FX Knows Comedy
By: Connor Lenahan
We are overlooking how good FX has been as of late. The offshoot of Fox is a recognizable network for most, but as we head towards the Emmys this Sunday it’s incredible how strong their schedule is. There are plenty of heavy hitters, including The Americans, Fargo, The People vs. OJ Simpson, Archer, and American Horror Story, but there are also two more low-key shows they offer that are some of the best on television.
Fans of Donald Glover and Childish Gambino will likely have given a chance to his new show Atlanta as of late. If you haven’t already watched the first three episodes cancel your plans for tomorrow. Glover is recognized for being a smart, talented, and funny performer from his days writing for 30 Rock and starring on Community, but Atlanta allows him to flex an explorative muscle much like Aziz Ansari’s wonderful Master of None. I have long been a fan of Glover’s projects and was sincerely rooting for this show to be good, although the minimalist trailers didn’t give a clear picture on the narrative. Three episodes in, including some laugh out loud dialogue, one absolutely stellar half hour in the second episode, and a legitimately catchy song written for the show and Atlanta looks comfortably like a hit. It’s heartening to see that the show has performed well as of late, with Vulture reporting that the show debuted to the highest viewership for a cable comedy in the past three years.
While not drawing the same numbers as the new member of the FX schedule, You’re The Worst (which airs on sister station FXX, but for all intents and purposes is an FX show) continues as one of the best comedies I’ve ever watched into its third season. This is due in gigantic part to Aya Cash’s Gretchen, who is a beautiful character improved by a deeply underappreciated (and under-nominated-for-an-Emmy) role. Making a show with assholes as characters is not all that hard. Doing it in inventive, hilarious, and socially conscious ways while tackling clinical depression in the most powerful way of any program in recent memory is something fantastic. It’s less heartening to see that this show garners less than a million viewers per episode, but intriguing that FX has renewed it twice despite numbers that would get a less critically lauded program canceled in an instant.
The fact of the matter is that there is more scripted television to watch now than any other point in history. Every show both current and past is vying for our attention at the same time. Where cable networks are in an arms race for where you’ll be watching on Sunday nights, the Hulus and Netflixi of the world are fighting to give blank checks to the biggest names in syndication – The Simpsons and Seinfeld both commanded nearly a billion dollars for their rights, going to FXX (of all networks) and Hulu respectively. The success of Atlanta and You’re The Worst critically allows for a niche channel to ignore the normal conventions for what it means to be on television. The former is the product of allowing a potentially visionary artist have free reign to experiment with a medium, and the former is believing in smart writing and dynamite performance over live-time eyeballs.
This is nothing to forgo either. Just this week Netflix canceled Bloodline due to budget-audience issues. Even the modern model for giving shows leeway still cares. But FX is doing something special. They are quietly cultivating a stable of terrific programming that rivals every heavy hitter, including the gold standard of HBO. Donald Glover and Aya Cash might be two pieces of that puzzle, but I argue that they are both critical to the continued success of the network in all aspects.
PS: You should really be watching both shows, because they’re awesome.