Arts Voices: The legacy of laugh track sitcoms is no laughing matter

FOX is one of the major broadcast television networks, hosting shows such as “Bones,” “24” and “Glee.” Its other big hitters are mostly in the reality area, with “American Idol” and “The X Factor.” Its comedies rake in plenty of viewers as well; however, they’re generally hit-or-miss. “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” are unparalleled when it comes to FOX comedy series. So what’s going on with the live-action sitcoms? Well, there are “New Girl” starring Zooey Deschanel and Mindy Kaling’s “The Mindy Project,” which are neglected because they’re just not very good to begin with.

The network’s newest sitcoms have come to fruition, in the forms of Seth MacFarlane’s “Dads” and the new cop comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which stars “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Andy Samberg. Being that the latter was co-created by “The Office” writer Michael Schur and “Family Guy” creator MacFarlane executive produces the former, my confidence in FOX sitcoms was boosted. I had high hopes for these two shows. The result: One lived up to the hype, and the other is dead to me.

“Dads” stars funnyman Seth Green, whom you may know as Dr. Evil’s son from the Austin Powers movies, and Giovanni Ribisi, a prolific film actor who’s made appearances in Avatar and Ted. This half-hour sitcom is a conventional, studio laugh track train wreck. For a show involving so many “Family Guy” collaborators, this is embarrassing.

The jokes are not funny, and not one character is likable. The two video game executives don’t have much chemistry. Their dads are lacking in humor as well, which is a waste of talent, considering Peter Riegert, from National Lampoon’s Animal House, and Martin Mull, from “Arrested Development” fill the roles.

Ultimately, watching “Dads” is like watching “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” with slightly more adult-oriented humor and Brenda Song in a schoolgirl outfit. It’s horrendous, and it may be a perfect example for why these laugh-track sitcoms are going out of style, becoming campy and static to modern audiences.

Thankfully, the single-camera and “mockumentary” formats are becoming more promising. With great half-hour comedies like “Modern Family,” “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” these “new age” sitcoms are making us laugh out loud and fall in love with realistic characters in mostly believable situations.

In “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Samberg stars as a detective who’s great at what he does but never learned to grow up. It premiered the same night as “Dads” and produced lots of laughs, especially for “Saturday Night Live” fans, because it’s an example of classic Samberg humor.

There’s no cheesy laugh track, and it manages to create some truly effective comedic moments. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is FOX’s step in the right direction for live-action sitcom and probably its best effort to do so since my personal favorite comedy series of all time, “Arrested Development.”

This couple of new FOX sitcoms is a good microcosm for the changes in modern TV comedy. “Dads” represents the hit-or-miss—but mostly miss—studio sitcoms that follow the conventional format, while “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is that of the increasingly popular and well-received single-camera/”mockumentary” format. The conventional method is dying out while the new is reaching its height, and I couldn’t be happier, because one episode of “Dads” had me devaluing the laugh track in general.