Television in January

By coincidence, these five January-debuting shows (four returning, one new) have both comedy and drama elements. All shows are labeled one or the other, but many of TV’s best series smoothly incorporate both. Perhaps that’s a personal preference of mine, and a bias that draws me to the five below. Balancing comedy and drama is tricky for a show’s tone though, and if a writer is successful, the show will be richer for it.

<em>Community</em> (NBC, January 2)

When a sitcom episode isn&rsquo;t funny, sitting through it is a slog. That was <em>Community</em>&rsquo;s fourth season, with jokes not landing and no emotional undercurrent holding episodes together. I screened the first two episodes of Season 5 and was pleased with the tone and flow, especially &ldquo;Introduction to Teaching.&rdquo; Each of the 22 minutes breezed by, with &ldquo;Re-pilot&rdquo; laying the groundwork for the season and &ldquo;Teaching&rdquo; acting as a regular <em>Community</em> instalment. Jonathan Banks&rsquo; character was well-established and integrated into the plot. I&rsquo;d be curious to hear the thoughts of someone who had never seen <em>Community</em> before &mdash; is this something you&rsquo;d keep watching?

<em>Suburgatory</em> (ABC, January 15)

This little-heard-of sitcom had news after it finished its second season: Alan Tudyk and Rex Lee won&rsquo;t be returning for Season 3. This can only improve the show &mdash; Tudyk&rsquo;s character felt superfluous, and the kids of <em>Suburgatory</em> are the main attraction anyway. Tessa Altman is one of my favourite characters on TV &mdash; a flawed teenager with moments of clarity, bitterness, and sadness. Her fellow teenagers Lisa, Malik, and Dalia are funnier than the kids on <em>Modern Family</em>. Despite its superficial adult characters&rsquo; first-world problems, <em>Suburgatory</em> manages to create empathy in its white picket fence setting. It&rsquo;s hardly a great sitcom, but it&rsquo;s different and immersive. TV can be repetitive sometimes; <em>Suburgatory</em> has a unique voice that stands out.

<em>Enlisted</em> (FOX, January 10)

A new military single-camera comedy, <em>Enlisted</em> will occupy FOX&rsquo;s Friday 9:30 p.m. timeslot. It was created by Kevin Biegel (who co-created <em>Cougar Town</em>), and the central premise consists of three brothers in the army and their supervisor. I&rsquo;m interested in the show for that concept &mdash; it&rsquo;s not a &ldquo;friends hanging out&rdquo; comedy, nor is it an &ldquo;office sitcom,&rdquo; nor is it &ldquo;family who fights but loves each other.&rdquo; These three foundations comprise most broadcast sitcoms today, causing the landscape to feel repetitive. The integration of the military aspect is a small, but novel, twist on the office workplace idea, and I&rsquo;m looking forward to seeing it in action.

<em>Justified</em> (FX, January 7)

I&rsquo;m really, really excited for the fifth season of <em>Justified</em>. It&rsquo;s the best cop show on TV. It&rsquo;s the best Western on TV. It has the sharpest dialogue on TV. It&rsquo;s exceptionally cast. Led by its modern hero Raylan Givens, <em>Justified</em>&rsquo;s signature formula of wit and character remained fresh for its fourth season, which I ranked as the seventh-best show of 2013. Reprinting a line I wrote six months ago: &ldquo;If you relish the witty banter and intricate plotting of <em>Game of Thrones </em>or <em>Boardwalk Empire</em>, <em>Justified</em> is even better.&rdquo; While I rarely cheerlead in this column, I wish more people would tune into the show &mdash; it rarely hits 2.5 million live viewers, but I&rsquo;ve never met someone who disliked it.&nbsp;

<em>Girls</em> (HBO, January 12)

I don&rsquo;t know how Lena Dunham finds time to write, act, and direct this show &mdash; all while writing her book. One may think the quality will fall in <em>Girls</em>&rsquo; third season, but Dunham is an incomparable voice and feminist ambassador in today&rsquo;s popular culture, and there&rsquo;s no reason to suggest she&rsquo;s done exploring the complex lives of Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, Shoshanna, Adam, and Ray. <em>Girls </em>is among TV&rsquo;s riskiest shows, leading to a divisiveness among its viewers.&nbsp; But a creative medium can only move forward if creators take chances &mdash; otherwise we&rsquo;d be stuck with the same, boring stuff every year. 2013 featured continued progress for women in TV, and Lena Dunham is a major reason why.


<em>This is Andrew Koo&rsquo;s (@akoo) fifth term writing this column. Television never gets old.</em>


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