If you happened to catch last night’s Season 22 premiere of The Simpsons (basically this show has been on for my entire life), you were probably expecting a Glee-tacular (at least that’s the way FOX pimped it). But what emerged was the welcome return of Flight of the Conchords. As two camp counselors, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie turned Lisa on to the world of art and theater (loved the Angels in America shout-out) before the dreariness of their existence became all too clear. Far from a Simpsons classic, but it was nice to have “New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a capella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo” back on screen. Never heard of them? Watch and you’ll be hooked.
While it’s not the As the World Turns countdown(s) we promised (coming soon! really!), let’s take a moment to look at some memorable TV couples through the years. In alphabetical order (clips abound!):
As Time Goes By – Jean and Lionel: Separated for nearly 40 years, this couple reunited to show viewers that romance knows no age.
Honorable Mention – Judith and Alistair: It took Jean’s daughter and Lionel’s publisher nearly the entire run of the show to get it right, but taking a page from their elders they proved it’s better late than never.
Battlestar Galactica – Helo and Athena: Would you betray your entire race or undermine an arguably just genocide in the name of love? Probably not, but they did and became the couple who might have most deserved their happy ending.
Honorable Mention – Roslin and Adama: By contrast, their time together was much too brief. Still, it’s not every woman who inspires her lover to build a shrine to her after she’s gone. And it’s not every man who keeps watch.
Frasier – Niles and Daphne: Any fears that the union of Frasier’s little brother and his father’s physical therapist would hurt the long running show were completely unfounded and led to some of the series’ sweetest moments.
General Hospital – Robert and Holly: The current writing regime has all but destroyed this once classic couple who defied soap opera conventions and kept it smart, sexy, and sweet even after they’d exchanged rings.
Honorable Mention – Luke and Laura: Maybe not my Number One, but pretty damn close.
The Honeymooners – Ralph and Alice: He bellowed, she gave it right back. But at the end of the day they affirmed their love, and all was right with the world.
How I Met Your Mother – Lily and Marshall: Impossibly devoted and perfectly suited, you can see why knowing them spurs protagonist Ted to want a picture perfect happily ever after.
The Office – Jim and Pam: He knew he wanted to marry her from the second they met. It took her a little bit longer to come around. But new parents Jim and Pam are the TV pair that puts most big screen Rom-Coms to shame.
Honorable Mention – Andy and Erin: Maybe not yet at the same level as Michael and Holly or even Dwight and Angela, but their goofy chemistry is one of Dunder Mifflin’s highlights.
Scrubs – Turk and Carla: The cocky surgeon and the no-nonsense nurse made beautiful music together (and not just in this scene).
Honorable Mention – Cox and Jordan: The best example that making it legal isn’t always the route to making it last forever.
The Simpsons – Homer and Marge: Who cares if they’re cartoons? These two put up with all manner of craziness from one another, raise a family, and always find time to show how much they care.
Who are some of your favorites?
If you still tune in to The Simpsons, you caught a particularly satisfying episode last night. In the A Plot, Bart fell in love with fellow fourth grader and skateboarder Nikki (guest voice Sarah Silverman), and in the B Plot Lisa was ostracized for overachievement (a beat they’ve played before, but it still works). Lisa slips into a funk until flotus1, Michelle Obama (guest voice Angela Bassett), literally flies in with words of encouragement and to reinforce the reality that overachievers will one day rule the world (so don’t screw them up too much). As with many a Simpsons‘ episode, the big laughs were on the fringes of the main action: Nelson befriending a blind boy, Homer and Bart taking in a 3D Itchy and Scratchy movie that was a spot on parody of the hypnotic documentary Koyaanisqatsi, Skinner and Groundskeeper Willie endlessly making out during a presentation meant to discourage affection in the school, and an increasingly bizarre montage of famous kisses as Bart and Nikki locked lips for a second time (Rhett/Scarlett to Michael/Fredo to Sammy Davis Jr./Archie Bunker… makes perfect sense to me!).
Silverman fit in well with the other voice actors even if hers wasn’t the most outrageous part. To see Silverman expertly play a wild, self-centered version of herself, watch The Sarah Silverman Program Thursdays at… and here’s the problem. Silverman’s sitcom/musical/warped afterschool special is currently in its third season (so far the standout episode featured Andy Samberg as an imaginary childhood friend who leads Sarah down a path of perversion). Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, and even I’ll admit that some storylines don’t work (when Sarah’s gay neighbors Brian and Steve switched bodies last week thanks to a magical dragon phone, it fell flat). But Silverman takes risks, and the show’s strengths far outweigh its faults. For starters, each episode is expertly plotted (in point of fact, the show works like a live-action Simpsons in that a minor moment from the first few minutes triggers a character into action but is far removed from the frenzied climax (example: a second season episode starts with Sarah’s desire for quiet on a Sunday morning – translation: no church bells – and as a result Sarah gets mixed up with an anti-abortion terrorist group, thwarts their plans to bomb a clinic, and aborts an arrow from Steve’s ass). You have to see it to believe it. But none of this would matter if the show wasn’t so well acted. Silverman leads the way, and she is ably supported by her real life/reel life sister Laura (the perfect straight woman) and Jay Johnston as Laura’s crazy but kind police officer boyfriend (now husband). And the afore-mentioned Brian and Steve, played by Brian Posehn and Steve Agee, might be the most progressive gay males on TV. They’re just two out of shape nerds with a love of heavy metal and sci-fi who are totally into one another. Add to all of this, Silverman was recently nominated for an Emmy for her performance. So what gives, Comedy Central?
Silverman has gone on record that the gaps between seasons are a result of the network’s hesitancy to renew the show even though they always have thus far. This seems profoundly dumb, but in a golden age of cable programming, we expect to wait for new episodes of Mad Men, In Treatment, etc. However, now that Sarah’s back, why is she no longer featured during Thursday’s 10pm hour? She was there for a few weeks and then, along with Demetri Martin, relegated to midnight-ish in favor of new show Ugly Americans and a South Park encore. Nothing against these shows, but The Sarah Silverman Program isn’t even re-aired after the first showing (Monday mornings at 3:30am doesn’t count.) I know we all have DVRs, but what about the new viewers to be gained while one is flipping channels? What will it take to get Comedy Central to support this show?
If you’re reading this, check it out. Here’s a schedule (and after you see it you’ll want to watch Seasons 1 and 2). If enough of you get hooked, and if Comedy Central gets a clue, a Simpsons‘ episode won’t be the only place to catch Sarah in prime time.