In a lot of ways, the new comedy Great News, which premieres April 28 on NBC fits snugly into our definition of a modern sitcom. There’s a plucky heroine named Katie, charmingly played by Briga Heelan. Katie works at a local news station, where she is a struggling producer. Her workplace landscape, much like that of her peers Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope, is a collage of obtuse obstacles, like her sexist-yet-dashing boss and her meddlesome mother (Andrea Martin). Great News would be one in a queue of irreverent workplace comedies were it not for one thing: Its dedication to farts.
This isn’t something the show sneaks under the rug — or strategically muffles, if you will. Great News makes a bold grab for farts within the first five minutes with one very audacious joke.
Here’s how it all goes down:
“You know who I hate?”
“Ivanka Trump? Same. You know, she farted in my face at SoulCycle.”
This exchange occurs between Portia (a playing-to-type Nicole Richie) and Chuck (John Michael Higgins). The characters are rivals; though they sit next to each other at the anchor desk, they are battling for relevance. Portia is a young blonde obsessed with Snapchat, and Chuck is an old fart obsessed with anything but. The humor of the exchange isn’t about farting, per se. The joke is about a miscommunication between co-workers, but it hinges on the high status of one Very Important Political Person and the low status of one Very Despised Punchline. This is often how jokes are structured: pair two unlikely things together, and absurdity unfolds. In this case, though, Great News is playing with fire. (There’s a joke in here about gas igniting the flame, but I’ll take a prim pass.) The show combines farts, perhaps the most base activity mankind is forced to contend with, and the ever-silent Ivanka Trump, who has recently proven to be prim to a fault.
The show makes a good case for a good fart joke; used correctly, flatulence can soften the edge of a more harsh barb.
This isn’t the only occurrence of scatological humor, but it is the most jarring, particularly because the First Daughter makes an appearance. Much like a good fart joke, Ivanka Trump is elusive. Her political views are inscrutable. She doesn’t unload on Twitter like her father does. Instead, she provides pithy observations like the following statement she made on CBS: “For me, this isn’t about promoting my viewpoints. I wasn’t elected by the American people to be president.” Everything from her appearance — blonde, cloaked in a sheath dress and a pair of color contacts — to her words is an exercise in being terse. The opposite of her, then, is an accidental honk from the derriere.
The joke is bold. One doesn’t simply imply that our president’s daughter has a colon — much less an active gastrointestinal tract. Great News does, and succeeds only because it brings up the idea so flippantly. Seconds after Ivanka’s name is invoked, the show busies itself mocking other pop culture phenomena like Snapchat, Chico’s, and the Bachelorette. The Ivanka Trump joke serves, though, to make a statement of sorts: Nothing is off-limits, even the president’s daughter. And farts.
The scat humor returns — lest you were worried. A recurring bit concerns Katie’s Irritable Bowel Syndrome and her mother’s happy-go-lucky hope to cure it. The men at Katie’s office regularly comment on the noise of her latest bowel movement (“It wasn’t me!” she growls in response), and the word “fart” does make its triumphant return. As the show progresses, it continues to prove itself happy to crack stinky for the humorous cause. It continues to insert a highbrow punchline to temper the sulfur. There’s the triumphant theme song, the glamour of the industry, and the blind optimism of the characters involved. (Call me a prude, but a fart joke in the hands of a pessimist has always seemed too sensible. Wouldn’t most cynics find farts inevitable, like taxes and death?) Ms. Richie’s presence seems almost self-referential, considering for years she traded in a similar humor on her show The Simple Life.
Names similar to Ivanka make their own appearance, sidled up next to their own crude punch lines. The show makes a good case for a good fart joke; used correctly, flatulence can soften the edge of a more harsh barb. (Later, when Roger Ailes’s name makes an appearance, it is paired with a lewd joke, not a crude joke. This barb isn’t as successful.)
In Great News, all the bodily functions make an appearance, not just farts. There’s urine, bowels, armpits, body hair, and the regular mention of the vagina. And we’re happy they’re here.
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