Fans of comedy on NBC rejoiced last week Monday, then went into a deep funk around 10/9c, then rejoiced again after reports that the network had agreed to a pilot commitment with Reno 911! co-creators Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant. The program was a modest success for Comedy Central over the last six years, and the pair has penned hits like the Night at the Museum films and The Pacifier (I know, I know, but how many $500 million grossing movies have you written?). Lennon and Garant are still best loved, though, as founding members of the 90s sketch comedy troupe The State on MTV. The show fancied itself the televisual voice of Generation X, favoring the formal play of Monty Python over the frat-eriffic dick-and-fart jokes of 90s SNL. Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoy the Chris Farleys of the world and think that era of SNL has gotten a bad rap. I’m also hesitant to go all hagiographic on the likes of David Cross, who has done little else since Mr. Show than try to find overzealous college journalists to listen to his sad, angry rants (sorry, but Tobias Fünke was a one-note joke on a show of densely-layered one-note jokes).
The point is that, unlike so many of their Gen-X comedy peers, Lennon and Garant have learned how to play nice with the Hollywood establishment, and this has bought them very large swimming pools. But the duo undoubtedly yearns for broader on-camera exposure, especially after Lennon’s scene-stealing turn in last spring’s I Love You, Man. The present concern among fans and critics seems to be with NBC. As Jonathan has already documented above, NBC hates comedy. This is particularly strange, considering the net currently has the best two hours of television comedy on Thursday nights. Moreover, reports indicate the new Lennon/Garant project will be a “mulitcamera comedy.” Zuh? One would assume this means 3-camera, laugh track, ha-ha-here-comes-the-wacky-neighbor sitcom, but this doesn’t quite align with NBC’s current slate of single-camera docu-comedies. Finally, there’s the issue of adapting the duo’s affably meandering sketch-aesthetic to the rigors of conventional, network comedy narrative. Sure, they’ve churned out Hollywood schlock, and Reno wasn’t exactly avant-garde, but shoehorning the comedic personae of two beloved cult-comedians into a 3-camera network sitcom might just give whole new meaning to “cringe” comedy.