Tuesday, April 17, 2012

THE DILEMMA OF THE LOVESICK LOTHARIO: How many times on a sit-com is the optimal number of times for the incurable womanizer character to fall hopelessly, romantically, head-over-heels in love? My answer: you get to fire that bullet only once (Sam Malone). Dissents from: Bright-Kauffman-Crane (Joey Tribbiani, at least twice that I can remember in eleven seasons of Friends, plus once on Joey); Bays/Thomas (Barney Stinson, at least three times in seven seasons of How I Met Your Mother). If you fall in puppy-dog-heartsick-strings-on-the-soundtrack-once-in-a-lifetime love every other year, you are not an incurable Lothario. You are that guy who always thinks he is falling in love. You are just a sluttier Ted Mosby.


  1. Anonymous11:07 AM

    Sam had fallen in love with Tea Leoni by the time of his guest spot on Frasier

  2. isaac_spaceman11:16 AM

    Then it's a good thing that nobody who liked Cheers watched that terrible show. 

  3. Twice. Once unsuccessfully, so that he becomes even more cynical and womanizing. The second time, he's even more reluctant to fall in love, but does so despite himself.

  4. Joseph J. Finn12:02 PM

    I'm sorry....did Isaac just claim that Frasier was terrible?  This should be fun to watch someone try to justify in a world where Frasier's time slot competitors were Home Improvement, The Steve Harvey Show, Family Guy & Dharma & Greg.  (Oddly, I see in that Dharma & Greg year it was also up against both Dark Angel and Angel.)  Easily one of the best sitcoms of the 90s.

  5. Dan Suitor12:30 PM

    They've repeated that arcing motion with Barney after both breakups, and they've also done  "Barney falls in LOOOOVE" fakeouts a few times (if I recall), but the show is seven years old. This is what happens when you have to stretch character growth over 150+ episodes.

  6. isaac_spaceman12:47 PM

    The show condescended to its audience and was built on the thesis that intelligence is a character defect that can only be overcome by emulating the conduct of salt-of-the-earth types.  The whole premise of the show can be synopsized as "a show for regular people to laugh at college types," which is childishly reductive and insulting to both what the show viewed as "regular people" (which was a condescension) and "college types (which was an epithet).  The characters were one-note, or sometimes two-note stereotypes.  The plotlines were unimaginative and often forced.  The central romantic through-line of the show (the Niles-Daphne thing) started gross in the sense that Niles was married, continued to be gross as she broke up his remarriage, and was weird the whole way through because Niles the character was almost certainly gay.  (I am not one of those people who thinks that gay people can't play straight people; they do it all the time and are no worse or better than straight people at it; my point is just that Niles was gay.  Tell me that if you met Niles in real life you wouldn't instantly know to an absolute certainty that he was gay.)  Anyway, I am, in general, not a fan of shows whose plot contrivances would all go away if the characters stopped acting unreasonably at all times, and this was that show.  Also, it did a crappy job with Seattle, a city portrayed essentially as consisting of coffee shops and a cardboard cut-out of the Space Needle just on the other side of Frasier's deck.  And it had an irritating vanity theme song. 

    The fact that the other shows around it were terrible doesn't make it better, except by comparison.  It's interesting that you mention Home Improvement and Dharma & Greg (I've never seen the Steve Harvey Show or Family Guy), because they were basically the same show as Frasier.  Same hackneyed plotlines, same reduction of characters to stereotypes, same rhythm.  If Frasier was one of the best sit-coms of the 90s, that could only be because there weren't very many good sit-coms in the 90s. 

  7. Marsha1:11 PM

    I have no interest in getting into a flame war with Isaac, but the theme song point is at least partially wrong. Ken Levine did a fun post about the theme song a few days ago: http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2012/04/story-behind-tossed-salad-and-scrambled.html

  8. isaac_spaceman2:14 PM

    No, I am well aware that there was a thematic relationship between the theme song and the show.  At the same time, as Ken Levine admits, Kelsey Grammer was not his first choice to sing it; although he's nice about it, the fact that Grammer sang it instead of the guy the composer wanted at least exposes it to the criticism of it being a vanity theme song.  And you and I can differ about whether it's good or irritating.  I find it grating. 

