Last night I watched the premiere of CBS' newest Chuck Lorre TV-domination voodoo comedy experiment, Mom. Hopes were high (OK fine, tepid), and I had an open mind as I rooted for the series to surprise me. But within the first 10 seconds I was already over it. Why? Well, mostly because there is nothing worse than hearing a laugh track on television in 2013.
Before you get your underroos in a twist, no: I'm not talking about shows taped in front of a live studio audience, I'm talking about that oh-so obvious, straight-from-a-can, there's-no-way-someone-laughed-this-loud sort of guffawing that aggressively forces itself upon you with the ferocity of Hulk's right hook: straight to the facha. The sort that feels overdone and wrought with "see? this is funny, get it?!" desperation. It's overdone, it's said, and I'm afraid if we don't get rid of it, it's going to ruin any good a show might have.
Let's take a further look at Monday night's Mom premiere. For all intents and purposes, the show has a lot going for it: a proven track record in showrunner Chuck Lorre (whether you like his stuff or not is another discussion entirely and no, I cannot get myself frothed up twice in one day), a successful network with solid promotional $kills, and an honest-to-goodness stellar cast of actors. I mean, is there a funnier woman to play Anna Faris' mother than Allison Janney? The woman does the Jackal like a boss on casual command. Nate Corddry is a gem (I don't care what you say, Studio 60 has a soft-spot in my heart forever), and they even have a Breaking Bad alum on board (Hooray Badger!).
The show really had all the right parts — except the laugh track.
So why are guys and gals the world over being force-fed the funny-feels? Well, it could be a bevy of reasons: old habits die hard, it's what the Olds that watch CBS want, or maybe it's that the writing's not good enough to land the teeheehee on its own (a suggestion sure to endear me with Lorre enthusiasts, a subset of TV viewers that are surprisingly fervent — just look at the success of The Big Bang Theory). It's just that, to me, if you want a surefire way to drive a modern-day TV viewer crazy is to tell them when they're supposed to laugh. It takes the viewer out of the watching experience, makes them wait for the softballed haw-haw rather than discovering it on their own, which we all know is a far more satisfying endeavor.
Back when TV was a newer medium, transitioning viewers into jovial TV-based encounters with the ha-has was probably a very good idea. Sometimes people don't realize when someone is being serious or snarky — the comfort of someone accenting punch-lines with a cue/aural permission slip to laugh was probably necessary in this foreign land of entertainment. But guys, that was a long time ago now. People have come to accept their own personal sense of humor and understand a bit more the nuance that comes with making fun of something or poking fun at oneself.
When the writing and performances are in harmonious unison, there's not a need for a track of laughs — it reminds you that this is a thing that is very consciously trying to be funny. Which — hey! — we get. Most of us don't need such a reminder slammed into our eardrums. A laugh track can be a sweetener problem of aspartame-esque proportions.
So don't give your audience metaphorical phenylketonuria and just ban the fucking laugh track already.