The Last Slapstick Artist

If you know Kaitlin Olson at all, you know her as barmaid and failed actress Dee Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the best show on television. The only comedy actress on television in the same league as Kaitlin Olson is Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld and Veep, and in a better world, their rivalry would be the Emmy story of the past six years. We’d all hold our breaths right as they announce who’s won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – is this Julia’s year or Kaitlin’s? Everyone would politely clap for Lena Dunham and Edie Falco and the other nominees, but we’d know it came down to Julia or Kaitlin, and if anyone else won, it would be the biggest upset of the night, like when Jeff Daniels won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for The Newsroom, a show that I like way more than the average person and which I would definitely never give an Emmy for anything.

Instead, we’ve had five years of Julia Louis-Dreyfus waltzing away with the award because her one true rival wasn’t there to challenge her.

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the cast of Hamilton

Hamilton Tickets

We live in a time of great crisis and upheaval. The contradictions of the grotesque global atrocity known as capitalism continue to tear holes in the fragile fabric of the post-war liberal consensus that has guided the political culture of the western world for over seventy years. Each tear creates a new opening for resurgent fascists and other far-right extremists, who march openly in the streets of major cities for the first time in decades. The liberal centre offer no resistance to their rise, while conservatives, who have always been craftier and more pragmatic, prove eager collaborators.

After decades of failure by the professional political class, the dispossessed and disenfranchised of the world look elsewhere for solutions, and every attempt by the left to offer a more compelling alternative vision of the world than either the capitalists or the fascists is scuppered either by our own disunity or the constant treachery of centrist elites more afraid of a tax hike than eugenics. Meanwhile, poverty tortures and kills us, and the state tortures and kills us, and we torture and kill each other, and the greatest fear of all is not that some great and terrible calamity will happen, but that nothing will happen at all, and the only future is the violence and oppression of this present moment stretching infinitely forever and ever.

But let’s not talk about any of that today. Instead, it’s time we addressed another plague of modern civilisation, a malady that infects both our artistic and political culture, and threatens to consume everything that lays before it like a horde of rats.

I speak, of course, of the hit musical Hamilton.

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Mac MacDonald, Charlie Kelly, Dee Reynolds and Dennis Reynolds drinking in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

The Gang Fights Neoliberalism

American politics, for the past couple of decades up until just recently, has operated on a binary: liberal/conservative. A lot of the time, this leads to weird semantic problems – calling Bernie Sanders “very liberal” when he’s not a liberal at all, calling Donald Trump a conservative when his ideology has very little to do with conservatism  – but the way we talk about ideas informs what ideas become. If you only see things in terms of liberal and conservative, you can deeply misunderstand things happening in front of you. Worse, when you lose the words to describe them, the possibility of other distinct political philosophies can disappear.

South Park is a libertarian show. It’s always been a libertarian show. I find it hard to imagine a show more upfront with its ideology than South Park. Yet there are countless posts and articles debating whether South Park is secretly liberal or secretly conservative, as if it’s secretly anything. Even more bizarre is the common idea that South Park has no ideology at all. Interviews with titles like “Matt Stone & Trey Parker Are Not Your Political Allies (No Matter What You Believe).” Academic articles with titles like “Pseudo-Satire and Evasion of Ideological Meaning in South Park.” If an ideology does not fit within either of the boxes I have in front of me, it must not exist at all.

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Last Man on Earth

The Last Show on Earth

Popular criticism of television is, in many ways, a nascent art form still struggling to grasp a young medium just as it goes through drastic and convlusive changes. Possibly because it has its roots in journalistic practice, it has suffered from one specific and troublesome tendency that is hardly unique to any form of criticism, but seems especially problematic for criticism of a serial art form like television that is typically reviewed episode-by-episode, namely a rush by critics to plant a flag on TV shows as quickly as possible, as if they’re afraid of being scooped on making the definitive statement on what a show is.

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the set of I Love Lucy

Whatever Happened to Life in Four Cameras?

For over fifty years, since it was pioneered by I Love Lucy, the multi-camera format – three walls, four cameras, taped before a live studio audience – was the beating heart of television comedy. Today, if anyone took a poll of critics, the likelihood of any multi-camera sitcom that debuted after the millennium ranking among the greatest comedies of the century so far would be close to zero.

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