Chances are one of the characters in your new favorite short TV show is dead. In a rather unexpected way, death has been prowling around the short TV show genre for some time now. This format is traditionally meant for sitcoms, intended to make us laugh. Just mention the famous F.R.I.E.N.D.S., alternating between moments of complete immaturity (most of Joey's scenes) and personal dramas (the separation between Phoebe and the triplets she brings into the world as a surrogate mother). But a new generation of short TV shows such as Dead to Me, Barry, The Kominsky Method, Russian Doll and The Good Place go further: they start with the death of one (or more) characters. Dark humor, situational comedy, absurdity of the human condition... these projects deal with difficult subjects to make the audience laugh and cry in the same half-hour.
5 series using death to make people laugh
Dark humor and emotional roller coasters... recent comedy series share a common script element: they use death as a backdrop. From “The Good Place” to “Dead To Me”, take a look at five TV shows that play with death.
Dead to Me (2019)
Jen (Christina Applegate) has just lost her husband in a car accident. She then meets Judy (Linda Cardellini), a member of a support group. These two very different women, one being a tightly wound widow and the other a whimsical free spirit, support each other while confronting tragic or absurd situations: Jen can no longer stand cars that go over the speed limits. Dead to Me or how to laugh at grief.
The Kominsky Method (2018)
In The Kominsky Method, it all begins with the death of a woman, the wife of Norman Newlander (Alan Arkin). Sandy Kominsky (Michael Douglas), a former actor turned acting teacher, decides to look after his best friend Norman. In this funny and heartbreaking series, the humor of the main characters presents a gentle vision of old age. Awarded with two Golden Globes last year (best comedy series and best actor in a comedy series for Michael Douglas), this project is one of the few jewels in Netflix's original catalogue.
The Good Place (2016)
In The Good Place, one of the most classic sitcoms, all the main characters are dead… Comic misadventures, offbeat or even caricatured characters... the adventures of Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani and Jason are far from being sad. The tone of this NBC series is much lighter than the previous ones. But The Good Place leads the viewer (and the characters) to ask themselves ethical and philosophical questions. Eleanor (a selfish American played by Kristen Bell) wakes up in the “Good Place” (Paradise) and quickly realizes that she has swapped places with someone else. She proceeds to seek the help of an ethics teacher to avoid ending up in the “Bad Place” (Hell). The show was created by Michael Schur, who also created the sitcoms Parks and Recreation (co-created by Greg Daniels) or Brooklyn Nine-Nine (co-created by Dan Goor). Kristen Bell was nominated this year for the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy Series and Ted Danson (architect of the “Good Place” where the characters end up) was nominated in 2018 for the Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Comedy Series.
Russian Doll (2019)
In the series Russian Doll, released in February 2019 on Netflix, Nadia, the main character, finds herself stuck in a very unpleasant time loop. She dies on her 36th birthday and finds herself strangely back at the party organized by her friend a few hours earlier. She is now in a loop that makes her die repeatedly. The concept is not revolutionary (the time loop of Groundhog Day or even the repeated death of Happy Death Day) but it is effective. If the shock of the first accident is previewed in the trailer - Nadia is hit by a car -, her following reactions remain comedy nuggets.
Barry is a murderer. This complex character is played by Bill Hader, master of comedy and impressions in Saturday Night Live. Ex-marine turned hitman in spite of himself, he discovers a passion for the theatre and wants to leave his murderous activity behind. In the midst of depression, he finds it difficult to get out of the clutches of his handler who refuses to see him stop taking contracts. The banality with which Barry carries out his missions contrasts radically with the dramatic tension felt during his theatre class. The HBO show Barry was nominated for the Golden Globes and won two Emmy Awards (best actor in a comedy series for Bill Hader in 2018 and best supporting actor in a comedy series for Henry Winkler that same year).
Dark humour is not just the latest trend in the series, it has been appreciated for a long time and will remain so. If the spectator does not roar with laughter, he knows how to appreciate these dark comedies. In different ways, they all speak to the existential anguish of the human being, conscious of his inevitable death. In a few seasons, the TV world may get tired of alternating tears and laughter, but for now, these five series have been renewed by their producers for additional seasons, praised by the public and critics alike.