Liam Mullan doesn't like studio audience comedy. He explains why over on Chortle here. He is, of course, perfectly entitled to his opinion - which is, I would argue, based on preference, not argument. I don't propose to take issue with everything he says, but one sentence strikes me as interesting and revealing. He says:
I previously wrote a piece for Chortle that after Seinfeld the three-wall/three-camera sitcom had been essentially perfected as an art form, at least in the American tradition...
There is no doubt that comedy is an art, and that situation comedy is an art form - albeit a bizarrely contrived one, but then it's not much more artificial than the theatre or an exhibition of sculpture. The contrivance is part of it. We all know that life isn't like that, and that most of us live in more realistic homes. But what interested me the most is that Mr Mullan seems to think that once someone's cracked it we all applaud, give up, go home and try something else. I'm relieved that painters didn't hang up their palette's when Van Gogh cranked out his set of Sunflowers. It's good that playwrights didn't stop scribbling once they'd seen Hamlet - and I'm glad that Shakespeare kept bashing on too, even though Timon of Athens isn't wonderful and King Lear has a very dodgy ending.
Comedy is an art - but no art is definitive, surely? Some is iconic, certainly. I agree that Seinfeld is almost perfect, and I cherish my boxed sets. But that encourages me to keep going with audience sitcom, not give up. When I flick on the TV first thing, and Frasier is on Channel 4, part of me has a pang of 'I'll never do anything that good' but the other part of me says 'Have you really tried?' Now I know Mr Mullan is not saying that there is no point in trying in so many words. He says:
That does not mean I believe it has been mastered in the UK or that it’s a genre no longer capable of offering high-quality entertainment.
But Mr Mullan seems to suggest the quest for the next studio sitcom hit will be a fruitless one (and the title of the piece, probably added by someone else, would suggest this genre has died anyway). And yet, the viewers at home are rather hoping that people like me - if not actually me specifically - will keep trying because audiences like studio sitcom. It's something that young comedians, some commissioners and a number of producers and critics find hard to accept. They like a highly condensed comedy format in which characters try and fail in an amusing way but things draw neatly to a conclusion after about 28 minutes. In fact, they like Everybody Loves Raymond (210 episodes) more than Arrested Development (53 Episodes) - which hardly seems fair, since Raymond is a fine family comedy show but Arrested Development is almost divinely inspired.
The reality is that millions of people like to watch funny people doing funny things in funny looking rooms whilst hearing a studio audience laughing like drains. And they get very cross when it's done badly because they care.
Mr Mullan dislikes this genre, as is his right, just as I dislike opera. We both wished this weren't so. Opera seems to be a wonderful thing if you're really into - people singing for hours with a vast live orchestra in massive costumes and ludicrous sets. Brilliant. What's not to like? But it just doesn't push my buttons. Shame. But to declare the genre died some years ago and that we didn't notice? Odd. Likewise, Father Ted is not the end. It's a high-water mark certainly, and sometimes the tide gets close and one day a wave will come along and be even higher. If I haven't written it, then I at least hope to be alive to see it and we can all laugh together. (Too schmaltzy? Maybe. What the heck. I like audience comedy.)