Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Random Thought on How I Met Your Mother season one

For Christmas, Megan and I received, as requested, the first season of How I Met Your Mother on DVD (actually we received two copies, but that's neither here nor there). We've burned through the season in under a week and, as everybody who recommended it to us predicted, we love it.

I do however have one nit to pick and a question to go with.

(Ok, more like one and a half nits: I don't love Josh Radnor and find him a bit annoying and condescending, particularly early on, but he seems to improve with each episode, so I'm assuming this upwards momentum will continue and I'll dig him by mid-season two at latest)

The one criticism I have of the show and only thing that irks me a bit about it is how they shoot reactions to jokes. Every time a principal character tells a one-liner, the camera immediately cuts to another character smiling or chuckling. Now I could be wrong, because I haven't really watched sitcoms in forever, but I seem to recall this not generally being how it was done. I recall the camera staying on the person who told the joke, as they sell it, and the laugh track doing the rest. I would assume HIMYM does it the way they do it for "realism," since in "reality" people would react to a joke being told, but in real reality, if a joke is funny, people laugh at it for a decent while, not just the two seconds it takes for a reaction shot.

Is this the way jokes are shot on most sitcoms and I'm just not savvy though? Let me know.

Also, it's an extremely small problem with a very great show. See for yourself.


Sean T. Collins said...

Seinfeld occasionally showed the characters laughing at one another's jokes, mostly early on. In fact they'd occasionally show the character who cracked the joke laughing about it. I thought it worked there. Usually, in my experience, reaction shots are usually the other characters reacting in disbelief, which is a way to give the audience/laugh-track time to respond. Sometimes this is very funny (like in Golden Girls, where the reaction shots are almost always golden, no pun intended). Sometimes it's insufferable (like in Everybody Loves Raymond, where there's about 30 seconds of uproarious laughter for every joke).

Ben Morse said...

Right, the "disbelief" reaction shot is the one I find funniest. And I agree that extended laugh tracks are deal killers as well.

For some reason, I keep flashing to Friends, which I didn't even really watch past the first season or two, and remember the characters laughing at each other's jokes very rarely and it working very well. Like, the shot would stay on Joey laughing at his own dumb joke or Chandler smirking like a douche and you'd just assume the others off camera were reacting in kind. Or they'd cut to a wide shot of the whole group laughing.

Only showing the reacting party is what's getting to me, but also that in trying to be hyper-realistic, I think they're hurting the flow of the humor. Sitcom "reality" isn't reality, so you don't need to make your charactes react to jokes as real people would. Just do what's funniest, y'know?

Now I'm trying to remember how Saved By The Bell did it...

Zach Oat said...

I'm going to start selling "HWSBTBDI?" bracelets.

"How Would Saved By the Bell Do It?"

Ben Morse said...

Royalties, please.

KP said...

I acctually just watched the first two episodes of this show on Lifetime based on some friends really liking it. Afterwards, I went to the wikipedia page where they said that because the show does a lot of quick cut humor (i.e. "Cut to a funny scene in the cab!") very little if any of the show is shot with an actual studio audience. Without live people to laugh at a line, it's probably tougher for the actors to just hold it and wait for non-laughter to die down. So maybe the reaction cuts have something to do with that?

Ben Morse said...

Hmm...very interesting, Phegs.

We actually finished the first season tonight and I've noticed as with most other aspects that bugged me early on, they've worked out the quick reaction cuts at least somewhat. They're relying much more on group laughter shots as well as the reacting party no-selling the joke and going to the laugh track, which is my personal fave.