In the US: Thursdays, 9:30/8.30c, NBC
There’s a long tradition of multi-camera US comedies been prefaced by one of the cast members pointing out that it was “filmed in front of a live studio audience”. It’s supposed to make you think that the laughter isn’t canned, which is what the likes of M*A*S*H* had to endure.
In the UK: Not yet acquired
However, I must confess that with multi-camera comedies now being so rare, I was taken aback when NBC’s new sitcom, Abby’s, rolled out its own disclaimer about having a studio audience. That wasn’t the only reason, though. See if you can work out the other reason I was surprised:
Yes, it’s filmed before a live outdoor audience. Have a think about that. An outdoor audience. That’s going to sound different, isn’t yet? No echoes, more diffuse. That sort of thing.
Given the fact that there are no echoes, the cast never leave gaps in the dialogue for when the audience are supposedly laughing and no one’s really delivering lines like they’re expecting anyone 30 metres away to be able to hear them, I’m going to go with the theory that Abby’s was both filmed in front of a live outdoor audience and has canned laughter.
Abby’s illegal set-upThe set-up for Abby’s is reasonably simple. Natalie Morales (The Middleman, Life, White Collar, The Grinder) is <deep diversity breath>a recently returned from Iraq bisexual Latina marine</deep diversity breath> who turns her backyard into a bar. All her neighbours, including housewife Jessica Chaffin and alcoholic Neil Flynn (Scrubs, The Middle), then become its patrons and staff.
However, when Morales’ landlady dies and leaves the house to her nephew Nelson Franklin (Veep, New Girl, Traffic Light, Black-ish), he decides he probably close down to the somewhat illegal, occasionally dangerous business. Thus begins a programme to woo him around to allowing the bar to stay.
Abby’s deafening silenceSo far, so Cheers, with much of the pilot episode dedicated to everyone explaining who they are and why they spend every single waking evening of their lives drinking weak beer in someone else’s back garden. It’s not as bleak as Happy Hour‘s marvellously miserable excuse for perpetually drowning one’s sorrows in alcohol, having stared once to long into the abyss and it having stared back at you, but this is very much “alcohol as therapy”.
Jokes are frequent but unfunny and as with a lot of character-based comedy, it’s not observational, so much as ‘completely fabricated’. There is a system of arcane rules to the backyard bar that you must learn in order to be accepted in Abby’s inner circle, including ‘fact challenges’. Yes, you can challenge Abby’s knowledge of facts and whoever is wrong has to drink an unpleasant, sweet-tasting drink. How do they check? Not with a smartphone, despite everyone having these, but with a big stack of prop books.
Question 1: is darts British?
Do they have an encyclopaedia? No, just a leather-bound book that happily enough reveals on page 1 no less that darts was invented in Lancashire. Head off to another book to look up Lancashire. “No need. Lancashire is obviously an English word,” says Abby.
Snazzy, hey? Naturalistic. You’re on the edge of your seats now, aren’t you? It’s the combination of really long, tedious gimmicks in which people look things up in books in an utterly unnatural way with no actual jokes that makes it really sing, isn’t it?
Would have been quicker and probably just as funny to look it up on Wikipedia.
Abby’s comes across like a show written by people who never really socialise (but wish they could) that is explicitly about a group of people who never really socialise (but wish they could). If Abby’s was a real ‘community bar’, you could imagine it lasting about five evenings before everyone decided to go to a real bar that allowed them to sit at a table straight away, rather than in some sort of purgatory zone for a week while the bar owner decides she likes them. And that had proper pub quizzes.
The cast are largely good but would be better off going down the pub themselves than appearing in Abby’s.