Ask Matt: Mom & Laugh Tracks, Dexter and Broadchurch Finales
Mom | Photo Credits: Monty Brinton/CBS
Question: On your recommendation, I watched the first episode of Mom. Why do sitcoms insist on using these horrible laugh tracks still? I found it so distracting it took away from any viewing pleasure. I'll sample the show again because I really like the actors, but do you hate laugh tracks as much as I do? — Rob
Matt Roush: Funny you bring this up, as I was recently chastised by a star/producer for disparaging a show's "laugh track," reminded in no uncertain terms that shows like these are filmed in front of a live studio audience. Which is true, although I often wish the producers would dial it back a bit when sweetening the audience laughter. (Surely they didn't find everything that funny.) But no, I don't hate this type of comedy. When done well, I love it — and most people seem to as well. Look at the ratings for The Big Bang Theory, the best current practitioner of this most classic form of TV comedy, from the same producer of Mom and with the same screaming soundtrack. I grew up watching I Love Lucy reruns like everyone else, and many of my fondest TV memories are of the classic CBS lineup that included All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show (all performed in front of studio audiences). It wasn't that long ago that Friends and Seinfeld were the popular and critical darlings of TV, but it's true that the vogue in single-camera filmed comedy has led to a bias and even a backlash of sorts (from the industry/Emmy point of view, anyway) against this more traditional format, which is often seen as uncool or somehow tragically unhip. Many of these shows are more theatrical in feel and joke-driven, but I laugh out loud just as often watching filmed comedies like The Middle, Modern Family, early-year 30 Rock and the parts of Parks and Recreation that don't involve Tom Haverford.
Regarding Mom: I've seen the next two episodes, and they're winners. Anna Faris and especially Allison Janney earn their laughs (and yes, they're fairly constant), and next week, Justin Long as Christy's first real date during her newfound sobriety is a charmer. While I understand the audience (not always canned) laughter is a deal-breaker for some, it's a part of TV tradition and history that I acknowledge and honor, when the show lives up to it.
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Question: What were your thoughts on the Dexter finale? After an incredible run during its first four seasons (peaking with Trinity), the quality suddenly dropped like a rock and never recovered. During the final two seasons, Deb discovering who her brother was and coming to terms with it, as well as meeting the author of Harry's code, were elements that should have been ripe with material to revitalize Dexter's story, but it seemed like there was some kind of lack of urgency throughout those arcs - even after we learned the part Dr. Vogel played in Dexter's evolution. My strongest feelings after the finale was finished involved not excitement, sadness or even anger, but instead mainly just relief that it was over - hardly high praise. I don't have a problem with how things ended up for Dexter or Deb, and in fact liked how the last time we see No-Name Bearded Lumberjack, all he does is stare straight ahead, not even accompanied by a voice-over. (I don't know if that means that even his Dark Passenger has abandoned him, and that now that he realizes he has real feelings, his self-imposed exile has become an even harsher punishment.) Other viewers are complaining that Dexter should have gone straight to Hannah and Harrison, Deb should be back on the job at Miami Metro, and they should all periodically get together to hike through some Argentinian mountains. But I'll shamelessly quote Game of Thrones because it certainly applies to Dexter: "If you think this has a happy ending, then you haven't been paying attention."