    Out of curiosity, what in my comment is flamey?  I may hold strong opinions and defend them with vigor, but there isn't a word of criticism in there for JJF, who I consider a valuable contributor to our comments and whose comment in this case I didn't take to be critical in any way of me.  We have a disagreement, and we each stated our opinions. 

  9. Marsha2:41 PM

    I know you'll take this as a flame in and of itself, but I found your tone to be flamey. You often write comments as if your point of view is objective truth rather than your opinion, and you state your opinions extemely  strongly, in a way that reads (to me) as if there is simply no room for argument. Perhaps if you weren't such a good writer, or so clear and effective in your criticism, it would be easier to debate you, but your comment above reads (again, to me) as if to even state that I found Frasier enjoyable (which I did, for the first few seasons) would label me as an idiot.

    It's just your style of writing, and it's very effective - you don't say "I think," you rarely add YMMV-type qualifiers. Just sometimes (and this is one of those times) I find that your comments shut down debate.

    Your second comment (the response to me) is not of that ilk - I thought you meant it was a vanity song, as opposed to vanity that Grammer sung it, hence the blog post about the lyrics. I always liked the song and the interstitial music, but of course that's a matter of opinion...

  10. Watts2:43 PM

    But to be effective, and not run into the kind of criticism Isaac leveled above, you can only exercise the option twice, and the second time has to lead to the end of the womanizing - either because the relationship continues or because the character has profoundly changed.

  11. I also don't want to get into a flame war with Isaac over a long-dead show, but I disagree about the condescension point.  I thought that Frasier often respected the audience's intelligence, as well as Frasier's own.  I never took the show to be identifying principally with Marty over Frasier and Niles -- except perhaps when they were being extremely neurotic.  I've said before here that I thought the writing on Frasier was often Noel Coward-esque, and that's an extremely high compliment about the nature of the writing and its regard for the viewer's audience. 

    Now, were Niles and Frasier sitcom characters?  Yes, they were.  But I'm having a hard time figuring out which sitcom characters aren't exaggerated.  The best sitcoms on today (I don't count Louie, which is better than all of them but not a sitcom) -- Parks and Rec, Modern Family, Community, Happy Endings, Big Bang Theory -- all rely on exaggerated characters who do stupid things none of us would do in real life.  That doesn't make them bad.  It makes them sitcoms.

  12. spacewoman2:54 PM

    That doesn't seem quite fair.  Someone literally challenged isaac to justify his opinion, which he then did, articulately and with specific examples that backed up his point.  I personally feel the same way about Frasier that isaac does, but my comments, this far after it went off the air, would have been more along the lines of "that show was stupid."  I'd much rather read his take on it than mine.  And I've rarely seen a piece of writing that was improved by adding "I think." 

  13. isaac_spaceman3:07 PM

    I don't take that as a flame -- a flame is when somebody insults somebody else.  In general, I trust people to know the difference between an argument (even one stated emphatically or supported with evidence) and a personal attack, and I'm repeatedly surprised when that trust is misplaced.  People need to understand that insulting something they like or disagreeing with something they say is not the same thing as insulting them. 

  14. (BTW, I don't regularly watch Big Bang Theory.  I just understand from others that it's very good, and I've seen enough of it to know that it relies on exaggerated characters.)

  15. Marsha3:26 PM

    It may not be fair, but it is my opinion. Sometimes Isaac says things in a way that effectively shut down debate. While logic may require me to understand that insulting something I like is not insulting me, I find it difficult not to take comments like "the show condescended to its audience" to mean that if I like the show, I enjoy being condescended to, and not to take that as an insult. Reading your comment, "<span>If Frasier was one of the best sit-coms of the 90s, that could only be because there weren't very many good sit-coms in the 90s," leaves me with the belief that you think I'm an idiot for liking Frasier, and that the only possible reason I could like it was that the entire media landscape left me with lowered expectations in the first place. </span>

    Look, I like to read Issac's criticism as much as anyone else (possibly more) - I think the esteem with which I hold him is both clear and documented. He's a brilliant writer and delivers a withering critique, and I've learned a lot from him over the years. And I almost certainly shouldn't have started this in the first place. But I know that I rarely engage with Isaac here when we disagree on subjective matters because when I do, I end up feeling the worse for it. That's my failing, not yours, but it explains why I mentioned not wanting to start a flame war. It's self-protection.

