It is just one week until the 68th annual Primetime Emmy Award ceremony and I’m excited. I’m actually so excited that everyday from now until the awards, there is going to be Emmy specific content on this page and we’re kicking off today with the Comedy Series category.
This year’s nominees in the category of Outstanding Comedy Series are:
- Master of None
- Modern Family
- Silicon Valley
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
These series span a wide range of broadcast networks, subject matter and style but they all have one thing in common that you wouldn’t have been able to say ten years ago: no laugh track.
Since the 1950s the laugh track has been an integral part of the television comedy but this is the second year in a row that none of the nominated shows contain one (this also occurred in 2010 and 2015). Additionally, whilst there have been nominees with laugh tracks, none of them have won since 2005. So, the question is: is the world done with the laugh track?
Obviously I can’t answer for the entire world but I can say that I am definitely over it. Understand, I will always love Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond and I even have a soft spot for That 70’s Show but when I re-watch them I can’t help but cringe a little (sometimes a lot). The smooth, single-camera sitcom has pushed aside the old-fashioned multi-camera setup but there hasn’t been the usual uproar that any kind of change incites in our wonderful internet community. Maybe everybody else is tired of laugh tracks too.
The obvious exception to this would be The Big Bang Theory but as they move into their tenth season this month and they failed to receive a nomination in this category this year, you have to wonder if their reign is coming to an end.
I’ve disparaged the laugh track but I haven’t explained why I don’t like it. Mostly, it feels awkward when the canned laughter comes into a scene and seems to tell you what you’re meant to find funny.
Television is supposed to be an escape from reality: it takes you to different places and you watch entirely new stories unravel but hearing this pre-planned laughter every five seconds is more than annoying, it’s jarring and removes any chance of fully immersing yourself in the show.
Admittedly, if you happen to have exactly the same sense of humour as the show’s sound editors then maybe the laugh track works for you but God forbid that you don’t, then all it does is highlight when a joke doesn’t land. Above all it feels as though they’re trying too hard and everybody knows that the cool kids don’t try. Duh.
Cool Kid #1 and five-time winner in this category, Modern Family, is a case study in good comedy writing: it strikes the right balance between predictable outcome and the completely unexpected. There are enough characters that you never get sick of one particular dynamic and above all, the comedy feels natural.
When the laugh track comes on it brings with it this element of expectation: you’re given cues as to how you’re meant to feel and in some irrational part of my brain I get annoyed by that. I’m suddenly a twelve year old going: don’t tell me what to do.
As the years go on it looks as though the Emmys are really focusing on awarding this newer form of comedy series and I love that.
In regards to who I want to win, I have no idea: they’re all amazing and that level of quality runs throughout all of the categories this year as you’ll see as we continue to talk Emmys for the next seven days.
Are you a fan of the laugh track? Do you think the basic sitcom framework is changing? Who do you want to take home the Emmy this year? Let me know in the comments.