Contrary to popular belief, the multi-cam sitcom isn’t dead.
Several cameras centered around one set to simultaneously record a scene. It’s an easy, painless setup that was popularized in 1951, when “I Love Lucy” won the hearts of the American public and left a permanent imprint on our digital culture. Since then, the multi-camera setup has given birth to some of the most iconic moments of our country’s history. From “Seinfeld” to “Friends” to “The Big Bang Theory,” it is impossible to discuss the story of television without it.
Yet, throughout the last decade, the cultural relevance of this production style has undeniably dwindled. Single-camera comedies like “Community” and “The Office” have ushered in a new norm for television humor, without laugh tracks or flat visual styles. It’s a medium that has fared far better among younger audiences. I hadn’t introduced myself to a new multi-cam sitcom in years.
Nevertheless, pressing play on the pilot for CBS’s latest “B Positive” felt strangely comforting. There’s a sentimentality in the style. It can be argued that it exists purely on nostalgia, but the palatable format just makes starting a new show so … effortless.
It’s ironic, then, that a series so seemingly lighthearted is built around such a dark, dramatic premise. Drew (Thomas Middleditch, “Solar Opposites”) is a divorced father in need of a new kidney. Facing his potential death, he struggles to find someone supportive enough to give him their own. That is, until he runs into Gina (Annaleigh Ashford, “American Crime Story”), an airheaded substance abuser with a heart of gold. At a mutual friend’s wedding, Gina drunkenly re-connects with Drew over a vague high school friendship and spontaneously offers him her own kidney.
Thus, an odd couple is formed. If Drew wants to live, he must help Gina stay sober. If Gina wants to do good, she must defeat her addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Along with a heavy setup, the pilot teases at jokes that stray far from where its peers are often comfortable going. When the doctor recommends a family member for the kidney transplant, Drew remarks, “Oh great, a Republican kidney.” There are references to Xanax use, visible bongs and even cocaine dust. The show’s opening credit sequence, most notably of all, is fantastically disturbing and gory. (Seriously, check it out).
Politics, gore and drug abuse are all things that you don’t often find directly in multi-cam sitcoms. In no way would I call the first episode a failure (I am certainly intrigued to see where they take it), but I’d have to imagine it’s not going to be easy to strike a working groove with the medium chosen. Even so, I’m glad to see risks taken and envelopes pushed in a format that so many consider outdated.
“B Positive” exists in a weird space of time where the future of multi-cam comedies is uncertain. Though “The Big Bang Theory” put up numbers as high as “Game of Thrones” last year, there is most definitely a feeling in the air that the style has lost its vigor.
While I’m not overly optimistic that “B Positive” will be the show to change that stigma, some genuinely interesting seeds were planted. I hope they continue to take risks and find their foothold in the Golden Age of Television.
Daily Arts Writer Ben Servetah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.