    I'd like to say, "forget I said anything," but it's too late for that. I wasn't trying to insult you, Isaac, any more than you were trying to insult Finn, and I'm certainly sorry that I did. And I have no idea if I'm the only one who reads some of your comments this way, and I have no expectation or desire that you'll change who you are, what you say, or how you say it. It's one of the things that make this blog what it is, and what it is is pretty damned good.

  16. Well said, Isaac--many of us (including both you and Marsha) are current or former members of the bar, and we should know that there are ways of disagreeing with one another without being disagreeable.  That said, don't make us apply the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in here.  Because that'd be really boring.

  17. isaac_spaceman3:29 PM

    See, again, I see nothing flamey about this at all.  Russ disagrees with me (and I with him), but it doesn't seem like he was offended by my post and I'm not offended by his.  And Russ's post seems to invite an answer (like JJF's did), but now I'm all self-conscious about whether I'm supposed to respond or not. 

  18. Watts3:30 PM

    But, what's that line from High Fidelity, "I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like" 

    Some of us identify ourselves a lot by the things we like and it's hard to completely separate the two; in fact it's quite easy to hear "Your taste, judgment, and general good sense are questionable" when someone says, "That thing you like? Utter crap."  If blame must be assigned, it should be shared between speaker and listener. Speaker for not allowing a difference of opinion from his/her own; listener for taking things too personally.

  19. Watts3:39 PM

    In other words, what Marsha said while I was debating whether my non-lawyer self dared to weigh in.

  20. isaac_spaceman3:40 PM

    For what it's worth, Marsha, one of the reasons I know so much about Frasier (or at least know enough to have the wrong opinion about it) is that my mom loved that show when it was on.  My mom, who got a PhD in the macho field of Russian History back in 1972 when women didn't do that, and who started her own business, and who remained pretty stoic -- the very picture of the Lutheran stereotype that Garrison Keillor paints -- through some shitty stuff.  The notion that I think my mom stupid is -- I'll add "I think" here, because you asked nicely -- a non-starter.  But I'm also quite sure that my mom does not and did not let my opinion of the show affect her enjoyment of it for one moment. 

    And, again, I'm not insulted.  Once again, I didn't read your post, or any of your posts, as a flame or an insult. 

  21. I won't be in a position to reply until late tonight, but fire away.

  22. Adlai4:10 PM

    I try to prevent my students from writing "I think" in their papers, telling them it's implicit in a piece they've written. So please don't start saying "I think." 

    Also, I always assumed Isaac was employing that tone for comic effect. Entertains me. 

  23. isaac_spaceman4:37 PM

    And at the end of High Fidelity, Rob realizes that he's wrong -- he loves Laura, even though he hates her taste.  The whole point of the book is to show that that sentiment is wrong.  I cannot carry on a conversation in a room where Spacewoman's favorite music is playing -- it's that distracting to me.  Spacewoman hates or doesn't give two shakes about 50% of the TV I watch and books I read -- Walking Dead, Justified, Archer, China Mieville, etc.  She made cartoon boredom faces when I tried to get her to watch Battlestar Galactica.  Maybe if we were both 20 years old at the same time, these things -- her Earnest White Girl Music; my immersion in nerd culture -- would have been dealbreakers, but we're not, and they're not. 

    Meanwhile, I just fundamentally disagree with the idea that someone should not say "that thing you like is utter crap."  I may say it more than anybody else around here, but there are probably a thousand or more non-me comments a year that contain some variant of that.  Sometimes people are tentative about it (like in the Girls thread yesterday) and sometimes people are emphatic about it.  In this very thread, JJF implied that "Home Improvement," "Dharma & Greg," "The Steve Harvey Show," and "Family Guy" were objectively terrible.  Matt despises the oevre of Tyler Perry.  People recently dumped all over Glee (even though some of the same people criticized me for dumping all over Glee a couple of years ago).  We recently devoted half a very long thread to very popular books that would cause you to run from a date if your date announced his/her identification with them.  People other than me (yes, other than me) have criticized versions of the National Anthem, celebrity baby names, romantic comedies (specifically), romantic comedies (generally), every American Idol contestant, Star Trek IV, and the word "agreeance."  I know that, because I ran a search for the word "terrible" on this blog.  Every single one of those things, with the possible exception of the verion of the National Anthem that TPE called terrible, has or had its admirers.  And I am well aware that most of the things I like (basically, everything except The Wire)  have been called terrible by a lot of people, ranging from people who consider themselves less hip than me to people I consider more hip than me.  If there were a rule against calling something terrible just because somebody likes it, there could be no criticism.  At least when I say something is terrible, I'm willing to think about why that is.  And as a person who, like you, identifies myself a lot by the things I like, I still recognize that people criticizing those things are not actually attacking me. 

