Today, a sitcom making it to a second season is as notable as another return to Gilligan’s Island. Here, we pay tribute to some sitcoms we lost in 2014 that lasted longer than three seasons, and offer some options for those grieving their passing.
How I Met Your Mother
When How I Met Your Mother launched, in 2005, it was bridging the gap between single- and multi-cam style by not just adding in a laugh track (like you’d see in single-cam sitcoms since time immemorial) but filming like a multi-cam with frequent flashbacks – something that would be impossible to actually film in front of an audience (though 30 Rock’s live episodes made some great effort toward that). It was another Friends clone, and only a year after Friends’ end, but its cleverness and nested-egg storytelling style made it worth watching, and by the series’ best episode, season two’s Slap Bet, we knew enough about the characters and the story structure to appreciate all the references to the backstories we’d seen and missed on the show (in this, and few other ways, How I Met Your Mother was like The Wire).
Unfortunately, the show refused to deviate from its original plan to reveal the mother at the show’s end, and eventually Ted’s obsession with finding love (and an all-in mistake to let Barney and Robin get and stay involved) felt toxic, and you probably stopped watching eventually.
Its final season took place over the course of Barney and Robin’s wedding weekend, a storytelling conceit that was more interesting in theory than in practice (which isn’t to say it wasn’t worth a shot) and we finally met the mother, Cristin Milioti (who had, with A to Z, two shows end their run in 2014). The series finale, a two parter, took place over the next fifteen years – characters grow older and fall out of love, make career compromises, and watch their loved ones move away or die. The last few minutes, filmed years ago, made us reassess what the show had been about all along, and left some of viewers feeling betrayed. I strongly suspect that, given more time, the finale will gain a bit of respect for the chances it took and for nailing the series’ trademark nakedly emotional tone.
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When Californication launched, Showtime was handing out dramedies like party favors, and David Duchovny took the opportunity to sleepwalk through one. For a bit it ran in a block with Weeds, the “Sex” to Weeds’ “Drugs” in the Showtime Popular Vice Dramedy Hour. But unlike Weeds, a show that started incisive and satirical before losing its footing, Californication plodded for seven season from between opportunities to showcase the surprisinglyfit Duchovny with topless young women. The show’s talked-about first scene, in which Duchovny’s Hank Moody gets a dream-blowjob from a dream-nun while the Rolling Stones play, set the tone for the entire run, a show about boomer men’s sex fantasies with all the sophistication of a dirty margin doodle in a book in a high school library. Moody’s series-long quest, to reunite with his estranged ex, Natasha McElhone, was designed to humanize the aging lothario, but instead gave him the air of a mopey stalker. Hank was someone who would never let his ex out of his grasp, even after she learned that he slept with her sixteen-year-old stepdaughter in the pilot (the only thing that could be described as an inciting incident in the series).
In the third season episode “The Apartment,” Moody’s daughter, played by Madeleine Martin, asked him “What do you want me to take away from this, from how you treat women?” This kind of self-assessment would have seemed more valuable in an episode that didn’t include Rick Springfield playing himself having a threesome with a young stripper and Evan Handler (spending seven seasons working away his Sex and the City goodwill).
In the show’s final season, Moody had joined the staff of a TV cop drama, giving the show’s writers a chance to hurl invective against women and gender nonconforming TV writers. You would not be surprised to learn that, eventually, everything will work out for Hank Moody, and that he will get everything he ever wanted (so will everyone).
Californication is on Netflix, but the first three seasons are the only ones with any redeeming material at all, and the show’s continuity is not worth paying attention to. This show was made for the 3am rerun when you’re in a hotel, if the hotel gets Showtime.
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It only took a year after My Name Is Earl ended before Greg Garcia was back with a show about a misguided family doing their best in a kooky small town – it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the shows taking place within the same world, and the transition from one show to the other was fairly seamless. Like its predecessor, Raising Hope made plenty of fun of its characters’ idiosyncrasies, but kept firmly to the idea that they had real affection for each other. Virginia and Burt’s relationship in particular was like a 21st century Roseanne and Dan, and the episodes where they teamed up to accomplish things far outshined episodes where they competed.
At the series’ start, Jimmy Chance impregnates a serial killer, and raises the kid (changing her name to Hope from Princess Beyonce) when the woman is executed. Like My Name Is Earl, Raising Hope let the light exist with the dark, and explored the ways people find happiness in a world that’s indifferent to their wellbeing. Jimmy was unprepared to be a parent, but so were his parents, and, as the show suggests, caring and love are key.
The show wisely wrapped up its will-they-or-won’t-they with a darling season 2 episode, “Jimmy’s Fake Girlfriend,” and let itself be devoted full-time to being about a young couple navigating parenthood. Unlike My Name Is Earl, Raising Hope didn’t have a built-in story-generating machine (the List), so it had its fair share of wheel-spinning episodes, but its central relationships were enough to carry even its weakest episodes, and it eventually recalibrated Cloris Leachman’s character’s dementia to minimize how depressing it could be.
Unlike the other two shows on this list, Raising Hope ended without a pre-planned series finale – its de facto finale involved the return of Virginia’s emotionally distant father for a wedding, and included a cameo from Kenny Loggins that was pretty sweet. You do get the sense that the lead characters will continue leading the lives that make them happy, and you usually can’t ask for more from a series’ end. With it, though, we lost an increasingly rare working-class sitcom; here’s hoping Greg Garcia has another coming (ideally with more success than The Millers).
Raising Hope’s run is on Netflix. Unlike a lot of modern single-cameras, Raising Hope has little continuity, and most any episode can be watched and enjoyed.
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2015 will certainly bring the end of more series – perhaps most notably, Parks and Recreation. All shows should be so lucky as to get to plan their series finales.
Harry Waksberg is a writer and lazeabout based in Riverside, CA. He is the creator and writer of the webseries Doing Good.