Is bleakness the new normal for TV comedies?


By Kevin McDonough

So how bleak have comedies become? Last week's episode of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14) ended with Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) quaffing an overdose of pills with alcohol. A caveat from a suicide prevention group popped up before the final credits ran.

This episode of the smart musical comedy hybrid was otherwise remarkable, with Rebecca coming to a reconciliation of sorts with her controlling mother, Naomi (Tovah Feldshuh), all to the strains of a 1960s girl group song. Then our heroine realizes that her feelings were not her own and that her mom had been lacing her comforting milkshakes with anti-anxiety medication.

"Crazy Ex" isn't the only pop culture phenomenon to tackle suicide. The Netflix series adaptation of the novel "13 Reasons Why" has been lauded for its frankness and criticized by others for its themes of teen bullying and suicide.

But "Crazy Ex" is TV comedy, a genre that has doubled down on bleakness of late. A recent episode of "Superstore" featured a long arc about a fellow employee who appeared to have died in last season's tornado. "The Good Place" is set in the afterlife, a heaven that is actually hell. Just this week, Showtime imported "Ill Behaviour," which centers on a character's refusal to treat his cancer, while Sundance Now is streaming "Back," a ghost story comedy that star David Mitchell described as filled with "themes of death and meaninglessness."

This is what we're laughing at in late 2017.

• Netflix begins streaming "Marvel's the Punisher" (TV-MA). Jon Bernthal stars as Frank Castle, a man obsessed with avenging the murder of his wife and children. Along the way, he discovers a vast conspiracy. In choosing to take it on, he assumes the moniker that gives this comic book tale its name.

One could make the case that the overabundance of superhero series and movies dovetails with the depressive series catalogued above. People seem hooked on tales of powerlessness and alienation, of a world so dark and fixed against them that only an adolescent's idea of an avenger can save them.

• Also streaming on Netflix, the documentary "Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton" (TV-MA) sifts through more than 100 hours of outtakes from Jim Carrey's film "Man on the Moon" and explores the efforts the popular actor took to get inside the late Andy Kaufman's head.

• The 2017 documentary "Tim & Faith: Soul2Soul" (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-PG) follows country stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill on their 80-date world tour. This marks the first country music documentary for Showtime.

• A wrestler leaves the rope and the ring behind for further adventures. "The Legend of ... With Chris Jericho" (11 p.m., Travel) looks into unsolved mysteries and legends, beginning with stories about Butch Cassidy in Castle Gate, Utah, that involve using dynamite to rob banks and rumors of missing loot.

"Great Performances" (9 p.m., PBS, check local listings) presents "Indecent," a Tony Award-winning play about a theater group from 1923 that was arrested on obscenity charges for staging the play "God of Vengeance" by Sholem Asch. A Yiddish-language play, later staged in English, it dealt with topics ranging from religion to respectability and included more than hints of same-sex love, some 94 years ago.


• A bomber targets Manhattan on "Blindspot" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

• Twelve contestants prepare six of the best recipes in the history of "Hell's Kitchen" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• Marcus and Tomas face down a new threat on "The Exorcist" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• A hateful face from the past may cloud Eddie's judgment on "Blue Bloods" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).


MacGyver plans a heist to snare an art thief on "MacGyver" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * Hook looms large in a two-hour helping of "Once Upon a Time" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Steve has misgivings on "Hawaii Five-0" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * "Dateline" (9 p.m., NBC) * Book party complications on "Jane the Virgin" (9 p.m., CW, TV-PG) * "20/20" (10 p.m., ABC).


Norah O'Donnell and Dead & Company are booked on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS) * Jimmy Fallon welcomes Jessica Chastain, Timothee Chalamet, and a musical tribute to Sharon Jones on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) * Hillary Clinton and Will Ferrell visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC, r) * Julia Roberts, Ben Schwartz and Shania Twain appear on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS, r).


Washington's elite fall under the spell of an oracle who turns out to be a simple-minded gardener (Peter Sellers) in the 1979 satire "Being There" (9:45 p.m., TCM).

© 2017, United Feature Syndicate