    This is just repeating myself from when I horrifyingly said that one dead person's admittedly excellent version of a really old song was not as great as another dead person's version of the same really old song, but I think the rule in its application sometimes seems to be "never criticize things that I, the listener, like, but go to town on everything else," and I cannot get behind that.   

  24. isaac_spaceman4:40 PM

    Re my last comment and High Fidelity:  SPOILER ALERT.

  25. Watts5:57 PM

    Russ, if I'm Jane in this scenario, I object to being called ignorant.

  26. Joseph J. Finn6:18 PM

    Checking in real quick, since I had a monster work afternoon, to note that I was not insulted by Isaac's disagreeing with me regarding the level of quality  regarding Frasier.  We disagree, we argue, it's all good.  I don't even feel the need to respond especially, because Russ (hi Russ!) did all the work for me.  He stated my feelings on the matter perfectly regarding both condescension of Frasier and sitcom characters in his post starting with "<span>I also don't want to get into a flame war."</span>

  27. bill.6:59 PM

    Back to the original question...concerning Barney, the number should be quite large. Thing is, being an "incurable womanizer" is how he reinvented himself after having his heart broken by his first girlfriend. At his core he is an idealistic romantic, so being Barney means swinging between these two extremes until one finally takes hold for good. Caveat: It's been a couple years since I've watched the show, so I don't know if there's any fidelity to this back story.

    Frasier: always annoyed me. I'm not a fan of the comedy of manners style of escalating misunderstandings that could be solved by any character asking a single question. Outside of Fawlty Towers, there are few sitcoms like this I don't dislike.

  28. isaac_spaceman8:34 PM

    I'll just join Bill's second paragraph below and leave it at that.  It's 95% what I meant in 10% of the words I would use, and I'm not sure the other 5% is worth the other 90%. 

  29. Thanks, Finn!

  30. I have no problem with Sitcoms using "escalating misunderstandings that could be solved by any character asking a single question."

    Dramas that do the same thing, however, irritate me to no end.

  31. Genevieve3:31 PM

    I have a problem with sitcoms doing that over and over and over again -- then it's all just like Three's Company.  I liked Frasier a lot back when it was on, but watched a bunch of reruns over a week when I was sick, and noticed that the same plot kept happening.  I'd rather see some more imagination.

  32. StvMg4:54 PM

    I just never understood why they ran from the Barney-Robin relationship almost as soon as they formed it. It's seemed pretty obvious to me from as far back as that Laser Tag/Paintball or whatever-it-was-Barney-and-Robin-played on their night out in the first season or two that they were destined to end up together by the end of the show's run, so why delay the inevitable? And why continue to make Robin a potential love interest for Ted when we knew from the first episode that she wasn't the mother? I've never understood the logic in drawing out this Barney-stripper plotline unless the show's creators really do intend to have them end up together, which would seem like a monumentally misguided move.

  33. Jennifer5:42 PM

    I think the show producers just freaked the hell out and were all "too soon." Also, I can't help but notice that their brains seem to think that couplehood automatically equals Marshall and Lily totally settled down with house and family, and none of that seems too compatible with the personalities of Barney and Robin. (Frankly, it creeps me out every time they try to make Barney sound like he's embracing domesticity now.) I think the episode where B&R went to Canada is about their best because it stayed true to the characters while they were in a relationship. Those two would not have gone the way of the fat suit had the relationship progressed in a way that fit them. I think the producers just freak out every time they edge toward it.

    Except now they try to provide Barney with substitute girlfriends, and somehow that comes off even worse. Nobody cares about the stripper! NOBODY!