Mopa going to the retreat? His performance on stage (which was tragic, not funny). Him banging on the walls and screaming at his neighbours making noise? Him walking in on his daughter and her lesbian lover? There is not ONE scene to try and justify Transparent as a comedy. Dramedy yes, but comedy?
Birdman and Nebraska are comedies with dark undertones. Tragic elements. The whole cinematography / camera work of Birdman aided in relaying that comedic structure of the film. The performances as well. The writing. The dialogue. Silver Linings Playbook as well. Little Miss Sunshine as well. Yes, they probably fall under the contemporary Dramedy subgenre, but dramas they are not.
As a counter, would anyone really try to define Mr Turner as a comedy? Or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Grand Budapest Hotel as dramas?
Orson Welles once had a great interview concerning the topic, in relation to people’s opinion as to why Macbeth was such a dark and depressing viewing experience.July 15, 2015 at 5:07 am #353153
I think comedies, by their nature have to be designed to make people laugh, or feel good as a result of the tone of the film/show. You can edit together a show like Modern Family in a totally different way, and it would become a very serious drama. The definition, as you said, has changed since the inception of these categories, and if you imagine Transparent with a studio audience laughing at it, then it would start to feel like a show that ridicules transgender people, instead of one that illustrates the emotional difficulties of the transition. That being said, considering the Golden Globes rewarded it as a comedy in the television categories, I would find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t reward it as a comedy in the film categories if it had competed there.
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